April 13: "Reinventing Rock 'n' Roll: The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver" at the Heggan Free Public Library
On 5 April, I blogged of how George Martin supplemented George Harrison's guitar solo on the song 'Baby It's You' (1963) by playing the same notes on a celeste. Then on 7 April, I blogged of how the two Georges used the same "duet instead of literal solo" technique on 'A Hard Day's Night' (1964), and of how they used varispeed to perform the music an octave lower and half as fast as it's heard on the final product, then played the tape back at double speed. Today I consider the same varispeed technique on 'In My Life' (1965).
The song was recorded on 18 October 1965, with a space left open for a solo to be subsequently overdubbed. Four days later, George Martin wrote and recorded a two-part invention in the style of Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). But if you've ever played Bach's inventions, you know they're not terribly easy. The contrapuntal texture makes the physical choreography between the hands challenging. Though a competent pianist, Martin was no virtuoso and so (much like he did on 'A Hard Day's Night' a year earlier) he used varispeed to create the impossibly fast and clean playing heard on the finished product.
So here's what Martin actually played:
And here's what that same performance sounds like on the recording, at double speed:
But in this use of varispeed (unlike the same technique used on 'Hard Day's Night'), an artistic component supplements the practical facilitation. As I wrote in The Beatles & The Avant-Garde: "In this extended, melodically intricate setting, the distortion effects of tape manipulation emerged more noticeably than in the earlier, brief interludes. As Martin discovered to his delight, double-speed playback has side effects. Just as the note durations are halved, so too the note decays – the length of time it takes for the sound to fade – are also halved. This abbreviated decay is reminiscent of another keyboard instrument, one that was in use during Bach's lifetime: the harpsichord. Just as the use of a classical string quartet gave the ultra-nostalgic 'Yesterday' a depth that a traditional rock band arrangement could not achieve, so too the addition of a [varispeeded] piano solo on the ultra-nostalgic 'In My Life' provided a depth that a standard electric guitar solo could not achieve. The practical studio technique of 'wound up piano' [Martin's casual term for varispeed] took on new and expressive artistic meaning."
This is one of many analyses of songs I'll present tomorrow evening at the Heggan Free Public Library:
Wednesday, 13 April 2016, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
Margaret E. Heggan Free Public Library, 606 Delsea Drive, Sewell, NJ
Reinventing Rock 'n' Roll: The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver
The sophisticated songwriting and experimental recording techniques on the Beatles' sixth studio album Rubber Soul and seventh studio album Revolver helped establish the rock album as a legitimate art form and anticipated the “concept album” Sgt. Pepper. This 90-minute multimedia presentation will discuss and analyze highlights from both albums with the intent of explaining and illustrating how these groundbreaking practices helped shape the Beatles' music specifically and rock music in general.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.