Thursday, July 28, 2011

Photo Finish

OK, we didn't make it past the SpinTunes rap challenge... although I personally think we hit the challenge square on, I'm not surprised to see the judges score entries more highly that ventured outside the box.
The challenge for the last round is a photograph of  a rusty 1960 Cadillac DeVille abandoned in a wood in Austria. Specifically, this photograph by Reinfried Marass (I'd embed it if I had rights to do that. Why we'd use a photograph that's not licensed under Creative Commons is one of the Great Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe, which will never, ever be explain in accordance with common sense).

It's the actual wording of the challenge which interested to me: "Write a song inspired by the Reinfried Marass photo below" Now, keep in mind that this is the revised challenge. The original challenge read, "Write a song about the Reinfried Marass photo below".  Note that it didn't say "inspired by", but "about", and not about the car, either, but about the photo. THAT's what got our brain spinning... not the challenge as it is, but as it was when it was posted.

It interested William as well. He happened to have been born in 1960, at the same time as the car in question. The lyrics he sent me, with a title inspired by the original challenge, deal with a man and a car approaching decrepitude at the same time. Both are "broken eyed"... one with headlights, the other with color-blindness. An odd thing, to have your fate entangled with that of an object.

wmh 7.26.11

Two old horses have run the race
Both aging but undiminished
A little rusty, and lost of some spark
But crossing the line in a photo finish

I remember the past days like they are tomorrow
As fresh as a meadow in spring
Put out to pasture - no regrets and no sorrow
Looking forward to the promise the future would bring

Broken eyed - but not blind
Both victims of the ages and sun
But classic things never go out of style
They just get recycled around and return

Mettle or metal, which wins the battle
Relics of the past, neither one with the will to survive
Except into memories and fantasy
And the history of what walks or what rides

One dies a pauper- one retires to a museum
There’re some who would say they’re the same
Each of them sent to his own mausoleum
Never again to run on the tracks of the game

Broken eyed - but not blind
Both victims of the ages and sun
But classic things never go out of style
They just get recycled around and return

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Politics and Promises

This is for SpinTunes 3, Round 3. The challenge is to write a rap. Sooo... we decided it would be most difficult to avoid nerdcore and hit the challenge head-on. So here it is.

Production-wise, absolutely nothing went our way this week... the instrumentation entirely unlike what we had hoped to do, but we make do when things fall through.

I'll follow the lyrics with a bit of song bio...

william hoover

Politics and Promises
I lie awake each night
And think of all the lucky men who died before the fight
And those who still are with us
Who revel in delight
To use our simple apathy to get ahead in life

Six a.m.Thursday how late this city sleeps
A stray dog chases pigeons up and down the empty streets
There the Hyland donor wrenches out his wrinkled hands
Counting all his needle marks and wishing they were friends

Just up the street, on 23rd and Main
There stands an all glass building where our laws are made
Transparent to some, mirror-like to most
Who cater to the press and wear those fancy clothes

[Instrumental break]

You can sing me to sleep
With your billy club in hand
But does the riot become quiet
With the silence of just one man?

Breathe your words on me
Have me lay my weapons down
Find a compromise to satisfy
The hatred we found.

I can take a piece of you
You can take a piece of me
Someone dies - someone cries
Maybe friends or enemies.
Brother let me tell you now that your hatred is wack
If it's ok to you then you're on the wrong track.

[instrumental break]

Beside the all glass building there stands a golden steeple
A symbol of religion to all god-fearing people
People who confuse beliefs and making laws
Who bend the system far enough to grease some local palms

Yeah, go ahead, does it make you feel better
Read a selection from the Good Book's letters
Read me the part about love thy neighbor
And read me the part about a baby saviour
But read for your own how to cast the first stone
And read for your own how friendship is sown
So yeah, go ahead, did it make you feel better
Did the baptism take or just make you wetter?

[Instrumental break]

Broken glass promises
In the shadows of the Big House
The White House
It doesn't matter what louse
Is makin' 'em
they're fakin' 'em
they're takin' 'em
and breakin' 'em
they're tellin' us
they're savin' us
and all the while
they're playin' us

Six a.m. Thursday how late this city sleeps
The politician awakes from his adulterous deceit
Political ambition taken from the donor's hands
And the promise of reform ain't gonna change his plans
(and he's got plans, baby)

Politics and Promises
I lie awake each night
And think of all the lucky men who died before the fight
And those who still are with us
Who revel in delight
To use our simple apathy to get ahead in life

Song Bio
We started out determined to do this as a straight rap and avoid "nerdcore", partly due to the company we're keeping in this competition (which is mostly geeks, "Dr. Lindyke" not excluded). 

