I've been working with Dévah Quartet since late 2018. It's a funny story how this started. Basically, in my hobby/avocation as an independent music producer, I have not gained much traction despite exec producing a couple of well-received albums (The Defiant Machine and The Undiscovered Country). The latter of those was based on an original story I wrote about an artificially intelligent android soldier who lives through the far future. I truly enjoy the process of creating new music that tells a story, which brings me to late 2018. I was looking at options for my next project, and I happened to listen to an interpretation of RUSH's 2112 for acoustic strings by Vitamin String Quartet. That got me thinking about 2112, and I went on YouTube looking for "string cover of 2112." Dévah Quartet popped up with their partial 2112 medley, and I was blown away. But I thought to myself: "where's the rest of it?!" I reached out to the band and asked exactly that. Then I started listening to their catalog on Apple Music and I realized just how talented this group is. Oh my god, they are amazing...the real deal! So I asked Liza (the leader of the group and main composer/arranger) whether her group might accept a commission to arrange the full 2112 suite for electric strings in their style. Of course they said yes...several of the band are RUSH fans, especially drummer Mackenzie Longpré (Neil Peart is his idol). So they jumped at the chance. Over the following approximately seven months, I worked closely with the band on the project and the result was the 2112 album. These ladies and Mack poured every ounce of their musical ability and passion into 2112, and the results speak for themselves:
Yeah, that's freaking amazing. I'm glad I filmed that for posterity because there are stunning moments in that recording/performance. RUSH fans love it. But it's not just 2112-- there is a whole 20-minute original epic song on there called Heaven and Hell, which is based on an original story I wrote about a soul's journey from Hell to Heaven. We recorded the 2112 album in June 2019 and released it in September 2019. The reaction was so positive that I thought: let's do this again!
As I was walking down the street on October 1, 2019, I had a vision: a tormented genius saves the world from a killer asteroid using his mental superpowers. I wrote the titles for the seven parts on that same day, and I sat down to write the full story on October 3, 2019. At that point, the seven-part original story Prometheus poured out, with the elements of the story coming from the ether and seemingly being beamed into my head as I typed them out, almost involuntarily as I watched the words appear on the screen:
By Andrew G. Watters
October 3, 2019
My name is David. I have never actually known what I wanted to do with my life. Growing up, my parents were control freaks who helicoptered over everything I did. I was so oppressed that even today, I don't know how to internalize what I actually want. Without a strong desire to do anything in particular, I am basically going through life without agency-- with life simply happening to me, rather than me asserting myself and what I want from life. This has a number of drawbacks: first, I don't have any way to express, much less get, things that I would want or that could really benefit me; second, people pick up on this aimlessness and don't want to be around me, or worse, they take advantage of it; third, I lack a sense of purpose. All of this improved when I received The Gift. The Gift gave me a vision of what I was supposed to do in life; it made it easy to persuade people to participate in that mission; and it gave me a sense of meaning above all else. Although my concerns were not fully resolved, at least I was in a better place. This is the story of how I came to possess mental superpowers, and how I used them to save humanity.
II. Touched With Fire
I remember it like it was yesterday: I was standing in my brother's old room in my parents' house on November 9, 2009. Over the preceding five months, I had experienced the knife edge between success and failure firsthand in several of the most personal ways possible. It started with getting fired from my job at an area law firm due to my pursuing another opportunity that they didn't agree with. It continued with getting slammed by a crazy judge in a decision that sanctioned a client for impolite letters I wrote. It was made worse by breaking up with a girlfriend who was behaving badly. I had also had to move back in with my parents temporarily due to job loss. The last straw was losing the future job I thought I was getting, which put me into a very bad place. I spent months obsessing over it, culminating in the bad decision to quit a new job in order to pursue the lost opportunity. As my checking account dwindled to nothing, with no employment prospects, and while collecting unemployment, I spiraled into a worse and worse place. This ended with me staying up for five days straight tilting at windmills, and I ended up in the hospital. Anyway, I was standing there in my brother's old room, having woken up in darkness around 3 a.m. I had finally gotten to sleep after five days up, with my mind working at a faster and faster pace from pulling multiple all-nighters. I started feeling a sense of geometric shapes permeating my vision, as if I were seeing in perfectly symmetrical triangles and rectangles. Then I started to hear a voice. Not just any voice: this was clearly God's voice, and the effect was a cross between literally hearing a voice and reading text imprinted on the inside of my skull. The Voice launched into a litany of the worst, most hateful things I have ever heard about myself, to the point where I was a trembling mess, barely able to speak a word in response. I felt like I was about to be convicted and sentenced to death for what sounded like a lifetime of bad decisions. Feeling that I was going to die, I prostrated myself in order to accept God's judgment. After finishing berating me for what seemed like an hour, the Voice finally said in its authoritative, booming timbre: "DESPITE YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS, YOU ARE A MONUMENT TO THE TALLEST, THE BRAVEST, THE PROUDEST, THE MOST DIAMOND PILLAR IN THE WORLD: TRUTH. THEREFORE, RISE NOW, AND ACCEPT YOUR APPOINTMENT AS SAVIOR OF HUMANITY." I stood and felt a warm glow on my face. Then I passed out.
