flying through clouds of uncertainty on wings of existential dread
If you don’t know this ballad/set of ballads, the basic story in the variation I know best is:
Two sisters are in love with the same man; the older dark-haired one (brunette! Evil!) drowns the younger golden haired one so she can have him. A wandering bard finds the . . . bones and hair? Skeleton and hair? Actual rotting corpse? in the stream and naturally thinks ‘Aha! Harp making materials!’ AS ONE DOES. (I’m going with bones already cleaned by fish and whatnot and hair just sort of floating with them because I’m a fan of the least gruesome option). He makes a harp from her bones – in at least one version it’s her breastbone and fingers, more on that in a minute – and strings it with her hair and goes merrily off to play at the nearest house, which is naturally the home of older sister and ill-gotten husband.
Naturally the harp sings the song of the murder all on its own, everyone learns the truth, justice I guess?
No details are given about what happens when some dude turns up at the door with the most metal harp possible just ready to act like it’s normal.
So I’d been thinking I was going to do the skeleton among the reeds with maybe the bard’s hand reaching in and that was a LOT to try and compose into a vertical card format and while there was probably never going to be a card last week (I had a one-day weekend) I did also just not feel like leaping in to that. Once I decided to do the harp instead of the whole body the layout became clearer, but I was left with a basic engineering question, which is when I turned to friends. Hang out with me and this is the kind of message you get:
Me: If you were going to make a harp out of human bones would you start with the ribs or half a pelvis?
Magical Sparkle Muffin, completely unfazed by the lack of context and EXTREMELY ready for exactly this question after many years of being a band geek, engineering nerd, and true crime aficionado: Neither. I’d start with a radius or an ulna and use them to determine how high up the ribcage to go. Ribs are flat smooth bones so ideal for stringing, but the slight curvature of the radius and ulna are really amazing for structural stability and it’d help the finished instrument maintain its integrity
I am too lazy to transcribe all of it, but trust me, there’s more and it’s all gold. Skipping ahead:
MSM: Now if you asked me what *animal* I’d use to make a bone harp I absolutely wouldn’t start human
Shortly after this I shared Loreena McKennit’s The Bonny Swans as an example of the ballad
Me: This version specifies fingers as the pegs and her breastbone for the harp but I don’t recall the older trad song being so specific. Off to Google!
MSM: See a sternum would make a terrible harp. The thickness and width varies widely across the bone. The resonance would be all off.
What jagweed makes a harp with a sternum?
And even later:
MSM: Okay but I’ve been thinking. And I’ve got some additional remarks.
See, bone’s a weird substance because living bone is full of living tissue but dead dried bone is porous and I’m not sure what effect that would have on acoustics? Like, would it dampen or make it reverberate?
So anyhow get you some friends with specialized knowledge and endless curiosity and, if you’re me, a high tolerance for spooky randomness. Btw, MSM is not to blame for the phalange lashed in between the rib and the radius; that was me picking getting the shape where I wanted it over realism. Also the use of *cough* BLADES of grass as the ten swords is all me, no one else should be held to account for that dad joke.
Places to buy stuff!
Did I miss something? I think that’s everything.
What’s making me a happy this week:
My various wild and awesome nerdy friends – not just MSM, but if I repeated every awesome chat thread and idea chain I’d never do anything else. You know who you are.