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Go All Avant-Garde: Write and Record a Pastiche!

6:00 am Home Recording, Songwriting

Here is a cool, if off-the-wall, project idea that combines songwriting with recording. Do you ever tire of always writing songs that are basically “vocals, with instrumental backing,” as it used to say on the old 45s? Why not branch out and do something avant-garde once in a while? One easy way to create a song that is unusual if not downright strange is to write and record a pastiche.

What is this pastiche of which I speak? The dictionary says that a pastiche is “an incongruous combination of materials, forms, motifs, etc., taken from different sources; a hodgepodge.” In this article, though, a pastiche is “an instrumental backing track with an unrelated audio track dubbed in over it.” Sounds crazy, or possibly stupid, huh? Well, that’s the avant-garde for you. But read on.

The Dark Side Of Oz

Perhaps you have heard of the strange phenomenon that occurs if you watch the old movie The Wizard Of Oz with the sound off while simultaneously playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of the Moon album. The idea is that if you start the album and the movie at the exact same time, there are a large number of places where the lyrics or music and the onscreen action “match up” in strange ways that seem beyond coincidental. (You can read all about it on this web page.)

Obviously, no matter how strange, these correlations are coincidental, or more accurately, they are illusions created by our own minds’ ability to make connections between things, whether they’re actually connected or not. In other words, I think that any movie and any album would produce this same effect, as long as each was rich enough in its content. With two complex things paired up and being analyzed by a third complex thing (that’s you), of course there are going to be “coincidental” correlations.

Rolling Your Own

So what does this have to do with a musical pastiche project? It’s simple. All you have to do to go all avant-garde is (1) write and record an instrumental backing track, then (2) separately record somebody talking or giving a speech off the TV or radio, then (3) dub the talking over the track. That’s basically it!  If you already have a backing track lying around waiting to be finished off, you can use that and skip step (1).

For the spoken track, just about anything will work, although someone who is speaking with a strong cadence will work better than a mumbling slacker. You can even use audio from TV shows that include music. I used an excerpt from an episode of The Avengers over a backing track one time and it was very weird how the unrelated sets of music played off against each other!

Of course, you will want to experiment with exactly when to start your external audio playback to “help” things line up. But I guarantee things will line up, musically and/or words-wise, much more often than you would expect. I’ve done it!

Just Say Yes

The example I will give you here is the first two minutes or so of “Just Say No,” (audio) which actually goes on to little further effect for 6 minutes after this excerpt. (I trimmed it to spare you.) I had recorded this fairly cool-sounding backing track with an ambient intro, but everything I thought of by way of vocals and lyrics was turgid and worthless. So I went to the stereo, tuned in the local PBS station, and recorded this guy talking about how it isn’t enough to ask teens to “just say no” to sex. (I used him only because that was what happened to be on at that moment.)

I recorded about 20 minutes of him but I only used the minute or so that you hear on the final recording since that part sounded the punchiest and he kind of yelled once or twice. I timed the dub so that the guy says “You know…” just before the drums come in after the ambient intro. With that timing and no other editing, I got the results you hear here (including the final triumphal “Just…say…NO!” that coincidentally lands directly on a 1-beat!).

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