Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sonic Transportation / Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle

About a week ago, I dragged out REM's Automatic For The People and popped it in the player at home. It had been a very long time since I'd listened to it.

It's got a lot of songs on it that just resonate within me, even if I (still) don't understand all of the lyrics. A prime example: "Try Not To Breathe" From the first time I heard it, the music has been separate from the lyrics. I like the lyrics, but the arrangement is what vibrates inside me, transports me to another place in time, and I'm certain that the gentlemen from Athens never had that particular destination in mind.

From the opening notes, I'm standing on the slowly-pitching deck of an aircraft carrier, watching a fast frigate pull alongside a few yards away for underway replenishment. We steam rapidly southward on the Indian Ocean. The sun is low on the horizon, sitting just above the foredeck of the frigate as it pitches through the waves. The tempo of the cycle mimics the rhythm of the song, the sharply-angled bow alternately clearing the wavetops, showing several feet of keel backlit by the sun, then plunging deep into the face of the next swell. Flying fish dart forward of the bow wave, glistening silver and purple.

None of this has anything to do with the song, but even after 24 years, I still go back there.

I don't have the new REM CD yet, but I heard "Houston" today, along with Stipe, Buck and Mills' comments on writing it. It's a song about Katrina and its aftermath, and while the guys speak of it as though it's all new to them, the music is recycled almost completely from "Try Not To Breathe". The instrumentation and signal-processing are different, but I was still standing there, rocking away on the flight deck.

I'm not complaining, just observing. I obviously have an affinity for the rhythm and never seem to mind hearing it again. In fact, as the band members state, the music fits the lyrics extremely well in this case. Still, I wasn't aware that melodies were in such short supply that they needed to be recycled by the same band.

Hindsight: I listened to "Houston" again. It's not a complete recycle, but it sure has a lot of similarities.

The interview and other links can be found here:


Seraffyn said...

So - even the rhythms bring you back to the carrier deck. Not so new, eh?

It's really interesting how strongly you connect rhythm with visual input. That explains a lot about your photographic eye, and why you so often capture patterns in your photos. I love it!

I emphathize with how you are transported by music to a different time and place. That happens to me all the time. For me this often occurs because I heard the song first at that particular place, or sometimes something significant happened once upon a time while that song was playing. I'm curious, were you on the carrier the first time you heard the older REM? Or do you think it's only the matching rhythms of both the music and the motion of the frigate on the waves which draw you back? That is a fascinating connection, especially if it is the only connection. The human brain is a thing of wonder.

It's fun to get this insight into how you associates things. You’ve left me thinking about how I make connections, and I can’t help but try to figure out how other people I know make connections. Lots of food for thought – especially in my sales work!

Thanks for sharing this. Now...when are you going to post something new!? *poke* ;o)

Seraffyn said...

Hey...meant to say "...even the NEW rhythms..."

NWWanderer said...

Both songs came well after I got my DD-214. From the first time I heard "Try Not To Breathe", I saw the waves, the bow, the flying fish.

More than that, though, I "felt" the deck of the 'Hawk pitching under me as a counterpoint to the Puller's plunging and rising.

Seraffyn said...

Oh! Now that bit about matching the pitch of the deck to the Puller's "plunging and rising"...THAT is cool! Wow!