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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spintunes #4 Round 4 Review: Dr Lindyke

This is among the most interesting challenges here... produce a song -- any song at all -- using only the instrumentation you can find on your own body... and give us more than just a capella. Believe me, the irony of the fact that this songwriting competion served up what appears to be a 100% production-oriented challenge isn't lost. But you have to remember a few things: by the time you get to the 4th round, you've proved you have songwriting chops. In this last round we're throwing challenges that make you think in different ways.

So how is this a "songwriting" challenge? Easy... here we're forcing you to think about instrumentation in new ways. If you're writing for an orchestra, you need effectively utilize your various sections and even the individuals within them. Same thing if you're writing for a jug band, or a 4-piece rock group. You have to work within your bounds. We simply tightened up those normal constraints an abnormal amount. So if you thought it wasn't a songwriting challenge, then you really missed the point.

In these final rounds, I personally don't want what you "normally" do. I want you to stretch. I also don't expect everyone to be able to complete a fourth-round challenge. So if you looked at this challenge and said, "What the hell were they thinking! I have no interest in that!" then you wouldn't have made it anyway. Only an Iron Chef of songwriting should walk away with the trophy.

Fortunately, of our four finalists, all of you proved you have the chops, A few shadowers did, too!

Your former competitors are ranking your efforts, and the judges don't matter this round. Nevertheless, I have to review you, so I approach it in much the same way: how well did you meet the challenge. Since we said you could write any song at all, I don't care much about lyrical content this time. Something akin to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" would've been fine if it were original. This challenge is about musicality. Did you exploit the instruments you had fully? Did you use them in interesting ways? Did you give us a tune?

Since my rankings mean nothing this round, these reviews are presented in the order the songs currently appear on the album.

David LeDuc
Fear
This defies categorization. Part is rap, part is song, and most of it is beat poetry. As poetry, it ain't bad; it has the most introspective and frankly interesting lyrics of the lot. I like the rubbing of the forearms. More than one person told me that it was "creepy", and they couldn't listen to the whole thing. That's a shame, because a song named "Fear" should make you feel that way. I think that making somebody shudder and reach for the "stop" button is an artistic victory, Pyrrhic as it may be. Rather than searching for musicality in the instrumentation, it seems to me you've allowed the lack of musicality of the instrumetation to drain the music from the rest of the piece. It's a creative choice, but one that makes me feel that the challenge is somewhat shunted aside.

Edric Haleen
Exultation!
Lyrics? We don't need no stinking lyrics! And actually... we don't. This chant in African style communicated triumph and elation without the audience even needing to know what it's about. I have no idea what language it is, but if it were real and I had to guess, my guess would place it in the Congo or Uganda... Central Africa. The instruments? The instrumentation appears to be entirely handclaps, but with variety and various levels of reverb and audio "distances" that keep the listener engaged. With all that "looking upward" to the tenor voices and staccato claps, it seems to me to require a little more on the low-end for support and grounding. Some foot-stomps or bass chest-thumps might have been suitable substitutes for log drums.

Steve Durand
A Beautiful Voice
I knew the moment I saw the title that this was going to be very special. No song by Steve Durand entitled "A Beautiful Voice" could be anything less. And Wow! This one has everything! TUNED percussion! Rhythm! Lyrics! AND AN HONEST-TO-GOODNESS TUNE! Why is it that you're the only one of the four finalists to use whistling? This song is infectious. It's not meta, it's biographical, it's endearing, and it's great. IF I were ranking, it would be Steve Durand by a mile, and a close race for second.

For the entirety of my 50 years, I myself have been notoriously unable to whistle. The very Tuesday morning I'm writing this, I discovered what I was doing wrong. A suggestion from my son Michael, suddenly I produced a clear, clean, piercing tone. I still can't control it very well... I whistle somewhat worse than you sing, Steve.... but for about 5 glorious minutes on my way to work I could manage a controlled tune. And I whistled this song.

Jess Scherer
Threadbare
You absolutely belong in the finals, Jess. This is solid work. It's got a nice, honest feel about it that rings true. I like the parallel drawn, where being stripped of your instruments leaves you vulnerable, with this song being an allegory for that as well as having its own overt meaning. Musically, you provide the "bottom" in your rhythm that I wished of Edric's entry. It's also very close to an a capella response to the challenge. I think it's possible to have discovered more varied sounds to work with.


SHADOWS

Jacob Haller
What Do We Need?
I love the concept here... Sort of a stone soup of music. I like the variety of sounds you explored here, including the whistling. The execution could be tightened up... you seem to drift from the key a bit (which might be avoided by singing to an instrumental reference track, then removing it), but not bad at all for a shadow.

