The Greatest Of All Symphonies

| 4 mins | Bob
tags: music, book, science-fiction, opinion

Perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve read in fiction was in Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds1. I finished reading it in July this year, but I am still thinking about it pretty often. It is only a side story of a person called Quirrenbach, the main character Mirabel met on a short travel in a shuttle from the main lightship to a space station. They stayed together until after transitioning down to the planet but Mirabel wasn’t even interested in Quirrenbach’s story or company as he had another job to do.

Quirrenbach introduced himself as a music composer who has put himself into cryosleep and travelled many lightyears across solar systems to visit this legendary planet called Yellowstone to compose a symphony about it’s glamourous utopia he was told about. When he finally arrives, he finds a planetary system rotten by an alien virus that infected all materials containing advanced nanotechnology. It transformed the entire city into a swollen chaotic metal-organic jungle with a completely broken society and only primitive, mostly mechanical technology from an age long ago. Quirrenbach is shocked and worried what to do but then figures he must continue and now create a tragical piece from what he discovered.

This is told to Mirabel on the go and not elaborated in more detail, but thinking about it and imagining the grand scale of his musical masterpiece he so deeply must have dreamed about and now vanished into nothing is so breathtaking for me. If ever we as humans travel deep space, and a composer that devotes his entire life into capturing the beauty of planets and stars as musical pieces, it will be the single most beautiful thing so astonishing that we can’t possibly imagine it yet.

I belive that music and only music is powerful enough to accomplish this. Even though I am strongly influenced by Ansel Adam’s quote, I think on a scale greater than us individual beings, silence, and even photographs are not adequate.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.

– Ansel Adams

But if stars and planets are the abouts, silence shall be filled with melody.

– extended by me

If you want to get a sense of what is possible with music, you should listen to the compositions by James Paget2 or Keith Merrill3, Thomas Bergersen’s Humanity project4 and Neurotech’s cyber-industrial metal5. Those, I think, are the closest you get to what Quirrenbach was about to create.

For the sake of completeness, I should add the following:

Click to reveal (light) Spoilers Quirrenbach reappears very late in the book, and it turns out that he is not who he told Mirabel he was, and was in fact working for the enemy. Although the story about him being a composer still holds true. At first he ignores the question about the state of his symphony but later simply adds that it is progressing splendidly. Sadly, the topic is not further talked about—I think it would have made a great side story.

Apart from all this, I found Chasm City to be among the greatest novellas I have read. It’s a very personal story taking place in a universe that is—well an entire universe. Reynold’s Revelation Space books have such a scale and are yet filled with so many senseful and raw details forming a complete histroy6 of humanity’s future before your eyes that it is hard to believe it was creatively created. Contrary to the dystopian and brutal nature of this imagination, I somehow hope it will become true.

  1. Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds. If you’re interested and want to read it, I highly recommend that you start with the first part of the series, Revelation Space. You’re going to be hooked! 

  2. James Paget on bandcamp; The Wonder of Gaia is particularly beautiful. 

  3. Awakening and Inspiration by Keith Merrill are breathtaking. 

  4. Humanity by Thomas Bergersen is a series of seven albums that is still in the writing, one through five are already released. 

  5. Particularly In Remission or Symphonies by Neurotech

  6. A timeline of the major events in “Revelation Space”. 

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updated on 2022-11-30