|ensemble||string octet, string bass, clarinet, two electric guitars, drum kit, electric piano, piano, and baritone voice|
|performance history||Available on The Nitrate Hymnal, by ASM + Gena Rowlands Band;
06/25/2006 by ASM at Northsix NY;
07/01/2006 by ASM at Warehouse Theatre DC;
04/29/2011 by ASM at Chashama (ASM Resurrected 10th Anniversary Show)
In preparation for the recording of The Nitrate Hymnal, Bob went through the incredibly painful process of making song sketches from audio snippets of the live recording. This had to have felt like it was taking ages off his life, after we had closed the book on the opera production. He sent written notes and whatever other additional musical input or sketch he had to support these song skeletons.
“The End” was a special treat for me, because in the original opera, I knew we hadn’t really stuck the landing on it. Pat Muchmore had planted the seed of “string octet” in my brain, and I just needed something to kick the old opera version out of my head. At the end of the snippets Bob sent me, he had an electric piano sketch as a new ending.
But before I talk about the piece, a bit about the process. One of the issues we had with the opera version was there was no real song structure; our verses sounded like choruses, and there was no big payoff. There was a Bob-ism for the aesthetic we were trying to achieve then, a sort of “Radiohead as the backing band for Barry Manilow.” (At least I think it was Barry Manilow. Those were dark days.) We never successfully realized that in the opera. We had a groove, but the music was not structured enough to lock into the beat; therefore, in the opera, I alternated 3/4 and 4/4 in different verses to make it easier for some people to read/play the counter-melodies, while I expanded the tempo accordingly through conducting. That wouldn’t work for the recording. Bob wanted more of a Björk-esque approach—pops, clicks, “snicks” for the percussion track—and a natural build of the orchestration from thinner to larger, but it was unclear how to achieve the build when we had no song structure.
I took Bob’s notes, the opera score, the song sketch, and found a hook – a line derived from the beginning of Bob’s electric piano ending idea. This unlocked the song for me. I used this to create a “groove” (Figure 1) between the drums, the electric piano, and the bass (which is used by the rhythm section throughout, and verbatim as the interlude between verses). Bob had a specific electric guitar technique where he used his picking hand to control the volume knob to ease the attack of the guitar. Using this technique, the intro wrote itself, with overlapping guitars fading in an outline of that hook and electric piano gradually adding in low end. The intro was complete, but I still had no song.
I put the chords from the opera piano part down for pizzicato strings and let the opera version supply the verse. Then I stole from myself and set the chorus in a three feel, and subtly built the strings to a counter-melody (Figure 2) derived from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (whose melody I would play a line of after that phrase was sung in the original opera performance). To balance the ascending lines of the verse, the bass voices of the chorus would descend. Suddenly, we had a differentiated chorus, and with a chorus, we had a song.
After that, I could grow the sound the way Bob had described and then some: the second half of the first verse added piano, the second verse added arco strings, and the second half of the second verse expanded on the counter-melody with the full octet. (And I stole another melody (Figure 3) from the opera: “some perfect place you’ve never been,” which was the last line sung in the opera’s coda). The bridge was from Bob’s sketch, but stripped down to just the rhythm section. The second chorus, after the bridge, was (an octave and a) whole step lower than the first, to allow for an immediate build for the final chorus with full octet.
Note that the score cheats, because that’s how you do it in rock and roll: there is no notated vocal part. (Also this is how we did things in The Nitrate Hymnal.) The music is the music and the singer has to fit their part in based on their knowledge of the words (and melody). In the case of the studio recording for which this was written, Bob was the singer, so I trusted his ability to pull it off. We tracked the vocals separately from the ensemble, and I joined Bob in the studio. I tried to guide Bob’s second take through the sudden modulation on the last chorus and he basically told me to shut up; then he nailed it in one take.
Ultimately, it wasn’t pops and clicks, and it was probably less abstract than Bob envisioned, but it worked.
The performances were typically reductions (due to the size of the ensemble) where I played or augmented the string sections. The 2006 performances were by Hubert Chen, Paul Chuffo, Ty Citerman, Jean Cook, me, Andrea La Rose, Bob Massey, Pat Muchmore, Sara Phillips / Ken Thomson, Eric Rockwin, Philippa Thompson, and Alex Weinstein. However, for the ASM 10th anniversary show, everything was performed live by Franz Nicolay, Jean Cook, Patti Kilroy, Megan Atschley, Sarah Bernstein, Rick Quantz, Philippa Thompson, Pat Muchmore, Loren Dempster, Brad Kemp, Ty Citerman, Drew Fleming, Ken Thomson, me, and David Brown.
(P.S. Nevermind the flute in the score. We cut it in the recording and left it out for the 10th anniversary show.)