January 30, 2020
SCENIC SIDE TRIP – DRUMS AND PERCUSSION
I want to look at the musical aspects of 4:13 Dream a bit more closely, but before I do that, I’m going to write some general thoughts on drums and percussion, which isn’t easy to write about without the requisite musical vocabulary, but let’s see how it goes. And, if anyone out there does have the vocabulary and concepts, I’d be really happy to hear a translation of what I’m going to say in plain language into the specialised language. ?
Drums and percussion (where present) are as important to my personal enjoyment of music as any other group of instruments, but if you grew up in the 80s, and had 80s pop inflicted on you, the offerings there were often musically woeful, particularly the stuff that was popular with the so-called teenyboppers. When drums just go bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang in monotonous repetition – aaaaaarghhhh!!! (Or when they’re not drums at all.) Ditto when people are just noodling away on a few cheesy notes with their guitars, keyboards etc. As a teenager I called this “plastic music” when I was scribbling away in my recreational journals, for example, coming home from school and the mix tapes in art class and wanting to get that off my chest.
I have UB40’s Red Red Wine on my iPod, chiefly because it was one of the few things I heard in my middle school art classes in the mid-80s that didn’t make me cringe. Brett says, “How can you like that? The guy sings like Daffy Duck!” Well, yes he does, but a) so do some of the singers in Brett’s regular iPod list – The End Is The Beginning Is The End would be so much nicer without squishy vocals, for example – and b) I like the bass line on it, and c) if you were ever forced to endure Wham! and Twisted Sister and even worse things I’ve forgotten due to traumatic amnesia, you too would have positively looked forward to Red Red Wine, not to mention coming home to listen to alternative radio shows.
Because I taught at a very musical school in the first decade of this millennium, I had a lot of exposure to African Tribal Drumming and even went to a day workshop on it, which was so much fun. This extraordinarily coal black Nigerian guy with the whitest teeth had us all sitting on the floor with a basic drum each doing call-and-response as he smiled away like a lighthouse. He said, “In my village, this is what we do at night instead of television!” Thump, ba-da, thump, ba-da, thump. Thump, ba-da, thump, ba-da, thump. Thump, thump, thump. Ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da. Thump, thump, thump. Ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da. And from those basics to more and more complex rhythms. It really is quite extraordinary how several dozen people sitting in a circle can somehow manage to replicate exactly what the group leader is playing, and do it in time with each other, instead of making a dog’s breakfast of it. It was an amazing feeling, like being carried on a wave. Five minutes in, we were all smiling non-stop, although not quite as dazzlingly as our wonderful 1000-Watt mentor. If you ever get the opportunity to go to an African Tribal Drumming workshop, just do it – it will be a life highlight, when you look back on your deathbed.
Drum/percussion playing that I really enjoy has a fair bit of complexity and diversity in it, has patterns that repeat and other patterns that are more random, goes slightly off-kilter, has elements that are unpredictable. Here’s something seemingly simple that totally mesmerises me – I could sit and listen to this on endless repeat for hours, even just based on the percussion:
Coming back to The Cure, Burn has a fabulous drum track:
I was listening to this once after nightfall when I was tending to a bonfire (we feed tree fodder, which means we make piles of the leftover woody bits of the branches, which get burnt in autumn) – and I’ve got to say, towering flames, searing heat, dancing shadows and flickering light are a wonderful backdrop to have when listening to this track. Under those circumstances, when you’re walking around, and that guitar section begins, you feel like you’re actually flying…
Brett was over the moon to finally see a live performance of Burn when we watched the Opera House live stream last year, having been sorely disappointed that it wasn’t on the set list when he went to see the band live in 2002-ish. He says he liked the even more jungle-like playing Jason Cooper brought to this track, and was amazed by the sheer physicality of the drumming, when watching – keeping up this fast, complex rhythm for that length of time is surely cramp-inducing and this guy probably has no need whatsoever to go to the gym. We notice that the footage has disappeared from YouTube, probably because there’s going to be an official release of that concert on DVD, so here’s a substitute – although it’s not very well filmed, so if you’ve got the Hyde Park DVD etc, or have kept a copy of the live stream, that’s far better viewing.
