Archive for the ‘weird’ Category

Jukebox of the Dead VIII Recap – “Prelude” & “You: the Power of You”

November 7, 2007

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog Episode XV!

Thanks to all who made it to the Detholz! 8th Annual “Jukebox of the Dead” Halloween shows last week. It was, by far, the best year yet. In Chicago, especial propers to Zen Master Lord of the Yum-Yum and the amazing Mucca Pazza marching band, which may be the New Greatest Show on Earth!

To finally cap off Detholz! Halloween proceedings– and for those who could not attend– we proudly present 2 tracks this week to give you the gist:

Jukebox of the Dead VIII Prelude

You: the Power of You

To get the full effect, these tracks should be listened to in sequence.

The Prelude was used under video of the disembodied head of Mister M (James “Jamesie” Mitchell), saying things like “YOU are the Chariot! Arise, YOU! Celebrate, YOU! YOU are the lighting! YOU are the one who can turn IF into BECAUSE!” etc. Given the chaos of the evening, it was tough to hear in the club.

A few musical asides about the Prelude:

1. It is in the dominant key of “You: the Power of You” (“U:PU” for short) — an old “Circle of 5th’s” trick to prepare you for the payoff at the beginning of “U:PU.”

2. It incorporates strains from both “U:PU” and Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the pretension of which I found endlessly amusing– esp. coupled with the video of Jamesie.

“U:PU” is a mashup of three components:

1. Olivia Newton-John’s / ELO’s “Xanadu” (I took a few liberties with the harmony to “Holzify”it.)

2. Jane Fonda’s step aerobics soundtrack

3. Rush’s “Xanadu”

A challenging set of components to combine, but interspersed with some campy double-talk and guitar lixx ala “Miami Vice,” I think it works. A definitive junket into Meta-Music Land… but hey, it’s Halloween!

Tune in next week where we’ll return to “The Way It Was,” or– to quote the great U.S. President, Warren Harding– “Back to Normalcy!” [sic]

Advertisements

JUKEBOX OF THE DEAD VIII – V.I. “John” Lenin’s “Imagine”

October 31, 2007

Greetings, super-tanned and baggy-eyed spirits of the underworld, and welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog Episode XIV!

Today marks the 8th Anniversary of the Detholz! Halloween Spectacular, “Jukebox of the Dead,” and the final performance of this year’s installment: JUKEBOX OF THE DEAD VIII, “Xanadu!” takes place TONIGHT, OCTOBER 31st @ EMPTY BOTTLE in CHICAGO w/Mucca Pazza & Lord of the Yum-Yum.

We understand as of 2 PM that the show is sold out, but perhaps if you call the refined and professional staff at Empty Bottle, you can pawn off a certain undesirable item to gain entry… like your BODY, or perhaps your SOUL?

To celebrate this, Detholz!’z favorite pagan Hallmark holiday, we offer you a preview of tonight’s closer: a re-working of “John” Lenin’s “Imagine.” A little blasphemy never hurt nobody.

This is an older demo, recorded before I really knew what I was doing, so the quality isn’t spectacular. But now that you’re without a BODY or SOUL, does it really matter in the long run? Can you really hear it, anyway?

So, see you tonight… and for those of you out there in TV Land who won’t be able to make it, we wish you a safe and pleasantly plump All Hallow’s Eve!

See you next Wednesday for the recap… and for more “original” Halloween selections…

Detholz! “Jukebox of the Dead” Halloween cover I – “Conga” by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine

October 3, 2007

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog XI, and welcome to the Detholz! season of Advent!

Advent, you ask? Yes, my child. Let us light the first candle today– All Hallow’s Eve draweth nigh!

For those of you who are not as familiar with Detholz! lore, every year on Halloween for the past 8 years we have staged what we call “The Jukebox of the Dead,” featuring deconstructions of soft rock and adult contemporary hits: “the songs you love to hate to love.” Every week in October, we will post an unreleased Detholz! cover from years past and count down to Halloween!

This week’s track is “Conga” by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

Preparations for this year’s “Jukebox of the Dead” have begun: Detholz! present “Jukebox of the Dead VIII: Xanadu!”

Mark your calendars for 3 manifestations of “Xanadu!”:

Friday, October 26
Zanies Too
Indianapolis IN
w/Creepin’ Charley

Saturday, October 27
The House
Dekalb IL

Wednesday, October 31 HALLOWEEN
Ye Aulde Empty Bottle
Chicago, IL
w/ the Mucca Pazza Marching Band & the amazing Lord of the Yum-Yum

Somehow prattling on about our compositional approach to deconstructing “Conga” strikes me as ridiculous. Also, I feel that I would be spilling trade secrets, like publishing the formula for New Coke or something. So, simply sit back, relax….and conga.

Tune in next week for another unreleased Detholz! cover!

Surrounded by Monarchs – “In a Consumer Haze” from “Paradise!”

September 26, 2007

Welcome to Episode X of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog!

In another two weeks, you’ll have enough tracks to build your own “Detholz! ‘n Friends” album! For now, the mp3’s all read “Detholz! Mp3 Blog,” but that’s so blase. What do YOU think this record should be called? “Abraham Lincoln and his Lincoln’s Logs?” “Tiny Loopholes for Huge Americans?” “The Adventures of Subway Sandwich on her Submarine, the U.S.S. Fat Jared?” Hmm… Hit us back with a comment, suggest a title and we’ll take a vote!

Today’s cut, “In a Consumer Haze” is near and dear to me, the product of a collaboration with one of the most colorful characters I know, Mr. James “Jamesie” Mitchell (aka Mister M from the DH! days of yore). He named the project “Surrounded by Monarchs.”

James, along with Karl, is one of the founding members of Detholz!. Back in the early days, James designed all of our posters– collages of anarcho-fascist rallies and images from “Today’s Christian Woman,” etc.– and took a very active role in making each Detholz! show unique. (We were in college at the time, and could afford to make every show “high concept.”)

