Last time, we discussed thunderstorms, and our drummer's previous post was about the nature of language and music. This week, your assignment is to transcribe one. Listen to the language of the clouds. Put down their passion on paper in ink, and hear a different language, one expressed in electron streams and water vapor. A sample will be provided at the end. You will be graded.
Thunderbolts and lightning: very, very frightening...
While we're on the subject of cloud cover, let's discuss another kind of translation: the musical cover. There are many ways to express you admiration of another artist, but one of the most effective–and difficult–ways to do this is to fully recreate another musician's song. Many bands exist entirely to cover other artists' songs, from the humble bar band faithfully playing versions of (what they hope) are their audience's favorite pieces, to the tribute band carefully recreating, note-for-note, inflection-for-inflection, a single band's canon, right down to their outfits. Even artists that subsist on their own songcrafting will pay their own small tribute, from time to time, to people they feel help shaped their own personal musical language.
One way to do this is to reinterpret another song completely. You can change the musical style: turning a death metal ear-ripper into a light string quartet or a jazz ballad into a reggae jam. You can change the tempo, the instrumentation, your vocal timbre. Rearrange the structure, add a guitar solo or take it out and give it to your french horn player. Some of the best of these kinds of covers can redefine the songs in ways that are hard to describe. What would you say differentiates Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen's original? The differences can be difficult to categorize, but they are almost not the same song. Buckley's version completely redefined that song to the point where you almost can't find a cover of Hallelujah done in the past 20 years since Buckley's death that doesn't owe more to his version than Cohen's. Have you heard Tom Wait's Jersey Girl? I would be willing to wager you heard Bruce Springsteen's before you heard Tom's original, if you heard it at all. Or perhaps I've misjudged my audience. My apologies.
I heard there was a secret chord...
The other way you can cover a song is to recreate the song, as best as instrumentation and vocal range allow, as faithfully as possible. This poses a difficult and entirely different challenge. Rather than be yourself to the limits, you ask yourself to entirely become another person. You take yourself away from your musical soul, your experience, and everything that has led to you being you, and you travel backwards in time to become the artist that you–and countless others like you–admire, whose songs you would shout along with the second your favorite tune came on the radio. Long car rides with your family, singing the chorus high-pitched and out of tune along with your dad while your mother looked on, disapproving at her child being taught bawdy lyrics and smiling at the unrestrained display of joy at the same time. You take on that band's aspect like an Orisha: you sing the notes pitch perfect (hard won from hours of practicing getting the harmony and accents just right), you play the solo like you wrote it in the first place, then you ascend and become one with your ancestors. When you delve deep and give another's song all you got, you become something more, if only briefly.
Consider that when taking another musicians work into your hands, and try to ascend on high, into the clouds. Don't forget to transcribe your homework.
Oh, and happy birthday, Dad.
-Jannus Blackseed (Bass)