Can someone with a knowledge of music theory help me decipher a couple songs please?
November 17, 2011 3:43 PM   Subscribe

This is a kind of random question, but I was hoping someone with a background in music theory & composition could help me figure out what's going on musically with a couple songs I like. The two songs in question are Nobukazu Takemura's Icefall (link to song) and Arthur Russell's Being It (link to song). I really like what's going on in these two songs, but I don't have enough knowledge of music to understand exactly what it is. I'm aware that I'm not giving you much to go on, but I'm having a difficult time knowing how to be more specific. I know they both seem to make copious use of echo, but aside from that, I'd just like to know a bit more about what concepts they're working with from a musical and compositional standpoint. At any rate, If someone could shed a bit of light on these two songs I'd be very appreciative. Thanks!
posted by OccamsRazor to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see what they have at all in common, honestly.
posted by empath at 5:44 PM on November 17, 2011

I think what's working for you is that it's not just echo; it's an original sound that's heavily panned right with an echo that's heavily panned left. If I'm on the right track, you will likely enjoy Orbital's The Box (note, you may want to jump straight to part II.
posted by bfranklin at 6:00 PM on November 17, 2011

What the two might share in common, I'd say, is that they both use techniques found in minimalism of the Steve Reich/Philip Glass/Terry Riley sort:

Near constant repetition/re-iteration of short melodic or rhythmic phrases, cells, or motifs---similar to "looping". Icefall uses such loops in blocks, moving from block to block throughout.

Use of simple and limited pitch material, as in most rock music. Tendency towards drones. Use of consonant harmony.

Hypnotic effect. The repetition and stasis of minimalist music can create a trance state in the listener, I find both these pieces definitely have that quality.

In terms of timbre, both pieces use distortion. Because it is rich in harmonics and overtones, distortion gives a complex sound to the simple pitch materials. Likewise, the pitch material in both pieces based on the harmonic series (more or less), so it works well with the distortion effect. This is like playing power chords on a guitar---using just open fifths and octaves plus distortion, you get a richly satisfying sound.

The link to minimalism is more direct in the case of Icefall. Being It is more like standard rock fare, minus the drums.
posted by semper ubi sub ubi at 6:13 PM on November 17, 2011

@ empath - I wasn't trying to directly compare the two songs. There are just qualities to each that I find interesting. Thanks for the comment though.

@ bfranklin - Thanks for the suggestion, I've listened to a bit of Orbital in the past, but I can't recall listening to your suggestion. I'll check it out.

@ semper ubi sub ubi - Thank you so much for the detailed response, that's exactly the type of information I was hoping to get!
posted by OccamsRazor at 6:30 PM on November 17, 2011

That Takemura track is great. Ice cream trucks sound like that in Heaven. Just popped in because it hasn't been mentioned that there's only one instrument playing in both tracks. (It makes a difference, even if there's a lot of echo)
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 8:23 PM on November 18, 2011

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