Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Does anybody know what a song looks like?

Here's the thing: I read music. And this is how I was trained: first sight, then sound.

This is unnatural, most would say, because as human children, even in this age of extreme literacy, we learn languages first by hearing them then much later by reading/writing them. But this is how music is taught in American schools. You learn the building blocks of clefs and noteheads and staves and accents then you sound it all out. And if you grow up and major in music (yes!) and study composition (never occurred to me!), a huge part of your development as a composer comes from analyzing and studying full scores. Say you love the music of John Adams, you contact Boosey & Hawkes for a "perusal" score of City Noir and maybe throw in some pieces by Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Carter for good measure. Then you study them. Hard. Like: "I love the sound he gets in this passage -- what instruments was he using? How are they spaced? In what inversions are the chords? How about the harmonic progression? How did he accomplish this feeling of grandeur here? That feeling of loss, diminution?" You study lots and lots of lots of works by lots and lots of composers. And you practice using some of their techniques to help express the music you want to express. This is how we learn.

I am in the process of writing an album. Fully orchestrated. Of my own songs. And I realize that I'm frustrated because I've never actually seen the kind of music I want to write. I don't know what an orchestrated song looks like on paper. (And those dumbed down piano/vocal fake books from Colony don't count.) It feels like I've got blinders on, or I'm just groping in the dark. No wonder! I'm a visual gal trying to bridge into an aural tradition.

So here's my wish list. Pop publishers, I am placing my order for perusal scores right now. I want to see the full original instrumental arrangements or transcriptions of the following albums:

1. Paul Simon Rhythm of the Saints
2. Paul Simon Graceland
3. Vampire Weekend self-titled
4. Rufus Wainwright Poses
5. Sufjan Stevens The Age of Adz 
6. Sarah McLachlan Fumbling Toward Ecstasy
7. Ben Folds Songs for Silverman
8. Sufjan Stevens Come On Feel the Illinoise! 
9. Death Cab for Cutie Plans
10. The Decemberists The Hazards of Love
11. Feist Let It Die
12. Damien Rice O
13. Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life 
14. Joni Mitchell Blue
15. MGMT Oracular Spectacular
16. Mumford and Sons Sigh No More
17. Muse Black Holes and Revelations
18. Nickel Creek self-titled
19. Oscar D'Leon Lloraras
20. The Shins Wincing the Night Away
21. Gorillaz Demon Days
22. Indigo Girls Swamp Ophelia
23. Tori Amos Boys for Pele
24. Alison Krauss & Union Station New Favorite
25. Ani DiFranco Up Up Up Up Up Up

I wish I could have these to study all summer. What would you want to study?


  1. Meshuggah - Nothing

  2. If you're just looking to see this stuff in full score, it already exists for, as much as I hate to advocate this, Dream Theater.

    I think there might also be a full score version of Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime but it might have only been sold in Japan.

    I would check Japanese distribution channels for stuff by bands whose fan base is skewed towards ppl who play like Dream Theater and other wanky over playing stuff.

  3. Rush - Moving Pictures album in its entirety.

    David H.

  4. In Japan, the more popular artists may have "band scores" of their albums published, and these score can get pretty thorough. I wouldn't have been able to cover NUMBER GIRL's "DESTRUCTION BABY" without it. http://soundcloud.com/observantrecords/destruction-baby

  5. My Brightest Diamond- Bring Me the Workhorse

    Sarah Kirkland Snider- Penelope

    Radiohead- OK Computer

    Son Lux- We Are Rising

    Amanda Palmer- Who Killed Amanda Palmer

    Bjork- Vespertine

    Owen Pallett- Heartland

    and pretty much everything you have listed (especially 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 17, and 20). If you get any of these, let us know!!