III. The Gift: A Blessing And A Curse
I woke up in a hospital unit. Not just any hospital unit, mind you-- this was the Mental Health Unit. In between card games and having my vital signs taken, there was a continuous strong sense that I was in the wrong place. I didn't feel crazy, but they said I was psychotic and I could not leave until the doctor said I was ready.
I noticed something unusual when I was in the hospital: a profound sense of awareness of patterns as well as boundless creativity. When someone asked me to brainstorm some ideas for song lyrics, I started writing epic poetry for hours on end, and I only stopped when people had to interrupt me for meals. It was limitless! And still is.
I tried my knowledge in other fields, and I found that most things that were difficult for other people came easy to me. Scientific concepts and computer programming...two things that always interested me, but which I was at best above average at. I became almost godlike in those areas, which left me wondering: is this a gift from God? Or is this just the result of my illness? At this point, I became like Thanos and Tony Stark: able to do anything, but cursed with knowledge. The question was: what was I supposed to do with The Gift?
IV. Early Warning
On December 20, 2019, astronomers at NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies announced the discovery of 2019 VK, a 10,000 meter-wide asteroid just a few months away from an apparent collision with Earth. This set off a flurry of observations by the global astronomy community. In the days following the discovery, extensive analysis and computation were done to determine the risk of the asteroid to life on Earth, and where it came from. The best guess on origin was that the object had a long approach from behind the sun, which is why it was not detected earlier. On the Torino Impact Hazard scale, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) assigned 2019 VK the preliminary number 7 to reflect what appeared to be a very close encounter with a very large object with an unprecedented risk of global catastrophe. In the weeks following the discovery, the asteroid's trajectory was extensively refined and re-computed. The IAU eventually released its final findings in January 2020: 2019 VK would be a "direct hit" and a "10" on the Torino scale. Regardless of the exact point of impact (expected to be in the Mediterranean Sea), the asteroid was substantially certain to cause the end of civilization.
Initially, I refused to accept the conclusion. Like many people, I downloaded the IAU report and went through the calculations. But they seemed accurate, which I of course verified in Mathematica. I brainstormed countless ways the calculations might be wrong, but they were not wrong. This asteroid would be the end of life on Earth. I was tempted to accept the fate of the world and live out my remaining days in a hedonistic fantasy. But a funny feeling told me to keep at it, so I did. I woke up at my desk in February after a long night of calculations when it suddenly hit me: the asteroid was asymmetrical and very slowly tumbling, and the larger side happened to be darker than the smaller side. That meant that if, somehow, the dark side of the asteroid could be lightened or the light side could be darkened, its reflectivity could potentially alter the trajectory enough to just barely miss the Earth.
There was no time to plan or conduct a full space mission to the asteroid. There was no time to develop new technologies. There was no time to debate the right course of action. The only time available would be used to validate the solution and persuade the IAU and any entities that could launch a mission. That left one option, which I am shocked no one else came up with: launching an armada of banker's box-sized satellites loaded with metallic white paint in an effort to literally paint most of the dark side of the asteroid white. With a thin enough layer, it would be possible. The question was what pattern to paint; the spatial sense of geometric shapes that I gained ten years earlier told me that making the high points coated in white and the low points lightly dusted with white would create an interference pattern and amplify the deflection effect. I prepared a detailed paper outlining my solution and I emailed it to the IAU.
