Dominoes falling

As a consumer of the creative, this is exactly the sort of thing I live for.

Stumbling across this on YouTube (the drummer is also in one of my favorite bands, Leprous), my brain is knocked completely loose from it’s moorings. The polyrhythms alone at the very beginning, beating against the piano’s already off-kilter timing – to me, like being thrashed about by rapids while at the same time realizing that you’ve developed gills, so it’s suddenly comforting to just settle in for the ride, knowing that you can survive long enough to hear the siren’s song to completion. The melodies throughout, the violin and the melodic transition at the half-way mark, the shifting time-signatures, the wall-of-sound production, and my god that flawless ritardando at around 8:00, right back into a half-time march toward the end…

For me, these moments — hearing tracks like this (for another example that froze me in my tracks, check out Nils Frahm’s ‘Hammers’, above), reading a unique voice like Chuck Palahniuk or Warren Ellis, seeing your first Dali painting or video by Floria Sigismondi — are less moments of rebirth, less reminders that the world I live in is glass-half-full with plenty of things that still taste great… and more reminders of all the doors that haven’t been opened for me. Aren’t there always more of these waiting for me out there? For all of us? Maybe not even waiting to be found, but instead waiting to find us when we’re ready for them?
(I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year about the differences between illusion and magic, and this all seems to fall in there…)

Music as a Blanket

There are times when the quiet of the world surrounds and engulfs you. The rest of the populace has gone to bed, the traffic has gone still, and it’s left to you and the owls and the moon.

Not that this can’t be a wonderful thing, but occasionally, the white noise machine that plays the ocean waves or the Brazilian rain forest to slow your brain to a dreamstate just won’t cut it.  Maybe the voices are too loud — or maybe they’ve gone quiet.

The right songs, chosen carefully and ordered correctly, can be the best blanket you have — to protect you from the cold, or the breeze, or the boogeyman.  You can set it to carry you sleeping through the night, or even to create the dreams you specifically hope to have.

On the rare night that I find myself in an empty bed, or on a sofa, I share my thoughts and dreams with her still, thanks to music, and I awaken warm and refreshed, even if I do long for her skin next to mine.

The Music of the World Around Me

I have a tendency to always be listening to music.  In the car, at home, at work — even when I sleep. It’s an addiction worse than many — I just can’t get enough. It’s my last vestige of my own world, of shutting everything else out and withdrawing into my own head, even as I keep pushing forward through the rigors of the day.

Sometimes, though, whether intentionally or not, I find myself in silence.  But even in the silence, there’s music, if you know how to listen.

For a rhythm, there’s street machinery, or the passing of cars at rush hour, or a dripping faucet.  There’s melody everywhere, in the pitches of running appliances or car alarms in the distance or animals. Wind blowing through drafty windows or the cooing of a neighbor’s baby act as occasional fills, adding to the melody.

It’s all about perception — how you see things, how you hear things, how you choose to experience the world around you. You can find solace in the quiet, a moment of peace — or you can find your own new symphony.

Knowing the score

I always wanted to make soundtracks.  As a kid, I put together playlists (mix tapes, for the analog crowd) for movies I wrote in my head.  Later, when I learned to play instruments and got my hands on a four-track cassette recorder (and later, ProTools), I created my own scores.

I’m a huge fan of a number of composers who work primarily in film: Hans Zimmer, James Horner… Who knows if it’s because they work in film or it’s why they work in film, but their music is as cinematic as the images that show over the tunes. The pieces are amazing in the films, and just as wonderful on their own, standing alone.

That, I think, is the mark of an excellent score — music that not only enhances the meaning and feeling of the movie, but that evokes visions on its own while played about from the visuals.

TV, movies, documentaries — doesn’t matter which it is. If it’s a visual medium, start paying more notice to the music behind the action.  Some of it is obvious, some so sublime that you’ve seen the piece a thousand times and never noticed the sound.  In your head, change the music, and notice how the visuals and their impact change, as well.

It’s funny that actors and directors get so much credit for making or breaking a movie or TV show.  It’s very obvious when they’ve done their job poorly. But musicians can completely change the emotion behind the film, for better or worse.  It’s amazing to think how much of an intertwining there is between vision and sound, and how much each can affect the other.


Cover Me Badd

(Thanks to Butch Walker for that title — you really owe it to yourself to check it out, or any of his original material for that matter.)

Music is a unique form of art, in the realm of tribute and homage.  To my mind, there aren’t any remakes of books, sculptures, or paintings (I’m sure that there are a few, but nothing notable?  Correct me if I’m wrong).  TV and movies — especially lately — count a number of remakes in their fields, but they aren’t necessarily reinterpretations, but rather thinly-veiled cash grabs.

Music, though — there are countless cover songs.  Some good, some bad.  There are note for note covers that are almost indistiguishable from the originals, and there are some that are only connected thematically.  I would even argue that some covers far surpass the originals (though I’ve been given grief  by some – notably, songwriting musicians – for suggesting such).

There are some songs that are fun to play, for musicians like me.  There are some songs that are so inspiring and moving that we musicians want to pay tribute to the song by recording it ourselves.  And some songs are so wonderful at their base, but lacking somehow in the recording or preformance, that a musician will make an attempt at bringing their own (better?) vision of the song to life.

If you’ve never given cover versions a chance, I recommend hitting YouTube or and checking out some of the many versions that exist.  Start with the following (and make sure to listen to the original, for comparison’s sake):

  • Butch Walker – Since You’ve Been Gone (originally by Kelly Clarkson)
  • Marvelous Three – Reelin’ In The Years (originally by Steely Dan)
  • Aimee Mann – Nobody Does It Better (originally by Carly Simon)
  • Metallica – Am I Evil? (originally by Diamond Head)
  • Between the Buried and Me – Bicycle Race (originally by Queen)
  • Frost* – Here is the News (originally by ELO)
  • Deftones – Drive (originally by The Cars)
  • Reel Big Fish – Take On Me (originally by A-Ha)

Perhaps you see it as blasphemy, or maybe it’s selective (i.e., as long as it’s not your favorite band that is being butchered).  Some bands have made a career out of out nothing but performing other people’s material, and some people refuse to ever touch someone else’s song.  I think the latter — at least, the attitude that underlies that school of thinking — prevents you from enjoying a wealth of great music, though.

A Blanket of Sorrow

I taste your sorrow and you taste my pain
Drawn to each other for every stain
Licking the layers of soot from your skin
Your tears work my crust to let yourself in

[Pain of Salvation, ASHES]

There’s something soothing, comforting, about sad music when you’re feeling down.  Safe, even.

Some people I know will listen to upbeat and happy music when they’re sad.  It’s a way of countering the darkness, of pushing back against whatever bothers them.

I sometimes will do the same, or instead listen to something heavy and angry, convert the depression to a rage instead, something that will burn brighter and faster and extinguish itself more quickly.  It’s a strange light to shine into the dark corners, but the shadows are chased away nonetheless.

Mostly, though, I turn to sad songs.  Maybe it’s the familiarity, or knowing that I’m not alone with the thoughts that race through my head. If these songs are out there, then someone, somewhere, felt these things enough to commit them to tape, and that’s enough to carry me through another cold night.

It’s not a common thing, I think, judging from what others have told me.  But it’s the way that works for me, sometimes. Whether I’m missing someone who has passed from my life, or life has thrown me too many curveballs for one day, or I’m just having one of those days, I try to keep a few darker pieces at my listening ready. In the cold rain, even a blanket of sorrow can provide warmth and protection from the elements.