In 2001 (right, James?), James experienced a minor meltdown and disappeared. After a few weeks of scratching our heads, James called me from somewhere in the Yukon Territory and announced that he was driving to the North Pole– or as close as he could get in his Buick LeSabre. While we feared for his safety, after a few more weeks, James returned home and wrote a collection of… poems? Lyrics? Vignettes? I don’t know what to call them. They’re a series of texts about his journey to the North Pole and back again entitled, “Paradise!.”

Eventually, James and I decided to collaborate on this project. I would set his text to music, and it would culminate in a solo performance by Jamesie @ Hungry Brain in Chicago. As I recall, I badgered him to be involved until he agreed. The resulting piece is 45 minutes long– the longest piece of music I’ve written to date– and James and I worked closely together on the project for about 3 months before it was finished. Surrounded by Monarchs remains one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever participated in.

In the moments after James finished his performance, Dan, the doughty Hungry Brain bartender, said: “OK, we are now officially the weirdest bar in Chicago!”

Though “Paradise!” is far from perfect musically, I think James is a brilliant writer and an unusually resourceful artist. (Incidentally, James writes his own music– painstakingly– using a shareware sequencing program. Perhaps with his permission, he’ll allow us to post some in the future.) He manages to save the piece from drowning in its own pretension with his quirky stories.

Being able to work with James on this piece, I got a rare glimpse inside of his head during a confusing time in his life. Examining those demons together was a rare privilege. I have often returned to this piece during dark spells in my own life.

Because the process of constructing this was so long and difficult, I never fully mixed and mastered the original recordings. I’ve started to do so this year and will post more of “Paradise!” as I complete the remixes. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to post the piece in its entirety, as it was intended to be heard.

I. SONG CONCEPT

I will have to defer to James on the back story. He’ll post something shortly.

II. MUSICAL CONCEPT

This is the second piece of programmatic electronic music I’ve written. Almost all of the sound sources are “found sounds,” heisted from the web, movie soundtracks, other songs, etc. The sampling is “dirty,” meaning I didn’t do a whole lot to clean up imperfections, looped them in awkward places, etc. The samples are noisy, raw, and mostly went direct to tape. The technique comes, again, from my fascination with the music of the Residents, who were among the first to use sampling technology on their album entitled “The Tunes of Two Cities,” which is part of a trilogy about the migration of moles.

Specifically, many sounds were lifted from the soundtrack of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” as I saw a lot of parallels between James and Charlie– an innocent soul plunges into a bizarre dimension and climbs out again. (The candy-coated surrealism doesn’t hurt, either, if you know James.) I lifted and manipulated a lot of bell and glockenspiel passages from the score– which is excellent, btw. Bells make “magical” sounds– they’re the first and last instrument you hear in “Paradise!,” a reminder that you are entering/exiting an alternate universe. A alternate universe of JAMES.

The music in “Paradise!” is all motivic, just like “Death to the Traitor.” There is a “wanderer motive” that occurs in the B or “bridge” section of this movement, and though it doesn’t show up in every section of “Paradise!,” a lot of the melodic material (as melodic as one can be when working with found sounds) springs from it. I’ll post it once it’s remixed.

The big challenge here was to service the words. In retrospect, “Paradise!” is far too complicated musically. I think it distracts from Jamesie’s words at times, though in “Consumer Haze,” the balance is better. If I were to do this piece over again, I would impose more severe musical limits, focusing on creating atmosphere rather than through-composing movements with discernible sections and phrases. In plain English, it would be more “free form” and improvisatory.

There are later movements where I took that approach, and they’re MUCH more effective. When James performed this back in 2004, it was easy to see when the audience was responding… and when they got lost. It’s demanding to ask someone to sit through a 45-minute long electronic epic which, for the most part, isn’t easy to listen to. James performed this in front of 2 different audiences, and in both cases, they gravitated towards the “freer” sections.

“Consumer Haze” is intentionally dense, claustrophobic, and over-arranged with layers of crowd noise, pitches going in and out of phase, Ian MacKaye’s looped shout, etc. All of us have been trapped in a Best Buy at one point or other…

So. Your comments are welcome. I realize this will never play on commercial radio, but I hope you enjoy it. “Paradise!” remains a piece I’m very proud to have been a part of.

Detholz! B-Side – “Millionairess”

September 12, 2007

Welcome to the Detholz! Mp3 Blog Episode VIII! Once again, sorry for the late posting today. Better late than never.

Note: The same 3 or 4 people always comment… to the rest of you out there in TV Land, feel free to weigh in! I can see your stats all the way from here– I know you’re out there. Don’t be scared off by all of the music geeks. This is a forum that is open to all, and if there are questions/comments on any other aspect of the band or these songs, please feel free to throw your hat in the ring! No one here is a biter (at least as far as I know). And, because we’re on the Interweb, you can opt to remain blissfully anonymous!

On today’s episode, we’re going to have a little self-deprecating fun. The song, “Millionairess,” is an out-and-out reject, plagued with musical and lyrical problems from the start. It was unanimously voted down by other band members, and will forever reside in the Detholz! circular file.

So, your further criticisms are welcome! Below are mine. Let us sharpen our scalpels and begin…

I. SONG CONCEPT

This song is about someone I knew a long time ago who was first betrayed by her family and eventually by herself. Sorry to plead the 5th, but that’s really all I’m prepared to say in a public forum.

Lyrically, the song is a disaster. In addition to the queasy, gross-out imagery, the lyrics have a “Bee Gees” sheen to them, where the images and rhymes just… miss the mark. If I have any Achilles Heel when writing lyrics, it’s in over-reaching. I have a tendency, even in my day-to-day life, to try too hard to say something that’s actually pretty simple. Oh well. Perhaps it’s from a lifetime of listening to sermons on tape.