V. No Time For Caution
I thought I had found a reasonable solution to the problem. But the IAU shot down my proposal in a single sentence, stating simply that it would not be technically feasible. After weeks of work, I could not believe they didn't see the same things I saw. I took the opportunity to blast the IAU on social media for what I believed was an unreasonable and arbitrary closed-mindedness. As the asteroid approached, I started to accept our fate. With the time to impact dropping under sixty days, it seemed like there was nothing left to do.
To my complete surprise, a popular philanthropist and tech billionaire took an interest in my solution after he found my paper linked on Twitter. Bill Musk was a colorful guy by reputation, and I was already familiar with his excellent work in the area of physics research-- though he made his fortune in writing software for electric cars. Through his representatives, I got in touch with Bill and we started talking. Bill had also thought of the deflection-by-reflection approach I was taking. What I solved was the interference pattern, which even Bill had not thought of. After pitching Bill on my solution, he indicated he would write a blank check to make the plan happen. A space transport company that had just finished resupplying the International Space Station had rockets available, and of course the cost was lower than usual due to the impending end of the world. Bill got us a contract with the launch company and we procured the materials and equipment necessary for the mission. All that remained was preparing and launching.
VI. Sudden Impact
At this point, the government took an interest in the program and they essentially drafted us into working for NASA. Bill was reluctant, but I was not in the least; I felt like it was more appropriate for the government to take on a project that would be the finest act of public service in history. In any case, after extensive bureaucratic maneuverings and conflicts, launch day arrived. Bill and I sat in the gallery of the NASA control center in Houston watching the group do its work. Fortunately, the Flight Director was the most experienced and smartest flight director to ever work for NASA. The launch happened, and we sat back and waited. With the asteroid thirty days away, it would take about ten days to get to the asteroid, two days to deploy the metallic paint, and eighteen days to generate enough deflection to miss the Earth. There was no room for error.
The launch was successful, and the next ten days were agonizing. On the tenth day, we had successful touchdown on 2019 VK and the painting began in earnest. With no malfunctions of any kind, the mission went off perfectly, and preliminary numbers showed that my interference pattern was working as expected with the solar radiation. All that was left was to wait.
In the eighteen days to impact, I didn't really engage with NASA; I knew the mission was in good hands. Instead, I read through my journals and all my photo albums from my childhood through the present. I saw a boy, then a young man, and finally a man who was never really sure what he was supposed to do in life. Although relatively normal, he always felt like he was an outsider looking in on other people's lives. Nothing he ever did was good enough, even for him. The Gift and the asteroid mission changed that. After my portion of the mission was accomplished, I felt a sense of achievement and a sense of peace that were more profound than any before this, no matter if the asteroid hit or not. Of course I wanted it to miss, but I was prepared to accept that I did everything I possibly could have done, I used The Gift, and at least if I died, I would no longer be cursed with knowledge.
VII. Deus Ex
The asteroid's trajectory was further and further refined as it got closer to Earth in those final days. The graphic they kept showing on TV showed a more and more shallow angle as the days went by. Two days before impact, the impact was forecast as a glancing blow between Libya and Italy. The day before impact, it was not clear whether the asteroid would hit at all. On the day of impact, I went outside and kept the radio on. The tension and anxiety were coming through in the news anchor's voice. I looked up and saw a large white streak-- as fast as a speeding bullet-- cross the sky. Pieces of it broke off and made a shower of smaller white streaks that extended over the horizon. There was silence on the radio. Then there was cheering! The asteroid entered the atmosphere, but it was deflected enough that it essentially bounced off. Pieces of it broke off and a few landed in Eastern Europe, causing some forest fires. But life as we knew it was saved.
One thing I didn't seek was recognition. But Bill insisted that I accompany him to New York City, where we received a ticker tape parade for our efforts in saving the world. Because this was the most important event in human history, it was everything I thought it would be, and I never had to buy drinks again.
