Friday, October 27, 2006

How do they do that?
I suppose it's because the only instrument that I can play with any degree of confidence is the spoons, which I smash together on my knee and call music, and perhaps it's also an offshoot of the hybrid lyrics a few of us have been playing with the last couple of days, but lately I've been trying to figure out how people make music.
I have been listening to the Decemberists a lot lately, and in particular I have been fascinated by one song, The Crane Wife Pt1, which to me is so perfect that it's almost painful to listen to. And because I have only a rudimentary knowledge of how music is made, I am feeling a lot like Salieri lately, watching Mozart breeze so effortlessly through his brilliant compositions while Salieri himself slaves and sweats over inferior work. I don't have the jealousy and the hatin' , though, only admiration and awe.
I had it blasting as I was driving home yesterday, and I'm sure I was a danger to the other drivers as my mind was occupied with trying to figure out how this song managed to make me simultaneously melancholy and almost overwhelmed with sheer joy. Please indulge me while I now attempt to deconstruct this song to try to pinpoint its brilliance, surely exposing my ignorance in the process, but here goes:
It's a deceptively simple song, with a line repetition that's reminiscent of traditional folk songs (much as the Decemberists use the round singing technique in Sons and Daughters). The song starts quietly and slowly, with a simple strummy, plucky guitar accompanying Meloy's voice. The cadence is measured and restrained; there is nothing rushed about the way this song builds.
In the second verse, a melancholy horn is added, with the drums coming in softly at the first chorus and building up to a crescendo with the second chorus, which is when the organ breaks in as well. Somewhere in there, I hear a glockenspiel as well, I swear. The final lines usher in a chorus of voices la da daing. (At this point, the song morphs into Pt 2, but that's a different song entirely)
This song knows how to push all my buttons.

*
It was a cold night and the snow lay 'round
I pulled my coat tight against the falling down
and the sun was all
the sun was all down
*
and the sun was all
the sun was all down
*
I am a poor man, I haven't wealth nor fame
I have my two hands and a house to my name
and the winter's so
the winter's so long
*
and the winter's so
the winter's so long
*
And all the stars were crashing 'round
as I laid eyes on what I'd found
*
It was a white crane, it was a helpless thing
on a red stain with an arrow in its wing
and it called and cried
it called and cried so
*
and it called and cried
it called and cried so
*
But all the stars were crashing 'round
as I laid eyes on what I'd found
*
my crane wife my crane wife
my crane wife my crane wife
*
And how I helped her and how I dressed her wounds
and how I held her beneath the rising moon
'til she stood to fly
she stood to fly away
*
'til she stood to fly
she stood to fly away
*
And all the stars were crashing 'round
as I laid eyes on what I'd found
*
my crane wife my crane wife
my crane wife my crane wife
*
But how do people know how to do this? (I don't even have the language to describe what I mean here.) How does one know enough to say, "hey maybe we should add a glockenspiel here, and let's have you guys sing along just these words, and at this point the drums should just let loose"?
Obviously you have to know how to play music and I guess experience plays a huge part. I think being able to produce a song like the Crane Wife Pt 1 is a sign of the maturity and cohesiveness of a band.
Sorry for blathering on like this, but I really want to understand how some people can accomplish something like this. I feel like I'm missing a chromosome or something. I guess I'll just have to appreciate and enjoy their efforts, because I could never in a million lifetimes do anything like this.


Get music codes at Bolt.

27 comments:

mellowlee said...

Oh wow...wow! That was a great post Barb. I didn't think you were blathering on at ALL! Now here is some blathering for you....

Maybe they dream the music and know what do with it by experience as you say. I have no idea really, but am in awe too.

I think their natural instinct/talent is the very same sort of instinct/talent that you have for writing.

(your reference to Salieri watching Mozart for example, completely floored me)

Not all of us know how to write a music review so beautifully, and to show their appreciation so fully, and let their passion for music shine through.

Reading your post on the song gave me goosebumps dude! I must say, The Decemberists is my #1 find of the year, thanks to you. (how's that for blathering heehee)

Ben Heller said...

