02.26.2009

Prospekt's March, Coldplay: First Impressions

Posted by AJ Harbison at 6:37 pm

Last week I finally got around to listening to Prospekt’s March, Coldplay‘s EP companion to Viva La Vida. The album is a set of songs that weren’t finished by the deadline for Viva, as well as the full version of “Life In Technicolor” (complete with lyrics), a remix of “Lovers In Japan” and a new version of “Lost!” featuring a rap by Jay-Z.

I’ve listened to it twice now on my iPod at night, both for the purpose of listening to it and for the purpose of calming my mind and trying to rid it of wedding planning thoughts so I could fall asleep. And it’s every bit as fascinating as Viva was on its first few listens. It’s even more experimental and out there as the full album, and just as full of energy, just as creative, and just as poignant. It runs the gamut from the quiet piano solo track “Postcards From Far Away” to the exuberant rock-out-ness of “Glass Of Water,” from the quiet, bare guitar-and-voice intro to the title track to only-strings and only-brass accompaniments in “Rainy Day” and “Now My Feet Won’t Touch The Ground.” The EP remains interested in the questions and issues of mortality, spawning another set of well-written and thought-provoking lyrics. In sum, it’s an excellent chaser to Viva La Vida.

Each of the songs is so interesting in and of itself, and so unique, that when I return from my honeymoon I’m planning another weeklong series so I can look at each of them individually. And in the meantime, check it out and take a listen!

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02.24.2009

Synesthesia: Seeing Sound

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:14 am

I found a news link on CNN.com last week about synesthesia, a mental disorder that mixes sensory experiences. The most common form and the easiest to diagnose is when someone hears music or sounds and simultaneously sees colors. The article’s opening paragraph says this: “When Julian Asher listens to an orchestra, he doesn’t just hear music; he also sees it. The sounds of a violin make him see a rich burgundy color, shiny and fluid like a red wine, while a cello’s music flows like honey in a golden yellow hue.”

“Seeing color in sounds has genetic link”

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of “Lolita,” famously had this condition, which the study in the article has linked to genetics. There have also been a number of famous composers who had the disorder, notably Franz Lizst, Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti, and (particularly) Alexander Scriabin. The linked Wikipedia article sheds doubt on the fact that Scriabin actually had the disorder, although he is known for associating colors with notes and keys. In his work Prometheus: The Poem Of Fire, composed in 1910, he actually wrote a part for a “color organ” which projected colors during the performance.

Since I was young, I’ve associated colors with keys as well (although I certainly don’t have synesthesia), but my associations are completely different from Scriabin’s. The Wikipedia article mentions a conversation between Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: “Both maintained that the key of D major was golden-brown; but Scriabin linked E-flat major with red-purple, while Rimsky-Korsakov favored blue.” These all sound foreign to my color sense. This is how I’ve always thought:

C major: yellow (the color of light)
D major and D minor: deep blue
E-flat major: orange
E major and E minor: orange
F major: green
G major: light blue
A-flat major: red
A major and A minor: red

(Obviously it’s an incomplete list. I’ve never taken the time or had the inclination to sit down and work out a system, the way Scriabin did; these are just the particular keys that have always struck me in particular ways.)

Thus you may see the connection in the bridal processional I wrote for my wedding, where C major represented purity and innocence and A major represented passion.

It’s certainly an interesting topic. Any readers out there with synesthesia that would care to weigh in?

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02.18.2009

Wedding Music, Part 4: All The Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:30 pm

It’s here–the last week leading up to the wedding! I’ve been rather busy (as you might imagine) so I haven’t had much time to post. But I’m going to try to write a few entries over the next few days and then schedule them through the next week and a half, so even while I’m away on my honeymoon you can still get your TLB fix.

I thought that I’d post today, for anyone who’s interested, the overview of all the music I’ve planned for the wedding. The first three wedding music posts can be found at the following links: Wedding Music, Part 1, Wedding Music, Part 2, and Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional.

For the ceremony, a member of our church community group agreed to play the piano for us–she has a master’s degree in performance so we were excited to bring her on board.

For the prelude, she’ll be playing a variety of classical music: some Bach, a little Debussy, etc.