II. MUSICAL CONCEPT

OK, here’s where it gets juicy. This song began with the piano and drum groove, which I heisted directly from the Latin band Yerba Buena’s song, “Fever.” I wanted to go totally out of my element rhythmically in this song. I think the groove is fairly successful– especially since it wasn’t originally my idea! Things definitely went south from there.

This was an experiment doomed from the start. I had a very hard time crafting a convincing hook to this complex rhythm. Again, I’m no drummer! The result was the simple 4-note chorus (“I never killed anyone”), which doesn’t conjure a particularly pleasant image, nor is it set to a convincing melody. In retrospect, it might have worked better in the accompaniment, though with all of the other mistakes in this song’s arrangement, it hardly matters.

Earlier this year, I became addicted to the Miroslav Philharmonik orchestral plugin and decided to go nuts with a Steve Reich/John Adams-esque orchestral arrangement here, which lends the song a ponderous quality… like, “where the hell did this come from?” The “Traitor” motive (see previous posts) is all over the place, backwards, forwards, both in the orchestral instruments and the clavinet. If there’s anything that saves the song, it’s the Traitor motive, in my opinion, as it’s woven in pretty snugly.

The worst part is the painfully “Broadway” bridge. Augh! It makes me cringe every time I hear it. When the bridge hits, I imagine 20 clones of myself filing onstage from either side, enthusiastically waving top hats and canes, belting out the ridiculous background vocals. I included the pointilistic flute part in the bridge for continuity’s sake to link it to the previous verses, but it just doesn’t belong there.

Emergency! Send in the clowns!

Not to mention the leather and vomit imagery which, as ham-handed as it is, is made doubly ridiculous when given the Broadway treatment– though a musical that revolved around leather and vomit might be one I’d pay to see.

Feh. Apparently, I’m no Sondheim.

The final element that doesn’t work are all of the repeated “ones” and the persistent fifths in the piano. I played this song for a friend in the car, and it literally curled his spine. He immediately sat up straighter, began to fidget, and looked subliminally uncomfortable. While I would have enjoyed this result 10 years ago, it gave me no pleasure to see a friend physically recoil from one of my songs.

So, commenters, whip out your poison pens! Or perhaps you disagree and see some redeeming quality in this pretentious morass?

One thing is certain: my millions will elude me if I keep turning out caca like this.

III. LYRICS (gulp)

“I NEVER KILLED ANYONE”

One

Breathing in a perfume
Perfect head of hair
Alone within a pillar
A multimillionaire

Rightful heiress
Millionairess

And when your daddy tried to tell you something
Those were the words that you’d never forget
Now the bodies in the liquid are bumping you
Now he’ll never get to do it again
Do it again

“I NEVER KILLED ANYONE”

One

Hand upon the leather
Eyes roll back in peace
Skin begins to shimmer
See through to the seat

Throw up on your letter
Vomit from the fumes
That waft up to St. Peter
In his receiving room

And when your sister tried to tell you something
Those were the words that she shouldn’t have said
And now committees in the hallways are mumbling
“What should we have said? What should we have said?
What should we have said?”

“WE NEVER KILLED ANYONE”

One

Forgot to tell you
Got to tell you something:

WE NEVER KILLED ANYONE

Detholz! demo – “Stasiland”

September 6, 2007

Note: Detholz! play tomorrow night (Thursday, 9/6) at Empty Bottle in Chicago w/Numbers from CA & Trin Tran. Show starts at 9. Y’all come!

Welcome to Detholz! Mp3 Blog Episode VII, and apologies for the late posting today. I was negotiating with the Russians.

Speaking of which, in this installment, we take a short jaunt back in time– and return to familiar Detholz! waters– with the song, “Stasiland.”

I. SONG CONCEPT

This song was directly inspired by 2 films, both of which I’d recommend highly:

1. Florian Henckel von Donnerskmark’s film, “The Lives of Others,” a fascinating– if sentimental– depiction of an officer of the Stasi, the secret police of the East German communist state, and,

2. Volker Schlöndorff’s “The Legend of Rita,” a fictional composite of events surrounding the activities of the Red Army Faction, a militant left-wing organization active in West Germany from 1970 – 1998 (and is also a little overwrought, but worth watching).

These two films were some of the first attempts to depict life in the East German state, a society where 1 in 6 people were either in the direct employ of, or volunteers for, the Stasi. Literally everyone was spying on one another. Each citizen had a Stasi file, all of which were made public after the reunification of Germany in 1989.*

*Incidentally, if you’re interested in the history of East German culture, you must read the story of Dean Reed, an failed American country musician who defected to the GDR and became a superstar as “Red Elvis.”

Can you imagine what it must have been like to exist in a nation that cultivated that degree of personal paranoia? If you live in the USA at the moment, I’ll bet you can! Though I try to steer clear of political subjects in Detholz! songs as a general rule, “Stasiland” could be considered a bona fide jab…. Can you say “Larry Craig?” Or “Patriot Act?” Those of you with a wide stance, beware!

These lyrics are throw-away as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not especially thrilled with them. Still, they serve the purpose of the song. Essentially, I wanted to write a bouncy, party song about a brutal Stasi interrogation. The disparity appealed to me.

The “Traitor” motifs– betrayal, blood, and animal imagery– are all present, as everything about the Stasi and East Germany encouraged betrayal in its varied forms: betrayal of family, betrayal of friends, betrayal of self– all for the benefit of the State which, ultimately, betrayed itself and its own people.

II. SONG COMPOSITION

“Death to the Traitor” (working title for the next record) thus far is rife with bleak, medium-tempo numbers, so Karl Doerfer (DH! guitarist) made the point that we needed some up-tempo songs to balance out the album.

