Was sind paranormale Tonbandstimmen?
September 23, 2012 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I fell in love with Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes," so I bought a used copy of the 1992 Rykodisc release of Scary Monsters. When the disc arrived, I sat down for an intent listening session, good headphones and everything, and immediately noticed a weird glitch at 2:23, just after the word "following" in the lyric "but the little green wheels are following me." Then things got weird.

At first I thought it was an issue with my copy of the album: I did, after all, buy it used. However, every version of the same track I've been able to find online turns out to have the same noise at the same point! More than anything, it sounds like a slip of the audiotape, if such a thing was possible. Here it is at 1:41 in the promotional video for the song. And here it is at 2:23 in the version I have. I hear the same noise in every version of this track that I've found on Grooveshark, although I won't bother linking to that.

Needless to say, I feel like I'm going crazy. This noise interferes with my ability to enjoy this song. It is painfully apparent every time I put the album on. It definitely doesn't sound like a stray note from the flanger-processed piano that plays a recurring motif throughout the song. So what the hell is it, and why does it sound so out of place? Is it an intentional part of the track? Am I just hearing things that aren't there? If somebody could confirm that they can hear the same noise and maybe explain what produces it, it would stop detracting from my enjoyment.
posted by Nomyte to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like a normal part of the percussion to me.
posted by scruss at 6:24 PM on September 23, 2012

I hear the sound you're referring to, and it does sound like a digital "clunk" or some kind of artifact. But I've just listened to the track on an original vinyl pressing, and the sound is still there.

My guess is that it's just an anomaly caused by the percussion instruments (wood blocks?) combining with the "droplet" sound.

Unless you're thinking of a different sound. I am focusing on the brief "clunk" right in the middle of the word "Following"

Let me know if that's not it, and I'll give it another listen.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:27 PM on September 23, 2012


Chuck Hammer’s guitar synthesizer treatments (which he called “guitarchitecture”) were also a random element, as Hammer had essentially showed up at the Power Station to give Bowie and Visconti an exhibition of his technique and tools (which included a synthesizer that gave Hammer an “infinite” sustain on his guitar). He wound up as “Ashes”‘ last mourner, ushering out the song (Andy Clark’s synthesizer, which serves as a high chorus in the bridges, appears as well) by dueting with himself, a performance that Visconti recorded in the stairwell of the Power Station (& it winds up sounding like a Theremin).
posted by alex_skazat at 6:29 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm hearing a percussion hit, possibly a muted conga or a wood block.

It's an accent, just a hair louder than the other percussion instruments, and because of where it's placed, it's got JUST enough volume to be distracting.
posted by tantrumthecat at 6:30 PM on September 23, 2012

I am focusing on the brief "clunk" right in the middle of the word "Following"

Yup, that's it.
posted by Nomyte at 6:38 PM on September 23, 2012

I hear what you're saying. It does seem a little off in timing and tone, but similar enough to the piano motif that it seems out of place. To me it sounds a bit like a guitar string being plucked behind the nut, or maybe an acoustic piano string plucked right on the soundboard.
posted by Lorin at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2012

I always thought that was some weird little background gasp or sigh, kept for reasons known only to the Bowie Hivemind.

posted by cmyk at 6:45 PM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

As the entire song is designed to be unsettling starting right off from the back beat, there are intentional musical anomalies throughout. You've actually picked up on one that I hadn't really noticed before, and I've listened to it over and over and over through decades now. Might just be at a pitch that doesn't quite trip for me, though others here are hearing it.

1) Ashes to Ashes is damn close to being my theme song
2) I knew someone who had a thoroughbred horse named Ground Control and was highly amused by the name
posted by vers at 6:50 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also believe that sound is a normal part of the percussive track created by plucking on short strings (guitar, piano, etc.).

Also, Bowie Rules.
posted by Aquaman at 6:51 PM on September 23, 2012

I've always heard this as a bit of a Alomar guitar-scritch, in keeping with the general mood of the song.

When I was the Most Melodramatic Teenager Ever, I decided that it was my life's mission to eventually die while listening to "Ashes to Ashes." But first, I would need to get addicted to heroin. Happily, I lacked the ambition on that score.
posted by scody at 6:54 PM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Congrats on your fantastic taste in music btw
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 6:56 PM on September 23, 2012

gasp or sigh

Yeah, it sounds like a mini yelp or gasp to me.
posted by limeonaire at 7:00 PM on September 23, 2012

There are so many odd sounds, with odd timings, in that song it’s hard to pick one as out of place. It’s a little rushed, but so are a lot of them. Part of the greatness.
posted by bongo_x at 7:03 PM on September 23, 2012

Congrats on your fantastic taste in music btw

Thanks, I try to keep it classy. My evening playlist is nothing but Bowie and Vangelis.
posted by Nomyte at 7:04 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I listened to it a few times, and didn't notice anything that seemed out of place - there's some percussion from a woodblock, but it continues before and after the point you mention, so it seems like simply a part of that to me.
posted by PussKillian at 7:22 PM on September 23, 2012

The little ruffly plunk in the middle of "following" is part of what makes the song so fucking awesome, IMHO. Please don't be perturbed!

If you want to get more acclimatized to glorious little glitches in lush, artsy 70s-80s pop music, you might also check out Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (China My China) and Holger Czukay's Movies (Persian Love).
posted by maudlin at 7:41 PM on September 23, 2012

Yeah, I know what god gave me my fingers for.
posted by Nomyte at 7:56 PM on September 23, 2012

I hear it as a yelp. Good ears!
posted by rhizome at 8:21 PM on September 23, 2012

Wow, I've listened to it several times just now and can't hear a thing. My ears must be set at the wrong pitch...
posted by penguin pie at 4:41 AM on September 24, 2012

I watched that section on a spectrum analyzer and didn't see anything that looked out of place.
posted by gregr at 5:27 AM on September 24, 2012

Interesting - I'd never noticed it before but I can clearly hear it - It doesn't stand out volume or pitch wise, but the timbre is definitely unique; my first impression was "wood", if that makes any sense - Agree that it's probably a guitar-scritch as scody called it -
posted by jalexei at 11:40 AM on September 24, 2012

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