“Don’t look at the cover, read nothing. Go home and play the CD. And…… only listen to it through your head phones.”
I follow those instructions:
A haunting and echoey piano fills my headphones. Its repetition is hypnotic and foreboding. It’s relentless; the melody flicks effortlessly between 7/8 and 4/4 time signatures. Its asymmetry unnerves me. Now, I feel alone and disjointed, the ceaseless repetition pushes me to the edge of the music’s event horizon.
Syncopated chords stab deep into my eardrums. I am consumed by the music. The world around me feels heavier as I enter this dark sonic vortex. Underneath wanders a barely audible bass, shimmering for a moment, sometimes connected to the music; other times detached, floating in space.
The melody continues to cycle in on itself. Subtle layers are added at each bar increasing the amount of rich harmonic textures. Every so often a syncopated chord punches hard into the music, and my ears.
Harmonized electric guitar and pianos flood my headphones. The music is searching for its departure point, lost in a dark, cold and lonely place.
Then it begins its slow ascension. Lifting upwards and finally soaring with mandolins climaxing. Having risen above the underworld I am now transported in a daze into to a world of lush and vivid harmony, rhythmic complexity and sheer beauty. Slowly my eyes and ears adjust to the new warmth and light.
Edging off the crescendo I’m delighted by the sound of an acoustic guitar. Chimes and flutes lift that guitar upwards further in the air like an ascending and delicate fairy. Not far below, is a village celebration at hand on a warm summers day. Then the music pauses and reflects on its journey with a calm and repeating piano arpeggio. Immersed in my own moment of inner peace, I begin to reflect and then suddenly it all scatters. The skies turn grey, then darken further. The summer breezes have been replaced by a stale and cold moisture in the air.
With a sonic push to the chest, menacing bass and guitars are channeled into my ears. The village celebration disappears. The music is building up, layer by layer, getting higher and higher. Then it climbs, stretches and suddenly I fall backwards into long, dark decays of cavernous and wet reverbs.
Once in the cave a threatening bass synthesizer grooves and then consumes me. The threat eventually fades making way for guitars merged with organs and air chimes. The harmonies are jarring. I’m feeling ambivalent and displaced, yearning for what I had before. The music feels confused, looking for its way out of this labyrinth. I continue to listen, the fog lifts and slowly I move upwards above the oppressive moisture. With the tremolo picked mandolins I now soar and then level off to an obscure and uncertain foggy path laid before me.
The fog and the grey evaporates as the sound of soft bells and Hammond organ are now transporting me to a maundering and misty valley. The moist morning air envelops my nostrils. As I rise, skimming the landscape the bells echo into the forest below.
The accented strums of an acoustic guitar records the ancient passing of time.
Then landing we are greeted by a nymphish playful melody. It twists and turns with a bouncing bass, cello and harmonized electric guitars.
The the bass begins a slow gallop, relentlessly pushing the beat and myself somewhere forward.
Suddenly the chords darken, the action changes to a trot, the sound is thicker, and cutting. A nasty distorted guitar is jarring me rhythmically. An out of tune piano emerges from the mix replacing the sonic violence of the guitar. And then the guitar returns, even meaner than before! But, it soon fades and is replaced by music that has wondered off the path, frantically trying to find its way back, lost like a small child in the wilderness.
With the chime of a meditation bell and a strum of a guitar I fall backwards into a gentle and warm embrace. The soft classical guitar reassures and comforts. For a moment, I rest, but the music continues rising higher and higher around me, relentlessly scaling upwards. With one slip the music falls and lands with a single thud of a bass note. I black out.
The bass and acoustic guitar descend in unison. A cutting rhythm guitar punches each off beat, waking me from my dreamy complacencies. A light melodic guitar motif starts and begins repeating, bouncing and then repeating, entrancing myself.
Then BANG – The bass is deep in the game.
The bass and guitar are playing a serious groove in unison. With the groove now locked in firmly, I am thundering down a desert highway, burning up the tar at 100 miles per hour. Driving, pushing the beat always to the next bar, it cycles, drops down to the IV chord and then returns. Like a great classic rock riff I just want to keep listening.
Damn it, I want to play this riff! No, that’s not right – I want to be the riff!
From nowhere I hear the words announced: “Grand Piano”.
The ivory keys of a shiny black piano come alive with a melody. Further down the road, the reed and pipe organ enter the mix, then glockenspiel. The bass guitar is pushing the musical accelerator hard to the floor. I’m excited. Then barking out the melody comes an angry double speed guitar.
The sonic truck keeps rolling. A mandolin, Spanish and acoustic guitar are added to the mix. The melody soars, I soar.
Tubular Bells boom into my headphones.
Above the bells, I can hear the voice of resounding angels descending from the heavens. They praise and sing as the music becomes increasingly ethereal, but ever so slowly the layers start to melt away again.
I’m awaking from a dream that I don’t want to leave. I hopelessly grasp at it. It dissipates second by second. I can still hear the voices of angels, now singing of regret and so many lost moments of time lost forever; maybe even existences squandered and lost in time? The warm light before my eyes slowly fade and the moment now reduces its speed. I reach out, but the apparition of angels dissolves before me.
I stand now in a long hall with a solitary figure playing guitar on stage at the other end. Our attention is on the one instrument, just one man. Everything that has come before is gone, now past. All the musical elements and layers stripped bare. The guitar melody is repeated, again and again trying to assert itself and hold on. I feel a shiver down my back. As each bar goes by the melody become simpler and even more deconstructed. Each second ponders.
The lights of the stage finally darken.
And then with one strum it ends.
If you would like to hear how Tubular Bells influenced Nick J Harvey’s Music.
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