“Stasiland” is essentially Detholz! meets “Beach Blanket Bingo”– an inside joke with myself, musically speaking, pretty much from start to finish.

The composition process began with the decidedly flatulent bass line, which is a MIDI contrabassoon (doubled with a few other things). It started as a bass synth line, but these days, I’ll substitute a sound I know sounds ridiculous just to keep things interesting.

The second element was the guitar. An old Detholz! trick is to stack two guitar parts– one playing quartal harmony, either in or out of the song’s key, and the other playing an ostinato that may also go outside the song’s tonality. In plain English, it sounds like there are “wrong” notes. This is a taste thing for me– but a little dissonance always puts some extra spring in my step. For a lesson in how to properly use dissonance without going completely atonal, listen to the chamber works of Stravinsky or, of course, any Bartok string quartet.

The 4-note “Traitor” motive occurs next as a centerpiece of the song, given all of the layers of betrayal referred to in the lyrics, and is hammered home by– my lands– a horn section! (Incidentally, it also reoccurs in the horns at the very end of the song in retrograde.)

This is the song that began the “to horn or not to horn” controversy in the band with respect to horn parts, as the horn break after the drum/vocal breakdown is admittedly out of place and absurd. It SOUNDS absurd since the horns are playing an (almost!) pentatonic line a major seventh apart in– again– a decidedly flatulent fashion.

This one was an adventure in orchestration. Choirs, bassoons, Chinese-sounding horn lines… my apologies to our die-hard fans. I was DEEP in the Zone on this one.

Even so, I’ve played this for a few people, and the reaction is always the same: a laugh, a smirk, or a slight shake of the head and a smile. Surprisingly, this has been by far the most popular demo of all of the new tunes with objective ears outside of the band. My girlfriend contends this is the sauciest tune yet. Go figure.

The jury’s still out as far as DH! go. We began working on this in rehearsal last week, and my deficiencies as a drummer were showing a little more than usual. Andrew has almost pronounced my drum part “unplayable.”

So, America, should this song be herded into an unmarked car by a group of shadowy men and mysteriously disappear? Or should it be left unharmed?

We’ll be watching.

III. LYRICS

One watching six
And six watching one

Wir brauchen Ihnen
Wir brauchen das Gefuhl
Genau

[We need you
We need the feeling
Exactly]

Someone is telling
On everyone

Wir beobachten
Wir haben das Gefuhl
Genau

[We are watching
We have the feeling
Exactly]

Knock, Knock
Open up
Oh my God
Shake it off
Makes no difference
So make it up
Friends are coming
To set you up

YOU WANT IT AND YOU NEED IT

Ha, ha, oh yeah
We got the feeling
Ha, ha, oh yeah
We got the feeling now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
Come with us now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
You want to come with us now

Komm jetzt mit uns
Komm jetzt mit uns
Genau

[Come with us
Come with us
Exactly]

Over the Wall and under the Wall and
Inside the Wall and outside the Wall and
Slammed up against the Wall and
Behind the Wall and behind the Wall and…

Small room
Hotline
Headphones
All the time
Watching me
Committing crimes
With bird’s eyes
Bird’s eyes!

Seize me
Bind me
Blind me
Shock me
Slice me
Sock me
Make me
Please make me

I WANT IT AND I NEED IT

Ha, ha, oh yeah
I got the feeling
Ha, ha, oh yeah
I got the feeling now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
I really got it now
Ha, ha, oh yeah
I’m gonna go with you now

I’m gonna go with you now

Jon Steinmeier demo – “Our Universe”

August 29, 2007

Greetings, aficionados, and welcome to the Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode VI!

Continuing our junket deeper into Detholz! terrain, today’s installment comes from Detholz! keyboardist, Jon Steinmeier.

Jonny joined the band in 2001, replacing original Detholz! keyboardist, Rick Franklin. He was brought to my attention originally by a mutual friend, and after attending his senior composition recital, where Jonny conducted his own music and played piano, drums, and many other instruments all flawlessly and with mind-blowing precision, I knew he was the only choice. He’s one of those sickos that can play any instrument he happens to pick up– and play it well.

Since that time, he’s been an asset in Detholz!, as one of the band’s three drummers (both Andrew and Ben are also drummers by trade). The rhythmic precision and virtuosity of his playing, as well as his vast understanding of writing/arranging, have had a huge impact on the band.  (Not to mention his “signature sound,” otherwise known as “Das Papiertone.”)

Detholz! is Communist in nature- each of us plays an equal role. Still, if any member of the band deserves the MVP Award, it’s Jonny.

Since joining Detholz!, Jonny’s now in high demand in Chicago, and has played with a wild assortment of characters, from Mavis Staples, the international soul star, to Mucca Pazza, a 30-piece maniacal marching band. He has his own songwriting blog, jonsteinmeier.wordpress.com, and for many months has posted an original “Song of the Week” at jonsteinmeier.com. Jonny also teaches drums, voice and piano (in no particular order), so for any of you aspiring Chicago rawk folk, here’s your chance to study with one of the greats!

Over to you, Jon…

our universe

welcome back kids! today’s Song of The Week is about OUTER SPACE and LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS! what fun! it’s called “our universe,” appropriately named after the National Geographic Picture Atlas by Roy A. Gallant published in 1980. i grew up with this book, and i got REALLY excited when i saw it at a church yard sale in Bedford, Massachusetts a few weeks ago and bought it for a dollar fifty or so.

on page 44, Mr. Gallant takes us on an “imaginary safari to real places faithfully described” to see what crazy creatures there “never were.” this section was always a favorite of mine as a kid, with artistic renderings of alien life on other planets. If you have this book handy, i recommend looking through this section to “understand” the lyrics of this weeks Jon Steinmeier Song of the Week, a Detholz Blog Exclusive, appropriate called ” our universe.”

