Make Me a Pallet/Palette…

July 23, 2008 at 1:29 pm (Uncategorized)

[Just to finish the thoughts of the last post, I found this quotation in a collection called Oxymoronica: “Music is the sole art which evokes nostalgia for the future.” It’s credited to Ned Rorem, an American composer. A little research reveals that the word “nostalgia” comes from two Greek roots: one means “returning home” and the other “pain”. It captures that desirable contradiction I was trying to express about pop songs. Listening to great songs can certainly make you think about the past but something about listening to the recorded event or the live performance takes the song out of the past and into the future — or rather, takes you out of the past and into the future. Anyway…]

I thought I’d try to explain how I take that initial inspiration for a song and craft it into a finished piece. One method I use involves creating a palette of words, phrases, and ideas. Here’s one I created for a song I finished this year called “Aftermath.” All my obsession about words had me thinking about how often words can’t always say what you want them to say, and that perhaps, numbers and math — their concrete nature — could do a better job of describing certain truths. As a concept, I thought it would cool to try and use as many mathematical terms in the lyrics as possible. So I brainstormed some words used in math that could help me tell a story. I tried to select ones that had a possible narrative meaning. Course, I’m picking words and not numbers. If I had any guts I’d write the whole thing in zeroes and ones. [Kate Bush wrote some song about Pi and she just recited it through the whole thing. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.]

Here’s a list of words/phrases I wrote down: addition by subtraction, tally, divide and conquer, divide in half, multiplying, order of operations, factors, (in)divisible, to the power of, parentheticals, axies, degrees, E=Mc2, relativity (though those last two are getting a bit physics-y — another song), word problems, is this how you measure sincerity, calculated, splitting in two, count me out, greater than, lesser than, equal halves, two by two, angles, intersecting points, carry the one, sequence, percent, solutions, answer key, times table, prime numbers, remainder, odds and evens, fraction, infinity, imaginary numbers (what the hell were they anyway?), variable, aftermath, etc.

I’ve been told that I like to come up with concepts for songs, and I guess in this case that’s true. What if I wrote a song that did such and such? The concern here is that your song ends up just being concept-y and doesn’t have any depth to it. Or worse yet, it becomes a cute idea. But I’ve found giving yourself restrictions with the words you use (or the instruments you use or something else) leads to unpredictable results. So I took those words and phrases and tried to form them into some story. I had some bits of music that I’d been playing around for a while and thought these words might fit them. I realize I haven’t really talked much about music in the songwriting process yet. I’ll get to that later — though I’m not really looking forward to it.

The lyrics to “Aftermath” are here.



  1. JDizzle said,

    I know I’m stating the obvious here but so many of these words that started off as words to describe mathematical concepts have been adopted into the general language because there may have been no other way to verbally express the non-math-related concept. I mean “relativity” alone did not exist as a thought until Einstein came up with it (I could be wrong here but humor me). So me saying something like “I’m really smart and can make smart comments on Ben’s blog, well, relatively speaking” maybe didn’t exist as an idea before.

    So put that in calculator and hit the equal sign.

  2. songsmith said,

    Dizz– consider it inputted. What you say is true of course so I have only one response: Me + You = Love. [Sorry you all had to read that.] Lenny Bruce — who appears in a different song I wrote said, “comedy = pain + time.”

  3. Jeff said,

    This looks like a lot of words and reeks of learning.

  4. songsmith said,

    Jeff — my new blog site will just be posts of sound effects. Like every day a different laser sound, cork popping, whistle blowing, or flatulence. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

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