The Gradual Week 11

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Summary

  1. As the effects of the volcano subside, Sandro can still not reach Cea by phone. He settles into transcribing his inspirational pieces and working out details. Four days pass before Cea calls him. She's fine and similarly holed up at home with her parents. She invites him over to meet her father, who's a fan of his. Sandro heads over and discovers her father's name is Ormand.
  2. Ormand seems much younger than Cea's mother, who is an infirm 80-year-old. He even seems younger than Cea. Sandro remarks on this and Ormand tells him that he, Sandro, also looks younger than his age. Ormand explains that the two men have shared a common existence travelling among the isles, and this has kept them young. Ormand claims to be an old admirer of Sandro's work - in fact, he's And Ante. He suggests that the islands can speak to he and Sandro, and that Temmil did exactly that during the eruption. This is because they are both adept. As Adept Musicians, they are atuned to the gradual and can hear the music of the islands. In fact, they hear the same music. And Ante wasn't copying Sandro, he was playing the music of the gradual. He tells Sandro to surrender to this - it's his lot. He then picks up his guitar and starts playing the same melody that had inspired Sandro a few days ago.
  3. Sandro leaves And Ante to his strummings and exits the house. On the way home he meets Cea in the street. She seems aloof, and when he asks why she explains that she can't deal with another adept like her father. She's afraid of what Sandro will become. She wants to leave the island to be away from her father and Sandro. They part - seeming having ended their relationship. He returns home and has a shower.
  4. Alone at home, Sandro ponders a future where he travels the islands. He's no longer satisfied with Temmil. He strolls about town, then goes to a night club hoping to find Cea. When he doesn't, he returns home again. The volcano erupts again. He opens his mind to the music and decides that Temmil's real charm lies beneath the surface, not on it. "He alone heard the music that night. He alone responded."
  5. In the morning Sandro packs a few belongings including his violin and locks up the house. He heads down to the harbour, and Renettia the Adept finds him. She's unsurprised to see him and is prepared to guide him down the path to being an adept. He spends the next few hours in her company, making markings on a practice stave. He's dubbed with the name 'Violin' and told never to tell anyone his name, nor to look directly at the people arriving on the boats.
  6. The next day, a tour boat arrives and Sandro is moved to find his first customer (or mark?), a man named Taner Couter. He examines his stave and from this knows from whence he came, where he's going, and to charge him 40 Simoleons. Renettia stays at his side through this for support.

Discussion

  • Things take quite a turn for Sandro over these chapters. I didn't foresee him being or becoming an adept, but it seems logical (as logic goes in this novel) that this be the case. Though not explicitly stated, perhaps it's only Adepts themselves who don't know they are adepts that need the service of Adepts? If the general population doesn't need them, they would be seen as scammers, and the real need for their services would not be much talked about. There's a significant amount of hand-wavium here, to nobody's surprise, but it sort of holds up.
  • Some loose ends are tied, but there are still nine little chapterlets in which to ties things together. I'm curious to see what happens.
  • The quoted text below from Ch66 seems relevant. Any thoughts? Do musicians, composers, experience time differently when they are composing or playing? Does music come from the fundament?

‘I too have heard music all my life,’ said Ormand Weller, Cea’s impossibly young father. ‘Some of it was what I now know to be yours. I heard tides and winds and the sounds of seabirds, the blast of wind on a moor, the suck of a retreating tide. It was beautiful, moving, mysterious, deeply true. I was young, I thought the music was mine. Inspirational, as you say. Later I discovered it was Sussken’s, not mine. Yours, Sandro. The music that speaks to us from the islands is not unique, as we believe or as some of us prefer to believe. It is in fact communal, consensus, shared, part of the gradual. It is present in the fields of time that lie around every island. It is the great hall of music, the fundament, the sky, the world. Some of the other adepts describe a vortex, a gradient, a distortion of time, but to me the gradual is a heart, a living soul, a continuum of musical response, sung to us, played to us, spoken to us by one island, by the next island, by all islands. We alone understand it.’

Also, there's this passage from the end of Ch68:

Music for me was the voice of the human spirit. It existed only in the space between the instruments that produced it and the ear that appreciated it. It was the movement and pressure of molecules of air, dispersed and replaced instantly and unceasingly. It lived nowhere in reality: gramophone records, digital discs, were merely copies of the original. The only real record that existed of music was the original score, the black pen marks on the staves, but they were cryptic, had no sound, were written in code – they had no meaning without the human spirit that could break the code, interpret the symbols. And music survived not only the lives of those who played it, but the life of the man or woman who composed it.

