Thursday, August 16, 2012

SpinTunes 5 Round 4 Reviews

Here's the album!  I'd like to call your attention to the marvelous cover art by Matt Schubbe. As with all the cover art, this is inspired by the challenge. With all eyes turned heavenward to the Curiosity mission to Mars, this couldn't be more timely. Matt imagines the discovery of the first sign of extraterrestrial life by a future astronaut; a footprint in the sand of an alien world. But wait! Is that one footprint...?

The Official Entries (ranked in order of  my preference)

Governing Dynamics - Houses. 
I nice little rock waltz. There's a really nice moral here... I like it when a song does more than make you tap your toes. Of all the entries this one sticks in my head, and it has a very high "replay value". "Stop leaving footprints... start building houses" is memetic. The only quibble I have is with the the last word of "Waiting for the sand in the glass to run out."  Pick a note for that one that's actually on the scale. Despite that, this is my top pick.

Edric Haleen - My Friend. 
It's Waltz Night here at Spintunes. Oh, wait, no waltzing here... the rubato's in the way. Edric's big voice is put to good use here. As usual, the tune is spot-on, and the lyrics are very extremely well crafted, with little winks and digs in all the right places. Also as usual, Edric's effort is technically peerless. It makes me very happy that I rejected a similar idea, as it's no fun staring that far upstage. The song's novelty nature keeps it from being my top pick, though... I just find GD's entry holds up better for me on repeat listens.

Ross Durand - When the Tide Comes In.
Very solid work here; exactly what you'd expect from Ross Durand. And that's really the problem I have with it... it's exactly what you'd expect from Ross Durand. In Round 4, I was looking for "Ross Plus", and I got Ross. That's nice, I like Ross, but it's not what he could have delivered for a final round knockout. The inspiration is certainly clear, but there's nothing really surprising here. It's well-trodden ground, if you'll pardon the expression.

Mariah Mercedes - Footprints. 
Mariah wuz robbed at the listening party due to the horrible quality of the feed. I hope that those whose votes count give a listen to the song on Bandcamp first. That said, the mix on Bandcamp needs a little work. Everything's very low except the drum. It's much better in a headset than on speakers, but could stand some compression. So much for the production. The song itself is quite good. There are some lines that I would never get without the lyric sheet because they're masked by their delivery. I'm also having a little cognitive difficulty with it, which is probably my fault. You're leaving, but why? Left what behind you? What is a test? What is the "something more" you believe in? The music certainly sets a mood, but the lyrics don't do much to give that mood any direction other than "away", when it seems to me the tone of this song begs for the movement to be "toward"; which is why it's not scoring higher for me.
UPDATE: I wish I'd read your song bio first. It's clear there that you're moving toward a new life. Unfortuanately it didn't come across to me in the song itself.

SHADOWS (in album order... well, mostly)

RC - Orange Beach
What a shame you didn't make it to this round, RC. I love this song. Just a really nice easy listening piece, even if it is a breakup song. You have the same "wash it all away" theme used by Ross, but here you apply it as a metaphor for something very specific: this relationship. Nice melody, nice beat. Well done.

Dr Lindyke - Carbon Footprint. 
No, I'm not going to review my own entry. That would be cheap and tawdry... and I prefer to save my yearly allotment of cheap and tawdry for the buying of Christmas gifts and the reviewing of BYD songs.

JoAnn Abbot - The Mermaid's Waltz
A nice telling of "The Little Mermaid", and I give it props for sticking to the original story and not "Disneyfying" it. It seems a little rushed, though, and the lyrics a little awkward in places. Slowing it down a little bit would do wonders. Nice guitar work by RC.

Brian Gray - Onward to the West.
Samwise Gamgee, the last ringbearer, leaves Middle Earth for the Undying Lands. VERY nicely done duet between Brian and his daughter Zoe. This entry is chock-full of literary references to delight even the most hardcore Lord of the Rings fan, and I'm speaking from experience here. Identifying all of the allusions requires the skills of a championship-level Jeopardy player. I love it. The obviousness of the MIDI is the only distraction here, and I think that could be fixed immediately by re-rendering it with a good SoundFont. Brian and Zoe, it's a good thing for the official entries that you weren't competing this time 'round.

