Saturday, October 24, 2009

Steampunk Music

A quick definition, for those not in the know, borrowed from the Wiki gods:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that [...] denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used [...] but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy [...]. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate-history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers [...] with a presumption of functionality. (original article here)

This is one of the concepts that may be best understood with a visual, so take a moment to look here and then again here, and you'll get the idea.

Now, the concept appeals to me for a number of reasons, not least because the first bit of adult fiction I ever really got into was Sherlock Holmes. (Tolkien and Herbert were in there, too, but their worlds had more limited entries.) Steampunk seems perpetually stuck in a semi-Victorian era level of society. A bit more advanced, as I think dirigibles came slightly later, but with about the same feel. So it appeals to me for that reason alone, as there is just something about that era that I find fascinating.

Also, I find dirigibles incredibly cool, and think that even though it would be slower, modern air travel would be so much more enjoyable if we'd stuck with blimps. Which, yes, is wholly impractical given the number of travelers and the speeds with which they must travel, but really, can anyone argue that a slower pace would really be a bad thing in today's world? And besides... blimps! Blimps!!

Ok, that bit of personal geeky self-indulgence aside, one of the other reasons the genre appeals to me is it has such a visual element to it. Which was pretty much where I thought it began and ended - as a visual medium.

I was wrong. (Probably not for the last time, certainly not for the first.)

There is musical steampunk.

I'm not sure if it expands beyond the band that was introduced on the radio the other day, via one of the NPR programs, but it does exist. The group, whose name eludes me - and we all know how I feel about research on this blog - is primarily a jazz-oriented outfit. Now for whatever reason, they decided to attempt to do modern era music on more traditional instruments. In other words, rock and roll without the standard rock and roll set of instruments. Big band meets Led Zeppelin. Sort of. (Yes, blimps again.)

It was not muzak by any means, which might be the first comparison that springs to mind. They managed to retain the edginess that defines steampunk, and convey that on a musical level. I won't claim it was music I'd run out and buy, but it was decidedly different, and I thought it added another dimension to this particular genre. It reminded me that if you're going to get into world-building, which is sometimes an integral part of both fantasy, sci-fi, and spec-fic (with all the over-lapping those genres do lately), there are always multiple layers of elements to consider.

Which, if it didn't look so cool might be enough to get me to eschew the unfamiliar future for the known element of the present.

Only... there are those blimps to consider.

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