The complete professionalism of everyone in this band on their respective instruments is one of the things that keeps us joyfully watching concert footage – it’s always a huge treat. Listening to the studio albums is very good, but listening to The Cure live has an additional dimension, and a well-shot concert film just caps it all (for those of us who don’t get a chance to attend gigs very much).
4:13 DREAM (continued)
…and now, I’d like to get back to 4:13 Dream. If I have one tiny issue with the music on the song Underneath The Stars it’s the little fake-sounding drum sound that opens the track and repeats at intervals – something is off about it, processed or sampled and like it’s on tape and not being played on real instruments (so if any of the technical nerds reading this can throw light on this, please pipe up – that’s what the reply box is for). Things go back to normal pretty much immediately after that.
You do hear this sort of thing around the place, especially in music I don’t like, so I’m probably having a Pavlovian reaction to it. I do generally though far and away prefer instrumental music to electronic stuff, and I never did like drum machines or anything that sounds like them, although these days it would probably be more difficult to tell. But it’s actually the little imperfections when people play music that make it real and give it character – which, Brett is just saying, is one of the reasons he tends to prefer live music to studio albums.
Having said that, the inclusion of this kind of sound is part of what gives 4:13 Dream a fairly cohesive sound overall – although there’s enough elements that do exactly that, for the fake raspberry to have been dropped in favour of real raspberry, if you ask me. I just have this thing about industrial imitations of real things, whether it’s in music or in my food.
I’m pressing “pause” till later – other things to do! ?
February 19, 2020
HEATWAVES, HOME LIFE, JACOB SHEEP AND PEOPLE’S EXPECTATIONS
The heatwaves in Australia have been melting my brain, since I don’t have the option of hibernating in the cool indoors in the daytime (animals and irrigation systems to tend to outdoors etc). So I’ve been taking a break from extended writing and just doing silly stuff for fun (http://curefans.com/index.php?topic=9299.0 and http://curefans.com/index.php?topic=8725.msg772006#msg772006). But it’s a cool-ish day today, and Brett remembered at the last moment that the races were on this afternoon, which means he had to go do the photo finishes. (We both dislike horse racing for various reasons, but Brett thinks the photo finishes are a good gig because he gets paid several hundred dollars essentially to go read a book from his tsundoku all afternoon, merely interrupting eight times for five minutes each to fiddle with some IT.)
This has plunged our prior Sunday afternoon plans into disarray, and I decided that if he’s working this afternoon, so am I, with the exception of this post, which will be my fun aside. My chosen task list to do in parallel includes bottling the 9th and last cauldron of concentrated plum sauce for the summer, bottling 20kg of honey, doing the Airbnb laundry from some splendiferous overnight guests we had, meandering down to the hill paddock to let the yearling steers roam in the adjacent paddock for the afternoon (normally they aren’t locked into small areas but we are supposed to be selling the huge, older steers roaming the common, so I separated them a while back to make it easier to walk the older animals up the road on sale day), hanging three more pictures in the corridor, surreptitiously washing up while Brett isn’t here to stop me so that we can be work-free when he gets home again, boiling some potatoes from the garden (the little ones for salad, the large ones for wedges – the medium ones went back out as seed for the next crop), planting two more rows of Painted Mountain Corn, and shifting sprinklers around all afternoon as usual.
OK, the sauce is bottled, the steers are let out, the string line is up in the corridor, the potatoes are on, the washing is rinsing (if you don’t do this yet, try adding a few drops of pure lavender oil – not imitation stuff – to your rinse water for bedding, it’s so nice…?) and the dishes are soaking, and now I can get writing.
(And I got exactly one sentence done on-topic and was rushing around doing my task list until dinner time, ha! So I’ve returned to add to that single on-topic sentence below, on a subsequent day, but will leave the preamble in anyway for a bit of colour, and in case anyone wants a vicarious summer afternoon in rural Australia.)
