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Studying the Beatles


(c) Ian Hammond 1999
All rights reserved

For those who came in late, this is the second in a series dealing with Revolution 9 in excruciating detail -- the kind of detail attended to when recording, mixing and editing such a piece. In this article I deal with the thirty seconds between 1.00 and 1.30. Conventions used in the text are explained at the end of the post.

In the first minute we saw an orderly succession of voices ending with a fanfare. So far, so good, but Lennon has to start doing more, which explains the ten second stretto which begins the second minute. First we look at the new voices introduced within the stretto:

1.00 D2 JohnAndGeorge Babble

1.00 -- JohnAndGeorge Babble + Waltz
Source: Lennon/Harrison, 20 June 1968
JL: "then there's this welsh rarebit pair of sun
brown underpants." (Michael Caine voice)
b: Waltz
The dialog between John and George begins. This, along with the Waltz, becomes the main background seating for the next six minutes. Much of the text is indecipherable, thus I call it babble. It is the impression left by key words that is important.
We know that Lennon and Harrison overdubbed this part on June 20, 1968.
...John and George went on the studio floor to read out bizarre lines of prose -- in voices sometimes equally bizarre -- into a couple of microphones abetted by Yoko Ono humming at a very high pitch. These ran for the duration of Revolution 9 being faded in and out of the master at John's whim...
Lewisohn CBRS138
The babble is heard between 1.00 and 7.00. Ono's humming is heard briefly at 6.54, as Lennon intones Take this brother. Lewisohn reports they read out the prose, indicating that it had been written down, or possibly found in some form before the session. Perhaps they had random newspaper articles.
From a structural point of view, the spoken voice parts have one obvious feature: they do not repeat. The lyric sheet for Revolution 9, if it could be deciphered, would run to twenty pages.
Revolution 9 is a work for orchestra and voice, including soloists, choir and a wide range of spoken voice parts. The babble and the use of the spoken voice in Revolution 9 is worth a separate study.

1.00 L7 Hunting horns

1.00 (BEDG) Hunting horn bass. 12/8* (4+3)
Source: Unknown. Beatle session warmup?
Style: "Hunt" style, but not really.
|b e ad~ d |g d a~ | Tune
"~" indicates the note is slightly flat
The typically shakey brass intonation on a~ makes it sound like a Ab. Since the fragment wraps around, we hear Ab falling a sixth to B. The horn's function is to provide an energetic brass low register part in the noisy tutti sections. It is not heard in softer areas at all.

Where would Lennon get a cut of horn playing this kind of line alone? My guess is that it comes from a warm up before a recording session. The warm-up angle might explain the tune which is mostly just a set of fourths (B E A D G). See the next entry.

1.00 L7 Duck Oboe

1.00 (CEDA Backward Duck Oboe. 3 bars of 4/4 (some triplets)
Source: Unknown. Beatle session warmup?
Style: Some kind of fill figure.
a|d ddd d c ag e |c d | Tune
|d c |e ga c d ddd d |a Tune

Again, where would Lennon pick up an oboe playing a line like this solo? Probably a warm-up session.
Lewisohn reports one fragment coming from the A Day In The Life session. The Geoff, turn the red light on compound fragment also came from a session, and includes a clarinet. A Day In The Life included horn, oboe and clarinet parts. Now, Lewisohn has the following to say when describing the orchestral tune-up at the beginning of Sgt Pepper:
The sound of the band warming up was easy to find. During the 10 February [1967] orchestral overdub for A Day In The Life four tapes had been made of the miscellaneous sound effects, [and] stored away for possible future use.
Lewisohn CBRS101
So, it's possible all four loops came from the same session. The oboe piece is synchronous with the horn part, thus I have marked them both as Loop 7. While horn fragment does not seem to be reversed, the oboe certainly is. Lennon spent some time preparing loops, and may have constructed compound loops, which would have simplified his work at the keyboard (the mixing desk) and permitted him to have more sounds.
The main function of this fragment is to fill out the high register with a lively woodwind figure. It mainly appears in tuttis, but see 1.17 for a lovely touch.

1.05 L8 Fiddle

1.05 Bb-ab "Fiddle" -- Backward solo violin. Fast 6/8.
Source: Unknown. Solo violin + strings.
Style: Fiddle hero style (coffee house)
f eb|d_ c bb g f eb |ab Tune
f |Bb Eb |ab Chord
ab |eb f g bb c' d |eb f Tune
ab |Eb Bb |f Chord
Only a scrap of this energetic 6/8 fiddle part is heard here. It is heard fully at 1.30.
The solo violin is accompanied by a small string band. It's the kind of skittish fiddle music one associates with the late 1800s and early 1900s. But it could come from anywhere. The fragment fills out the high register of the string section, in particular it provides some fast runs.

1.05 D3 Stretto Choir

1.06 f:? Stretto Choir
Source: Unknown.
Style: Unknown
The Stretto Choir is certainly a dub. It is heard once or twice very briefly adding choral color at the end of the stretto. It is hard to decipher. I am not sure whether it is a loop or dub.

Section 1.2 [1.00-1.30]

1.00 Minor Stretto

1.00 JohnAndGeorge
b: Waltz (stops at 1.03)
e4 Horn, Oboe
The wind instruments have the first five seconds. The horn and oboe have time to repeat their figure about twice. The first five seconds are not particularly dissonant, just more vigorous.
1.05 (DA) Oboe
Eb: Fiddle
1.06 Bb2 Fanfare
E: Backward piano
[f:] Stretto choir
1.08 Bb7: Agitato strings
The strings, fanfare and choir join the second five seconds. The result is a delightful orgy of noise. The notation below gives a crude picture of the main events.

