Dave Stewart's Music Seminar (Part 5)
New Jerusalem (Continued)
Part 5: Another songwriting masterclass from Dave Stewart, continuing his examination of the ideas behind 'New Jerusalem'.
When I sat down to write 'New Jerusalem' I had no idea that it would turn out to be over nine minutes long. Pop songs are only supposed to last three-and-a-half minutes — what went wrong? For one thing, the subject matter of the song (nationalism/politics/the environment) is too deep to deal with in a brief, dismissive fashion (though some have tried — 'War Is Stupid' by Boy George does its best to sum up the entire history of human conflict in three words). I felt that if I was going to get into these kinds of lyrical areas, I needed room to explore.
Another factor which contributed to the epic length was my desire to develop some of the initial musical ideas. For example, the rhythm keyboard part which features in the intro (some of which I showed you last month) seemed full of possibilities for expansion and development. As you will recall, the part (played with both hands) was originally something I improvised into a sequencer. See Figure 1 for a transcription. Note the brief excursion into 5/16 at the beginning of (ii), a legacy from my polymetric days.
The tonality of this part is essentially G minor, using an E natural and F natural as the 6th and 7th steps of the scale. However, it could equally well be described as B flat major with an E natural as 4th rather than the usual E flat. (This type of altered major scale with a sharpened 4th is described by some people as 'Lydian' — it's the same scale you get if you play the white notes of a keyboard between F and F.) Having written the first part of the song with several key changes (verses in G minor, bridge in D major, choruses in E minor) I thought it would be interesting to reintroduce the rhythm keyboard pattern in its B flat major tonality. So, after the second chorus the key change shown in Figure 2 takes place.
At the same point, various startling things happen, only some of which can be accurately notated. The lead vocal becomes two vocals, one in each speaker. The keyboard rhythm part, originally played with a fairly dry, percussive DX7 sound, takes on a more luxurious chiming quality which brings it more to the listener's attention. A Minimoog — a great keyboard for bass sounds — comes in with a low B flat drone, while soft strings hover in the background playing sweet Lydian chords. Most startlingly of all, I play a long sample (taken from a film soundtrack) which contains an orchestral major 6th chord, complete with rippling harp arpeggios, flute trills, birds singing and a cock crowing — the sort of cliched but pleasant sound combination typically used in old films to evoke the atmosphere of the English countryside. You can hear this sample unaccompanied right at the start of 'New Jerusalem', as the first sound in the sonic collage that introduces the song. In the intro, I play it at its original pitch of G major, but here I play it down nine semitones in the key of B flat major. This has a markedly deranging effect — the cock crowing turns into the howling of wolves, while the twittering birds become screeching pterodactyls. Now that's what I call music! On the whole, the atmosphere is decidedly dream-like, which is quite appropriate to the lyric at this point.
Having got this far into a surreal sonic environment, I decided to press on rather than try to end the song within four minutes. I began to compose an instrumental section that would ultimately lead to a middle eight during which the figure of Britannia could appear and speak to the audience in riddles. Why? Why not? Unable to answer either of these questions, I happily settled down to write a chord sequence to fit underneath the keyboard rhythm part, starting on the word "dream" (see Figure 3).
To produce a crescendo effect in the eighth bar, I held down my sampler's sustain pedal and played a fast ascending chromatic run from the bottom of the keyboard to somewhere near the top. This gave rise to an indescribable racket as the bird song on the film soundtrack sample mutated from the roaring and howling of gigantic prehistoric beasts to the buzzing of gnats. In order to accomodate the key change from B flat major to D major in bar 5, I transposed the second part of the keyboard rhythm part — marked (ii) — up four semitones. It then seemed like a good idea, before unleashing the awesome figure of Britannia on to the already bewildered listeners, to let the rhythm part run on for a further four bars in the new key while introducing a series of crashing chords, shown in Figure 4.
I'd better stop writing about 'New Jerusalem' now, before I take up too much space. If you've got a sequencer and a couple of modules, try writing in some of the above parts, taking care to get them in the correct register. Don't be afraid to use step time recording for the keyboard rhythm part — although I originally played it in real time, I'm not sure I could do it again. Fortunately, Little Dave (my MC500) can always remember parts long after I've forgotten how to play them. More crazy music next month.
First published in 'Keyboard' magazine, Japan. All music © Budding Music 1990.
'New Jerusalem' is from the CD The Big Idea 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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