4.13 Dream is a mixed bag of an album, in some ways like Wild Mood Swings is a mixed bag. It’s just that 4.13 Dream is musically more cohesive – which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but which probably means it hangs together better as an album. It does sound like it’s musically knitted from the same type of wool throughout, as was the case with Disintegration and Bloodflowers – which of course were made from their own particular kinds of wool – and both of those were definitely made from the wool of black sheep! ?
I think 4.13 Dream was knitted together from the wool of a Jacob sheep.
Texturally it’s consistent, thematically it’s spotty, like Wild Mood Swings was spotty. Songs about committed love appear to jostle with songs about torrid affairs and suicide notes and general mayhem, like a wild fruit salad. There is no overarching theme, unless you’re going for an ultra-broad application of “the human condition and its various spin-offs.”
Personally I really like some of the tracks, dislike others, and can take or leave the rest depending on my mood – similar to how it is for me with Wild Mood Swings. This does not mean either of them are bad albums, of course. Not every album can be a stratospheric experience from beginning to end – actually, very few are, and again it depends as much on the listener as it does on the album.
Let’s talk about that for a moment, because of the unrealistic expectations that can be created around albums (and other experiences!). A bunch of musicians put out an album that is objectively highly competent and that also happens to trigger your “now-launching-into-orbit” machinery. It becomes one of your favourite albums ever, and you wait for the next album to come out. And how do you react unless the next album has the same effect on you, or an even greater one?
I read so many fan reactions that are wild with disappointment when lightning won’t strike them twice. (It may strike others twice, of course, but miss you.) Instead of accepting the nature of lightning, it becomes personal, and people project their own disappointment outwards at the musicians. How could they put out this crap? How could they not know or do better? Oh, they’re past it now, they’re over that hill, their zenith was way back when, yadda yadda.
Yawn. ? Those comments often tell you so much more about the people making them than the actual album. Life is a mixed bag, not one stratospheric experience after the other. And stratospheric experiences are a little like butterflies – chasing them is counterproductive. Stop expecting that next experience to be stratospheric, and let things pan out naturally. That way, when something like that does happen again, you will also enjoy it a lot more.
Sex therapists write exactly the same thing, by the way. Chasing orgasms gets in the way of living in and fully enjoying the moment, and it actually makes them less likely to happen. It’s a counterproductive mindset. Just be fully present, and enjoy the journey, and stop thinking about the next train station and what that’s going to be like, or you’ll miss the many wonderful things that are already there (on the way to the train station – perhaps via the scenic detour ?).
Next time I’ll start looking at each song in turn. ?
February 20, 2020
4:13 DREAM (continued)
UNDERNEATH THE STARS
Floating here like this with you
Underneath the stars
Alight for 13 billion years
The view is beautiful
And ours alone tonight
Underneath the stars
Spinning round and round with you
Watching shadows melt the light
Soft shining from our eyes
Into another space
Is ours alone tonight
Watching shadows melt
And the waves break
And the waves break
Whisper in my ear a wish
“We could drift away”
Your voice inside of my head
The kiss is infinite
And ours alone tonight
“We could drift away”
Flying here like this with you
Underneath the stars
Alight for 13 billion years
The view is beautiful
And ours alone tonight
Underneath the stars
And everything gone
And all still to come
As nothing to us
Together as one
In each other’s arms
So near and so far
Forever as now
Underneath the stars
As the waves break
The text to this song stands very nicely on its own two feet, doesn’t it? It has the feel of the sort of snapshot you sit down to write after a particularly fantastic experience that you don’t want time to blur in your memory. If you sit down within 24 hours and write a poem or a journal entry on it, your memory is carved in deeper by that, and also will be triggered again every time you come back to read that piece.
