What will music be like after the Ring of Fire? That was the question I set myself some months back when Paula Goodlett asked me for a panel topic for the 1632 mini-con at WorldCon in Chicago in 2012. The previous couple of years I had done a presentation on how down-time musicians might have reacted to 369 years of musical development being dumped in their laps all at once in 1631. But this new question would require me to do some forecasting—some extrapolation—to arrive at a presentation. But I managed to do so, and I made a presentation at WorldCon that seemed to be well received.

When I got done building my presentation file, I had about twenty minutes of musical clips for a presentation time allotment of 70 minutes. I was actually a little worried about whether I had enough. As it turned out, there was so much audience participation that I actually had to skip a few of the samples at the end because we were running out of time.

The Editorial Board plan was for my presentation to be video-recorded and posted on YouTube. Unfortunately, we had technical difficulties, and my session was one of the ones that didn’t get recorded. But Paula and I had a conversation afterward, the net result of which is I am going to attempt to recreate the experience of the presentation in a narrative form.

Unfortunately, not only did the video not happen; I also managed to lose my only copy of my crib sheet with its very abbreviated hand-written speaker’s notes. That means I’m trying to reconstruct this from my totally fallible memory as I listen to the audio track. Those of you who were at the presentation may therefore notice some slight differences in remarks or in sequence of clips because of that. But one way or another, the presentation went sort of like the following.

Lastly, while I played audio clips at the presentation, to stay out of legal trouble with copyright holders, in this article I’m going instead to refer to discography, or in a few cases, point to Google and YouTube. There will be one MP3 clip in the article of an excerpt from a work that is not available commercially in any form.

So sit back, pretend you’re sitting in a crowded room with about sixty other people on rather uncomfortable conference room chairs, and let’s go on a musical trip together.

The Presentation (sort of)

Hi. My name is David Carrico. The conference schedule says the topic for this session is what will music look like after the Ring of Fire. I’d rather talk about the much more interesting question of what will music sound like after the Ring of Fire.

This is a very challenging topic. What I’m going to present to you now is my opinion of the kinds of things that could be happening within a generation or two of the Ring of Fire event. Just so you’ll know, my bachelor’s degree is in music theory and composition, which is an intensive study of how music is built and how to create musical forms and effects. That included a lot of study in what musicians call form and analysis, which means the study of how music was written in past eras, so that we can see how other composers wrote music, and either follow suit or go different ways, breaking rules. So I do have some reasons for my opinions, but they are my opinions, not demonstrated fact.

I have a couple of caveats about this presentation. First, this is limited to my opinion, to my ability to conceive of what directions musical trends might go. Second, since it is an audio presentation, complete with sound clips, it is limited to my ability to find musical examples available today that are kinda sorta maybe like the things I hear in my head.

I have quite a few audio clips. They are mostly excerpts of themes from various pieces, but there are two pieces that I will play in their entirety. I did try to take the clips from the beginning of each piece, but there are some where I had to take a sample from the middle of the piece in order to get the sound I need for this presentation. Some of the examples will consist of a comparison between a piece as it was actually written by composers in our time line versus a performance of the same music but in a different style or different instrumentation that will reflect directions the down-timer musicians could go. Some of the examples will just be indications of musical changes that could happen. And some of them will be things that I know are going to have an impact, but I’m not sure what the ramifications will be.

Okay, so think about what happened. The down-timers got 369 years’ worth of world music and musical development dumped in their laps with the Ring of Fire. How are they going to react?

It will probably not be like anything we can think of. We are so used to thinking of music as a linear spectrum, of going from A to B to C to D. They’re not going to do that. They got 369 years of world music dumped on them all at once. They’re not going to explore all of the Baroque era music first, then move on to the Classical era music, and so on. To them, it’s all one big pot of music, and every spoonful they pull out is going to be different. They’ll be mixing things up in ways we haven’t even dreamed of.

This won’t be like the technological development arc. With a couple of minor exceptions, there won’t be the need to make tools to make tools to make tools to make widgets. 98% of all up-time musical instruments can be made by 1640.

Within two generations they’ll be going “I want that instrument and that instrument and this musical style and that kind of chord progression.” They’ll be going in every conceivable direction at once.

There are three big factors that will influence musical development in the New Time Line:

  • New Instruments or highly changed existing instruments, such as:

    • Piano

    • Clarinet

    • Low brass, like baritone horns and tubas/sousaphones

    • Saxophones

    • Modern Bassoons

    • Putting Boehm key system on existing woodwinds like flutes, oboes.

    • Mature guitars

    • Banjo

    • Modern percussion of all types

  • Musical forms, new and highly changed

    • Jazz, with its African influences

    • Rock of all types

    • Rap

    • Mature classical styles

      • Symphonies

      • Sonatas

      • Operas

      • Choral music

      • Fugues, quartets, concertos, etc.

