[ back to Tom 7 Radar ]

     Viewing posts in category song of the month...
(view all posts instead)
    
s
o
n
g

o
f

t
h
e

m
o
n
t
h
Song of the month, July 2007 = Theme from The Goog (16 Apr 2008 at 17:32)
Whoa hooaaa. It's been a long-ass time since I've done a Song of the Month. I am going to do something moderately stupid to jump-start this dead battery: I'm going to write about one of my own songs. I think that's okay because Song of the Month isn't some kind of award that I bestow so there's no like conflict of interest, and even if I did give awards nobody cares about that and I certainly don't care about awards that I give to myself. (Except for: Most Ambivalent About Self-Congratulation. Rock on, dude.) The real point of the Song of the Month series is to give me an excuse to write, especially about inconsequential things and things that are difficult to describe. What do they say, that writing about music is like dancing to Architecture in Helsinki? Is that right?

Anyway just to be clear that this is an out-of-process Song of the Month, I am doing something patently absurd. This entry is backdated to a time before this song even existed. In fact I wrote the song Tuesday night. This here post is basically about the process of songwriting, rather than the song itself, since that is fresh in my mind.

Here is the scourge of songwriting, for me: When I'm writing a song I just wanna write the songs that already exist and that I love. My cold rational mind knows that many of the songs that exist and that I love were written while explicitly avoiding writing songs that already exist, and so I ought not fear mining the outskirts, but fuck if I don't want to just be like Am F C G all day. It is a constant problem. Nels will testify that I am particularly implacable on this point, in that I'll frequently claim when we're writing a song that it's already a song that already exists even though I can't say which one. (Actually, this kind of thinking pervades the way I approach creative processes like research and programming, too.) This wouldn't be a problem—after all, it naturally leads to more original material—except when you get stuck at a point where the next move (note, chord, lyric, etc.) seems oh so right and so natural but you feel you can't do it because it's not original. When I say you I mean me. Maybe you if you write music either just go for it and write that same song, or maybe you don't find yourself in this scenario because you're better at laying out an original plan from the get-go. When I'm nouveau-paralyzed in this kind of situation I often end up doing something pretty awkward sounding, by necessity, and maybe sometimes later it grows on me but usually it's just a failure.

Not that I don't write songs employing formulas, though. For example I can't tell you how many times I have a chord progression like X/Y/Z/W and then the "change" is to something like Y/X/Z. This is my go-to technique when I'm feeling pretty good about the song so far and I want the change to sound natural. It doesn't make me feel like I'm rewriting a song that already exists because if the first part is original seeming then some permutation of it probably is too, except in relation to itself but songs are allowed to be similar to themselves. There are plenty of other formulas. Sometimes I learn a new formula, often by studying someone else's song carefully but sometimes just by luck. This is favorable. When it happens, I happily use it in combination with other formulas until it and they mutually dry out. A good example would be a song called Setlist (I never uploaded it, sorry) in which I first discovered for myself the partial capo. It's true that probably a third of my songs since then are using the partial capo in some way, but the remarkable thing is how many of them relate in some way to the specific structure of Setlist and not just the way the guitar is configured from an objects-attached-to-it standpoint. I also remember having this realization when working on AAD #13, specifically on both Advanced and Codeine Tornado, which was there's nothing forcing me to make the chorus fit neatly into a specific even size filled with repeating chords. I could do like XYZW-XYZW-XYZWVU and sing an extra-long melody over the WVU part that resolved some kind of repetitive uneasiness of the XYZW part that would have sounded really annoying on its own. It's not that I really thought I was forced to do it that first way, but something about the way I usually wrote songs in those days (figure out a guitar part almost blind to its melody potential and then, having recorded it, come up with something to sing atop) led me to avoid aperiodic chord progressions. It is funny to think back to that time because now this seems totally obvious and I do it all the time.

So what are we getting at here? Some kind of new formula or what that Tom is so proud of? Kind of. Let me go back to the scourge of songwriting. I think if you are me, or let's just say I'm me, there's one sort of natural thing that I do to try to be original, which is to start with the thing that my heart desires but then to fuck with it until it no longer sounds obvious. One easy way (especially with the video game music where I don't need to worry about actually performing the song) is to give it a funny rhythm. Many of my songs are made this way, I think, subconsciously. The problem with it is that my heart's desire is sitting there just within my reach and I'm deliberately thwacking my stupid greedy hand away from it, and this feels bad. I don't think it leads to more originality either because the reinforcement is mostly negative. When I put it this way another obvious direction is to start with something that's really fucked up, but then brush its hair until it is a pop song. I've actually done that plenty of times. It's different though when I can be deliberate about it, and being deliberate about it is the formula that is the subject of this post.

