Starting Questions for Thinking About Music and Production.

Here are a series of questions aimed at my students, but anyone is free to comment. The exercise is chose a couple of songs and ask yourself the following.

1.Can the recorded songs communicate anything beyond the notes, sounds and textures on the record? How do they communicate ? Why do they communicate? Why do they not communicate? What do they communicate?

2.Is the meaning the songs impart  universal or personal? Again – explain your answer.

3.What ‘causes’ the music to occur? Is it the songwriter, society, the rehearsal process, a piece of technology, a producer etc? Are there any ergonomic clues in the music – what are they? What proof can you give for your answer?

Looking forward to seeing some responses.  Use this as an opportunity to try and understand what you currently think about how music communicates meaning and most importantly – is your opinion correct?

Good luck

 

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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9 Responses to Starting Questions for Thinking About Music and Production.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wind of Change – The Scorpions

    1. Peace is communicated by a slow tempo, rather less than more notes and a rise of instrumentation. So the instruments are joining the song while it is processing. In the beginning there are just guitar, keys and whistling. The whistling gives also a relaxed feeling. A strong reverb causes a soft sound, that gives good vibes as well. There is also fraternity communicated, but by the lyrics and not beyond them. It is the situation (see number 2) and words as “Let your balalaika sing,what my guitar wants to say”.
    2. The meaning is universal for every individual that suffered personally from Germany being split up into two republics, just as splitted families, relationships and friends. After the cold war and the fall of the wall that separated the Federal Repulic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic for almost 30 years, this song was published. It is about the reunion. For this reason everybody gets his own vibes from it, just as everybody has got his/ her own story. But that everybody can feel himself/ herself into this song states that it is universal.
    3. The reason for this song to occur is the just mentioned situation. You can not miss its reference by the lyrics “Did you ever think, that we could be so close, like brothers”, “Distant memories are buried in the past forever” and “I follow the Moskva down to Gorky Park”.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    3 doors down – Kryptonite

    1. There is not communicates anything beyond notes, sounds and text. In the verses the lyrics are about being weak and hopeless without the “kryptonite”. You can a hear a picking guitar in there. In the chorus the lyrics are about the rescue, getting hope and energy. The lead guitar is not picking anymore, but strumming. Also Cymbals are coming up in the chorus more often. This is releasing energy. So this energy is caused Kryptonite.
    2. The meaning is universal. Kryptonite is an element coming up in Superman. All the lyrics refer to Superman as well. It is one of the best known comics (and movies) all around the world. So it must have the purpose of being universal.
    3. Besides the fact that 3 doors down had a big fanbase already anyways, it is probably the reference to superman and the fame of this character that they used to appear everywhere in media.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Elephant Talk- king crimson

    1) Aside from the songs musical make up another form of communication it provides – its lyrics, revolve around the topic of ‘talk’ and its many forms. It shy’s away from having any one specific message, political or otherwise. Making its lyrical alleyway of communication so broad that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the song is attempting to communicate. the closest it seems to get to having a clear alleyway of communication is the sections where the guitar players Play in a way reminiscent of that of the sounds of an elephant ‘talking’ (hence the name) however what this is attemting to communicate relies heavily on subjectivity and is largely lost in the hole musical experience. Another thing the track may be trying to communicate is the technical prowess and virtuosity of the players on each of their instruments. this is noteworthy as in this genre of music at the time there was great competitiveness with other bands with many musicians striving to be ‘the best’ in their chosen field. I therefore cannot rule out the possibility that the song, in some way may be merely communicating a message or statement of sorts (that they are still at top of their musical game) to their listeners and more importantly their peers.

    2) Due to the broad unspecific lyrical meaning (see number 1) it would be hard to get a universal absolute meaning out of this song. The meaning of the song is more likely personal and subjective, meaning anything from nothing at all, to a variety of things depending on the listener.

    3) As far as what caused the music to occur my guess would be that the initial spark was Adrian Belews and Robert Fripps guitar tone and therefor the technological advancements in pedal boards and the effect that that had on players at the time. personally the song appears to revolve around and pander to this one aspect. It was and still is a unique and interesting way of making sound with the guitar that could have easily been the spark of creativity needed for the creation of the rest of the song. Its similarities to that of an elephant talking most likely gave birth to the lyrics also, given their obvious relation.

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  4. neeal5 says:

    The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel.

