amw (amw) wrote,

vulgar musical theory, and oingo boingo

Are you a muso? Do you know musical theory?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, you are a much smarter person than me. I guess the next question would be: do you deconstruct every song you hear, and then wonder why you like it?

Because i do that.

I got a smidgen of musical training as a child. I got the standard music lessons that everyone at public school did (read notes, play the recorder, sing along at assembly), but i also got extracurricular guitar lessons because i wanted to become Joe Satriani.

Obviously, i failed at becoming Joe Satriani.

Even still, i self-taught myself more complex music composition in my teens, via the tracker computer-generated music scene of the 90s.

And yet. My mom didn't have enough money to send me to my dream college - Berklee College of Music - so i just kept on making music without much education. Boo Tracker. Scream Tracker. Impulse Tracker. Hardware synthesizers. (Fast forward a very long time.) Ableton Live.

I never became a rockstar, obvs, but i still deconstruct every song i listen to.

One of my favorite 80s songs is Oingo Boingo - Dead Man's Party.

Oingo Boingo Dead Man's Party

Refer back, as i ramble.

I often try to analyze why i like one song and not the other.

I don't give a shit about lyrics, so don't even start with that. Lyrics are just a way to make a good sound. On average, most lyrics would probably sound better replaced by a 303, or another expressive synth that works in the human vocal range.

I know that i fucking hate bass and treble. For me, those things are bonus features, only existing to lift up the music that's already good. If your music doesn't have any mid-range (looking at you, drum'n'bass), then you can fuck right off. I'd rather not have any high- or low-end at all than lose the mids. As if to spite the audiophiles, my preference has been justified by the mass adoption of walkmans and earbud headphones.

So, for the music that actually has a mid-range, we still need it to be good. It can be good in an amelodic way, but if artists do choose to put a melody there, i prefer it to be "conventional" and not discordant. I also dislike the major key, which means the "happy" melodies. Minor keys for the mother fucking win.

But, going back to our song Dead Man's Party... I fucking hate pretty much everything Danny Elfman has ever done because it's too complicated, too pretentious, too adverserial. He is IDM for people who don't listen to techno. But this song is the perfect balance between highbrow jazz muso and pop sensibilities.

What does it have? It has call and response! It's pretty basic - one person sings something (or an instrument plays it), the other person (or instrument) replies. The whole song has this call and response pattern, first there is a vocal fragment, then there is a guitar riff.

But it's not just a human/guitar call and response. There is the pattern that repeats after every vocal segment, a simple up and down arpeggio, except sometimes it interrupts itself to put an additional octave-up note. And sometimes it loops itself back around in a way that makes it jump in front of the expected repetition. (I know, people who are educated probably call this a polyrhythm, bla bla.) This kind of pattern is absolutely trivial in electronic music, and a massive amount acid techno songs do this, because synthesizers let you arbitrarily restart and loop a sequence of notes from wherever. But it still takes some kind of talent to decide the best time to do it. And very few "real" musicians do it, i suppose because it sounds too electronic-y.

The song also features these great syncopated snare hits. Because i'm not an educated musician i can't explain it well, but it's stuff like... Just before the snare hits on the regular backbeat (2 and 4), they slam down the volume of all the other stuff, so that clap or snare sounds even louder than it ordinarily would have. If you listen to industrial or techno, you know that kind of sound. At the start of the song, they also accent the melody just before the snares, so you get this jilted feeling of the melody running ahead of the beat. But they also sometimes interrupt the standard rhythm of snares on the backbeat and hit it twice on the first and second beat, which disrupts people's usual dancing rhythm. It's very techno.

So this is a guitar song that grooves, and it is one of my faves. All traditional instruments - guitars, horns, vocals. Whatevs, none of that shit matters. But it sounds like techno because of the way it's structured, the patterns that it makes, the frequencies it emphasizes.

I listen to loops and timbres, i don't listen to words. That's what makes a song that i like.
Tags: i am durnk, making music, music

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