Revolution 9 (8) Early Reflections
(c) Ian Hammond 1999
All rights reserved
Before continuing the Revolution 9 series, I thought I might look
back a little at the ground covered so far and review some of the
better ideas that have emerged.
I've put together some structures which are suggested by Revolution
9. What's more, I've not had to ignore many voices in order to get
my result. In other words, I don't think I've just gone around
selecting a small number of convenient events to support my thesis
while conveniently ignoring a lot of other stuff that doesn't fit.
I've modeled the structure with sections, strips etc, to convey
the ideas I found in the work. Another writer might choose
differently. In particular, I think one could choose different section
divisions. But I believe that any other such choice would be roughly
equivalent to what I've produced here.
This work is nowhere near complete. Revolution 9 can be examined
from many other viewpoints.
It must surprise some that Revolution 9 is in fact structured. For
many years conventional wisdom has held the piece to be ad hoc rather
than formal. About five years ago I formed the opinion that Lennon
was, in matters musical, a control freak. A total obsessive. So I
began work on Revolution 9 convinced there would be a structure.
However I am still pleasantly surprised at the depth of the level of
That said, a structure alone does not make a piece of music good
even if it is a novel structure. We have to ask the question: is this
a good piece of Revolution 9-structure music. For example, Beethoven
wrote some 32 piano sonatas. Some of the sonatas are magnificent. Some
are ordinary. Lennon wrote only one Revolution 9. Is it magnificent or
ordinary? It's much harder to tell without having some other pieces
Another measure of the structure could be to compare it with the works
of other composers who produce similar kinds of work. I am suspicious
of this approach for a couple of reasons. There seems to be a tendency
to doff the cap towards proponents of this art from the school music
scene. The very mention of the name Cage or Stockhausen seems to
have a magical effect on some people (even if they've never heard
music by the said gentlemen).
I am certainly not opposed to considering their possible influence,
but they come at the end of a fairly long queue of more likely sources
and sources for which there is at least some evidence. But consider
this carefully: if it's taken us thirty years to get to the structure
of Revolution 9, I fail to comprehend the musical genius required of
Lennon to immediately perceive these kinds of structures in a musical
recording that he may have heard only once (or not at all). That said,
no-one is suggesting that these other works do have such structures.
Let's assume for a moment that the structures I've described are
present in the work (something I won't decide on personally until all
the analysis is done). What would that imply?
Certainly we would no longer be able to call Lennon a primitive, in
any sense of the word. In some way, the form he's put together is more
successful than the form Mozart and Beethoven used to write the outer
movements of their symphonies with. Lennon's form comes closer to the
story form of books. It is remarkably flexible.
I'm sure I've missed voices and I know some of my notation is a bit
wonky. That's an on-going task.
It is remarkable how few voices could not be clearly identified. Only
in parts of the last section are one or two voices indistinct.
In an early article I said that Lennon did not vary voices with the
classic techniques of reversal, inversion or speed change. That was
not quite correct. The very high speed tiddles do invert and speed up
voices. The notes of the Waltz voice do occur at a slower rate.
I think Lennon may have got some of tape operators to play some
tricks. The Horns loop seems to be deliberately slowed down by holding
it up against the capstan. I think the soft strings voice of Section
1 was replaced with the Plunge in section 2 and beyond.
I am often struck by the individual beauty of the voices chosen. I
made the point during the articles that I don't think he had time to
listen right through all the original pieces and that some may have
been collected from comedy records based on fragments of classical
music pieces. It would be interesting to hear such records, if they
indeed exist. They may have exerted an influence.
Lennon used some voices for Spinetti's adaptation of his two books. I
have never heard a reference to this incidental music. I would dearly
love to. It would be invaluable, since it was completed early in these
sessions. It would also help us isolate which of the voices identified
by Lewisohn ended up in Spinetti's show.
I've said that Lennon approach to Revolution 9 reminds me of fugal
techniques. That's not because I think for one nanosecond that he was
trying to imitate the fugue. Rather, that faced with similar problems,
he came up with similar solutions.
That is, of course, a more radical suggestion than the first, because
I'm saying that he reinvented fugal techniques from scratch. That
implies what some people would call genius (a word I avoid). We need to
progress through the other stages of the evolution of the piece before
we can discuss that issue. But it's on the table.
The Event Chain: Relevance To Lennon's Song Making
I have the feeling that Revolution 9 may provide unique insights
about Lennon's manner of producing songs. The most significant to me
so far is what I think of as the event chain.
An event chain is something we take for granted whenever we listen
to a reasonable piece of music. We expect a chain of musical events
at fairly regular intervals. Roughly every half second to every two
seconds something has to happen.
What's more, we don't expect to see too many musical events piled up
on each other during the normal non-climactic part of a song.
Lennon's maintenance of the event chain in Revolution 9 is the
single most important feature in rendering the work listenable by
broad public. Lennon works very hard to maintain this regularity in
We'll see this even more clearly when we get to a discussion of the
editing phase of the creation of this work where he polishs here and
discards there, to get his result.
With a full score, my work would have been substantially easier and
faster. The piece is very long and rather complex. One wonders how
Lennon visualized the work without notation. Perhaps his development
of strips was simply to enable him to see the piece. He must have
had some technique to picture the work.
The next article picks up at section 3.1, at the sixth minute of the
work. Rather than tiring, Lennon is just getting into his stride and
exhibiting another trait of a master: unflagging energy.
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