Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How many colorful people?

Hey hey!

Whew, it is HOT on the east coast. And, strangely, my car must have been feeling the burn, too, because it decided it needed a new water pump. Hey, I can understand the hydration thing!
So, since my mom's a saint, she loaned me her car for a few days while I'm fixing mine. (My mechanical skills, while present, aren't exactly high ranking in the 'speed' department.)

And it seems that whenever I borrow mom's car, there's a great mix cd in the player with System of a Down and Rammstien. Ha! Seriously! This is actually because my younger brother also uses her car, BUT she gets a kick out of the music, and really likes the System stuff. (She's unsure about the Rammstien, because nobody is exactly sure what it's saying, and nobody wants to know, and mom's a very kind and harmony type of person.) (And by the way, please don't feel obligated to tell me what those guys are singing about. I prefer the bliss of ignorance. I assure you, I am a happy guy!)

So, anyway, I was driving to my teaching studio today, and I was listening to this one track. It starts out with a simple little keyboard riff, and then the chaos starts. But it's a typical German chaos - a focused, brutal, precision sonic attack. It rocks! It's actually easy to play on guitar, and I started to ponder the question "why does one riff over and over sound so darn cool?"

All of a sudden, my ear caught a subtle keyboard line in the background. The humidity so omnipresent these past few days must have acted a catalyst to the flashback that the song triggered, because, BAM, there I was...

It was years ago, and I was a camp counselor/terrorist trainer at a high school environmental leadership camp. We were out to save the world! (Some of the attendees are still keeping up the good work. I'm immensely proud of them.) My hair was super long, and super humidified, sort of like a cat that went through the washing machine. Yngwie Malmsteen lived at the top of my music charts, and if it wasn't fast, it wasn't good. If I had listened to the mosquitoes droning outside the main lodge that summer's evening, I would have thought their wings sluggish.

There was a guy there also named Josh, from New Jersey, and boy, was this guy from New Jersey, in the best sense of the word. Cool, with it, and he knew what was up. He was also a big rap fan, and he was trying to convince a younger version of myself that I could give up my diehard metalhead ways occasionally to enjoy the spitted word. I was a hard sell, but the other Josh had some interesting points. We were all standing around in the lodge, trying to look cool for the hippie chicks, and talking about music. The girls promptly ignored us. But we didn't realize it, so we kept talking.

"Look man, listen for the chord change in the back." All of a sudden, I heard what he was talking about. Behind the rhymes and the synthesized hi-hats, I heard a canvas of sound, subtly coloring the soundscape. And then it changed, and so did the picture. It was cool - and really slick! A far cry from the "LOOK AT MEEEE" mentality of the 80's music I was so obsessed with...

"DU! DU HAST!" the stereo growled, and snap, I was back in the blazing Tuesday afternoon, the rap and the enviro girls and my epic mullet all evaporating in the sun.

But Josh's New Jersey accent seemed to linger for a moment in the car, saying "See? See? That chord change is why rap is so catchy, know what I'm sayin', bro? See? Chord change there...Chord change there...See?"

And it seems to me that the subtle use of the keyboard lines is one (of the many) thing(s) that make those Rammstein tunes so darn cool, and keeps those riffs so fresh and face melting.

But it's in the subtlety that the genius is to be found. If the guy who tracked the 'boards was intent on his mix being out in the front, it would have been lost. The different parts being played were actually somewhat busy, but faded almost to the edge of imperception.

It struck me that, when faced with an arrangement choice, it's almost like planning a party. We can have weird Uncle Bill over, but that means that we probably shouldn't have weird Uncle Sam over either. (Where DOES he get off wearing hats like that?) Maybe we can balance it out with the cousins who are pretty standard.

Each part in our music is like a colorful, or not colorful, guest. How are these guests gonna work together, while keeping the party going, yet keeping the roof on? How many are there gonna be? Generally, the more there are, the quieter they should talk.

Be an event planner!

Scratch that, be a musician.

But you might try not scoffing at your ma the next time she's trying to figure out the guest list!

Rock on!

- Josh

No comments: