Dave Stewart's Music Seminar (Part 10)
Part 10: No rhythm. Dave Stewart explains ways of making music Without That Insistent Backbeat.
Now, how about some music with no rhythm whatsoever? Well, hardly any... Such is my love of harmony that I can quite happily write a whole piece of music without considering rhythm sounds, and I must admit that the effect of this is quite liberating. Why does a big crashing noise have to sound on every 2nd and 4th beat? Why must there be a loud, deep thud at least once a bar, and virtually every 16th note be covered by some pulsating percussion racket?
The answer, of course, is that none of the above are obligatory — they are merely the current conventions of pop music. Any thinking, creative musician will naturally question the conventions before slavishly adopting them in his or her music, won't you? Perhaps the idea of a piece of pop music without rhythm seems like a contradiction in terms, but it certainly leaves space for other possibilities, like textures and nice chords (remember those?). For once, why not leave out the bloody drums altogether?
Such a song — using chordal and melodic textures, with only minimal rhythmic accompaniment — is the ballad 'The World Spins So Slow', the B-side of a single Barbara Gaskin and I recorded in 1983. A Japanese interviewer told me via an interpreter that when he heard this, it made him feel as if he was floating in space, observing the planet Earth from a great distance. I thanked him warmly and asked if he could possibly spare me some of his medication.
This song was written as a result of me doodling with my old Prophet V, an antiquated (yet deeply fashionable) analogue (let's put it in a rack with MIDI and charge 'em three grand) synthesizer. I had a soft flute sound with a slow, Robert Wyatt-like vibrato, to which I added a second oscillator a perfect 5th higher.
This tuning means you can play ordinary chords, but they will come out sounding interesting. I suspect the reason I was put on this planet was to find interesting chords, so it was with a good deal of satisfaction that I wrote the sequence that forms the song's intro. On paper, or on piano, the four chords sound a little plain, but with a 5ths flute patch they sound great. You wanna play these chords and hear 'em how they're supposed to sound? No need to rush out and buy a Prophet V. Most keyboards can duplicate this sound easily. Let's take, for example, a Korg M1 (or one of the T-series). As a starting point, you need a soft sustaining program like Angels (based on female voice samples). You then create a combination consisting of two Angels programs, the first at normal pitch, the second raised seven semitones (a perfect 5th). (You can alter the second program's pitch by setting the Interval value to 07.) Set the volume of the second program slightly lower than the first, and with a dash of chorus and reverb from the internal effects section you'll have something pretty close to my synth sound. (If you want to try a slight variation, substitute Pan Flute for Angels).
I know some of you out there can't read music, so the mass of black dots that follow won't mean much — however, I'm sure you can find some really great chords of your own if you experiment with 5ths tunings. As an alternative, the second oscillator/program could be tuned a 4th (five semitones) lower than the first, and there are all sorts of mad sonorities available for those that wish to take it further. Folks, I exhort you to detune those oscillators into less well-charted zones and hang the conventions... try a minor 6th (eight semitones) interval for a truly frightening Godzilla Meets The Creature With No Brain From The Planet Zarg effect. Aaaaaarghhl! Or, even worse, set the oscillators one semitone apart to perform the soundtrack to A&R Men, Part 3 — The Final Lunch.
Thank you, and good night.
First published in 'Keyboard Magazine ', Japan.
The World Spins So Slow' © Dave Stewart/Budding Music 1983.
'The World Spins So Slow' is from the album Broken Records — The Singles by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, available via mail order from Broken Records, to whom any correspondence to Dave and Barbara should be directed.
Broken Records, (Contact Details).
Feature by Dave Stewart
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