Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Weird Instruments 5 - The Lap Skate Guitar

Take a skateboard deck. Add some strings, frets, tuning pegs, and a pickup, and you've got a manbearpig... er... a lap skate guitar.

It looks and sounds like this:

Here's a write-up, including an "OMG" headline which I'm too proud to reproduce: [LINK]

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Weird Instruments 4 - The Sapeh

Today we have a traditional lute from Borneo... the Sapeh.

(Or sape... Or sampet... Or sampeh... Or maybe sapek... in this case the spelling seems so informal as to be accidental)

At first it looks just like any other lute, but upon closer examination you'll notice some unique features:
Sapeh front, side, and back
(click to embiggen)
  • Only one of the strings is fretted. It's the only string used for melody. The other three strings are drones. The frets themselves are tiny, just extending across the one string.
  • There's no sound hole. That's because it doesn't need one.  The instrument has a hollow back, and the whole thing is carved from a single bole of wood.
  • For such a heavy instrument, it sounds light and ethereal. The resonance chamber opens away toward the body of the player. 
  • It has electric pickups. As it turns out, these things are very easily converted to electric use.
  • The tuning pegs are rudimentary dowels.
  • The strings are of different physical lengths, and each has its own nut. They're fed through holes in the head to the tuning pegs.

The Atlas of Plucked Instruments (did you know there was such a thing?) surmises that this instrument was devised by boat builders, which may account for its odd design.

There's a site on Angelfire where you can actually buy your very own finely crafted beast. However, if you were to carve one yourself, you might want to note the tuning, which should be as follows:
String 1: Tune like the middle C of the piano
String 2:Tune like C one octave lower than middle C
String 3: Tune to A, a minor third below middle C
String 4: Tune to F, a perfect fourth above middle C

And now that you've had the nickel tour, here's a playlist of sapeh music to keep you busy:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Spintunes Champions vs. Shadows: Showdown

OK, it's the final round of this mini-contest, and we get to  rank the finalists, with a real live counting vote, since we were eliminated in the first round.  Here are all the songs of the round:

As usual, we're ranking based on how well a song meets the challenge, and while we ranked them together, Dave is writing the critiques (hence the apparent schizophrenia in the writing), so let's review the four conditions of this challenge:

1. Write a song in which you're counting down to something.
This is a lyrical imperative. It doesn't ask you to imply counting, and it doesn't say the song must be about  counting. It says plainly that you must be counting in the song, and to me that means discrete units in finite quantity. The more discrete, the more it feels like a countdown to me. Seconds, minutes, hours, years... yeah. Sand in an hourglass, less so. I don't care if there are all sorts of lyrics in-between the counts, but they should be there. Just saying you're counting down might get you through on a technicality, but very weakly. Showing beats telling, so I'm giving a lot of weight to showing us, in some way, that the person in the song is counting down to a distinct goal.
2. Musically the song should imply that time is getting nearer to whatever you're counting down to as well.
This is a perfect opportunity for rubato, accelerando, ritardando, key change, or some sort of building or decreasing of tension. I don't care what it is... the song should sound qualitatively different as the event approaches, and in a way that indicates that approach. And personally, I would prefer if it happens during the song as it progresses. Here's an example of a technique not mentioned above: in a song in which a person is counting the years to his death, the number of voices in the chorus diminishes each iteration until he's alone.
3. Once again...avoid going meta.
Easy, don't write a song about the song.
4. As an added challenge, you need to collaborate with someone else on your team
Also easy, and well defined.
 So those were our thoughts prior to hearing the songs.


Everybody left something important out.

I feel terrible for saying this, but if Dr. Lindyke were an official judge and went just by listening we would have to consider carefully whether to DQ the entire lot. But every bit as much as I feel terrible for saying that, I feel a disappointed, because you're all top contenders and champions, and any of you could have nailed it.

But since we're not official judges, and because that would be a terrible buzz-kill anyway, and because nobody's realistically going to get DQ'ed, we're pretending that the requirements are optional, and rank these in the order of those that we felt best met them. As usual for, this doesn't necessarily reflect our enjoyment of the songs, and whatever portion of the challenge that remains trumps execution. In weight, lyrics come first, then musical depiction of counting down, then personal preference.

In order, winner first:

1. Zoe Gray - 4-3-2-1
Collaborator: Brian Gray
To us, this didn't sound as though the music were getting closer to the event. Nevertheless, this one wins on the strength of the lyrics, which are closest to the challenge of all the official entries. And as the countdown is integral to the "plot", this gets the top spot.
2. Bubba and The Amiable Kraken - Tired Of Counting Down
Collaborator: The Boffo Yux Dudes
It's about counting down, it contains counting down, so it strongly meets that portion of the challenge.  It still doesn't sound to me as though it's getting nearer to the event. To us, the fade out makes it sound a bit like the opposite is happening,
3. Governing Dynamics - The Dream is Winding Down (Lucid)
Collaborator: Jenny Katz
Grammar Nazi strikes: "you've gone" or "you went". Pick one. Lyrically, this squeaks by on a technicality in the last line of the chorus. Other than that it doesn't really sound to me like it's counting down to anything. Also, doesn't feel like it's getting closer to the event to us. 
I should mention that the technical challenge is something we judged before reading any song bios, because it's very important that the songs effectively communicate that countdown musically. I've read your song bio, and while I respect your interpretation, we still have to rank it for effectiveness. Your descending motif is a bit too ornate for us to have interpreted it as an approach to consciousness, and I think it goes in the wrong direction. Most people would describe a descent into sleep. We didn't catch its purpose on multiple listens.
That said, this is among my favorite Governing Dynamics songs now. 
4. Jenny Katz - Goodbye For Now
Collaborator: Travis Norris
Of all the entries, this alone does feel like it's getting closer to something, so that portion of the challenge is well met. However, though it does lyrically depict progression or anticipation it doesn't feel like a countdown in that the anticipation isn't quantified. You may be counting down, but it's not really depicted in a way we understood to be a countdown. So... I feel that if I have to choose between this approach and another, I've got to pick somebody who went straight for it. I feel like a heel for putting it here, because I love this song. It has a permanent place on my phone now. But we're not ranking based on simply which is our favorite (in case you missed it, it's this one), but on the challenge first.


