Saturday, January 17, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 1: Date Night

Well, it's SpinTunes time again. It's the 10th contest, meaning we've been doing this twice-yearly exercise for five years now. Nice. Here's the challenge:
Heart Beatz - Tonight's your lucky night...or so you hope. The fire is crackling, and you have a candlelit dinner waiting for your special someone. All you need is a seductive tune to put your lover in the mood. Write it. (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, January 18th 11:59PM)
Basically, it's a challenge to write a song of seduction as opposed to a love song. This gives lots of lovely leeway, and of course the first thing that springs to mind is pretty much most of the repertoire of Luther Vandross or Barry White. That's the imagery intended by the guy that wrote it. How the judges interpret it is anybody's guess.

Nevertheless, after spending the first weekend thinking about it, my lyricist came up empty. So we did a brainstorming session. It seems to me that every woman I've ever heard state what she finds attractive lists a sense of humor near the top. You wouldn't believe it to read lists from "experts" on the Internet, but I have yet to see it fail to show up on a list in real life. So we're going for that. Not comedy, mind you; but playfulness.

For reasons of "I don't wanna write that", I didn't want it to be about promiscuous sex. But I did want it racy.

I also thought about some songs that both my wife and I find to be particularly sexy. That's both of us, not one or the other. We both came up with the same song at the top of the list, "Love Is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia, from the film Dirty Dancing. It has humor, it has sex, it has lust, it just makes you smile.

A couple of other things about it: It's completely transparent about its intent. "C'MERE, Loverboy!" Also, it's a duet. As I mentioned above, it's appealing to both men and women. And it has spoken dialogue. I wanted something like that, with those kind of features. So that was my guide. But of course I didn't want a copy.

While talking this over with William I used this description of what the song should say:
"I want to go to bed sore and wake up happy". 
Fortuitously that got stuck in my head, because that became the song's hook.

We start with deciding sort of story the song would be telling. Everything but the first verse came first, but I wasn't happy because I didn't want it to feel cheap; then based on another bit of our conversation I went with the idea that these weren't strangers, but a married couple with kids. That makes this a "date night". Now the question was just "how far can you take this?"  The kids are with Grandma, and Mom and Dad have the house to themselves. Being on a budget, in this story they're watching old movies on Netflix.

Another thing: William had brought up "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes as an example of what we were looking for. The premise of that song is that a bored married couple find out something new about each other.

Note that the challenge was to write a "seductive tune" not a "song about seduction". It should put your partner "in the mood". I think "Escape" meets the challenge in spades.

"Date Night" has the duet, the spoken dialog, and hopefully the playfulness we were looking for. And it gives a socially acceptable situation where you can just unabashedly troll for sex (and the last line is a direct allusion to a "happy ending"). It's arguably more energetic and not as blatantly seductive as "Love Is Strange", but I think it works for a married couple. Inspired by "Escape", the couple in "Date Night" make a little discovery. Of course, what they discover is a willingness to try S&M and bondage, but at least they didn't put it on Craig's List... yet.

by Dr. Lindyke

[tv noises]

[she] This movie’s not very good. I’m bored.
[he] Well, it IS date night.  [turns off tv] What would you like to do?
[she] I don’t know,  Let’s do something different.

[he] hmmm... different...
Baby I know you like to have a good time... 
Well, the phone is off the hook and the kids are at your mom’s
May I suggest a little game where we can have a few kicks
A little more entertaining than a night of Netflix?

[she] go on...

It’s a little bit of whip, a little bit of chain
It’s a little bit of pleasure, a little bit of pain
It’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me
Baby, let’s go to bed sore and wake up happy.

[dialogue over the groove]
[she] I was kind of hoping you’d go there
[he] oh, really?
[she] In fact, I got us a little present, just in case.
[he] oh, REAlly?
[she] oh, yeaaaaah….


