Festival of Drums — Danny Seraphine

 
Danny Seraphine.  Image via  imgarcade.com .

Danny Seraphine.  Image via imgarcade.com.

 

Danny Seraphine, the original drummer for Chicago, is widely and justly praised for his fast hands and steady groove.  He is also under-recognized for his compositional insights.  What makes him so special is not the fact that he can whip off fancy fills; it’s that he plays the right fills, fills that do something for the song.

 

Here, his fills, which never lose the sense of the drum groove, create the gentle twists and rises in the road over which the song travels.  The sense of motion is created by Terry Kath’s acoutic-guitar strums, and the groove is supported by the entire band.  

Note how Seraphine drops his fills at unexpected places . . .

for example the relaxed anticipated cymbal crashes at 0:13 and 0:16

 and drags some of them out to create drama . . .

for example at 0:19, and then, more dramatically, at the start of the second verse (1:49) and then the sublime tom-tom fireworks that start with the outro (3:03). 

In between all of this, he injects subtle pushes and pulls (for instance, after the first chorus at 1:30).  At all points, one can hear his feel in the filling. Each move he makes gives shape to the song's emotion and carries that feeling forward.  

It's a joy ride with the windows down. 


Thank you for reading.

Endings Part 4 supplement — “Ordinary Pain”

 
Vocalist Shirley Brewer, who sings the reply at the end of Stevie Wonder's "Ordinary Pain."  Image via  discogs.com .

Vocalist Shirley Brewer, who sings the reply at the end of Stevie Wonder's "Ordinary Pain."  Image via discogs.com.

 

On first listen, Stevie Wonder’s “Ordinary Pain” might resemble two songs joined together by a brief transition, but indeed it is one song.

 

The first two and a half minutes speak of the quiet heartbreak of unrequited love. 

When by the phone
In vain you sit
You very soon in your mind realize that it's not just
An ordinary pain in your heart

etc.

But with its extended ending, which starts at 2:43, the song suddenly changes singers and perspective.   In the album credits, the main vocal part, sung by Shirley Brewer, is labeled “reply.”  The musical vibe, which shifts to a nastier grind, and words she sings recasts the first part of the song from tender heartbreak to laughable naiveté.

 

You're just a masochistic fool
Because you knew my love was cruel
You never listened when they said
Don't let that girl go to your head

etc. 

This unexpected ending suggests where the fantasies of a spurned lover can go.


Thank you for reading.


Endings Part 4 supplement — Magical Portals in Song

 
Sly and the Family Stone.  Image via   www.factmag.com .

Sly and the Family Stone.  Image via www.factmag.com.

 

One maxim of story telling is that the best endings feel both inevitable and surprising.  By feeling inevitable, they present something that resembles the workings of the world.  Through surprise, they leap ahead of our expectations.

Song is a narrative form, and sometimes a song takes a final leap that feels like an escape through a magic portal.

 

The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” makes such a leap.  Three and a half minutes into the track, right when we think the song has finished smashing its way through fields of “teenage wasteland,” the song takes a left turn and never comes back.  In this extended coda, the horizon is wider, the ride is faster and smoother, suggestive of an approach to a shoreline (much like the end of The 400 Blows).

 

Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand” also takes a surprising leap at the end.

Just as we begin the third chorus, the song drops into a groove with a funkier edge, and the lyrical refrain “Stand” shifts from a tone of encouragement and affirmation to one of defiant celebration.  Notice how crucial the timing of this shift is.  The radical nature of this coda is partly informed by the sense that it arrived before we were ready.

It’s worth noting that the success of both endings lie in the fact that while they both feel surprising, they also feel inevitable.  Somehow we feel as if we were headed to these endings all along.


Thank you for reading.

Endings 2 supplement — The Truck Driver’s Gear Change

 
Macy Gray.  Image via   www.hollywoodreporter.com .

Macy Gray.  Image via www.hollywoodreporter.com.

 

One familiar move in pop music is an upward modulation of key so that the melody may be restated with a sense of increased urgency and reach.  (This move is sometimes referred to as the Truck Driver’s Gear Change because it suggests the climbing of a hill.)

