Robert Wyatt : Sea Song

Let’s quit our comfort zone

Robert Wyatt was the drummer of Soft Machine. He one evening fell from a window and therefore became paralyzed; he uses a wheelchair since. Pink Floyd performed two benefit concerts, and their drummer, Nick Mason, produced the album Wyatt wrote in his hospital bed “in a trance” : Rock Bottom.

This album will make you uncomfortable. English prog-rock with avant-garde or modern-jazz seeds : It’s an enigma, a nightmare, a diamond. For some critics, it’s the best album of all times.

 

 

Sea Song is one of the most beautiful love song (the other one, for me, is Beach Boys’ God only knows). Imagine a wobbling harrowing Elton John piano slow track invaded with strange stars, bottomed with silver sounds in snakes and gorgeous harmonies. The lyrics are weirdly adorable. The piano break is risky, broken and drunk. The end is an almost ridiculous but touching incantations with sirens…

 

You look different every time you come
From the foam-crested brine
Your skin shining softly in the moonlight
Partly fish, partly porpoise, partly baby sperm whale
Am I yours? Are you mine to play with?
Joking apart – when you’re drunk you’re terrific when you’re drunk
I like you mostly late at night you’re quite alright

But I can’t understand the different you in the morning
When it’s time to play at being human for a while please smile!

You’ll be different in the spring, I know
You’re a seasonal beast like the starfish that drift in with the tide with the tide
So until your blood runs to meet the next full moon
Your madness fits in nicely with my own with my own
Your lunacy fits neatly with my own, my very own

We’re not alone

 

This always lets me brokenhearted, who knows why? It’s been written by a man in love, broken in his soul (hemiplegic drummer, you imagine??) : “I was just relieved that I could do something from a wheelchair”. I’ve rarely seen someone so… opened, in a song. It’s constantly two faced : beautiful but ridiculous, easy slow but with a frightening piano break, incantatory but childish, wobbling, a bit crazy, and strong. Brokenhearted, for sure.

It’s interesting to peel. Listen to the “normal form” of the slow in the beginning – the piano, the modulation (on “But I can’t understand”). The bass is interesting. The drum has been evacuated, the pulse coming from a tiny, fragile, minuscule repeated “POC” – as if this man was saying us : “See, I’m not a drummer anymore, but I can POC”. Awweee!

Symptom : this kind of song can be absolutely destroyed or badly sung live, or by other people. The essence of it will not and can not be touched.

 

 

“My funeral song”

“Possibly one of the most amazing albums ever recorded, and a psychedelic gem beyond time.”

“One of the top albums of all time. A true art expression.”

“what makes this legendary is the overall feeling it gives you. The “breathing” present throughout the tracks, the weird time-warped feeling you get at the middle of Red Riding Hood, Wyatt’s singing on the Sea Song, they all contribute to creating one of the best atmospheres. Along with some pretty neat tracks, make up for one of the greatest masterpieces to come from modern music.”

(26 pages of that here : http://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/robert_wyatt/rock_bottom/ )

 

Then try this (it’s the 3rd track or Rock Bottom), LOUD :

 

 

 

 

Gleanpickupping seeds & tools in a Gidon Kremer interview

In a French grey morning of August, I’ve had my coffee with two good slices of brioche, frame window staring, in front of an ominous sky, at the cut out moving trees in the wind, shhhh.

Mind wandering…

According to your job, your availability, your passions, you have different way of “entering contact with reality” :

  • A photographer type will watch around him with the “Can I take a picture here, when, from where?”.
  • A musician type will analyze some new song he hears, decorticating it like an alarm-clock.
  • A poet type will find a good word in a book then might begin to weave a poem in his head.
  • The climber type will watch these city walls… etc…

You… just have to put your “mode on” (and YES, you can have many “modes on” ready in your head, haeccity oblige).

 

I read an interesting interview of Gidon Kremer, violonist, in a classical music magazine. I read this interview with two modes on.

  1. First was : “Find maybe some music to listen to” (I found Schumann, Weinberg, Arvo Pärt, and a Prokofiev melody)…
  2. The other one was my blogger mode : “What little structure, what tool, what tropism can I find in his interview?”.

 

So, well, I learned things about Gidon Kremer himself, his friends, career, evolutions, wonders, etc. He’s an interesting person, the typical clever artist (for me he’s a cousin of Bill Bruford, the drummer).