Boffo Yux Dudes w/Osmium - Wash Away
The more I hear of the BYD, the more I think there must be a particular BYD musical mode, of the same level as the Aeolian, Ionian, and others. That's the only way I can explain their peculiar harmonies. It's an intriguing subject for analysis, and I spent so much time analyzing it that I completely forgot what this song was about.

Boffo Yux Dudes w/Denise Hudson and Mick Bordet - Sand In My Toes
Grover the Muppet has to explain his sandy monster feet to his wife by reading an apology penned by Dr. Seuss.  I didn't even know Grover was married. From the vaguely creepy backing music I'm betting he's married to the two-headed monster, and it's very, very hungry. I think that, in his shoes, I'd've forgotten to sing, too.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Footprints
Here's another one in the trademarked BYD mode. Perhaps inspired by the Garanimals line of clothing, The Dudes have hit on an intriguing formula by which they can mix an match lyrics, rhythm, and melody lines at will. In this number, Cockroach archaeologists try to decipher a fossilized human footprint. Now, you might hear their guesses and conclude that they're pretty stupid; but I think it pretty cool that they managed to organize a society. What the roaches don't know is that while their intelligentsia ponder this clearly fake footprint, their homes are being systematically looted by the colony of soldier ants from just over the hill.
Well, that's what I heard.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Foot in the Sand
Exquisite! Having been given the least possible amount of photograph for this challenge, the BYD respond with the least possible amount of song. Eschewing their usual mode, the Dudes have bravely executed this number in the Punk Rock genre. Stripped to it's bare lyrical essentials, "Foot ... in the SAND!" concisely calls our attention to what is NOT in the photograph... the Foot, representing Man, leaving his mark upon this Earth; the coarse grain of the sand reflected in the coarse power chords within which the lyrics are embedded; the staccato violence of the verse admirably depicting the violence of the Foot stamping its print. Cutting off sharply at 2:01, the brevity of the entry reminds us of the transience of our own existence. Like the print in the sand, we are to be washed away, the void of our absence soon to replaced with other music, from other artists. Of all the songs ever entered in any competition, anywhere on this globe, THIS is the most true reflection of the challenge given. Clearly a work of genius! Bravo!

That's it for the reviews.  One last thing... a reminder that it is the COMPETITORS, both current and past, who are doing the rankings this round. But the popular vote is still important! It breaks any ties.  So be sure go to the Spintunes blog and vote for your favorite song.  Remember, even the people who are ranking entries can also participate in the popular vote!

Now, as Tracey Ullman says: "Go home! Go home!"

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lady By The Water

These lyrics came a little late to get the song in by the Spintunes 5 round 4 deadline. However, the song is written. The orchestration is incomplete.

This is a case of "be careful what you ask for". The judges asked for a song "inspired by" a photo of a footprint in wet sand. Well, "inspired by" leads to a train of thought. Foot print... in sand... wet sand... by the water... what water...? sea...? lake...? Lady of the Lake...? not Nimue... someone we know... Lady by the Water. It is nearly impossible to miss a challenge like this. "Inspired by" is in no sense "about".

Due to some work obligations I probably won't get this recorded before the listening party.

Lady By The Water

I believe
For I have seen
A lady by the water
I can grow
While I know
This lady by the water
I knew her well, but not at all
The lady by the water
Against a field of blue so blue so small
The lady by the water

On her own

But not alone
Surrounded by the water
Over done
The living sun
Shining by the water
In countless ways she loves me
From the yellow house by the water
It doesn't matter how she sees me
While watching from the water

I never said I loved her

Well, not where she could hear
Sometimes I think I ought to
But I'm overcome by fear

[melodic interlude]

I do

I love you
Lady by the water
But our times
Have been so few
Oh, my lady by the water
Will she come and stay with me?
Be my lady by the water
I'd make it up, can't she see?
For all the years I lost her.