There will be two hymns that the congregation will sing during the ceremony: “Be Thou My Vision” (careful; if you open that page a really crappy MIDI version of the hymn will start playing automatically) and a modern hymn, “In Christ Alone” (music starts automatically there too, but at least it’s a decent recording).

Then there’s the music I wrote, in three parts:

The processional: “Amazing Grace.” This is the song that all the bridesmaids and groomsmen will “process” to as they walk down the aisle. I wrote a flowing sixteenth-note pattern in D major (pretty cool, if I do say so myself) for the left hand and set a slightly altered version of the melody “Amazing Grace” over it. Then after a full verse of “Amazing Grace,” the left hand changes to portamento (i.e. slightly detached) single notes while the right hand plays an altered version of “In Christ Alone”–the two songs actually make for a pretty seamless medley, because they’re in the same meter (3/4) and have similar rhythmic patterns. After the last line of “Amazing Grace” returns to cap things off, there are four bars of anticipation while the piano plays around softly with a G major chord (the IV in D) and C-sharps, which create the feeling that something else has to come next. Then comes a hanging G major-add6-add7-add9 chord, the back doors of the church open to reveal the lovely bride, and the next piece begins:

The bridal processional: “Passion And Purity.” (See the Wedding Music, Part 2 post for details on this piece’s history.) The intro and outro of this piece are based loosely on the theme from the second movement of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, a piece that has a pretty fascinating history of its own. (If you happen to click on the audio sample from the Wikipedia article, please be advised that it does not contain the theme that my piece is based on.) It’s played in a simple, innocent-sounding setting in C major symbolizing purity. The main body of the piece is a setting of a simple melody I wrote a long, long time ago–the only musical connection in the wedding to anything else I’ve written. It begins in C major, but then transitions up to a more brilliant setting in A major (symbolizing, for me at least, passion), and includes a subtle quote of Bach’s piece “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” which is often used as a bridal processional itself. The conclusion of the piece, returning to the Górecki theme, remains in A major–suggesting a new kind of purity in the context of marriage.

The recessional: “With Joy.” (See the Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional post for details on this piece’s history.) This piece was the most fun to write and is the rocking piece in the set. It is also in A major, continuing the idea of passion–and what a passionate piece it is. It starts with a high triplet pattern I stole from a Michael Card song, “The Voice of the Child” (click on the song’s title under “Song Clip” to listen to it–the triplet pattern is at the beginning; if that link doesn’t work, click here and click the play button next to track 7). The pattern builds as the pastor says “I now present to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. AJ Harbison!” at which point I will give our pianist two quick conducting cue beats. On the downbeat, the triplet pattern shifts into overdrive (in sixteenths instead of triplets), and the left hand crashes down into low octaves à la “Baba O’Riley” as explained in the linked wedding music post above. It’s gonna be awesome. The middle section calms down a bit–I think it’s at that point that the pastor will invite everyone over to the reception–and is I think the only passage in all three pieces that is newly-written and not referencing something else. It’s mostly chordal and follows simple progressions built around the IV, V and vi chords. Then the high pattern/”Baba O’Riley” theme returns, in a slightly modified form that eventually dissipates up into the original triplet pattern, quiet and way up high. There’s a faint echo of the theme from “Passion And Purity”–tyin’ it all together–and then it ends on a high held A, and a low A octave as quiet as possible. I’m telling you, it’s gonna rock.

(I’ve joked to Eleanor that I could never publish the wedding suite, if I ever wanted to–there’s way too much plagiarism in it. I’d bankrupt us paying all the licensing fees. But at least it’ll be awesome on the day itself!)

Then comes the reception! We decided to hire Bonne Musique Zydeco to be our live band, and we can’t wait to dance the night away with them. My lovely bride and I will have our first dance to Derek Webb’s song “Better Than Wine,” she will dance with her father to “Up Around The Bend” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and I’ll dance with my mother to “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” James Taylor-style. All with dashes of zydeco thrown in to spice things up. We’ll eat, drink, dance and party; and then my bride and I will make our getaway and ride off into the sunset.

