Surprise! Surprise! Missed emails, poor connections and busy holidays mean that there’s one more day left in Mixmas! Huzzah! It’s my supreme pleasure to have Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy, contributing to Mixmas. Owen’s theme is one that will make you think about about song composition and how your favorite songs were given life.
“Great Pop Songs That I Suspect Were Given Life On Paper” by Owen Pallett
Here are a handful of songs that I’m sure were written on paper, along with the clues that gave it away.
MP3: Deerhoof – Flower
[THE GIVEAWAY: the tempos speed up, the tempos slow down. Also, mediant modulation, which I always associate with piano-writing.]
When I was in composition school, my professor Gary Kulesha played a bunch of pop records that he liked. He played Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”, a Gentle Giant song, a latter day Eisturzende Neubauten song and some other stuff I’ve forgotten. Later, a bunch of his students were out at the bar, we all started talking about rock bands we liked and didn’t like. It became clear that Gary’s interest in pop music was primarily as an outsider–he liked it for what it was, but didn’t consider it to be as relevant an art form as new classical music. I asked Gary what he thought was ‘wrong’ with pop music, and he said, “its constant reliance on a steady pulse.”
“What I want to hear,” he went on, “is a piece of music written by a new music composer for ‘four piece rock band’. Scored out and given to the players to perform.”
I wish Gary could meet Greg Saunier. I was told, a couple of years ago, that Greg writes the bulk of Deerhoof’s material while sitting at a piano with pen in paper. Of course! It’s the only way Deerhoof songs could be written.
[THE GIVEAWAY: too many time signature changes, recurring motifs and in-jokes to be the product of ‘jamming’.]
I used to live with this band so I know how they operate. They work like This Heat used to work. They sit around and talk and play, recording everything. Then the flautist and the bassist (Alia and Jonny) take home the recordings and write out new re-combinations of the different parts until they have a song. I’ve seen Jonny’s charts for this song, it took up some eight pages from a large size sketch pad.
[THE GIVEAWAY: immaculate voice leading, instruments functioning outside of their normal range, and Dagmar’s bizarre pan-tonic melody.]
After listening to “The World As It Is Today” every day for the last five years, I can safely assume that at least half of those songs came to life on the page. This song, from the first Art Bears album, “Hopes And Fears”, is a Brecht cover, but I picked it because it reminds me of Christmas.
MP3: Judee Sill – The Kiss
Judee Sill “The Kiss”
[THE GIVEAWAY: a low-yield verse, a high-yield chorus.]
Danger! Writing music on paper can make your songs unbalanced. Judee Sill’s songs have hairy middles and ends, parts that drag and parts that flash and disappear before you knew they were there. Listen to how much trouble she has parsing out her own melody on the chorus. “Once-a-crystal-cloud-appeared-while-I-was-sleeping” *gasp* “and-called-my-name”… It’s the most charming thing I’ve ever heard.
Louis Philippe “Sweet Dollar Bill”
[THE GIVEAWAY: perfection.]
It’s true. Something this beautiful can only be written on paper. This is the first pop song I ever sat down and charted out, but I’ve never been able to figure out how he so smoothly hops in and out of the chorus. It’s my favourite modulation in history.
[THE GIVEAWAY: score paper on her website.]
This is cheating a little bit, because I’m not sure if Kristin actually writes all her songs on paper. She could just as easily work at a MIDI sequencer. However, her new website has MIDI scores and a live performance of her new material.
The Dirty Projectors “Time Birthed Spilled Blood”
Bjork “Pneumonia”, which Bjork scored out entirely herself
All Laura Nyro, all songs by The Turtles?
Some Left Banke stuff but I don’t know if I really like that band
Feuermusik “Doppelspiel”, the scores were in the CD sleeve
Colin Blunstone “Caroline Goodbye”
Thanks for letting me write to you. It’s Boxing Day in Canada, which is code for “spend all your Christmas money, eat leftovers and play board games with your family.” I’m going to go get on that. Yours, Owen
Day 19: Owen Pallet aka Final Fantasy
Day 18: Dave Allen of Gang of Four
Day 17: Justin Rice of Bishop Allen
Day 16: MGMT
Day 15: Keith Murray of We Are Scientists
Day 14: Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk
Day 13: Danny Seim of Menomena
Day 12: Josh Grier of Tapes n Tapes
Day 11: Michael Nau of Page France
Day 10: Tullycraft
Day 9: Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond
Day 8: Holy Fuck
Day 7: Jay Underwood of the Light Footwork
Day 6: Matt Kretzman of Tapes n Tapes
Day 5: Jason Nesmith of Casper and the Cookies
Day 5: Matthew Pelham of the Features
Day 4: Keith Lowen of De Novo Dahl
Day 3: Fishboy
Day 2: David Crane of BOAT
Day 1: Scott Carney of Wax Fang
Day 1: Ivana XL
Mixmases from ’05 and ’06 below…
Mixmas 06 (MP3s removed)
Day 12: Keith Murray of We Are Scientists
Day 11: Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear
Day 10: Allan Vest of The Starlight Mints
Day 9: The Light Footwork
Day 8: Casper and the Cookies
Day 7: Sure Juror
Day 6: Ryan Allen of Thunderbirds Are Now!
Day 5: Michael Nau of Page France
Day 4: Greg from Oh No! Oh My!
Day 3: Tony Miller of Ideal Free Distribution
Day 2: Ivana XL
Day 1: Daniel of Oh No! Oh My!
Mixmas 05 (MP3s removed)
Day 13: Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal
Day 12: Keith Murray of We Are Scientists
Day 11: Justin Rice of Bishop Allen
Day 10: Becca from The Light Footwork
Day 9: Jay from The Light Footwork
Day 8: Christian Owens from Bishop Allen
Day 7: The Rinse
Day 6: Chris of Gorilla vs Bear
Day 5: Dodge from My Old Kentucky Blog
Day 4: Ryan Allen of Thunderbirds Are Now!
Day 3: John Vanderslice
Day 2: Tapes ‘n Tapes
Day 1: Dean from Secret Unicorns Forum