Lady -- Lady by the water

There's nothing quite so dear
As my -- Lady by the water
I've begun to lose my fear
Oh my -- Lady by the water
Won't you please hear my plea
Take me -- Take me by the water
Yes, it's there I long to be
With my lady --
By the water -- 

Lyrical Notes

I don't have much to say here. As implied above, it's about someone very specific.

These are pretty much as received, with only two very minor changes: one for meter and one because the line was a little weak, and I wanted it to be more decisive. There's a lot of repetition of the phrase "Lady by the Water", which I'll try to leverage in the music.

Musical Notes

The "sound" I'm hearing here is sort of a cross between Phil Collins and Gordon Lightfoot. It probably won't sound much like that when I'm done with it, but that's my stylistic starting point. 

I can tell you now that this won't be everybody's cup of tea. A lot of sustained notes; a lot of melody. And some mixture of major and minor chords. Most likely I'll be dropping the third (using "power chords") so it's ambiguous, and then I'll do both melodically at various points.

I think this is going to wind up being two pianos in duet. With that and the drums (with a bit more tom than you might expect) a melodic bass line and synth strings, as well as some processed vocals. There are some specific things I want to try out here, so it's perfectly OK if you don't like it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Carbon Footprint

Once again, here's the challenge.

Photo Finish - Write a song inspired by the photo below:

(2 minute minimum) (your submission is due August 12th 11:59PM)

We had a lot of ideas for this round, ranging from Bigfoot vacationing at the beach to Robinson Crusoe. The reason I'm calling this one a "safety song" is because it was just really easy and I suspect a few people will have similar ideas.

What we see in the photo is the last footprint of the last human as he returns to the ocean... beginning an evolutionary "do-over". We imagine this to take place in the future, when the greenhouse effect and global warming have caused all the icecaps to melt and the only land remaining is the very tip of Mount (now island) Everest. Never mind that there's not enough water on the entire Earth to make that happen. And don't ask how humans voluntarily grow gills and fins. This is a  song. It's all symbolic, man... you dig?

(P.S. this might have been influenced ever-so-slightly by the movie Prometheus)

More after the lyrics.

Carbon Footprint
by Dr. Lindyke

Uncle Darwin, can you see
What is happening to me?
We're starting over

Things have been heating up for years
The rampant greenhouse of our fears
And though the Third World said they didn't start the fires
They fueled them with their sweat and tears

Now on the shore
We say goodbye
To withered hills
And dust-laden sky
And it's getting hard to breathe
We're going to the sea

In the ocean depths we'll dwell
Fins and gills will do just swell
And whether we'll return to see the light of day
Only Time can truly tell

[musical interlude]

Here on Everest Island
I write our wisdom in the sand
So you may know of us, and the measure of our worth
Before the tide reclaims the land

Now on the shore
We say goodbye
To withered hills
And dust-laden sky
And it's getting hard to breathe
We're going to the sea

Lyrical Notes

The "Uncle Darwin" in the first verse is due to the preference of my oldest son. I tried a few things here, and am perfectly aware that if he were my uncle, he'd be "Charles". I didn't want the audience to miss the reference, though. I wanted to plant the idea that this was de-evolution, not merely a migration to underwater habitats. Nobody says "evolution" better than Darwin. Of course, I then go on to explicitly say "evolutionarily". Suspenders and a belt.

The line about the Third World alludes to a future in which, even if the First World countries were to immediately reduce their carbon footprint to negligibility, increasing industrialization of the rest of the world continues to escalate the problem.

I like the idea of pairing the obviously comedic lyrics with completely serious music and delivery, so that's what's going on here. We're going for a very melancholy feel, bolstered by lyrics about writing our "wisdom in the sand"... where, of course, the wind and tide will obliterate all traces of it. Such is our impact on the Universe. If you think about it, were the greenhouse effect to truly take hold, as it did on Venus, then all of the waters would evaporate into eternal cloud cover, meaning that even this last-ditch evolutionary tactic would be doomed. Pleasant thought, isn't it?