    Musically the song starts with a thin texture and the instrumentation is minimal with only a guitar being played and two part harmonies being sung. This communicates loneliness and suggests the struggle of the narrative to the listener as the single instrument echoes the loneliness through the single layer of instrumentation. Throughout the song the instrumentation thickens gradually and therefore communicate the determination of the boxer and suggests the gain in strength through never giving up. The addition of multiple instruments and heavier production shows the rise in confidence. The fast tempo of the song suggests the endless determination and stamina of the boxer. the song communicates the idea of perseverance.
    Lyrically, the beginning of the song depicts the struggle of a lonely person struggling with poverty in New York, however the end of the song switches to a story of a persevering boxer. The meaning is universal as both the struggle of poverty and and the determination to find success is something people everywhere can relate to. Each person listening will relate back to a time when they faced the struggle of hardship or the efforts of trying to find success and therefore the song will resonate with them.
    The situation of society at the time the song was written is why the song occurs.It focuses on the struggle of the economic hardship of the time in the United States and almost suggests hope through the idea of a persevering boxer who never gives up. the song is a glimmer of hope to the people effected by the times.

    Heroes – David Bowie.

    Empowerment is communicated both lyrically and texturally from the start of the song. The use of electric instrumentation shows the song is modern and a representation of the limitless of our modern lives. The song’s thick texture communicates the excitement of the opportunities we are open to and the fact we can do and be what ever we want to be, “we can be heroes”.
    The song is universal. it is a message of hope and encouragement, telling the listener they can achieve what they want. The song is a message of hope.
    The song occurs due to the events happening in the world during the time. Inspired by Bowies ‘Berlin period’ The song was based on a couple separated by the Berlin Wall and there efforts to be together. The song is emotive as it depicts the events and hardships of the late 1970s and there for resonates with those listen at the time, and those listening today.

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  5. Owain Harcombe says:

    Song 1 – Lower than Atlantis – Emily

    (1) I feel that ‘Emily’ can communicate slightly to a portion of the audience through the lyrics. From a first listen the track seems that it is written from the perspective of a man who is in awe of a girl named Emily. A lot of boys growing up through school will be able to relate to the situation. The track itself however is a fairly straight forward song that is an easy listen for the casual fan. The typical and straight forward band set up and following a common theme in ‘love’ means it will not really isolate itself from other tracks in the same genre.
    (2) However! The meaning of this track is entirely personal. Bigger fans of the band will know that this song is actually written about the lead signers dog. Some people could still relate to that fact but the song is entirely based on the relationship of one man and his dog, not taking into account anyone else.
    (3) As pointed out above the song came about of the relationship between a man and his dog. With the lyricist focused on this it leaves the rest of the band create their own parts to the track to give it the unique individuality that the band possesses. I would guess that the lead signer came up with the idea and the creation of the lyrics coincided with the instrumentation and it sounds like the syllables of the lyrics has been created alongside the chord progression in the chorus. E.g. EM-I-LY.

    Song 2 – Frank Turner – The Next Storm

    (1) With every song Frank Turner produces, his aim is to connect with the audience and universe. The Next Storm is a song that relates to everyone as it is about picking yourself up after you get knocked down. E.g I’m going to step out and face the next storm. Beyond the sounds and melodies that first attracted me to Turner his deep meaning in all his self-written songs can form a strong attachment with the audience. His songs often express such passion and he performs for what he believes in, which sadly may keep him away from the limelight.
    (2) As discussed in point 1, the meaning of this song can easily be interpreted around the world. It connects with any culture, any language and any religion.
    (3) The cause of the music falls down to Turner entirely. From my point of view it seems like Turner has written the lyrics to the song before any instrumental parts. Turner also hires his own band ‘The Sleeping Souls’ that he has performed with for over a decade. Behind the lyrics his inspirations are brought on through society and a massive part of his live performances are promoting love and peace.

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  6. jordandibble says:

    The 1975 – Somebody Else

    1. The song communicates primarily through lyrics, and the way that they are portrayed. The lyrics communicate through the method of writing, as if the words are part of a conversation. The writer is talking rejecting someone he loves to feel fulfilled with himself.
    2. The meaning is both universal and personal. The situation is personal to the artist, but others will be able to relate to it.
    3. The songwriter must be what is making the music to occur. I think the lyrics and the story are the focus in this song and any complex musical aspects would take away from that. Technology must have had some impact on how the song sounds. The basic chord progression is what everything is built upon, this gives the platform for everything else to add colour and charm.