    • Country music, both bluegrass and country rock

  • Musical ensembles

    • Large groups

      • Symphonies

      • Choirs

    • Differences in how the voice is used in producing music

I want to try and give a hint, a flavor, of what some of those sounds might be like. Of course, since I can only sort of conceive what that will be like, and since I’m not a genius of a performer, I can’t create it for you. Instead, I’ve had to scout along the fringes of our current musical environment, searching for things that are kinda sorta similar to what I think might occur in the future of 1632.

So here we go. These won’t be in any particular order.

This first piece was written by Johann Sebastian Bach sometime between 1722 and 1742.

  • Prelude and Fugue V in D Major BWV873, from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II. My sample was taken from CD 160 142 in the Vienna Master Series put out by Pilz, entitled The Well-tempered Clavier Vol. 2/II, Christiane Jaccottet, harpsichordist

But in the post-Ring of Fire era, around 1680 you might hear something like this.

  • Fugue No. 5 in D Major, from Jacques Lossier plays Bach, Telarc CD 83411, Jacques Lossier, pianist

That’s the same musical theme in both pieces. But the second time it’s done in a very jazzy style. Different style, different instruments.

(I think it was here I got a question as to whether or not the instrument makers of 1632 could build a piano. As I recall, the questioner was concerned about the big steel or iron harp that helps keep the soundboard together. The answer is yes, but the stickiest point won’t be the harp. It will be the steel wire needed for the strings.)

And then there’s this one:

  • Allemande from the French Suite No. 6 BWV 817 by Johann Sebastian Bach, written between 1722 and 1725. From Jayme Stone’s album, Room of Wonders. (Buy his music.)

It is canon in the story The Sound of Sweet Strings in Ring of Fire III that sometime in 1635-6 Claudio Monteverdi published a Sonata for Banjo and Continuo. I think it would have sounded a lot like this piece. And I think that the banjo will have a big impact on the down-time musicians.

Sometime in the 1680s, if you were in a tavern in Amsterdam, you might hear a song like this one:

  • Long Black Veil, from The Long Black Veil by The Chieftains BG2-62702 RCA Victor.

This piece was written by Johann Sebastian Bach in the 1740s:

  • Contrapunctus V, from The Art of Fugue – (My excerpt was taken from Bach – The Art of Fugue put out by Archiv Produktion, performed by Helmut Walcha, who was considered to be THE authority on Bach in his generation.)

But post-Ring of Fire, you might have heard this:

  • Contrapunctus V from Bach – Die Kunst Der Fuge put out by Classic Production Osnabrück, LC 8492, cpo 999 058-2, as performed by the Berliner Saxophon Quartett.

Saxophones give a very different sound to this piece, and would have really attracted the down-timer musicians.

It was at this point that I said that I think that post-Ring of Fire the saxophone will become the second national instrument of Scotland. I have this vision of the massed saxophone players of all the Scottish military regiments being led in parade by the pipers of the Highland Scottish regiments.

Another piece from the Bach Well Tempered Clavier, the Fugue in C minor BWV 847.

  • CD 160 121 in the Vienna Master Series put out by Pilz, entitled The Well-tempered Clavier Vol. 1/I, Christiane Jaccottet, harpsichordist

    But post-Ring of Fire, sometime around 1690 someone just back from Havana might have written this:

  • Tu Conga Bach From Bach in Havana, by Tiempo Libre, put out by Sony.

Very different instrumentation, very different chords, very different rhythmic treatment of the same basic melody.

Here’s a piece by Georg Friederich Händel, composer of Messiah, written around 1706. It is the Sarabande from the Harpsichord Suite in D Minor, as arranged for orchestra.

  • Sarabande from the Harpsichord Suite in D Minor, as arranged for orchestra, from Handel’s Greatest Hits, various performers, put out by Sony.

Sometime around 1680, if you had attended a salon at the palace of the Medicis in Florence, you might have heard something like this.

  • Prayer in the Night, from the album The Opera Band, put out by Victor, performed by Amici Forever.

And then around 1650 in a tavern in Hamburg, you might have heard this:

  • The Wabash Cannonball, from the album Another Country, put out by RCA Victor, performed by Ricky Skaggs and The Chieftains.

Frederic Chopin wrote this in 1847:

  • Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor, Opus 64 No. 2, from the album Chopin put out by Regency Music, performed by various artists.

However, a down-time composer might have produced something like this:

  • Waltz Opus 62 (Chopin) from the album The Natural, by Buddy Wachter, put out by Plectra Musica Profunda, Buddy Wachter (and it really is Opus 64 – that’s a typo in the title)

The banjo has a very interesting history, which I’m not going to go into now, but if you’re ever in Oklahoma City, I encourage you to go by the American Banjo Museum and check it out.

