Time until sign-ups begin:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

SpinTunes #7 Round 2 Review: Dr. Lindyke

We knew when we gave out this challenge that it was going to be broadly interpreted, and that's OK. Going through a tunnel, a break-up, even a wormhole were all anticipated. Everyone was also really good about their through-composition, so I'm see anything in any of the entries that would warrant talk of disqualification. It looks like you all "came through". GREAT!

A word or two on through-composition. You may know that there are several definitions, and we picked one for clarity. Our definition was that the song be "without repetitions of any major sections". Notice that this does NOT preclude repetition inside a stanza, echoed lines, or call-and-response, so your old faithful rhyme schemes and structures would have been safe. A lot of you adopted caution, though, changing things up inside of the verses. There's nothing wrong with that.

There are a number of ways to attack even that one narrow definition. For instance, you can do as many of you did and make each verse a little "mini-song", changing styles throughout. This technique is used prominently in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (our example). But there are other ways to go about it. One is to ramble, and just sort of meander through one long chord progression (which works pretty well if you keep it very short). Another is to use the same chord progressions and apply multiple tunes, variations, and/or rhythms to it. Another is to put the themes into various modes. By far, my favored technique is to take the listener on a trip, telling the story so that it's not obvious that they're listening to a through-composition. This involves switching up the melody without changing style so that it sounds like one continuous piece, constantly evolving.

Story? Oh, yeah... this challenge really begs for a story song and not just a mood piece. It's that verb "going" in the challenge. When you're going through something it's really best to indicate movement... you need to indicate the journey.

So as I listened, I was looking for songs that did these things well... good transitions, continuity, a sense of progression or movement, and some bonus points if you could surprise me as well. We anticipated a lot, so if you came up with something unanticipated, or just had a really good take on your topic, that meant a lot to me. And, of course, we factor in some personal preference.

I apologize in advance to those who rank lower than you should. I wanted to rank them ALL higher than I could, but it's one slot, one song. This is an effort that no one failed. Oh, and if I write a lot, it's because you wrote a really interesting piece that I listened to a lot, and found a lot to comment on.

The Reviews:

RC - A Marriage in Seven Parts (6:59)
Challenge: Met.
There's a breakup in there, but this is really a lot broader than that.. This is an entire relationship. The sense of motion, some growth, resolution, character development are all well-developed. The sense of "through-ness" is pervasive and strong.
Doesn't sound rambling at all. Great transitions that all make perfect narrative sense, as they all occur at life-changing events. Easy to listen to, and it leads you on, seeming much shorter than its 7 minute length.  I was critical last time of over-production, but I like this one. Simple and sincere.
My top pick.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Bloodstream (3:52)
Challenge: Met.
Drugs going through the singer's bloodstream is arguably one of the most creative takes on this challenge. Not only is it literal, but it provides the opportunity to attack the figurative challenge of the experience.
What happened, guys... this is great! The early 70's psychedelic vibe. A nice change from "BYD Mode" and that weird plunky piano from last round! Something I'd casually listen to by choice. Guys, this is the best BYD song I've ever heard. Allan should take another hit of whatever that was.

Ominous Ride - 2 minute Meltdown (2:06)
Challenge: Met.
Going through an anxiety attack. Like RC's song, this is is about an experience and not literal motion. Whereas that one is sweeping in scope, this one is about a single incident. Nevertheless we get through it and out the other side, to sleep.
Good transitions that sound like the same song. At 2:06, the song doesn't overstay its welcome and doesn't descend into rambling. Plus, I like your ominous sound... especially the toms. Now that I've ranked these I see that the entire top picks are dominated by 70's retro-sounds.

Steve Durand - Airport Rag (2:36)
The first of two songs about going through the TSA checkpoint at the airport.
I'd say this isn't a rag all the way through, but what the hey. This begs for someone to do an accompanying animation, and Matt Schubbe should do the character design (just sayin'). Funny lyrics. Great work on the orchestration.

Blimp Exhaust - Goodbye (5:32)
This is one of many breakup songs, but it's a really good one.
Not only are the style transitions good, and sometimes occur inside a verse but they're fluid, so this sounds like a single piece. I like.

Riker's Island - Hell-A-X (4:21)
Challenge: Met.
The second TSA checkpoint song.
Again the 70's sound. Sounds like one continuous piece. It's a little rambling, but no more so than your usual style. I like that it doesn't feel forced into the challenge. Nicely done.

