lower a tone or your toe to raise it—you can get the complete chromatic scale.” She frowned. “In equal-temperament tuning, of course. Actually, for example, an F sharp and a G flat aren’t exactly the same note. We think Original Man must have had some way of getting around the problem. But the department’s working on it.”
“Sounds awfully complicated. Why not a separate string for each note?”
She was pleased at his interest. “That was one of the original proposals. But they decided it would make the instruments too cumbersome, too unwieldy to play. You’d be surprised at how nimble a real virtuoso can be at operating those frets. Of course, there are some double and triple stop combinations that are impossible, but we edited the score slightly where those cropped up. I don’t think Ravel would have minded,”
The musicians were filing on stage now, four men in roomy drawers and sleeveless singlets that wouldn’t hamper their arm movements, and the audience burst into applause. The Nar in the upper tiers courteously imitated the motions of clapping, though they produced no sound.
Mim leaned closer to Bram, her mouth next to his ear to make herself heard amidst the tumult, and he could not help thinking about how pleasant it was to have another human body pressed against his. Even though, the bitter thought intruded, it provided only the illusion of communication, not the real thing that the Nar had.
“Somebody on the committee,” she finished hastily, “even made the suggestion that Original Man might not have used frets at all. That the instrument he called a violin, whatever it looked like, might have had only three or four strings and that he produced the full range of notes by finger action. But that’s ridiculous. How could you produce all the notes accurately in a rapid passage without frets? It would take years of practice.”
The applause died down as the musicians picked up the little motorized disks and sat down. Bram recognized the cellist. He was Olan Byr, the concerto specialist. Most virtuosi gave a lot of solo concerts, leaning heavily on the ancient piano repertoire interlarded with one-man assaults on orchestral favorites. But not Olan Byr. His trademark was instruments that played only one note at a time, like the flute or the violin or the horn. His public adored him. He had spent hundreds of hours analyzing the sine waves of all the old instrumental samples in the archives and programmed his keyboard to produce sounds that, it was sworn, could be matched by no other living musician. He had disappeared from public view some months ago, and now the mystery was solved. He had been practicing on these queer, new, crude instruments.
The music began. Bram was pleasantly surprised. After the first gossamer moments he decided that it was going to be pretty, after all, and he settled down to enjoy it. Mim turned an I-told-you-so face toward him and squeezed his hand.
Partly it was the music itself that stirred him. It was nothing like the robust energy of Beethoven or the simple modal harmonies of the twenty-sixth-century neoteric composer Nakusome—up until now two of Bram’s favorites. Ravel was complex and elusive, full of shifting tone colors and tenuous harmonies that made sprays of pure sound. It had been part of a short-lived movement going by the odd name of Impressionism, Mim had told him. Bram could not understand why it had lain in storage for so long.
But it was the performance that really astonished him. He could hardly believe that these sweating, athletic men in their singlets, wielding their clumsy motorized disks with two-handed agility, were producing the shimmering fantasy he was listening to. The expression and the loudness, he supposed, could be varied by changing the speed of the spinning wheel and the pressure applied to the strings. In addition, he noticed that Olan Byr in particular had worked out little tricks of technique, like touching the strings with