So, having decided to meet the rap challenge head-on and not try to avoid or deflect it in any way, we had to decide what goes in it. Since rap is often concerned with socially relevant topics, of course we went with politics and religion, as you've seen.
Basically, the lyrics are set up as follows:
  1. Set the stage
  2. Can't we all just get along?
  3. Judgement
  4. Politics
That's a lot to cover in a short song, but we're not trying to flesh anything out. The "rapper" persona here is simply a guy who feels as though he's been stepped on, but isn't savvy enough to know who is doing the stepping, or why. So it's a general declaration of dissatisfaction without focus.

Some of the lyrics are not what they sound like. For instance, the "Hyland donor" isn't a drug addict... he's just a poor guy just trying to make ends meet by donating blood at the Red Cross in Hyland Park. The "golden steeple" isn't just a religious symbol... it also stands in for the court systems, which are housed in buildings replete with religious symbolism (for instance, the ubiquitous statue of "Justice" is a goddess of the Greek pantheon), and the justices -- who wear priestly robes -- begin their proceedings with prayer. The verse is a little stab at "legislating from the bench", and serves to segue from politics to religion. The symbolism of it being the courts is further driven home by the physical proximity to the "all-glass building" which is a stand-in for our Federal building. This leads into a verse that's superficially about the Bible, but is actually, more generally, critical of being judgemental and hypocritical. The punchline is my favorite line of the song.

This leads us from hypocrisy to broken promises, which we assume to be deliberate. Again, our rapper is stepped on, and to him it doesn't matter what face or party is in office... so a bit of conspiracy-mongering is in order.

Almost all of it is inspired by actual events, though, including the "billy club" verse (which also intended to replace the famous (and now worn out) Rodney King "can't we all just get along?" sentiment). Edric actually used that line in the last round, so we needed an alternative; I think William's solution to that is better... "does the riot become quiet with the silence of just one man?"... I like that.

The rap is bookended with a chorus sung by Katie Prince. Thanks, Katie!


This song is very unlike what I had planned.  I bought a copy of "How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC" by Paul Edwards, and one of the best tools listed in there was a "flow chart". Now, if you're a programmer, this is entirely unlike what you're used to calling a flow chart. Instead, it's a tool to break the song down syllable by syllable, plotting your breaths, and ensuring that the song flows well along the beat. I did chart this, originally having an extra measure in the 2nd and 6th lines of each verse. I changed that after I started putting it to music.

I had other instrumentation, but put in the piano when Edric Haleen made a comment about piano and rap. I originally had planned electric piano for the solos, but wound up working for two of the vacation days I had scheduled, so didn't get around to writing it. Hence the "aaaah's", and the overall sloppy sound. I might finish it properly one day.


I don't mind saying that didn't feel very very good about this song when I submitted it. I had taken 3 days off work so I could work on the production, but didn't get to do it, as I was called in each of the three days. So, this is the latest I've worked on a song and had to cut the instrumentation I'd planned, and cut some of the stuff I'd actually recorded because it wasn't working.  Also, since it was the only piece of social commentary in a sea of party and nerdcore rap (excluding Charlie McCarron's surrealistic piece and Caleb Hines' non-rap), I felt it risked being old-fashioned and stuffy by comparison... so we'd either stand out as being different and brave, or we'd crash and burn.

It's too early to tell which will happen, but I'm gratified that early reviews don't exactly suck. Jon Eric, another competitor, who has had more experiencing rapping than anyone else in the competition, posted some very positive comments on his blog. Even Spintown liked it, and he's a self-professed fan of funny songs. Given that we're not doing terribly bad in the popular vote, either, even if we don't make it through to the next round I feel quite happy with the song, if not the delivery.

Here's the Negative Reinforcement from Sammy Kablam. "You're no Ross Durand." Well, that's hardly news... my wife has said the same. I feel both honored and puzzled that we have been left relatively unscathed. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

SpinTunes 3 Round 2 Non-Review

Voting is still open for this round! You can listen to the songs >>HERE<< and vote >>HERE<< (on the right-hand column of the page). You have up to FIVE votes, so spread 'em around. I hope Dr. Lindyke earns one of them!

OK, I tried to do some reviews of everyone's round 2 song; I really did. But I don't really have it in me at the moment. I DO, though, have some general thoughts.

I was heartened to see that nobody chose the "obvious" news story... Anthony Weiner. I tend to believe that everyone else believed it would be the obvious choice and avoided it for that reason. If so, kudos all around.