I wrote a song called Sensations sometime last year. If I were giving awards to myself I would give it to that song instead, because I'm really happy with the way it turned out, to the point that I put it on repeat and try to study it to figure out why it sounds good to me and how I can extract principles and formulas from it. My conclusions are thus: The song is based around a (rhythmically) fucked up bass line in 21/16 time. Its rhythm is grouped as 5-5-6-5 for the whole song. Layered on top are two melodic lines whose rhythms have the same period (that is, 21) but different phases and groupings. (For example the square wave in the "verse" starts two beats before the measure boundary, and the sawtooth one beat after.) The thing about this is that it sort of smooths over the underlying rhythmic strangeness of the bass, because at any given time there is at least one fairly simple melody part descending or ascending or holding out some chord, and doing so in a way that makes rhythmic sense locally. But my attention keeps drifting from one to another, meaning that there's no particular point I can say where there is an "extra" beat or a "missing" beat. (That can sound good but it is more challenging to try to write something that sounds like it is "naturally" 21/16 time.) The third observation comes from the way I came around to this. I started with something fucked and put some wandering melodies over it until it started to make some sense to me, then I started reinforcing them with other lines, even tweaking the melodies that I had already put down so that they would be less weird, and finally it was done. Very clearly the "brush its hair" approach. You can sort of hear the progression in the introduction to the song itself, which I like. Those are the principles and formulas as best as I can articulate them.

So finally, to the song of the month. I can't believe how long this post is. It is a Tom 7 Entertainment System tune called "Theme from The Goog" sort of by request (but that is a different story) and when I wrote it, I set out to employ the principles learned from Sensations. It begins with a bass line based on the sequence 1-2-3-4-0:
Theme from The Goog bassline
It's just repeating the same notes to introduce the rhythm. It makes no sense, like when they tell someone in chef school as a hazing ritual to make a dessert out of lobster and meringue. Next some other parts are added to "explain" the bass, which then changes in notes (but not rhythm) to be something cheerful and sensible. Even though I am using the "out-of-phase" trick a little bit, I also "reset" each measure or two with a blank spot, which means I have to establish any kind of overlayed smoothing rhythm very quickly rather than rely on a long term drift lasting several measures. Eventually, having demonstrated that this song has not been written before, I can start letting loose with some of those wailing catchy riffs that my heart desires. The only trouble is to match these back up into the original verse so that the song can properly loop (this is critical for video game music, of course, since video game music must be incessant). I got a little lucky here, but helped things along with another formula/principle: I repeat the dying robot motif (series of four descending half-steps from the verse and second part) in a blank slot preceding the loop back, reminding the listener like "Oh yeah, I'm listening to that song still." In the end I am happy with the result, which spans 13/8, 9/8, 4/4, and 11/4 time. It's a bit less thrifty than Sensations and it has some transitions that don't flow perfectly, but it is sprawling and it gets stuck in my head and that makes it a Song of the Month in my book.
Categories:  song of the month  mp3  t7es (5 comments — 9 years ago)   [ comment ]
s
o
n
g

o
f

t
h
e

m
o
n
t
h
Song of the Month, June 2007 = So Begins Our Alabee (09 Jul 2007 at 17:02)
All my websites were down this morning while I updated the arbitrary unique number that identifies my computer on the internet. I think they should be working now, but since I haven't changed that in 6 years there might be some problems still. Let me know if so. Also Song of the Month:

 clip 'n save
This months's song of the month is So Begins Our Alabee by of Montreal. I got both Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and The Sunlandic Twins at the same time so I can't really tell them apart, but this is a Sunlandic tune.

Back in college I listened to Of Montreal a little bit and played them on WRCT but mainly as a kind of methadone treatment while we waited for other mainline artists like Neutral Milk Hotel (never came) and The Apples in Stereo (maybe not a monotonic plummet but certainly Cauchy) and The Olivia Tremor Control (likewise implosion) releases or even stuff like Belle and Sebastian that I always associate with Elephant 6 even though they are like not even distant cousins.

And sometimes I have this sad thought that some band that I own one of their CDs and they are moderately interesting that I once saw unenthusiastically open for some other mildly successful indie band, that this band is so low on my radar it is almost undetectably low, like when top guns fly their jets below the radar to avoid detection, but here's it's because their wings are too small or something like that, not because they are deliberately dodging the radio waves. That this band is borne out of the absence of music, the raw embarrassment that mostly empty record store shelves would feel if they only had the discs from the bands. And the sad thought is not that B-movies and B-bands and B-sides exist but that probably some of the people in these bands think that their bands are not weekend side projects but actually really super, that they have written some really standout original pop tunes and are just working their way to the top and wondering if maybe they should only have started their band's name with A or 0-9 or Zyzzyvas for the minor abecedarian advantage bestowed for such early or late placement in otherwise arbitrary orderings. Like that they take themselves far seriouslier than their CMJ ranking justifies. This is sad to me, sadder even than when a formerly great band starts Cauchying to 0.