Edric Haleen - Possibilities (3:53)
Challenge: Met
Ok, folks, you'll have to get inside my head for this one. In asking for a song "about going through something" rather than "in which you go through something", we may have inadvertently asked for a meta song. Here Edric writes a song about going through this challenge, in which he meets the meta criterion as well
For almost anyone else I'd say it was the last resort of the victim of writer's block, but I know that feigned writer's block is exactly what you're going for, and not a cover for real writer's block, which makes it clever. Edric, I pretty much knew that this challenge was going to be "Hey, Edric, you don't get a challenge this round. Just do what you always do," and not much of a stretch. It was nice to see you take the "something" from the challenge and use it so much in the song itself... and in the process, predict most of the "somethings" presented in this round.
    I'm NOT jealous of your mad performance 'skillz' on the piano. I know my limitations and I'm quite content to bow in your greatness.

(I want Edric to write the Mr. Rogers musical. I would buy tickets.)

TurboShandy - Generic Relationship Song (3:22)
Challenge: Met
A generic relationship song. Yup... a breakup.
TurboShandy goes the "mini-songs" route, with 6 clearly delineated themes with not a whole lot of reasons for the transitions except for the challenge. I get the feeling that -- purely as a song and not a contest entry -- this would greatly benefit from NOT being shoe-horned into this challenge. However, the performance is extremely well done and crisp. If it were bacon it would be delicious.

Menage-A-Tune - Transition (5:01)
Challenge: Met
Here's one interpretation I did not anticipate... coming through the birth canal!
Very strong intro. The transitions are pretty abrupt. I think it would have benefited by processing JoAnn's voice similar to Ted's, as is done in the last verse. I understand that the characters are not in the same physical space, but that doesn't matter, as your voices and styles are enough to give the impression I think you're going for. (Don't worry about realism: if memory serves, real wombs aren't cavernous and echoey.) Also, the initial tempo change...  Hmmm... The rhythm in just about any rock song represents a heartbeat. I'm not sure it wouldn't have served your purpose better if mother and son shared that rhythm, strengthening their connection. The mother is strangely disconnected here... it's as if she's standing by at a surrogate birth. I'm not suggesting you should be practicing Lamaze, but there are ways to get that across musically. It meshes much better and stronger in the resolution when you're together. Very creative and well-produced entry!

Mariah Mercedes - Breach (2:40)
Challenge: Met
Another breakup.
The vocals in the bridge are so processed that I have no idea what you're saying. It may very well be that they don't mean anything, as they're not on the lyrics sheet, but mystery lyrics vex me. They make me concentrate in vain.
This goes the mini-songs route, but with good transitions throughout. This is one of the most moody of the pieces, offering an emotional point-in-time without a lot of development.

Governing Dynamics - Synesthesia (3:30)
Challenge: Met
I'm calling this met in the sense that "to go through" can mean "to experience". There's not really a sense of having gone from one state to another here. The title says Synesthesia, and the lyrics describe that all right, but I get the impression that the singer is going through a severe bout of depression.
Now that I've ranked these and I see where this one falls, I feel like a bit of a dick, having ranked you low for missing the last challenge, and doing the same for meeting this one somewhat weakly (which may purely be my interpretation of it, so here's hoping the other judges pull you out). I love the guitar work but the song is downright gloomy. If my straight-razor weren't in another room I hate to think what might have happened. Rambling and unconventional sentence breaks makes it hard to follow. There is not a thing wrong with sucking the joy out of the listener, if that's your goal. (I don't mean that ironically. Not all art is pleasant.)

Sid Brown - Wormhole to Hell (3:02)
Challenge: Met
It's the wormhole!
Some of the lyrics are unintelligible, but that doesn't matter, because there's really not much story here. It's mostly a reason to rock out to a pretty fun beat. If this were a battle of the bands, this entry would score a lot better than it does here, so don't take my ranking as an indication of lack of enjoyment. It's just that performance and production are gravy when applied to a great song. What we have here is a boatload of gravy on not much lyrical meat. Imagine this were not a wormhole to Hell, but a door. You don't know what's on the other side. Could be Hell. Could be Jay on a donkey. The verses should really sell the idea of Hell, and I don't think it does. But the music does communicate the idea of "going through" the wormhole, and at the end of the day that's all we really asked for.