Rob From Amersfoort - Countdown To Nothing (Shadow)
No collaboration, so a DQ, of course. I like the ticking clock. There's a sort of nihilistic ambiguity about "countdown to nothing" that lets me imagine a singular event such as a nuclear blast or financial or political collapse. I like it better than I like it.
Brian Gray - Off the Grid (Shadow)
No collaboration, so another DQ, of course. If you had collaborated... one shake of a tambourine or "YOPP!" from Zoe would have done it... and were an official entry, you'd have won our top spot with this. To me, this is the go-to example of how to depict a character who's counting down without saying it or just doing it explicitly. " 'Cause the digits flip at twelve o'clock" is a perfectly sound lyrical description of someone who is plainly staring at the clock counting down the discrete (and digital!) minutes to a well-defined target: midnight, January 1, 2000.
And top marks for "Time to never do the things I never did". That's possibly the very best phrasing of "time to die" I've ever heard. And Grammar Nazi doesn't mind that you split the infinitive because poetic license. Time to boldly go into my phone's mp3 directory.


The Porter Draw - Today's the Day (Cover)
Have they actually heard the song?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Spintunes Round 1: Battle of the Champions (Review)

Ok, having done the challenge of “a song about building something”, it’s now our duty to rank the champions for their own entries, which were written in response to a completely different challenge.
Listin' In: Write a list song about any topic you like.  The song should be in the form of a list, not about a list.
Ideally, we would love to see a “pure” list here. Examples would include “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel; or “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon. Our own foray into this type of challenge was “Harvey Ray”, which is simply a list of 3-letter acronyms, and the listener is free to provide his or her own associations and meaning for the groupings.

Only one champion gave us a “pure” list; but of the remainder, some came closer than others. As usual, my preferences are for hitting the challenge first, and then song value, and then production, weighted in that order of importance. Here are some opinions, such as they are, in descending order.

1. Jenny Katz: Thoughts on Leaving You
Easily Dr. Lindyke's top pick. First of all, it’s the most clearly delineated and organized of the lists. Jenny sorts her thoughts into pros and cons, and it’s a list. Secondly, the list tells a larger story that we piece together for ourselves. Jenny sings about feelings, and we are left to fill in the narrative with whatever events we imagine… and that makes it personal, and better.  I love it when the audience is given something to do with their intelligence. Finally, I could listen to Jenny sing the phonebook. 
And if she had, she might still have done pretty well: it’s a list, too.

2. Matt and Donna: Reasons My Kid is Crying
This title (pardon the expression) cries out for a very listy list. This is sort of a list, but it’s not a very listy one. It’s a succession of questions, which I don't think is “in the form of a list”, as per the challenge. If you say you're going to give me reasons, then tell me the reasons. But with these questions, I don't really know if any of them are truly reasons. It could be none of the above. I know this sounds like sophistry, but we do have a challenge, and we have to rank these somehow. This is ranking high for song and production value, more so than for hitting the challenge. 
It’s a great idea, though… particularly with a baby, every parent has gone through a checklist of things that always seem to happen at once and leads you to run through a list of actions, all necessary: change the diaper, and the wet sheets, feed the baby, burp the baby, where’s the bear, where’s the damned bear?!? It’s wedged between the crib and the wall. That’s where it always is... why didn't you check there first? And when everything else is satisfied, you still have to wake up the other parent, because you're just not the right one to sing the lullaby; and even if you are, you just don’t smell right.  
With older kids it’s the same tune, different lyrics: the nightlight, the monster, the water, the story… and there’s still that same motherf--ing bear.

3. MC Ohm-I: Favorite Games
This has a high degree of “list-iness” compared to other non-Katz entries. And I like that MC Ohm-i tied it up with the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from The Sound of Music. On the other hand, to my ears, the homage was a bit overdone. As a motif… yeah, go for it. But it needs to be a motif attached to a largely original tune. The rap is good, though it seems there were technical problems with the mix. I don't care much about those.

4. Governing Dynamics: Room Stop Spinning
We've pored over the lyrics, and we're still looking for the list. While it’s true that “all the sentences in War and Peace presented in order of appearance” is technically a list, particularly in Lisp… it’s still not a list for this purpose. Likewise, the lyrics you wrote for some random song about being hungover is not a list. It's a nice song, sure; but it's not really an answer to this challenge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


OK, for SpinTunes of Summer of '15, the challenge is to write a song about building something. That's the only direction we get, except that it can't be about building a song.