So Of Montreal was a shoe-in for this month's song of the month artist since I used to kind of think that this band maybe should have changed its name to Zyzzyvas but have they made a turn for the A-list. (Thanks to jaked1 for making me listen. I responded to his e-mail: "dude these are some fucked up motherfuckers") Both of these albums are filled with great songs, and as I write this "Alabee" is my current favorite, but other highlights include Forecast Fascist Future, The Party's Crashing Us, Requiem for O.M.M.2, Suffer for Fashion, Cato as a Pun, etc. The width of their sound is mind blowing. It's clear Kevin Barnes (that's the pilot of this jet craft) is kind of a messed up insane genius, but in the recording asylum is the perfect place for such people. Don't stop!
Categories:  favorites  song of the month (19 comments — almost 10 years ago)   [ comment ]
s
o
n
g

o
f

t
h
e

m
o
n
t
h
Song of the Month, May 2007 = The Saddest Story Ever Told (11 Jun 2007 at 17:46)
The thing about the Song of the Month Series is that you get one every month!

 clip 'n save
Ehh... umm... I'm a bit worried that after doing a rudimentary histogram on my song of the month blogothing you will find an alarming distribution with this month's addition. Only 5 different artists in 8 months? And two are Andrew Bird and The Shins? What is wrong with this supposedly worldly fellow? Is he like not caught up on The OC reruns or something? But even though this month's song is another one by the Magnetic Fields there were a lot of contenders so let me tell you about that first which will at least get me an asterisk on that embarrassingly heavy-tailed histogram.

They Might Be Giants put out a new album after a pretty long break called, the album not the break, The Else. Even though as I mentioned in a previous post I haven't been paying much attention to these guys since college, I think this album is pretty good and I have listened to it many times. Favorites include Upside Down Frown and I'm Impressed, and even Careful What You Pack which is especially noteworthy since it has been an even longer time since I've liked a Flansburgh song. But anyway, one of those could have been song of the month for May but they're not.

My pal mat64 put out a new internet album called Noise Feeder which I think is pretty good. I really like the songs Noise Pulse and Pfreeze, either of which could be a song of the month but they're not.

Also right at the end of the month I tried Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit and was quite surprised by its creativeness. But, a little late to find a song of the month, so maybe for June.

I checked out The Curtains, the band that Chris Cohen betrayed Deerhoof to go phoenixize, right before by my coolometer Deerhoof really exploded in popularity but I don't think these events are related and we still do miss him. Curtains is very good and much more subdued so it might have had something to do with a desire to be generally less . The best song is Fell On A Rock & Broke It. But it is not song of the month.


No, again The Magnetic Fields have sneak-attacked me with an oldie that I probably first heard ten years ago but somehow didn't realize the rulezness of until listening through their entire catalogue recently in search of such gemstones. The song is The Saddest Story Ever Told. Wow, nice! I learned this on piano just to verify that again the music is extremely simple, and am still puzzling over why I love it so hard. I think it basically comes down to three aspects: the melisma when Anway sings "those summer nights" and "diving for a girl you'll never find" the surprising shortness of some chorus phrases compared to their analogues in other parts of the song, and I just find the lyric "do do do do do, come on!" so funny especially in the context. No doubt there are other oldies waiting to sneak attack me in the MF back-catalogue. But let me pose a question that is two questions: Everyone knows that 69 Love Songs is pure gold, and if the Anway-era stuff is so underrated (I argue it is), why is i (the album's title is so narrow you can hardly click it!) so disappointing? And when is their new album coming out?

Category:  song of the month (7 comments — 10 years ago)   [ comment ]
s
o
n
g

o
f

t
h
e

m
o
n
t
h
Song of the Month, April 2007 = Side to Side (25 May 2007 at 21:43)
Boy I know I haven't posted here in a while but over at last.fm I have been keeping a little music journal which's only content is my "Song of the Month" club where I write snarky or gushing stuff about one song, my favorite song, each month. By recommendation and since I haven't posted here in a while here is my Song of the Month from April 2007, which is Side to Side.

 clip 'n save
Carnegie Mellon University, where I go to school, has a gymnasium which is nice for basketball and everything and is called Weigand Gymnasium but it might as well be called Why Have Musical Acts Play In Here At All Because It Always Sounds Like Absolute Assgand Gymnasium. The high ceilings and polished hardwood make the whole thing an echo-y, muddled and sweaty mess. This venue can make you actually start hating your favorite band, I think. (Case in point: I went to see They Might Be Giants there about five years ago, who were once my favorite band, although at the time they were not, but I actually just left the show because it sucked so bad. And then I didn't listen to them for five years, but actually I think the new album The Else is pretty good.) I'm pretty sure the artists would just like feign equipment failure and go home if it weren't for the $30,000 or whatever that CMU pays for a concert and the well-meaning crowd who, because they live in Pittsburgh, have probably not ever been to a proper show where you can, you know, hear the music.

