Allusions of Music

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In this essay I will try to talk about two things. The first is that feeling which music evokes in our minds and hearts. The second is how to write about it, and accordingly, as I wrote about it. I have accumulated a lot of ideas, among them there are also good ideas.

Submitted: July 25, 2017

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Submitted: July 25, 2017



In this essay I will try to talk about two things. The first is that feelings which music evokes in our minds and hearts. The second is how to write about it, and accordingly, as I wrote about it. I have accumulated a lot of ideas, among them there are also good ideas. When I wanted to write about musicians, first of all, I was looking for different ideas in fiction, created before me. Someone will say—the idea is not new. Although there are numerous sources written on this topic for a long time (for example, about harpists in Ancient Greece, or individual pianists that appear in Dostoevsky’s Russian literature), and in modern times (for example, punk culture in the United States), the theme of my book still has a unique approach.

I did the most difficult thing I’ve never done before—I’m trying to describe the philosophy of the sounds themselves, such as allusions in sound. Of course, I was not a pioneer here. For example, some Chinese authors have succeeded in this more than me. Consequently, this essay will be devoted to some little—popular topics; you unlikely find the description about it in other places. At once, I will say that basically, I will not talk about classical music. I found some charm in modern directions, and I think that in some cases modern music wins. There are pros and cons of classical music and modern music. If you want to talk about what is best, is a matter of your taste. There is not any objective criteria.

First of all, I noticed that there are songs with non-standard sound, or bands that play somehow unconventional. A vivid example is Rammstein’s Rosenrot. In this song we hear a bass with an overdrive, which is set up sharply, sounds like an electric shaver. The first few seconds we do not hear a word at all, but as soon as we hear this bass, we get the tough mood of the song itself. I believe that music rich in such sound combinations is a real contemporary art. And the standardized rhythms of various dance and rap projects are something commercial, superficial and standard. However, I not enemy of high-quality rap. Still, right now I’m not say about it. I’m will return to this topic later.

In another Rammstein—Benzin we hear the guitar on clear sound, along with the keys, which even sound like drops. This is definitely a good combination. The point is that I sometimes use classical terminology to modern music. Every time, when sound gets louder (it does not matter by using of what technical decisions) I call it crescendo. Although this classification is not normally used for modern music. So, in the beat of the song Benzin during the crescendo we hear the other keys. Although in fact the keyboard player plays using the organ sounds, it’s very much like the car horn. In the last crescendo we hear already other sounds, more reminiscent of the clash and a clang of metal. You can recall Rammstein—Du riechst so gut. They took exactly one note of the guitar, recorded it for the sampler, and their piano player mixed it using own keys. I heard a lot of comments, something like the fact that an industrial press was recorded for this song, but a separate guitar note sounds. This kind of musical magic is quite possible in real life, and for this it is not necessary to read fantasy.

Next, I can mention such a bass player as Fieldy from Korn. In my opinion, his bass guitar technique is unique in the style of heavy music. He always plays standard bass passages with a constantly repeated slap. This creates the illusion of the presence of a second drummer in the mix, as if the same drummer uses two bass drums at the same time. I would call it a sound that looks like a paper clip. Many in general like the group Korn due to this manner of play. But I be want to mentioned a certain song: Korn—Blind. The song begins with what we hear only by the drummer’s ride, alternating with one guitar riff. It creates a kind of frightening atmosphere, as if something is going to happen. The same atmosphere also have a guitar composition of Korn—Freak on a Leash. The truth is with one difference: the song starts from the bass (but the main crescendo is yet to come).

A curious soundtrack of Painkiller computer game, where almost every track though is not a new idea (similar to Korn’s sound), rather a reasonable combination of what has already been invented. But it is almost filled with all sorts of meanings, which are clear even without words. For example, in Catacombs Fight we hear the sound of the wind. In Cemetery Fight we hear the two guitars. You can agree that music can express a certain meaning without words. One guitar symbolizes the sound of violence, and the other guitar—the sound of the pain. The third example is Bridge Fight. The sound of scratch that sounds there sometimes you want to associate with flying heads, because in this computer shooter we kill a lot.

