“Candle wax and Polaroids on the hardwood floor.” – TS
My new favorite sound in the world is the bell that rings in Taylor’s Gorgeous. It happens — I dunno — four or five times in the song, right before that killer chorus; you’d think I’d have memorized every bar by now, for the number of times I’ve listened to it the last few weeks. The rest of the tracks — the synth bass, the digital marimbas, the tripled or quadrupled vocals, all that atmospheric reverbs stuff — stop for a beat, and then that bell. In the pause, just before each time it rings, I pretty much have to reach out into space and pretend to hit that button. Like the fifth movement in The OA, or taking two arbitrary little dance steps backwards on the way through the frost to the studio, in time to other music in my head, or closing my eyes for a moment to acknowledge the grace of beauty in the world, reaching out to hit that imaginary bell is penance for past sins; a koan of gratitude for finding my old self again; a small gesture of supplication to whatever American Gods still linger in these parts, under earth or stars or faded hopes of not succumbing to the inevitabilities of an unexamined life.
That video, watching St. Taylor — another incarnation of The Muse — work through the first parts of that song in what seems to be a legitimate view into the act of creation… that’s still kind of haunting me. Is there anything more lovely than that momentary look away, maybe an inadvertent scratching of one’s cheek, when we realize there is an idea lingering, just off stage, and if we listen for it and stay patient, even for just a single goddamn second, it could be ours for keep? I mean — is there?
My new second favorite sound in the world is the rhythmic, mechanical, subtle-but-absolutely-intentionally-there-in-the-mix, of what I think is a mic’ed sustain pedal on the piano as she plays New Year’s Day. It’s in the L channel (at least, it is on my headphones), and it compliments the rest of the song in a way that’s breathtaking. Like, I practically listen to the song just to hear that creaking.
(In my fantasy version of the world, one of the engineers was down on the floor fussing with cables or something and heard that pedal squeaking or creaking a little more than it should during rehearsal. And then, on a lark, and instead of getting out the WD40, she snuck a little mic down there to catch it as the piano got captured for all time. Later, she turned that phantom track on, just for a minute, during one of the playbacks and TS flashed on it immediately. (Uhm… duh — because she’s a fucking genius.) “Wait! Jennie, [because the engineer is a woman — got you, didn’t I?], “Jennie,” she says, “what’s that sound over there on the left?! Oh. my. god. Put that in! You guys, we have to put that in!” And so it went in. For people like me. For people like her.)
And everyone in the world who hears it will hear it, even if they don’t know they are, or don’t really hear it. It’s there. Like a too-bold glaze drip frozen until the next volcano comes by.
My third new favorite sound in the world is that one percussion hit — a single woodblock or rim shot in — yes, you guess it — another song from reputation; almost certainly my favorite one: Call It What You Want. This is the one I dance to in the showroom every morning, now, despite the fact that I have no moves, no game. No shame.
It’s not that it’s crazy different or a surprise. In fact, it’s probably the right, expected sound in just the right, expected place in that kind of song, landing high in the mix, just as she goes into the brilliant chorus of, “My baby’s fit like a daydream…” — And yet… And yet.
The thing is that it only hits about an eighth as often as I’d expect — only right at the opening to that chorus. Then, it’s replaced by a quieter, more rhythmic sound in the rest of those spots on the drum chart. I’m quite certain that someone — maybe even teams of someone’s — spend hours and hours fidgeting with these drum tracks for each song; imagine the millions that are potentially at stake. So I also like to imagine the deliberateness that would go into finding exactly the best sound, like a craftsman honing away everything that wasn’t essential, and then, once found, the restraint to not overuse it. Like a fluid, perfectly imperfect brush stroke that stops a few centimeters before it had to, or a pattern of applied texture left open or wobbly at the end, so the spirit can get out and go into the next one.
And, of course, one of my all-time favorite sounds is the muffled roar of the burner, as it first becomes audible above the crunch of the gravel under my feet, as I make my way back out to tend to the kiln, 10, 20, 30 times each firing. My brain goes from that momentary worry — is it off again? — to that soothing You Are Firing A Kiln state. Work is getting hot, work is getting done. That’s the sound of progress; the sound of another little batch of dreams coming awake.
“You and I, forevermore.”