WORDS

ok, i feel like i should make sense of these lyrics for you, although part of me would rather hear what people get out of them first (as usual), these are convoluted enough that i’ll go ahead and dig in. each verse of this song describes a different planets lifeform(s) through the imagination of Roy Gallant. verse one is Jupiter, verse two is Pluto, the B section is Titan, verse three is Mars, and the second B section is Venus. THEN…i whistle. that’s really it. i generally find lyrics that don’t make “sense” to be quite entertaining and potentially funny, especially when presented in an otherwise serious sounding context (see my blog for more on that), and “our universe” is ultimately about some combination of imagery and this strange, country character. i imagine it to be a song written by Roy Gallant, that he sings to his star gazing kids on clear nights, hoping to one day be able to see if this theories on alien life were accurate.

here are the lyrics:

ON JUPITER YOU’d BETTER STAY UP HIGH AND
JELLY BLIMPS DON’T SURVIVE THE SWORDTAILS
POINTY DIVERS

WE RADIO GREAT THOUGHTS AND BOUNCE THROUGH THIN AIR
WE’RE OUT AT NIGHT WE HATE HEAT BUT LOVE OUR
E LEC TRIC I TEEE

WHAT IF
STOVEBELLIED BODIES
BURNED UP THE AIR AND
ATE THE ICE

NOW MARS HAS WHISPER THIN WINDS DUSTY CANYONS
AND DEADLY ULTRAVIOLET RAYS
MARTIAN WATERSEEKERS PROBE FOR
POCKETS OF ICE AHHHYEAH

OUCHER-
POUCHERS KEEP SHIFTING
EVERYTHING MELTS HERE
WE EAT ROCKS

———————————–

i HIGHLY recommend looking at the pictures from said book as you listen. they’re far more interesting than this song.

MUSICS

i had a conversation with mom recently, about the song of the week project, and how ideas can sometimes run thin, and she recommended a goal of writing a really “simple” melody and just keeping it simple. not over-arranging, but really just going for good melodic material. i loved this suggestion, and sat on my back porch with guitar, coffee, cigarettes, and paper and pen while the carpet guys cleaned our weekly basement flooding. i wrote the melody down in solfege syllables and rhythms to remember it as i went, and eventually played around with chordal ideas later. i tried to keep this song pretty straight ahead melodically and harmonically, and really just thought about,

A. satisfying movement in the melody, and

B. character.

i ended up with a melody i’m pretty happy with, and a character that just didn’t ask for much arrangement. simple works best in this case i think. after the verses, i went ahead through the form one more time with two part whistles, and tried to vibrate my whistles a bit to sound like theramins. that, with a spaghetti western level of reverb, helped to bridge the character combo for me.

old west star gazer meets star.

thanks for listening.

if you wanna here this one live, swing down to millennium park tomorrow afternoon at 2pm for a kids show jeff thomas and i are doing. i’m interested to see what the kids think. i have a feeling they’ll just sit and stare.

(ed. note – Keep those comments coming, and see you next week!)

Tiny Tron demo – “Neutrino Dance Party”

August 22, 2007

Welcome to Episode V of Ye Olde Detholz! Blog!

Last week, the song “Minnesota Nice” resulted in a lot of debate and a flurry of suggestions, most of which were eerily similar. A 3rd version of the song is forthcoming– I haven’t had a chance to complete it yet, but will post it here as soon as I do. So, stay tuned! Thanks to all for joining in the fray. Viva la Composition by Collective Consciousness…

I’ve played in bands for almost 20 years, and Detholz! is the only one that truly runs by committee. I write the majority of the songs we play, but as you’ve seen, the composition process does not begin/end with me and my robot friends. Occasions when I crank out a demo and the band plays it by rote are extremely rare, indeed!

Over the past 11 years, I’ve had the privilege of watching Detholz! turn from a rag-tag surf rock band into a true “hive mind,” where each member has equal standing and input into the composition process. Each “Dethole” is skilled at composition in his own right, and I have learned a lot from watching each of them in their own respective projects.

In that spirit, over the next 2 weeks we’re going to branch out into wider Detholz! territory. This week’s selection comes from our doughty bass player, Ben Miranda, who has a solo project he calls “Tiny Tron.” Take a gander, tell him what you like/don’t like, and he’ll respond to your comments and critiques… Ben?

1. Neutrino Dance Party by Tiny Tron (aka Ben Miranda)

To hear more of Ben’s music, visit www.tinytron.com or www.myspace.com/tinytronmusic

So many of my compositions come from melodies sung in the shower, a hummed tune accompanied by the whir of the microwave or whistling while walking to the train station. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down to write a song about x or with a feel like y, they just happen. This can be great, but really frustrating when I have writer’s block. The muse analogy is very apt for me.

I was tracking guitar for a Detholz! demo we are working on now, “Bird,” and was using an alternate tuning on the guitar to help me, the drummer-turned-bass-player, with a third hand. I hit a chord that would have made any slowcore fan turn his/her head, and then a melody/chord progression just came out, sung in “meows.” I wanted to use it, but couldn’t keep it as it was. It was too sappy! How could I arrange it to be the opposite of what it was? What is the opposite of “slowcore?” “Dance party…?”

I’m also borrowing a great classic 80’s bass synth (Novation Super Bass Station) and was dying to play with it. What better forum than slowcore-turned-dance-party? Armed with a drum beat that came to me in my stereo-less car and my beautiful Novation relic from 1986, I sat down to rearrange this sappy nugget. As I worked with it, the lyrics never seemed to fit the melody, so I decided on a synth lead and spoken word in the verses.

What to talk about? Hmmm…. I enjoyed a Nova special on Neutrinos. Hah! Dance parties and quantum physics go together, right? Yes, yes they do! Plus, I had to give props to Ray Davis Jr., a scientist that repeated the same experiment to detect neutrinos for over 30 years! He didn’t receive a Nobel prize for those experiments until he was 88, and could barely comprehend its worth due to Alzheimer’s Disease.