In other words, write a song.

Alright, this is the sort of Plan B stupidity I do while waiting for lyrics from William. I don't really know what to say about this, except that it's a variation of The Three Little Pigs, of course. Fortunately William did come up with something. I questioned even publishing this, but finally decided... meh.

(clean version)

I saw a little pig 
    Building him a house of straw!
I said I saw a little pig
    Building him a house of straw!
It was small but it was tall, it was all that I say
A little bitty shack made from a stack of hay
He built it in a minute and called it a day
And then feeling just a little beat
He went in to rest his little feet

    Then along came a wolf with a big toothy grin
    And he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house in
    And the piggy ran away to just to save his skin
    And said, "I ain't gonna do that again".

Then I saw a little pig
    Building him a house of twigs!
        (say WHAT!?)
I said I saw a little pig!
    Building him a house of twigs
He called it "reclaimed lumber" to impress the chicks
And the chat about slats just might fool the hicks
But you can't fool me with a pile of sticks
And when he finished with his little hut
He went in to rest his porky butt.

    Then along came a wolf with a big toothy grin
    And he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house in
    And the piggy ran away just to save his skin
    And said, "I ain't gonna do that again".

    And I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    No, I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    No, I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    See, the wolf, he knows what's shakin'
    And everything's better with bacon.

Then I saw a little pig
    Building him a house of bricks!
        (NO WAY!)
Yeah, I saw a little PIG!
    Building him a house of bricks!
It was laid on the level and raised on the plumb
It was solid and stolid, the pig wasn't dumb
He heard from the others just what was to come
So he stocked it with survival gear
And went in to rest his hammy rear

    Now, you might not know the wolf had served in the Corps
    So he blew the brick house with a pound of C4
    And he walked right on in there and picked up the boar
    And he ain't goin' hungry no more!
    And I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    No, I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    No, I can't blame the wolf!
        (Can't blame the wolf!)
    See, the wolf, he knows what's shakin'
    And everything's better with bacon.


Now, I should mention that junk like this is very easy to write. You just do something silly and it's not terribly important to make it make sense. The hard songs to write are the ones that are serious, which try to evoke an emotion other than whimsy. Those have to be carefully crafted and consistent, with a very smooth flow, both musical and lyrical. There, crafting lyrics is a very careful, thoughtful process. Here, meaning is subordinate to rhyme, so "crafting lyrics" is just a matter of having a thesaurus open. It's the difference between an artist's portrait and paint-by-numbers, so of the two songs we wrote for this challenge, I think Day After Day is by far the more difficult. I suspect, though, that Pigs might very well be better received.

The lyrics feel a little rushed to me because in these contests you really don't tend to do well if you take the time to build up characters, etc. Instead you tend to shorthand.

Of course, in this version the wolf wins (even with the lyrics cleaned up). The inspiration from that was all of the World War II songs with similar military twists; especially those in propaganda cartoons of the period. Also, since everybody else have the pigs win, we can afford to throw a hungry wolf a bone just this once.

Besides, everything does go better with bacon.

BTW, the original lyrics are NSFW. We'd been drinking at the time. Really. William made mention of the pigs after a couple of pints of Guinness, and I dutifully wrote the thing down along with everything else, only it wasn't The Three Little Pigs.  And apparently the wolf liked your mother. It wasn't until I went with the WWII homage that I went back and cleaned it up, as that's more appropriate to the period. Silly family-friendly songs were popular (see Mairsey Doats).


Sort of bluesey, jazzy, and with a nod to big bands like those of Artie Shaw and Cab Calloway with the call-and-response from the band members.

Day After Day

SpinTunes, Summer of '15. The challenge: "Write a song about building something." Our only restriction: we can't write a song about writing a song.

Part of the difficulty with a challenge like this is that it's so wide open. It's very much like saying "write a song". Of course we wanted it to be metaphorical, so whatever we chose to build represented something More Important, but that could be practically everything. In any case, "building a relationship" seems to have won out. While discussing the possibilities, William wanted to know if rebuilding something was allowed. I didn't see why not, and that let him to this.

Day After Day

Deep in my heart where your memory lies
There's a handful of dreams of a summer gone by
And we're a long, long way away from that warm night in July
It's like yesterday is pulling me back to your side

Day after day we build castles in the sand
Night after night the tide comes rushing in
Flags that flew on high are knocked down by the wind
Until we pick them up and build it all again

Often things we love become things we revile
So despite our love we split for a while
My heart was standing still as my soul was standing trial
Hoping to recall -- why did we walk down the aisle?


Here on the strand, years drifted away
Now here we stand with nothing to say
You hold out your hand... who needs talk anyway?
And we pretend it was all just a long midsummer day


...We'll build it all again.


Obviously it's about building relationships. In this case, a rather fragile one that's constantly repaired. This is in several stages:
  • verse 1 sets the stage in the present; 
  • verse 2 is a flashback to a breakup; 
  • verse 3 returns to the present and reconciliation.
We actually had to think hard about using sandcastles, because we were pretty certain that this and the underlying theme of building relationships would be pretty widely used. So I did a few Google searches and sure enough, it is. It's been done by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, the Booth Brothers, and The Philosopher Kings among others. However, they all seem to be focused on how temporary such a structure is. At least none of the famous songwriters seem to have contemplated a couple who were just resolute about sticking to the relationship despite periodic setbacks. Nobody considered a stubborn love. So that's something.

