Q: Did Music Discover Emotion? And What Does that Have to Do with Song Lyrics?
A: “God Only Knows”
The Problem with Song Lyrics
As a songwriter, I think of song lyrics as a specialization within creative writing. Unlike other kinds of creative writing, song lyrics can be excellent even when the writing (taken on its own) isn’t particularly good. It’s a feel you have to have, it’s a sort of creative half-writing. It’s leaving things out. It’s a kind of writing which in some ways is more like conversation than literature.
This is pretty apparent when you take a lyric out of the context of its song. On the page or read out loud, a song lyric will rarely work. The music, too, generally depends on the presence of the lyric to have its full effect.
Separated from each other, the elements of a song usually fall shy of what we consider true literature or music.
Now obviously, I believe that songs are the equal of any other art form. I write them, after all. But exactly how such excellence is fashioned from such humble materials – the alchemical quality of songs – is hard to see. It is perhaps the central mystery and attraction of songwriting, and it is of perennial fascination to me.
It’s not essential to understand these things in order to do them well, and it’s surely not possible to ever fully understand them, but it can’t hurt to try; and yesterday I came across a quote that may just offer a missing piece of the puzzle. It’s from What is Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music,” by Philip Alperson, and it says:
“”emotion” can, in effect, be defined as what music articulates, much as “reality” can be best defined as that which the concepts and grammars of languages can capture.”
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Wow! We received over 300 poster submissions from some of our incredibly talented listeners.
Thank you for your entries, and thank you for all your votes. We have compiled the votes and have posted the 25 semi-finalists at pandora.votigo.com. So please take a few minutes now to vote for your favorites.
We will be announcing three winners again this year: Grand Prize, Runner Up, and Editor’s Choice. The Grand Prize winner will receive $500, the Runner Up will receive $250, and the Editor’s Choice winner will receive $500. All three will also include some great publicity on our blog.
The three winners will be printed in limited editions and given as gifts to donors to our GlobalGiving philanthropy projects.
In Music, the Exception Becomes the Rule
In his book “The Classical Style,” Charles Rosen makes a cool point. He sets it up by saying:
“The history of an artistic ‘language’… cannot be understood in the same way as the history of a language used for everyday conversation. In the history of English, for example, one man’s speech is as good as another’s. It is the picture of the whole that counts, and not the interest, grace, or profundity of the individual example.”
In other words, together we all create what is known as the English language.
But music, he says:
“…stands the history of a language on its head: it is now the mass of speakers that are judged by their relation to the single one, and the individual statement that provides the norm and takes precedence over general usage.”
In other words, individual artists define what is known as the music of a particular time.
He makes his point in reference to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven; but the same thing could easily be said about The Beatles and their definitive role in popular music of the 20th Century.
The Beatles: Masters
The Beatles’ recordings arguably demonstrate the limit of what is possible in their particular form of both songwriting and record-making, and so I was pretty skeptical when I heard that remastered versions of all of their records were coming out.
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Please click here to listen while you read
“All Sounds are Created Equal”
That’s a phrase I used to like to throw around. The idea is that all sounds are ultimately ripples in the atmosphere, changes in air pressure that our ears can decode; and as such the waves that radiate through the air carrying a Beethoven symphony are no different from the ones that radiate out from a car accident.
That’s true, I think; but it’s not the whole truth, because each wave is perfectly unique as well. No two can be identical. And it is precisely because of this that it’s been possible for us to connect different meanings to these waves. Words, car horns, music, and so on would be indistinguishable if all sounds were the same.
These two truths seem to coexist as a kind of double helix, with one strand standing for the unity of all sounds and the other standing for the uniqueness of each. Sound is comprised of both.
Most of us only call certain sounds music. If a hammer falls off of a table, say, most people would not define the resulting clatter as music. But, happily, there are some of us who would hear music in that falling hammer, and it is the music made by these people that is the subject of this post. The station I’ve been working on this week, named “Ovals,” is the soundtrack. Listen.