 

“I Hear a Symphony” by the Supremes contains several such modulations, beginning at the 1:10 mark.  Note how each key change suggests a wider scope.  It is as if we can see more terrain from our higher perch.

Macy Gray’s “I Try” employs a slightly more complex approach.

 

The song starts in D major.

It changes keys (to F major) for the bridge (at 2:13). 

It returns to the original key for a final pre-chorus (2:38).

And then it steps up (to E-flat major) just before the final chorus.  Note how this elevation of keys occasions an elevation of energy.  As the song modulates upward, Macy Gray’s lead vocal reaches further.  She shouts and talks back to the song, as if she now addresses us from a perch with 360 degree vista.  The elevation of key helps create the sense of an ending that looks both forward and backward.


Thank you for reading.

Endings 2 — The Wide Shot

 
Isaac Hayes.  Image via  galleryhip.com .

Isaac Hayes.  Image via galleryhip.com.

 

The final movement of Mozart’s Symphony #41, the Jupiter Symphony, cascades with counterpoint. 

 

One needn’t understand the mysteries of fugue to hear how Mozart’s melodies answer and wind around each other.  They pull apart and then collide to spectacular effect. By the end of this final movement, one has witnessed a vast fireworks show, a panorama of sorts.   As the symphony’s conclusion, it has the effect of leaving us with the sense that now we’ve seen it all.

 

The cinematic scope of Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft” befits its original purpose as a film soundtrack.  In the context of a discussion about endings, consider that the song builds on it self.  Notice how the slow introduction of elements suggest tiers . . .

Hi-hat
Guitar note via wah-wah pedal
Low notes on piano
Organ and brass
Flutes
and so forth until the arrival of the vocals (lead and background). 

All of which takes us to the songs final moments, when the orchestral breaks expose, once again, the hi-hat and wah-wah pedal guitar.   One way to view these breaks is to hear them as highlighting the first elements of the arrangement.  Consider that if it does that, it also highlights all of the other elements, too, because we are jumping down from the highest tier, where all of the instruments play, to the 2nd lowest tier, where the guitar sits atop the hi-hat. 

Or, to rotate from an image of verticality to one of horizontality, the arrangement cuts between wide shots of the whole orchestra to tight shots on the hi-hat and guitar.  That contrast gives us a sense of all that has come before, as if we look back on the knowledge we have accumulated over the past four and a half minutes.


Thank you for reading.

Endings Part 1 supplement — Earth Wind & Fire’s “Burnin’ Bush”

 
Jerry Peters.  Image via  youtube.com .

Jerry Peters.  Image via youtube.com.

 

Songwriter and pianist Jerry Peters grew up in the gospel tradition, and one can hear in the beginning and end of the arrangement for his song, “Burnin’ Bush,” a paired invocation and benediction on the electric piano.

 

Notice how these moments bookend the song.  As the song begins, the smallness of the lone electric piano suggests an incense-filled antechamber that opens up into the full majesty of the arrangement, decked out in orchestral splendor.  And then, as we leave this grandeur behind, we exit through that same small chamber with the electric piano. 

It’s a spiritual and musical analog to what deep-sea divers do.  After swimming along the ocean floor, they must stop to depressurize before resurfacing.  Likewise, this arrangement's final moment allows us to collect ourselves before exiting into silence.


Thank you for reading.

 

Endings Part 1 supplement — “Cactus Tree”

 
Joni Mitchell.  Image via  nogoodforme.com .

Joni Mitchell.  Image via nogoodforme.com.

 

One way of hearing Joni Mitchell’s “Cactus Tree” is as a series of loops along a longer path.  The main path is defined by the opening riff, and the loops are the individual verses, which are separated by more stretches of the main path, the riff.  Each verse adds another face the list of relationships recounted in the song.

 

The repetition of this riff at the end and the suggests many more loops to come, thus invoking the meditative quality of a labyrinth walk.  We are not here to find answers, only to turn over the questions.


Thank you for reading.

