DRAC – “Piece of Heaven”

Greetings, troglodytes, & Happy Last Year of the Aughties!

Before we begin, a short advertisement for the Detholz! show THIS SATURDAY, JANUARY 3rd @ SCHUBAS w/PINK DEVIL & SONOI (ex-MANISHEVITZ)!

This will be Detholz! last appearance in its current configuration — more news on that will be forthcoming — but why not ring in the New Year once the ringing in your ears from your punishing hangover has ceased by joining us for a fantastic billing. PINK DEVIL is the new project of our compatriot (and my new neighbor), Danny Black, and SONOI is the newest outing for the leading members of our booking agency rostermates, MANISHEVITZ. It will be a family nite not to be missed, and we will be debuting some new material as well…

Also, Facebook has finally broken the collective will of Detholz!, so if you’re a part of this nefarious, time-consuming religious cult, then why not add yourself as a fan?

Okay, on with the show…

Firstly, apologies for my long absence. Once Thanksgiving hits, my life goes into hyperspace at my various jobs & I revert to a troglodytic existence until the Yuletide tsunami has crashed and dispersed.

For this last week of 2008, I give you another installment in the full-scale musical I’m writing based loosely on the “Dracula” story (see previous post):

PIECE OF HEAVEN

Some scene-setting exposition: this “aria” occurs in the middle of Act I. Without giving too much away, it’s a song sung by a vampire welcoming a major character to a vampiric trailer park (“Wallachian Manor”) in Appalachian Pennsylvania, 1956.

“Musically speaking,” (hardy har har) this musical is by far the most ambitious and challenging piece of music I’ve written yet. Not only am I composing songs, but there is all manner of ancillary material — narrative interludes, instrumental transitions, etc. — not to mention the libretto (a.k.a. the “lyrics” of the story) or the orchestration. To further complicate matters, once this is finished, I’m going to need to recruit some warm-blooded humans to cover certain parts on the recording, including female vocalists, string & brass players, and probably a percussionist or two.

Before Christmas I had a minor breakdown on this project– it just got too overwhelming. The cherry on top is that this is a Musical — a format I’ve detested my entire life (see previous post) — so I’m having to surmount a certain degree of distaste & a healthy dose of insecurity to boot. Will all of this work ultimately be worth it for an admittedly ridiculous musical adaptation of Dracula? I guess you, doughty listener, will have to be the final judge.

I’m about 5 songs into the thing now & I have the suspicion that today’s is the best of the lot. I’ve been listening to a lot of ’50’s bubblegum pop to study for this project– The Platters, in particular– so you’ll hear a lot of elements of that style appropriated for use here, incl. the classic 6/8 piano chords that run throughout the whole song & the “doo-wop” background vocals.

Another element I’m proud of is my newest toy: a theremin! I’m ham-handedly trying to learn how to play it, but it’s one of the most difficult instruments I’ve ever attempted. What is a theremin, you ask? Click here for the full skinny. It’s an early electronic instrument controlled entirely by gesture– so there’s no reference for pitch other than one’s ear. Suffice it to say, it ain’t easy. I’ve spent hours on the thing and I can barely play a scale.

What do you think of this? Yea? Nay? Neigh? Help me out, folks. By my calculation, orchestrating songs like this takes me about four times as long as writing your average Detholz! song, so it’s a big commitment.

Tune in next week for more! I’m not teasing this time!

And have a safe and resplendent New Year!

LYRICS

PIECE OF HEAVEN (WALLACHIAN MANOR)

Squeeze me until my breathing ceases
Don’t catch me when I fall
Awake forever,
Warm with your fluid,
I welcome you to our piece of heaven

Floating away from earthly bodies
Pressing your lips to mine
We are forever,
Rich with the color,
I welcome you to our piece of heaven

I want to lose myself in time
I want to break free
The present is ours forever
Moist and cloudy,
You surround me,
Taste my heart,
Feel my last heartbeats…

Hold me against you
Let me feel you tremble
Swept underneath my tide
This world is ours
Always remember
I welcomed you

I welcome you!