Also, there are bands with such an indescribable sound that you can only heard it. About it can’t be told with any words. Depeche Mode is just such an example. We hear something fantastic, computerized. Can this be called the sound of robots? Theoretically, yes. In real life, the robots exist. But what kind of sounds do they produce? Depeche Mode created their sound based on the changed sound of printers, copiers, possibly, quite material objects. But their sound at different times also depended heavily on the arpeggiators used in keyboard instruments. Have you ever know anything about the features of keyboard instruments, the technique of the game itself, the theoretical models of music? It is almost impossible to understand why they sound this way, if you answer is “no.”

You can compare with Korn, Rammstein or the soundtrack from the game Painkiller. These techniques can easily be read by an external person who knows practically nothing about music itself, can not play the guitar. For example, a music critic who can notice this and guarantee a positive review to an album. There are a lot of good music, which is based on receptions about which even musicians themselves argue, and these techniques do not have such easy associations for the listener. But judging by how Depeche Mode is become popular, we can say that philosophy in music might also be for sale in comparison with an easily recognizable sound. By the way, one of the first comparisons in the sound of a guitar, which someone noticed at all—is a guitar and a motorcycle.

I am not enemy of such bands as AC / DC and many others who use in their work the allusion with the sounds of motors (mostly motorcycles), at the same time I consider this a symbol of the seventies. In other words, it is an old and not a new symbol. The music with other allusions is a priority of our generation. All I say you need to remember. If you want to describe music, just try to imagine what associations you have with the sound itself, outside the context of words. But I warn you. Not all musical styles in general are based on any allusions with real objects.

For example, such styles as Trance, Drum and Bass. Finding their allusions and some musical meaning is a bit pointless. It is music for nightclubs, dances, and its only requirement is a direct, clear and constant rhythm. Permanent—because it is suitable for any kind of dance. It’s not a secret that you can dance for jazz. But jazz music is restricted your style, because you need to know where to slow down, where to accelerate. As you can comparison jazz with dance music, you can choose the style of dancing. Regardless of whether you dance fast or slow, what is your manner. You can accelerate, slow down in any piece of dance tracks, and during playing dancing music it will seem that you are very skillfully dancing. You need to be a professional, if you want to dance during jazz. And you must make more if you want to study opera ballet.

These dance music styles created for nightclubs can be comparison with amateur guitarists against some professional guitarist (even one instrument). These are dances for ordinary people, without any choreography. And sometimes there is music without any allusions, at the same time with a serious text orientation. Many rap songs do not contain any special musical ideas, however they can have serious lyrics than music oriented to sound allusions. Compare what Eminem says in his tracks and the lyrics of the song Rammstein—Rammlied, for example.

So, the main direction of my criticism became clear for you.

The matter is that having chosen this direction, I faced several other problems when creating my book. This lack of prosaic, literary experience. It’s not enough to just orient yourself very well in music—you need to know how you write, represented your ideas, and this is also a skill. Many people can say “Hello,” “Hi,” “Bye,” “What’s up?” etc. But try to say the idea using such vocabulary “a cloud of dust dropped on the ground, thrown out by some gray mist.” Another thing is to write about real musicians and existing projects easier than to come up with a musical philosophy for new characters. You can create the character that will be very similar to the Fieldy’s bass guitar technique, in other words, describe his playing style, but call him another person.

If you want to come up with a fictitious bass player, so that never one heard about him or her, and but even believed in this description (by starting to describe an unfamiliar topic, you might mess by a certain details, because you do not know how to play), you have to be the bass player yourself. You have to listen to a hundred other bass players, constantly train on this instrument, and come up with something that only you have discovered. And no one else can do this.

In 2013, my book got into a slightly awkward situation. Someone who does not have literary experience in the field of metaphorical description (an obligatory point for musical philosophy, the vocabulary may simply not suffice for this idea). For me, the native language is Russian, not English, although I also encountered this problem in Russian. I just did not know how to say or express a thought better. How to think up some virtuoso musician, so that his description was theoretically worked out (did not contain mistakes in the field of various techniques), at the same time describe it using good literary vocabulary.

