Saturday, 7 February 2009

Big Robot, Little Robot -- in depth, part 9


I said below my modus operandi is to execute an idea no matter how boring it is to do. But that doesn't mean I can't replace those ideas with better ones!

This track is pretty much a record for me: between having the idea and finishing it, it took me less than two days. And I had kept this track for last because I thought it would be really long and boring to make!

I explain: Scary is this robot who wants to be scary. He isn't. He's an actor, and he's fond of playing creepy roles and frightening people, but he just can't do it. Doesn't mean he doesn't try, though. My idea initially was to make a song that wants to be creepy, but ends up being too goofy for it. So, my mind concocted a droning, rumbling song with a goofy, clumsy "pounding" beat to it. It would go up to 6 minutes, starting from the echoing sounds from the previous track (Stretchy -- remember the album is an endless loop, because I have to constantly say this to sound way more clever than I am), rising higher every time, staying fixed on a B minor chord, eventually crashing down into an F♯ chord, without ever making it clear whether it's minor or major. I liked this idea of tonal ambiguity, and here would be a great place to make it. So, yeah. Scary was going to be a five minute long drone.

Then, like I said on the Sparkies post, I had this strange idea to turn that track into a pseudo-classical piece for harpsichord and piano, and it morphed into a piece for piano. It was something like an "utopia", however, because I didn't think I was able to make it. But the ideas kept on appearing, you know? The starting point were the first few notes of the song, a melody built on diminished chords. I kept the idea safely stored in my head, and on the next day, I started writing it. I finished it on a single sitting. Something REALLY inspired me to kept doing it, and it was fun: it was something completely different from what I had ever done, it was tricky, but it was fun and sounded great. I just kept going.

The only material I had to use as "reference" were piano sonatas by Beethoven. I was listening to them quite a lot (especially my favourite, the sonata no. 21 in C major, "Waldstein"), and I tried to write the song in sonata form. Yep. Picture that. Of course, the piece itself has nothing to do with Beethoven (except maybe from the coda), but the structure was somewhat derived from it. The exposition presents the primary theme, in C minor, and later the secondary theme in D major. Yeah, that's quite radically far from the "convention" of making the secondary theme either in the dominant or subdominant of the first (or in my case, the relative major, E♭). One oddity is that there is a third theme that is not played when the exposition is repeated: instead, it breaks into that crazy ascending figure. Yeah, so there you have the first departure from "rigorous" sonata form. The development does the usual stuff of transposing the themes to other keys, changing them in some ways, and those pieces with insanely fast, random runs were a lighthearted parody of the "virtuoso" parts of classical pieces. The piece has loads of quintuplets (an idea taken from Frank Zappa) and other weird rhythmical twists. It was written chronological, with one part bouncing off the previous one. One of my favourite bits here is how the rising pattern crashes into the recapitulation, which has a slightly expanded version of the first theme. Another oddity is that it ends on D major, which has barely anything to do with the piece's key of C minor. A piece like that would end either on E♭ major or on C minor, but I don't care. I like it that way.

I really, really liked writing that song. In fact, I considered writing two other movements and turning it into an actual sonata, but I never got around to making it. I did have some ideas for a rondó, keeping up with the rhythm and tonality, but it's on hold. By the way, a friend of mine sent the song to a friend of his, a maestro, and sent me his comments. They were generally positive, with a few notes: he says the different parts of the song aren't well defined (which is a sort of stylistic choice of mine), and that it sounds more like a "piece for piano" rather than a "piece for pianist". While I wrote it, I tried to make something that WAS playable by a person, avoiding anything like twelve simultaneous notes, intervals too big for one hand and so on. But since my training in music theory is virtually zero, I dunno. It would take a score and a well trained pianist to tell me if it's playable. It's a dream of mine to see this piece played on an actual piano. I'd be delighted. I definitely can't play it, and I never even tried. But as it is, a synthesized sonata, I'm very fond of it and I love how strange it feels as an intro for the album. Listening to it, you can barely expect what's coming up next.

And the beginning? Well, those ARE the echoes from Stretchy, though I used more brutal and grating effects which caused that "infinite" trick. I actually didn't realise how loud it sounded, and how shocking it was to be placed at the very beginning of the album. But I can't imagine the album without it now. So, PLEASE, when you listen to the album, lower the volume! Thanks.

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