By the way, that’s a nice antidote to the fact that we’re evolutionarily skewed to remember negative experiences more than positive experiences – because of the survival value of avoiding potentially deadly scenarios. So if you get a journal and make a point of writing bits and pieces on stuff you’re treasuring on a regular basis, this can really influence your mindset and give you a greater appreciation and enjoyment of the good things in existence, and in your own life. It actually will make you start actively looking for these things – give you a different sort of lens. “Simple” things like seashells, sunsets, sand grains, fog, birdsong, the way sunshine slants through leaves during early mornings or late afternoons, the structure of flowers, the smell of the earth after rain, a smile, raindrops on your skin, wind in your hair, the aroma of coffee (never mind that the taste never lives up to it, so I’m content just to smell it ?), the crisp feel of freshly washed, sundried bed linen against your skin, the stars in a velvety night sky, and hundreds of other things like that.
It’s funny how people with terminal illnesses often see this stuff quite intensely, and the general population tends not to – even though, of course, we’re all terminal, just not quite as face-to-face with that fact as someone with a diagnosis. But even if we weren’t, it’s still incredible, miraculous stuff. Each of those things I’ve listed is its own microcosm, and like a universe in a raindrop – you can go deeper and deeper and find more and more amazement. You can do this quite literally by delving into the natural sciences and ending up at quantum mechanics and philosophy, from any of these jumping-off points. And of course you can write poetry, and just generally cultivate a state of amazement.
Or you can write a song about it, if you’re wired that way, and share it with the world, as some people do. Underneath The Stars is a nice example of that kind of song. Plainsong, to me personally, is another. There’s The Waterboys’ Don’t Bang The Drum, and Hothouse Flowers’ Isn’t It Amazing, both intensely powerful tracks. There’s Learning To Fly by Pink Floyd, and Tabula rasa by Arvo Pärt. There’s The Church’s Under The Milky Way – someone out there has made such a lovely clip to go with the track that I’m going to post it, it goes beautifully with the imagery of Underneath The Stars as well…
However, The Cure also do a fabulous job using lights and backdrops to create complementary visual imagery when they play live, and here’s a nice example of that, from a live performance of Underneath The Stars:
If you love things astronomical, and ways of thinking about that, I’m going to recommend Sydney writer Anna Fienberg’s young-adult novel Borrowed Light, which interweaves space and inner space in a very intimate way, and looks at how our inner universes can be dimmed or made properly bright. It’s one of the best-written books I have ever read, both from the perspective of putting words on a page and of creating meaning and understanding, and not very well known outside of Australia.
The contemplation of space and the widening of our view to look at it does tend to awaken our sense of perspective, and of wonder. So if you’re feeling blue, or jaded, or scratchy, or anything else like that, go somewhere you can see the sky, away from the light pollution, and take some walks after dark. I realise this is easier in Australia than many other Western countries, but it’s worth a shot anyway.
February 23, 2020
When I looked at Underneath The Stars in the last post, I didn’t do any discussion on the lyrics themselves because they’re so clear and straightforward. It’s interesting that writing a text for the purposes of a song basically imposes its own structure on it – you’ve got to have the right number of syllables in corresponding lines, the right rhythm in the words etc.
There was one thing I did think rather wryly, that if you’re of a certain vintage, you can’t read references to waves breaking in romantic contexts without the subtext that film imposed upon that. Before the days when films began showing sex scenes in finer and finer detail, what used to happen when the romantic leads kissed and got amorous is that the shot would then quickly change to waves breaking in the surf. (Imagine if the film industry had chosen another type of thing for this shorthand – like, I don’t know, a basketball going through a hoop, or a helicopter view of a top-loading washing machine in action with the lid open, or someone making a cucumber sandwich, or doing a handstand, or making hazelnut scrolls, or walking their pet iguana. How would the world have been different? Would people have given each other iguanas for Valentine’s Day?)
This thought actually leads nicely into the discussion of the next song. You can look up the lyrics to The Only One for yourself (yes, he really is singing that) and then decide whether you think that’s too much information, or not. And I think that’s a personal line, that each person draws for themselves. Some people are going to be offended / irritated / embarrassed / in some sort of disagreement, and some not.
