Thursday, May 17, 2018

A closer look at "Seconds - Fast Gone"

Recently, I posted a piece of music on YouTube that I just have been dying to write about. What can I say, I'm a big time music theory nerd. So in this post, I'll be taking a look at the thought behind "Seconds - Fast Gone".

The overall form of this piece was inspired by sonata-allegro form, which is commonly used for the first movement of symphonies. In a typical sonata-allegro piece in a minor key, the A section would be in the tonic key and the B section would be in the major III key. I wanted to be a little different, so I used the major IV key instead, which is much more distantly related than III. Minor i and major III are so closely related that they often sound like different aspects of the same tonality. So instead, I moved my B section outside of the original key quite dramatically. This makes the B section much brighter- a change from minor to major, and a change from a flat key to a sharp key. I also move the melody up to a higher register and lighten up the texture. The combination of all of these factors leads to a dark A section and a carefree B section. The modulation between the A and the B sections turned out to be pretty easy, despite their extreme contrast. While D minor and G major are not closely related keys, both are closely related to C major, which I used as a stepping stone between the two keys.

In the "development" section of this piece, I chose not to develop my melodic themes, choosing instead to focus on tonal and rhythmic instability. Unstable rhythm is easy, I just switched to 5/8 time. The most unstable tonal idea that I could think of off the top of my mind (without lapsing into atonality) is a multitonic system, where the key changes rapidly between three very distantly related keys. This is the same idea behind Giant Steps' chord changes, so I decided to write this section as a saxophone soli as a nod to John Coltrane. This section was the hardest to record, and I still think it could have turned out better if I were a better saxophonist.  As unstable as the multitonic system is, I got incredibly lucky with modulating in and out of it. The B section is in the key of G major, which easily resolves to C major, which easily resolves to F major. Except that F major is not the first key of my mulitonic system, F minor is. I hopped straight from G major to C minor and then F minor, which weakened the resolution a bit but didn't seem too far of a leap- after all, we were about to jump into a mulitonic system. Big leaps are what the section is made of, and a strong resolution might sound too cheesy at this point in the piece.

After the multitonic system in 5/8, the piece sits on a Dmin9 chord for 16 bars in 4/4 while the guitar solo shreds on top and chord tones are gradually introduced, mostly in the woodwinds. After that, the main themes return in an ABA form with a much lighter texture than before, and the saxophone takes up some of the melody. One of the rhythm guitar parts also gets a solo under the sax/guitar duet, which concludes the piece on a Dmin9 chord. Did I mention I love 9th chords? I love 9th chords, okay. It's also worth mentioning that I keep the main themes in their separate keys, instead of moving them to the same key like in a real sonata-allegro piece. I didn't want to ruin the innocence of the major section.

So, what does all this mean? You just read a lot of information about how my piece is structured, but not a lot about my intent. What's the moral to the story? What am I trying to say with this piece? The simple meaning is that I love music theory and I love trying ideas out to see if they work. I think this piece works really well, despite intentionally breaking almost all of the rules of the form that I chose. As a whole, I think the piece is written about its own conception, if that makes any sense. If there's anything I'm saying, it's that you should try your crazy ideas every once in a while. It just might be really cool.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Why I Still Buy CDs in 2018

Some music I listen to is not available online- not legally, at least. But for 99% of what I want to listen to, it's on Spotify. I listen to music on YouTube sometimes, too. And to be honest, I spend more time listening to music over the internet than I do listening to my local library. But all of my favorite music can be found on my computer's hard drive and my phone's SD card. Owning CDs is not about convenience, because they are incredibly inconvenient. I own CDs because I want to own a hard copy of my favorite music, and adding an album to my library on Spotify just isn't the same as adding a CD to my physical collection.

There are lots of little reasons why I like to own CDs. Supporting the artist, album booklets, and that personalized GTA V radio station, just to name a few. But the real reason why I own so many CDs is simple; I like to listen to albums from start to finish. I care about albums for their own sake. If I'm going to listen to music for hours, I might as well listen to one cohesive work instead of shuffling through random songs that I may or may not feel like listening to in the moment. When I listen to my playlists, I skip songs constantly. When I listen to an entire album, I am sucked into a single sound and feel. The best albums, in my opinion, are the ones that are like a single musical work instead of a collection of smaller works.

My favorite album of all time is Metallica's "...And Justice For All", which I think is great for listening to from start to finish. I get lost in the endless riffs and grooves, losing track of where one song ends and another begins. I strongly believe that the album is much better than its individual songs. Very few of the songs on AJFA would make it into my list of favorite songs, but the album as a whole blows everything else that I have ever heard out of the water. So it is a no-brainer for me that I would like to own a phsyical copy of this album.

Just because album sales are falling and selling CDs doesn't work for artists anymore doesn't mean that I have to stop enjoying them myself, as a listener. I don't think of myself as old fashioned or behind the times, but I do think some things are worth holding on to, like my physical CDs. They just work, and I have no reason to think they'll ever stop working. Spotify may work better in some cases, but CDs and vinyl are never going to completely go obsolete.

I'm not trying to claim that my way of listening to music is better than yours, only that I like my way of listening.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Where has all the kindness gone? I believe it is still here, and that it never left. Complaining about negativity on the internet is still negativity itself, and does not help anyone. It is ridiculous to think that social media is the cause of hostility; it merely reveals what was already there. The internet was made by humans and it is used to communicate human values such as knowledge, kindness, and sadly also hatred. The internet does not make people hateful, it gives people who were already hateful a voice with which to express themselves.

In the past, only the richest and most educated people were able to reach a wide audience via the written word. Today, however, nearly everyone has the freedom to express their innermost thoughts, no matter how poorly researched or how flippantly expressed. In centuries gone by, the written word took effort to produce. Since then, we have gone from scribes to printing presses to the internet. Now, the written word has become an effortless way to express oneself.

Hateful people have always existed. Uneducated people have always existed. Selfish people who can’t be bothered to consider anyone else’s point of view have always existed. The internet just gives them a voice, and prioritizes inflammatory content. Make no mistake, this darkness has always been a part of the human race. But now it is being capitalized on by websites trying to maximize advertisement revenue. Every minute of time that is spent on a website translates directly to the income of these websites, and nothing draws attention like controversy. This is why tabloid newspapers sell so well, why conspiracy theories get so much attention, and why the internet appears to be filled with hatred. As much as we don’t like it, outrage sells. The internet isn’t selling manufactured outrage, however. The outrage is real, and authenticity also sells. Because websites benefit so much from this negativity, they subtlety push it to viewers. People engage with posts that are controversial, so they spread.

From the outside, it may look as though the internet is an awful hive of anger, controversy, and pointless arguments. The reality, however, is that a vocal minority have been enabled and encouraged to post this negativity because people share it and that makes money. Kindness is not gone. Happy stories don’t make the front page of newspapers as often as outrage, but that does not mean that mankind has gone cruel and heartless.

The internet is a reflection of the human consciousness on a grand scale, and writers who complain that the internet is killing kindness are actually complaining that they have seen humanity as it really is. The internet did not invent racism, bigotry, political polarization, or conspiracies. They have always existed, but the internet makes it personal. Nobody likes to find out that their family is racist, or believes political propaganda, or has a bad temper. The internet puts these flaws and more in the public spotlight. Because the internet is new, it’s easy to point an accusing finger at it. But today’s generation is not hopeless, we’re just young. The internet is not killing kindness, it’s merely revealing the negativity that was already there. Kind people still exist. As cynical as I am, I have not given up on humanity’s compassion quite yet.