Bill and I shared a few words after the parade. I finally got a chance to ask him what led him to believe in my solution. He revealed that he, too, had experienced The Gift. For Bill, The Gift was not a spatial/geometric or mental superpower; for him, it was a seemingly magical ability to persuade other people and make things happen politically, as well as an astute sense of interpersonal communication. He possessed what he believed was an ability to assess with 99% accuracy whether people are telling the truth. He believed I was telling the truth about everything. And with that, Bill excused himself with barely a goodbye, on to his next venture. I was left wondering why it was me and Bill who saved the world, and not anyone else. I still don't know the answer, except that I do know one thing: despite not really wanting anything in life, I always knew that I wanted to be a hero.
The story came out like that on the first attempt, and I wrote it over the course of a day in basically one sitting. I don't know where these things come from, but I'm not complaining. Anyway, I sent this to Liza and her sister Sam that same day, inquiring if they liked it and would be interested in doing another album. They loved it! This would be a sister project composing the epic song as well as the vocals (Sam is an outstanding vocal composer and singer). Initially it was just going to be Prometheus plus several original pieces, but then right when the COVID-19 pandemic started, I had another idea. This other idea was to tell the story of Joan of Arc-- the point being, these are both stories about being "chosen" for something great, which is unclear to the person who is chosen but clear in retrospect. A recurring theme in my life as something I want to happen. I ended up just outlining this second original story and giving it to Liza and Sam to complete:
MAID OF ORLÉANS
by Andrew G. Watters
April 9, 2020
I am a woman of at best average birth, born in 1412 in Northeast France. They call me Jeanne d'Arc. In these feudal times, my parents are very late in the pecking order of society. Although we don't starve, we certainly don't live well; my dad is a shepherd and I am what people in my country would call a "peasant girl" or "maid" of thirteen years. The ongoing Hundred Years' War with the English has left our society in shambles as the two noble families, one led by Henry VI of England and one led by Charles VII of France, fight for control of France. This is not my war, and I am just trying to stay alive and eke out an existence peacefully until the war ends. At that time, when I'm old enough, I hope to marry and start a family.
II. Enduring Visions
One day, as I was tending to my father's garden, I was surprised to hear The Voice. The Voice started off as a series of murmurs, growing louder and louder until reaching a crescendo of what sounded like a chorus of heavenly angels singing. This was a visceral experience of not only hearing, but also feeling, as The Voice took hold of my mind. It was beautiful. I began to see things in my mind's eye, nearly as clearly as actually seeing them. I saw me in a suit of armor carrying a banner with King Charles's standard on it. There were soldiers running around me in a battle. I saw myself praying with a crucifix in a castle, illuminated with candles. I saw myself flying over a random town square. I then realized that it was the future I was seeing. Back in the present, a giant angel figure with wings and a battle axe strapped to his back appeared to me. The Voice, in its angelic oratory, was coming from this angel's body. He clearly said to me: "Joan-- I am Michael, the archangel. I have a message from God: God has chosen you for a holy mission-- to bring the ongoing war to a conclusion by leading the French in battle and to consecrate the King of France." What does a person say to that? I had no idea what to make of it, so I asked in response: "why me? I am a nobody and a girl." The Voice responded: "God chose you because that is God's will. Do not question God's will. I have shown you visions of your future, and God has spoken. Do not share these visions with anyone except King Charles." I was left at a loss. I tried to ignore the initial visions, but they kept returning over the following three years until I was sixteen years old! I didn't know where else to turn, so I went to my priest. I shared with him the fact that I experienced visions, without specifically saying what they were. I shared the admonition to only share the visions with the king, and the priest said I should simply request an audience with the king. Imagine that: a 16 year-old peasant girl requesting an audience with the king. But it's what I was destined to do, so I began preparing for it. I went to the area garrison commander and explained to him that I had experienced several visions that required me to have an audience with the king. The commander laughed at me and told me to get out. I was not deterred, and I returned the next summer with the support of several of his soldiers and a prophecy that the Battle of Rouvray would result in an English victory-- another vision I had seen. I told the garrison commander that I would much prefer to stay at my mother's side spinning wool, but that God had called me to serve our country and our king instead. The commander was skeptical, but when news reached him that the Battle of Rouvray had turned out how I said it would, he started believing me. Incredibly, I was given a chance to go to the royal court at Chinon and provided an armed escort there.
III. King and Country
When I reached Chinon it was 1429 and I was 17 years old. I didn't know what to expect in the royal court, ____.