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02.15.2009

A Look At Coldplay In The Studio

Posted by AJ Harbison at 6:39 am

In the News section of Coldplay’s website, they have a blog written anonymously by “Roadie #42″ with updates from tours and time in the studio. The latest post is an interesting look inside their latest stint in the recording studio with Brian Eno. Even if you’re not particularly interested in Coldplay, the blog post is cool because it explains part of the role of a producer in the making of an album (which not too many people understand), and it’s fascinating to be brought into the band’s creative process. It’s well-written too; my favorite passage: “One of my favourite tracks from these sessions comes from a drum loop [drummer Will Champion] brings into the studio early on. It’s like the backing track from Lost! has been struck down with a very heavy fever and has taken off on safari through a surrealist painting.” Check it out!

“Roadie #42 – Blog #66 (#42 is our mole in the studio)”

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02.13.2009

TLB Returns… With A Vengeance

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:38 pm

Forgive me, dear readers–it’s been now nearly ten days since my last post. I’ve been busy, between planning the final details for the wedding, trying to unpack a new apartment and actually trying to see my fiancée every once in a while in the middle of it all. But I have returned! And even though there’s only one week left until the wedding (!!), I will try to be better about posting more consistently.

Just a short post this evening; I want to tell you about a few new outlets that I’ve recently hooked TLB up to. The ones you already know:

- This site – http://www.thelisteningblog.com.

- RSS feed – http://www.thelisteningblog.com/feeds/posts/default.

- Twitter – http://twitter.com/listeningblog.

The new ones:

- LinkedIn: I’ve had a profile on LinkedIn for a while, but this week when I was there I noticed a new application called Blog Link which connects to your blog and posts snippets of your entries on your profile. http://www.linkedin.com/in/ajharbison.

- Facebook: I’ve also had a Facebook profile for a while, but I’ve recently switched over the Notes importer from my old Matrix blog to TLB–so now my TLB posts show up on Facebook as Notes. AJ’s Notes on Facebook.

So there you go–two brand-new ways to connect to your favorite listening blog. And I promise I’ll give you a real post in a day or two. Stay tuned–keep on listening!

P.S. For those of you who may be interested in learning more about Twitter, or reading a good take on it, I found this article today on the New York Times website, by David Pogue, who is a terrific tech writer. Check it out, if you’d like: “Twitter? It’s what you make it”

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02.05.2009

"As Slow As Possible," John Cage

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:29 am

While looking at some websites about John Cage for my last post, I came across this interesting one. In addition to his famous controversial pieces like 4’33″, he apparently also wrote a piece called “As Slow As Possible.” One current performance, which began in 2001, is scheduled to finish (after being performed very quickly) in 2640, a mere 639 years in duration. Allegedly more than 100 people showed up two and a half years ago to hear the chord in the piece change. The article is from May 2006, but I assume that the performance is still going on.

“John Cage’s Long Music Composition in Germany Changes a Note”

It’s a shame that avant-garde music like this doesn’t make much money. Anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence could be a millionaire!

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02.03.2009

"Life In Technicolor," Viva La Vida, Coldplay

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:00 am

In my car this past week I’ve been listening again to Viva La Vida, and it never fails to be awesome. I’ve been impressed recently with “Life In Technicolor,” the first track. It’s instrumental, so there are no lyrics and only a brief appearance by the vocals. But it’s an example of perfectly crafted “unfolding” (a term, I believe, used by John Cage in some of his lectures–a professor at CSUF introduced me to the concept). I’ve written before that musical form is the balance of repetition and contrast, and “Life In Technicolor” is an excellent example.

After the initial fade-in of the electronics and a few times through their progression, a hammered dulcimer begins the main riff of the song by itself. Then the song continually builds, gradually adding instruments and slowly morphing the chord progressions, all the while having way too much fun. The balance of continuity and repetition with new, evolving, unfolding material is pitch-perfect–which is hard to achieve in a pop song. Since most pop songs have simple progressions and standard instrumentation, an instrumental pop song without vocals can get boring very quickly. But even though “Life In Technicolor” still uses only standard pop chords (I, IV, V and vi, for those keeping score at home), it mixes up the instrumentation a little and manages to sustain interest by keeping that perfect balance. It builds to an exciting climax and then quickly falls and blends seamlessly into the next track, “Cemeteries Of London” (which I just now realize is incorrectly labeled “Cemeteries In London” in the title of the linked post… darn it).

You can listen to “Life In Technicolor” here, courtesy of Last.fm: click on the black play button in the player on the right side of the page.

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