Barbara I bought this album last Saturday and it's still in the cellophane wrapper. I must have a listen this weekend.

The song was lovely, particularly the first movement. I like how they have a sense of building momentum through rhythm and how the songs unfurl into a dramatic crescendo. I plugged the laptop through my hi fi speakers and I couldn't identify a Glockenspiel, but I definitely heard a Xylophone, and I think a Melodica.They use a string bass as well which for this type of music is perfect, as it has a natural reverb.

Good stuff

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Awwww thanks, Mel! Shucks, I'm all verklempft now, and don't really know how to respond to that, other than to say that when I run across something that inspires me as much as the lovely Decemberists do, it makes me want to spill my guts about how it makes me feel.
I wonder if musicians do dream about music? I wouldn't be surpised.
Aren't they a wonderful band?

I'll bet it was the xylophone I was hearing, Ben! Thank you. You have the knowledge of music and instrumentation, in addition to a wonderful appreciation of the music and a beautful way with words, that I could never achieve. I bow to your knowledge and aspire to learn at your feet.
There are some songs on the cd that don't really work all that well for me, but there are others that are absolute perfection. I hope you enjoy listening to it this weekend.

Leazwell said...

Many, many moons ago, friends and I used sit in the local lounge on Friday nights using spoons from the table to clack rhythmically along with the bluegrass band. Fun!

Allison said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Allison said...

I have to agree with Mel, I don't think you'd blathered at all, in fact I think you spoke (wrote) with great vigor.

The best part of listening to a new cd for me is lying down and reading the lyric booklet, along with experiencing the music. Sometimes, I'll read the lyrics before I listen, then I can marvel at the sounds and let the words wash over.

My goal for last weekend was to pick up this album, but a bought a sweater instead. I was going to buy if off of itunes, but 3 songs (crane wife included) are only on the album only, so I held off. Now you've made me want to take a walk and go buy it.
Thanks for posting that song, its really beautiful and I can see how it presents a duality of emotion.

mellowlee said...

I can always tell that you love the music Barb. Yes, they are a wonderful band! Love them!
(Allison, you need to go buy the CD!!) heehee

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That sounds like so much fun, Leazwell - I can just picture the comradery and the music. Sadly I've never ventured into such a public venue with my spoon playing. I am strictly a kitchen spoon player.

Thanks Allison! I can see how you would need to get that owl sweater first - I mean who could pass up something like that?
I don't think I've ever read the lyrics first. That's a great idea - I'll have to give that a try. I do love pouring over the liner notes as well, though. I love some of the dedications. Some of these cool bands are all about thanking their moms and cousins, which I find infinitely endearing.
Isn't CW1 a heartbreakingly beautiful song?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I second that, Mel!

John Mutford said...

I absolutely love this post. More! More!

As for the "how'd they know to that?" comment (I'm paraphrasing), I get the same feeling when I read a great poem, like Sandy Shreve's "Green Tea".

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thank you, John! I actually had to do some thinking for this post - that doesn't happen very often around here.

You, being a poet, deconstruct pieces of literature all the time, but I am but a newby at this, so I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was really taken by the Green Tea poems that you posted. I wish my mind was that disciplined.

Allison said...

Going to venture out tomorrow and buy it, promise! I've listened to CW1 a few times already, so great.

I often get the 'how do they do that' after I see a really good film, clearly I understand the technical, but I love watching the extended features getting a feel for the whole creative process. I'm such a voyeur sometimes, I'd like my cds to come with an 'inside the recording studio' feature :)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Nothing wrong with being a voyeur, Allison! And that's how you learn a lot of your craft as well.

Rupert said...

point of order: the spoons are the best instrument ever

Evelyne said...

Really cool post Barbara, I think that I'll buy that cd... that son is amazing and, I want to know too how people can create such an amazing thing?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thank god you clarified that, Rob - I've got a musician on my side. And I feel totally vindicated, being a spoons player and all.

