Archive for the ‘Gustav Holst’ Category

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Gustav Holst – The Planets

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

When Gustav Holst completed the The Planets, he thought it was failure. But what resulted is among the most popular, beloved, and recognizable classical music.

Get a good recording of this. You wouldn’t think it makes a huge difference, but it does. I have the Berlin Philharmonic, which is solid.

Being in band in high school, my relationship with Gustav Holst began with forced listening of “Mars” and “Jupiter,” the band directors pointing out how similar the former was to the Gladiator soundtrack (we played Gladiator for our marching band show). To my young, musical mind, I couldn’t fathom the comparison. All I knew was that this song was one of the most B.A. things I’d ever heard.

It wasn’t until college that I got my own copy of The Planets. In depressing times, all I had to do with listen to the Jupiter chorale to instantly feel better. I guess Holst didn’t call that movement the Bringer of Jollity for nothing.

“Mars” starts the suite off intense with its off-putting 5/4 time signature. Listeners will instantly draw parallels with John Williams and Hans Zimmer – after all, Holst seems to be the main source of inspiration for all soundtracks in moviedom. Personally, I get the image of an epic battle on the surface of Mars between aliens and humans involving AT-ST’s from Star Wars. Nerd alert.

But my favorite movement has to be “Saturn.” It is slow, methodical, and clashing. It’s soft, spacey, and then screams anger and confusion breaking from silent repression. The notes pummel you, leaving you bewildered and shocked, like the first time you wake up to discover that you’re old, truly old, or the first time the quiet kid everyone picks on lashes out like a rabid animal. “Saturn” is haunting and icy, and signifies a departure from the more upbeat planets of before, diving into the moodiness of “Uranus” and “Neptune.”

The Planets has actually inspired an idea for a novel within my head. This music feeds my imagination and makes me think. Who needs words?

The Planets is a great introduction to classical music for the newbie. It’s accessible, and the movements are not long at all (the longest may be about seven minutes or so). It has been a great pleasure in my life – and a few times a year, I find myself listening to it again.

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The Art Of Making An Awesome Mix CD

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nothing is awesomer than an amazing mix CD.  And I came up with an awesome one. At least, for me, it’s awesome. I think it’s an extension of my psyche, and anyone who is just like me should love it too!

Almost all, coincidentally, come from bands I’ve reviewed for my blog, in some form or another.  Of course, it’s not perfect (there’s no such thing as a perfect mix CD – Johnny Banks of Iowa claimed to have made one in 1978, but before it could be heard, it was tragically eaten by his pigs.)

Here is my mix, and beneath the track listing, I will explain why it’s so awesome.

1. “The Bandit” -The Starlight Mints
2. “Triple Fascination” – The Listening
3. “Lazarus” – Porcupine Tree
4. “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” – Modest Mouse
5. “Here Comes Your Man” – Pixies
6. “So Real” – Jeff Buckley
7. “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)” – Sufjan Stevens
8. “A Lack of Color” – Death Cab for Cutie
9. “Roads” – Portishead
10. “Untiled” – Sigur Rós
11. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” – Radiohead
12. “Mexico” – Incubus
13. “Jesus, Etc.” – Wilco
14. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” – Gustav Holst

Now, I will go into the logic behind making a mix CD. Here are some of the basic rules:

1. The mix CD can never stop or end with a lead track or closing track from an album. For example, I could not start this mix CD with “Airbag” off Radiohead’s OK Computer, since that is the lead track from that album. Likewise, I cannot end it with Sonic Youth’s “The Trilogy” off Daydream Nation, since that album ends with that track. Otherwise, it just feels like your listening to that particular album, thus defeating the purpose of a mix CD.

Notice, then, with my track selection, I chose my lead song to be “The Bandit” by the Starlight Mints, which is track two off their album The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of. This was an awesome choice because the song is upbeat and gives energy, enticing the listener to listen further. Only in the rarest of circumstances do you start a mix CD with a slow, soft, or track that’s a downer, but we’ll get to that later.

In a similar vein, I chose my closing track to be “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” by Gustav Holst from his Planets suite. This was a wise choice, because “Jupiter” is in the middle of the suite, yet the piece can also stand on its own. Also, being so glorious sounding makes it conducive to be the ending of a great mix CD, although to some professional CD mixers, this choice might seem a little cliché.  Regardless, it is important to end the mix CD as strong as you started it, if not stronger, in a vainglorious way if at all possible. I am hard-pressed to think of a more epic sounding song than “Jupiter.” (If you haven’t heard it, listen to it! It rocks!)

2. The songs must flow well! Each and every song on my mix CD must blend reasonably well into the next. If you notice my selection above, I would argue that some of my choices are just pure genius, in particular, the transition from Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” into “Mexico.” Both are guitar-picked songs, and both sound like they are in a similar key). By the way, it’s always good for the next song’s first note to either be the same as the previous song’s last note, or at least in the same key. Usually you can tell if you’re ear is good enough – though not necessary, it’s a nice touch.

This also works for similar instruments. Note how strings conclude Wilco’s “Jesus Etc.,” which blends very well into Holst’s strings at the start of “Jupiter. More often than not, a good mix CD has tracks that blend well together, either through similar instruments, keys, distortion, or any other similarity.

3. Having the same two bands in a row is almost always a tacky decision, defeating the purpose of having a mix CD. Similar to this is having two songs from the same band on the mix CD, though you can get away with this more often. If you opt to do this, make sure that these songs showcase different styles for the band. For example, to use Radiohead again as an example, I could pick “Exit Music,” a nice acoustic number by them, and accompany this with “Backdrifts,” a mostly electric song by them using strange chord progressions.

4.  Try not to have all your songs have a similar feel, musicality, or theme. This also defeats the purpose of making a mix CD. The challenge of making an awesome mix CD comes with having plenty of variety form different bands, but still making it flow logically. An exception to this rule is if you’re making a “greatest hits” CD of a certain band, or an eighties themed post-punk CD, or a childhood guilty pleasures CD.

5.  Try to start lighthearted and happy before getting more serious. Try also to end on a light note, so the listener goes away feeling good. It’s the same with writing a book. There needs to be a hook, but it also has to end well or the reader will feel cheated. It’s the same with a great mix CD. Ask yourself: what do I want the listener to feel from the first notes of the first song? And what do I want them to walk away with? Like a good book, save all the heavy conflict, breakups, and drama for the middle. While I didn’t really have the foresight to do it with my mix CD above, try to have songs following your depressing songs that are sort of an answer to them in a positive way, thus making the sun shine over a dark and weary land, so to speak. Notice how in my example of a mix CD, I’ve incorporated all my heavy and depressing songs toward the CD’s middle. Notice how blatantly happy my last track is…I mean, the word “jollity” is in the song’s title! And the happiness of the sickly sweet Starlight Mints song speaks for itself.

6. The sixth rule is the hardest of all – don’t be so rule-bound! If all your mix CD’s follow a formula, than this, too, means that they aren’t a truly mix CDs. There has to be some sort of randomness to it. And keep in mind that once you get better, you’ll learn how to bend and break the rules at the right moments, thus becoming a Mozart or John Coltrane of making mix CDs.

I hope this essay has helped enlighten you on how to make an awesome mix CD. Next time, when you’re at a loss for what to put after that weird TV on the Radio song or just why your mix CD isn’t flowing right, I hope you’ll remember these rules and right your paths on the road of CD mixdom!