Musical Interlude

The complete title of the novel I’m working with is The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr together with a Fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper. Really long titles were a thing back in the day. As the full version of the title indicates, there are actually two plot lines developed in the text, one about Tomcat Murr and the other about Johannes Kreisler, who is a musician (Kapellmeister = ‘musical director’). Because this is his profession and because music plays a central role in the novel, it seems fitting that virtual-Kreisler should have an instrument. In the novel, he has a “guitar” made in 1532, which is interesting, since the history of the development of the guitar suggests that it may be a bit of an anachronism. There most certainly were hollow, stringed instruments around at that time, but the most popular one was called a vihuela. I have taken the artistic license to model my virtual instrument after the ‘baroque guitar,’ which was developed in the following century; this comes close to the age of the fictional guitar and preserves the detail that it significantly predates the period in which the novel takes place. In addition, the aesthetics of the baroque guitar – its long, sleek shape and sophisticated design – seemed to fit Kreisler’s serious commitment to his art as well as the Romantic atmosphere of the novel.

I modeled the guitar in Blender using the image that would later be mapped onto it as a guide.

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Then, I made a UV map and fitted it to the texture images, which I had assembled in GIMP. Here is the completed mesh after being imported into Unity:

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Humongous guitar sticking out of a building … it must be downtown Nashville

Interesting things happen when you first drag in a new mesh.

Please do not strum actual guitars with a wrench.

Please do not strum actual guitars with a wrench.

The image of the guitar body is from a photo of a reproduction made by Sebastian Nunez & Veronica Estevez in 2004. I found this lovely image on and they kindly allowed me to use it. The site has several mp3 samples that give an idea of what a baroque guitar sounds like.


German Romanticism, Waterfalls, and Birch Trees

In my CSLS project, I have decided to focus on the Romantic novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann (commonly known as the author of The Sandman). I will be using Unity 3D to create a video game based on selected scenes that could function as one part of a course on German Classicism and Romanticism. I already have several ideas about how I would develop a syllabus around this, which I plan to discuss further in a future post.

Hoffmann’s novel takes place in a tiny (fictitious) town called Sieghartsweiler, which must be located somewhere in southern Bavaria. I assume this because the characters mention that they can see in the distance a (real) mountain called the “Geierstein,” which is located on the border with Austria in the Bavarian Alps.

The initial challenges mostly involve learning how to use the software. Shaping the landscape into hills gave me some limited familiarity with the toolbars and commands, but the real progress started when I had to build waterfalls. Lots of them. And why would I do that? Well, when you place water in Unity – in my case, so that I can have a stream running through Sieghartsweiler – it exists as a flat plane. So if you need to change elevation, which I most certainly do, since the stream flows downhill, you have to do something so that your two planes of “water” are connected. Otherwise, there will be edges of water planes poking out awkwardly in mid-air.

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Here, I’ve hidden a drop of about a meter and a half using a combination of rocks, grass, and a “water particle generator.” The latter isn’t readily visible in this image, but it shows up in gameplay mode.

The next major undertaking was to populate Sieghartsweiler with trees. The novel mentions birch trees by name, and photos from this region confirm that tall, straight, spindly trees are the norm here. Unfortunately, none of the free tree assets from the Unity store fits this description; on the other hand, this compelled me to learn how to use Unity’s built-in tree creator, as well as how to paint and import textures and materials for the bark and leaves. I made three different versions, so that there would be variety, and then used the nifty “mass place trees” tool to rapidly stick several thousand trees in my scene.

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Here’s the empty scene where I built my tree prefabs. The little red and yellow thing is a humanoid figure that I placed as a scale reference.

The only problem was that there were then trees growing in the water, so I had to go back and erase those. Although Hoffmann’s writings are full of bizarre and uncanny elements, there’s no mention of lake-trees.

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Lake. No trees.

The next step will be buildings, at which point the landscape will really start to look like it “belongs” to the novel. I’ll keep you posted!