Around 1660, in southern Spain, a musician may be experimenting with that exotic instrument, the “u-ku-le-le”, and he might put out something like this:

  • Google Jake Shimabukuro and look for Bohemian Rhapsody

And around the same time, a guitarist in Naples who had just taken delivery of his new up-time mature design guitar, might be trying it out with something like this:

  • Bohemian Rhapsody from the album Classical Demands by Edgar Cruz (Feel free to check him out at

(At this point we had a question from the audience about whether the down-timers had guitars before the Ring of Fire. The answer is yes, but they were very different from the mature up-time guitars. They were smaller in body and neck, there was no standardization of strings—luthiers would make them with anywhere from four to ten strings, often doubling them in octaves like an up-time twelve string—and the sound was softer and not as resonant.)

Earlier in the presentation there was a question from the audience about how they would use rock instruments with orchestra. I deferred the answer until this point in the presentation.

First sample of possible orchestra effects:

  • Opening of Pinball Wizard from Tommy, London Symphony Orchestra, put out by Essential Records, ESM CD 404.

Second sample:

  • Overture of the 2000 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, put out by Sony.

Third sample:

  • The Call of Ktulu by Metallica from S&M concert album, put out by EMI, cd 62504-2.

Orchestra music will change a lot. Not just the guitars, but all the percussion.

And instrumentalists will think of things to do differently with their instruments, especially those who play the low register instruments. So maybe, one summer evening in Paris, you might be walking in a plaza and hear something like this from a group of musicians sitting off to one side:

  • Where the Streets Have No Name, by 2 Cellos, from the album 2 Cellos, put out by Sony.

The next topic up was serial music. (And yes, there is a standard joke about ‘cereal’ music, but it’s hard to set up.)

Serial music is a style of composition that was developed in the early 20th century by Arnold Schoenberg in Vienna. It’s more commonly known as 12-tone music. (When I asked for a show of hands for those who knew what serial music was, I got a lot fewer hands raised than when I asked for those who knew what 12-tone music was.)

There are twelve tones available within the span of a musical octave in Western music. If you take a piano keyboard and play every note up the keyboard from middle C to the B just before the next C, you’ll play twelve tones.

The concept behind this school of serial music is rather simple. You take the twelve possible tones, and you arrange them in a pattern such that no one of the tones is repeated until every possible tone has been played.

In this text I can give you an example I couldn’t give in the audio presentation, as I had no video capability.

Example: C-E-C#-F#-F-D-A-D#-B-A#-G-G#

You can play the row left to right, right to left, stack it vertically, or reverse stack it vertically. But the rule is you can’t repeat, say, the F until you have played through the rest of the row and then started the row over again and played up to the F#.

Okay, back to the presentation.

You can write some good music doing this. The problem is, it is very rigid, and very formulaic. And a lot of composers latched on to it because once they create the row and its pattern, you don’t have to exercise a lot of creativity. You just manipulate the row a few times, and you’re done. They got lazy, and wrote a lot of second-rate music.

My personal opinion, there are four composers who wrote first rank twelve-tone music: Arnold Schoenberg, who created the concept; his disciples, Anton Webern and Alban Berg; and Aaron Copland.

Here’s a sample of a twelve-tone row:

  • You’ll have to listen to the podcast up at the top of the page, please.

For twelve-tone, that’s not a half-bad melody.

What are the down-timers going to think about this? I think they’re mostly going to think the whole idea of rigid serialism is silly. However, the idea of serial patterns in music is not unknown to them. They have musical forms that use repetition as part of the basis of musical works: forms like fugues, canons, chaconnes, and passacaglias. So they’re going to look for works in the up-time music that exhibit repetition and serial techniques. And they’re going to find things like this:

  • Ravel’s Bolero, from Ravel – Bolero by Pierre Boulez and the Berliner Philharmoniker, put out by Deutsche Grammophon, cd G2-39859.

And this:

  • Mars, from Holst: The Planets by John Eliot Gardiner and The Philharmonia orchestra, put out by Deutsche Grammophon, cd G2-45860.

And this:

  • Money, by Pink Floyd, from the album Dark Side of the Moon, put out by Capitol.

All using serial techniques, whether melodic or rhythmic or both. And the Pink Floyd piece starts out in 7/4, to boot.

And then, back in that salon in Florence, you might have heard this one:

  • Senza Catene, from the album The Opera Band, put out by Victor, performed by Amici Forever.

I played the whole thing because I think, of all the clips I found, this was the single best example of the kind of thing that the down-timers will do in the first generation or two after the Ring of Fire. An up-time rock ballad, arranged in five-part Italian voicing. Wow. And Paula Goodlett’s (Our Fair Editor) favorite song, at that.