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17 Responses to “DRAC – “Piece of Heaven””

  1. fragileporpoise Says:

    This was mos def worth the wait, I greatly enjoyed it. That 50’s pop sound is very obvious and it works wonderfully with the theremin. Honestly, a theremin? That is my ultimate idea of horrorshow. The fact that it will play a part in this project is quite exciting, I cannot stress this enough. Any time spent working with it is time well spent so don’t give up on that. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must be but just think of the enormous sense of satisfaction playing it will bring. Just think of all the many positive adjectives I will be forced to learn in order to fully express the… positiveness of it.

    Sorry I cannot attend the show, not my first choice but time is so cruel. Happy changing of calendars!

    Once again, this is full of yea.

  2. Wotsac Says:

    I don’t know Jim – you tend to wear your distaste and discomfort on your sleeve when you work, and I’m hearing a lot of clenched jaw and gritted teeth here.

  3. detholz Says:

    Porpoise: Glad you’re digging it!

    WOTSAC: No doubt. Hopefully 1. it will assist the nasty story and 2. it will be somewhat mitigated by the fact that I won’t be singing any of the lead parts. I’m recruiting a small army of outside singers for the final.

  4. bp Says:

    I’ve never been a big fan of musicals or doo-wop, and I don’t think even a Jim Cooper treatment of the two manages to change my opinion. This one’s just not my thing. To each his own, I suppose.

  5. detholz Says:

    bp: Fair enough. I figured this project might be distasteful to some longtime Detholz! fans.

    The reactions from field tests thus far has been pretty polarized: people seem to really love it or intensely hate it, which is always a good sign in my book.

    The only thing I’ll say in defense of this admittedly quixotic endeavor is that a musical allows for a variety of styles to compliment the “action.” Where this ballad might not be your cup of tea, I’d suspect some of the other tunes might be more up your alley.

    There is some serialism in your near future! Hey, if you can’t inject a little atonality into your musical, then what good are you, after all?

  6. kebabdylan Says:

    love it

  7. kebabdylan Says:

    ok. so a little more input? Orchestration is really impressive. I do not comprehend being able to do that at all. Just read through your post.

    That’s a real theremin? how much do those run? I thought they were a rarity. Although theremins are cool, I’d leave it out of the beginning. Everything thing else sounds so damn good. The theremin kinda sounds like you are learning it (which as it happens you are). It sounds like its in there because you want it in there, not because it adds to the music.

    but really, this is golden.

  8. detholz Says:

    ‘Bab: First of all, it heartens me that you appreciate this. As a fan who’s been with us since the early days, it gives me hope that the effort isn’t in vain here.

    Theremins aren’t all that expensive. I bought the Moog Etherwave, which is under $500. You get what you pay for, however. Tube theremins are by far the best, but also insanely expensive. My buddy Art Harrison from the band, The Cassettes, builds them for a living and he has been a big help in my quest to master the instrument. He builds theremins according to a plate model in which the player moves his hands in a horizontal as opposed to a vertical direction– which is much less difficult.

    His theremins also have a much better tone & are more “musical” & responsive. I can’t afford his current product line, though he’s working on more affordable instruments. To me, though, there is also a visual component to the instrument when it’s played in its traditional form that I’d like to master before I branch out into the plate models.

    That said, I hear your criticism that it’s an add-on — not crucial to the composition. I disagree, though, that it is superfluous at the beginning of this piece– a case could be made that it should be left out in the middle section, where the strings play a descending line. I think it adds an air of mystery and sleaziness at the beginning which compliments the action.

    All in all, I’m finding less is more with respect to this project. It’s been a learning experience– I’ve had to reluctantly throw out earlier experiments that cost me hours. Working with a full orchestra, the possibilities are truly endless & that’s the bane of my existence. This piece is already too dense.

    So we’ll see what happens. As long as listeners are pleased with the demos, I’ll continue to write this monstrosity…

  9. Fragile Porpoise Says:

    Personally I think the theremin adds a great element to the piece though that may be due to my associating it so much with black and white horror/sci-fi movies of the 50s. I think it’s an excellent mashup of styles from that era.

