02.27.2010

The third track on Prospekt’s March, my personal favorite, is “Glass of Water.” The lyrics deal with living a full, satisfying life, continuing the themes of life, death and living well. The opening texture of the song through the first two verses is pretty sparse: thin electric guitars, chill drums and thin bass. But the rock-awesome chorus is what sets this song apart even from Coldplay’s standardly excellent modus operandi. It’s in 7/4 time (reminiscent of the rocking chorus of “Death And All His Friends” from Viva La Vida), with full, beefy electric guitars and bass, high electronics, and lots of cymbals. There’s a high sparkly sound effect in the middle of the chorus (on the word “cling”) which is subtle but adds to the huge feeling of the chorus. At the end of the chorus, the music goes back to straight 4/4 time for one measure, then keeps the listener thrown off with a syncopated bar of 4/4. You can hear the straight 4/4 by listening for the snare drum on beats two and four, right before the lyrics “going nowhere fast” (which happen over the syncopation).

The piano interlude after the second chorus confused me for the longest time, because I couldn’t figure out whether the piano arpeggios were triplets (three notes to one beat) or sixteenth notes (four notes to one beat), no matter how hard I listened. But finally, I figured it out, and the reason it’s so difficult to hear is that it alternates between triplets (three notes going up then three notes going down) and sixteenth notes (four notes going up then four notes going down). You have to listen closely, but I’m almost positive that’s what’s happening. In a song called “Glass of Water,” it creates a cool blurred rippling effect that’s very clever and leads into the final chorus, which is instrumental without vocals. My only disappointment in this song is that there isn’t a cooler guitar solo over the instrumental chorus; the song as it is features an electric guitar simply repeating a high F-sharp and A (the third and fifth of the tonic chord D major).

The end of the song consists of a solo piano, voice and quiet electronics, bringing to a close the coolest song on the album and bringing the energy level back down before launching into the second coolest song on the album….

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02.25.2010

In an interesting twist for a mainstream pop music album, the second track of Prospekt’s March is a piano solo. Clocking in at 47 seconds, “Postcards From Far Away” was written by frontman Chris Martin between recording sessions for Viva La Vida. While the piano style isn’t foreign to modern pop piano playing–alternating notes in the right hand, and a simple “oom-pah” accompaniment in the left hand–the chord progressions are reminiscent of the early Romantic period, and the whole piece sounds almost Schubert-esque. It ends, after a long drawn-out Gsus chord, on a G major chord–or rather just a B-natural, suggesting G major, after a piece in B-flat major (in which G would usually be minor); it creates a Picardy third-type effect. Another unique song on a unique album that continues to portend even better things to come.

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02.23.2010

The first track on Prospekt’s March, “Life In Technicolor II,” is the full version of “Life In Technicolor,” the first track on Viva La Vida. It’s the same song, but minus the opening electronics, extended, and with lyrics, unlike the instrumental first version. It still retains the same compositionally excellent unfolding structure that I wrote about last February: the perfect, gradually additive balance of repetition and contrast. One interesting thing to note is that the dark, bracing lyrics (“Oh baby, it’s a violent world”) contrast over against the happy, carefree style of the music. And it’s also in this song that the lyrical phrase “Now my feet won’t touch the ground” is introduced on this album. Taking Prospekt’s March as an extension of Viva La Vida, the first occurrence of the phrase is found in “Strawberry Swing,” the penultimate track of the first record; and by virtue of its appearance in “Life In Technicolor II” and as the title of the last track of the second, it becomes almost a theme–again one that deals with mortality, in this case picturing death as freedom. That theme, and the fresh, original sound of the music, set the stage for the rest of the album to come.

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02.22.2010

Prospekt’s March, Coldplay

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:37 pm

A looooong, long time ago, one year ago to be precise, I promised that I would write a series of posts on each track of Coldplay‘s EP companion to Viva La Vida, Prospekt’s March. Since then I’ve been distracted by many things and I’ve kept putting it off, but in honor of it being a whole year since I originally said I’d do it, I’ve finally gotten around to it. So prepare yourselves for a series of posts on one of the most original EPs I’ve ever heard. Tune in tomorrow for the first entry!

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02.14.2010

“Spies,” Parachutes, Coldplay

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:21 pm

I was listening to Coldplay‘s first CD, Parachutes, in my car this week. Released in 2000, it’s not up to the high bar set by the albums that followed, but it’s still a good listen and I enjoy hearing where my now-favorite band started out. I was struck by a particular chord in the song “Spies,” which is track 3; I have no idea what the song is talking about but I like it nonetheless.