[she takes the reigns]
To keep you in your place ‘cause I like it rough
Let me introduce you to my brand-new cuffs
They’re covered in fur so they don’t chafe
And you can pick a word to keep you safe

It’s a little bit of whip, a little bit of chain
It’s a little bit of pleasure, a little bit of pain
It’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me
I want to go to bed sore and wake up happy.


[he] Babe, they say if nothing’s ventured, nothing’s gained
[she] You know I like my lovers with some spirit I can tame
[he] I have got the fire stoked bright to light your brand
[she] So everybody knows that you’re my man

It’s a little bit of whip, a little bit of chain
It’s a little bit of pleasure, a little bit of pain
[he] It’s a little bit of you 
[she] and a little bit of me
[both] Let’s go to bed sore and wake up…. happy.


Some rejected Ideas:
  • Any Barry White or Luther Vandross parody or pastiche
  • A Star Trek filk song based on Mudd's Women
  • A different role play (D&D)
  • A song "sung by" Larry Laffer (Leisure Suit Larry)


There's absolutely nothing highbrow about this arrangement.

I began with percussion, consciously using a classic R&B rhythm... it's an homage to every porn flick ever filmed in the 1970s. Since the song builds up, it starts with just the snare, then adds kick and hi-hat. The full drum kit doesn't kick in until Cherry hits her chorus

The rest of it is very seat-of-the-pants flying. The electric bass was the first instrumentation added, since it supports any R&B track, and I didn't want to be constrained to any particular key when writing it. I just let it go and figured out the chords afterward. That was pretty simple, as it's a basic three-chord song.

The piano was a puzzle. I tried all sorts of bluesy arrangements and nothing worked. Then I took it down to the simple chord-free accents you hear, and that went very well with Cherry's vocals, keeping the whole thing light and playful. Denise Hudson's Motown-style backing vocals were her idea, and they're icing on the cake.

One last thing: It should have an instrumental section in the middle eight, and the last chorus should be repeated. I will be adding those, because I just love this silly song. However, there are FIFTY ONE (51) entrants in the opening round of SpinTunes 10, and I've judged before. I'm not recording either the instrumental or the repeated chorus, so as to keep this under three minutes out of the goodness of my heart. It may come back to bite me.


As often happens, we've already met this challenge with a previous song. Namely, "I Hate Myself For Loving You", sung beautifully by Heather Zink.


Reviews have started to come in.
  • One reviewer comments that this is "A song about a date rather than for a date"... Nope. One of the best ways to get your lover "in the mood" is to watch or listen to other people who are "in the mood". This song is soft porn, plain and simple. It squarely meets the challenge, no "rather than" about it. Besides, the challenge isn't to write a song for a date... you're trying to get laid.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Weird Instruments 3 - The Yaybahar (by Görkem Şen)

I'm not exactly sure what bucket to put this in, or whether we should even try.

Yaybahar by Görkem Şen from Olgu Demir on Vimeo.

This brainchild of Görkem Şen is certainly percussion, but it's also melodic and can be played with a bow. It's resonant and totally awesome. To me it sounds like whalesong. If whales played strings. And drums. And didgeridoos.

The Yaybahar is described on Vimeo thusly:
"Yaybahar is an electric-free, totally acoustic instrument designed by Gorkem Sen. The vibrations from the strings are transmitted via the coiled springs to the frame drums. These vibrations are turned into sound by the membranes which echo back and forth on the coiled springs. This results in an unique listening experience with an hypnotic surround sound.
What you hear in this performance is captured in realtime without any additional effects and with no post audio processing."
There's a website,, which contains nothing but this video and a single link to the email address:

Follow the Vimeo link for credits.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Weird Instruments 2 - The Theremin and the Light Harp

This installment of "Weird Instruments" features touchless music, high-tech and sanitary.

Part 1: The Theremin

A theremin consists of two radio antennas, and you interact with it by moving your hands in the EM fields. One hand controls the volume; the other, the pitch.