The fact that there is apparently a bit of controversy about that song amongst Cure fans actually brings up a lot of cultural stuff about how weird it is that we live in a society saturated with pornography and with the use of sex to sell consumer products, but if someone gets mildly descriptive about their enjoyment of their sex life then somehow that’s repugnant, even when that person is married / clearly loves more about their partner than just their body.
How much information is too much information is a complex topic to think about. It would be really interesting to know why Robert Smith decided to write that number – I mean, OK, I can see why he wrote the words in the first place, but to know why he decided to make it a public number. In some ways that’s brave rather than reckless or tasteless, or at least it seems that way to me. And it does add to the conversation around sexuality and what’s OK to say and what’s not, and why we think that.
I’ve discussed the lyrics to this song before, primarily to say that I thought it was a good thing that a married 40-something, whom young people would stereotypically see as “past it”, challenged the idea that sex is the monopoly of young people with airbrushed bodies which conform to the current narrow definitions of physical beauty to be had all over the mass media. (The song challenged that idea, whether or not that was intended by the writer.) I don’t think I need to re-hash, so here’s the link:
…there’s that post and then more a bit later, down the page. If anyone wants to chime in, you can do that in either thread – and you can totally bring the linked material into the current discussion here, by the way.
The other day I was looking through Wikipedia entries and was fascinated to discover that some of the tracks on 4:13 Dream started off with different titles, including this one. Apparently The Only One was previously titled Please Project, which, if that’s true, is potentially funny – depending on whether you read the “project” bit as a noun or a verb. ? So, is that a little dig to say, “Go on, I know you’re going to project your own stuff onto this!” or is it simply “a project to please a person” (which is basically congruent with the song topic) – or maybe a bit of both?
Brett was saying to me, “What if Mary dared him? You don’t know how much of an imp she might be.” Or maybe they both have similar hippie attitudes to nakedness and sexuality (and that the two should not necessarily be conflated) as my circle seems to have relaxed into (just like us, pretty much all my good friends admit to running around naked indoors and outdoors in the right contexts – even my American friends, despite the puritanical aspects of their culture), and it was a present. (Now parse that last sentence, bwahahaha! ? ? ?) Lots of possible scenarios there.
I’m going to have a look at the music side of this tune next, but will have to add that later as I’ve got other stuff that needs doing at the moment. ?
March 11, 2020
I’m going to pick up from a couple of posts up, where the song The Only One was discussed. (NB: These were extraneous interaction posts not reproduced here, which you can read in the original thread.) I re-read that post because it’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote it, and was reminded of something.
In the early 2000s, I was staying with a friend in Sydney, doing a term of work in her school, dipping my toes in the water, to see if I might like to stay longer in that city (and I did, it’s a lovely city). She and her husband were heading for 50, had been together since their school days, and were one of the most affectionate couples of any age I’ve ever met, including since then. I took a lot of inspiration from their relationship. Their children, however, were mildly disgusted rather than inspired: “Mum! Dad! We can’t take you anywhere!” ?
Isn’t it funny how parents can disgust their adolescent children by kissing fondly, holding hands and giving each other smitten looks (and it really was quite decorous, rather than overtly sexual, but you certainly knew they meant a lot to each other). I was sitting there, in my early 30s, thinking, “Wow, my parents weren’t like that, wouldn’t it have been nice to have had such an affectionate, positive model of marriage!” and their children were rolling their eyes. That response, by the way, is in part probably related to the incest taboo – none of us actually really want to consider that any other people in our family, but especially our parents and grandparents, are sexual beings, and we don’t want them thinking about us that way either (acknowledging that, OK, but not ruminating on it, thank you very much).
I wonder how far the incest taboo transfers culturally to pretty much anyone significantly older than us / in “parent” age category compared to us. Perhaps that’s one reason why middle-aged people tend to raise eyebrows with affectionate couple displays, and why that’s not frequently depicted in movies, where love and sexuality are disproportionally given to younger people to portray. (When you get to the elderly end, however, most people will coo over octogenarians walking around hand-in-hand and say, “How lovely!”)
