September Commentary 2014


Listening to music, whatever the genre – and Prog especially –, is rarely an activity by itself at home. Prog is playing most of the time here, whatever we’re doing. We don’t stop whatever we’re doing to listen to Prog – we’ll just add the music to what we’re doing, or the other way around. Cooking dinner while Genesis, Hostsonaten, or Gazpacho are heating up in the living room never fails to add spice and gusto to the menu. And doing the vacuum with Anglagard, Yes, or Albion always makes for a very an enjoyable chore… and just the perfect excuse to crank up the volume !


That said, some years back I discovered a fun activity that blends so perfectly well with listening to Prog that it doubles the pleasure – Magic : The Gathering(MTG). In short, MTG is a card game, in which each player is a magician who casts spells (enchantment and sorcery), summons beings (anything from beasts to spirits, to angels, demons, elves, maidens, zombies, etc.) and artifacts to defend himself/herself and attack his/her opponents. A player wins when, as a result of his/her attacks, the life-points of his/her opponents have been reduced to zero.


Now, why listen to Prog while playing MTG ? Because they have so many common traits :


• Both are nurtured by the « fantasy realm », which includes sci-fi, and myths and legends. It’s obvious in MTG – you play a magician and the storylines linking cards of given sets plunder rapturously mythologies and other imaginary worlds of all sorts. In Prog, the names of countless bands testify eloquently to the influence of fantasy and sci-fi : Atlantide, Avalon, Big Robot, Druid, Minotaurus, Moria Falls, Pendragon, Ragnarok, Space Odyssey, Time Machine, etc. Many albums refer to literary and cinematic works exploring the fantasy realm, or the musicians themselves create fantasy characters and universes, such as Aqualung, Alpha Centauri, Demons and Wizards, In the Court of the Crimson King, Scheherazade and Other Stories, The Inner Dragon, Warrior on the Edge of Time and so on.


• Both use narrative frames to bind the main components into a coherent and articulate work. In MTG, each new set of cards revolves around a storyline that implies a universe, characters and opposing forces. In Prog, even though there are pro- and anti- concept albums, many releases still focus on a loose or definite concept to weave the content within (musically, or lyrically, or both).


• Both embody unending progression. Since it is its raison d’ętre, Prog is always renewing itself, pushing the envelope, revisiting the old to invigorate it with new vistas. Every four months or so, MTG adds new sets, which implies new cards, new mechanics, new twists : the game remains the same, while being in constant evolution.


• Both have generated quite a lot of branching of their own. Prog has spawned a plethora of sub-genres, some of which are split into a host of sub-sub-genres, thus showing that, as a musical genre in its own right, Prog is far from being monolithic. In MTG, variety comes through game formats. Each one is played following specific rules that don’t impair the gameplay, but challenge the players to scheme in different and more creative ways.


• Both have opened a tremendous window of opportunity for illustrators. Giving special attention to cover art bridging music and illustration has always trademarked Prog albums. In MTG, each card is unique : half of it is devoted to original artwork depicting a creature, spell, artifact, etc. Since close to 14,000 different cards have been edited – between 600 and 1,000 new ones are added each year –, it is a fabulous venue for visual artists.


• Both have earned international status. Printed only in English at first, MTG cards are now available in 10 languages, including Chinese, French, Italian and Japanese. Prog has fans, websites, magazines, events… and, above all, Prog musicians in every corner of the world.


• If you want a substantial Prog collection (CD or vinyl), you will have to invest over time. The same applies to MTG cards, because you’ll want enough of them to build winning decks. What I wouldn’t venture to say is which collection will cost you more than the other…


Now, nothing’s perfect on this world and there are a few minor differences between Prog and MTG, among which :


• Both are user-friendly and can easily become a family affair. But, whereas kids can start listening to Prog when they are still in the womb, it might be better to wait until they have reached their early teens before exposing them to MTG. The artwork on some cards (namely black creatures and spells, and also some artifacts) could be offensive.


• Everybody wins by listening to Prog, whereas each MTG game has its winner and its losers.


• You can download Prog music from various websites, but it is impossible to do so with MTG cards.


At home, we play Magic : The Gathering around the kitchen table and only for fun – though everybody plays to win and there are no quarters ! Since playing the card game is primarily a social thing for us (male and female), there’s a lot of talk criscrossing over the table, but that has never stopped me from DJ-ing Prog CDs all through the game(s). Everybody seems to appreciate the « background » music I provide – at least, up to now nobody has ever complained and we’ve been meeting like this for quite some time.


So, are you game for a mix of Prog and cards ? After all, don’t we all like a touch of magic in our life ?...


Jean Roby