A World of Shadows

“He watched the moon sink toward the sharp treetops. Its radiance, and every sound of the night — the sighing wind, the songs of insects, the yowling things that had no identity — all these were the same, yet somehow different. He’d learned that nightmares had doors and windows that were not always shut in the daytime.

“That knowledge changed the way light fell on the land. It made the world dimmer, more shadowy, and infinitely wider.”

from “Shadowbender,” by Yours Truly (Watch for this story in Issue #8 of Ozment’s House of Twilight — see the blogroll at the right for the URL.)

“As mankind understands more and more about the world, the number of ‘monsters’ becomes smaller and smaller. . . . In a way, mankind has lost something important.”

–Isaac Asimov

It would have been a lot scarier to have lived in the pre-industrial age, before the advent of the electric light. Think about it: no streetlights, no houselights, no flickering TVs behind the living-room windows of houses on your block. No neon. No jumping into the safe cubicle of your car and flicking on the headlights. The night beyond your hearth, beyond your candle, was a well of blackness. Who knew what lurked out there, where the bandogs howled?

Ten or more years ago, I read an article by a scholar named Roger Ekirch, who seemed to be making something of a career of researching the pre-industrial night. There’s far more to the subject than you’d expect: the lack of abundant artificial light gave rise to significantly different patterns of thought and ways of spending the dark hours. (Have you heard of “the first sleep” and “the second sleep”? If you’d lived back then, you would have.) The article promised a forthcoming book, but I’ve never been able to find it. If anyone knows of such a book, I’d love to hear about it.

Anyway, to my point: monsters and shadows. (That’s generally always my point, if you look hard enough. Heh, heh!) Even in our sanitized, well-lighted world, the shadows are there, always pooling, always ready to come creeping back; and we writers of horror and speculative fiction are usually looking out for them with hopeful gazes. So I’ve got three stories for you — three stories from the edges of the dusk — three sort-of near wishful encounters with monsters.

1. Just tonight (hence, the inspiration for this posting), I was walking back to my place from the home of nearby friends at a little past midnight. It’s a November night in northern Japan — rain sluicing down at times in the cruel wind, everything shiny and wet. I timed my short journey to shoot home between squalls. As I passed the mouth of the Lavender Path (a long pathway like an alley where cars can’t pass — a place for walkers and cyclists between the backs of buildings and a little park on the right, lined on both sides by bushes and flowers in season — and yes, lots of lavender), I saw, about 20 or so feet away from me, something.

The thing was so incongruous that it stopped me in my tracks. I actually backed up a few steps to peer down the pathway and squint into the dark. “What is that?” I wondered. It was so black that I thought at first it was just a shadow; there were no details visible. But it was out in the middle of the path, where no shadows of anything else fell. And the more I stared, the more I was sure it was some substantial, upright object.

The mouth of the Lavender Path, with my bike at about the point at which I saw the "thing."

The mouth of the Lavender Path, with my bike at about the point at which I saw the

It was about the size of a large dog, but the oddest thing was that I had the impression of kangaroo-like feet or legs. That is, the oval-shaped, featureless bulk of the thing seemed raised at an angle, supported by a base of some kind that my imagination could easily construe as dog-like feet. I watched for perhaps 15 or 20 seconds, but the shape didn’t move at all. I’m fairly sure it was some mundane object blown out into the path by the fierce winds. But then again, it was about the right size and posture for a chupacabras, so I was not inclined to set foot on the Lavender Path (which I frequent in the daytime) for a closer view. I’ll try to remember tomorrow to glance that way as I pass, and we’ll see if the cloud-masked sun can shed any light on the mystery.

2. Not long after seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, a friend and I were walking to the local cineplex to see a late-night movie. The road we were taking had houses and buildings on one side and rice fields on the other. Ahead of us in the darkness, just at the edge of the rice fields, hunched a thing that looked for all the world like one of the cloaked creatures in The Village. We both had exactly the same impression: a vaguely humanoid shape stooping far forward, covered by a long cloak and a hood.

