Unnecessarily Explaining My Art: Origin

Song bio number 2! Non-chronological style.

THE BRAINSTORM (or: The Basic Conceptual Thingy)
The assignment for this round of Spintunes was to write a song from the perspective of a superhero. The first immediate question was “which hero?” with a subquestion of “should I use an existing one or make up my own?”

I thought for awhile about using an existing hero. I like comics and read them occasionally but I’m not an expert by any means, and as a result I was kind of worried about getting some aspect of the character completely wrong, or representing them in a way that the judges and/or the general public would fiercely disagree with. Also my favorite superhero is Spider-man which seemed like maybe the second, possibly third most obvious choice to write about. One character that I did think briefly about was Yorick from Y: The Last Man. I think there is probably an awesome song to be had there, but I’ve only read the first 3 trades of the series and I didn’t want to wiki the rest in case I ever get around to picking up the other books. Watchmen was briefly considered and discarded because I don’t want to get sued by Alan Moore (only partially joking).

As far as media outside of the comics, I thought about Freedom Force (too campy for me to pull off), Nathan Drake from Uncharted (awesome, but not a superhero, and has a distinctive voice that is not mine), and Jack from Bioshock (not much of a character, and any idea I could come up with would have made the entire song one giant spoiler).

So I eventually decided to create my own superhero. I pretty much already knew I wanted to inject a little more geekiness and humor into the song than I typically do, and I wanted someone extraordinary but at least somewhat relatable by normal people. Also, going the original hero route meant I was free to write whatever plot arc I wanted and mix and match whatever tropes I felt appropriate (or appropriately awesome).

So. Power set.

I’ve been on a bit of a supersoldier kick lately, mainly in the form of playing the Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid video games. It seemed like a good place to start. Both Sam Fisher and Solid Snake are fairly normal guys (on the surface at least) who do extraordinary things. They also both have an arsenal of weapons and spy toys that The Punisher and Batman would envy. Solid Snake has a variety of nanite enhancements that let him do things like wander around a nuclear facility in northern Alaska while wearing a damp wet suit without contracting pneumonia or hypothermia. Fisher has a set of goggles that give him more forms of enhanced vision than a drow.

That was a good start but this is a SUPERhero. I wanted this guy to be able to run for half a day, shrug off and/or dodge bullets, traverse rooftops like Daredevil, and, if pressed, throw a car at somebody. True, not all of that made it into the song, but he can do it. 🙂

So it was pretty much decided my hero (who I decided to give the admittedly-not-very-clever-so-sue-me codename of “Darklight”) would be ambiguously “nanite-enhanced”, have physical capabilities comparable to Captain America, and have acess to a variety of high tech recon/spy toys. Not technically a “power” but there are plenty of “gadget based” heroes out there.

I think I eventually decided on an origin story because my best songs tend to revolve around emotion and/or atmosphere and after I figured out the power set, I had a very clear mental picture of how Darklight got his powers.   It was rife with tension–basically the entire song would be through our hero’s eyes as he was strapped down to a table getting poked by a mad scientist during the final sequence of modifications that would eventually transform him into Darklight.  A captive observer, if you will.

After I had all of this figured out, the lyrics fairly wrote themselves (with a couple of rewrites after I recorded scratch vocals and decided what worked and what didn’t). 

THE MUSIC

My intention with the music was to be something like the opening score/sequence of a movie–to set the scene for great things to come (actually my original idea was to have three mini-songs that did an entire “rise and fall of…” plot arc, but I discarded that idea because I didn’t think I could do it in under 6 to 7 minutes and keep it interesting).  Shortly before SpinTunes launched I had acquired a MIDI controller and a snyth VST plug-in.  I wanted something that sounded soothing (partly because soothing music is good, partly because the character is at least mildly sedated) but attention-grabbing, warm but full.  An organ seemed like a good choice.

Probably worth noting at this point — I am NOT a keyboard player.  Buying the MIDI controller in the first place struck me as “something to play with that I’ll likely never use”.  So the organ part would probably be on page 3 or so of “Baby’s First Synthesizer Trainer”.  That was alright with me since the correct emotions managed to get across.  It was, without a doubt, the biggest stretch out of comfort zone of my Song Fu/Spintunes career so far, though.  Maybe not surprisingly the majority of my recording time was spent fine tuning the performance and effects on the organ track. This is also why the song is in C Major when D major might have made the low notes a little more manageable for my range.

Verse chords for anybody who cares are basically:

C  G   F  C

C  G  C/E  F

…complicated, huh?

Switching from major to minor (or vice versa) tonality between verse and chorus is one of my favorite things to do and it gave the song a nice sense of forward motion (and mounting concern). 

Chorus Chords:

Am  G   C  F

So as you can see these are pretty much “stock” chord progressions.  I used to worry about using stock chord progressions too much but I kind of stopped worrying  after I noticed people (listeners and musicians alike) really don’t care as long as the song is good.  Seems kind of obvious in retrospect.  Hrm. Anyway.

The music and lyrics were written pretty much simultaneously with one complementing the other.  When I got to the point I had two verses and two choruses I realized that the line “these crazy scientist guys are pumping me full of nanites” would be a good time for the music to briefly stop (or pause or “fermata” if you don’t mind me using a musical term as a verb) while the hero finally, mercifully blacks out.  The coda (“this isn’t what was planned”) is “sang” after he awakes and indeterminate amount of time later with his newfound powers.

(On a side note, I was worried the judges might feel that the challenge was only partially met since the character isn’t precisely a superhero until the end of the song.  But I got a pass, nobody said anything (maybe I shouldn’t bring it up?).  Hopefully the judges don’t want to retroactively change their vote if they read this.) 😀

CODA CHORDS:

C/E F G Am (3x)

C/E F  G  C (2x)

So anyway, I was pretty happy with how the song turned out, and happy (even a little surprised) at how well it was received by both the judges and the “public” in general.  I’m actually thinking about writing a couple of sequel songs for a “Rise and Fall of Darklight” EP.  One more thing for the “planned projects” folder, I guess…

-Travis

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1 comment so far

  1. Dave Leigh on

    I LOVE song bios. But you know that already. Keep it up!


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