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A Winter's Nocturne, part 2 (Thun-der!)

Posted on Mon Jan 1st, 2024 @ 0:02 by Liana Zhao & Alastair Temple
Edited on on Sun Feb 4th, 2024 @ 12:39

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Recital Room, Guest Wing
Timeline: Wednesday, 9th December (Evening)
3090 words - 6.2 OF Standard Post Measure


"The acoustics bring me back, even if the housekeeping leaves something to be desired." Liana didn't mind the faint disrepair either, though in her case it was more a sense of affinity for anything that radiated a sense of historical narrative. Growing up, she'd always favoured trips to the museum and maintained a preference for scoping out reservoirs of nostalgia whenever she visited a new place. Avalon ticked a lot of boxes as a place of residence that could hold the artistic woman's attention longer than more modern buildings.

Turning properly to watch him settle in, Liana tilted her head to the side to observe, with proper attention to detail for the first time, just how much went into the music he played. Of particular interest was the peripheral gear, recognisable at least though she couldn't profess a lot of expertise in the utilisation of it. A random flutter of inspiration struck her, a phenomenon she was starting to notice was more common in the man's presence than might have been considered normal, and the brunette frowned faintly, an expression of consideration rather than consternation.


'Settling in' in this case meant first trying to find an electrical outlet. There weren't many and the ones there were were makeshift, the castle originating from long before household electrickery was a thing. Still, he did find one, and plugged the amp in. Standing back up and turning around, he caught his foot in the cable, causing him to stumble and mutter a curse, pulling the cable back out of the outlet. Now crouching down to put it back in and being a bit more careful when standing back up, he incoiled the signal cable and plugged it into the amp before reaching for his guitar. That's when he noted the thoughtful expression she wore. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"Not sure they're worth even that," Liana laughed. "I am trying," she admitted, a little sheepishly, "to remember what half of any of that is called, let alone what it does. My father has some similar equipment so it's not that I've never seen it, or even that I've never used it, I've just never tried to do the setting up." Leaving her violin case on the ground, the counsellor crossed to consider the amp and the makeshift power situation. "I guess this was your life though. Is your life," she corrected, lifting apologetic eyes to meet his. "I may have to pick your brains at some point though."

"This is only one step above the most basic set-up possible," Al started to explain. "The guitar creates an electric signal, which goes through this cable to an effects pedal, in this case, a distortion pedal. From there the signal goes to the amp and speaker cabinet, which makes the signal audible," the man explained, pointing out each of the steps. "During concerts I had a whole array of pedals and instead of a simple amp and speaker cabinet like this it went to a mixing panel where the audio engineer did his magic. I've heard there are electric harps, violins and cellos too, that work on the same principle and can use all the same amps and effects pedals I can use, but I really wouldn't know much about that." He enjoyed explaining, especially when it came to something he was passionate about.

Her resulting smile was bright with appreciation for his arrival at the crux of the point without any need of assistance. "And I have one only half a corridor away, in my room. A violin, at least." Eager eyes scanned the basic rig again as Liana elaborated. "My father gave me one this time last year and I finally brought it back with me the last time I visited him. Over in Germany, I never had to worry about the set-up because he did all of that." A gleam of amusement saw her lift her gaze to meet his. "I'm expressly forbidden from touching any of it, in fact." Once again, Liana regarded the amp with interest. "It's not much without the gear to support it, I just wouldn't know where to start. And we all know what happens when the ignorant step inside a music store." She was experienced enough to know that she'd be at prime risk of being sold more than was strictly necessary, or at the very least sold the most expensive options in the store.

His gaze met hers, standing up straight as she explained. His smile brightened at her gleam of amusement. "I'll definitely have to show you then. And I'd love to hear that violin. Would you be willing to get it and play it for me?" Although he had only one amp, which meant that if she was using it he'd be relegated to playing the piano, or get his acoustic guitar - and his room was a lot further to walk than hers, from what he understood. "And we'll have to go to a store together some time, I'll get you a quality amp, quality cables with gold plated plugs, maybe an effects pedal or two," he added. "We could make it a date ... ?"

His choice of words, in all fairness, were a perfectly apt way of putting it, if not at risk of being a little tongue-in-cheek. It was with a mild chagrin, therefore, that Liana felt the colour rise in her cheeks, perhaps enough to be obvious though she hoped the effect was limited to a sudden flush of heat that wasn't unwelcome given how cold the room was. "Only if it's not too much trouble," the brunette insisted, before wrenching her attention towards the more immediate situation. "I'll go get it, if you like. Feel free to get started without me."