I'm always astounded that no matter how much latitude a songwriting contest gives, there are some duplicate thoughts. For instance...
  • In the "write a song about one of the 700 mole men" challenge of Song Fu 5, "Suction-Cupped Johnny" was chosen by Alex Taylor and JalapeƱo HabaƱeros.
  • In the "write a song about a number" challenge for Song Fu 5, the numbers 2, 23, 5, pi, and the imaginary number i were all used more than once... even though the number of numbers to choose from is literally infinite.
  • In the "Secondary Historical Figures" challenge of SpinTunes 2, Round 3, with all of history from which to draw, both Edric Haleen and Charlie McCarron wrote about passengers on the bus with Rosa Parks.
So it should never be surprising when there are duplicate concepts. Nevertheless, I'm always surprised. In the current challenge we have:
  • Two songs about the final shuttle flight:
    • Too Soon To Say Goodbye by Caleb Hines
    • The Last Launch by Alex Carpenter
  • Two songs about the "one dollar bank robber":
    • Independence and Freedom for All by Godz Poodlz
    • One Dollar Robber (shadow entry) by Young Stroke aka Young Muscle
  • Two songs about the legalization of gay marriage:
    • What About Love? by Edric Haleen
    • When Frankie and Johnny Get Married by Steve Durand
    • the subject of gay marriage is also touched on briefly in Ross Durand's The American Way.
I'm not making a point here except to say that, when responding to these challenges, you simply can't be concerned with how "original" your idea is. No matter how offbeat the challenge, chances are good that somebody will be thinking like you. I would have thought that in a topical challenge, religion and war would have been well-trodden ground; yet the only other "war" song was Jutze's tongue-in-cheek number, Re: Your Oil.  (btw... Ross Durand noted in his review that our song, Prayer for Peace, sounded a bit like listening to someone pray. Having read the review, I'm now thoroughly convinced that our title was waaay too subtle, and am considering re-naming it to Some Jewish Guy Praying For Peace, and You Can Listen In. ^_^ (I love you, Ross, and so does my wife. In fact, I hope you have a spare room, 'cause she's on a bus, headed your way.))

Even when there is duplication of concept, I'm always impressed with the wildly different interpretations. I can think of nothing further apart than Steve Durand's and Edric Haleen's entries. Steve gives us a narrative in a perfectly styled turn-of-the-19th-century "oom-pah" waltz, while Edric abandons his usual storytelling for an in-your-face rap message in unfettered street language. Both entries are great.

Apart from the instances noted above, this round pulled from the most diverse sources. Some were simple, local stories, such as Program aids food stamp users by The Offhand Band, or A Tight Spot by Matt and Donna (about a kid who gets his head stuck between two railing posts). There was national news, like Wait What's Bunny Please Don't Go, and even an op-ed represented with Alexa Polasky's Infidelity. Add to this mix  Something In The Air; a flight of fancy from Inverse T. Clown worthy of a tabloid... except this tabloid story appeared in a reputable source.

All in all, this was a very good round, and a general step up in performance. I was especially impressed that the rappers upped their game, and that Wait What? decided to add some conviction to their performance that was sorely missing in the previous round.

The overall quality is good enough that I have no expectations of surviving the round or "leaving the island". Either way, it's all good...I get to feed my mp3 player with great stuff.

P.S. If I haven't mentioned it already... the very best song of the round is Caleb Hines' Too Soon To Say Goodbye. And if you don't agree... well... all I can say is there's no accounting for your horrible taste in music. It's a good thing you have me to set you straight. This song's got a great tune, tremendously poetic and descriptive lyrics. Easily Caleb's best evah.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Prayer For Peace

(lyrics are below)

The challenge for Round 2 of SpinTunes 3 is to write a topical song. Verbatim:
BREAKING NEWS! - You‘re writing a topical song. The challenge is pretty wide open, but there are some restrictions. Topical is going to be defined as something from a headline in a newspaper no older than 2 weeks from today. You can use your local newspaper or a major publication. You‘re even allowed to use the online versions of major publications. You will be required to include a link to the story that inspired your song, or attach a scan from the newspaper. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due July 3rd 11:59PM)
Now I'm going to play barracks lawyer and note a few things about the challenge.  First, the fact that it's to be from a HEADLINE in a newspaper. It doesn't actually say anything about the story itself, so fiction and extrapolations inspired by that headline would appear to be OK. The use of the word "inspired" in the challenge would tend to confirm that, as does the assertion that the challenge is "pretty wide open". (After I wrote this, I see that some interpretation of that was posted by SpinTown to the effect that it should be about the story. If you wanted that you should have put it in the challenge.) It also states "in a newspaper" and "online versions" which tells me that online sources aren't allowable unless the story is print on dead trees somewhere.

That wasn't terribly good news for us. Neither William nor I subscribe to a newspaper, so we went online to scan the headlines.