Endings Part 1 — Leaving Through the Front Entrance

 
Randall Wong.  Image via  YouTube.com .

Randall Wong.  Image via YouTube.com.

 
 

Some art works as a chapel in which to reflect.  We enter, lose ourself in listening or viewing or reading, and then leave by way of the door through which we entered. 

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral.  Image via   www.math.nus.edu.sg .

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral.  Image via www.math.nus.edu.sg.

It is not a puzzle to be solved, like a maze.  It is more like a labyrinth, a vehicle for meditation.  It differs from a maze in that a labyrinth walker doesn’t need to decide whether to turn left or right.  She simply follows a carefully marked path that winds around to the innermost point, at which point she turns and retraces her steps.  The point is not finding the destination—she'll end where she started—but the walking.

 

“The Blue Bird,” (music by Charles Villiers Stanford and text by Mary Coleridge) rendered here to stunning effect by the San Francisco vocal group Chanticleer and soprano Randall Wong, might be heard this way.   In the final notes, one recognizes the beginning, and that recognition sharpens our sense of the space contained between the beginning and the end.


Thank you for reading.

Beginnings Part 4 supplement — Invocations from Beethoven, The Moments, and Hollie Cook

 
Hollie Cook.  Image via  holliecook.com .

Hollie Cook.  Image via holliecook.com.

 

Note how the beginning of Beethoven’s Symphony #9 suggests an invocation, the calling down of energy in preparation for a focused explosion.

 

Hollie Cook’s “Ari Up” begins with something that works similarly.  The voices suggest priestesses.

 

“Come let her fire blaze, come.”  It is an invitation, an appropriate way to begin a song in remembrance of Cook’s friend, Slits singer Ari Up, who died a few years before this recording.

I call your name again again
(again, again, again)
Do you hear me now and then
(again, again, again)
The storm inside my soul is wild like your eyes
Your hurricane pulls me in and lightens up my life . . .

 

Finally, note how the first few bars of “Love on a Two Way Street” by the Moments provide a regal, almost processional opening.  It is as if the space in which the singer recounts heartbreak must be safeguarded by way of this clearing out of space.


Thank you for reading.

 

Beginnings Part 4 supplement — An Invocation from Matana Roberts

 
Matana Roberts.  Image via   fucinemute.it .

Matana Roberts.  Image via fucinemute.it.

Jazz saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts creates music she describes as Panoramic Sound Quilting.  “I have a deep interest in American history and old oral traditions developed, deconstructed, merged together often times through profoundly contradictory means.” 

Her music “aims to expose the mystical roots and channel the intuitive spirit-raising traditions of American creative expression while maintaining a deep and substantive engagement with narrativity, history, community and political expression within improvisatory musical structures.”

The second chapter in her Coin Coin series, Mississippi Moonchile, is indexed by tracks, but is in fact one continuous take.   The performance is both composed and improvised.  It’s worth noting here that the opening of this 50-minute work is titled “Invocation.”  (The final piece is titled “Benediction.”)

Note how this invocation clears out space.  The rattling percussion and vocal swells suggest a moment of ritual purification.  The space in which the musicians are about to perform must first be claimed by them.  That purification in turn readies the audience, driving out distractions and settling them into the sacred space of listening.


Thank you for reading.

Beginnings Part 4 — Beginning as Invocation

 
Qawwalli maestros the Sabri Brothers.  Image via   alternatingcurrent.podbean.com .

Qawwalli maestros the Sabri Brothers.  Image via alternatingcurrent.podbean.com.

 

Some beginnings take the form of an invocation, a claiming of the space and gathering of energy.  The idea has obvious liturgical resonance.  Just as priests begin a liturgy with a a prayer, perhaps said as they disperse incense around a sacred space, authors, musicians, dancers, filmmakers often begin by claiming the psychological space that exists in the minds of the audience members. 