This was the period in which opera and oratorios were invented. The first opera was generally considered to have been written by Claudio Monteverdi in Venice in the 1620s. Heinrich Schütz is credited with writing one not long after that. The first English opera was written in the 1680s.

There are no opera halls in this time. We’re building the first one in Magdeburg in 1634-5. These operas were basically staged in the largest rooms in noblemen’s palaces. They were often done in concert style – standing in one place, no emotive acting, no costumes. If there was any scenery, it was very simple and wasn’t changed during the performance.

The big opera voice was being developed in this time. Prior to Monteverdi, most voices were just used with whatever natural talent or facility existed in the singers. Up-timers will have something to teach the down-timers there, although the down-time preachers had learned how to project their voices without wearing them out. They had to; no p. a. systems or microphones existed before the Ring of Fire.

My personal belief is that opera in the New Time Line will sound a lot more like Rodgers and Hammerstein than like Verdi, Puccini, or Wagner; more like Broadway than Old Time Line high opera.

But I am convinced there will be a Ring cycle of opera in the New Time Line. Only it won’t be Der Ring des Nibelungen, by Richard Wagner. Instead, it will be Der Ring des Frodo by some genius yet to be born.

Musicians—and actors—tend to be an irreverent and bawdy lot. And they look for humor in their music wherever they can find it. (When I called for a show of hands as to whether anyone knew Peter Schickele, a few hands went up. When I explained he’s the alter ego of P. D. Q. Bach, I got more hands up.) And so the down-time musicians would have heard something like this.

  • My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth, from The Stoned Guest, Peter Schickele et al, put out by Vanguard Records, cd VMD6536. My clip was the first three verses.

There are enough people in Grantville with college training in music that I promise you that every single P.D.Q. Bach album produced before the Ring of Fire is there. And once the down-timer musicians discover this music, it will literally go viral. They will scarf this up, everywhere, and whether or not they dare play it for the patrons, they will play it for themselves.

One of the new instruments that will come back from the future is the harp. Now the concept of the harp isn’t new to the down-timers. They have lap harps, and even some relatively large harps similar to the Tara harp. But the big modern concert harp will be something very new to them, and I suspect it will become pretty popular. And so, they might do things like this:

  • Prelude, from the Violin Partita No. 3, BWV 1006, Johann Sebastian Bach, by Caitrin Finch, from the album Crossing the Stone, put out by Odyssey.

(Here someone asked if there would have been an actual concert harp in Grantville. The answer is no, but there would have been photographs, descriptions, and perhaps some partial diagrams of the mechanism. It might have taken some experimentation to duplicate the concert harp, but it’s within the down-timers capabilities.)

And many people can learn to play harp. If you can play piano or harpsichord, the skills transfer easily to harp. My wife and I have a friend who has played piano for decades, and a few years ago decided to take up harp. Her biggest problem in learning to play, she said, was that the strings are color-coded, but the colors don’t match the colors she hears when she plays.

Moving on, think about what would happen when gypsies get ahold of modern instruments. You might get something like this:

  • Mundo Cocek, by Boban Markovic Orkestar, from the album Balkan Brass Fest, put out by Piranha Records, CD-PIR1790

And meanwhile, back in that plaza in Paris, you might hear something like this:

  • Hurt, by 2 Cellos, from the album 2 Cellos, put out by Sony.

Somewhere about here I played a clip as an example of another kind of thing the Germans might pick up on: German rap. (Unfortunately, I lost the link to the clip and haven’t been able to find it again. But Google on German rap, and you’ll find a lot of samples.)

Yeah, by 1660 I can see German kids out rapping on the street corners. And maybe even some doo-wop happening as well.

Following is a piece that I think the down-timers will be seriously affected by.

  • Fanfare for the Common Man, Aaron Copland, played by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, from the album Copland: The Music of America, put out by Telarc, CD80339.

I don't have any idea as to where they will jump off to from it. I just know they will.

And here is where I realized I was running out of time. I had to skip over six excerpts to get to the piece I was going to close with, which was an absolute must-hear item.

Before I played it, I encouraged people to go outside the hotel and listen to the street-drummers in downtown Chicago, and to go to YouTube and search street-drumming. I think that is something that the down-timers will take to, especially the idea that you can make percussion out of anything: pots, plastic buckets, boxes, whatever you can drag up and play.

(Someone asked about steel drum bands. I suspect they’ll catch on.)

And now, the finale: in 1730 in a small hall in Edinburgh, Scotland, you might hear something like this:

Red Hot Chilli Pipers – scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Smoke On The Water YouTube link.

Rock and roll bagpipes! How cool is that? (By The Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Check them out at Buy their albums.)

That was the end of the presentation.

What’s that? You want to hear the excerpts I had to skip?

You’ll have to wait for next year.