It is a lovely song isn't it, Evelyne. I think you'd like the whole cd. I'm amazed sometimes at some of the things people can do which I can't.

Barbara said...

The glockenspiel is the only instrument I know how to play.
I was even in a marching band... sad eh? No musical talent here either. It's weird that you mentioned it later in your post because I was just thinking that as I started to read your post.
I tried to listen to the song but it kept freezing. I think it's my 'puter not your blog.
I think I learned my listening to the music loud in the car style from you. Cause now that's all I do. If the weather is half decent I roll down my windows so every car around me can hear it too. When I do that with Neko Case playing I think, hey Thank Barbara B!

Ocean said...

My daughter got a Kazoo a few days ago. After hearing this things for three days. I could care less where music comes from. hahaha just kidding. Then when she plays happy birthday song on it for her Daddy at his birthday party last night. Well it kinda melts your heart. Oh and yeah she plays the spoons too, except I've moved her the wooden ones for the pots :)

michelle said...

I read this & all I can think is

SPOONS SPOONS SPOONS!!!!!

You play the spoons! I am SO recording you when we hook up.

John Mutford said...

Ooops, I left out a word in my first comment. Oh well, you caught what I meant.

If you guys are putting together a spoons and kazoo band, can I be in it? I'm a pro on the jug.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

hahaha I keep my car windows closed when I am basting music, Barbara W. I don't need any more pissed-off people piloting 1000 lb weapons in my vicinity.
I'm sorry your computer won't play the song; it's gorgeous.

Three days of listening to a kazoo would sort of make you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon, wouldn't it, Ocean? Still, the happy birthdays all make up for it.

I should clarify, Michelle - I play the spoons BADLY. But maybe I could sing for you as well - really make that recording into a horror movie!

Yay, we have a jug player now! You realize of course, John, that the jug must be full when you bring it to practices and we don't start playing until it is empty.

mellowlee said...

Is anyone else having problems posting today? I have been trying to post a more lighthearted subject on my blawg, and it wont let me...plus usually I get comments in my email, and I haven't been, so was surprised to see comments on the blawg this morning. So strange! I have a feeling Im going to check later this afternoon, and there will be 25 copies of that one post Haha! :)

mellowlee said...

Oh oh, the first one showed up. now they are all going to show up at once...i just know it.

Back to the topic of music (sorry about that) Just a cool cat said on friday that he's seen so much of the Decemberists popping up that he will have to check them out. Good job on spreading the musical love around Barb :) Yaaay!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

There is definitely something weird going on with Blogger, Mel. My comments keep disappearing, so if you end up with 57 comments from me all saying very much the same thing, you'll know why.
I couldn't post photos yesterday and I really want to do a photo thing today.

I read what you guys were saying about the Decemberists on JACC's blog yesterday, as I posted a random list there (and thanks for the shout btw). I really need to visit his blog more often as he is quite a cool cat.

mellowlee said...

Its somewhat comforting to know that blogger doesn't have a personal vendetta against me ;) (how egocentric can i get eh haha)

JACC is a very cool cat! He makes me laugh all the time! His wife (aka Wifey) is lovely too.

I can't wait to see the photo thing you will post....smarten up blogger! grrrrr.

Deb said...

I think Mel's right...it's probably an "instinct" thing for some. Probably comes without much effort. Everybody's got their something (another Nikka Costa song!).

You do write so poetically and with such feeling...you just put us in the moment with you and let us share the experience. Excellent job my dear. And great music...I'd never heard of these guys before you mentioned them awhile ago (shame) and I then checked them out on myspace...wonderful music!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It is you, Mel! Blogger is out to get you and the rest of us are just collateral damage hahaha.
Fortunately it doesn't seem to be mad right now.

"Everybody's got their something" - that's a great way of looking at things, Deb.
And that's so sweet of you to say such nice things about my blurbs.
But the Decemberists, aren't they magnificent. And I think they just keep getting better and better.
They're not a very mainstream band, so I wouldn't feel bad about not knowing them. I, of course, heard about them from my kid.