 

In this selection from the Sufi musicians the Sabri Brothers, the first 30 seconds suggest a grabbing of attention, clapping and drumming announce that something is astir.  Then, the droning of the harmonium is soon joined by voices, and we hear 90 seconds of invocation from the singer.  Note how focus descends upon the performance here.  The singing gathers energy inwardly amid the silence of the drums and clapping.  By the 2:00 mark, the introduction has done its job and steeped us in the mindset that subsequently explodes outwardly into ecstatic praise.  The introduction has cleared the way.

The beginning of Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets takes an analogous approach.  The first words are spoken in a dream from which the protagonist, Charlie (played by Harvey Keitel), awakes.  The bulk of the movie takes place on the streets and in bars, public spaces where Charlie must navigate the expectations and traditions into which he was born.  But first we must know, as this scene tells us, that Charlie is a person haunted by his private theology.  The crucifix hanging on his bedroom wall informs it, but perhaps more important is the mirror into which he stares for a few crucial seconds.

By first stopping here, the movie can move forward into Charlie’s public existence with the viewers having glimpsed the private Charlie, one that will stay with them through the entire picture.


Thank you for reading.

 

Beginnings Part 2 supplement — Prokofiev’s "Peter and the Wolf"

 
A young Carlina Codina, who grew up to take the stage name Lina Llubera.  She later met and married Sergei Prokofiev.  Image via   www.sprkfv.net .

A young Carlina Codina, who grew up to take the stage name Lina Llubera.  She later met and married Sergei Prokofiev.  Image via www.sprkfv.net.

 

Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is famous orchestral work for children, where a narrator reads over an orchestration of the story.  It begins with an introduction of the characters and the musical motif and instrumentation associated with each.  Here is a version narrated by Lina Prokofiev.

 

Though the introduction (from 0:00-0:25) may have been written with the mission of introducing children to orchestral music in mind, it accomplishes more than that. 

  • It tells listeners how many characters to expect and what emotional associations come with each—excitement (the bird), playfulness (the cat), sternness (the grandfather), and so forth. 
     
  • The previews of the character motifs allows listeners to anticipate the scope and tone of what follows.  They’ll know to anticipate danger (the wolf), and conflict (gunfire).   
     

All of this sets a young listener’s imagination in motion before the action has started, and by establishing these limits, the introduction frees her to enjoy the story. 


Thank you for reading.

Beginnings Part 2 supplement — A memoir introduction

 
Joni Mitchell.  Image via   www.stereogum.com .

Joni Mitchell.  Image via www.stereogum.com.

After drafting my memoir about the music business, I realized that I wanted to bring the readers into the story with their expectations somewhat in order. 

First, I wanted to settle, right away, the question of the narrator’s qualifications.  He was not a rock star, but rather someone who had found some degree of success, enough to have given him access to such things as record deals, MTV, the workings of radio, what it’s like to play on Letterman, and so forth.  I wanted them to expect an insider’s look at success without being distracted by the wait for a superstardom that the narrator never attained.

I also knew that someone picking up a rock memoir might expect tales of rock and roll excess, and I wanted to direct expectations away from that, lest the wait for scenes of debauchery start to distract readers.

So my introduction sketched in a few of the story’s plot points, and this panoramic introduction allowed the narrator greater leeway in telling the story that followed, because the introduction allowed readers to set aside questions that might otherwise have lingered. 

Think of it this way: Imagine flying to a place you’ve never visited, and a friend picks you up at the airport. 

  • Suppose she doesn’t tell you how long the trip is, or whether or not you are stopping for groceries, or whether or not you will be crossing the river, and so forth.  In that case, each sight has potentially equal significance.  Your mind has no expectations; each intersection is a potential turning point, each neighborhood might or might not be hers.  With so many options open, your soon lose the ability to take in the details because the big questions—where are we going and how long before we get there—remain outstanding.
     
  • Or suppose she fills you in.  “We’re headed across town, about half an hour drive.  We’ll cross the river, swing by the dry cleaners, and then drive uphill to where I live, which is not far from that radio tower you see to the right of the downtown skyline.”  Now you have context and thus freedom to let your eyes wander, to take in details and know that you haven’t lost track of the big picture.