It's what gives 1950's sci-fi movies their eerie soundtracks. For the most iconic example, refer to the classic soundtrack of 1951's "The Day The Earth Stood Still" by Bernard Herrmann.

In this TED talk, Pamela Kurstin demonstrates the theremin's versatility, making it sound like a musical saw and a bass.

Part 2: The Light Harp

Light harps (or "laser harps") come in all sorts of styles, but they're all played basically the same way: by interrupting or reflecting beams of light with your hands. The light beams substitute for strings and either trigger a synthesizer directly or produce MIDI codes to send to an external synth.

Here's "Theremin Hero" performing the Tetris theme on a reflective Laser Harp.

There are several basic approaches to building a light harp.

1. Scan with a single laser using a rotating mirror (similar to the way a scanner works at the grocery store checkout). The note is indicated by where the beam is when your hand reflects it to a sensor.

2. Use multiple laser sources and one (or few) detectors. It's similar to method one, but suitable for compact models. Basically, power is swept across multiple LEDs, and whichever one is turned on when the light is reflected is your note.

3. Use multiple detectors. It can be done with one scanning laser, or many individual ones. Since laser LEDs are so cheap, It's not terribly costly to use a bunch of them. I like this one approach because you don't necessarily have to scan, and I think you're likely to get better response, and it could manage chords. I also like relying on hardware more than software.

Whatever approach is used, the light harp can either directly control a synthesizer or act as a MIDI controller.

For the technically inclined, here are instructions on how to make a sophisticated laser harp (by Stephen Hobley). Steven points out that technically it's not a harp, but a lyre. I point out that technically it's neither, as it has no strings.

For the not-so-technically inclined, here are instructions on how to make one with an Arduino processor and simple breadboarded parts from Radio Shack.

Weird Instruments 1 - Hurdy-gurdy and Nyckelharpa

Lately I've been sharing some links to odd instruments I've come across with some friends, and thought you might like to see them, too.

Part 1: The Hurdy-gurdy

If a violin were gene-spliced with bagpipes, a piano, and a sewing machine, the result might look like a hurdy-gurdy. It uses a rosined wheel to vibrate drone strings, while the melody is played on a melody string using a keyboard. This TED talk explains the instrument nicely.

Part 2: The Nyckelharpa

The nyckelharpa resembles a violin, is carried like a guitar, or lute, and like the hurdy-gurdy, is played with wooden keys that do the fretting. But in place of the wheel it uses a more traditional violin bow. The addition of sympathetic strings give it a very rich sound. In this video, Thomas Roth most certainly does it justice.



Monday, August 11, 2014

Shadow: The God of All Small Boys

For SpinTunes 9, Round 3. The challenge:
SCORE! - Finally! Your favorite book is being made into a decent movie! The producers need a title song to promote the film and hopefully win an Academy Award. You're hired. The song must have the same title as the book. (2 minute minimum length) 
Uniquely, this song was actually written concurrently with the book. The book is "The God of All Small Boys" by none other than SpinTuner and Master of Song Fu Joe 'Covenant' Lamb. The book reached completion at about the same time as you were writing your songs. Joe provided me with an advance draft, which I read and for which I wrote this song specifically.

It's a tale about a group of pre-teen boys; a coming of age story set in Dundee, Scotland during the Great War (WWI). The lyrics were based on a description of a "den" constructed by the boys, and depicts a single scene, on a grassy hillside into which the den is dug. Joe was then kind enough to write the song back into the book, thus it is quite literally a scene from the book. The book is being submitted to a writing competition, and will be released shortly after that. Now all that's needed is a movie producer. Having read it, I can tell you that it is a movie I'd like to see. I highly recommend it.

This arrangement of the song itself was written for SpinTunes, but there's a "Covenant" version that's intended for radio play. Based on feedback, that's what I'm submitting. I like both, so here they both are.