I had two or three ways of creating this musical philosophy. I wrote something like “we heard a bass guitar in low tones, which symbolizes a certain chocolate mood.” First mistake: how is this described fictional track different from most others? Far from always we hear music based on allusions with some kind of non-musical sounds. Bass is often added just for filling, because it should be there. And it rarely has the same value as Fieldy’s bass of Korn or other very professional musicians.

Second mistake: try to find the allusion in each track is not very correct idea. Music appear is not only with special musical solutions (Korn, Rammstein or Painkiller’s soundtrack), but which is simply standardized. A solo guitarist can play, a keyboard player can be connected, we can hear a bass. But we do not find any allusions with anything here. Musicians can play by the principle of “add some bass, add some keys, add some solo guitar. We hear a sound, it’s already standard” (regardless of whether there is anything else besides the music).

The music of only very professional bands are distinguished by mentioned qualities and allusions.

If you listen to Lady Gaga, Nicky Minaj are an emphasis on dancing. This is music for dancing, not full-fledged music. Here the direct rhythm is important, everything else is not important. You can also compare what Eminem reads and puts in the meaning of his songs with Rammstein—Benzin. One performer has strongly developing his or her texts, but is unlikely to develop music, and the other is unlikely to write lyrics of songs with subtexts.

The first kind of narration I described above. The second type—the mention of all sorts techniques. In electronic music, there are scratches, a change in the speed of the tempo (I’m use common words due to I know perfectly how it called in Russian, I’m not sure how it is called in English), different LOW and HIGH filters. My fiction musician’s style is electronic and apparently at the junction of rap. This is not too typical music.

I did write something like:
“He did a scratch about 60 degrees.”
“He slowly and smoothly made a scratch, as if preparing us for something grandiose.”
“He was doing the scratch too fast, achieving a pulsating effect.”

My literary style was simpler, but something like this.

I tried to describe the rehearsal, the live DJ work and so on. But for some time, I noticed a certain tendency. The number of receptions that I wrote about was small and often repeated. The scratches were mentioned too often. I thought I had too many repetitions. After that, I began to learn about other tricks. I had added HIGH and LOW filters; I tried to think of where there should be a slowdown. Not bad, the minuses is still remained. These are very short paragraphs (2-3 sentences), for example. Then in the second book, when I made a sequel, I began to call the tricks, as well as I achieved a more or less literary description. Here and there were layers of the old style (not the best), but these are single exceptions. Anyway, all the mistakes can not be fixed.

The most strange idea was to abandon the characters, relationships, plot and other things. Although the book is of little interest to anyone, if it consists only of musical descriptions. I had descriptions of naive rehearsals. For example, my character been invited by some people to play for 5 hours, they want promotional songs about their own company (advantages, why it is necessary to cooperate with them). And my character does not sing together with the DJ (who can play 10 hours), but together with the rock band. The first mistake. The rock band does not play that much, they’ll get tired faster. It was assumed that they do not have any musical material, and they must improvise. The second mistake. This can’t be make the good product. In real music, it will lead to disappointment of the listener. The third mistake. The vocalist has no lyrics, and she must experiment with improvised verses.

You can make any text that describes musicians. But perhaps it does not match with real rehearsals. I was in situation of the characters two times (just a couple of years after the end of my story). I improvised many times using keyboard (usually, successfully) and using guitar (as a rule, less successfully). As a result, for four hours I played the same pentatonic through Skype.

As the author of poetry, which is written on the fly (without any script)—when I synchronously translated some American songs into Russian for some my friends. I can hear the refrain for the first time, at the beginning I translate it literally and improve (until the appearance of poetry in Russian translation) after the third verse. To do this, I need to hear the verse, do not translate it right away, think a little, and when it will be repeats a second or third time, I can translate it into Russian lyric. Miracles do not happen here. You can’t begin to say something using impromptu and then to finish this by poem.

About improvisation—I saw one Russian rapper on local television, when I was 10-11 years old. He allegedly can say lyrics impromptu, although it’s even no secret that television producers often use the script. Another example: he really impromptu, but he knew where he works. He could have a set of words that are consonances that he prepared before the program, and only a part of the fragments of his verse were said by impromptu during the filming. Therefore, if you see any fact about music from a TV shows, it is by no means guaranteed that it corresponds to the truth. Better try to ask those who wrote poetry and know something about it.