Much the same could be said for stories, could it not? Note here that 'black pen marks on staves' are used in their musical context. It seems to me that as an adept, Sandro's life is literally a musical score - the score of his life is recorded on his stave. The odd back-and-forth movements needed to keep time are rather like following the notes up and down the scale. The time he keeps is different from the non-musicians. He experiences refrains. Does life itself have meaning if we are not equipped with the tools to break the code? How far can the analogy be stretched? This wouldn't be the first time Priest has played with this kind of thing, where he tries to interpret an abstract concept literally. In his first novel, The Inverted World, the main character lives a very different, non-linear physical existence.

Comments

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    First off, the utter lack of widespread knowledge about adepts. If there was a group of people who could reverse ageing through travel, you'd think that would be something most people would know about. There are all sorts of pieces of trivia we know about odd corners of the world. If there was a subset of people who didn't age, even if they were somewhere off the beaten track, I think that would be common knowledge.

    Given that, I can see that Priest has tied up the threads in the novel, but he's done so in a way that is inconsistent with how the world would work. Yes, it hooks up, but I'm unconvinced.

    I liked that the two compositions from the start of the novel, of Sandro and And Ante, weren't plagiarism but rather independent pieces drawing from the same well of inspiration.

    Different experience of time? The notion of "flow state" is a well-known phenomenon in high-level performance, and one feature of that is losing track of the passage of time. I don't think there's anything mysterious about it (unless Priest is say that anyone who's ever concentrated should be getting a youthful body soon).

    And the idea of "music is the meaning of life"? I think that's more to do with people using familiar metaphors to make sense of their lives than anything inherent in music.

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    Yay! The adepts are not scamming the tourists! I suppose one could see all the payments that Sandro had to make as being basically the cost of tuition fees :) And in any case he never seems to have got totally on his beam ends, though he did, naturally given his personality, get mildly anxious...

    Like @Apocryphal I didn't see his adepthood coming, though it kind of fits lots of clues from before - such as why he would be affected by time detriments and increments but hardly anyone else was. But @NeilNjae is right also - how come nobody knows other than the adepts themselves, when their constant rejuvenation is so apparent?

    Music and the fundament. If you rewrote some of the paragraphs quoted and replaced some words with things like "collective unconscious" then I reckon you could easily end up with something that would sound quite compelling. At its heart is a really interesting question - is music, or art, or literature the product of individual creativity or of some sort of collective expression?

    Open questions for me -
    What triggers a person to be an adept? Genetics? Chance? Exposure to something in youth? It's clearly not musical talent (for all Ormand's rhetoric) as Cea isn't one and knows it. Ditto the orchestral group Sandro travelled with all those chapters ago.

    But... given Ormand's speech, there is some sort of link with creativity, and maybe this is why The Dream Archipelago focused so much on such folk (mostly artists). And wasn't there an aside comment about an immortality treatment (to which again we responded as a group, how come nobody really knows about it)... maybe in CP's mind the immortality treatment there is another facet of time gradual technobabble?

    What kind of travel do you need to trigger it? Again per Ormand, any travel at all, irrespective of direction (which neatly blows away my theory a while back that if clever enough you could go forward and backward in time by exactly reversing your path.

    My current theory (equally likely to die horribly in the next few chapters) is that CP is trying to do something with ideas from Special Relativity and in particular the so-called twin paradox in which two twins, one remaining on earth and one zipping off in a spaceship, experience different aging patterns. (It's not really a paradox, but that's by the by). I can readily imagine CP mulling over time dilation and hence reduced aging (as seen by another observer) and turning that into fiction as time gradual detriments causing some individuals to have a considerably reduced apparent age. I don't for a moment believe that he is attempting to describe something about relativity in a hard-science kind of way, but I can see the possibility of a connection.

    "The only real record that existed of music was the original score, the black pen marks on the staves, but they were cryptic, had no sound, were written in code – they had no meaning without the human spirit that could break the code, interpret the symbols. "

    It's certainly cool, but is it right? Lots of musicians (as @clash_bowley reminded us) can't in fact read musical notation. Similarly, there were musicians (and no doubt very good ones) before any kind of musical notation was invented (which is at least as far back as the Late Bronze). Likewise there have been good storytellers who could not read or write. So I ended up not being convinced by the ideas behind this, although as a passage of prose it is very moving - we've discovered before that CP, when he lets himself, can write really beautiful passages.