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When we set out building Pandora four years ago we knew that our work wouldn’t be done until we’d found a great way to unlock the service from the PC. Just over a year ago the iPhone let us take the first compelling step in that direction and the year since has been filled with a bunch of mobile product launches from Pandora.
I’m delighted to announce that today we’re finally ready to extend the Pandora experience to Android. As of today Pandora is available directly from Pandora at www.pandora.com/android as well as in the Android Market.
I’m really excited about how Pandora for Android turned out. You listen to all the Pandora stations that you’ve been listening to on the web and the application is deeply integrated with many of the core Android features too. You can control playback from a home screen widget, “deep tap” any artist or song in the standard Android music player and jump into Pandora to discover other similar artists, make a smart folder to get quick access to your stations from the home screen, buy tracks you discover from the Amazon MP3 application, use your Android address book to share stations with your friends, and of course listen in the background while you’re doing other things on the phone.
Pandora runs on both the myTouch and the G1 today and I’m also excited to announce that we’re working with Sprint to ensure that Pandora works flawlessly on the HTC Hero when it becomes available next month.
This one has been a long time in coming; thanks so much for your patience. Hope it was worth the wait and that you enjoy taking Pandora with you as much as we enjoyed building it.
[Song Samples Contain Explicit Lyrics]
Well, not extreme in the angry, offensive or scatological sense. Rather, extreme in the idea of two opposites of the same measure. Fat — skinny, tall — short… Except the extremes I’m interested in involve the speed of rapping/rap delivery. The speed of a rap has a profound impact on the feel and style of a particular track. Double-time rapping over a laid back funk groove can sound visceral and uplifting – no matter how banal or evil the lyrics; meanwhile, a slow, laid back rhyme can be hypnotic and pull you even deeper into the sound and vibe of the music.
Let’s start with the fast stuff. While East Coast rappers are often known for complex rhyme schemes, West Coast cats love their slang (foshizzle, flambostulatin, yadadamean), and Southerners play to the strength of their unique accent and culture, the Midwest is undeniably the home of quick rappers. This track by Do or Die is a good example. One of the most popular fast rappers got his start on a Do or Die track — Twista. His style and delivery made him a popular guest rapper in the 90s, and this track really shows off his abilities. I can’t forget my hometown of Kansas City and our local hero Tech N9ne. His track Midwest Choppers exemplifies fast rapping. If you listen closely to the production you’ll also hear the heavy influences of Southern and West Coast producers in the Midwest sound. Here are some other tracks with notably fast raps: Blackalicious – Alphabet Aerobics, Sleep – Introduction, Busta Rhymes – Break Ya Neck, Beatropolis & Shing02 – Embrace, DJ Vadim – Kill Kill Kill.
I’d be remiss to skip the UK when discussing fast rappers. The worlds of grime, dubstep and garage have their own share of fire spitters. While they may not be focused on quickness alone, their rhythmic intensity and ability to flit between double and single-time is notable. Check out this track by Dizzee Rascal or these tracks by Plastician and The Bug for good examples. But they’re not the fastest MCs in the UK. This is the territory of drum & bass MCs like Skibadee, Eksman, and Shabba D who pioneered a double-time, consonant heavy delivery that fits perfectly with the fast tempos of drum & bass. This track featuring Skibbadee, Shabba D, MC Det and MC Fearless showcases a bit of their style. The UK Rap/Electronic scene is evolving at breakneck speed and is well documented online with videos of great MC battles and performances by all the cats I mentioned.
Now in terms of slow rapping, the title undoubtedly goes to Houston for their Screwed & Chopped sound. This is a method of remixing rap music pioneered by Houston artist DJ Screw. Screw took cassette tapes, dramatically slowed them down, and added tons of reverb, delay, scratching and sound effects. Here is an original DJ Screw production. It’s immediately recognizable by the ridiculously slow tempo and freakishly deep vocals. However, the rapping speed is based on studio effects — so perhaps this title should be accompanied by an asterisk…? Check out these other super-slow Screwed & Chopped tracks by artists OG Ron C, Big Pokey & Lil Keke, and the Screwed Up Click. Stay tuned for more on the Houston sound in a future post – there’s much more to cover from this city!