Of course, the two methods of narrating about musicians described above are not the only ones. I also added elements of such literary style as Steam Punk. Usually, this is a story about hackers, programmers. In the center of our attention—the text on the computer screen, computer failures, replacement of components. I thought that modern musicians are very connected with computers. You can describe the advantage of a more expensive audio card compared to a cheaper, with worse signal-to-noise performance in your text.

Usually, musicians of heavy styles (Rammstein, Korn) tend to better equipment. But for such styles as Funk, Blues, Jazz the solo guitarist will not find a difference. This is a budget issue. In heavy styles due to noise you can not play slowly.

There is another fourth way to write about musicians. This is very common. These are stories about rock towns, drug addicts or bikers, social contradictions. These are external topics. They have nothing to do with the sound of music. At the same time, they most often attract the attention of the public and the media. You can analyze the reasons very long. Sometimes it seems to me that people are just tired of the monotonous life. People take loans and go to unloved jobs in order to pay off. But look at them—they are musicians. They are addicts, they have bad habits. They live more festively and more cheerfully than we, but they are worse than us. Because they are less healthy than we are. A person is inclined to blame others. You can blame someone else, and then feel that you have become easier.

I love music. I would completely abandon watching any kind of movies, although I would never have desire to refuse from music. But looking at individual musicians, strange thoughts appear in my mind. They can only be associated with stereotyped talk shows. I sometimes think that musicians are comical people. They come to the show, they discuss their husbands or wives, they spend a huge amount of time and money not on the tour equipment or expensive sound engineers, but rather on expensive photo sessions, they provoke all sorts of scandals, if they understand that they are more often quoted by sleaze magazines. Do these musicians make sense? Should I call them musicians or clowns? I’m probably too interested about the Russian third-rate musicians. First-rate musicians are in endless tours. But other people who have lost their voice, who are in a creative crisis, go to the show for housewives. I have no other explanation for this behavior.

One guy from my good friends pointed out this aspect. If the singer is not a man, but a woman, they are more often valued for appearance and sexuality, and sometimes they leave music for the sake of a fashion business. He blames this sexual revolution of the sixties and recent history. I think the problem is deeper than we think. When during the tenth and fourteenth centuries the vocal was in church choirs—the performer’s appearance was not important. As soon as the vocals became sing in the opera houses, secular music appears—the performance of music becomes subordinate to theatrical traditions and appearance plays a primary role. In my opinion, the theater is more to blame for the stereotypical perception of female performers than the sexual revolution.

When I created a character for my book, I tried to take into account my interests, and at the same time I make it so that outside audience can read this work. I showed the wires, audio cards and added the elements of Steam Punk. I cut out the musical philosophy—it’s easier for me to judge ready-made music than to invent a philosophy for completely fictional music. In addition, it seemed to me that the musical philosophy is somewhat distracting from the song lyrics. Effects, toggle switches, mixers—I included this in the text. I made a little big bet on the lyrics, like in rap. It is assumed that the words are no less important than the sound allusions in a particular song. I created a character, added a history of relationships. I tried to write so that dialogues and monologues did not irritate people who usually not watching talk shows about celebrities.

For example:
“If you do not like scandals, why did you mention your divorce?” asked the journalist.
“Because I was uncomfortable to see what some journalists write about my name. At least once I have the right to say this. And then scandal have been raised by not me, by people who screams about it constantly and increase own rating. A certain people.”
I think that many will support the point of view of my character. Everyone should have the right to speak. At least once. But to come for such interviews a second, third time—why? There is nothing more to do.

If you want to write about music, you should be interested in music. You need to live with it. If you want to create your own fictional music group, possibility listening to a lot of music will not help you. You probably need a good knowledge of the history of one group. I watched a lot of concerts of Rammstein, Korn, Linkin Park and some other Russian musicians, whose names unlikely can reminded something to you.

