Mountaintop Symphony – Norio Nakai


“Mountaintop Symphony” (novelette) by Norio Nakai

English Publication History: Speculative Japan 2 (Kurodahan Press, 2011)

Original: Japanese (山の上の交響楽 , 1989)

Translated by Terry Gallagher, 2011

Synopsis: Higashikoji Kojiro wrote a symphony once, but it took him eighty-three years of relentless copying from the music in his mind. It filled over one hundred warehouses and only began to see the light when Ujihara Tamotsu urged that the symphony be played in its entirety, which may last as long as ten thousand years. A mountaintop amphitheater was constructed and the eight daily orchestras have been playing for over a hundred years without pause. Now, the 800-Person Movement approaches but no one is quite ready for it.

Pre-analysis: Most people can’t draw, paint, sing, or write worth a damn; their creativity is limited to making lines at the Apple store during a product launch. Not all of us can be gifted in any of the arts (while I love to write, I don’t have the time, patience, or talent). There are a few things I love and would love to be included in organizing a event for any of them: running, craft beer, science fiction, and teaching. If I were to organize an event for any of those, I would feel privileged to work among other fans/aficionados/professionals toward making an event we would be proud of. We’ve all probably even volunteer and end up losing a bit of our own money just for the sake of doing it right.

Then there are those events that are organized by others, like a 5km race organized by bureaucratic university heads or a local craft beer festival organized by an art gallery (speaking from my experience in August, actually). How can you fluff up something as simple as serving beer? The love obviously wasn’t there; more likely, the all-holy dollar signs (or, here, the basking radiance of the baht) influenced their every move.

Analysis: Be it solos or ensembles, the musicians of the neatly-infinite symphony all know their parts. Each cherishes their part with their very heart, reveling in the sense of community (with fellow musicians) and the project (with time, itself). However, due to their level of direct involvement, they don’t have the necessary time to organize themselves on the more general level, like preparing for the mass ensemble. Along each of the bureaucratic steps toward achieving the ensemble, their progress is snared because of human error (the transcriptions), human limitations (the 800-shaku instrument), or human indecisiveness (the amphitheater).

As each of these parts was not headed by musicians that were directly involved in the playing of the symphony, each part resulted in it being fuddled one way or another. While the playing of the music is a well-polished clock face, the scene behind the music is a tumult of springs and gears, each with an increasing fallacy of what we call human error. The 10,000-year symphony could very well be completed by immortal human musicians, but the only snare in their plot is the organization, an organization by outsiders likely to throw a spanner into the gear works.

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