Of course the content owes a nod to Rupert Holmes' Escape, about the couple who tries to cheat, only to find one another anew, though this one lacks Escape's surprise and playfulness. This is more about two people who decide they're just "too" comfortable with each other, but after some separation they decide that's what they want. In the end they don't even have to discuss it.

Update: One of the judges (Edric Haleen) asked whether the "morphing" rhyme scheme was intentional. My answer: yes, it was.

If you look at how they're written out, there are two opportunities for rhyme: at the pause and at the end of each line. We're rhyming vowels at the end, and these are near-rhymes, because this is pop; and we get to rhyme more than those Yankees, because we're exercising Southern Privilege, and a southern accent to go with it.

It's the rhymes at the pauses that are more interesting. Remember our narrative structure:

  • In the first verse, their relationship is broken apart. No rhyme. 
  • In the second, he's reminiscing in flashback. Why did they get together in the first place? The answer is in the verse Love, love. Still don't care about the rhyme, but hitting the love hard. We thought thought twice before keeping that.
  • In the third they're re-joined in unity, so perfect rhymes. 

Edric also asked what's up with syllables being added or dropped. We don't care, is the basic answer here. The tune is subordinate to the message, and also... pop. I've been known to write a completely different tune for each verse when William's driving. But honestly, I put those extra syllables in on purpose to relax the meter. So what came to me as "far away" became "long long way away". I think perfect meter is too robotic for our style. I think of certain "imperfections" as "beauty marks"


I conceived it as having a sort of Jimmy Buffett sound, to go with the beach theme. Also, with the style of it, it throws back to the style of some of our earlier work, represented by Summer Rain.

The recording isn't terribly close to what I'd like it to be. With a damaged rotator cuff, it's not comfortable to hold a guitar, and there was one chord I simply couldn't do. So it quickly to the piano. The entirety of the instrumentation is the piano, drum loop, and the strings. I resurrected the dolphins that I'd previously used in Carbon Footprint because... beach. Given more time (and I may go back and "fix" it) I would have guitars, steel drums, and a decent instrumental solo in the spot reserved for same.

When recording, I have no idea it would wind up at five and a half minutes, but that's what it is, and I don't really care. For competition purposes it's long, but it's intended to be a song for slow dancing, it's nice when those last a bit.

PS: At the listening party I was asked if the drums were slightly behind to give it a "lazy feel". Considering that the drums are pretty much where I intended them to be (i.e. I don't see them as being "behind" at all, and it took a bit of fiddling to get them where I wanted them), I'd say YES. This is a Carolina beach, where life is easy. It ain't Beach Blanket Bingo.

Friday, June 26, 2015

We Haven't Got A Clue

This is a fun one, written for this year's (2015) Summer play by Boogaloo Folklife Productions. Most of Boogaloo's past productions have been musicals, but in this case the story is an old-fashioned murder mystery called "Murder on Apple Road", written by Daniel O'Shields. I suppose we could have given this play the "Sweeney Todd" treatment, but that's not how it was written.

Nevertheless, I did feel as though we really needed an opening song to kick things off, and Dan's script provided just the hook. It opens with a radio news broadcast reporting a suspicious death. So in a creepy opening, we planned have the radio turn itself on, broadcast the report, and follow it up with an appropriate song, which I'd write (production notes follow the lyrics). However, I was so late delivering the song that every rehearsal started with someone simply saying, "And here's where the song goes". So here's the song:

We Haven't Got A Clue
by Dr. Lindyke
Say goodbye to dear Aunt Gladys
She’s joining dear old Fred
She’s gone to meet her Maker! 
Raised to Glory! 
(I mean she’s dead) 
Someone here is guilty 
And we’ll find him ‘fore we’re through 
All we need’s a little evidence 
But we haven’t got a clue 
I heard that it was poison 
or possibly a knife 
I heard he used a pickaxe 
in the bedroom 
On his wife 
Someone here is guilty 
And we’ll find him ‘fore we’re through 
All we need’s a little evidence 
But we haven’t got a clue 
I heard she was stabbed with an awl through the heart! 
I heard she was found dead sitting in a car 
With a hose stretched to the window from the exhaust! 
It was a car, alright, but it veered off the road 
With the brake lines cut (or so I was told) 
On a cliffside highway sheathed with winter frost! 
She was pushed to her doom from a balcony! 
It was a poisoned page, ‘cause she loved to read! 
No, it was candy-coated mothballs for the kill! 
I heard she was shot with a .45! 
No, No! She ran off and is still alive 
And she hides out in a casa in Brazil! 
If he’s on the policy 
Or mentioned in the will 
There’s a chance that the murd’rer 
Could be waiting 
Among us still 
Someone here is guilty 
And we’ll find him ‘fore we’re through 
All we need’s a little evidence 
But we haven’t got a clue
Lyrical Notes

The challenge for me here was to write a song that was about the play that gave away nothing in the play. After all, it is a mystery! Once I had the title, "We Haven't Got A Clue", the rest of it came rather quickly. I simply engaged my well-developed sense of black humor and imagined a bunch of nosy townsfolk gossiping about all the possible ways in which they imagined the murder to take place, and tied it together with myself as the newly arrived detective who hasn't yet formed an opinion.