Such was my thinking.  I had in mind something like the overture of a musical, something that would plant ideas in the minds of the readers and give them a framework, a sense of the story’s scale and scope.  Thus prepared, they could sit back and absorb the workings of, in Joni Mitchell’s words, “the star-making machinery behind the popular song.”

 

Thank you for reading.

Tradeoffs Part 2 supplement — Control vs. Loss of Control

 
Pete Townshend.  Image via   www.morrisonhotelgallery.com .

Pete Townshend.  Image via www.morrisonhotelgallery.com.

 

One tradeoff that many artists make unconsciously is to take steps to seize control.  This might take the form of acquiring of special equipment that allows greater control over materials—a fancier loom, a synthesizer with more knobs, a digital audio rig, and so forth.

Another form of taking control comes by way of personnel changes.  Musicians, for example, often go solo to make the record that their band mates had resisted.  By striking out on her own, the leader has gained control.  She can pick and chose players who will carry out her ideas more competently and just as she requests.  No more resistance or squabbles—it’s a dream.

Yet the lack of resistance and improvement in competence are not pure gain.   What about the sense of difficulty and fight that may characterize the band’s performances?

Consider, for instance, some of the differences between . . .

“Going Mobile,” from Who’s Next by The Who.

 

and . . .

“Secondhand Love,” from Pete Townshend’s solo album White City: A Novel.

 

Townshend wrote and sings both songs.  One needn’t declare a preference in order to appreciate the tradeoffs inherent in recording as a member of a band versus recording as a solo artist.   

The groove of “Secondhand Love” is not only more polished, it breathes with the air of deference captured on solo records. “Going Mobile,” by contrast, is more contentious.  Note, for instance, how Keith Moon’s drum part and John Entwistle’s bassline speak of players in competition for the audience’s ear.  No element in “Secondhand Love,” beyond Townshend’s voice and guitar, makes such an overt bid for our attention. 

Players on a solo record aim to carry out the singular vision of the artist, whereas band mates exist in an ongoing contest for attention.  That competition is what charges band performances; it can also drive a singer/songwriter crazy. 

Townshend, famously aware of the ensemble around him, surely understood these tradeoffs and got what he wanted from “Secondhand Love.”  He also understood what he gave up in the process.  How many artists can claim to be so conscious of what they might gain by ceding control?


Thank you for reading.

Tradeoffs Part 2 — Is a ride pattern necessary?

 
"Trafalgar Square" by Piet Mondrian.  Image via  www.wikiart.org .  Here, Mondrian's minimalism serves as a visual analog to Ringo Starr's musical minimalism.  We can think of the boxes as beats which are either played (the boxes filled with color)  or omitted (the boxes that are blank white).    I am indebted to Bill Slichter for sharing with me his insight about the connection between Mondrian's art and rhythm in music.

"Trafalgar Square" by Piet Mondrian.  Image via www.wikiart.org.

Here, Mondrian's minimalism serves as a visual analog to Ringo Starr's musical minimalism.  We can think of the boxes as beats which are either played (the boxes filled with color)  or omitted (the boxes that are blank white).  

I am indebted to Bill Slichter for sharing with me his insight about the connection between Mondrian's art and rhythm in music.

 

One of Ringo Starr’s many contributions to drumming is his insight as an arranger.  His parts are often minimal, leaving lots of space for the voices and other instruments.

One method he employs is omission of what drummers call a ride-pattern—the constant ticking of the hi-hat or dinging of the ride cymbal.  A ride pattern provides subdivisions of the beats.  They are like little sonar blips that keep orienting the musicians.

“Here we are.”

“Here we are.”

“Here we are.”

“Here we are.”

“Here we are.”

Ride patterns are so useful as to be part of nearly every drumbeat.  Yet they come at a cost, one most drummers might overlook.  Ride patterns occupy a lot of sonic space, space you might not know existed until you hear  what is made possible by, for example, Ringo’s omission of a ride pattern in the verses of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

 

 

Notice that the aural space conveyed by the absence of hi-hat or ride cymbal suggests physical space.  And the absence creates a vital contrast with the choruses, during which Ringo smashes away on his cymbals.  It’s as if we hear the verses from our seats in the theater and are then thrust up on stage for the choruses.