Drei Viertel Drei
Igor's Jigsaw
I really expected to hear a lot more processed audio in this challenge. We did leave a rather huge loophole for that. This is a really neat idea, making body parts the subject of a song recorded using body parts. I don't know if the semi-random percussion is on purpose... it sets my teeth on edge, which might be the intent.

Brian Gray
Before You Go
Brian, you've made my day! I'm the only judge who voted to put you through to the final round, and now I can point to this shadow entry and shout, "YEAH! Take THAT, BEEYATCHES! Uh-HUH..." Seriously, this is freakin' EXCELLENT. You've got the whole boy band thing going with the full drum kit, and I know it took a lot of work to get the sounds just right. The humor is spot on. If this had been an official entry we would have had a very close race for first place on my list. Oh, and Mrs. Dr. Lindyke is now an official member of the Brian Gray fan club, so lock your door... she'll love you to death.

Menage A Tune
Don't Miss the Rainbow
This has been a surprisingly good round... not a bad concept in the bunch. Glad you've continued the trend. This has a nice message... it would have been a very respectable official final round entry, though I don't think it would have unseated Steve. The whistled raindrops give this a level of musicality missing from several entries. It's got sort of a 1960s movie soundtrack feel. I'm also very happy to hear Ted's backing vocals, and hope to hear more of him in future work.

8 comments:

  1. The hell is a jug band?

    Also, Brian Gray doesn't get the love he deserves.

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  2. 1. A "jug band" is a uniquely Appalachian American phenomenon. Typically, a glass or clay jug (of the type that's used to hold moonshine whiskey or vinegar) is blown across. This is the bass. It's usually monotone, but sometimes, more than one jug can be used, tuned with varying amounts of liquid. Other instruments may include a banjo, a washboard (for scraping), spoons (for rhythm), oatmeal boxes (as drums), harmonica, kazoo, guitar, or washtub bass (homemade from a galvanized aluminum pot, broomstick, and a string (the various notes are produced by changing the tension on the string by tilting the broomstick). Basically, anything you can improvise.

    These guys give you a good feel for it, though there's not jug here. Do your own search for others. ;)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZOxP5wQlGU

    2. You're right, he doesn't.

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  3. Aw, damn it, you got me surfing.

    These are Muppets (specifically, Emmet Otter). Nevertheless, they illustrate a pretty authentic jug band.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnIG1WuHaW0

    And you don't get more authentic than this: Foldin' Bed by Whistler & His Jug Band. This is a good illustration of using the jug as a resonator for buzzed lips.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iXzIvN4JI4

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  4. @Dave Ah, wow! I'd seen this sort of thing last time I was in North Carolina, but I've never seen the jugs before. Loved the top hat solo in the last one.

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  5. I dreaded using my vocals in this song, so producing that song was a nightmare. It was a great idea that was unfortunately limited by the challenge.

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  7. Jase, your comment reminds me of one I received on Twitter from @travisnorris:

    "I guess I "missed the point", but I'm still not really sure what it was. Still seems like "writing" vs. "arrangement"?"

    Jase, producing the song was a nightmare probably because you didn't pay sufficient attention to the songWRITING challenge. The selection of instruments ABSOLUTELY affects the type of music that you can write for them. And of course, the same answer is given for Travis' observation. Take any of Governing Dynamics' tunes and arrange them for banjo. Good luck with that. When all you've got is a banjo, you write banjo music. You don't go for those long, slow, sleepy ebow-dominated passages.

    We gave people the human body as an instrument and said "write something". We gave them the latitude in the world as to what to write, but the champion wrote something specifically intended to showcase almost every sound he could get out of his body.

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  8. Uhhh... actually.. I think several of my songs would work just fine on banjo... I mean, not Earl Scruggs style bluegrass, perhaps, but someone could probably make that work, too, if they knew what they were doing. Indeed, the "long, slow, sleepy, (goddamn, Travis, your music is boring) ebow-dominated passages" would not be present. Because that is, once again, an arrangement (and also production, when ebow is concerned) consideration and little or nothing to do with the writing of the song. They could be omitted or replaced with another instrument (fiddle?) at whatever damned tempo is appropriate -to the arrangement-.

    Actually my round 3 song would work pretty well with a primarily bajo-driven arrangement, I think. I'd kind of like to try it, except I do not own a banjo and wouldn't know how to play it if I did. As a side note, I'm also not a percussionist and don't have proper microphones/acoustically sound spaces to record percussion in a way that is pleasing to the ear, because generally speaking I'm allowed to play guitar, which I know how to play because I've been doing it for 15 years now. There might be something in that last paragraph relevant to why I didn't record a shadow.

    So yeah, due to lack of talent or patience or creativity or open-mindedness or whatever I guess I didn't belong in round 4. Point taken.

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