You are 35-years-old, Liana immediately chastised herself once she was alone in the corridor, moving quickly as if there was something at stake should she take too long. The thought remained unfinished, the admonishment enough to directly reference the escalation of adrenaline that was partially cause for some concern if only because she was utterly unprepared for it. Caution, an old friend by now, provided some sense of moderation but she had spent too long analysing behaviour to be fooled by her own. The music formed a very central part of it, she understood, it wasn't very often that she got to share something so intimately self-defining with someone who put just as much of themselves into their art. Each conversation added detail, however, and deviations that were just as likely to pique an interest in further inquiry. Locating the instrument in question was a swift and easy task, though some additional time was added through the necessity of a moment to consider her reflection in the mirror before she departed again.


She exhaled, squared her shoulders and returned under the propulsion of a fresh resolve to focus.

"Here she is." As fascinating as she found the instrument, it didn't hold the same prominence as her main violin and, thus, Liana was more than willing to hand over the case for Alastair's personal inspection. In her determination to marshal her composure, the words had left her mouth before she'd even closed the door, which left her with a belated consideration of potentially interrupting whatever he'd opted to do whilst he waited.

This time it was Al's turn to watch her antics with amusement. The fluster at his words, the immediacy with which she turned to get the instrument, it was endearing and brought out a warm smile. When she was gone into the corridor though he heaved a deep sigh, sitting down on a dusty chair. You are 37-years-old, he told himself, closing his eyes and leaning back. The thought remained unfinished as he chuckled to himself, opening his eyes again. "But who fucking cares," he whispered to himself. He was having the time of his life. Feeling young again, in a way he didn't remember ever getting a chance to.

By the time she returned he was seated at the piano, idly playing a melody from one of his favorite songs from his time touring the world. The piano abandoned though when she came back and seemed very eager to hand him the electric violin in its case. Either she trusted him with a prized instrument, which was enough of a compliment in and of itself, or it wasn't exactly a prized instrument. Either was possible. He gently took the case though, still treating it with the respect it deserved. Placing it down on a chair and opening it, taking the electric violin out like it were a baby.

"Yeah, these are the same connectors as on my guitar, 6.3mm mono. This should work fine on my amp," he smiled, offering her the instrument back. She said she was never allowed to plug it in? He was going to insist that she did. The rest was already connected, including the distortion pedal, though it was off, which meant the sound would go through to the amp without any post processing. "Go ahead, give it a try."

The first experimental notes were, for want of a better description, electrifying. If she could put into words the experience of producing music this way, Liana would have had to profess to a degree of exhilaration, the thrill that came with doing something that was, if not forbidden, then very much discouraged by key influences in her life. It was a carry-over from her childhood, when visits with her father after her parents' divorce had provided opportunities for musical exploration outside her rigid training. With no good reason other than a shiver of anticipation, Liana had hesitated before plugging the instrument into the amp, and wasted no time once it was done in playing the first few bars of their intended show-piece.

It was, as evidenced by her slightly startled expression, a little louder than she was used to. It took exactly three seconds for that shock to morph into delight.

"It took me a while to appreciate her screaming," she admitted, drawing the instrument away from her clavicle to inspect it closely. "Though I think that may just be my lack of experience with the kind of music she'd prefer to play." Over the top of the bridge, Liana's eyes sought Alastair's. "Thankfully, I know an exceptionally good music teacher."

It would've been a fascinating experience playing the electric violin, especially when used to a real one. It sounded slightly different, a unique color to its tone, and she'd hear it twice. Once very softly from the instrument itself - after all, she was still stirring strings with a bow, albeit now without a resonating chamber - but the main sound came from the amplifier and speaker cabinet.

"Who?! Where?! I'll tell him off! There's only space for one music teacher here!" Alastair couldn't fake a serious face long enough to fool anyone though, her enthusiasm triggering his. He did move to the amp though to turn the volume down slightly. Apparently the violin put out a slightly hotter signal than his guitar, which was fair enough. It all depended on what pickups were installed and dial settings on the instrument itself.

"Go ahead, play - explore what it can do, how it's different from your acoustic one. Those knobs on the body can adjust tone and gain, try and find a setting you enjoy," he smiled as he made his way back to the piano, to provide some backing for her. Just simple chords to layer to her playing, her experimenting.

She had, at least, had some experience on the instrument. Perhaps not a whole lot of freedom or opportunity to truly explore but enough to know how to get a decent sound out of it. Now, with the reins loosened considerably, the initial stages became a masterclass in pushing the boundaries, more a means of expressing her playful side than actually demonstrating her musicality. Each adjustment produced a sound that might have generously been labeled 'experimental', but rather than balk at the harshness of it, Liana leaned into it, eyes sparkling as she used the connection of eye contact to match tempo. The first few minutes produced very little other than the frivolity of laughter, an intentional cacophony that became an important exploration of the scope of potential without necessarily arriving at a sound they might like to share with an audience. It was not unlike playing with her father and yet it could not have been further from it in some respects, the subtle flirtation running as an undercurrent being the most obvious difference. It may have been the most unrefined music she had ever played and yet Liana felt light, joyful.