Musical Notes

Though I had the lyrics very early, there were some issues, both personal and work-related, that prevented me from actually arranging and recording the song until very late. In fact it was the night before dress rehearsal, and only two days before opening night before I actually started the work of arranging. By that time, I realized that I couldn't remember the quirky chord progression I'd originally planned for it!

And quirky it was, too... I wanted this to be reminiscent of all of the old "Miss Marple" and "Poirot" mysteries I remembered as a boy, with a little humor thrown in, a la Murder by Death, The Cheap Detective, or Clue. I knew from the start that it should be a sort of slow, lurching Tango, featuring a French accordion, so I started from there, adding some variations in other instruments. The featured oboe was first, with various organs, piano, a electric piano and harpsichord ganged to stand in for the bass, and bits and pieces of percussion from a kick drum, muted hi-hat, wood block, sticks, and a struck wine glass. It might not sound like it, but all together there are about 20 separate tracks, and some of those are occupied by more than one instrument. The percussion track carries maybe half a dozen various doo-dads I struck, scraped, or shook for an accent here or there.

I had hoped for perhaps some violin, but couldn't pull it off quickly enough to meet my deadline. Instead, in the "gossip sections" I went with plain piano, and added a soft organ to hint at a melody that's not sung. Rather, the characters simply gossip in speech, as in a musical.

Tom Giarrosso and I provided voices for the male gossips, and the female gossips were JoAnn Abbott and Denise Hudson.

I had planned from the start to involve Denise, because she's an amazing vocalist and generally knows exactly what it is I'm looking for... in this case, she needed to put on her very best "Helena Bonham Carter" to provide some harmony and lead vocals in the verses. I'm very glad she was able to help out (and on the day of the deadline, too!), as this is a very boring song without her.

The last thing added was the shouted "GUILTY!!" in the last verse. This came from my son Timothy, and was then filtered a bit as if shouted from the bench in a courtroom. I can't imagine the song as "finished" without it... and it's there because it reminds me of a scene in Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Standing on the Edge

I talk a lot about SpinTunes, but I haven't talked much about Song Fight or Nur Ein. I really haven't been moved to participate in Song Fight, but Nur Ein is a bit more the sort of thing I'm used to. Nevertheless, I didn't plan to take part at all this time as I don't like to take on too much stuff at once, and usually at this time of year I'm rehearsing for a play.

Well, I am rehearsing for a play, and I still don't plan to take part, but friends of mine entered a "Round 0" entry, and it inspired me to do this. The prompt (which should be used) is the title, "Standing on the Edge". The non-optional challenge is to include your own name in the lyrics. Duck soup.

Standing on the Edge
Dr. Lindyke - 04/22/2015

[intro - beat and bass]

I’m standing on the edge
On the ledge outside my window
In reflective contemplation
Of the troubles I’ve been into
I don’t need a conversation
To try to talk me down
Soon Dr. Lindyke ain’t gonna be around.

I don’t get no inspiration
From reporters on TV
I didn’t start the conflagration
And it won’t end with me
Like Hamlet’s slings and arrows
Misfortune’s stalking me
And all who choose to see or not to see


If I had a sense of purpose
Aimed at cleaning up the street
Would I have a bigger impact
With my face or on my feet?
I think that we all know the answer
And so I dust my hands
And leave the ledge to fly to better lands


If history repeats,
We’re gonna play this scene again
With the lemmings queued behind me
Pretending to be men
Overcoming minds divided
By those who'd drive a wedge
They’ll take their places standing on the edge

[instrumental outro]

Lyrical Notes

This means whatever you want it to mean. Honestly, it started out as nonsense words using the thump... thump... thump... beat of I Am The Walrus, but as I was driving to work (and it's a long drive!) the lyrics gradually got replaced with these. There are obvious references to Billy Joel's We Didn't Start The Fire and Shakespeare's Hamlet, but other than that, the final polish was just to make sure it was vaguely political-sounding while arguably aligning with the politics of the listener, no matter who that might be.

Sometimes you write something that surprises you. My personal favorite line was a surprise to me at the moment I first sang it: "Would I have a bigger impact / With my face or on my feet?" It could be about how he lands; it could easily be a bigger choice of jumping in resignation and walking the streets making a difference. It could mean something else entirely.

The bit about "and leave the ledge to fly to better lands" is deliberately ambiguous. In some Libertarian refusal to play by the "rules" did he take a third choice and literally fly away like a bird from the ledge? Did he "fly" to a better land (Heaven) by way of the pavement? Did he walk away and buy an airline ticket? Is it just figurative?

Is this even about suicide? Or is it about the inevitability of death, leaving an endless chain of people with the same thoughts; an endless cycle of oppression and rebellion?

I honestly don't know.

Musical Notes

I guess I should point out that this song, arrangement, recording, et cetera, was completed in a couple of hours at the behest of Tom Giarosso. That's probably why the opening sounds a little like "Fraggle Rock", and it also explains the rough garage band sound of it. I just sat down and banged it out on the piano over an existing Jim Dooley drum track without too much thought. This recording is live take 2. I just went behind it and added the rough vocals (take 1) and a keyboard bass track.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 4 Reviews

Dr. Lindyke didn't make it into the final round, so we're coming "back to the island" to vote. As usual, I'm writing the intro before hearing the music and writing the reviews.

