July 24, 2003

30 Days to a More Irritating Vocabulary

We got a lot done during the second day of tracking, though it didn't feel like that was what was happening while it was happening. Trying to judge sounds and weigh the merits of the performance of parts that are, for the moment, disconnected from the context in which they're intended to be set at some future point is pretty difficult and confusing. You get disoriented, lose perspective, and end up having intense arguments about whether a given beat or phrase or fill or run or what have you is doing a proper job of helping the as-yet-non-existent track to embody a set of qualities that can only be described in vague, often largely meaningless, terms. Well, I know what I mean when I say "loose" or "easy" or "mechanical" or "rockin'" or "stilted" or "sloppy" or "clean" or "dark", etc. But I think it's safe to say no one in that room completely understands what anyone else really means. Describing a sound or a "feel" in words is, as far as I can see, impossible.

Sometimes people take this maddeningly vague, irritatingly picky critical sub-process personally (though I have to say there is remarkably little-- in fact, practically none-- of that action going on in these sessions; but we haven't run into any big snags yet.) Sometimes that can lead to arguments about whether or not that's happening. Then the whole thing can take on a momentary guise of a kind of therapy session: "now, Joe, try to tell Tim why you think it fucking sucks..."

For us, though, it's mostly a case of the inarticulate leading the indecisive on a quest to verbalize the inexpressible, the critical- and self-analysis equivalent of a Jerry Lewis movie where, say, the dog takes the steak and goes from room to room with it while the Jerry character chasing him keeps guessing wrong about the dog's next move, causing more and more chaos till the final scene where the love interest arrives to find him lying in the middle of the living room floor tangled up in the contents of the house, curtains, bedclothes, rugs, clothing, furniture, various foodstuffs, while the dog calmly eats the steak in the foreground. The girl gives him an exasperated, indulgent, demi-smile. Dissolve. (I don't think that's a real Jerry Lewis movie, but it would make a pretty good one. It might be called "She Runs Out when the Money Does.")

"Rockin'" is probably the most-used and least specific of those recording studio words, but there are many, many more. (Kevin Army's word of the day yesterday was "poopy.")

Many folks who have played and recorded with me have expressed mild surprise at my gormless, retarded way of describing my own stuff in terms of analogues to other stuff, often in crazy combinations. Plus, I have a tendency to use negative words as though they described desirable qualities. It's true that quite a few musicians feel that they should downplay or remain silent about the "borrowings" from other, more famous, people, but I've always figured that flagrant incestuous interpenetration (if f.i.i. is the phrase I want) of material and musical idiom is what makes rock and roll great. And even when it doesn't actually make it great, you might as well admit it and get on with your life. It's not "I hope no one notices who I am ripping off here." It's more like, "I hope everyone notices the extremely interesting and cool way I've figured out to rip off x while invoking y and stomping all over z." That said, it leads to some funny, eh, discourse in the control room.

"Hey, you know the Byrds part after the sweet home alabama bit, right before the lead in to the Husker Du-y section where I'm doing the Duane Eddy thing? I want it to have a kind of muted Swell Maps/Peechees effect, but an overall Eagles feel, especially during that Carpenters part because I'm planning to add some Funeral Oration-style reverb to the Styx guitar once we get the pictures of lily thing happening. It should have an overall unpleasant, claustrophic feel. That's what I'm shooting for, anyway. You know the kinda thing I mean?"

"Er, uh, yeah, I think so... But don't you think it should be more rockin'?"

Yeah, well, whatever. You get the idea.

Posted by Dr. Frank at July 24, 2003 04:58 PM | TrackBack

Well, Frank, there's your album title: "The Inarticulate leading the Indecisive on a quest to verbalize the Inexpressible."

That was easy.

Posted by: Paul M at July 24, 2003 05:10 PM

That was a great post: I know exactly what you're talking about. You try to find words to express the sound in your head, and just end up saying things like "make that guitar sound wetter, and kind of like a power tool, like the guitars on the Descendents 'Everything Sucks.' "

The absolute best is when you end up using total non-words to describe certain song fragments to each other. "Yeah, the weedy-weedy ditty part that comes right after the noo-noo-noo part, we should make that sound more like the post-chorus wocka-wocka thing. No no no, not the wacka, the wocka. The wocka, damn you!"

I guess that's really only "the best," though, when everyone's on the same page, and they rarely are.

Also, "Flagrant Incestuous Interpenetration" would be a great album title. =)

Posted by: geoff at July 24, 2003 05:20 PM

great post, frank.

Posted by: joe at July 24, 2003 06:23 PM

Were the words "I want it to sound purple?" uttered? A great disclaimer: "No color metaphors were used in the making of this CD."

Posted by: JB at July 24, 2003 07:39 PM

Better than having to learn all those Italian words like the symphony people. Ha. I got your "non troppo" bozo. :)
Sounds like real productivity in the studio, though. Good luck and an easy mix and master. ~mikey

Posted by: mikey at July 24, 2003 10:42 PM

This sounds similar to what art directors do in
the animation industry. "Could you make that
red more sincere?"

The most extreme example I've heard of this is,
"I don't know what I want, but that's not it."

Posted by: Dale at July 25, 2003 12:04 AM
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