    Let's prepare to be baffled and dismayed by the way he plans to close the novel...

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    Another open question that just occurred to me... if the time gradual stuff only affects a handful of people, then why are their formalised processes such as insurance policies and tour operator licences?

    Also, I wonder what it signifies that the bassist Teo apparently had no idea who Cea was? Has Sandro slipped into another timeline?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Discussion

    • Things take quite a turn for Sandro over these chapters. I didn't foresee him being or becoming an adept, but it seems logical (as logic goes in this novel) that this be the case. Though not explicitly stated, perhaps it's only Adepts themselves who don't know they are adepts that need the service of Adepts? If the general population doesn't need them, they would be seen as scammers, and the real need for their services would not be much talked about. There's a significant amount of hand-wavium here, to nobody's surprise, but it sort of holds up.

    meh! :D

    • Some loose ends are tied, but there are still nine little chapterlets in which to ties things together. I'm curious to see what happens.

    My guess, something else unexpected happens and EVERYTHING WE KNOW IS WRONG

    • The quoted text below from Ch66 seems relevant. Any thoughts? Do musicians, composers, experience time differently when they are composing or playing? Does music come from the fundament?

    Bull. Music comes from composer's brains not mysterious emanations from the earth. It's not magic. It is imagination and discipline that makes actual music from idle thoughts.

    Music for me was the voice of the human spirit. It existed only in the space between the instruments that produced it and the ear that appreciated it. It was the movement and pressure of molecules of air, dispersed and replaced instantly and unceasingly. It lived nowhere in reality: gramophone records, digital discs, were merely copies of the original. The only real record that existed of music was the original score, the black pen marks on the staves, but they were cryptic, had no sound, were written in code – they had no meaning without the human spirit that could break the code, interpret the symbols. And music survived not only the lives of those who played it, but the life of the man or woman who composed it.

    More mystical bull. Elitist drivel.

    Much the same could be said for stories, could it not? Note here that 'black pen marks on staves' are used in their musical context. It seems to me that as an adept, Sandro's life is literally a musical score - the score of his life is recorded on his stave. The odd back-and-forth movements needed to keep time are rather like following the notes up and down the scale. The time he keeps is different from the non-musicians. He experiences refrains. Does life itself have meaning if we are not equipped with the tools to break the code? How far can the analogy be stretched? This wouldn't be the first time Priest has played with this kind of thing, where he tries to interpret an abstract concept literally. In his first novel, The Inverted World, the main character lives a very different, non-linear physical existence.

    I think this is very likely CP's meaning and intent. Stupid author tricks... :D

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    > "The only real record that existed of music was the original score, the black pen marks on the staves, but they were cryptic, had no sound, were written in code – they had no meaning without the human spirit that could break the code, interpret the symbols. "

    Just to note he said ‘the only record that existed’ by which I think he’s excluding what people hold in their brain (memory not being a ‘record’). But this seems to completely overlook that there are other records of music (unsurprisingly called ‘records’) which is odd. A written score is one form of recording music. Recording it is, literally, another. And recordings are not cryptic, though they are much less precise than sheet music I suppose.

    Also, it’s not just the score that has no meaning without the human spirit - music itself has no meaning outside the human spirit. Does it?

    But all that’s aside the point I think. It doesn’t alter that metaphor is that ‘life is like music’ and the expression is a world where there are literal notches on staves that record life, and these can only be read by people adept at doing so. It doesn’t mean that one needs to read music to be musical, just as one doesn’t need to have a notched stage to have lived. But perhaps it does mean that those who can read music (or staves) have access to things that others don’t.
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    > @RichardAbbott said:
    > Also, I wonder what it signifies that the bassist Teo apparently had no idea who Cea was? Has Sandro slipped into another timeline?

    Probably. It would surprise me if he were to become Jacj.
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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Another open question that just occurred to me... if the time gradual stuff only affects a handful of people, then why are their formalised processes such as insurance policies and tour operator licences?

