Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

Android Song: In-depth

The Android Song

Those who’ve been around me during the past month or so know that I’ve put a ton of time and effort into making the new Poison Ivy Mysteries show, Death: The Final Frontier, or May the Corpse Be With You, the best possible show it can be. This has included writing three pieces for it, all of which I am extremely proud. I don’t wish to self-aggrandize here, but I do want to show how much effort I’ve put into these songs, and how much one may be able to pull out on more than a cursory hearing. Specifically, let’s take a look at one of the songs I’ve done. “The Android Song” is sung by, well, the android. The whole concept of the piece is to prove how superior androids are to humans, and it does so on a fair number of levels.

The piece works thusly: After a short introduction, the android asks different groups in the audience to perform simple dance moves: conducting, doing the wave, doing a quick country-type dance step, etc., during certain points in the music. When the audience inevitably screws up, the android deadpans how tremendously inferior they are. Robots wouldn’t screw this up, after all! What the audience may not know (or may know at least on some level) is that the deck is stacked against them from the start! There are, of course, the obvious reasons why the audience screws up: they’ve never heard the song before, most of them probably aren’t performers, and the condescending android certainly isn’t boosting their self-esteem. But there are some deeper reasons why some of them just can’t quite pick it up.

First of all, the phrase length is in flux. The first time the four audience sections are heard, sections one and three are only four measures long, while sections two and four are eight. The second time, sections one and three are still four, and section two is still eight, but suddenly, section four is nine measures long. The way the song goes, the change is hard to notice unless one is actively counting, but it is enough to screw up anyone trying to dance to it even if they got the dance down pat the first time. The third and fourth time the sections are heard, they all are four measures long, without warning. Also, the time between the sections is nearly a constant eight measures, but in some cases is twelve, four, or even none. And the last time, all the sections are overlaid on top of each other, making the entire audience have to do their parts at the same time! No wonder the android is so smug; he’s screwed the humans over before they had a decent chance!

The trance-like nature of the piece doesn’t help the audience’s coordination either. Even though there’s a constant beat, the low, warm bass, and pulsating fx make it more difficult to concentrate. Audience members can easily lose track of where the song is going, so when their section suddenly comes up, they’re unprepared, letting Android make another snide comment. Fortunately, the piece is so fairly unfair, the movements so silly, and the android so deadpan, that the audience ends up laughing at itself in a self-deprecating manner (not to mention laughing at their friends who are also screwing up) and it turns into a really fun moment in the show.

On a somewhat-related topic, the piece also contains a fair amount of homages and familiar techniques, some of which may be readily apparent, others less so, and I’d like to point out a bunch of them for my loyal blog audience. First, there are a lot of shout-outs to a piece that directly influenced many techno and trance composers: “In C” by Terry Riley. This was an important piece in the American minimalist movement, which stressed repetition, slow harmonic movement, constant drones or pulses, and consonance. Not only do I borrow these ideas from minimalism to create the morphing sound that permeates this piece, but I borrowed some elements directly from In C, to wit: the “pulse” that appears around 0:38, and the rhythmic sixteenth note patterns in the vibes that start around the one-minute mark (motives 11, 39, 17, 43, and 53, as shown on this score of “In C,” to be specific). The piece even ends in the exact same way as “In C,” with motive 53 repeating until it fades into nonexistence.

Second, each audience part gets its inspiration from radically varying sources. The first one, and probably the most obvious reference, is a nearly direct copy of the famous motive from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor. This is a stealth pun, as the android is trying to make the audience look pathetic, and what better way to do that than play a bit of what is commonly known as Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique? The second audience part actually comes from the first draft of the android song, which in turn was inspired by a piece I found on OCRemix called “But the Future Refused to Change” which is itself a remix of a bunch of tunes from the RPG Chrono Trigger! Quite a convoluted path for a simple eight-bar phrase! The third part just sounds like lasers, ’cause techno songs have lasers and/or sirens in them. And the fourth one seems a bit out of place, as it’s suddenly a country/western fiddle bit in this techno song. However, it came about after I heard the new soundtrack for Starcraft II, which is a blend of sci-fi and Southern (at least the Terran themes are). One day I hope to write stuff that’s as awesome as that. I’m getting there!

In any case, this piece was a lot of work to write, but also a lot of fun, too, so everyone should come see the show to see it in context!


2 responses

  1. Marne'

    Quite nice. I made sure to read about the song before listening to it. You got a little music nerdy in there, with all of those references. I didn’t recognize the song title of “In C” but the name Terry Riley sounded familiar. Then I remembered that I bought a hand-made ocarina from someone named Terry Riley. Though, I got the flute from Great Britain, so I don’t think it’s the same Terry Riley.

    There were a couple of parts in the song that actually made me feel frustrated (and I wasn’t even trying to dance!) the first part I remember was from 2:41 to about 3:00. I don’t know why that part upset me, it just made me feel uneasy. Perhaps it was something to do with that measure flux stuff you were talking about, I don’t know.

    The score itself is engaging and entertaining, but I think the part that most impressed me was the polished and professional feeling it has.

    March 27, 2010 at 1:34 am

  2. Pingback: Android Song - Poison Ivy Mysteries

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