Music of the River People

Music in the valley was once the sole practice of the River people. Ancient Malongs, dating back millennia, have been found at Crossing East. The arrival of the Children of the Flame, with their own developed musical culture, at first caused great changes in the music of the People. River elders became distressed at what they feared was the dissolution of a central element of their culture. A movement followed to restore the music of the old, and over the last few centuries a music has emerged based on fundamental traditions, though with various Flame and Vangesh influences.

The People of the River often perform in large ensembles, sometimes consisting of up to ten or more musicians. Their music is vibrant and active, often of intense rhythmic and harmonic density. Where the Children of the flame have perfected non-pitched percussion instruments, River music is distinguished by the tremendous variety of pitched percussion instruments. Most are keyboard instruments, struck with mallets or hands, and made of materials such as wood, metal, or less commonly, glass.

Every large River ensemble consist of a Malong, a trio of large metalaphones. These instruments are made of ironwood. Though ironwood itself is not particularly resonant, an ancient tradition of sealing the wood with a special resin gives the wood a metal-like resonance and specific pitch. There is but one family in the valley that holds the knowledge of this process. Their house in the Ironwood is a center of music, frequented by River musicians of many disciplines. The elder, Veburn, is known to transcribe the cries of the Bingos into music.

River ensembles, as Flame ensembles, prefer plucked string instruments. Their style and manner of playing, however, is quit different. The Swaramandala, once a favorite of the river people, is now despised, a reaction to the incorporation of the Swaramandala into Flame ensembles some time ago. To replace the Swaramandala, the river people invented the Lutam, a plucked string instrument with large resonating chambers. The huge size of the resonators, though unwieldy, amplifies the strings, allowing the instrument to have a longer sustain than any other plucked instrument in the valley. Its beautiful sound and high register often put the Lutam in the melodic fore of River ensembles.

Music of the Children of the Flame

The Children of the Flame, arriving in the valley as they did, had but a handful of musicians to continue their musical legacy. They quickly developed advanced schools for the learning and preservation of their music. What resulted was a strict and refined music, though of dubious historical validity. The Children of the Flame, as they borrowed the Swaramandala, had a tendency to borrow from other cultures.

Flame ensembles often are relatively small, consisting of around five to seven players. Usually more than half of these players are dedicated to non-pitched percussion instruments. Metal sheets and disks of various sizes are used, often struck with large metal beaters. Ironwood cylinders, of various sizes, are used to provide dry rhythmic articulations. Shakers of many varieties are coveted by Flame musicians. It is said that a master of a Shasheshe, a small, hand-held shaker, is respected above all other musicians. Skin drums are used as well, the most important being the Talam, a pair of small drums capable of a wide pallet of sounds and played at amazing speeds. By far the most technically demanding of instruments, the Talam is found only in the most sophisticated music circles. It is rumored that the Talam was perfected in the Monestary, where still today the best playing can be heard. Competent players are, however, sometimes found at the Barrier.

The Children of the Flame rely heavily on a single family of plucked string instruments, articulated with either plectrums or fingers. Varying greatly in size and register, these instruments form the melodic core of all flame ensembles. Due to the expense of such instruments, large ensembles are uncommon. The largest ensemble, renowned for its artistry, can be found in the court of the Citadel. It is the Swaramandala, the loudest and most beautiful instrument of the family, that often leads such ensembles. This instrument defines wealth in Flame communities, and often the presence of one in a home is a sign of great affluence and learning.

The largest and rarest plucked string instrument is the Tobiam, an instrument as tall as a man with strings running from the base of the instrument to a knot of wood at the top. The five strings are stopped on a fingerboard by the left hand, while the strings are plucked by the right hand. There are but two Tobiam in the valley, one in the Citadel, and one at Lands End. They are instruments of great civic pride, used only in the largest ensembles.

Aerophones are the rarest family of instruments in the valley. Legend tells that before the Children arrived in the valley there were countless varities of aerophones: reeds, pipes, end-blown and transverse flutes. Upon arriving in the valley, however, the art of such instruments was lost. A few, in the city of Jerrock, have restored an ancient double-reed instrument with a metal bell, of possible Vangesh origins. Though its register is limited and the instrument is very difficult to play, ensembles in Jerrock have incorporated it into their performances.

Aural Illustrations

1: Environmental Audio - Wilderness
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2: Environmental Audio - Citadel
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3: Environmental Audio - The Monastery
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