REVOLUTION NUMBER 9
Studying the Beatles
Revolution 9 (4) Voices and Form
Meanwhile back at Studio two... this is a series of posts which
examines Revolution 9. In the first three posts I presented a
detailed view of the first two minutes of Revolution 9. That gives
us enough source material to start discussing the piece in more
In this post I look at the structure of Revolution 9 at three levels. At the lowest level we have the individual "voices" or loops. At the highest level we have four large sections. In between we have the structure within the sections -- the most difficult area to get a handle on.
A reminder (mostly to myself) of some goals. This first set of posts looks at Revolution 9 at face value, without inquiring into issues of origin, history or reception. This is the reporting level. After that I intend to do some posts at the commentary level on origin etc.
Voices Revolution 9 is constructed largely of prerecorded tape loops. The key to studying the piece, I think, is to treat these loops as voices. I believe that a focus on the idea of voice reveals Revolution 9 to be a well organized piece of music. That, anyway, is the guiding principle of my approach.
Built initially from the outro of Revolution 1, it's interesting to note that what survived that track were Lennon's voice (alright) and Ono's voice (you become naked...). [Although a recent RMB post suggests that the piano in the coda came from the original outro.]
Revolution 9 has distinct sections with varying numbers of voices, suggesting the language of vocal works (solo, duet, trio etc). But it is the VARIETY of voices that strikes us. Some examples:
Spoken: Four different kinds of crowd (rabble, kids, demo, footy). The opening duet with Martin. Cackling laughter. Baby. JohnAndGeorge and JohnAndYoko.
Sung: Lennon's alright, the tenor (again and again), two main choirs, a climax choir and a stretto choir.
Strings: A soft soothing piece. A rapid string section. A solo fiddle with string band. The plunging string climax.
Wind: Various backward instruments that sound like woodwind. The Oboe. A meandering clarinet.
Brass: Two main pieces. A rising bass horn. A fanfare.
Piano: the iconic Waltz, a repeated note, glissando and crash that end the body, and the cadential theme at the end of the coda.
Guitar: Almost none. Guitars are represented by a single repeated note, as is bass guitar.
FX -- Sound effects, such as a bell, honks, whistle, guns, white noise, electronic noise, etc.
Lennon selected and prepared these fragments with great care. Taken together, the voices add up to something resembling a large symphony orchestra with soloists, choir and percussion. Lennon employs standard techniques of orchestration in handling these forces. He assigns a characterizing role to many of the voices:
Structure: Lennon's Grand Fugue Lennon is restricted in what he can do with a pre-recorded voices. He can't do much to vary a voice, or write new notes for it. After experimentation, he chose not to alter the speed (and pitch) of voices (with some interesting exceptions). He does reverse some voices, but not in order to vary them within the work.
What can Lennon do with these voices? He can decide when they enter and when they stop. He can combine them in different groups. He can play with dynamics (loudness) and placement (stereo). One thing that adds real character to Revolution 9 is that we can sense him as a performer, doing all these things with such obvious and tangible vigor. We envisage him as a performer, at the mixing desk.
There is a musical form that shares many of the restrictions and opportunities listed above: the fugue.
A fugue can be thought of as a more sophisticated form of the round, such as Three Blind Mice, or the outro to She Said She Said. See a musical dictionary for a more formal definition.
A large fugal piece consists of a number of sections. Each begins with a presentation of the subjects (and their answers). More complex fugues may present multiple subjects (double fugues etc). The material is recombined and developed in episodes. The main dramatic device is the stretto where the voices enter higgledy-piggledy, piling up on one another.
The fugue is a strict form that is focussed on the voice. No less important is the issue of the overall composite texture achieved by all the voices taken together, and in particular, the variety of textures achieved in a piece.
I am not supposing that Lennon was aware of fugal techniques. I'm suggesting, perhaps more audaciously, that he reinvented the principles, because he was faced with the same set of problems faced by the fugue. It is remarkable how many features of fugal writing are shared by Revolution 9.
I first obtained a good overview of Revolution 9 when I listened to it with the fugue idea in mind. All the pieces fell magically into place. Perhaps too magically? Here is the rough outline of the work, and a road map for the posts to come.
