Yet another Transition that is out of order from the opera The Boats.Peter Gabriel. Bodhrán. Hans Zimmer drums. Compression is a drug. Time shifts. Cuban music and the clave. Sneaky Bastard. One horse town. Duke and Harlem Nocturne. Joyce Brothers and Reality TV. How the sausage gets made. One more transition.
Roger CortonLast time we were talking about folk songs. But this thing sounds like one of Peter Gabriel’s soundtracks.
JCHActually, I was thinking the same thing. I tried to fight that, but you kinda have to go where the piece takes you.
RCNow don’t get me wrong. I love Peter Gabriel. I just didn’t think of it as ‘Celtic’ sounding.
JCHWell I don’t care about that. I just want it to fit the staging for switching between scenes.
RCWe talked about that last time and so if the title of this can be believed, this is the space right after the captain’s wife has just found out that her husband has had a heart attack and the following morning at the hospital where he’s recovering in bed.
JCHThat sounds right.
RCSooooo, what is it about this music that speaks to that?
JCHI’m not sure I follow.
RCWhat is it about those two events that requires big Hans Zimmer drums and a Dorian melody?
JCHAh. No idea.
JCHSeriously. Although part of the ‘bigness’ is that I’m compressing the living snot out of almost everything in the snippet.
RCYou wrote about compression a lot way when. Care to enlighten people on that?
JCHYes, that was before you came on board. Back then I was concerned with what they called ‘The Loudness Wars’. Basically, there’s this technique you can use in recording to make everything sound as loud as possible by squeezing the dynamic range.
RCThat’s called compression.
JCHYes. It’s a device that is used, fer instance, by radio stations to make commercials sound as loud as possible. It makes the quiet bits louder and the loud bits quieter. Everything gets squeezed into the same general volume level.
RCAnd you used compression here?
JCHDid I? DID I? (laughs) I sure did. Compression is, IMO the sound of the 80’s. Even more than drum machines. It makes everything sound like a synthesizer. So fer instance, the whistle and bodhrán sound about 1,000% smoother than I was actually playing.
JCHWithout compression the bodhrán fades in and out and the whistle? Instead of having that nice synthy, flutey smoothness, it sounds like psshqbbbbqqwwwhhhttttthhhhhzzz.
RCYou’ll have to spell that for me?
RCThat sound you just made. You’ll have to spell it for me. No way Dragon transcribes that.
JCHUh, huh. As I was saying. Compression can fix a LOT of sins–especially for bass players and drummers. Most guys just can’t play super evenly. I mean with the same precise level and I beat on my students mercilessly on that. So when you hear a modern record, they almost always replace the ‘real’ bass with something electronic. Same with kick drums and snares. Even if it’s a ‘real’ drummer on the credits, I’m willing to bet the sounds were either super-compressed or computer-replaced. As engineer’s like to say, “Compression is a drug.” And it’s true. You get addicted to that super-smooth sound and it’s only later that you realise: Oh shit, my whistle doesn’t sound ‘real’ at all. And…. I DON’T CARE! I love it! (laughs). That’s what happened in the 80’s. I started working on this bit and I wanted my whistle to sound a little smoother and then before ya know it?
RCEnough. I think we get it. Back to -why-? That was entertaining, but it doesn’t explain.
Look, all I know is that it feels right. I didn’t have a conversation with myself, “Now what kind of music do I want to have after the heart attack, but before the wife visits in hospital? Oh, I wonder, what should I do here?” I don’t ‘brainstorm’ with myself like that. But I can make some shit up for you, if you like.
RCWouldn’t be the first time. (laughs)
JCHOr the last, my friend. Or the last. But if I had to hazard a guess as to why I headed in this direction, it was because the bodhrán plays such a pivotal part to this whole show. It’s like the ‘clave’ of every big piece.
RCThe percussion instrument?
JCHNo, I mean the beat. In Cuban music, the basic beat that drives like everything is called a ‘clavé’. It’s played by two wood sticks, also called ‘clavés’. Until you know to listen for it, it can be easy to miss. But once you’re made aware of it, you can’t stop hearing it. It’s what the dancers use to keep the beat. Which is weird for us white people (laughs).
RCYou mean because we’re so used to hearing the beat with the kick and snare.
JCHExactly. It’s not the bass or drums that keep the beat. It’s that teeny, tiny: Dink, dink, dink. Dink, dink. (laughs)
RCAnd you’re saying that the bodhrán performs that function in The Boats?
JCHWell, not intentionally. It just seemed to work out that way. The bodhrán is almost always there in the background, clicking away.
RCLike in this piece, it gets things going.
JCHYeah, but if you listen for it, although the piece starts off in three, even when it shifts into four, the bodhrán just keeps clicking away with the same pattern. It’s the through line. And that’s why I wanted the bodhrán to be so even.
RCYou sneaky bastard. (laughs) You’re right. Now that I’m listening for it, I can’t stop hearing it. But back to why the thing shifts from 3/4 time into the ‘Hans Zimmer Drums’.
JCHAgain, I dunno. I guess I wanted to indicate this big shift. Ciarán is a guy just moving through life, like we all do. And the clip-clip of the bodhrán is how I feel life in Irish villages. The way all native irish speakers used to refer to villages was a ‘Sraid-Bhaile’–literally a ‘one-street town’.
RCA one horse town, pardner.
JCHExactly. So the guy is clip-clopping along and then WHAM all this shit happens all at once. So there’s this guy still trying to clip-clop along, but there’s this storm just pounding away all around. I definitely feel that way.
RCYou identify as the captain?
JCHI indentify with this constant drip, drip, drip of pressure going on, while inside you’re just this much simpler creature.
RCSo that is the ‘clip clop’?
JCHI guess it is. Wow, these sessions are really worth it, Dr. Brothers.
RCWhy thank you. I think. Does anyone under fifty remember Joyce Brothers now?
JCHI doubt it, but you’ve just given me two insights, Doc. First, the whole song is a knock-off of a Duke tune, ‘Harlem Nocturne’. Same concept: clip-clop at the beginning and then it ‘blooms’ into this other thing.
This video is the closest match I could find to Duke Ellington’s original “Harlem Nocturne”. Ellington re-arranged his songs all the time.
RCWhen I mentioned Joyce Brothers, it popped into my head that these chats are all a part of the lowest of low-rent reality TV shows.
JCHI mean, isn’t the pretense of all these ‘chats’ that people would actually want to know how the sausage is made?
JCHAnd what happens when I change my mind? I mean if it’s a ‘story’ like in all those shows, there may not really be a TADA! moment where I finish this and there’s a nice clean ending.
RCI wouldn’t worry about that. Somebody I know tells me all the time, “Talking doesn’t have to be about anything. Just make sure it’s entertaining.”
JCHTouché. Hoisted on my own petard. (laughs) And I’m glad to hear you say that because I think there’s one more ‘Transition’ yet to come.
RCOf course there is.