Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Minimalistic arrangements

As I have probably mentioned at some time in the past, every evening I take a 'power walk' of two kilometers. As this walk is simply ten times around what might be termed a car park, one might consider it to be boring. Indeed, my dog has long learnt that when I'm walking laps, she can sit down and wait for me to finish.

When I walk, I think about programming problems, although lately I've been going over the methods for solving the statistics questions in the doctoral exams. I also listen to music: in fact, this is a chance to listen to clearly recorded/played back material without any distraction. Last night, most of my laps coincided with the Swell Season's "Strict Joy", which took me back four years to the evenings when I would listen to the disc whilst traveling to lectures on organisational behaviour.

About a week ago, my laps coincided with the Blue Nile's "Hats" disc. Every time that I hear these songs, I think that I should be able to create something which sounds similar - but then I remember that my songs tend to have more complex chord sequences, meaning that it would be difficult to imagine the necessary minimalistic arrangements.

This time around, however, I was reminded of a song which I wrote 40 years ago, which has a very simple verse: a two bar phrase (E and F#) which repeats four times. I dug the song up and started arranging it. As usual, getting started took a while, but after a few evenings' cogitation, I had a basic arrangement with picked acoustic guitar and bass. After playing with this for several hours (and in the course of doing so, I added a new chord sequence for the middle eight), I ended up with a complete arrangement. 

I listened to this for a few days but felt unhappy as it wasn't the minimalistic arrangement which I had in mind. The second verse, especially, gave completely the wrong feeling. On a whim, I took out all the instruments except for the bass, a chordal pad and a monotonous drum beat: this was much closer to what I was looking for! I had to change the bass line in a few places, but otherwise no changes were required. I decided to leave in a few instrumental lines, without which the song would have sounded incomplete (these were links between verses and a short solo).

After completing the arrangement, I looked at the words. As these were written 40 years ago, when I wasn't as experienced at songwriting as I am now, I could see that they were clearly the result of a small amount of inspiration and a larger amount of filler. Some of the lines didn't make too much sense and the language was simple. Yesterday, I rewrote the words, keeping the original idea and maybe 40% of the original lyric; I enriched the language and generally improved the lyrics. It helps to look at all the lyrics at one go: one can see where an idea was set up in the opening verse and either repeated verbatim or even negated in the final verse. I was able to change the words around, making a better flow.

I'll probably record the vocal over the weekend; I want to keep this as simple as possible with as few affects as possible. It probably will not even be double tracked. 

The end result may not be The Blue Nile, but it's certainly different from my usual output.

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