Eventually, my second “mode on” found quotes, wonders, seeds to plant (here or there) and to meditate on :

  • We live a physical house, but also in some spiritual homes, other “places” we belong to.
  • Playing very few notes is more difficult than pure virtuosity.
  • When you find difficult to play or understand something, you maybe need to find parallel structures in other artists or situations : comparison enrichment.
  • You can explore a field (movies, music) with artists, eras, but also labels or studios, producers, etc. Let’s write something about ECM.
  • Should an artist listen or study what he did in his past? (Kremer never listens what he recorded in previous years).
  • When an artist collaborates, there’s a need of “mutual listening”.
  • Sometimes we miss something. Friends around us indicate things or persons but we don’t listen – when we maybe should.
  • Then and therefore : what is to catch up? How do we? What is “to redeem”, how?
  • “Seeking perfection is the enemy of beauty”

 

Etc etc. I found a few more. Whatever. Each line is a door to a new room, which is full of questions. How to drive “mutual listening”? What becomes virtuosity with very little notes to play? Where the frontier to find between catching up and letting go? Etc…

I found this too : when you have one or many “modes of exploration”, it becomes difficult sometimes to be in direct contact. You ALWAYS have a filter on, and that can be exhausting!

We have to find back a way to quit our introvert-analyzer inner computer to… touch things. I suppose it’s what great artists can do, having the great ability to move it like a lever, a slider, from 0 to 100%, from “I know this without any words” to “Analyze and peel it off to understand it”. Where is yours?

 

Thanks for reading!

 

To write this article, I needed music. I chose Weinberg by Kremer – of course. The YouTube link is under the sleeve, downstairs :

cover.jpg

iPod’s Wheel Speed Dating & the Continuous Musical Invention

ONE

For a while, in order to discover musics, I was doing this : downloading archives like “100 Best Indie Tracks – June 2015”, stuffing these into my small iPod, and then, as I was walking along in the city, I was playing with the iPod wheel, wandering in random mode.

It’s awful for all these groups, I KNOW, but it is what it is : I listen to the intro, a few seconds. If I’m pleased, I go on. Then the song begins. If I’m pleased, I go on. Then the singer, then the chorus, etc.

It’s really like “music speed dating”. It’s wrong, I know.

I’m old enough and skilled enough to sort tracks like that, very quickly. Then I used the 1-5 stars system of the iPod like :

  • 1 star – trash
  • 2 stars – should relisten
  • 3 stars – not bad/I keep it
  • 4 stars – good/interesting
  • 5 stars – I love it!/masterpiece

TWO

If you think about pop-rock music, if you begin to analyze,  you can hopscotch with your brain and the “idea of pleasure”. What do you love in this track?

Energy? Lyrics? Sound? The guitar solo? Singer’s voice? Production? These are musician’s choices elements and how they are mixed together.

Makes you think about someone? A period of your life? Makes you feel you’re part of a community? These are other elements, right?…

One of the pleasures of pop music is the game with time. Listening to a music piece is “following it along its continuity”.

Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, break or solo, verse, chorus, outro…

When you know the music already, there’s a pleasure in… knowing what’s going after : you can sing along, right? You wait for the pleasure which will come (ahhh this chorus is so good, move your shoulders, transform your hands in butterflies…).

THREE

I’m back with my iPod. The music begins. If I don’t like the beginning (sometimes I need 5 seconds to know it, but sometimes it’s more like a minute), I turn the wheel. I go from 0’15” to 1’20” – just to see how it will evolve, as you can guess…

Most of the time, my instinct was right : if the first verse is bad (music, singer, harmony, sound, whatever), it STAYS bad, and I see almost no difference between 0’15, 1’20” and 2’45”. This is how pop music is made, 98% of the time.

There’s pleasure in repetition, in “it comes back”.

The chorus idea is like the proof of it. A good chorus (or a great gimmick), and people sing, and you got a hit, Johnny!

FOUR

What I like the most, with my little wheel, is when I hear the beginning or a track, then I go to 1’10” and I hear something else, then I go to 2’20” and I hear again something else. Woah! Invention!

Most groups of the Progressive Music era worked like that : Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson. They liked to invent structures similar to Classical Music

And well, yes, Classical Music has this “pleasure in repetition of themes”, but it’s much more complex, of course. A theme coming back is more like an event in a ocean of… :

Continuous Invention

In Pop-Rock, it’s VERY rare. Some groups are crazy enough to build a 5 minutes tracks like Pink Floyd did with 30 minutes.

  • Instead of : Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, break or solo, verse, chorus, outro
  • They do : Intro, verse, break, surprise, chorus, another music, double break, altered chorus, intro to triple variation, piano reprise, Irish drum arrival, guitar, false outro, reweaving of some previous with other instruments, choir silliness, new chorus, samples, etc etc…

Continuous Invention : you invent all along, continuously, surprising the audience with pleasant unexpectations.

