or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Impossible Dream

Okay. First, your life will not be complete if you don't listen to this insane, amazing thing.

Ignore the title: it isn't "Death Waltz"* (because a waltz is 3/4 time and this is four on the floor). No, what this is is a piece of music transcribed for piano, but it is completely unplayable by a human being: it's done with a synthesizer, because otherwise you'd never hear it. It looks innocuous enough at first, a bit tricky but otherwise manageable. Then around forty seconds it starts to get hairy, with what looks like more than five notes to be played simultaneously with a single hand: but pianists are resourceful people, and there are likely to be ways to get around that. (There's a story told of a Mozart piece, impossible at first glance, that has notes played at both ends of the keyboard and a single note in the middle: the middle note is played with the nose.) Around 1:20, it really starts to go to hell, with massive clusters of notes that self-evidently would take more than ten fingers to play, more like ten fingers on each hand, and rapidly moving fingers at that. But maybe a two-pianos-four-hands situation would make it playable. A little breather at 1:55 lulls you into complacency, until 2:25 rolls by and the whole composition just makes a lunge for sheer dementia and stays there, the page often a black smear of notes (that somehow still all sound like music): I think it is safe to say that not only could a person not play this music, no number of human beings could coordinate themselves enough to play it, which is what makes it so wondrous--although for all I know some really stubborn pianists out there have already proven me wrong, humans being what they are.


If you had to hazard an etymology for the word "impossible" (the prefix "in-", "not", plus "possible"), and (this is important) you were me, and at work, what might you surmise? "Possible" calls to mind "possess" (which I remembered was from Latin "possidere", with the same meaning), since they start with the same syllable, and you might well think that "possible" was a form of "possess-able", and therefore that something possible was something that you could hope to attain. Perfectly sensible: an absolutely logical etymology.

And so, so wrong.

"Possible" is actually from Latin "posse", "to be able", which in turn is from the verb "potere", "to be powerful", which is, as you will have guessed by now, the root of the word "potent".

* There is a thing called "Death Waltz", but it's a joke, not meant to be played: it's a parody of music, and it looks like this (click to embigulate):


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