Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Two for Tuesday: Ryan Power

1.) I’ve spent the last hour trying to learn and understand Heat Sleep, a song by my friend Ryan Power. The melody (which I (shamefully) haven’t thought about yet, but which contains important clues for analyzing shifts in the song’s tonal center) develops over an eight-bar loop of eight chords out of whose voices one’s ear can construct perpetually ascending and perpetually descending lines. That’s what the song, as a musical event, is about: the ear’s power to assemble wholes from distributed parts, and to alter those wholes by shifting one or two elements at a time. The song is also about eighth notes. It builds to an instrumental section—and I really want you to listen long enough to get to this part—that lays shifting tracks of melody over the chords, gradually reordering and permuting the rhythm in a fashion too bright and playful to label as minimalist, but sharing that movement’s interest in combinations. One imagines reshaping a miniature castle built out of same-sized cubes, where one or two cubes may be moved one space each turn. The castle, as a real object for us, can’t be identified with any one configuration (too concrete, too static), the collection of all its actual configurations, or the form of all its possible configurations (too abstract). These all matter to our experience: the part, its place in an actual series, and the series’ place in a spectrum of possibility.

(In case anyone wants to play along at home, the chords go like this, as far as I can tell: Dmaj7, Dsus4, Bb6, Amin7, Gmaj7, Gmin7, Amin7, D.)

2.) Ponytail Fuse is another song from Ryan’s new album, Loventropy. It is way darker and sadder than “Heat Sleep.” Its harmonic interest is generated in a similar way—more or less by alternating between a major key and the parallel minor key—though the harmonic interest of later points in the song, sink-into-the-floor, turn-inside-out dopplerizing Euro-siren moments of total aural reorientation, seems beyond the reach of analysis.* The force of these moments is probably better understood by analogy to the moment when the drug definitively kicks in and you no longer have to wonder if it’s working, when the world is utterly, without question, transformed, a moment of detachment and discovery of hidden presence when your home-world becomes as unimaginable as this transformed world had been an instant before. Maybe the spiritual (& thermodynamical & psychedelical) message of Loventropy is this: you can get the world back—your regular world, your home—but there’s a little less of it each time, and it’s duller, smaller, less comforting, and more important than you remembered.

*The surprise chord that saws off the branch you’re sitting on, an F#, belongs to neither half of the song’s modal mixture and is as far away as can be from the song’s (sort of) home in C (though its relationship to Eb, the modal alternate, is the same as the relationship of Eb to C), and it is followed by a slightly-less-impossible Emaj7, but this—or whatever better analysis—does not convey the effect of the change.


Post a Comment

<< Home