Emperor Gum - Halcyon (5:20)
Challenge: Met. harumph.
Here, Ceyx dies and Alcyone goes through separation anxiety.
I'm going to talk about production first and get it out of the way. This is pretty obviously pitched too low for Niveous, leaving him nowhere to go on the bottom. The orchestration is VERY good. However, I strongly recommend downloading some good orchestral SoundFonts and something that can use them to convert your MIDI to WAV for mixing. You will be amazed at how much better this will sound.
    Now... the composition. It's a very ambitious, high concept piece based on an ancient Greek myth. Pinning your story on an archaic myth is hella brave, and great when it works; but it's risky. The problem with high concept is that it often hinges on the execution. It also hinges quite a bit on the audience being familiar enough with the story to "get into it". It's almost the end of the piece before I knew who these characters are, and then only suspected them because kingfishers are mentioned, as the pronunciation threw me off. So I read the lyrics and found the names printed. The seed of confusion is sown when the pet name "Alcy" is rhymed with "I'll see"... twice... in the second stanza. It never recovers. Alcyone confuses things further with mention of the North Sea (grrr.. "based on", Dave). Anyway... Alcyone gives us about six stanzas of "goodbye". Some of the time spent there would have been a really great place to show us the storm. I don't get a great feeling of going through something here. I know it's in the story... when I was in Journalism we'd've said you buried your lede. Here, Ceyx never gets through the storm: he dies. You subvert the visit from Morpheus, so Alcyone gets no closure and never gets through her loneliness and grief. You've subverted the transformation, leaving Alcyone alone to wish with Dream-Ceyx. I get the feeling that you both want to and don't want to tell the story. My advice: choose a side. Either break with the myth, or just bite the bullet and tell it. There's a little bit of Yoda-speech in here, but not as egregious as before. But there are pronunciation problems. Here's a guide:
Halcyon = "HAL-see-yon"
Alcyone = "Al-SIGH-on-knee"
Ceyx = "SEE-ix" or "SIX"

OMG, I'm the Grammar Nazi. Now I really feel like a dick. (reaches for a can of Derp cola)


  1. Thanks for you review, Dave! I'll give that MIDI trick a go. My slow songwriting and over ambition left my guests with very little time, any performance issues were my fault. I did check the pronounciations, I guess I looked in the wrong place? Could you tell me where you found yours?

    In regards the storm, the section where Ceyx sings for the second time was supposed to have Quadrophenia style guitars and synths, with storm sound effects...but I ran out of time. My bad.

    In regards either telling the myth or not, I'm afraid I fundamentally don't agree with you. Should every version of Batman be the same story? Of course not, stories should adapt and change. I found all the stuff about Gods in the story utterly boring, whereas Alcyone's pleading and grief I found to be striking.

    They've starting selling diet derp cola here, I don't think it's any better for you. :)

    -Gray [Emperor Gum]

  2. Here it is, a month later, and I just saw this comment. Oops.

    I completely understand the rigors of meeting the deadline. It hits us all.

    I also completely respect disagreeing with me on the idea of "telling the story". But remember, I did also suggest the option of breaking with it, meaning that you can still base your story on it while removing the confusing elements. The part about "all the stuff about Gods in the story" being utterly boring may have quite a lot to do with the version of the story you're familiar with... and that speaks to your point about telling the story in another way.

    The typical narrative is from Virgil or Ovid's "Metamorphoses", which pretty much omit the good parts. Apollodorus' account explains that Alcyone and Ceyx called each other by the "pet names" of Zeus and Hera. Understandably, this angered the real Zeus and Hera, and brought down the wrath of the gods on Ceyx. It was a story of the humans' hubris bringing on a punishment that was then tempered by their deep love for one another. In Ovid all that is missed... reading it I find myself wondering how being turned into birds (of different species, no less) is more charitable of the gods than simply resurrecting Ceyx, which they presumably could have done.

    Or, it's possible that you're aware of both versions and still disagree, which is perfectly fine, too. In this rendition I think it caused confusion. For instance... you found Alcyone's pleading and grief to be striking. I agree. But her grief is at his death, and in your version she's not informed of that. She only has a dream before the fact, which makes her fretful and worried rather than grief-stricken. Even without Morpheus, you could have washed the body onto the shore. I suspect any sort of narrative problems are attributable to the lack of time.

    Regarding pronunciation, Greek's a lot more consistent than English. No silent letters (compare "Alcyone" and "Hermione" and "Antigone"), "c" is always sounded as "s" because "k" has the hard sound covered. The "x" at the end of Ceyx is a transliteration of the Ancient Greek letter xi, pronounced "ks", and which is far too easily confused with the letter chi, which looks like a modern X but is pronounced "Kh".

    Here's a handy tool: http://www.howjsay.com/