In my experience, too few drummers consider leaving such holes in their parts.   It’s an unconscious decision on their part.  They enter a song assuming that some form of ride pattern is necessary.  But what about all of the space they are trading away by way o that assumption?   

They might take note of what Ringo and the Beatles were able to accomplish when the drum parts let the space do the talking. 


Thank you for reading.

Tradeoffs Part 2 supplement — Max Roach channels Papa Jo Jones

 
Papa Jo Jones.  Image via   en.wikipedia.org .

Papa Jo Jones.  Image via en.wikipedia.org.

 

I once had the immense pleasure of seeing Max Roach play a solo show—just him and his drums.  Watching and listening was worth more than a hundred drum lessons.

At one point, he recalled a battle of the drummers held in Central Park.  He and other legends took turns wowing each other and the crowd with their solos around the kit.  And then came Papa Jo Jones, longtime drummer for Count Basie.  Jones, something of an elder statesman among the drummers that day, walked out on stage and sat down with nothing other than his sticks and a hi-hat.  According to Roach, the solo Jones played blew away his competition.

After telling the story, Roach recreated Jones’s hi-hat solo for the audience.  It was something like what he does in this video.

Jones had laid bare an assumption his fellow drummers had made: a drum solo uses the entire kit.  Not for Jones.  There are tradeoffs of soloing only with hi-hat, but the counter tradeoffs apply when using the full kit.  The constraint "hi-hat only" allowed Jones to go deep.  Until that day in Central Park, Roach and his fellow legends may not have considered such an approach.

And until hearing Roach tell the story and reproduce Jones’s solo, neither had I.


Thank you for reading.

Tradeoffs Part 1 supplement — Tradeoffs as acknowledgement of creative constraint

 
Quincy Jones.  Image via   jazzinphoto.wordpress.com .

Quincy Jones.  Image via jazzinphoto.wordpress.com.

 

I once heard Quincy Jones discuss the art of composing.  He said something to the effect that until he could impose a creative constraint on himself, he had no freedom to compose.  In the case of his film score for In Cold Blood, all kinds of possibilities emerged once he committed to centering the music around two string basses, musical representations of the two killers at the center of the story.  

Noam Chomsky, in broader terms but also in resonance with Jones’s reflection on composing, has observed that the rules of syntax are what unleash the creative potential of human language, the means by which we think.  It’s a familiar paradox: Where anything is possible, creativity shuts down, but when the range of possibility narrows, we face choices and engage our imagination.  Furthermore, the narrower our choices, the further we can push within the range of options.  

To speak about art in terms of tradeoffs acknowledges this reality.  For instance, a choice that nonfiction writers entertain (now more openly than ever) is whether or not to embellish their stories with fictionalized details. 

Let’s set aside any moral objections one might have with such embellishment, and for the sake of discussion let’s assume that the fictionalized details would have no bearing on the larger meaning at stake in the story and also that the reader will not be able to discern truth from fiction.

 What are the tradeoffs?

Embellishing by way of fictionalized details gives the writer more options.  For instance, she gains access to sharper contrasts and smoother transitions.  The embellishments allow her to solve problems that the truthful details of the story might disallow.

What might she be trading away?  One answer is that sometimes the more interesting aspects of a story lurk behind inconvenient details. 

For example, when I sat down to write my memoir about playing drums, I faced an inconvenient aspect of the story: Though my band had achieved significant success, I myself was not a quite a rock star.  Should I skew the story by rounding myself up to rock star?  Should I overstate the story’s disappointing end to create a crash and burn narrative?

Only by staying within the constraints of the story’s reality did I push myself to realize that the story of becoming a near rock star was unexpected and full of details that might be new to readers.  In my life as a drummer, I regularly imagined stardom.   Sometimes the show-biz planets aligned to convince me I had made it, when in fact I had not.  My favorite details of the book were those that captured the sense of being in showbiz purgatory, neither damned to failure nor granted access to full-blown glory.  And telling that story would not have been possible had I skewed the facts to ease my initial storytelling anxieties. 