Anyway ... like any white boy I like hip hop crossovers like OutKast but have never explored it in depth. I think Blackalicious is a real stupid band name. I actually happened to be walking by the WhyHave...AssGand Gymnasium when Blackalicious was playing in there last year and stayed for a few minutes, even though I am fully aware of the perils, and indeed the show was absolutely horrid. CMU cops started giving me scheiss because I had my camera with me at the time and this is apparently verboten so I left and filed Blackalicious in the mental DO NOT LISTEN pile (why do I always get so excited about these missteps?) until this year when my music sharing buddy nolacoaster hooked me up with his music collection at work. It does have stuff like Less Than Jake and Third Eye Blind (I won't even link those) so it's not exactly indietopia but I have an open mind policy now so I've been listening through almost everything that is not Ska or 90s alternata. You know what? Blackalicious is really great. It is less all over the map than OutKast but the production is really top notch; the songs complex and interesting and not all about cliche subjects; and Daddy Gabby really does have impressively fast lips. This album is worth listening to in its entirety and it has several very good songs (oh this is The Craft), such as Powers, World of Vibrations, etc. Each of those others had some tiny thing that annoyed me, so my pick is Side to Side even though it does has like carnival trumpets in it (but so does +81, right?). Cleverly arranged and hilarious lyrics.
Well, off to a good start I guess, but I did at the end realize I ought to get back to my dissertation so discussion of the actual song is a bit superficial, yes.

Okay see you!
Category:  song of the month (4 comments — 10 years ago)   [ comment ]
p
e
r
s
o
n
a
l
Back! (06 Jun 2006 at 17:21)
Back!
I know yinz are like "Where is Tom? Did he die?" The answer is, no, my friends, I am sitting right at my computer and I did not kick the bucket or purchase any farms! True, though, that I have not posted an update in some time. So, what's been going on?

Well, up above is a picture of me finishing the Cleveland Half-Marathon, which I posted about in the previous entry. This was my first visit to Cleveland and my first time running that kind of distance, and all-in-all I declare it a success! Cleveland is a nice city (despite warnings I've heard to the contrary), though it is a bit too driving-oriented for my tastes. Also, during our visit there was a bloom of what I think were mayflies. They were everywhere, like when we were walking around we'd inhale them and they crawled all over the Automatic ATM Machine and the walls and my car and themselves and that was pretty sick. We got dinner at the Great Lakes brewpub, which I love because I love brewpubs. It isn't my favorite brewery, but they had a lovely pale ale special to the pub, and a delicious veggie burger. OK, right, so we had to get up at 5:00am for the run itself and it was pretty cold and raining for almost the whole race. It wasn't really that bad though, and that's mainly because the course is quite flat and I'll trade hills for rain any day! Cortney and Alvin biked around town to cheer for us at various points of the race, which was really nice and motivating. I finished in 1h46m (pace of 8:09) and ran the whole time except for a bathroom break at the 10K mark. I feel like I should have done better, but I had only run a total of sixteen minutes in the two weeks prior, so I wasn't really trained for it. Now I want to run a real marathon sometime in the next year. If I don't do it, yinz all should chastize me for being a lame slacker!

Song of the month for May is Jonathan Coulton's Mandelbrot Set, which I learned about from Joshuah via Moira. It's totally cheesy and has a very TMBG-like educational subject matter, but I love it for its Van Halen porta synth and lyrics that incorporate phrases like "disdain for pure mathematics and unique geometrical insights." I lollerskated for real.

What's been keeping me away from the internet and everything for the last week is a workshop deadline for which I submitted two papers; one an updated version of my old draft about Grid/ML, and one a new paper about Separate Compilation for Standard ML. The latter was an extremely painful process that took up day and night for the whole weekend. I am glad to be done with that. As far as I know, I'll only be working on the programming contest for the next month or so.

To be continued in a few minutes!
Categories:  song of the month  races (3 comments — 11 years ago)   [ comment ]
     Viewing posts in category song of the month...
(view all posts instead)