This round's challenge was tough... and fantastic.
The Final Step - Normally dance is inspired by music. For the final challenge of SpinTunes 10, you will need to write a song inspired by dance...and not just any dance...this one. We should be able to play your song over this video...and have people think it's what he was dancing to. (2:32 minimum length...the length of the dance routine) (your submission is due Sunday, March 1st 11:59PM) 
Side Notes: The original audio was removed for a reason.  The dancers name wasn't mentioned for a reason.  Please do not attempt to look up more information on the video.  We'll use the honor system here.  I will be posting the original video & crediting the artists involved after your deadline. 
And as usual...lyrics are still REQUIRED.
What makes this a fantastic challenge is that it goes beyond artistry and expression. It's a test of the songwriter as a craftsman. It is an exacting specification of timing so as to make it look as if this dance were choreographed to the song and not the other way around.

When I first saw the video, I thought it was fairly obvious that this was being danced to a loose swing number, in the tradition of Frank Sinatra. It's a slower number though, and the the movements in general (and I'm not talking story-wise), suggested something with about the same "feel" as "Blues in the Night" (performed here by Peggy Lee and the Benny Goodman orchestra). I think that going outside that box can be justified only with a tremendous amount of surprise and delight. In other words, jumping genres (for me) would be a home-run or a fail.

Interesting technical trick: If you pull this video into an editor and stretch the timeline, you can map out the beat exactly. Adhering to that timeline in your DAW gives you precisely what you need to produce. But if you do that with this number it's immediately obvious that there's a lot of rubato in the performance, which supports the idea that a Sinatra-like number is behind it.

Also, choreography doesn't necessarily just act out the words. By the same token you shouldn't be narrating the motions, because I don't think you'd be doing the choreographer a favor. However... you've got to bank on a few things if you want this video to look choreographed to your song. Expansive motions in the dance should be in response to expansive lyrics or music. Choppy or sharp motions will. be. in. response. to. punctuated. music. And literally everything is significant. Tiny gestures should highlight tiny nuances in the music that you might otherwise miss. It's easy to take a tiny adjustment of the hat's brim at face value and just compose right over it; but it's impressive to highlight it in the score and make it look as though it was the dancer's choice to consciously respond to the music.

So I'm not looking for the beat... I'm looking for motions that naturally synched with the music, as if the two were being performed in the same room at the same time. After all, that's our primary requirement: "We should be able to play your song over this video...and have people think it's what he was dancing to." That applies not just to the rhythm, I think; but to the dress, the props (hat), the motions, etc.. And as a nice plus, it would be good to make this guy look like the best dancer in the room.

The story is up for grabs, but I walk into this with distinct personal preferences. I don't much like it when dance numbers are about dancing. While it's nice that a performer likes what he does, wouldn't it be nice if he were expressing something that everyone else can relate to? Love, or success, or failure, or freedom, etc.? "Dance music" can be so much more than "shake your booty", and I respond well to a good story.

Production-wise, I don't care. Honestly, the dude's dancing on a blank stage. We can allow a conceit that this is a rehearsal, and a single piano played by Mandy Patinkin off-stage would do the trick just fine. I can imagine a more polished production to include both orchestration AND a glitzed-up outfit for the dancer. The important part for our purpose is that they match.

The Reviews
Enough of that.  Here are my reviews in the same order the songs were presented at the listening party. I'm linking to the videos rather than the Bandcamp album because the nature of the challenge requires it. If you're not ranking this by watching the video, I feel you're doing the contest a disservice. People must think that the song is what he's dancing to, so we're not, not, NOT looking for merely "the best song"... at least I'm not.

Pete Murphy - "Dance All Night"
This is nice dance music. If you just listen to the songs without watching the videos it fares very well, very arguably the best. However, it's very exacting and precise, which is exactly what the video isn't. Though there are some nice moments of synchronicity ("slide", "glide", "wrap my arms around you") it overall gives the impression of a song that was laid on top of the dance rather than a dance choreographed to the song. It's the sort of thing you'd want to hear while clubbing, but I can't really buy the connection to this dance.

Zoe Gray - "Smooth"
This opens up with a groove that reminds me of Michael Jackson, which is a really Good Thing(tm) given the hat as a prop. The story is good one... a self-adoring hedonist. This works really well with lines like "I'm so smooth like peanut butter..." synched with the self-hugging. There are passing references to dance ("when I chassé all the females stare") that aren't synched with the moves of the same name, and again given this style that's good because it doesn't feel like narration. There's one piece though, that I would have liked a bit more synch, and that's where he falls after the a la seconde turns at around the 2:20 mark. Ignoring that fall makes it look like the dancer's mistake, whereas I think it would be better if he were made to look flawless.

By the way, the NSFW lyrics have some shock value, yeah; but I'm not so sure they help Zoe out. My wife's reaction was "oh, hell no". I personally judge the song, and I think it would be ignored entirely if someone else were performing, so it has no impact on my rankings. As it is, there are really only two questionable words (and they're sort of casually tossed in the first verse), which should make you doubt their necessity. The rest of the song carries along perfectly fine without them.