It was how music was meant to be.

Eventually, a desire to improve saw her settle on a balance and, when an expectation of more squealing turned to surprise at a far more melodic output, Liana's glee settled gently into a more reflective investigation. Deviating somewhat from the improvisation that had matched his chord progression, she leaned into a piece partially memorised, one of the handful of her father's favourites that she had learned specifically to play with him.

He watched her play, a soft smile on his features. Her laughter drew similar from him. Watching someone enjoying themselves so much was always a treat, but this was special. She was special. Improvisations she played and he matched, chords in the same key as she was playing, as she found a set-up, a tuning she seemed to enjoy. Until she segued into the piece she'd learned to play with her father, and Alastair burst out in gleeful, happy peals of laughter. As her ostinato rang out, the repeated four notes in quickfire succession, he matched with aggressive chords on the piano, adding the layering to the performance - joined by his voice and that hint of false fold distortion.


The melody on the piano rang out as she continued the lead line, that rapidfire melody.


There was virtually no chance that he wouldn't have recognised the song and yet the sparkle of mischief returned to Liana's eyes at Alastair's willing engagement. Eventually, his dramatics and obvious flare for performance got the better of her and she faltered, laughing far too much to continue what was actually quite a complex sequence to maintain. Pulling the instrument away, Liana held both bow and violin in one hand so that her other remained free to press against her diaphragm, which was feeling the exertion of hilarity. "Is this anything like what we came here to practise?," she accused, still partially breathless. "All right," she conceded immediately, eyes warm with merriment, "it's something like it but at least one of us has to keep wits enough to remain standing, Mr. Temple." She chuckled again and took a moment to lean against the piano. "You certainly know how to perform."

It wasn't much of a revelation, of course. He had made a career out of it and though it could have been argued that he might have got away with being slightly more mellow than a lead vocalist tended to be, Liana already had doubts that he favoured the background. It was by no means a judgement on his character, unless outright approval counted.

As she stopped playing, so did he, and as she laughed, so did he. Eventually though, as she calmed down enough to speak, so did he. "Hey, you started it," he snickered, though there was no note of accusation in his voice. He was having way too much fun. At her compliment though, he smiled warmly and mimiced a bow, still seated at the piano. "Thanks. It's - ... I've missed this, you know. Performing. With someone. It's - " he trailed off, not really being able to find the words that matched the feelings in his chest, in his heart. Maybe those words existed, maybe if he'd been adequately eloquent in sesquipedalian loquaciousness instead of just a giggling music nerd, he'd have been able to think of them. But he wasn't. So he couldn't.

So sobered up, he considered her for a moment, and his thoughtful look gave way to another soft smile, as it so often did when he did. Then his attention turned back to the piano and he started playing soft, repeated chord hits, glancing over at her again to see that spark of recognition. Vivaldi. Winter. 1st movement.

After some hesitation, Liana opted to remain on the electric version of her instrument and indulge his fresh attempt at luring her away from proper focus, taking the opportunity before he required the guitar to dabble in exploration she didn't normally get to enjoy. She held some fascination for whether or not the resulting duet would appeal despite the fact that practising their intended piece would eventually need to take precedence. Her execution, at least by her standards, still left a lot to be desired but now that they had settled on their show-piece, she had already dug out the sheet music to turn her morning practise towards the task of brushing up. The timeframe wouldn't allow perfection but she would live with that given the occasion and hopeful lack of discerning critic in the crowd. If nothing else, she was sharing the stage with someone who would surely draw attention away from sloppy technique.

If he ever stopped distracting her with alternatives.

She closed her eyes and allowed the vibrations beneath her fingertips to weave their story.

Al meanwhile seemed to simply be having a blast. His play was sloppy for sure, mistakes here and there, but he seemed, unlike her, to be wholly unbothered by them. Such was the difference between a metal musician used to playing clubs and rock temples, and a former child prodigy who once intended to play grand concert halls as first violin. The perfectionism that characterised her practice method was simply alien to Alastair, who seemed to operate more on a 'good enough' principle, and who wasn't striving for perfection - especially if unattainable in the short time span that they had - but who instead found enjoyment simply in doing hat he did. Still, as their repeated playthroughs of Storm, from Vivaldi's Summer went on, his play became tighter and less messy as well.

[To be continued]


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