Update: I was just asked a question about the rhyme scheme.  "Why AAAB in the first verse and AABA in the rest?" Well, the first verse is an introduction. There's not a lot of space between it an the next verse, and I wanted that bit of silence. It doesn't sound right to me to have the same rhyme scheme there. I also wanted to use that one word, "Evolutionarily" as an entire line, and that was the nicest way to get it in there. You have to remember that I usually get the lyrics first and write to them. I enjoy adjusting the music to the words and don't feel any particular need to keep it all consistent. Sometimes it's semi-through-composed... similar but varied.

Musical Notes

Yes, that is a touch of "production" in the choral vocals. Mainly it's just EQ to get rid of any bass, and a buttload of reverb.  The vocals in the verses have a bit of reverb added as well, to get it a bit closer to the piano. I did have the vocals lower in the mix, but my wife always complains about that, so if they're a little hot, blame her.

I think I confused her a bit with what I did with the drums. I did a bit of meticulous programming of the drums this time. Problem is, it sounded like a drum machine. So I chopped up the measures and shoved them around a little bit. Not much... just the tiniest fractional bit. But it's enough to get it out of the "uncanny valley" and sound like a human did it.  So yeah, the drums sound shitty on purpose. I went to a lot of trouble to make them sound imperfect.

In the intro we start with an implied Fm+9 (the F is mute in the treble clef) and we move immediately to the F-minor and then progress to C-major. That, coupled with the heavy snare, is a little auditory indicator that you should expect something just a little odd.

I alternate the use of an Eb and an Em+11w5 in the chorus. It's an attempt to get that melancholy feel I talked about earlier. The first time through it's in the major. It doesn't stay there, though, because I want you to question whether this is serious or not, or at least toy with the idea that even though it's comedic it may also be deep (in more ways than one).

I ran out of both time and ideas for the "instrumental" (labeled "musical interlude" in this song). So I left it alone and simply added the sounds of surf, gulls, and dolphins. I reprised that (in revised form) under the second chorus/outro. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Photo Finish (Spintunes 5 Round 4 Challenge)

Here's the latest SpinTunes challenge:

Photo Finish - Write a song inspired by the photo below:

(2 minute minimum) (your submission is due August 12th 11:59PM)

Let me say first that I am 100% in favor of the "Photo Finish" concept for SpinTunes. It's a great promotional "hook"; and there is no end to the number of challenges that can be made. Point your camera anywhere in the Known Universe and you are bound to find something fascinating. Best of all, it gets the best of the competitors the opportunity to exercise their creativity to a much greater extent than a limited textual challenge. You can bring all of your musical tools to bear, and use them as you choose.

That said, I was initially a little non-plussed by the (pardon the pun) pedestrian nature of this photo. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that having less in the photo makes it more difficult to bring a unique approach to the task. I can appreciate the judges making the final challenge as daunting as possible.

I will note this: the challenge says "...inspired by the photo...". To me, this is a clear indication that you're not limited to this image. We'll be asking ourselves questions like these:
  • Where are we? Are you sure?
  • What's going on outside the photograph?
  • Who left the footprint?  Where is (s)he going?  Where did (s)he come from?
  • Is the footprint really the most important thing in the photo? What else do we see? (The photo is larger than what's displayed on the web page... clicking on it enlarges it.)
  • Is this really a footprint? Or is it a symbol for something else?
  • What will happen to the footprint?
It's tempting to say, "well, inspired by is a wide-open court", and just do what you want and rationalize it after the fact. Indeed that would work well for some judges... the ones for whom the challenge is just a checkmarked formality prior to judging you on everything except how well you did what you were asked.  But you're not getting judged by judges this round. You're getting judged by all the people you've beat to get here, and you're going to have to impress them.

For me personally, hiding behind "inspired by" would be a cop-out, and a really poor excuse for an entry.  I hope to have something you can hear and say, "Yeah, I see how you got there!" or better yet, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Believe me there are a lot of possibilities here. For our part, the necessary discussions have been made, emails exchanged, and the ball's in William's court. Let's see what happens.