Of course, being adults and men (yeah, my friend was a guy — boring story, I know), we couldn’t allow ourselves to be too scared, but I’m pretty sure our steps slowed a little as we commented on it. We had to walk right past it (left past it) to get to the theater, so we did. It turned out to be black plastic draped over some rice-field-related implement, but even at quite close range, it looked like a hooded creature.

3. This one is in broad daylight. After some torrential rains a few years ago, I was crossing a bridge called Honsen Oohashi at the point where the Sekiya Canal branches off from the Shinano, Japan’s longest river. As I glanced down into the turbulent gray water, I saw what looked like a shiny, black, serpentine body rising up in an arch that just cleared the surface. It plunged back under, then re-emerged . . . then sank again, then reappeared . . . undulating, swimming in the central channel toward the sea. The thing was about 8 or 10 inches in diameter, at least. If I’d been looking down into Loch Ness, I would have been excited, let me tell you!

As I watched, though, I figured out what I was seeing. Either a car tire or the inner tube of a tire was floating on end (that is, upright, as if rolling), “bouncing” away down the river, now half into the air, now underwater. Shiny . . . black . . . the perfect sea monster! (As my old college friend Julie F. later said, “That’s an illustration of how a person sees what he wants to see.” Well, yeah. The Cervantes character in The Man of La Mancha says, “Poets select from reality.” I’d add that speculative fiction writers select, then reach out and give their selections a good, hearty twist.)

And you thought Hallowe’en was over!

So, my call to you, dear readers, is this: Does anyone have a similar story? Have you seen anything that might, in the pre-industrial night, have been a card-carrying monster? Let us hear of your shadowy walks and hair-raising glimpses. And if anyone has a bona fide monster story, well, you betcherboots that’s welcome, too!

I’d tell you about our monster-hunting club in gradeschool, but that’s a whole ‘n’other post!

Note to all: If you enjoy this sort of talk, be sure to read the comments on this post (below). People are writing in with some fascinating stories! Why don’t you be one of them?


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18 Responses to “A World of Shadows”

  1. Lizzie Borden Says:

    First- you NEED to read “The Lonesome Place” by August Derleth it will absolutely captivate your imagination (and is the reason for my illustration “The Lonesome Place” as well as my photo “The Home Stretch”)

    Second – Yes I’ve done that! Once, I thought I saw a large black dog on the sidewalk at 5 am, staring at me with it’s head down in the “if you approach I’ll tear your throat out” defensive dog manner- except there was something off with it, like it wasn’t contrasted properly with the environment wasn’t breathing or moving right- like someone had taken film of a dog and spliced it into another film and the times didn’t line up.. I actually ran into my house because of it.. and of course, when I got in, it wasn’t out there any more. I’d been going through long term sleep deprivation at the time so it’s put off to hallucination.

    One other time, I woke up to see a shadowy humanoid figure glide across my dimly lit kitchen. Yet again, it scared me to bits. Yet again, 5 am. Had to get up anyway, actually forced myself to get up, and lo, there was nothing there, but I kept an extra light on for weeks after that. Again this was written down to sleep deprivation.

    And finally, best of all, I woke up at about 3 am- to see this great glowing thing sitting on my chest.. flipped out. Started screaming.. Jumped out of bed trying to slap this thing off of my rib cage where it perched with glowing eyes…

    and only after I’d woken everyone in the house, did my brain wake up enough to begin processing what I was seeing.. and to remind me that I’d gone to sleep wearing my super-duper powered glow in the dark Scooby Doo t-shirt, and it was the glowing face of Scooby leering up at me as though it was about to devour my face in the darkness.
    D’oh! talk about feeling like a complete idiot.