The God of All Small Boys

A dreary Autumn's day 
Just west of the sea 
Beside the Law and Tay 
You will find me 

A shelter from the storm 
Some corrugated iron 
A bit of chimney pipe 
A paint pot filled with fire 
Will keep me warm... 
Will keep me warm... 

And The God of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
The God Of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
On me... 

Listen, you can hear 
Echoes of a war 
Our fathers shed their blood 
There is nothing more 
That we hold dear... 
That we hold dear... 

And The God of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
The God Of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
On me... 
On me... 

The God of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
The God Of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
On me... 
On me... 
On me... 
On me...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Shadow: Nothing But Love

I'm so ashamed.

It's about the SpinTunes 9 challenge for round 2:
Write a song about unconditionally loving someone who plainly isn't worth it.
I was driving home from work, and I was humming Amazing Grace to myself, and I thought what a cool response to the challenge something built around that would be. After all, we don't say who isn't worth it, or who is doing the loving.

So I thought Grace could be the girl's name, and it would be a secular song where the guy is a cheating SOB and the woman loves him anyway. I got all caught up in it, thinking that it could even be a duet, with her part telling him that she loves him and my part being all repentant. That would hit the challenge from both POV at the same time. And it would be tear-jerky and sweet, with a country Gospel flavor.

I'm still going to finish Amazing Grace. I have a melody and counterpoint. I actually have a chorus and some verses, and was trying to think of some more when I thought of the line, "She has nothing but love for me". It didn't fit, but I started wondering what if that were literally true? What if she has absolutely nothing to offer but that? And then I wrote this in something like five minutes... Not a gospel at all... more like Rockabilly, which transformed itself into a Ray Stevens pastiche. This kind of stuff is why I won't be winning any Grammys. It sort of... escalates.

And these jokes feel like I've heard them before, but Google found nothing. So if somebody else wrote the gist of this, as Marta would say, that "doesn't alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday."

Nothing But Love

She won’t answer the door, she won’t cook or clean
She won’t chip a nail on the washing machine
She won’t change the channel on her own TV
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

She won’t touch a duster, won’t pick up the phone
She won’t fry up the bacon that I bring home
If I press her to do it I’m afraid she'll flee
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

But ooooooooo-weee!
I’m in LOVE, helplessly!
And my baby, can’t you see,
Has got nothing but love for me!

She can’t find the kitchen, she won’t scrub a pan
She’s afraid of the sink and those dishpan hands
She once used a broom -- on Playboy TV
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

She’s not a big fan of societal norms
She’s been to college - but only the dorms
She’s an honorary member of the fraternity
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

[whistling solo]

But ooooooooo-weee!
I’m in LOVE, helplessly!
And my baby, can’t you see,
Has got nothing but love for me!
                          (ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!)

At night when I’m tired and ready for slumber
She’ll meet me in bed, if I’ll just take a number
I’ll even get lucky, if I’ve got the fee,
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me
My baby's got nothing...
                           ...but love....
                                           ...for me!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Spintunes Shadow: O Hail To You Fidonia

The challenge: "Write a new anthem for a fictional country."

The backstory... regarding the definition of a "country", I had told the other judges that in my view, "if a bunch of fleas formed a government, the dog they lived on would be a country."

This is their song.

O Hail To You, Fidonia

O Hail To You, Fidonia
A land of comfort and ease
From your collar to tail-bone-ia
The Homeland of the Fleas

Your rolling hills
So muscular
Are to us heaven-sent
We drink our fill
From your flowing nourishment

O Hail To You, Fidonia!
O Hail To You, Fidonia!
O Hail To You, Fidonia!

Your luscious coat, preeminent
With never mange or thatch
Your tolerance, magnificent
You never roll or scratch

O Fido, fair
Beneath your hair
We live our lives in peace
And sing to you, 
The Homeland of the Fleas
We sing to you, 
The Homeland of the Fleas!