Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Big Robot, Little Robot -- in depth, part 4


Okay, I gotta be open and frank about this: I LOVE Rusty. She has always been my favourite character on Little Robots, and one of the TV characters I love watching the most. So, yeah. Rusty is a cute robot with her body shaped like a red dress (sort of like Lisa Simpson, but nifty) and who wears a funnel as a hat. Her appearance hints that she's an old and possibly obsolete model, since, like her name indicates, she looks sort of battered, and she overheats when under pressure -- i.e. often. Her jumpy and impulsive attitude often sends her into fits of near panic, and she blows steam off her head -- and in at least one occasion, only didn't overheat because Tiny fixed her up on time. This is not her most interesting aspect, though, in my opinion: her personality is somewhat frail, but always smart and full of good intent. She tries to be helpful whenever she can. She also likes decorating her house with items gathered from the junkyard, and has a crush on Sporty.

And my bias kicked in when I decided to focus Rusty's song not on her steam blowing attitude, but on her sweeter side instead. In fact, the song would focus on her "comic relief" side a bit more, but I don't think the result would have been as good. See, Rusty would have started right off the heels of Stripy, with the chimes modulating from A major down to G major, without the complete fade out of the other instruments, and it would lead directly into the piano and synths part. It would have been sort of a post rock tour de force, which would eventually break up the grandiose finale with an upbeat, boppy, long-winded synthesizer solo in A major with a steady, mechanical beat.

Things changed when, eventually, this waltz melody grew in my brain. I swear to goodness, I don't know where that came from. I think I was mentally fiddling with silly ideas and other things, and then I started to create this cute little thing. And I even wondered I was only unconsciously copying from some place else. But I guess I wasn't. I was out on the street when that happened, and I realised the little waltz would be PERFECT for Rusty. So, I had the idea to stick it in the beginning, kicking in from the chimes, and then leading into the "ballad" part. I didn't know if it would sound good or not, but in fact, I got quite satisfied with the result. It's a really, really simple thing: just your usual "rrum-pah-pah" rhythm accented initially by a piano, and with the main melody on flute. Later on, a brass band joins in, and the melody is taken over by a pair of oboes an a pair of clarinets, as well as an acoustic bass. I think what makes it works is the damn unexpectedness of it. A WALTZ? And it's not even a classical, Strauss-like waltz -- it's downright fairground-like! It's childlike, and naïve, JUST like the character I was representing. It was the right idea to present something different, unusual, and endearing.

The rest of the song would follow, with the usual Stripy-like piano and guitar this time used with a thick layer of synthetic pads and a melody for oboe. The twist into the part with the loud guitar is simply me being a Mogwai fanboy. I realised those dynamic twists were a quite cool way of creating tension in a way to grab attention in a sweet, but not corny way. I didn't want melodrama: I wanted a sort of "LISTEN TO ME, please" plead. I didn't really change the instrumentation too radically to achieve that: I just added the distorted guitar, changed the guitars from picking into strumming, and put banging chords on the piano. Presto: instant climax!... in fact, that piece sounds maybe a little more Sigur Rós-like than Mogwai-like. The oboe has a bit of Jón Þor Birgisson to it, now that I think of it. Well, both bands are wonderful. Maybe I was drinking from Sigur Rós's fountain thinking it was Mogwai's, but then, who cares?

Eventually, I decided to ditch the "boppy" part of the song. Partly because I felt the song was getting too long, and the solo bit would be too short and ineffective. And also because I thought the waltz worked so well, it would be a waste to use it only once. So, reprised it, using the same electric bass sound used previously, and adding a string ensemble playing staccato chords along. I really like that bit. And I think the waltz adds a necessary air of spontaneity and imagination to the piece, because to be quite frank, the middle portion was an absolutely "constructed" affair. THAT one was really a matter of fitting the right notes to the right chords -- right down to modulating from D major to E major with a weird twist of F major, right down to the key signatures and to the melody lines, and only the chord changes in the finale were chosen a little bit arbitrarily. In a way, I had to solve a sort of "puzzle", which was to build gradually from D major up to the 'D♯ → G♯ → A' interrupted climax. Even still, I think it's a really good track, I'm proud of it -- even though it's not my favourite song here (I can't name a favourite!!), in spite of it representing my favourite character. To me, it stands as an example that beauty is not exclusively a product of "inspiration". Making good music takes hard work, takes thinking, considering, experimenting and changing, trying again, thinking more, experimenting more and trying and trying again. It's not "whooop! Wow, I JUST got this idea to the greatest song ever oh dear it's beautiful and it's here, now, it's done!". It doesn't work like that. You don't need to be "enlightened" to write good music: you just need to keep trying. And I'm still trying.

Oh, really, screw that "humbleness" schtick. I hate hypocritical humbleness. Look, I've got a critical mind of my own to look at my own music and tell what I think is good and what I think is bad. I wrote a load of garbage in my life, and I think I've learnt enough with it to tell honestly that I think Rusty is a good song. It works a lot better on the context of the album (just like pretty much every other track!), so I wouldn't count it as a possible "hit". It doesn't deserve to be a hit: it's just a cute tune in an album. Listen to it. NOW.

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