I noticed how the live sound engineers of these projects changed. How long time ago LP starts with a dirty sound, what mistakes the guitarist made in the beginning, I saw how they interrupted the performance of the song in half part. It was in the distant 2000-2001. But it is from these situations that your point of reference for your fictional musical stories develops. Not musical talk shows, not Billboard’s ratings, not numerous of articles by other music critics. In most cases, it will not help you. Yes, you may need some magazines articles, but no more. What kind of hotel do musicians require? What kind of cuisine? But by 70-80% of writing such chapters help musicians and their creativity, but not external sources. You only need to listen carefully to the musicians, and I will discuss this topic.

First of all, let’s digress from LP and remember a band like Green Day. At first glance: a vocalist with a controversial biography; concerts with too dirty sound, more like a school band; uncomplicated riffs and the complete absence of any allusions. Why do others like them? But I understood something by the example of their last album of 2013. I took their tracks, opened them in the audio editor and increased the compressor’s threshold. This is often done on radio stations. I understood something about the dynamics, which I had never guessed before. The increase in compression has both its pluses and its disadvantages. A disadvantage: we can not distinguish quiet parties from crescendo. But there is also a plus: we are beginning to hear the drummer and his or her room with crash, rides and so on. We hear even the reflection from the whole drum set as a whole. This is provided, if the drums are real in the mix. If not, at best it will become much louder, or all sound reflections will be the same and not so interesting.

Even if a band does not have anything interesting at all, I’m interested to hear them at least because of the real drums. The vocalist can write the trashy lyrics, the guitarist can play the simple riffs, but the drummer can work good. And now, for a second, imagine. Take some music hit, for example Rammstein—Benzin. What do you think, what is the role of the sound engineer of the band? When I listened to Green Day with the sound of raised drums and comparise with the default mix, I understood everything. If the volume is too loud, we just do not distinguish the crescendo from quiet parties. And secondly, if the crashes and rides of drums are at the top, when we'll listen to Benzin, we’ll skip the guitar, which there in the beginning depicts a splash.

You can imagine. You are listening to a song. Any. Literally, to you falls down everything that has been thought up in music for the last 50 years. In the track there is a real drummer, we clearly hear all his or her sound reflections. In the track there are several good accords of the guitar, besides the guitars are recorded noisily with reverberation, as if it is a concert, and the song is so famous that it is clearly not played for the first time. But who from us will listen it? The album is worth doing dosed and not try to copy the concerts.

I analyzed the variations of perform the songs. For example, we have such a song Proklyaty stary dom (The damned old house) performed by Korol i shut (The King and Jester). The composition is dedicated to a lonely old man. He did not go out the house for a long time, and some people began to doubt whether he is still alive. Then his house was sealed. In the original composition there are no keys at all. When together with keyboardist Pavel Sazonov they added a few keys, their song only won. The notes become in unison of voices and guitars, thereby even making this song more terrible. We seem to hear knocking from the window of this grandfather.

There are so many songs that are played at concerts better than their versions recorded in the studio. You can compare Linkin Park—No more sorrow between the studio and the live version. In the studio version we hear a guitar processor, the sound of which resembles some sort of wind instrument. At the concert—a standard dirty sound of the (guitar) cabinet. There is such a feeling, as if splinters right now pierce our hands (or other place on the body). Or—we get rid of splinters.

I will not forget to mention Michael Jackson. Most of his songs represent a simple structure, they are sentimental and have a dancing style. But Earth Song is something other than just a song. At the same time there is no solo guitar in the song. We hear the descending bass guitar notes that sound instead of the left hand of keyboard player. The descending sequence sound like a sad look, as if we lower our brows when we regret about something. We hear a sequence of notes, but they are so connected with the visual picture. I understand when I listen to good music, if I imagine the pictures. But the show itself on stage. A large number beats of bass drum, simulating the sound of a tank. I heard a lot of breaks (drum term) and their variations. In the context of drums, break is a crescendo or increasing power of drum, when the drummer ends the melody. Usually, in addition to kick drums, other drums are used. We hear the break only with the kicks. But, perhaps, it is the most exciting and terrible (drum) break in the history of pop music.


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