Ross Durand - "Brand New"
This is a great example of how the music can completely change your interpretation of a visual experience. Ross totally runs with the rubato performance, making it look as though the dancer's illustrating the singer's unsteadiness. Moves that are suave when set to other music look deliberately unbalanced here. That's not a bad thing either. The moment of self-adoration and the broadly expressive "...until I found YOOOUU!!!" are spot-on. At about 1:13 or so there's the sheepish body language of the dancer accompanied by "...I don't know what you'll say..." which really sucks me into the story. Our dancer goes from being Mr. Smooth to Buster Keaton (with maybe a bit of The Little Tramp mixed in), and frankly, I'm totally on board with both approaches. I think it's interesting that the fall at 2:26 really works here because of the subject matter and the rising vocal (almost an oops!).

Edric Haleen - "Dance!"
"Mr. Smooth" is back from the very first beat of Edric's show-tune number. And let's call it what it is, shall we? Up top I mentioned a lot of things that you don't necessarily do in choreography, such as narration, and also things I don't like, like dance songs about dancing. Edric is a honeybadger. Edric don't care. Edric narrates the shit out of this dance; but the thing is, it's done well. And though he is writing a dance about dance, it's more broadly a dance about free expression. Little nuances abound... the "ting!" of the hat brim, the clearing of the throat, etc. Nothing is left to chance, and the timing is dead-on throughout the number. Edric doesn't ignore the a la seconde turns and fall, either, choosing to prompt it with that rapidly-descending arpeggio. This isn't the kind of song you'd typically hear on its own, but it works as part of a show, and the "rehearsal-like" feel of the video allows us to go along with it.

(This doesn't affect rankings, but I would love to hear this with better sound fonts. Most of these instruments are OK, but the brass... whhuufff.)


For reference, here's the original dance as choreographed by Ryan Kasprzak and danced by Evan Kasprzak

Dr. Lindyke's rankings have been submitted, and are being kept in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnall's back porch.


Postcript: One other thing, and I was really remiss not to mention it before, because I started editing this with intention of doing so. Spin mentions that it's up to us former competitors to eliminate three people. I couldn't agree less. These are the last four composers standing out of a field of thirty-three. There's no elimination involved here. They're all superlative. Rather, our job is to elevate one of them.

That is all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 3: No Time For Dreams

Well, Round 2 was really, really competitive. A lot of good entries were posted, and our entry didn't fare as well as we hoped. We ranked 11th in the round, but due to some volatility in the top ranks and the fact that some very strong competitors dropped out, we retained 5th place on the leaderboard. The top four go through to the final round, so this one means a lot.

Here's the Round 3 challenge.
Non-Stop Hits - Write a song that features looooong run on sentences. (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, February 15th 11:59PM)
Example: "Albuquerque" by "Weird" Al Yankovic
Side Notes:- The originally worded challenge was, "Write a song that is one long run on sentence."  Using 2 run on sentences would technically meet the challenge.  But why go for the minimum when it's likely the judges will clearly be looking for more.
We've considered a lot of interesting possibilities. These include:
  • the point of view of a goldfish swimming circles in a bowl. They have very short memories. Sadly, I'm afraid that might sound a lot like Dory from Finding Nemo.
  • someone with ADHD. 
  • Kanye West rapping about all the people who he feels did not deserve the Grammy over Beyonce'. I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of time imitating his style, though; I hate Autotune. 
  • variations on a married couple who interrupt each other's sentences, extending them. This would allow us to do a duet while still meeting the challenge. While we feel this could be really brilliant, it's easier said than done.
Given the strictures of time and ability to deliver, here's what we came up with:

No Time for Dreams

We got
one cart, one horse in this podunk town,
one job to do, the kind that beats you down
but you ain't gonna find me hangin' 'round
'cause I'm not the kind for that, you'll find I'm
not gonna spend my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down there but
I'll be a doctor, a lawyer, a cop
'cause nothing can stop me from reaching the top;
an ambitious young man... with a head full of dreams.

I've got...
one girl, one heart, one love to bind
me to Heaven on Earth, one chance to find
the man inside me she needs but I'm not blind
'cause there's still time for her to find I'm
not gonna spend my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down there but
my family needs food and a roof o'er their heads
so I'll put off my dreams for a new day ahead
A responsible man... has no time for dreams.

[instrumental break. Time passes]

And the candles on top of my cake
Spread like wildfire year after year
And the bills and tuition have made it their mission
To keep me imprisoned right here.

I've got
one life to live, just a day at a time
one ankle chained to the daily grind, cause
you've got to sacrifice, but no one explained
you've gotta throw the dice with the rice,
and now I have spent my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down here
and I think back to the youth that I'd wasted away
and I think that it's time that I called it a day
'cause a man past his prime has no time for dreams.

And the candles on top of my cake
burn with bonfire brightness this year
And my sons and my daughters and all the grands
are crowded around me so near;
and as I look upon them my heart nearly stops
There they are; the doctor, the lawyer, the cop
And I wonder that I've been so blind
that I never could see...
All of the dreams that I ever had
have come home to say to me, "We love you, Dad."
Not too bad...
for a man...
with no time for dreams.

Not too bad for a man with no time for dreams.