    Because CP forgot he said that? :D

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    Christopher Priest didn’t say that. One of his characters did. And that character might be misinformed, biased, or have an incomplete picture, just like real people.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    Christopher Priest didn’t say that. One of his characters did. And that character might be misinformed, biased, or have an incomplete picture, just like real people.

    OK, will shut my mouth now.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Also, it’s not just the score that has no meaning without the human spirit - music itself has no meaning outside the human spirit. Does it?

    Well, lots of folk throughout history would say no, music reflects something fundamental about the universe itself, which it so happens humans can tap into. Music of the spheres and all that. Tolkien tapped into this with his own creation myth of Ea. On a more scientific note (haha), creatures from amphibians upwards make music of one kind of another. So there's a case, I believe, for saying that music is deeper and broader than human experience.

    I wonder if CP is playing with the idea of synaesthesia again? We know that he does this in other books of the archipelago, including in the form of weapons. You could read Sandro's new experience of the islands as musical notes and/or themes as another form of synaesthesia. And indeed that of the non-musical adepts. Most of us encounter the islands in terms of the physical or economic description - ports, jungles, mountains, whatever. Adepts experience them as fluctuations in the flow of time. Sandro and Ormand experience them as musical motifs. Within that world (and clearly from our own discussion within ours) there's a bit of a disconnect between these mappings, so people who are focusing on one kind of description find it hard to relate to others - even Renettia the adept can't follow Sandro's description of Yenna as "a single note, a plaintive sound".

    So I do think that CP is trying to do something here with the idea that different people experience different places in different modes, and that it can be hard to cross those bridges of experiential gap. Maybe we all feel that he hasn't been 100% successful in trying to describe or convey this idea, but I do think he's trying to.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Christopher Priest didn’t say that [about insurance policies etc]. One of his characters did. And that character might be misinformed, biased, or have an incomplete picture, just like real people.

    It occurred to me that this might be another of his inversions - the hand-wavium intuition of the adepts may be incommunicable, but it's genuine (though only relevant to a minority of people). But the formalised bureaucracy of the insurance policies and licences makes superficial logical sense, but is surrounded by strange legalistic clauses and is actually of no value to most. The bureaucracy is the scam, not the adepts' ability.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    Probably. It would surprise me if he were to become Jacj.

    "Wouldn't". It woudn't surprise me if Sandro were to become Jacj.

    @RichardAbbott said:
    It occurred to me that this might be another of his inversions - the hand-wavium intuition of the adepts may be incommunicable, but it's genuine (though only relevant to a minority of people). But the formalised bureaucracy of the insurance policies and licences makes superficial logical sense, but is surrounded by strange legalistic clauses and is actually of no value to most. The bureaucracy is the scam, not the adepts' ability.

    I could see that being the case. But I also think that Priest isn't that interested in exploring that side of the world-building any more, and wants to look at the adepts.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    ... I also think that Priest isn't that interested in exploring that side of the world-building any more, and wants to look at the adepts.

    Yes, I think you're right, and this is (I suspect) part of the difficulties we are having as a group with the book - it is as though CP's main interest in writing shifts multiple times through a single novel. So we did originally have Sandro as a musician under a strict and authoritarian government at war. Then we had family difficulties, the disappearance of Jacq and the impact on their parents. The we had travelling and composition. Then adepts as apparent scammers, and the rather under-explained nature of time detriments and increments. Then we had a surprising experience of rejuvenation. Then a rekindled affair with Cea. Then some indecision about whether he should stay on the islands or go back to Glaud (a truly bad idea, if ever there was one, given how he left). Now we're onto the real nature of the adepts.

    In short, it feels like there are too many disparate ideas, none of which is followed through in a way that satisfies us. I don't think any of us would mind bizarre physics or whatever in a book - it's the lack of follow-through which is a stumbling block.

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    > @RichardAbbott said:
    > it is as though CP's main interest in writing shifts multiple times through a single novel.

    He did more or less say the book was about gradual change right at the very beginning. And he does like to take ‘concepts’ and make them literal. So perhaps this was intended.
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    @Apocryphal said:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    it is as though CP's main interest in writing shifts multiple times through a single novel.

    He did more or less say the book was about gradual change right at the very beginning. And he does like to take ‘concepts’ and make them literal. So perhaps this was intended.

    That's probably true... it just makes it really hard when someone asks "what's that book about?" :)

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    And unsurprisingly, that’s what most reviews seem to say LOL.
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