And mulling those anxieties slowed the start of my writing.  Only when I realized that I wanted to tell the truth, with all of its storytelling complications, did I find the freedom to write. 

Quincy Jones comes through again.


Thank you for reading.

Tradeoffs Part 1 — Tradeoffs as shared points of reference.

 
Producer/engineer Young Guru, mulling tradeoffs at the mixing console.  Image via  massappeal.com .

Producer/engineer Young Guru, mulling tradeoffs at the mixing console.  Image via massappeal.com.

 

When we discuss art, it’s natural for us to employ evaluative language.  Doing so, however, often overlooks the fact that evaluative language only points back at us, the audience.  It doesn’t point at the work.  We can argue about the best Ella Fitzgerald performance or Joni Mitchell song, but those arguments only establish the taste of those in conversation.  It does little to illuminate what the artists themselves are up to.  

Nevertheless, we need language with which to talk about art.  For example, when I read a student work, and it’s not working for me, I need to be able to talk about why in terms that are concrete, beyond dispute.  One way to do that is to describe my experience of the work.  “I was confused on page four because . . . .”  A writer can hardly disagree with such a statement from a reader.  She can’t say, “No, you weren’t confused.”  The objective nature of the conversation helps keep things clear for all.

Another way to talk in concrete terms is to discuss the tradeoffs made by the artist.   Even when two people disagree on a work’s success or failure, they can agree on the tradeoffs that were made and what resulted from those tradeoffs. 

For instance, in my posts about musical time, I listed some tradeoffs that are made when drumming becomes rounder (more even) or less round (more uneven).

Whether or not I can persuade you that Ringo Starr’s sense of time is better than a drum machine’s (which is really a conversation about my listening), we can agree that Ringo’s imperfect time-keeping infuses the Beatles with a certain vulnerability that a drum machine cannot.  Likewise, we can agree that if the Beatles had used a drum machine that rendered perfectly even time, the result might have been something less vulnerable and more invincible.

Tradeoffs, thus

  • Provide concrete points of reference for people who may disagree as to a work’s success or failure.
     
  • Help us remember that creativity is all about choices.
     

The language of tradeoffs thus help us distinguish between conversations about the artist’s choices from conversations about our response to those choices.   The different tradeoffs each of us might make reflect differences of intuition and taste. 

The language of tradeoffs therefore helps us take responsibility for how we receive the work.


Thank you for reading.

Roughness Part 4 supplement — Revealing the Errors of Making

 
Nina Simone.  Image via   jazzinphoto.wordpress.com .

Nina Simone.  Image via jazzinphoto.wordpress.com.

 

At the beginning of this recording of “I Shall Be Released,” Nina Simone can be heard stopping the band and exhorting them not to push.  The false start and the brief correction she gives to the musicians were preserved as part of the recording. 

 

All of that might have been cut, but its inclusion provides a window into the making of the song and the difficulties of recording and performing.  Simone’s dialogue enlivens the recording not only because it’s interesting to hear a performer at work in the studio, but also because we then listen to the song knowing that the question of not pushing is in the minds of the musicians.  Even as the song progresses and we let go of that concern, the rough and tumble moment at the start has infused the performance with a little more life. 

Simone in the studio.  Image via  ninasimone.com .

Simone in the studio.  Image via ninasimone.com.

 

We have heard something more like the whole truth of the recording, and it feels more alive as a result. 


Thank you for reading.

Roughness Part 4 supplement — “Roxanne”

 
Image via  45cat.com .

Image via 45cat.com.

 

The story goes that Sting accidentally sat on a keyboard in the studio as the Police were recording “Roxanne.”  You can hear it at the 0:04 second mark, followed by his laughter.

 

 Consider how the discord and ensuing laughter enliven the performance.  They give the song a comic dimension, something that within the context of the song’s subject matter might evoke drunkenness and the street.  This moment of comedy makes the song feel more lifelike and complete.


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