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  7. ElinaE says:

    James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream

    1. This song is quite hypnotic because of repeating music and word phrases throughout the track. Those 3 thoughts in lyrics are quite existential and thoughtful, but J.Blake has chosen a minimalistic and simple approach for its musical solution. Melody has its concord with lyrics, for example, during the phrase ” I don’t know about my dreams/love” the melody is going up, hitting its highest note on “dreams” or “love”, and going down during the phrase “all that i know is, it’s falling falling falling”. Even if the melody and words don’t change, the track has its culmination – gradually and patiently reached by playing with electronic sounds, textures and reverbs, which in the end, makes this song as a bit meditative, ruminant journey of existential thoughts.

    2. The meaning of the song is personal. The lyrics are quite straight, simple and without any ambiguity. Every verse starts with the pronoun (“I”) ( “I don’t know about my dreams.. I don’t know about my love. All that I know is falling falling..), which makes it very personal for artist, performer or for any listener who ascribe it as personal.

    3. As this music has never been on radio top charts, yet it has 6 millions views on youtube and almost 15 million plays on Spotify. It is hard for me to guess what caused this music to occur. I discovered it way before it had millions of views. I guess it is production.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    1. The song has a distinctive sense of antithesis to the style of music The Beatles were known for and this is evident through the use of broken down instrumentation. This feature communicates to the audience that this record was the end of an era, as if putting their past work to rest. The direct jump to the chorus to open the song really emphasises the urgency of the meaning within. Also, there is a long gap between verses 1 and 2 (containing two choruses and a bridge) which could be a symbol of the break they took in their careers.
    2. The meaning is universal in that most people know that this was The Beatles’ last performance together so they understand why the change of tone is significant. It’s also universal because the lyrics aren’t complex, so there really is no deeper meaning to them.
    3.  The cause of the music in this case is a variation of society and the songwriter(s). The group made the decision to have a break from recording due the changes in society that forced them to feel like their music didn’t belong to them anymore, and they just weren’t enjoying it. John Lennon and Paul McCartney probably wrote this song with heavy hearts and anticipation that their time together was coming to an end which they display through the simplicity of the song.

    1. The theme of this song like many of Michael Jackson’s differs from the mainstream love, heartbreak and sex. The fact that he made the entire song purely about changing the world one man at a time, approaching the topic in a very sincere and down-to-earth manner, as a rich man makes it all the more inspiring.
    2. The beauty of this song is that the meaning can be both universal and personal as it appeals to everyone by urging us to reflect on our lives. However, the interpretation is unique to each individual because everyone has different things that they want or need to change about themselves in order to “make the world a better place”.
    3. The main context of this song is the societal issue of homelessness. Michael Jackson is questioning why he deserves to be better off than the homeless and live a life of luxury, “Who am I to be blind, pretending not to see their needs?” An ergonomic clue used in the song is the presence of a mirror, an object that most people come across on a daily basis. Although mirrors only reflect the image of your body, it may make you think deeper as to why you’re unhappy with your appearance and what you can do to be the best version of yourself.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Riot Van – Arctic Monkeys

    I will use this particular song for my example, but the truth is that as an overseas citizen, I have always been fascinated by the lyrics and music in the first Arctic Monkeys album.

    1- The song “Riot Van” has a simple and calm music track accompanied by an equally calm and carefree voice. Although it may give you a joyful and peaceful feeling when listening to it, the song is about some teenagers being chased and detained by the police. The slow tempo and simple notes accentuate the intention of the song, which for me is to tell a common story through effective and simple music, and give you a taste of a random success in the everyday life of a UK teenager.

    2- The lyrics may seem personal at a first glimpse as they describe a particular event told from the perspective of the composer Alex Turner, but what I find fascinating is that when I listen to the song and lyrics (and every other song in this album), I can generate an almost perfect mental image of the event as well as understanding a bit of the UK culture through it. I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel that I can relate to the feelings, thoughts and intentions of the composer really easily and live the moment as I was watching it through a film. For me that final experience is what gives the song an almost universal meaning as long as the person who listens to it is not limited by the language.

    3- The content of the song and the whole album is caused by the social context of the composer, in this case, the life of a common teenager in Sheffield. The whole album is a compendium of stories channeled through energetic and simple fast paced music (kind of a contemporary punk style). The style of the music genre can be attributed to age of the band members as most of them were around 18 years old at the time of the release of the record. Their youthfulness can be felt in the urge to tell their city stories though energetic simple music and clever lyrics.

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