1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10
ddda bbcd ddda oboe/fiddle
Ab f- f F C5 F# choral chords
Bb C F brass (fanfare)
Bb G C brass (fanfare)
Eb Bb AbEb bass (agitato)
E: E: E: E: E: piano (backward) Lennon has turned up the volume and pans the action between channels. This may seem insignificant, but its not. Pop music, designed for the inequities of the car and transistor radio, traditionally makes little use of dynamics. Pop records are typically just loud or soft. Lennon's dynamic range on Revolution 9 is similar to that of a Beethoven: ppp to fff.

Behind it all we sense, rather than hear, a torrent of sound created by various instruments, choirs and crowds, all to soft or vague to be deciphered.
Listening to the last five seconds slowly can be fascinating. Every interval of the scale seems to be present. But, and it's a big but, this is still not chaos: what you hear are orchestral instruments playing at concert pitch: you do not near microtonal clashs. The holes in Lennon's jeans are neatly stitched around the edges. I've called this episode a Minor Stretto, which is something I'll explain after the Major Stretto at 1.30. Much of the material used here is introduced at 1.30. This is just a skirmish.

1.10 JohnAndGeorge Episode

1.10 b/E Episode: JohnAndGeorge; Waltz; Backwards Piano
JL: "They found a shortage of grain in Hartfordshire,
and every one of them knew ...
Just as suddenly as it started, the stretto stops, leaving the
backward piano and JohnAndGeorge dialog behind.
1.14 E Backward Piano stops
JL: ...that as time went by, they'd get a little bit
older and a little bit slower [but they]... the
air-force set thing...
At 1.14 the backward piano stops, leaving JohnAndGeorge and the Waltz alone on center stage. It's a great moment that finally brings the two main players together for a duet.
1.17 E D C Backward Piano and Duck Oboe
c# b g# Backward Piano
a f# d c e g Duck Oboe
E D a C Chord
There's a lovely touch at 1.17 where two completely separate loops are woven together as a single rolling melodic thread. The first three notes of the backward piano are continued by a fragment of the oboe. The piece is now very soft. Just the odd piano note and the babble.
1.20 Eb: Stasis Strings
b: JohnAndGeorge, Waltz
JL: manufacturing person who's ... your fivers,
forgive me, give me ... district was leaving...
intending to pay for...

The stasis strings return at 1.20, which gives them time to repeat exactly twice before 1.30.
At 1.25 there's an audible dissonance between the Eb stasis strings and B minor piano chord. It's about the first such noticable clash in the piece (and rather delicious). Each note of the strings and piano stand out in the last five seconds. The final chord F diminished (with minor ninth), poised to resolve on to Eb.
1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30
f# b d Piano tune
b Piano chord
Eb Eb f f f Eb String chord
Eb Eb f f9- f-9- Chord
So, here were are, very, very soft and ready to explode. This is good, but quite normal orchestration. Deriving it from found sounds requires a great ear and a good deal of skill.
Making a lot of loud noise requires no particular training. You just bang things. It's also easy to get faster. It's the slowing down and getting softer bit which takes more work. There's a part of Come Together after the noisy solo, where the swampy piano, bass and drums magically bring the tempo and dynamics back down for the last verse. It seems to me that this would have been one of Lennon's greater problems to solve when working on Revolution 9. His use of these soft stasis strings shows an element of his solution. In fact, he has an algorithm, but that emerges later.
There's another point to make about completeness: Lennon uses every one of the voices presented in the first thirty seconds (except the opening dub) for a particular purpose. None are forgotten. This thirty second stretch has consisted of a compound episode, introducing the JohnAndGeorge babble, finishing with strings. The soft strings finish exactly on the 1.30 boundary, ready for a thirty second major stretto to follow, which is the subject of the next posting. Here's a summary of what we've covered so far:
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55
0.00 - ######## "Claret"
0.10 b: ############ Waltz
(B-Bb) ################## "Number nine"
0.25 Eb: ###### Stasis strings
0.31 E: Backward piano ############
0.38 Bb7: Agitato strings ###########
0.53 Bb2 Fanfare ######

0 5 10 15 20 25 30
1.00 C: Bb: ######## Minor stretto
1.10 E: ########........ Babble
1.20 Eb: ######## Stasis strings

The next article deals with the Major Stretto from 1.30 to 2.00.

Filling me up with your rules...

I have employed a number of conventions in these articles. You will need to use a fixed size font to read these posts sensibly. In the first column I indicate the time, in minutes and seconds, as it occurs on CD. I'm not always exact to the second when referring to the time in the main text. This is not physics.
1.50 (A) This is something that happened at 1 minute 50 seconds In the second column of titles I use "D" to indicate dubs (e.g. D1) and "L" to indicate loops.
In the second column of examples I indicate the notes, chords or key of a section, using the following conventions:
(A) the note A. (ABC) implies the notes A, B and C.
a the chord a minor
A the chord A major
a: the key a minor
A: the key A major
[A] square brackets enclose almost inaudible sounds The third column may have quoted text, which is preceded by the initials of the speaker, if known. JL, GH, YO and GM are obvious. AT: is Alistair Taylor. The text is highly conjectural in places. In melodic examples, "'" and "_" are used to indicate non-intuitive jumps. "a' b" indicates the "a" is above the following "b". "b_ a" indicates that "b" is below the following "a".

copyright (c) ian hammond 1998 -- all rights reserved
"then there's this welsh rarebit pair..."

IAN HAMMOND'S BEATHOVEN: PAGE 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, - Back To Revolution Number 9

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