  2. I had Bigfoot attack my camp Says:

    (In a Frederic S. Durbin cinema masterpiece, circa 1978). Fred, do you recall a phone-on-a-fencepost in Korea story? That is what came to mind while reading about the ‘creature’ near the rice fields.
    My story dates back to June of 2002, when three friends (male, alas) and I camped out on the Iowa river after fishing for channel cats all night (and having excellent success, if I may say so). We left a little campfire going and all passed out — the beer outnumbered the fish by a wide margin — only to have both tents awakened simulataneously about 3 a.m. by the howling of a cat on the other side of the river (the Iowa river southeast of Marshalltown where we encamped is roughly 100 or more feet wide and can by 10 feet deep in the channel).
    Anyone who has ever heard an alley cat screeching knows the sound. But this was deep — it had timber. After one or two howls over a few minutes we were all VERY awake and decided we had heard a bobcat, which are not that rare in the area.
    Two days later the DNR reported that two area farmers had called in about a cougar (!) on their land near where we were fishing. Cougar reports have increased in the last 10 years in Iowa, but none had ever been substantiated at that point.
    DNR agents actually found tracks, then placed game-trail cameras (the kind that snaps a shot when something moves into the shutter’s view) in strategic parts while warning hunters through the media not to flood the area and start shooting at anything that moves (as they do in late October when pheasant season starts). One of these game-trail cameras caught what is, to date, the only photo of what the DNR admits is actually a cougar! And this was less than two miles from where we had camped!
    The cougar was never trapped, never shot or hit by a car, and no body was ever found, though for roughly 6 months many calls were made (mostly hoaxes I suppose) of people who had seen “The Lion of Marshall County.”
    More than six years later the cougar — which, recall, actually existed — has become something of a tale of local legend.
    Did Scott Davenport, Rick Grandstaff, Ralph Reed and I hear a cougar? THE cougar? None of us knows for sure, but none of us will ever forget that night, either.

  3. fsdthreshold Says:

    Fantastic, both you guys! We almost need an entire other blog to pursue this thread — in addition to the writing blog, one for weird stuff, which is another great passion of my life, having been raised at my dad’s feet. (While most kids heard about baseball, etc., from their dads, I learned about Bigfoot, Roswell, Nessie, the Tunguska event, phantom felines, Abominable Snowmen, etc.)

    Lizzie, I’ve duly noted Derleth’s “The Lonesome Place” — I’ll look for it! I’m surprised I’ve overlooked that one for so long. (I’ve passed within a stone’s throw of Derleth’s grave in Sauk City, Wisconsin, though I didn’t know it was there at the time.) Is it a story (not a novel)? I’m also going to look up your illustration and photo, if they’re on your site!

    I’m sure you know that Black Dog encounters are an entire branch of paranormal experience. There’s Black Shuck in the U.K., countless reports throughout history in many different countries — even the Harry Potter books give the phenomenon a nod. The “incongruity” of your Black Dog with its surroundings really reminded me of Chapter 1 of _Dragonfly_ — did that creep you out when you read that, about how the figures in the alley don’t seem to jive with their surroundings, as if they’ve been badly-spliced from one film into another? It was something I imagined for the book, but it’s something you’ve actually SEEN!

    Your Scooby-Doo story reminded me of one of mine when I was really little. I was staying for the first time at the home of an aunt in a distant town. I was sleeping alone in a room that had once belonged to some of her kids, now grown and away. At some point I awoke in pitch blackness and realized I could see pale greenish stars glowing overhead. Instead of real stars, they looked like how people draw stars — the five-pointed deals. I was too little to know about glow-in-the-dark materials, and I was FREAKED OUT — wondering why I could see stars through the ceiling. . . . Since they didn’t move to attack me or anything, I eventually decided it must be something explainable, some part of the room that was supposed to be there, so I finally got to sleep. (Or maybe they slowly faded out.) Yes, they turned out to be glow-in-the-dark stickers that my cousins had attached to the light fixture.

