Music for a Metamythos

The Metamythos mandala tells the story of Songs of the Metamythos in symbols. How might the story be told in music?

The Metamythos mandala tells the story of SONGS OF THE METAMYTHOS in symbols. How might the story be told in music?

“So was there any particular music you were listening to when you were writing your book?”

It’s a fair question, considering the book’s title: Songs of the Metamythos. In my book of original myths. as the name implies, music serves as the central metaphor. I was thinking I should answer that question, when something happened.

James Horner died.

The composer of numerous excellent film scores (he won an Oscar for Titanic), Horner was cut down way too young in a plane crash, depriving us of what music he had yet to give. It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the blog next door (Your Sacrificial Moviegoer) that I’m a huge fan of good movie music, and of James Horner in particular. By design, a well-crafted score subtly cues emotion and conjures imagery; consequently, much of what I was listening to for inspiration while I was writing Songs of the Metamythos was music from the movies.

So in honor of James Horner, I offer this partial musical tour of the Metamythos. The titles are those of myths from the book, followed by links to YouTube excerpts of the music:

The Singer and the Dragon

In this creation myth, the Song of Diversity, which drives everything that comes after, is first uttered. The essence of that song—from one voice, many voices—is echoed in “Secret Songs” (from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass), a round that starts with one singer, only to be picked up by a growing chorus.

Cue this link up from 3:33 to 5:50 and listen to it in the dark, with the volume cranked up. It’s not from the movies, but it’s no less awesome for it.

Tying the Knot

In this coming-of-age myth, young Lucky is challenged to ride a ghost horse, and in so doing sees visions of the past flowing around him:

…and the world rewinds: Stars whirl, the moon runs away backwards as the sun unsets in the west, blue sky chases dark into day the wrong way around, while the ghost horse trots without ever moving an inch. A flock of sparrows flies in reverse through Lucky’s head as if he too is a ghost, the birds collecting the propulsion of their wings tail first. The wind of it pulls at the strands of his hair and tickles his scalp; he can’t help but laugh, as spent petals everywhere fall upwards to reattach to stems and rediscover their bloom.

John Williams, perhaps the most famous of film composers alive today (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T.) provides the backdrop: “Gillian’s Escape” from one of his less well-known scores, for Brian De Palma’s 1978 movie The Fury. Consistent with events in that film, the music turns abruptly sinister at 2:26, but until then it conveys the thrill and wonder of a wild ride.

The Curse

Fatale, the once proud goddess of death, has been laid low, wronged in the most terrible way one can imagine. Unable to exact revenge with her life-ending touch, Death summons other forces at her command:

She rose up, calling to the dark, the comforting, enveloping dark, and it came running like a river. It flowed over her, washing her beautiful illusions away as she embraced her bitter essence, and it clothed her nakedness in black. Rising to her feet, clad now in robes befitting a goddess of the shadow realm, she turned to face him who had violated her, and remembered who and what she was.

She was Fatale, child of Night, daughter of the dark; she who prowls the pitiless chill of winter and the wilting, scorching climes, leaving famine in her footsteps and plague in the path behind. The sweat of her toil waters the roots of every poisonous herb, and the gore of every predator’s kill drips as the lacquer on her fingernails. The venom of viper’s fang and spider’s bite is the blood of her veins, the stench of decay her reeking perfume, her breath the musty exhalation of an unsealed tomb. And in her eyes, the deep dark pits of her blackened eyes, she holds the thing most feared: inescapable, irrefutable nothingness. She was magnificent. She was horrible. She was Death. And she would have vengeance, such as the world had never known.

And then, with a few words, she lays a curse upon her foe that forever alters the course of human history.

Thank you, James Horner, for the only music that matches these moments; from the soundtrack of Brainstorm comes “Lillian’s Heart Attack”:

Truth and Consequences

This allegory sends a young woman named Peregrine on a quest for truth. To find it, she must follow the child goddess Aeriel on a dizzying trip through Night’s fantastical palace of Umbra:

So they ran, deeper and deeper into the house, through room upon room as Peregrine unlocked more doors with her obsidian key. Behind one door, a parlor of dancing invisibles; behind the next, a city by a sea of glass, its smooth surface shattering at the shore into a million glittering shards. They ran through a room that kept folding and unfolding on itself in elegant, ever evolving symmetry; she heard the true name of the Great Goddess echoing here and wanted to chase it to its final syllable, but with Malus hot on their heels she couldn’t keep running around in circles. They ran into a room that was all sky, yet she didn’t fall; instead she floated effortlessly, permeable and white, her gentle margins shifting with the wind…in the next room she was herself again, and her lover (“Here I have a lover!”) was waiting as always on a mossy hill; they kissed as they had for years, whenever Peregrine found her way back…and then the two rooms collided, and she was snatched from her lover’s arms and hurled into the sky. She reached to restore their embrace and came down as summer rain, her wetness splashing her love’s contours. By the time she’d soaked through the ground and come out the other side, Aeriel leading her to the next room, she was Peregrine again, only with the memory of another’s touch embedded in her skin.

Alexandre Desplat composed something that sounds like a cross between Philip Glass and Richard Wagner, as prologue to the controversial film Birth. It captivated me from the moment I first heard it, sitting in a darkened theater; to me, it will always be The Journey Through Umbra.

After Dark

Prophecies abound in this myth of things foretold. I won’t spoil its revelations; suffice to say its tale of nightfall appropriately centers on Night, the Lord of Things Unseen—a strange and forbidding god, full of mystery and magic, whose motivations and machinations are known only to him.

The shifting, sinuous main theme of Alien by the late, great Jerry Goldsmith (the original Planet of the Apes, Star Trek: The Motion Picture) carries the menace and otherworldly beauty that is the elusive essence of Night.

And the theme’s end title reprise and expansion (inexplicably not used in the film) hints at what more Night might become.



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