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Just a bit of fun No.2 

Continuing an occasional series where I learn a classic rock guitar solo, and hopefully discover something about the original guitarist's style and improve my own technique.

In this short solo that punctuates the end of the song, Andy Powell really shows off the ear he has for the harmony he's playing over. The very first phrase outlines the D minor by picking the A, immediately sliding up to D and without a pause bending on up to F, only to release back to the D and finish the phrase by hitting an F below. He's only starting as he means to go on though, following the backing chords with some nice intervalic jumps and lots more string bends including a double-stop bend towards the end.

Just forty seconds, but perfectly formed.


The Hunted (Gameplayers of Zan) 

This piece is one of several in the works currently, inspired by a science-fiction novel, The Gameplayers of Zan, by M. A. Foster.

Listen to the music.

The heroes we are following in the plot come from a race of slightly altered humans who live on a reservation, away from the sprawling overpopulation of ‘old humans’ that covers the planet, and with whom they live in an uneasy truce. At this point in the story, they have to enter the old human world to rescue an imprisoned friend. 

 The human world is strange, dirty, noisy and frightening to them, but the little party does manage to find the girl, and get her released into their custody. She is physically OK, though very weak, but appears now to have the mind of a new-born. 

They start making their way back to the reservation, but something goes wrong, and they realise that they are being tracked by a mysterious and sinister group of humans, and know that if they are caught, they may be killed. In fact, they are finally caught at the fence that marks the safety of their reservation, and the girl they rescued is shot and killed. 

In this music, I have tried to convey the alienation they feel, and the terror of the chase, ending with a lament for their lost friend.

Can we have an original hit? 

The Ed Sheeran / Marvin Gaye lawsuit going on currently points to a sickness in popular music at the moment. 

Over the last couple of decades, money has become increasingly tight in the music business.  It's more and more expensive for a label to get a top 5 hit, so even the profits on a successful song aren't a patch on what they were. 

Labels becoming more litigious is more likely as profits decrease. You've got to get your money somewhere, and you have to protect your brand.  What's more, whereas a suit used to be about a stolen melody, more and more, we're seeing claims about chord sequences.  Part of the Sheeran/Gaye lawsuit is the claim that the chord sequence is the same.  It'll be interesting when someone tries to claim ownership of the I IV VI V sequence, which has been used in scores, if not hundreds of hits. 

Which brings us to playing safe with song writing.  Again, because so much is at stake to produce a hit, nobody who seriously tries to make a living from their writing is going to try to be original. It's a waste of time.  While for the most part, nobody sitting down to write a hit says, "I'll start by stealing part of this other song," they may well start jamming on that trusty I IV VI V sequence. 

So we hear chart songs becoming increasingly similar because taking a musical chance is pointless, and we see more lawsuits as songs rely more and more on their similarity to each other in order to be hits. 

Another consequence is that over the course of a generation the average chart listener has heard less and less variety in harmony, and like a child who has only eaten burgers and fries, any new taste / harmony they're subsequently introduced to is treated with deep suspicion. 

And that's no way to have a hit. 

For music that ignores all considerations of chart success, but still wants to be loved, click here.

Panopticon / Rome Burns 

A while back, I read about something called a panopticon. It's a kind of building that could be used as a prison or other institution. 

Imagine rooms - cells - arranged to create the outside wall of a circular building, with one-way mirrors making up the inner walls.  An observer could sit at the centre of the building and see any occupant at a glance, but none of the inmates would be able to see if they were being watched at any time - they'd just know it was possible. 

It struck me (as it has many people in recent years) that this is a good analogy for our society.  With CCTV, the CIA and MI6 watching us electronically, with Facebook and associated organisations data mining - we're all being observed at some point in some way.  We don't necessarily know when, or how much; we just know we might be, and at some point certainly are. 

It's also become clear that the internet's own algorithms filter what we find in searches. Rather than being a window onto the entire world, it's more like a mirror reflecting ourselves back to us.  Ironic and sinister, don't you think?  We live in a panopticon, but we are not the observers, we're the observed.

I thought about how helpless we all are in the face of this.  And a similar sense of helplessness often creeps over me when I think about the enormous problems we face as the human race, and that the Earth faces because of us.  I retreat into my personal world, attending to those things I do have control over, and shutting out the bigger picture.  I think most of us do. 

Fiddling while Rome burns.

Listen here.

Those who cannot, will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven 

Lathe of Heaven sounds religious doesn't it?  And it is, sort of.  Vaguely.  Well, almost entirely unlike religion as it turns out.  To explain... 

A favourite novel of mine is The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula Le Guin.  While writing the book, she was apparently very taken by some Taoist verses by Chuang Tse XXIII, which she used here and there in the story.  The book title is from one in particular: 

' To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment.  Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.' 

Years after the book was published, Le Guin discovered that this is a terrible translation of the original writing, but it was way too late to do anything about it.  She still liked the sentiment though, and so do I.  I take it to mean something like, 'To know that something is unknowable, but still struggle to understand it, is a path to madness.' 

So why did I call this project Lathe of Heaven?  I'm not letting on, but if you think about it hard enough, perhaps one day you will understand.

By the way, here's the music.


What's it all about? 

When you're young, you learn about falling in love.  The resultant elation and/or despair is usually the most powerful thing that has happened to you up to that point, so it's not surprising that if you write songs, that's what you write about.

As you get older, you live and love, and inevitably lose some you love.  You start to realise that the world around you is not a static thing; that ten years is fleeting and full of change.

Then there's the state of the world.  When I was born, there were half as many people on the planet, and there were already signs of strain.  I remember confident claims that the Earth's resources were infinite.  We now live in a world of 'peak oil'.  I remember campaigns to save a single iconic species from extinction, but now we're destroying entire habitats. 

So these days, I'm preoccupied with all the ways we're screwing things up, and all the forces that conspire to maintain this catastrophic momentum. 

Some choose to believe what makes them comfortable, rather than what's true.  Others exploit that tendency for their own ends.  Many know in their hearts that things are in a terrible state, but feel too overwhelmed to do anything about it.  They occupy themselves with manageable problems and day-to-day pleasures; never daring to look up. 

On the other hand, there are a few signs of hope; a few people who make a noticeable change for the good, and I write about them too. 

© 2011 Jeff Parker.