One early idea was to write a lively barbershop quartet, sung by four reporters from The Weekly World News, extolling their latest scoops. I had selected several stories, then learned that the WWN stopped their print edition several years ago. Not wanting the instant disqualification, that idea was dropped (though we might pick it up later). Some folks have suggested we use the National Enquirer instead, but that would be like getting a glass of water when you asked for champagne. There is nothing as tawdry and cheap as the WWN.

William then wanted to do a war song (protest or anti-protest, depending on your point of view). I thought "Army of One" might be a good idea, with the theme revolving around troop reductions in Afghanistan. We could include some snare drum, which I'm not half bad at, and also get some use out of the electric guitar I bought a couple of weeks ago. William provided me with a lyric sheet entitled "News Real". It took the reporter angle and commented on several areas of the Middle East, but I thought it needed some focus. We found the focus by removing the US from the song entirely. I had a couple of stories from foreign sources: one dealing with the Israeli government spending a day in a nuclear fallout shelter, and others dealing with a rabbi on the West Bank who advocates the pre-emptive killing of gentiles by Jews.
Israeli Leaders Spend Day in Nation's Tunnel
Israel Must Maintain Itself As A Law-abiding State
Rabbi Jakov Yosef Endorses Killing Non-Jews
The idea for the new song was to eschew narrative entirely, focusing on only how we felt when reading those stories. As a result, I expect that we may have some negative commentary from the judges on the density of the lyrics. Our goal with these words is to make you feel, not to make you feel good. What we felt when reading the stories was not good. It was the sort of dread and helplessness mixed with determination that older Americans only remember from hiding under school desks in the Cold War (the real, scary Cold War... not fictional spy movies), and about which younger American know nothing at all. That may not be the best tactic in a competition, but it's where the song wanted to go.

Musically, a song about Israel cries out for a Phrygian Dominant scale, so I used it, though I fudge it a bit for Western ears. If you're wondering what the Phrygian Dominant scale is... well, it's what makes Jewish music sound Jewish. And as God is central to all things in the Middle East, He features prominently here.  This can only be done respectfully as a prayer, so the new piece is Prayer for Peace. I translated a number of lines into Hebrew, of which I know almost nothing, so any errors are mine alone. I'll add the translations in parentheses in the lyrics, but these parenthetical translations are not sung.

About the Hebrew phrases used... the first line of the chorus, "Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim" is "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem", as stated in Psalm 122:6. I further translated Jerusalem into English as "City of Peace" in the last line of the chorus so that an English-speaking audience can appreciate the irony of Jerusalem's name, give its history (I think the actual translation more like, "point out the way to peace"). In singing it, I'm not pronouncing the glottal stop in "sha'alu", but then again I've often heard it spoken without the stop. Though "shalom" does mean "peace", in Hebrew it has a larger sense of bringing restoration or completeness. The first verse is a recognition of every Israeli's duty to public service (including military service), so the name of the Lord invoked in the first chorus is "Adonai" (Lord).  The second chorus is a prayer for protection, so the name used is El Shaddai (God of All, or God of Sufficiency, but in the sense of God Almighty). The final chorus replaces the line with "Elohim hu ahava" ("God (on high) is Love") in part as a declaration, but in part as a reminder and rebuke to those Jews who advocate violence of their own.

(I've updated this twice meaning to add this comment, but didn't get around to it... in the verses you'll note repetition. Repetition is very important in Hebrew poetry. Often you'll see things repeated two or more times, often with synonyms and sometimes verbatim. That's what we're shooting for here. The bridge is sung, but in the first half of the following verse the vocals are silent in contemplation of the revelation in the bridge.)

06/30/2011 by wmh and dfl

Every mother, every father
Every daughter and son
Pledges eternal vigilance
Until the victory is won
Pledges eternal vigilance
Until the victory is won

Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
(pray for the peace of Jerusalem)
Halleluja Adonai
(praise to God, the Lord)
Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
Pray for the peace of the City of Peace

Cradled in our Nation's Tunnel
In darkness as death rains from the sky
May the Lord protect us
That today we will not die
May the Lord protect us
That today we will not die

Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
(pray for the peace of Jerusalem)
Halleluja El Shaddai
(praise to God, the God of All)
Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
Pray for the peace of the City of Peace

I stand on the West Bank
Amid the pain and tears
As a rabbi prays for violence
I can't believe my ears
As a rabbi prays for violence
I can't believe my ears

May the Lord remind us
Not to spill our brothers' blood
May the Lord remind us
Not to spill our brothers' blood

Sha'alu Shalom Yirushalayim
(pray for the peace of Jerusalem)
Elohim hu ahava
(God is love)
Sha'alu Shalom Israel
Pray for the peace of Israel