Sunday, November 4, 2007

2x: 6. Don't Try

This is the one song where I completely abandoned the small virtual ensemble, adding many more parts than the five virtual musicians could produce. Maybe the ensemble was sitting around the living room and 16 people dropped by to say hello.

Track 6: Don't Try
Thom's songwriting journal entry for Don't Try

Virtual Ensemble
  • A.V.: acoustic guitar, lead vocal
  • B.B.: bass
  • K.B.: organ
  • E.G.: acoustic guitar
  • D.P.: drums
  • guest: acoustic guitar
  • guest: pipe organ
  • guest: choir
Actual Ensemble
  • Thom Barker: acoustic guitar, lead vocal
  • Ken Barker: fretted bass (C#EADGC), organs, acoustic guitars (EADGBD# and EADG#CE), drum programming, background vocals

The organ intro explicitly acknowledges the influence of Jesus Christ Superstar on the lyrics: it's the main theme from The Last Supper. The B3 organ sound is also reminiscent of the B3 that pervades that song. I knew quite early on in the recording that I wanted to quote Last Supper, but it posed a bit of a problem: Last Supper is in 4/4, but this song is in 6/8. Matching the eighth-note tempo and then unambiguously stating the new time signature with the drums alone for two bars seemed to smooth the transition ok.

The organ melody following the chorus is again a brand new theme. It's only suggestive of the Last Supper theme, but the simple melody and the tonewheel sound remind us of the intro and keep it from feeling abandoned and irrelevant.

Of course the song needed a gospel choir for the chorus. I don't know a gospel choir, so I sang the parts myself. The main choir has eight voices singing standard four-part harmony. After the break I gradually bring in three more wordless parts (two voices each) moving among the main worded parts, giving a total of seven parts, fourteen voices. It would have been nice to have real singers.

This song is kind of unique in that it's in pure Strophic form: it has a single two-bar phrase (I-V-VI-IV) repeated over the entire length of the song. The lyrics break into verses and choruses, but the music repeats the same two-bar pattern in both. To distract from the repetition, the arrangement divides the song into three parts. It builds from the outset to the break, where it gets completely stripped down to acoustic and vocals. After the break it quickly builds up to where it left off and gets bigger and more complex through to the end. The instrumentation builds throughout the entire song. It starts with just organ, then one-at-a-time adds drums, acoustic guitar, bass, lead vocal, choir, two more acoustic guitars, three more choir parts and the pipe organ from the Notre Dame de Budapest Cathedral.

The bass arrangement includes a trick that breaks up the verses and keeps them from feeling too long. The bass theme progresses through successively lower inversions. But the change from one inversion to the next lower inversion occurs half-way through each verse, not between verses. This splits each verse into two shorter verses. After the break, the bass goes back to the highest inversion, but progresses quickly down to where it left off before the break. It then moves to its lowest variation, anchored on the low C#, where it hangs out, bouncing off fills with the drums to the end of the song.

In the verse after the break I needed to fill out the arrangement just a little. The organ comes in half way through the verse, and I really like it there, so I didn't want to bring it in at the beginning of the verse. Instead, I added two more acoustic guitar parts. The altered tunings allowed me to play different voicings of the chords in the same octave, filling things out. The guitars continue through to the end of the song, adding to the building arrangement.

The bass also reminds us of the album's delayed chorus accent thing by overshooting beat one on its downward fills (5:40, 5:51, etc.). The most obvious example is at 6:13, where instead of continuing down, the bass fill turns back upward at beat one, and the drums follow by ignoring the downbeat as well, cymbal-accenting the eighth note following beat one (6:15). This particular "deletion of the bar line" is one of my favorite time tricks on the album.

The plagal (IV-I) cadence at the end is a final nod to the religious theme of the lyrics. It's not an exact plagal cadence, because the bass (electric, organ and choir) hits V-I. I'm sure there's a name for a plagal cadence over a V-I bass, but I searched for it everywhere. Please, if you know the name of this cadence, speak up. It's killing me.

Next: 2x: 7. The Quiet In Us


  1. Great song, I love the organ and background vocals performance.

  2. Now if only it had a scorching electric guitar solo, eh?

  3. I'm pretty sure the plagal cadence over a V-1 bass is known as the KBUB Cadence.