    Finally, if we’re getting into actual ghostly encounters: when I was in elementary school, one Saturday afternoon my mom and I had gone down into the basement to look for something, probably some jars for canning or some such. My dad was at work at our bookstore. Mom and I both distinctly heard someone walk across the floor over our heads. When we went upstairs, no one was there, of course. But we both knew what our house sounded like at different times, heating, cooling, settling, etc. — and this was not that. This was definitely the sound of a person walking.

    And, Mr. Bigfoot Camp, I’m going to address your comment in a separate one!

  4. fsdthreshold Says:

    Hey, “I had Bigfoot” — fascinating story! Yes, I remember the phone-on-a-post story from Korea! (That is now the deadest phone in Korea, having absorbed about 500 rounds from the M-16 of a tense American serviceman when it failed to answer his challenge of “Who goes there?”)

    That’s an amazing cougar story! Have you forgotten our own mutual Cat story?

    For the rest of you: This same guy and I were camping beside the pond back behind the cornfield on my family’s property in Illinois — a place right under the eaves of a dark timber along a creek bottom, where all manner of Illinois wildlife still comes to drink. Deer by the hundreds, raccoons, opossums, coyotes . . . I’ve seen a bright red fox there, too. Anyway, normally my friends and I would camp out directly under the stars, in the open. But just a few days before this occasion, my dad had bought an old school bus that had been used by a church for many years. It no longer ran; my dad took most of the seats out and intended to use it as a storage “building” for tools and fishing gear at the pond. Since the bus was all new and novel to us, we slept inside it that night.

    It was a pitch-black night — no moon, and heavy overcast, as I recall. In the wee hours, we were awakened by the unearthly, throaty yowling of a cat. Not a domestic cat, with which we were quite familiar. This was much more deep-chested, much bigger. _Kuh-YOOOWWRRRR_, _guh-ROOOOOOWWRRR_. We pressed our noses to the bus windows, but the night was so black, we couldn’t see a thing. The truly unsettling thing was that whatever was screaming, it was less than ten feet away, right out there on the ground, and we couldn’t see it. It circled the bus many times, crying out on one side, then on the other. The two of us crouched in there with garden tools held defensively, prepared to hoe and rake the tar out of any monstrosity that crashed through the windows. But eventually the yowls faded into the distance.

    Any other camping excursion, and we would have been sleeping out in the open. . . . (Not that we let this experience discourage us from doing just that on several later occasions. . . .)

    I think we’ve hit on a fascinating vein! Keep these stories coming!

  5. I had Bigfoot attack my camp Says:

    OMG! Yes! I had forgotten “The Cat Outside the Bus” incident, but after you mentioned it I can recall the affair in full detail! I was trying to be Mr. Macho about the whole affair, when, in reality, I was really concentrating on not wetting myself! And I DO remember that whatever it was circled the bus! Probably a bobcat; at the time I thought we were likely to be devoured in an unhasty fashion “you are still alive when they start to eat you…”
    Isn’t it odd that we spent several camp outs afterwards just lying in sleeping bags OUTSIDE the bus? Our terror must have quickly faded, or else our desire to land the elusive Genghis Khan, Pond Terror Extraordinaire, was simply too great.
    For the rest of you, the Korea story: My father was stationed in Korea shortly after the war ended. He drew perimeter duty with two others, and they were not made aware a field phone had been posted — chest high — on a post near the edge of their marine camp. Under a full moon it cast a shadow as if someone were hiding behind the tree. After no response to challenges and no movement on a warning shot, pops lifted his M-1 Garand and put the last seven rounds of his clip on target, obliterating the phone.
    He spent the next day running.

  6. Lizzie Borden Says:

    (let’s see if this works)

    If the image doesn’t load you can get to it here-> http://www.afterburns.com/images/photography/thehomestretch.jpg
    “The Home Stretch”


    “The Lonesome Place”

    It’s a short story- I have a copy of it in “Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural” It’s one of my most “read me a scary story!!” picks when I was a kid. It terrified me, horrified me, filled me with that awful “I’d rather die of a ruptured bladder than set a foot on a shadowy floor in the deep dark night” dread. It’s about two young boys, who’re sent out sometimes after dark to run to the store, or have to walk home alone- and their fear of a neighborhood “lonesome place” that they have to walk through.. and how their imaginations are so strong and detailed about the creature that lives in the shadows that it takes form and actually kills another child. Creeeeeeepy story- a double edged blade for a 7 year old who scares easily, let me tell you- there’s the abject fear of the story all on it’s own and THEN the fear of the implications of if you fear it too much it WILL come alive and eat you. It was a horrific and vicious circle- wonderful.