0.00 Section 1 (exposition) 1.30 Major stretto
2.00 Section 2 (development) 4.30 Major stretto
5.00 Section 3 (development)
7.00 Section 4 (coda) 8.00 Outro 8.20 Close
Lennon's Strip Form Revolution 9 has four sections of two or three minutes, each about the length of a pop song. What does Lennon do within these sections? Do we have a stream of random sounds? A programme? A structure?
Just as Lennon abstracts the instruments of the orchestra, so he abstracts the basic elements of any dramatic form: a start, a middle and an end. Some voices are dedicated to particular functions, such as marking the start or end of a section. Some appear mostly in stretto areas. Some as climaxes.
Having done that, Lennon arranges these voices in tableaux which I call strips. Each strip has a start and an end. Most have a middle. Most are about a minute in length.
Musical form is an elusive butterfly. The rules of music apply more to the lesser than to the greater composers. So, I will find it difficult to prove a cut and dried case for strip form. At the very least, strip form provides a good conceptual model for following and discussing the piece.
In the table below I have marked the occurrences of three events:
Number nine: the position of each Number nine entry. These occur typically at the start of a strip. Note, the Number nine entries at [5.00] and [5.45] were present on the preliminary mix, but deleted during mixing and editing. Both of them distorted or sped-up Number nine.
The stasis strings or string plunge (in section 2). These tend to mark the middle or the beginning of the codetta of a strip.
The patches of near silence and/or where Lennon sings Alright or related sounds. These tend to mark the end of a section.
Start: Middle: End: "Number Stasis/ Silence/ Nine" Plunge Alright (S1) ===== ======= ======= 0.00 0.10 0.25 1.20 Strip + stretto 1.00 1.20 1.30 Stretto 1.58 (Close) (S2) 2.00 2.10 2.20 2.45 Strip 2.35* 3.00 3.00 3.08 3.50 Strip + stretto (9 #9) 3.30* 4.00 3.58 4.12 Strip 4.30 4.30 4.30 Stretto
(S3) 5.00 [5.00] 5.35* 5.50 Strip Climax [5.45] 5.50 5.53 Strip 6.30 6.33 6.40 Strip
(S4) 7.00 Strip (very weak) 8.00 Outro
Many of the remaining voices also help to mark the ebb and flow of a strip. Here's some further examples:
Start Introduction Dubs ("Claret", "Baby", "White noise" Usually only in first passage of a section Seating JohnAndGeorge, Waltz Backward Piano, Palestrina Choir Theme "Number Nine"
Middle Entries One or more new entries Episodes Combinations of voices Minor stretto
Middle or End Cadence/Diminuendo Stasis strings or string plunge A theme designed to signal the end phase of a passage End Codetta/Close Crowd scenes "Alright", "uh huh" etc from Lennon Near silence Fanfare End of stretto
Lennon has abstracted the elements of a story into a succession of voices. Given the Montage analogy, this is like a tableau, or comic strip arrangement of sounds as pictures. Lennon uses strips within the first three sections where it provides the punctuation of the fabric.
Now, Lennon's blunt instruments paint an rough impressionist picture where we seem to be too close to the picture to identify what we are looking at. Like Lennon's television set, untuned, because he couldn't see it clearly anyway. Images of broken light which dance before me like a million suns.
The clever bit is that he repeats this sequence of blurry events. With each repetition the contour becomes clearer, but it's the contour of the form which emerges, not the content. The effect is one of deja vu, the method is that of myth. We, the listeners, get to paint in the shadows with the detail that appeals to us. There is something primordial about Revolution 9 that stems from this process.
At a much more practical level, the strip form provides Lennon with all the tools he needs to raise and lower the tension and volume of the piece.
Meanwhile Back At Section Two... Armed with this basic idea of the structure of the piece, the next post will examine the second section. Hopefully this will not take as much time as the first section, now that we have the basic conventions worked out.
I have pointed out in earlier posts that this is a work in progress. Naturally, all the conclusions outlined above are presented as tentative and subject to confirmation or rejection. This section has cost me more work than I had planned and I am still very dissatisfied with it. It's all a bit vague. But I think the main points will stand up to further scrutiny. We'll see.
copyright (c) ian hammond 1998 -- all rights reserved ===================================================== For pleasure I would never listen to [my own records]. When I hear them, I just think of the session... the eight hours of mixing Revolution 9 -- whatever... I remember every detail of the work. Lennon DSL47IAN HAMMOND'S BEATHOVEN: PAGE 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, - Back To Revolution Number 9