2. Ranting Prophet

Here is Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Ranting Prophet’:

And my piano tracking video:

Read the lyrics to ‘Ranting Prophet’.

Lyrics: The story’s main character observes that everyone surrounding him seems just as uncomfortable with their existence in this realm as he is. They all cope with being alive by engaging in various forms of escapism – television and other media, religion and other frequently dogmatic forms of belief, hedonism and substance abuse…
As he watches others, he realizes the futility of his own fight against being alive. He tells himself that he needs to bring acceptance into his life or he will make himself miserable and waste his energy, but can’t bring himself to act on this, as the negativity in his mind is too strong.

Music: The main idea in this song is a rejected harmonization of a motive from the first movement of my string quartet (Listen to more movements here). This particular more rock-oriented harmonization didn’t quite fit with the piece, so I made a rock song out of it. The motive only appears briefly in the quartet, but it is repeated relentlessly here.  It is paired with a tapping bass line written by Tom Murphy and a dual drum part. The left drum set is a 4/4 loop (a sampled ’80s Genesis drumbeat in my original demo, replaced by live drums in studio) which keeps running in 4/4 even when the song changes time signatures in the bridge. The idea of having two drum sets play polymetrically against each other is something that King Crimson explored in some of their dual-drum lineups, but it’s an idea which has been woefully underused in my opinion. The polymetric bridge is followed by a reprise of the piano/vocal opening, this time in a full band arrangement, accompanied by tremolo picked guitars and blastbeats (techniques drawn from extreme metal).

The instrumental interlude following the first verse is a direct quotation of an idea Messiaen used in used in quite a few of his early works (and in one late work). Messiaen detested music with a constant pulse, but I have accompanied the quotation with a jazzy rhythm section playing a clear constant pulse, making the quotation rather sacrilegious.

My vocal approach through much of this song was largely inspired by Trent Reznor. The vocal embellishments at the full band entrance were inspired by traditional arabic music, and they are immediately followed by a section in which the guitar, saxophone, and violin all solo at once (simultaneous solos were common early big band jazz and in the music of Charles Mingus). The violin solo in this group, written and performed by Sophia Uddin, quotes the first movement of Bartók’s sixth string quartet. She plays a much longer violin solo to end the song, in which she quotes the second movement of Bartók’s second string quartet. You can hear a collaborative piece that Sophia and I wrote together here.

Piano video: I apologize that I look so serious and stoic throughout this video – I started out doing more energetic takes, but ended up getting more focused as I went along. The picture-in-picture bits weren’t actually used on the album – I recorded them as guide tracks for the guitar and violin. The line I’m playing in the first PIP continues to run while the second one is playing, but unfortunately there’s no way to make two PIPs play simultaneously in iMovie. My sister sat in for this session, and you can see her sitting in the control room.

Travis’s notes: There’s a drum loop that runs throughout most of this tune that I tracked, but – regrettably – did not film (I included it in the first bar of the transcription). In Gabe’s original demo, the loop was lifted/sampled from a Genesis tune and I stuck pretty close to it. However, I wanted to retain a hand-to-hand hi-hat feel with tom-toms and other cymbal orchestrations poking through here and there, and what came out of me is what you see. My feet are playing a single stroke ostinato underneath, with the right foot moving back and forth between the right-side pedal hat and the bass drum. The ostinato dictated not only where within the bar but also which set of hats I choked.

In the section starting around 1:54, I employed some softer dynamics. There’s a cool over-the-bar polyrhythm at 2:07, then each subsequent ride strike is louder to segue back into the verse. At 2:45, the loop stays in 4-4 while the tune shifts between 7 and 6. The delayed snare backbeat at 3:08 complements the vocal. For the crazy blast-beat-driven bridge, I sought to punctuate it in spots; it usually starts at the tail end of the four-bar progression then bleeds into its repeat. There’s a two-bar tag at the end in which I play a ‘bomb blast’ in the first bar; I came up with the idea while tracking. Thankfully, my feet were cooperative that day haha.

Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 109 BPM

Other appearances: This song appeared on the compilation CD for Zero Tolerance Issue #54 along with a review of the album. Their master of the song can be heard and downloaded below:

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