    And yes! I knew exactly what the surveyors looked like because of that dog, you betcha!

    and LMAO to the other stories, wow, good stuff. I’d of been scared silly too.

    “you are still alive when they start to eat you…” This quote (can you believe Crichton died?) reminds me of my sisters. When I was a kid they’d torment me at bedtime with the notion that the monsters under the bed, of course, never managed to grab a kid unless two things were in order – you had to leave the closet door cracked (so they could get into your room) and, the classic- they won’t grab a child unless that child dangles a little pink appendage over the edge of the bed. My sisters spent hours of my childhood chanting “toes first.. toes first.. toes first.. that’s how they eat you.. toes first..”

    Needless to say, still to this day, I can’t sleep without my feet being tightly tangled up in a wad of blankets.. However, I have managed to get brave enough to sleep with the closet door cracked (but mostly because I’ve got a closet with no door).

  7. Chris Says:

    Funny you should mention the dread Chupacabra. Living here in SoCal we are daily exposed to stories of the chupacabra boiling up from the heated cauldron of Mexico (I know, I know, Chupacabra started on Puerto Rico, but it took hold in Mexico, presumably because swimming is not an issue for the dread beast).

    Our fierce guard dog, Fleshy (aka “Aleister Growley”) has taken it upon his narrow shoulders to keep us safe from a neighborhood analogue of the chupacabra who takes the evil and vile form of any number of cats. Fleshy’s arch nemesis is none other than “Kitty-cabra”, who can appear as a grey or black cat who taunts poor Mr. F. from a vantage point on the back fence.

    We know kitty-cabra is on the prowl by Fleshy’s distinctive kitty-cabra bark which is quite different from his usual bark warning us of other dangers like “neighbors”, “other dogs”, strange noises, “cars”, or “deliverymen”. The kitty-cabra bark generates deep within him as a purring growl, his lips visibly pursing util finally a woeful howl-bark emanates from him.

    I have attempted to tell him that if he were to simply stalk kitty-cabra silently he’d be better able to devour him. But he seems pathologically incapable of such strategy.

    As one last story about Chupacabra I found this stirring op-ed piece by former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox from the Onion:

    The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is The Chupacabra:

  8. Chris Says:

    Sleep. Another interesting thing you mention. Over the past couple of years my sleep cycle has gone haywire. I awake in the middle of the night and find myself incapable of getting back to sleep. It is amazing how different all the stressors of the upcoming day seem in the middle of the night versus how mundane they appear when faced in the daylight.

    My wife was recently was reading about “first sleep” and “second sleep”. We are unsure if I’ve reverted to some hybrid High-tech Medieval sleep cycle. To that end I am going in for a sleep study which should be quite interesting.

    I’ve taken to getting up in the middle of the night and going out to read in the living room. (Reading “Cryptonomicon” right now, so sometimes its hard to remember the next morning if I read that part or just dreamed it, owing largely to the Vonnegut-ian style of some of the chapters!)

  9. tandemcat Says:

    Thankfully this hasn’t happened in a long time (maybe science has just explained too much, heh, heh!), but I did experience it more than once, and the most vivid was when I was living in a single room on the third floor of a house, sleeping in a dormer, which meant I was “cornered”–the only way out was through the window. I halfway woke up in the middle of the night, realizing that there was _something_ in the room that was about to get me, and tried to yell for help, but I couldn’t make a sound! I tried and tried, and eventually succeeded in getting out a few pathetic groans, by which time I was fully awake and scared to death!

