M. Shadow-Sky, The Book Of Ephemerodes

If a single noun were to be applied to the book, a strong contender would be: "density". The book is only 14 pages (unnumbered), but a few factors make the amount of information above average:

  • have +2 for a total of 16, because the cover insides are also printed over, and generally there is almost no white space on pages,
  • illustrations are sometimes printed dimmed, directly in the background of the text that refers to them,
  • typographically, there are about 10 font families in use on a few opacity levels, also the text is set in many directions for additional packing and meaning-making,
  • there's a use of mathematical symbols in the text (which shortens it),
  • many puns and intentional ambiguities are present too.

The book is quite a challenge indeed, but that's fitting for the work that describes a game. On its way, the text goes through many topics, like history, or philosophy, and many more, and in a distinctly non-discursive way. If your opinions are in much opposition to the author's, additional reading effort will certainly needed. Even quite radical ideas might be presented as something obvious and commonly shared. The style of writing tends to be hermetic to the level of occult-like, even if the rationalist stance is firm in the text.

Ephemerodes Cards of Chrones

While far from being the sole topic, the music of Ephemerodes has a central place in the book. It is described as a game, although, to be more precise, it might be rather understood as a family of games (we learn the evolution of the project through decades), or actually even the whole genre of music.

The central mechanic of Ephemerodes is working with non-octave scales. Most often it refers to pitch, and alternate tuning systems are indeed a specialty of Mathius Shadow-Sky The book includes tables of precise intervals (measured in cents). But the text suggests that non-octave scales might be considered over different parameters, even many non-parameter aspects. The key features are:

  • have a sound source of consistent, recognizable identity,
  • that source should make a few (e.g. 7), clearly different sounds,
  • those sounds should be (strictly) sortable by a chosen single criterion.

Flexible time is a second characteristic, some rhythmical options are considered, but definitely no pulse. And finally, during the performance, identities should shift towards different ones. These seem like key features of Ephemerodes, and the rest might be open (at least for the composer). Not an easy call as for details, because the game is not presented in a precise, actionable form that our library gradually converges to.

The book gives relatively a lot of attention to technological solutions potentially or historically used to achieve the musical result, but all of those don't seem to contribute to the central identity of the game. Ephemerodes stay to be defined at the level of rules and concepts with a lot of options for realization.

Close remarks

Context provided for Ephemerodes is abundant. Some of the notions would be familiar to music gamers, with the caveat that with so much diversity among us, you find a counter-opinion for everything without moving out of the field.

A composer-performer relationship is one of the important matters for participatory sound performance. Traditional roles of game designer and composer are vastly different, and it's not easy to combine the two into the-best-of-both-worlds function. Mathius Shadow-Sky joins the many post-war music creators who aimed to give more freedom and options for artistic involvement to performers. Here the critique of traditional organization is especially scathing and draws interesting parallels to both the music industry and musical education, or to social control more generally.

In a similar fashion there are claims of potential transformatory power of Ephemerodes, and similar sentiments are also not rare among music game creators. To a lesser extent, there are further analogies in striving for some forms of accessibility of music in the form of games. However, social impact of the Ephemerodes doesn't seem to be rooted in broad uptake by casual performers, but is rather supposed to occur on a more abstract level (or in a long-term perspective), by dealing with stagnation of the avant-garde that the book's author diagnoses.

Useful remarks

One other critique is directed at current music's over-reliance on visual cues. The main blow is aimed at the traditional Western score, but alternative form of visual communication like graphic scores or diagrams also get their due. And in gaming such an instructional support is common. Mathius Shadow-Sky suggests (= announces ;p ) that this whole direction is actually harmful, and some reasons for that may indeed be handy at least to not go to far with visual thinking. The crux of the argument, is (?) that regardless of the exact form, complexity, and context, graphic mapping of the sound is at the same time a reduction. Player gets to be focused on specific aspect that follows the visual parallel, and unwillingly disregards all other sound characteristics. This aim for true sound in its fullest is something worth keeping in mind.

Many thanks to Marek Chołoniewski for making this review possible.

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