Thursday, 26 August 2010

Cartography before the horse

A friend of mine has a blog which has no specific focus, but I find interesting to dip into. He draws (very well), he writes (tho' I have read none of his stories), and is great in conversation. A recent post talked about mapping out the landscape in which a story exists, and that it is a common practise to get your world straight before embarking on telling a story in it. It would appear that his way of working differs from this, and I thought I would respond. Go read his post, then report back; I'll put the kettle on.

You done? Good, here's a cup of hot water, infuse it with what you please, and I'll begin:

I have a similar, but different, situation to Tom's with song writing. Some folk get words and engineer a melody to go with it; others write numerous melodies, then words are found, and one of the those tunes is appropriately married to it. Others collect a bunch of chords and bang them about until words and tune appear out of thin air.

Whilst I have done each of these, I have noticed through time that, overall, I work best doing none of them.

I frequently start with a line or phrase or couplet, which its internal rhythm, pace & sense will suggest a melodic fragment to me, which I use as a starting place - rather like Tom's imagining of a scene. Occasionally a complete verse will come in one go, but normally it's just a beginning.

This happened recently with a phrase 'When I try to talk to you alone/ It's like talking to an answerphone' which formed in my mind fairly spontaneously, words and the melody to support it (even with backing vocal part!).

I will then, from what has been said, tease out what comes next, both lyrically and melodically, at the same time getting some harmony together (the chords). Once I have a verse, I have a structure to follow for other verses, and an idea of what the thing might be saying or expressing - I finally have my map, and I can trace out the course of lyrical discourse from that point. I'm not saying any of what I write is any good, but it's the process I frequently go through.

That phrase above about an answerphone has, unusually for me, become the chorus. I have seen through the years that I don't often use choruses. Generally I find they interrupt the emotional narrative - when you're talking to someone, you don't normally hang your point around a constant refrain, unless it's for a specific purpose to accentuate a point, etc. In the same way I appear to have unconsciously been doing this in my songs. I will only use a chorus when it benefits what is being said. Maybe this is why I'll never get a job in Tin Pan Alley or the Brill Building, who always want something to hang the song on, and give the folk something to whistle on the way home.

Maybe choruses are my deciduous trees.

1 comment:

  1. As lyrical and as incisive as your songs, Dunc. Nice to see the parallels drawn between the art-forms. And if it's a sign of hope or a sign of nothing at all, the deciduous trees came together once I'd worked out they needed to be blurry...