  10. Chris Says:

    Pavor Nocturnus: Night Terrors. “is a parasomnia disorder characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. The subject wakes abruptly from slow-wave sleep, with waking usually accompanied by gasping, moaning, or screaming” (Source: The Almighty Wikipedia).

    There’s even an entire website dedicated to this: http://www.nightterrors.org/

    Interestingly enough the old images of a demon sitting on ones’ chest in the middle of the night likely springs from this physiological issue.

    Sometimes science does shine a light in the dark. Not that it necessarily reduces the terror one must feel when your brain isn’t functioning fully “linearly” or logically.

    One of the most haunting images related to this is a painting by Fuseli called “The Nightmare”.
    (See it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:John_Henry_Fuseli_-_The_Nightmare.JPG)

    When I hear about “Night terrors” or Sleep Paralysis I’m reminded of one of the best books I ever picked up; Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World”. It was my first step out into a bigger world of scientific skepticism. It was a life-altering book for me.

    As I believe Fred may have pointed out in an earlier post, sometimes science can remove the “fun” by removing the inexplicable scariness of some things. But more times I’d have to say that it is more fun to learn how to operate the flashlight and shine a light into the dark corners.

    I still love to read ghost stories though. But they’ve lost some of their chill. But not all of it!

  11. fsdthreshold Says:

    Just to be the devil’s advocate here (in a strangely literal sense), isn’t this a case of the-chicken-or-the-egg? Science can “shine a light” on what seems to be happening in the brain during “night terrors.” Scientists are the first to admit that the brain is still a gray area (heh, heh!). Might not those physiological changes be what occurs when a demon sits on one’s chest in the middle of the night? I’m not advocating superstition here; I’m saying that phenomena can be explained in different ways which may very well severally be true in different aspects or dimensions.

    Consider the mind-altering drugs used in various aboriginal rituals around the world. Yes, scientifically, we know that the chemicals in the drug are affecting the normal processes of the mind. But how can we say with any confidence that that’s _all_ that’s happening? The age-old underlying theory is that an altered mind is thereby _opened_ to other influences that it normally has no traffic with, no perception of. If we’re attempting to measure, say, radiation using a wristwatch, we’re not going to get a decent measurement, because our tool isn’t designed to do that. Science is capable of measuring, quantifying, and explaining many things that poetry and theology do not register or touch upon. But many scientists fail to realize that the reverse is also true. There is a vast infinity beyond the scope of any and all human tools and thought processes. Scientists, by literal definition, would be the first to acknowledge the fact, because it’s observable regarding any tool we have. The tool has limits. For every job the tool can do it is surrounded by countless jobs it cannot do.

    Those who rely on human reason say the poets cling to aesthetics out of fear. Poets say the “human reasonists” cling to the flashlight out of fear.

    I agree about the ghost stories. I still love to read them, too.

  12. Marquee Movies Says:

    These last few blogs and all the ensuing postings have been terrific fun to read. In regards to the flashlight/dark enjoyment levels of each, I was reminded of a great line from ee cummings –
    “I would rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars not to dance.”
    Hope all had a Happy Thanksgiving, even you, Fred, thousands of miles away! (Did you do something to commemorate it?)

  13. I had Bigfoot attack my camp Says:

    Science geeks are always pissing in the snow.
    I appreciate knowledge and the ongoing search for The Truth; what I do not like is the obvious glee the eggheads get when they debunk something.
    Now, don’t get me wrong … we should discover all we can. That does not, however, mean that we should revel in destroying the mystery.
    The lab coats live in a universe consumed by fact, a world devoid of color. They are the Sidhe of the modern world. They have a sense of the numinous only in as much as it represents something they do not yet understand — others enjoy the numinous for itself.
    While humanity needs Newton, don’t forget that he spent most of his life pursuing ‘wonder’ i.e. the search for God.
    I enjoy knowing I have a flashlight I can shine in a corner, but that doesn’t mean I want to use it at the expense of becoming an emotionless, dreamless factoid.