Neutrino is an Italian pun for “little neutral one”. More can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrino.

-Ben Miranda

2. LYRICS

lonely among us
passing through everyone
too many to count
meet us underground
in tank of chlorine

pick your one of three
we’re not as fast
and we live many lives in a second
the sun is our home

trying to look for us for forty years
you only see a small segment of us
one sees the left
and one the right
but does anyone see us for who we are?

we take no sides
and are the little brother
you almost did not see us
we are not fast
and the sun is our home

little neutral ones
We have cousins
But they come from the sky
little neutral ones

you look in deep places
and are surprised by our cousins
little neutral ones
we are not as fast
and the sun is our home

Detholz! demos – “Minnesota Nice” I/II

August 15, 2007

Welcome to Episode IV of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog – a 2-parter this week.

I originally intended this song to be posted last week, but it was met with such controversy from other band members that I decided to rustle up an alternate, “Detholz!-friendly” arrangement.

So, here are both versions:

“Minnesota Nice” – new, DH!-friendly version
For those who aren’t interested in music geekery, this is the one to download.

“Minnesota Nice” – original version

Today’s song necessitates an apology to any Minnesotan listeners: I have nothing against the great state of Minnesota, or any of its residents. You all had the good sense to elect Jesse “The Mind” a few years back, and that cannot be overlooked. He’s the source of my favorite summation from any political figure, in reference to MN ice-fishing restrictions in early Spring: “You can’t legislate stupidity.”

Also: “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

So, on with the show!

1. SONG CONCEPT

Unlike the previous 2 posts, today’s ditty, “Minnesota Nice,” came totally out of left field. Also unlike the previous two posts, I really didn’t know what this song was about until more than a week after I’d written it.

Unless you’ve been away skinning rabbits in a cave, you know there was a terrible accident in Minneapolis 2 weeks ago where a bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in the teeth of the rush hour, causing dozens of cars to plummet into the water. Six people were killed and many more went missing. This is a stretch of road I’ve traveled over many times on tour, and when I heard the story on the radio and saw the pictures on the news, I was saddened and a little creeped out.

I guess these lyrics are collections of images stemming from the bridge accident and from recent conversations with an old friend that’s had a hard time in Minnesota, mostly owing to circumstances beyond her control. Subsequently, “Minnesota” serves as a metaphor for death, stagnation or fate.

[Again, angry Minnesotans: it could have just as easily been Ohio or New Jersey… pick a state. Yours happens to have a pleasant sequence of phonemes.]

The plastic smiles of death and/or fate inexorably turn to all of us, regardless of what we wish for. So perhaps this song is about the fear of fate and the loss of control. In that spirit, I’ll leave the final determination up to you:

“I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to float with the dead
I don’t want to go to your funeral
Minnesota Nice up ahead”

[complete lyrics below this post]

2. SONG COMPOSITION

(It was hard for me to discuss this one without lapsing into some music theory. If you have questions about any of these ideas or the terminology, don’t hesitate to ask. For the record, I’m going to try and avoid forced rides on Music School Bus as much as possible on this thing…)

Despite the grisly subject matter, this song was a barrel of fun to construct! It’s an experiment in phase-shifting– one of my favorite musical devices– based on the 4-note fuzz bass line that doesn’t change much throughout the song. In other words, the downbeat shifts. (Downbeat = 1st beat of a musical measure, for any greenhorns out there)

The bass line occupies 4 eighth notes. During the choruses, the downbeat is on the first note of the pattern (imagine me crooning at you here): “BOM-bom-bom-bom.”

During the verse, the downbeat shifts to the THIRD note in the pattern: “bom-bom-BOM-bom.”

I recorded bass first, then drums, then vocals. The downbeat shift between chorus and verse was initially too difficult for my poor pea brain to sing, so I had to mute the drum part to record the vocals. Once I un-muted the drum part, presto! A dramatic change in feel between verse and chorus! Whether it’s effective or not, I’ll leave up to you, but I think it will have interesting possibilities if the band can pull it off live.

I decided to add horn parts next, which I knew would be controversial within the band. And man, oh man, were they ever! There’s a growing debate in Detholz! as to whether or not horns fit within our particular… mileu. After my years of servitude in Baby Teeth and Bobby Conn’s band, I’ve become enamored with a more organic sound, and am attempting to steer the new DH! record in THAT direction. Sorry, folks, but I think it’s time to veer away from the paper-thin synths of our dorkalicious past. There’s some major disagreement on that topic in Kamp Detholz.

Here’s what a few other Holz had to say about the original version of this song:

Jonny: “The bridge is compositionally pretty cool…minus the bird noises. 🙂 I think that’s what cheezes it for me. Also, i’m still not used to the idea of a ‘sax section’ in the detholz. it still doesn’t make sense to my ear.”

(BTW, don’t miss Jonny’s own songwriting blog, jonsteinmeier.wordpress.com)

Ben: “I’m with Jon on the horns and crow sounds. What I dislike with the horns is replacing crazy synth parts for crazy horn parts. It’s good to get out of “New Wave” land, but to jump into ‘Ska-ish/Radiohead with Horns’ land might be worse. I don’t object to using horns, but I would like to see them be soulful, noisy and dare I say smooth. I think these motives would do better with the plastic touch of the synth.”

(And Ben’s delightfully weird music can be heard at www.tinytron.com)

Thing is, I didn’t include horns for their own sake, or to make a point. I think they genuinely serve the purpose of this song. It freely borrows structurally from Fela Kuti, whose music I’ve obsessed over for a while now. The horns are an important part of the rhythm section in this arrangement. They add a blanket of polyrhythms to the drum part that turns it from a standard “Wurlitzer-home-organ samba” into something more convoluted and interesting, at least to me. It’s often difficult to place where the downbeat falls in Fela’s music, as he plays around constantly with phase shifting and polyrhythmic patterns, most of which repeat over long periods of time. While this is nothing new, that’s territory that we’ve never explored before in Detholz! and we’re having some success at it in rehearsal.

