Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

52 Weeks – Week 14 – What’s Going On?

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project

Today’s piece of music, presented in three forms:

“What’s Going On?” from Travels

CD Version

Live Version

MIDI Version

(For those not familiar with Travels, this may help.)

To quote from my Travels memoirs:

Another personal favorite. This one dispenses the washed-out feeling we’ve had since A Dangerous Sign and sinks its teeth right back into the meat of the story. Accompanied by a rock organ instead of a distortion guitar, this one has a much more low-key feel than ‘A Dangerous Sign.’ The beginning of this song is the happiest time for Marco during the entire show, and it’s a bit jarring to hear the beautiful string lines turn minor and sour right before the rock section. The oboe there also adds a bit of emotion. The MIDI file is a rockin’ one, as is the tape, but the CD loses a lot of the heavy bass that I love on this song.”

A funny thing happened when I orchestrated this show. The first five or six songs I really put a lot of effort into and tried to make sound awesome. Then the reality of having thirty-five or so songs left and only two months to do them in became quite apparent and a lot of the rest of the orchestrations didn’t have nearly the time and care put into them. This particular song, “What’s Going On?”, is one of those early pieces. There’s some counterpoint, some nice harmonies, a sax solo that didn’t actually work in real life — good times. The song is the first time we’re finally introduced to the core conflict of the show: Marco Polo’s idealism vs. the realities of the Mongol Empire. Since this is three songs before Act I ends, I’d say that’s a bit of a pacing problem, but once it’s introduced it makes for a compelling drama for the rest of the show, Marco’s whining notwithstanding. This is also the first piece I did where I gave the two main characters a distinctive instrument to represent them musically: an oboe for Mei Hwa, a clarinet for Marco. I used this same motif in a few other pieces, although sadly, by the end of the process I didn’t have the time to make it work throughout the entire show.

This piece is one of the four that actually sounds like a rock opera (not counting reprises, the other three are “Who Is This Stranger?”, “A Dangerous Sign”, and “Who Do You Think You Are?”), albeit a little more low-key than any of the others. Interestingly enough, this song showcases perfectly why I both really enjoy and bash the CD recording: the string part at the beginning is gorgeous, while the rock part doesn’t work at all. I guess that’s what happens when you record in a choir room instead of an actual studio, or at least when you don’t correctly mike the rhythm section, especially the drums. Ah, well, still a fun song.

Coming up next week: the “Action” theme from my film scoring class!


3 responses

  1. Marné

    Are you saying there were forty songs in Travels? That’s a lot. The show must have been really long. Anyway, I listened to the CD version of this song first, and I did hear the bass in the background (and loved it) I’m glad that the other versions made the bass more pronounced.

    January 15, 2010 at 8:19 am

  2. From thirty-nine to forty-two, actually, depending on how you counted them. The show was somewhere between two and two-and-a-half hours long, all music. Yeah, it was fairly lengthy.

    January 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm

  3. Haley Greer

    It’s funny how much the music of Travels can make my heart and stomach do weird things even after all these years. Something akin to an anxiety attack. Weird.

    January 17, 2010 at 6:48 pm

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