Names I have in mind (for some tracks, not all of them) : Röyksopp. MGMT. St Vincent.

FIVE

In what discipline you could apply this tool of “Continuous Invention” instead of “Pleasant Structural Pattern Repetition”? Poetry? Mmmmhhh… Marketing?

What about the contrary? If most movies are based on “stories” – continuous invention – some of them are based on variations around a small story : Rashomon, or Run Lola Run. There’s a pleasure here, in viewing three or more times the same stories, viewed with another point of view…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Run_Lola_Run
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Art of Noise games – Reverb, part 2

At the beginning of Instruments of Darkness, Art of Noise plays with the reverb (big reverb/no reverb) on the snare drum, as if they were moving the drummer from a small room to a cathedral and vice-versa.

 

I remember their “Moments in Love“, a masterpiece in this “no genre” (where is this music today?).

So : 3 notes, in an infinite loop. This is no music at all, only weaving sounds and reverb. The Fairlight (the whhoo-whhoo sound) in the reverb, the bass very flat, like an anchor.

And they play again with the reverb/no reverb with the “Kling” anvil perc (they begin at 5:14). Just after this, the appearing Beatbox Bass Drum is dry like hell, stuck to your ears. At 6:52, a strange break is flat too, slowly like tempted by reverberations. I love these production games as a thinker. You have to love to analyze and dissect music to do that. But you are, if you’re reading this, right? If you have headphones, you’ll be amazed by the way it’s all “placed” in the sound scene…

There are many levers to activate when you produce music. I really like to do it “visually”, as if there was a music stage in front of you.

 

Thanks for reading !

When a drop becomes a string : REVERB, Part 1

Please listen to this Vangelis “Blade Runner” quiet track :

 

I used to be a composer (a long time ago), and I remember this “Blade Runner” mood : Your track is ready on your Macintosh. It’s the night. You’re alone, quiet. You have a cigarette and you just “hit the spacebar”.

Your pack of “synthétiseurs”, samplers, keyboards and effects is twinkling blinking here and there in your room. And Macintosh plays your music, that’s cool!

“Reverberation, is the persistence of sound after a sound is produced”, says Wikipedia. The page has the good idea to present a simple synth sound with different levels of “reverb”.

You can guess that you have different parameters. The percentage of reverb (you maybe need to keep a part of flat sound) and the length of it. You can guess that a “many seconds” reverb gives you the impression you’re in a cave, or a cathedral.

For my Blade Runner moods I played with 12 seconds reverb, which could never be reached in reality.

In “Against the Sky”, Brian Eno uses the reverb like a character, a ghost of the already reverbed piano. At the end of the track, a quiet golden snake is reverb-floating in the background…

Robert Rich & Steve Roach are like “too much reverb is cool”. Their percs are already like in a cathedral, and they have this pleasure to draw veils of sounds. Yep, New Age music. OK, I let you slowdance a bit…

YouTube their names to check what reverb is 🙂

 

Soil Festivities (Vangelis again) begins with thunder… in reverb. So it’s like you’re sheltered near the entrance of a cave. The whole piece is like a game of sounds (no music seems to really being built here), of creatures evolving in the reverb. Around 6 minutes, listen to the contrast between all notes and the “no reverb” next-to-your-ears bass. He played the same game with choir in the album “Mask”.

I’ll write another article about reverb in pop. Depeche Mode‘s Violator as a perfect example…

Have fun. Have a great 4Th of July!

 

The warm haunted trumpet of Jon Hassell could suit your summer evening…

Do you know Jon Hassell? He’s an American trumpet player. Wikipedia says : “He is known for developing the musical aesthetic which unifies ideas from minimalism, various world music sources, and his unusual electronic manipulation of the trumpet”. He uses an unusual softer way of blowing into his instrument.

I chose here three albums which suit perfectly with your summer loving evenings.

  • Fourth World is the “easiest”. The trumpet is a veil, a triple breathe, a moanplaint, and Brian Eno (who produced the album) draws landscapes and mysterious sounds around it. It’s like a nocturnal African dream. Put it in loop and watch the stars.
  • Surgeon is more… like… drunk. Swampy (like the sleeve)? Some moments are haunting and gorgeous. Hide three candles in a room, in a hot night, and this album in loop. Be slow.
  • Powerspot is more urban, electronics are different here. Beatboxes build impossible architectures. Futuristic and sweaty, like Miles Davis in another century…

The first two albums are in the link. Powerspot : only a track (explore the others!).

Like it, or too much?

Thanks for reading!