So maybe this is partly why there’s been some negative response out there to the lyrics of The Only One, and at the same time, that’s why I commend it, since I too am over 40! ?
I wanted to talk about the musical side of this track a little before moving on to the next one. It’s such a happy song from start to finish. So immediately, I’m thinking, “What is it that makes music sound happy, as opposed to sad – in technical terms?” I’ve heard reams of theory about music and emotions, about how certain scales suggest melancholy and others not, and certain ways of playing notes, etc etc. I expect there’s something akin to onomatopoeia in that as well – we all know what misery sounds like when expressed in nonverbal sounds – the shrill, doleful sounds of animals when they become lunch for another animal out in the wild or when horrible people kick dogs or cats around. Conversely too, the happy sounds animals make when playing or when they are being affectionate. We’re social mammals, sharing an evolutionary background with other social mammals, and we instinctively “get” this language. You can hear echoes of that language in movie soundtracks, and in music in general.
Humour break. What do you get when a piano drops on an army camp? A flat major. And what do you get when a piano drops down a mine shaft? (Come on, you can figure this one out if you’ve not heard it before! ?)
The Only One is musically happy in a way that doesn’t make me cringe. It doesn’t sound contrived or superficial or cheap or plasticky to me (now let’s quantify that! ?). In part that’s because the people playing it aren’t musical amateurs and that they’re using instrumentation I like. For starters, there’s a lot of space in this song, and I like it when there’s space in music (and in movies, and in prose). The song breathes, and lets us breathe, instead of being suffocating. Did you know that several decades ago, an experiment was conducted that showed you could stress goldfish by playing them fast rhythms? Especially if the beat is way above their resting heart rate. The faster the beat, the more stressed the goldfish.
So you can have a relatively slow beat, and make the space between beats busy and interesting in nice ways without making it suffocating either, and that’s what I am hearing in The Only One. I’m for some reason hearing a lot of sparkles, dewdrops and sunbeams in this song – like going out into a sunny early morning after rain, when the light is dancing off the water droplets and the sun is hanging in the sky like a low lantern, and illuminating everything from the side (that’s such fabulous light!).
The melodies through that song, when I listened to them again and again to try to articulate what I like about this music, actually reminded me of so much stuff I really noticed when I started listening to classical music, and when I did three years of violin lessons. Have you ever listened to Bach? It’s like equations. n+1, n-1, n+2, n-2. You listen to one part and the next, and then it makes sense. You can almost start to predict what’s going to happen at some points, but at other points there’s little surprises that lilt off to the side, or you suddenly land half a note below where you’re expecting to go, and your brain starts to chime.
Listening to this track, all this is coming back to me; also my brain is sending me little random one-word notes like “arpeggio” and “counterpoint” and “call-and-response” from the strata of stuff being stored in it. Sometimes it remembers stuff underneath that I don’t recall clearly.
It’s like painting – you can do it with acrylics, you can do it with words, you can do it with music, and presumably you can also do that with mathematics (if your brain is bent in that direction!).
I think the drum track to this song is excellent, and it does the same thing the whole song does – leave space, but partly fill the space in interesting and alive ways. There’s a lovely sound underneath the guitar melodies which reminds me of glockenspiel or xylophone and is probably keyboards (if in doubt, it’s probably keyboards ?).
Sounds layer in very complementary ways, like tastes will in good food – e.g. a bit of nougat offsetting cream, and contrasting with sour cherries, if you’re making a dessert – when it comes down to it, you can see so many similarities about good construction in whatever medium you’re using.
Ha, now I’ve done it – I think I’m going to have to make cherry trifle… I really shouldn’t do food analogies coming up to mealtimes, if I want to continue on a particular task – but on the other hand, this is a good point to leave it. It’s kind of fun trying to describe sound in ordinary words. Next time I’ll look at The Reasons Why. Have a decent day, all. ?