    That particular model mentioned is the one I’ve always been interested in owning. It happens to be the only one I know anything about, actually. A good model for beginners, then?

  10. Brian Sole Says:

    I’m impressed, Jim. So far I like what I hear, but I rarely don’t like what I hear from you. Looking forward to hear more of it.

  11. detholz Says:

    Hi Brian: Thank you, Bube!

    Everyone please take a moment and visit Brian’s weird website:

    http://www.entropictees.com — official Detholz! sportswear!

  12. detholz Says:

    Porps: The Etherwave is definitely a beginner’s model & as far as theremins go, is actually pretty crappy.

    I had long exchanges with my friend, Art Harrison, who has engineered all kinds of different theremins for many years before deciding to purchase the Etherwave (Art’s theremins are beautifully built but very expensive.)

    There are a lot of resources on his website: http://www.harrisoninstruments.com/

    I noticed that he has finally released his less expensive plate theremin (at $249, it’s less than the Etherwave!) and I guarantee you it will sound much better than the Etherwave. Bear in mind it’s a plate model, which is different than the antennae version made by Moog.

    I’d encourage you to email Art via his site if you want to talk theremins. He is a theremin guru & all-around nice guy!

  13. kebabdylan Says:

    i must also admit that I have inherited (begrudgingly) a taste for musicals from my wife.

    are you by chance going to work children of the night into the production. It occurs to me that that song actually sound a lot like something out of a musical, and its the right subject matter.

  14. detholz Says:

    ‘Babs: I hear you on the musicals thing.

    This project has been really slow going– I find myself resorting to “Musical conventions” in a few tracks I haven’t posted, like oom-pah Broadway drum tracks and overly sunny background vocals… I have found myself writing music that I HATE! Needless to say, there will be a lot of trimming before this thing is done.

    I’m glad you like the “Children of the Night” track– I didn’t care for it much when I wrote it, but it has grown on me with subsequent listens.

    This musical is written in a “sorta strict” Lydian flat-7 mode, so harmonically, “Children” doesn’t fit musically into the structure I’m devising.

    (Lydian b7 scale = major scale w/ augmented 4th & lowered 7th)

    I find limiting myself to one scale and a few melodic ideas helps to cohere larger pieces like this. The first CD release will only be the First Act, after all, so there’s two more to go. It’s easy to get lost in the woods compositionally if you start introducing too many melodic/harmonic ideas in a piece this long… or at least that’s what my composition prof used to say.

  15. Fragile Porpoise Says:

    Thanks so much for the input, it is greatly appreciated. Most people I mention theremins to either don’t know what I’m talking about or are completely discouraging about the whole prospect of purchasing one so thanks for taking the time to respond. I’m definitely getting me one of those 204s.
    I’ve been wanting one since that moment many years ago when Svengoolie introduced me to the instrument. Ah, the dream comes true thanks to Detholz.

    That suggestion does make sense, kebabdylan, although for a moment I thought you were perhaps referring to the vomiting children you mentioned in a previous comment…

  16. detholz Says:

    Porps: Excellent! Why are people discouraging you?!? The theremin is difficult to master, certainly, but well worth the effort. I learned “White Christmas” this past holiday season and it thrilled my wife and her family no end!

    If you get a 204 do me a favor and tell Art a) Jim Cooper says hi and b) let him know I rec’d his theremins.

    If you like his craftsmanship, let anyone interested know about Art. He should be a college professor with the amt. of knowledge he’s accrued over the years about how to build and play theremins & is hugely under-appreciated!

  17. Fragile Porpoise Says:

    I can imagine no better way to spend Christmas than to gather the family around ye olde theremin for a sing-along. Nice.

    I will get one and I will send your greetings and give you credit for the sale.

    If I meet another theremin enthusiast I will let them know there are others out there. Anybody who devotes so much time and effort into rather obscure instruments should be commended.

    Thanks again!

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