In the Purple Circus

It’s been a few weeks since my last post.  Been busy with work, trying to wrap things up for the end of year, mainly lots of meetings with partners and stakeholders, a few key software commits, and lots of planning and strategy to set up the coming year of projects for our new R&D lab.  Plus, it’s been cold and dark and my energy level has been low.  On top of that I fell Ill with the covid a couple weeks ago, and so did Jeannie. Totally on brand for this time of year.  We’re all better now, but we didn’t get much done beyond the bare minimum for a little while.  We did manage to do most of our holiday stuff.  We put up a lovely tree, and new holiday lights outside, and wrote our Christmas cards, and got a fair chunk of gifts.  Been reading alot, and we watched alot of movies.  Among the better ones was the new production of Dune, although it only covers the first half of the book.

I’ve also been working on a new song in this season of darkness, called ‘In the Purple Circus’.  I wrote the lyric a while back, and earlier this fall set down at the piano and came up with pretty much the entire song, the main riff, the chords, the overall structure and various sections, pretty much all in one sitting.  (Actually also I wrote a song ‘Los Gatos de la Cosmos’ for my jazz group Spacecats around the same time.  It’s a nice little samba based on the harmony of a minor-major-seventh chord, and nice atmospheric spacy jam section in the middle.  It started as an attempt to get inside the head of Jobim, but owes more to Nica’s Dream by Horace Silver, and ended up taking on a direction of its own. More on that once we get the tune together.)

In the Purple Circus is in E minor (from a certain point of view) and the vibe emerged as dark, proggy and heavy. The main riff is in 13/8 time with a couple extra beats on the end after four repetitions so the complete phrase fills seven bars of 4/4 time.  This made it much easier to sequence in ProTools.  The riff uses a downward harmony thing, starting on a Dorian minor, moving to the half-diminished, then the suspended 4th and landing on a #9 dominant 7 chord.  Lots of buzzy tritones and semitones rubbing against one another.  The verse and bridge continue the rhythmic and harmonic motifs.  The time goes to straight 4, but there’s an overlaid 3-against-4 feel, with the downward harmony moving around, and the phrases work out to seven bars throughout.  Then there’s a middle section which takes the main riff and breaks it down, brings it down to a whisper, and builds it back up into a monstrous sonic maelstrom. 

The piano track went down first, then midi drums.  It was starting to take shape with some real character.  Next was bass guitar, which features heavy use of chording on the top two strings while an open E rings out on the bottom.  That sounded pretty badass.  A low E is about 40 Hz.   Having seen Steve Hackett earlier this year, I was inspired by his prodigious use of Moog Taurus pedals to bring the really deep bass.  So I created a bass synth part, an octave below the bass guitar to really emphasize the E-ness on that 20hz tone.  This is right about at the lower limit of human hearing, to say nothing of the frequency response of one’s speakers.  Even on my high-quality but normal studio monitors it sounds pretty great.  I’d love to get a massive subwoofer and hook it into the system.

Next came the electric guitar.  For this record my goal is to put guitar on all the songs, and to develop an approach and guitar part for each song.  For this one the sound was a pretty full and distorted, and I worked out chord voicings both low and high in the range using open strings where I could, to bring out the dissonance and resonance.  I laid down the part and it was just overwhelming!  So now I’m rethinking both the guitar and bass parts to have a bit more space and interplay, to fit together as if they’re the left and right hand parts of some giant 10-string meta instrument.  And to practice the parts so I can lay them down tighter, with particular attention going to the jam/riff bits at the end of the phrases where it builds up over a B altered chord.

So the song is about halfway tracked, and I expect to finish it sometime in the new year, and it will be pretty killer.  Meanwhile, here are the lyrics.

In the Purple Circus
By John Szinger

Well I said, get that bidniz done by Christmas
But the Devil had his plan
So let’s get it thru here by the New Year
Can I talk to the weather man?

The purple circus is where the work is
Vanilla villain where you been?
Chances and changes, chases and cages
I don’t know where to begin

We traffic in majick
Grapple the facets
Conjure abjure and summon
Divination evocation
The mountain surely is a-comin’

She tells me you have the energy of a major enemy
Thick in the grip of crippling sickness n’all
So I vault into the firmament of the permanent tournament
Cuz after all we’re born to crawl

We’ll depart our hostess ‘ere the solstice
Alight beneath the new snow moon
We can check that box off by the equinox
But the lion in roars a day too soon

We traffic in majick
Package the tragic
Sensing seeing knowing
Equivocation declamation
The mountain surely is a-goin’

We traffic in majick, yeah traffic in majick
Yeah, can I talk to the weather man?
Chances and changes, chases and cages, woah
I don’t know where to begin
First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is
She’ll be comin’ round that mountain when she comes, yeah