Common Lisp - I​.​O​.​U.

from by Various Artists

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I - O - Y - M - L - A - W

So... immediately one of what I consider to be my biggest strengths in these contests, which is coming up with lyrics, was turned into a weakness -- like a golf handicap. Of course ideally, one could write a song that uses this constraint, but the result would be not a novelty, but a song that is good enough that the listener won't necessarily realize there is something strange about the lyrics. That was my goal; whether I met it is for you to decide. But it's also the reason the lyrics are sung the way they are -- repeating and overlapping -- because there just weren't enough lyrics to sustain a whole song unless I did something to recycle them.

My mind was pretty much a blank until I happened to sit down on the toilet (yes, really) and the first phrase popped into my head: "I owe you my life, my love."

So my first five letters were I, O, Y, M, L. I putzed around with adding A and F so I could use words like "find," for phrases like "find another year of laughter," and spent a few painful hours with a dictionary and rhyming dictionary. I toyed with O for phrases like "once more my love," but finally I settled on W so I could write "When we met long years ago you welcomed me with love and laughter." So my seven letters are I, O, Y, M, L, A, and W.

The lyrics as I first recorded them were slightly longer, but some of the phrases were a bit awkward, and then I started layering and repeating the phrases, so I condensed and rearranged a few lines.

The music is quite different this time. You might notice I don't have any real chords in the usual sense. Oh, there are some implied chords, but here I am, a guitarist, and I'm never actually _strumming_ a chord. The approach I took for the music was inspired by a band called The Books. This song really doesn't sound much like the Books, but there was something about the way they recorded traditional instruments, especially the way they were equalized and featured, that appealed to me and was in the back of my head. The ringing reverb on the percussion was directly inspired by a Books song.

In recording this I started with the electric guitar, and there were four guitar tracks of overlapping phrases. Then I did a similar thing with fretless bass, and then ukulele. I had no basic structure in mind except for these repeating patterns, with the idea that I would then do a lot of mixer automation to bring the overlapping parts up and down in interesting patterns. Right off the bat there were an overwhelming number of tracks. I recorded a lot of little percussion bits: some real instruments, like shaker, a small guiro, triangle, and finger cymbals, but also an empty plastic cottage cheese container, some stainless steel measuring spoons, a meat skewer, a light bulb that I hit (gently) with a triangle beater, two metal rasps, and some tearing and crumpling paper.

At the end of day 1 recording, I had those instruments and percussion sounds all playing in a big mix, and listened to it downstairs on my PA speakers. It sounded kind of cool, but overwhelmingly busy - so then the task was to try and pare it down. I mixed and mixed and recorded scratch vocals on day 2, and then sent the result to Joe "Covenant" Lamb who was going to record vocals for me. He had a technical problem, unfortunately, so I couldn't use his tracks, and on day 3 I re-recorded all my scratch vocals as best I could, despite having a bit of a cold. I learned today that when it is cold and my singing muscles are tired I have an unwanted and automatic vibrato on some lower notes and not others. Sometimes no amount of retakes can make a take perfect, but you can kind of hide it by doubling it and harmonizing against it. Pitch correction can help a little bit but it can easily sound unnatural, and you've got to get within striking distance of the right notes and stay there.

I considered adding some autoharp, but mine doesn't have a D major chord (and it also takes forever to tune).

I also was up to almost 30 tracks just for the instruments and percussion, which was becoming unmanageable, so I made some "stems" by bouncing the bass parts together to a single track, the guitar parts, the ukulele parts, etc.

Of course I don't really know what I'm doing, and so I sound up deleting the original source tracks with their mixer automation, which means the stems are now not really changeable, and of course one of my wife's very good suggestions would have involved changing the guitar stem. So sometimes you just have to sort of cover up mistakes a bit, or feature them, instead of correcting them. I made a "basic" percussion stem, I put the reverb effects on that group of percussion into a separate stem, in case I wanted to adjust its volume, which turned out to be a wise move.

Oh, also, this seems to be a love song to my wife of ten years, Grace. I am not a very romantic guy and I did not set out to write a love song, so imagine my surprise when THAT came out!


I owe you my life, my love
All I am and all I own is yours

When we met long years ago, you
Welcomed me with love and laughter

My incandescent love I owe you
Another year's improvisation

I'll melt with willing obligation
I offer you my lullabye

I owe you my life, my love
All I am and all I own is yours

Adieu, my lady love
I owe you my life


from SpinTunes #4: Round 3, released February 2, 2012




Spintown Middletown, Ohio

I run a songwriting contest called SpinTunes. Most of the material hosted on this account is a result of that contest. You can follow the contest on Twitter (@SpinTunes) or my personal account (@Spintown).

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