    For Chris — I have not read “Demon-Haunted World” but will now do so. I enjoyed the Dragons of Eden and Pale Blue Dot. And if they had made the movie version of Contact follow the book the world would have been better served.

  14. Chris Says:

    I know it may sound strange but in nature the more you look, and the more you seek to explain the stranger things can become.

    As a scientist the joy I get in “debunking” something usually is accompanied by a deeper fascination with the real.

    Like looking through a tool box and finding new and amazing tools and learning how to use them, skepticism really does have its own reward. But those tools allow us to look at other things we would never have explored.

    Just the other day I was meandering about a statistics textbook and realized there was this whole unseen linkage between vector mathematics (which I don’t really understand) and statistics (which I am working to understand). It was a moment in which a little corner of a giant curtain I didn’t even SEE was pulled back just the slightest to reveal a much, much bigger room. Maybe there’s new curtains there?

    Yup I want to debunk as much superstition as I can because its usually the only way to get beyond simple things to find the much deeper and _much more fascinating_ things that lie beyond.

    As for the gulf between science and artistic appreciation, I hope no one thinks scientists are somehow _less_ capable of appreciating art and music!

    I am reminded of the number of musicians and music professors I’ve met in my days who have a vast facility with some underlying complex mathematical formalisms that boggle the mind but these are completely transparent when enjoying the music.

    The strange relationship between the euler number (e) and logarithmic spirals in mathematics and how one tunes pianos and guitars reveals some amazing strangeness that underlies the music we can all listen to without one whit of appreciation of the strange mathematics. But there’s folks out there who step across both worlds, and don’t lose footing in either.

  15. I had Bigfoot attack my camp Says:

    Chris — you wrote:
    “The strange relationship between the euler number (e) and logarithmic spirals in mathematics and how one tunes pianos and guitars reveals some amazing strangeness that underlies the music we can all listen to without one whit of appreciation of the strange mathematics.”
    I don’t have the slightest damn clue what in the world you are talking about, but so long as it does not ruin my enjoyment of an anything from old Black Sabbath album to Pink Martini’s latest brilliance I will take your word for it.

  16. Chris Says:

    I think you know who to ask about this very topic at the UofI. But I find this stuff amazing. I used to think western musical “tuning” just “was”. Sure there’s 8 steps or 12 tones in an octave on the piano. It just “is”, right? The piano came down from Mt. Sinai fully formed.

    Well the tunings we use in Western music are actually rather mathematically complex (I’m sure Steve could do a much better job of this since I’m still lost on this stuff). The difference between tones in a scale is actually partitioned logarithmically. In western music the ratio between any two tones is the 12th root of 2 (!!!) = 1.059463…blah blah blah (several more numbers).

    So when Tommy Iomi is wailing away on his Gibson SG he is likely (knowingly or unknowning) linked into this vast mathematical complexity involving the 12th root (as opposed to the square or cubed root as we all learned about in school) of 2.

    If your interested (sorry to derail Fred’s Blog), here’s a cool link:


    And, of course, this post deserves this link:


  17. I had Bigfoot attack my camp Says:

    Sir Chris,
    I had much splain’n to due in the newsroom when I opened the bunnywithapancakeonitshead! I was brought to tears for several minutes — it made my day after a painful deadline!
    Something tells me either Mr. Iommi knows all about it or knows nothing at all. I fear bringing it up with Lincoln’s pop because I’ll be even more confused.
    I find it fascinating all the layers there are to even the simplest of things. It brings me back to Sagan’s “Contact”, where, hidden miles and miles downstream in 11 dimensions is a perfect circle — the creator’s signature.
    This is why as a devout Catholic I whole heartedly approve of the advances (ethical) of science — keep looking and eventuall you will find His signature.
    Thanks again for the great laughs!

  18. I had Bigfoot attack my camp Says:

    dang — miles and miles downstream in pi in 11 dimensions. sorry for the omission

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