There are some personal goals that we thought it would be nice to accomplish. 
  1. To approach it a bit like the way we approached the "non-rhyming song" challenge of Song Fu. There we wrote a non-rhyming song where you didn't notice it didn't rhyme.
  2. No shouting, rapping, ranting, or beat poetry. No talking. This is a song, so I want singing, in measured delivery. This may actually work against us, as the example we were given is simply a frenetic beat poem, and in rounds past we've seen at least one judge display a preference for music that sounds like the example. Since it would be silly of the judges to expect the contestants to produce 25 cookie-cutter knock-offs of Weird Al, I'm not paying much attention to that. The challenge here says what it says, and we're going with that. Within that limitation, we're going to try to write the best song we can in Dr. Lindyke style.
  3. No lists (a la "We Didn't Start The Fire"). The sentences should be sentences.
In deference to the quirks of judging, we're didn't pursue our first goal. Instead, we're focused on making it clear that our sentences are long, obviously run-on, and contain more than one thought, We are paying no attention to the originally worded challenge and here's why: if the judges required a single sentence, they should have left the wording alone. They didn't. Secondly, the examples (as we've noted) seem to carry a lot of weight. "Albuquerque" has some run-on sentences, but a whole lot more that are not. That said, we want the judges to hear that we're using run-on sentences.

In picking a topic, one question that came up is, "what have we got that the other contestants don't?" The answer: age. We're flippin' old, and that gave us a subject. Actually, William gave me a great piece involving a divorce, which I simply couldn't make work. Basically, once delivered as a rant, it wound up being about 30 seconds long, and there really wasn't a lot more to say on the subject. It would have been obvious padding. The topic of "No Time For Dreams" is one that I've tried to tackle a few times over the years and never really got much beyond the last half of the last verse. William's given the concept a shot as well, under the title "No Regrets", but again, it just never gelled. This challenge gave us an opportunity to try again. I was a bit panicky and frustrated after some days of no progress, and that may show in the final result (in a positive way, I think).

From my perspective, the song is based on a more clueless version of my wife's father, who grew up in the mill town where I now live. The difference is, he didn't wait until he was near death to appreciate his life.

I like the fact that the chorus is embedded in each verse. This is probably commonplace. Still, it's pretty cool, and allows us to flow in and out of this structured segment from the rambling run-on that surrounds it fore and aft, giving us a chorus that contributes to rather than interrupting and detracting from the challenge.

Speaking of flow, in editing this I applied some techniques I learned from a previous rap challenge. This reads like a rap song because it was written like one, using a flow diagram and copious internal rhyme. It's sung as a folk-rock ballad, a la Bob Dylan or Neil Young.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, given this challenge, we tried pack as much info as possible in as few words. We didn't see much point in torturing the judges with a 10 minute opus (though we've done it before). We had no intention of filling it up with a bunch of superfluous asides just to fill space. We didn't want it to feel rambling. We have a clear story, and we're describing and entire life here. Thus, you find out everything there is to know about his town, his love life, his work, and his family in just a few lines. These are alluded to without detail, because you the listener are perfectly capable of filling that in from your experience based on a few key words.

One of my favorite parts, lyrically, is this bridge:
And the candles on top of my cake
Spread like wildfire year after year
And the bills and tuition have made it their mission
To keep me imprisoned right here.
We needed a way to denote the passage of a lot of time... again, without a 10 minute opus. I imagine a time lapse with more and more candles. There's no mention of what kind of cake it is, because you get it without the bonk on the head. On my wife's 50th birthday we made the mistake of putting 50 candles on her cake. When the first one was lit, the flame jumped from wick to wick resulting in a 2-foot pillar of flame. That's what I'm imagining here... a life burning away. The second half of the bridge sums up the entirety of his activity in those years: working for subsistence and to put his children through college.

After the bridge we see the toll that life has taken on him. From the hopeful young man in the first verse to the resolute father of the second, he's now beaten and resentful.

The last bridge/verse changes that, and it's for this reason that we depart from the verse structure and move back to pure Folk. We're no longer clinging to run-on sentences and rapid-fire internal rhyme, because those were there for a reason apart from the challenge. This man is defeated. He's no longer pushing with ambition, defiance, or resentment.We return to the structure of the bridge in that birthdays are a time of reflection, and that sort of slides into a modified verse in which, freed from that dogged focus, our protagonist can take a look around and see something very important for the first time. The "wonder" in this verse is in the sense not of curiosity, but amazement:
All of the dreams that I ever had
Have come home to say to me, "We love you, Dad."
Not too bad...
For a man...
With no time for dreams.
Not a bad way to end it, I think; and in fact, these were the lines that were written first.


The arrangement is deliberately simple and Dylan-esque. It's played entirely with root chords on the guitar. The instruments are as basic as a band gets: drums, acoustic guitar, and bass. The harmonica is a chromatic Koch.

As mentioned before, the verses were structured like a rap song, so the tune and delivery is likewise structured to stress those syllables that would be stressed in rap. That was kind of interesting to write, in that means rapid-fire stressing of internal (near) rhyme. Slow folksy rap delivered tunefully... I know, it's insane. Actually, not so much. The dirty secret is that Rap is Folk music... it's just different folk with different experiences.

The last verse is very different from the rest. It wants to be even more different than it is, but I didn't think it would hold together if it were too great a departure. Clearly it's the same song, but it's a very different man singing it. A new chord progression; no more percussion; no more drive. The internal rhyme is gone, and with it the internal stress (both in the tune and in the singer).

In the previous round we were chastised a bit for being too repetitive with the chord progression. Well, we do it again here because that's the point... our singer is stuck in a boring, repetitive life. It's an artistic choice, and not one intended to get us votes. We'll have to wait and see whether it's better received here.