Saturday, April 16, 2016

Climb That Wall

Let's talk about walls.

I've been working on the above table since this morning; I've decided to quit on it for a bit.  My previous take on this thing - the material components of musical instruments - was highly simplistic and I've meant to upgrade it.  This is still mostly simplistic - but it is more detailed than what I was doing before.

Thing is, it makes me want to pound my head on the desk.  Not that I won't eventually get through it - but the detail is exasperating for a variety of reasons.  Here are a few: just how much of a cello is made of sprucewood versus boxwood?  I can't find any information regarding that on the net.  Cellos are virtually always made of maple, which I don't have anywhere on my system because I have not found one damn place in Europe that boasts of making it.  Oh, I know that it's there, I just don't have any references for it and as people know, I'm insane about sticking to the originating material.  Still, I can assign it the same price as beechwood, I can even argue that in a world full of magic that MY cellos are made of beechwood and good-gawdammit, they sound exactly the same (so f-you).

I can argue that but unfortunately it annoys the bleeding crap out of me.  Moreso the fact that cello bows are made of two damn woods that are both found in the new world and for the love of fuck, I haven't included Brazil and the Yucatan into my trade system - so, no Pernambuco or Brazilwood.  Ever try to research if a cello bow can be made of some other wood?  It's fruitless.  I did find a single phrase that said, effectively, "We can't be sure what wood cello bows were made of before the discovery of the New World . . ."  Great.

Listen, I know that all of you can just put a brazilwood reference into some forest near the tropics of your world, but I'm screwed.  I have to make the cello bow out of blackwood for the time being; this is a dense wood from Africa - I did find someone advertising a cello bow made from it, though it probably sounds like bowing a cello with a taxidermy-dried cat.

I was supposed to figure out a harp next and . . . nope, not today.  I'm just not up to it.  This is what I mean by a wall.

Everyone hits them, working on their world.  The stuff can be interesting; I know a lot more about cello construction than I did an hour ago.  It can also be frustrating, searching for a specific thing that no one else in the world thinks matters.  On the other hand, without the net, I wouldn't have a hope - so there's that to thank.

What is it, however, that is going to get me back into the driver's seat, to look up harps, harpsichords, organs, drums, squeezeboxes, violins, flutes, recorders and so on?  Frankly, the players will.  Because everything has a price and the players will want to have a comfortable choice.  What am I going to tell bards in my game future wanting to pick an instrument?  That I couldn't be bothered?  That, sure, the cello price is logical but the flute price is pulled out of my ass?  Not me.

This isn't going to come off as kind: but I'll say it as someone raised by people who were much more concerned with themselves than with their children.  We do this thing for other people; if a DM doesn't have the will to sit down and make the world because it is exhausting or difficult or just takes too much time, I count that as, well . . . selfish.  That DM still wants to be a DM; they just want to do it without the work necessary to deserve it.

In my outline of How to Run, I mentioned the work we put into our worlds to make them beautiful. Here is the relevant passage:

"My world can’t rely on being what I hope it to be. It must be everything others hope it to be or it has no value. The cool, bitter reality of the effort is that I will have to build, install, renovate or ornament parts of my world in a way that I might find garish, graceless or camp: because that’s what players love. Theatre owners cannot only put on the plays that they happen to like. That is no way to bring in an audience. As I have said, I don’t even have the luxury of only pleasing an ‘audience’ – my players want to feel they own the place they’ve entered. They want to feel at home. I have to compromise my sense of beauty and please the entering crowd – else the crowd will simply walk out again.
Therefore, my world must be a masterpiece. It must devour the players, swallowing them whole, and doing it with a virtuosity that leaves them begging and panting in the world’s belly, never wanting to get out. I want my world to be something they cannot quit. The difficulty of that does not matter. It is what both my players and I demand. To have players I can count on, that they should wish to play at every opportunity. They should crave it. They know another world like mine is difficult to find.

That is why I waste my time with what seems like a silly detail - what sort of wood is a cello made of, how many ounces of spruce exactly and so on.  The lack of this sort of thing is what inspires endless youtube videos pointing out how one girl in the far background of one shot in a two-hour film was obviously not in character.  That lack is what drives you crazy when you see a tiny bit of pixellation in one short cut scene 18 hours into a game you paid $63 to own.  Gawdamn fucking lazy bastards - they should have fixed that.

So yes, it bothers me that I don't have maplewood in my campaign.  And it bothers me that I'm not going to find details on how much of what things a harp is made from, by weight, because it matters.  It all matters.  Moreso in a game where virtually everyone else's campaign is this horrid collection of crumpled papers, half-painted figures, buttons and game pieces for enemy orcs and a DM wearing a sloppy t-shirt that needed cleaning Tuesday.  I know I'm competing with that - but I'm still not inclined to be lazy.  My world must be a masterpiece.  So I'll overcome the annoyances and just get it done.

I used these once upon a time; more than 30 years ago.


JB said...

The information you want might only be available in Italian and pretty obscure.

Um...I know that's not a particularly helpful comment.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Perhaps I'll try the Italian wiki and use the translate button.

I appreciate that you care, JB.

Agravain said...

Searching on some Italian websites I found this:

"Brazilwood is the common name of several plants native to Asia and South America. Its dye gives a rich burgundy color, and has been known in Europe since the Middle Ages. It has given the name to the Brazil (and not viceversa, as often believed)."

The asian specie is Caesalpinia Sappan, of the same genus of Pernanbuco.

I hope this helps... if you find something and need a quick translation from Italian count on me.

Gregor Vuga said...

Cellos were technically developed several centuries after the discovery of the new world anyway.

Alexis Smolensk said...

As we understand them, Gregor; but the cello is almost certainly to have developed from the viol in the first decades of the 1500s, after the 'discovery' of the New World but considerably some time before that New World was colonized to the point where brazilwood was sent back to Europe in sufficient enough quantities to engender a manufacturing tradition. Moreover, despite works like this one linked, the argument continues regarding the origin of the viol, potentially back to the 1200s or, according to contemporary sources, earlier than that. Whatever the exact date, it is evident that these instruments were BOWED at a time when Brazilwood or Sappan (as Agravain added, native to Far Eastern Asia, also not largely exploited until the 1550s by the Portuguese and Dutch) was not available. What were those bows made of? We just don't know.

We can be certain that, since we don't have a source for the "inventor" of the bow, that its origin is far enough in the past as to predate scholarship and probably the advent of book publishing - at least before 1450.

It isn't as simple as timing this to the 'discovery' of the New World -which, we must remember, was first stumbled upon something like 15,000 years ago.

If that is the date of discovery you were intending, then Yes, I do agree.

Daniel Osterman said...

Do you have references for ironwood or rosewood? Those are two common woods for violin bows and it looks like there are ironwoods and rosewoods to be found in Europe and SE Asia (and India). A cello bow would be larger but not structurally very different to a violin bow, and given the violin's and cello's evolution from the viol, I think there is a strong argument to be made that whatever materials were employed for the violin would have been applied to the violincello.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I do have references for both of those, Daniel. I was finally able to find a reference to a cello bow made of blackwood, which is a very heavy wood also used for bagpipes now.