The Friday Fillip

Analysis is a destructive process. It involves dissolving the whole so as to get at the constituent parts, something human beings seem to like to do. I know I was into it as a kid, “analysing” my bike, my radio, and pretty much anything that wasn’t a clearly solid lump. (Now putting it all back together was a different story. But that’s a different story.)

There’s legal analysis, of course. And then there’s fun breakdown. One good example of the latter is the separating out of the tracks that are combined to make our recored music. I seem to recall that there are, or were, recordings you could buy that let you play your chosen instrument along with the rest of an orchestra — Haydn’s trumpet concerto sans trumpet, with you supplying the necessary. That sort of thing. And I’m told by people who have ventured into karaoke dens that there’s backing designed to feature ordinary voices. That’s a kind of musical analysis.

But there are more thorough examples of musical track isolation. Studio Multitracks offers you dozens and dozens of examples of deconstructed pop songs, from the Time of Elvis right up to the Now of Lady Gaga. Typically, you’ll be offered one or two tracks from a song: the vocal track all by itself, say, and then the instrumentals or backing vocals on their own. But occasionally you can get the whole nine yards, such as with the Stones’ Gimme Shelter, where you can hear in splendid isolation vocals, guitar, second guitar, drums, and bass.

Why on earth would you want to do this? Well, there are practical reasons, such as helping you learn a part or advance your master’s thesis. But there’s also that fundamental curiosity about what the parts of the whole look (sound) like. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises. Hearing Beach Boys vocals a capella is enjoyable by itself, I think. And Lady Gaga, for all the manipulation that her vocals undergo, sounds as though she can really sing. (It’s fun to go back, though, to a time when computers didn’t correct vocals for pitch; amazing how many singers had problems with intonation — and amazing, too, how it could lend character to a song.)

I enjoyed hearing Simon and Garfunkle do the Boxer with basically only a basic rhythm section backing (that crash sound is a phone book striking a piano bench, I understand — and I’d never noticed that bass voice coming in towards the end). And what could be more fun to take apart than Bohemian Rhapsody? The great Smoky Robinson doing Tears of a Clown. And more. All in bits and pieces.


  1. Simon, there is a (Canadian-developed!) software application called Band in the Box, which is a very helpful tool for anyone who plays jazz, rock, bluegrass, or country music. One enters the melody and chords, and the tool will automatically create backing musicians (e.g., piano, guitar, bass, and drums) for the tune.

    So if, say, I’m a jazz pianist, I can turn off the piano track and then play the melody and solo accompanied by “my band”! I can also. among other things, change the style in which and the tempo at which my band accompanies me.

    Using (presumably) similar technology to the tool you refer to, it offers almost unlimited possibilities to those trying to master their instruments.

  2. I can identify with that. I’ve always viewed the phrase “No user servicable parts inside” more as a challenge than a warning.