On The Pet Sounds Sessions

been listening to the capitol 'pet sounds' sessions box-set for the last few days. this is really my first exposure to this material, although i did hear a little of it when it was first issued, courtesy a fellow muso.

the first thing that struck me after a fairly concentrated listening session is how much dense, unique-sounding, and extremely hip *rhythm* is happening on these tracks. susan/hobie has talked about rhythm some here.

the other thing is, i've been listening to the studio releases of these tunes for more years than i care to mention and while i was always aware that they were the result of some rather unorthodox recording methods, i never realised how much was really going on underneath those silver shining soaring vocals. there may be a reason for this. take js bach as an example.

for five or so years now, i have studied and played the keyboard works of js bach with great passion. as you all know, bach employed a style of composition known as counterpoint.... another way to put it is to say that the music is *polyphonic* in nature, that is; the music is conceived as a layering or stacking of different but simultaneous melodies , as opposed to the much more widely adopted method of one melody on top, chords underneath. the vertical harmonies (chords, if you will) that arise from this co-mingling of melodies are in a sense secondary to the primary design of the composer, although you may rest assured that bach was aware of every element and aspect of what he wrote. brian too.

since polyphony fell out of favor at like the precise second old bach passed away.... even his sons, musicians all, disavowed the old style though they had the decency of waiting until he died to do so....the public at large were never again exposed to the wondrous and magnificent possiblities of a style of music which was so hard to do well that one of the reasons it died is because nobody wanted to go through the rigors of learning how to do it. it was gone and it hasn't come back. it has been over 250 years since anybody save a relatively few fans have heard music in this style on a regular basis. everyone is conditioned to hear the topper-most melody as predominant and everything underneath it as accompaniment.

when i heard the pet sounds session tapes, i was immediately struck by the polyphonic nature of a lot of brians' stuff. some obvious examples are the tags, or closing sections, of 'god only knows', and 'surf's up'. 'our prayer' is sort of conceived this way, although the individual voices are all scored in the same rhythm, so the effect is more like a homophonic piece (homophony is another way of saying melody-on-top, chords underneath). there are a TON of other examples.... i don't have the cd's at hand so i can't think of them off the top of my head. but in listening to the session tapes i began to see how this style of writing played such a big part in brians' music. my ear had been so used to hearing the top melody.... and let's face it, the melodies are so beautiful to begin with.... that much of what was going on down below was escaping my notice. also, brians' recordings are strange in many cases, and very dense. there is much happening that gets subsumed by the mix at large but if you took ANY of it away, the patented 'wilson sound' would be compromised.


July 13, 2001

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