music, opinion and technology

32 august

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32 August? Shades of Orwell’s 1984, which must have the worst opening line of any “classic” novel:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Ugh. As opposed to, say, Shakespeare’s Richard III:

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”

Enough on that topic, thank you very much.

I wrote earlier about my initial exposure to progressive music while a teenager; one album that I enjoyed back then was Seconds Out, by Genesis. I remember thinking then that it was odd for such a “gentle” band to be using a boxing reference in an album title. (It means “all assistants must clear the ring, the round’s about to start”.) I suppose that it was their hardest-hitting album to date, showcasing how, in concert, they came alive in way not previously captured on record. To my 13-year old ears, it sounded a bit anaemic alongside Yessongs or Deep Purple’s Made In Japan, live albums from the same era which made more of an impression.

Over the years, though, the melodies stayed with me, and after I found a copy of the album last month, the most evocative song turned out to be The Cinema Show. I’m not much of a keyboardist, and wasn’t back then, but you don’t need to be to appreciate what Tony Banks was doing in this track in particular. His keyboard solo, over the odd-metered muscular drumming (courtesy of both Bill Bruford and Phil Collins), is sheer genius. To make things worse, that was just one hand; the other was holding down the backing chords with Mellotron and Hammond organ.

One of my favourite topics for musical discussion is how musicians, and their works, are shaped by their tools. Tony Banks has had much to say on this topic, over the years; during this period, 1976-7, he used an Arp Pro-Soloist synthesiser for lead lines. These models suffer by comparison to the MiniMoogs used by everyone else, in terms of features and raw sound. They had no real pitch-bend system, but Banks was only using one hand anyway, and he made full use of its touch-sensitive dual keyboards (a first) and preset capability. Their oscillators sounded thin and reedy by comparison, but this made them more suited to emulation of woodwinds. The sound he achieves here can be likened to a “piccolo clarinet”, if there was such a thing: similar in quality, but with less body and played in a higher range. Had he been using a MiniMoog, the result would have been a heavier sound that would not have suited Genesis’ relatively sparse and clear sound.

Written by brian t

September 1, 2002 at 4:28 pm

Posted in books, music

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