In any case, I took Ben’s and Jonny’s recommendations to heart in the DH!-friendly version and substituted the horns with a distorted synth clav. Here’s what Jonny said about the 2nd version:

“This tune is growing on me a lot. I think part of thing with this new arrangement is that i found myself focusing more on the composition than on the sounds, which is a good thing. The writing is really cool. I DID end up liking the horns over the clav i think though. I know, I’m eating my words here. but I missed ’em.”

Jonny brings up an excellent rule of thumb: the orchestration/arrangement of a song should NEVER distract from the song itself. In this world of gadgetry and innumerable options, I have a major blind spot with respect to “over-arranging.” I really wrestled with that this time. Esp. given the weighty subject matter– this was no occasion to be riding the “Gimmick Train.”

Which leads us to the most difficult part of this composition– and one I agonized for hours over– the bridge. Originally, I opted for the standard “Jim Cooper Bridge” = meandering harmonic changes, no strong melody, plenty of room for either goofy narration or a novelty sound effect (cf. “Heather via JC” on Baby Teeth’s “For the Heathers” EP, “Jukebox of the Dead” theme song from the post-college camp era– click links for free downloads on both) Though I attempted to paint a picture of the aftermath of the bridge accident, I’m not sure I succeeded in doing much more than pasting part of a bad Danny Elfman movie score in the middle of a song that, as DH!/Baby Teeth producer Blue Hawaii would say, is “pretty OK” (meaning “pretty bad”)

In the DH!-friendly version, the bridge accomplishes its compositional function between the A and B sections more effectively, and introduces a flute line that reoccurs near the end of the song. It also reduces the “goof” factor quite a bit. The guitar effect is heisted from the end of the Shuggie Otis song, “Strawberry Letter 23,” from his album, “Inspiration Information” which is forever burned in my brain as the death-song of one of the characters from HBO’s Six Feet Under. While the original bridge with the prominent crow samples was a valiant attempt to conjure images of a death-laden ravine, I’m afraid it lapsed into pure frippery.

The chorus, as you’ll notice from the start of the song, consists of 4 notes in keeping with my “less-is-more” approach to chorus melodies (see the “Tammy” post below for more on that subject). In keeping with themes of fate and tragedy, the rhythm is unrelenting and the background vocals more primal: “Minnesota…ahhh, ahhh!”

The verse vocal is not improvised– mainly because I’m a terrible improviser– but the melody purposely darts in and around a strong tonal center, giving it an improvisatory flavor. The harmony is mostly static, and the changes are simple to leave room for all of the rhythmic interplay between the groups of instruments.

Lyrically, the song contains two of the three images I’m trying to include in every song on the new record: blood, animals, and betrayal. The “betrayal” element is missing this time, so I left the “Traitor” motive out (see the “Catherine Zeta-Jones” post below). However, the flute parts use the same descending intervals as the “Traitor” motive, so it’s referenced indirectly. A great device to unify a number of songs or movements, incidentally, is use of the same intervallic material.

So, doughty readers, which version do YOU prefer?

I think the newer version is cleaner, though I miss the horns and the dulcimer (the stringy sounding instrument) from the original. The horns also strike me as more chaotic-sounding, which I prefer.

For some reason, the dulcimer evokes images of the snowy Northern reaches of Minnesota, where the ghosts of Scandinavian ancestors roam the countryside, hooting spookily in their native tongues.

Thanks for reading, friendly ghosts… and, as always, thanks for listening!

3. LYRICS

I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to talk to the dead
I don’t want to drown in the water
Minnesota Nice up ahead

Brutalized by the 3rd degree
Stuck in traffic, in the heat of the heat
I saw you smile
Before you were exploded
Your guts spilling over my feet
The sight of your blood–
I really thought I could, but–

I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to talk to the dead
I don’t want to drown in the water
Minnesota Nice up ahead

Minnesota, ah!

Don’t forget your water wings
on the Overpass over watery things
A stream full of eyes
They’re sinking ever deeper
Their bloated bodies doing nothing
You’re crossing a bridge
A bridge that won’t hold you
And then it’s over
Over Minnesota
Drowning in the heart of town

I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to float with the dead
I don’t want to go to your funeral
Minnesota Nice up ahead

I don’t want to die like a monkey
I don’t want to die in your stead
I don’t want to live in Minnesota
I don’t want to talk to the dead

Minnesota, ah!

I don’t want to talk to the dead

Detholz! demo – “Death to the Traitor”

August 8, 2007

Welcome to Episode III of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog, and apologies for the late posting today!

Note: The song I had planned for this week was met with a good deal of controversy when presented to the band yesterday, so tune in next week for a 2-part episode as I post 2 different versions of that song: the original version + a “Detholz!-friendly” version. Prepare for the fur to fly!


Since this week’s song is still percolating in our magic hat, I’m posting the linchpin of the new record, “Death to the Traitor,” which is already in regular rotation in the Detholz! set.

1. SONG CONCEPT

“Death to the Traitor” is the song from whence the entire new Detholz! record springs, thematically and musically.

Thematically, it contains three images, all of which reoccur in every song:

1. Blood and/or Execution
2. Animals
3. Betrayal of self, or of others

Where “Cast Out Devils” was a record about a loss of faith, “Death to the Traitor” is about a return to faith– through some pretty murky, subterranean territory. These two albums are indelibly linked. Once “Traitor” is finished, they should be listened to back-to-back.