The mainstream rapper with the slowest natural flow is probably Young Jeezy. His style is deliberate, simple and strikingly sssslllloooowwwww. Jeezy is able to pull it off without sounding too boring — probably due to the depth and uniqueness of his voice and the fast subdivisions of his beats. Check out his track Standing Ovation for a good example. Here are a few other notably slow rap tracks 30 Rocks by 8 Ball & MJG and You’re Everything by Bun B.
Is there somebody I missed? Yeah I know I didn’t include the Guinness World Record holders — as theirs is more of a technical feat whose purpose is speed, not music. But is there anyone else? Perhaps there’s a Screwed & Chopped scene in Tuvan, or a crazy fast rapper living in the Australian Outback? Let me know!
PS – speaking of Australian rap – this track by Diplo makes me smile!
Chris Horgan [Senior Music Analyst]
I’m pleased to announce that we’ve released version 2.0 of the Pandora One desktop app. You’ve been telling us that the desktop app is one of your favorite features of Pandora One and it’s great to have the chance to begin the process of refining that experience.
With this release we’ve tried to keep the interface very simple while adding several of the most-requested features:
* You can now view your song history. Just click on the album art to reveal arrows to navigate through the last hour of your playlist. Thumb up (or down) or buy any song that played in the last hour.
* We’ve added a progress bar. Want to know how much is left to play of the current track? Just click the album art to reveal the time elapsed and remaining for the current track.
* Windows users can hover over the system tray icon to see the name of the currently playing artist and song.
* The app remembers where you placed it on your desktop and how loud you like your music. The next time you start it, it’s right where you left it.
* Song transitions have been sped up so you don’t need to wait long for a thumbs down to get rid of the current song.
Our goal is to continue to improve Pandora One over time. Hope you enjoy this first little step in that evolution.
Pianist Bill Mays returns to lead us step by step through a recent composition of his called “Fantasy, Movement One.” He shows us the motifs and elements as they progress, calls out where improvisation led the players away from the printed notes, and introduces us to the tones of the other musicians on the session, who are Alisa Horn on cello and Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn. (9 mins.)
Mike Seeger’s Old Time Music
The music that we’re speaking of is a cultural resource that we’ve built up over thousands of years… Before we had radio and phonographs… The music from these earlier, old times endured through the generations because of its rich and varied sounds and lyrics and because it filled the needs of the people, who, after all, created it for themselves. – Mike Seeger
As many of you probably know, Mike Seeger died on August 7. I’ve been listening to some of his work and thought it would be cool to have some company, so I’ve made a station called Mike Seeger’s Old Time Dream, based on our collections of Mike Seeger’s music as well as our collection of the New Lost City Ramblers, the group that he founded and played with for more than 50 years.
Mike Seeger was a key participant and leader in the “old time music” movement, and if you’re not familiar with this music, you’re on the threshold of a very cool discovery. Even if you ultimately decide you don’t particularly like it (doubtful, I bet), old time music’s acoustic instrumentation, rough performances, and old shared songs preserve a powerful way of making music (and perhaps of living).
Old time music lets us hear the sound of music as it must have been before recordings were common. Back when performances would have been more idiosyncratic, less standardized, and would have come out in the same ways of speaking and being that the people used in everyday life.
It also takes old, unattributed songs as a main part of its repertoire. These days, assuming someone wanted to write those kinds of songs, modern copyright laws might make sharing them difficult, at least in their recorded form. But songs that were shared freely in the ongoing, practical use and performance of the songs by people in their homes would live on, as the traditional repertoire has for so long.
Mike Seeger’s Old Time Dream, indeed.
There is so much to hear and ask about this music, but I’ll beg off here and let Mike Seeger do the real work. Looking forward to hearing comments, and thanks for reading and listening!
Listeners often wonder why Pandora doesn’t play news or sports or talk radio programming. Here, Tim Westergren answers that question and asks for a few new ones.<!– –>
For questions answered elsewhere please check our FAQ, but also please explore: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
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