I always appreciate it when songs evolve, when they end up somewhere different than where they started, particularly lyrically. As I’ve written about before (see the fifth paragraph in the linked post), I learned in my composition studies that it’s bad form to write something in a song that’s an exact repeat of what’s happened before, since you’ve already heard it and it tends to diminish any momentum that the song has. This is a particular danger for pop songs, because they tend to have a chorus that comes back and repeats itself. We need the repetition in order to create a coherent form to the piece (as I’ve also written about; last paragraph in that one), but the repetition should be balanced with contrast so you’re not hearing the exact same thing twice. In light of that, I appreciate songs and particularly choruses that evolve, so that (for example) the final chorus has words that are slightly changed, to reflect the progress on the journey that the song has taken us on; see, for examples, my songs “The Aisle”, where the last chorus is altered, or “Flame,” which doesn’t have a chorus but rather a single line that’s repeated after each verse, which is changed the last time around.

Coldplay’s song “Spies” goes through this change as well. The first two times, the chorus goes like this:

“And the spies came out of the water
But you’re feeling so bad ’cause you know
That the spies hide out in every corner
But you can’t touch them no
‘Cause they’re all spies
They’re all spies”

The final time, however, there’s a change:

“And the spies came out of the water
But you’re feeling so good ’cause you know
That those spies hide out in every corner
They can’t touch you, no
‘Cause they’re just spies”

And in typical brilliant Coldplay fashion, the band musically highlights the lyrical change from “feeling so bad” to “feeling so good.” The first two times through the chorus, the chord at the end of the second line is G-sharp minor (the G-sharp comes on the word “know”), which is the minor v chord in the song’s key of C-sharp minor. But the last time, the chords on the first and second lines are slightly changed–slightly enough that you only catch the difference if you’re listening carefully–but those slight changes set up the surprise change of the G-sharp minor chord to an F-sharp major, the major IV chord in C-sharp minor. This is a completely different chord than the G-sharp minor, and it serves to create a completely different, brighter feel to the line–which corresponds to and highlights the change from “feeling so bad” (minor chord) to “feeling so good” (unusual major chord).

You can hear the song “Spies” in its entirety, courtesy of our good friend Last.fm, here.

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02.10.2010

The Matrix Score, Don Davis

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:08 pm

A little while ago, my lovely wife and I made a movie-watching deal with each other. She wants me to watch the 6 hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice; I’m not opposed to watching it, but since it’s such a feat I thought I’d make a deal out of it. So the deal is that I’d watch Pride and Prejudice with her if she would watch the Matrix trilogy with me. (She had seen the first one and parts of the second one before.) Last week we watched the original Matrix film to start off the deal.

I was reminded why The Matrix is my favorite movie of all time. Great story, brilliant symbolism, great casting/performances, innovative special effects, killer action scenes, trenchcoats and sunglasses. And a stunning score. The composer is Don Davis, who scored all three Matrix movies and The Animatrix, but otherwise nothing too significant. After listening to the score again, though, I’m not sure why. The score is just as brilliant and innovative as the rest of the film, and is a perfect counterpart.

The main motif of the movie, which most people would immediately associate with the Matrix score, is swelling brass chords in alternating octaves. You can hear them in the opening moments of the movie, over the Warner Bros. and Village Pictures logos, and throughout the movie, usually at points where something particularly unbelievable has happened in the Matrix (Trinity’s leap between two buildings in the opening sequence, for example). On the Amazon product page you can hear them in track 8, “Bullet-Time;” if you watch the movie, listen for them as a recurring motif throughout.

The score also makes effective use of a wordless choir to evoke the otherworldliness and horror of the human fields (which you can hear in track 3, “The Power Plant”). The choir enters in very close intervals, creating clusters of notes that grow with the addition of brass clusters and other elements to create a big dissonant soundscape that corresponds with the emotions that the visuals create. Another effective use of vocals in the score is the wordless boy soprano, who sings a simple alternating melody over the montage of Neo’s awakening in the real world and being restored to health. In a similar manner as the choir, the wordless voice creates an otherworldly effect that corresponds to the literal other world that Neo is experiencing.

If you haven’t seen The Matrix in a while, or if you’ve never seen it, give it a watch and let me know what you think. Were there any other aspects of the score that you noticed, liked, or disliked? What stood out to you?

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02.05.2010

Check out this video–Bobby McFerrin demonstrating the pentatonic scale with audience participation. Interesting and very cool. (HT to @joshthemoore on Twitter)

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

For the full World Science Festival video, check out http://vimeo.com/5732745.

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