The scene depicted in the song is a familiar one: an unrepentant traitor is led to the scaffold in front of an angry mob. There are a few aberrations from the usual “guillotine” scenario, however:

a) The traitor is completely ambivalent about his/her fate, and b) the mob is faceless, demanding only brutal violence in the name of no particular god or creed. See complete lyrics below:

Eggs and bacon
A breakfast like any meal
Walk the hallway
Up the stairs to the steel
Apparatus
Hear the roar of the mob
Think about it
Think out loud as they shout:

“Death to the Traitor!
We’ll have him hung!
Show him no mercy!
Cut out his tongue!
White or black messiah
Please save us from
A lapse in commitment!
Let loose the hounds
To lap up the blood!”

Sold your brother out
And sold your sister out

Don’t tell your mother
She has the face of a queen
She won’t remember
Your name upon the marquee/marquis
You’re sick and tired
Of this damnable crowd
Don’t feel nothing
Yawn and stretch as they shout out:

“Death to the Traitor!
Death to his lies!
We find him guilty!
Pluck out his eyes!
Thank God in heaven
Or the gods below
At last we found him
At last we know!”

No, No

“Yes, Death to the Traitor!
Led us on for years!
Bring out a hot iron!
Burn out his ears!
Death to the Traitor!
Cut off his head!
God save the Traitor
The Traitor is dead!”

Death to the Traitor!
The Traitor is dead!

***

I wrote this during a period of intense self-loathing, so initially the violence in the song was self-directed. (No worries. I have no plans to guillotine myself anytime soon.) I didn’t realize when I set out to write it that it would become a panacea for the entire record, so as the song has matured, it’s come to mean something entirely different to me.

The “Traitor” figure represents the baser aspects of one’s nature. For those of you who hold the “Players with Christianity Club” card, he is the Pauline “Old Man” mentioned in the 3rd chapter of the book of Colossians:

“Lie not to one another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”
– Col. 3:10, King James Version (because the Bible just sounds better in Elizabethan English)

So, this record delves deep into the heart of the Old Man. There will be some grotesque scenery along the way.

ADDENDUM:

So I never have to say this again: NO, DAMN IT, DETHOLZ! IS NOT A CHRISTIAN ROCK BAND. Though I am “of the Body” myself, and subsequently often use religious/spiritual imagery in my songs, I hope that it’s self-evident that I have absolutely no interest in persuading you to believe in anything, one way or the other. Frankly, when I’m writing songs, the last thing I want to think about is what you may/may not believe. Sorry.

If you want to hear me play Christian music, come to the church where I work as a music director, not to a Detholz! show.

2. SONG COMPOSITION

This song– and basically the whole record– is a result of one comment made by our friend, Bobby Conn, after Halloween last year when we were on tour with him.

As many of you know, Detholz! does an all-cover show in Chicago every year on Halloween where we deconstruct and reassemble old pop songs. At the time, our rendition of “Conga” by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine was in rotation. Bobby complimented us on the arrangement, and suggested that we push some more Latin rhythms through the Detholz! strainer. I had been searching for a way out of the “New Wave Redux” corner we’d painted ourselves into, so I jumped on the idea. Thanks, Bobby!

A couple of random notes about constructing this song:

1. The drumbeat for “Death to the Traitor” had been a running joke in the band, as Karl Doerfer, our guitar player, can’t stand the sound of it. [In Chicago, you can step outside just about any door and hear it thumping away in the nearest tricked-out, spolier-clad Honda Civic.] So, of course, I had to use it.

2. This is the first occurrence of the “Traitor” motive (see previous post), the four-note pattern in the synth that enters after the guitar begins the song. It occurs again at the end.

3. As you’ll notice immediately, the vocal melody consists of one note throughout the song (with the exception of one teensy break in the middle). I found this to be an excellent limitation, as it forced me to concentrate almost entirely on the rhythmic arrangement. The vocal itself is simply a part of the rhythm section. (Nothing new, as hardcore and hip-hop groups have done this since time immemorial. I had never tried it, though.)

Where a vocal is melody-free, it becomes easier to focus on the lyrics, in my opinion. I wanted these lyrics driven home– especially the more unpleasant images.

4. There’s a surprise when the drums come in due to one of my favorite musical devices, Ye Olde Phase Shift! The guitar begins the song on beat 2, so for the first few measures, it’s difficult to tell where the downbeat is (“downbeat” = first beat in a measure of music, for any greenhorns). More on phase shifting next week…

5. The guitar break before the end is worth mentioning. This is an expansion of an idea used in the guitar break “Chapel of Love,” a song from our previous record “Cast Out Devils,” (download from our website or MySpace page, if you like) where the guitars/keyboards are playing in different 3-against-2 polyrhythmic patterns, so the downbeat (or the “1”) is lost in a shimmering, hypnotic haze.

I got this idea from Wilco when Detholz! opened for them on their “Ghost is Born” tour. I can’t say that I own any Wilco records but they are truly an astounding live band– and wonderful people– and played at least one song that utilized this technique that I thought was electrifying.

The idea solidified when I began listening obsessively to Fela Kuti shortly thereafter. His songs are vast expanses of polyrhythms, and he has no problem sitting on one layered, “downbeat-free” groove for 4 or 5 minutes at a stretch. Also, I’ve always been fascinated by minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, and have come to love so-called “phase music,” where passages repeat with very little change over long periods of time.

The guitar break is a small example of that kind of writing, where the main hook (played by the clavinet) is embellished by polyrhythmic patterns in the guitars.

***

“Death to the Traitor” is already in rotation, so it’s not up for a vote, but as always, your comments/criticisms, love and/or hate mail are welcome!

Apologies that this post is a little more fractured, but I had to write it in a hurry. The new song intended for this week was the matter of heated debate last night at rehearsal, so I’ll be posting two versions of it next week for your vote. And airing some of our dirty laundry, of course.

Expecting the call from Bill Kurtis any minute now.

Tune in next Wednesday for the continuing melodrama!