IV. Trial of an Alleged Heretic
V. The Verdict
VI. The Passion: Heaven Ascendant
VII. Saint Joan of Arc
In the year of our lord 1431, God chose me to become a martyr. I don't know why or how, I just know that I was on a divine mission and I always tried to do God's will. The fact that God chose me for martyrdom is something I regret not initially accepting; had I known this was my destiny, I would never have abjured or deviated from my beliefs, even when threatened with summary execution. I took a measure of solace in the fact that, after my death when I became an impersonal spirit, I became a national heroine of France.
I got really distracted by the pandemic and saving my primary business (lol), so honestly I wasn't paying much attention to this over the following year and a half or so. But then Liza sent me the MIDI files she had been working on this whole time, in January 2022 shortly before we were set to record in the studio. Wow, even the MIDI files were super cool. I got a great sense of the direction this was going in, and it's what I was hoping for.
Part of the challenge in any music project is setting up the actual logistics of the production. I am very fortunate to be assisted by Producer/Engineer Tim Gennert, who is a total professional and whom I have worked with since 2017 on The Defiant Machine project. Tim stepped up to go to Canada for this when I was unable to go due to my recent engagement and wedding plans. This ended up being a streamlined production without the planned filming, which I had been very excited about but which I would have spent a ton of money on that I simply cannot justify now that my career goal has shifted to public service. Prometheus may be my last music project for a long time, so we're making it count.
The awesome album cover is its own story. In 2013, I had a vision in my head of a dark knight on a unicorn Pegasus shooting a lightning bolt from a magic gauntlet. It's supposed to be the main character in my first screenplay, which is about a modern young woman who wields a medieval knight's magic gauntlet that is imbued with special powers for the worthy. I commissioned the piece from a talented concept artist named Andy Collis, and it came out amazing, just what I had imagined (Andy and I have done about 15 separate pieces based on my ideas, and they are all at this level). I wasn't sure what to do with it, so I turned it into a canvas print for my office and it is hanging in my office. But now I have a use for it, so I decided to use this one for the album cover. Here is what the original piece looked like, then the final album cover composed by yours truly in Photoshop:
That could be Joan of Arc. Yeah, we killed it.
You know what's cool? Getting videos of the band's rehearsals before they went into the studio. I felt like I was there, and it was very, very cool (Thanks Tim!). Check out these stills:
Day One was setup, as well as recording of an interpretation of Lateralus by TOOL. This one will be similar to the band's performance at a live show that I filmed in 2020, but will be even better with the studio quality recording and perfect performances. More stills:
A portion of Prometheus being recorded.
A portion of Lateralus being recorded.
When Tim got back and had a chance to start post-production, he generously invited me up to hear the assembled but unfinished album at his studio. It was awesome hearing everything on high quality studio monitors instead of my laptop. It's clear that the band, the studio, and Tim put a ton of work into this and really nailed it. There was not a single wrong note on the whole album. Everything was recorded "clean" without effects, which is a change from last time, so that we can put the effects in during post. That makes it much easier to get the exact effects we want, but at the same time it makes it harder to nail the recording because the players have to be perfect. Well...they delivered! Lol. I was blown away.
The maestro at work in his studio.
I exported a rough floor take from Pro Tools and assembled the pieces of each track to come up with a draft program for the album:
1. PROMETHEUS: I. Overture, II. Touched With Fire, III. The Gift: a Blessing and a Curse, IV. Early Warning, V. No Time for Caution, VI. Sudden Impact, VII. Deus Ex (34:20)
2. MAID OF ORLÉANS: I. Enduring Visions, II. The Tower: Trial of an Alleged Heretic, III. The Passion: Saint Joan of Arc (25:05)
3. Lateralus (10:10)
4. Grain of Sand (4:10)
5. The Power and the Glory (5:40)
Yeah, that's great-- a perfect double album. Prometheus will take up almost a full record by itself (we are definitely doing a vinyl release). We ended up shortening the Joan of Arc song to three parts, sadly-- but we made up for it with some awesome instrumental interludes. Although the whole album is amazing, the group's interpretation of TOOL's Lateralus in particular is basically the best musical performance I have ever heard in my life. Grain of Sand is a potential hit with very cool riffs, and I could see this getting played on local radio.