Monday, July 30, 2012

SpinTunes 5 Round 3 - a Non-Review

For SpinTunes 5 Round 3, the challenge was as follows:
What's Opera, Doc? - Write a Mini-Opera: A dramatic story told through dialogue sung by two or more characters.  A couple suggested examples I got are "Come Talk To Me" by Peter Gabriel or "Written In The Stars" by Elton John.  (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due July 29th 11:59PM (Sun)
Defined Opera as: A theatrical presentation in which a dramatic performance is set to music.

That is...
  1. A dramatic story: of or pertaining to drama: a story involving conflict or contrast of character, especially one intended to be acted on the stage.
  2. Told through dialogue: a conversation between two or more persons. That is, person #1 says something to person #2, and person #2 responds to person #1. 
Even allowing that the challenge has nothing to do with musical style; for those of you who were in the competition, look at your lyrics then ask yourselves whether your song did those two things.  Did it?  Really?  Really?  Were you singing to somebody, or about somebody? Did you consider how it would play out as a theatrical presentation? Did you write an opera or just a song?

OK, I lied. There are reviews, but they're mini-reviews:

My Picks

If I had to pick a favorite for the round it would be Menage a Tune's "Poison, Or, All Of Hamlet in 4:04". To my thinking this is the only entry that really captured the feel of a staged production. It may not be the slickest production, but it has exactly the feel of a high school or community theatre production. I've done enough of those to be charmed by it.

Ross Durand's "Apart", featuring Bryanna Acosta, is a lot of fun. I "hear" it exclusively as a film production. As I hear it, he's a soldier away at war, leaving her at home. They figuratively sing "to" each other through the distance. Actual conflict and face-to-face dialogue is provided by "the Bad Guy", who is making moves on the hero's girl while he's away. The Bad Guy is a dead ringer for Snidely Whiplash. It's an interesting folk-rock take on the challenge.

I can see Governing Dynamics' "Dark Places" as a rock opera either on stage or film. I "see" scenes when I hear it. We've got story, we've got conflict, and we've got a dialogue. Travis has found a superb singing partner in Rebecca Brickley; their voices are nicely complementary, and the easy listening style is like warm mink on your ears.

Not all drama is conflict. Sometimes it's just heightened emotion, as Edric Haleen demonstrates in "Vows". It's a love song between two people, and I can just barely stretch the definition we were given enough to include a wedding as a "theatrical presentation". It's a well done realization of a very simple message, so there's not much more I can say about it. Edric has loads, though... read his song bio.

The Rest (in order of listening):

(update: reading this again, it sounds way too harsh. It's not intended that way. I sort of focused on the things that kept them from being in my four picks. It's intended to be constructive criticism, not assholery. Sorry if it comes across as the latter.)

The Chocolate Chips - The Pathfinder. I found much of this to be next to impossible to understand without the lyrics in front of me. There's dialog, but not much in the way of drama. "Come with me, I'll make you a god." "Yeah, sure, ok." So they drink the Kool-aid, but it's very pat.

RC - He's Dead, Jim. Not even the Trekkie in me will accept this as opera. As a song, it's cute, and I like it a lot. But it looks like alien females aren't the only thing Jim screws... sometimes it's challenges. (OK, that's harsh. I really do like the song. A lot. I just think it missed the challenge.)

Mariah Mercedes - Dear Jeremy. Sorry, Mariah... Ross pulled off the "dialogue at a distance" trick better and took one of the top four spots in your place. I'm not sure you did yourself a favor by having Jeremy speak some of his lines. BTW, you took "I love my dog" to a new level... I'm not sure that's intentional, but it made me smile.

Felix Frost - Lyman Boone And The Moonshine Scoundrel. You're just writing for a themed album, aren't you? There are places where you're singing narration rather than dialogue. The quirky musical changes would come across much better, I think, if there was some discernable structure to them, such as having each character sing in an identifiable style consistent with his personality. This just sounds disjointed. Maybe the town just isn't ready for Felix Frost.


Ben said...

Thanks for your review! In my defense, I did use what I thought were two distinct singing voices, wherein the Scoundrel's voice was harsh and flat and grimy (like his personality). Although, Boone's voice was my own voice which is softer, which doesn't fit with an outlaw I realize. BUT he IS the more apprehensive and less violent of the two, so that ALMOST works XD.

I feel like my weird musical style would make more sense to everyone if they knew what kind of music I listen to. Although that doesn't mean anyone would like it better. It would just be less shocking :P

For example:
--where the abrupt changes make the song spontaneous, unpredictable and interesting. I'm just accustomed to that sort of flare in music I guess.

Now by NO means does this mean I'm contesting your review. I do not claim to be anywhere near as good as the Fiery Furnaces, or any good at what I'm trying to do. I just thought you'd be interested to see that my influences are as bizarre as me. And there's probably not a good spot for me in a song-writing competition ;)

I feel like we've had enough exchanges now that you completely understand that I'm not being defensive here. I've come to really enjoy your feedback, especially. :D


Dave Leigh said...

I'm not saying you didn't use dialogue. I am, however, offering the observation that there are places in which you are singing narration. Examples:

"An older fellow wandered into the jail,
a silver prospector
with a big old grizzled beard and pale. "

"The town wasn't ready for Lyman Boone
and the Moonshine Scoundrel.
We raked in a mountain of pearls and pocketbooks
and all the ingredients that we'd need.

"We came back to find our distillery gone
blown by TNT."

"I caught up and gunned down two,
but the Deputy shot the Scoundrel
through the shoe."

Of the Fiery Furnace's stuff, I lean more toward "Charmaine Champagne". But in "Bitter Tea", though the changes are abrupt, they don't come off as random, and they return to a theme. They assign a style to a mood. I know you used different voices, but these were often masked by the wide variety of changes... probably more than you needed.

When I mention a musical style consistent with a character, this is something often used especially in theater and motion pictures, even if they're not musicals. A great example is "Star Wars". You'll find that John Williams wrote musical themes for each major character underpinning their scenes. In your case I'm not suggesting the same theme, but a consistent style for each character. Within that style you then introduce the variation you're looking for. I think that would hold your audience's attention a bit better. With too many rapid-fire random changes it comes off as much longer than it is.

But the main thing I was looking at was "how does it play as opera?" Remember, they defined it for you. A theatrical production. So when I listened to all of these songs I imagined how it would play on stage or screen. My four picks are those that I think pulled that off most effectively.

Dave Leigh said...

I guess I should quickly mention why singing narration is a negative in opera... it's simply better to have the Scoundrel sing "They got me!" than it is to have a third party tell the audience something that they will have seen on the stage anyway.

Where narration is used, it's generally in first person as it's happening, and the reason for that is to explicitly call the audiences attention to something that would easily be missed. Example, Shakespeare has Gertrude say, "The Queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet." so you don't miss the fact that she's drinking from the poisoned cup amidst the swordplay.

Dave Leigh said...

Oh, and as to whether there's a good spot for you in a songwriting competition... you made it to round three, and the judges haven't voted yet. Two thirds of the contestants didn't get that far.

'nuff said.

Ben said...

I definitely hesitated before using narration, but I figured it would just be waaay too confusing to just let the listener try to figure out what was going on by what they were saying; or it would be too corny and weird if the actors were giving away the action via singing. But yeah I see what you're saying. I was hoping the judges would let me interpret somewhat loosely.

Also, if you want really bizarre and startling changes in Fiery Furnaces songs, listen to the album Rehearsing My Choir XD Now that's a strange album.

Or listen to any of the album Skeletal Lamping by Of Montreal... or the album Cocquelicot Asleep in the Poppies by the same band.

I just love music that keeps you on your toes. I want to hear a song and go "Wow," at every turn. Otherwise I fall asleep. That said, I understand why other people would find that irritating and lacking conceptual unity :P

Thanks again! I enjoy our discussions.

Ben said...

Probably a better example that "I'm In No Mood."

Ben said...


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