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The Music Genome Project on Coming in a Girl's Mouth - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:53 pm
The Music Genome Project on Coming in a Girl's Mouth

Okay, it's Defensiveness Week here at Click Opera, whatever. But my honour is at stake. I want to pick up something an anon commenter said yesterday: "Momus is anything but a great musician". Another anon then chimed in, kindly, with "Yet his songs mean more to me than any other". That "yet" -- from someone who's clearly a big fan -- seemed to confirm the original thesis. Not just that I'm not Ornette Coleman, but that I'm anything but Ornette Coleman, in other words a very poor musician indeed.

I will not let this lie lie! The time has come -- as Ornette would no doubt put it -- to blow my own trumpet. I believe my musical and compositional skills have been tragically underrated. I've filled twenty or so albums with inventive and innovative pop music in a dizzyingly diverse array of styles. Never content just to adopt someone else's genre, I've come up with my own, from Analog Baroque to Folktonica. Never content to use standard textbook guitar chords, I've found strange new ones in undiscovered parts of the fretboard. My textures, especially over the last ten years or so, have been laboratory-honed. My time signatures can be more complex than just about anyone's -- just count along with You've Changed or Old Friend, New Flame and tell me what time signatures they're in! I've taken the formal structuring of pop songs much further than the huge majority of pop musicians. Where others have been content to use verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus-chorus and ABACAB, I've used things like through-composition. Almost nobody in pop uses through-composition!

Through composition is what you hear in songs like Coming In A Girl's Mouth (link to instrumental version). However, I don't think I've ever heard a rock review talking about through composition, and certainly no reviews of this song. Because it has a controversial sexual subject, this song was only ever discussed in terms of its taboo content. But the whole point of the song was to juxtapose this subject matter with a refined compositional style associated with the art song tradition of Schubert lieder. Compositional style, lyrical content and concept are all tied up here, but the only thing people notice -- if comments and reviews are anything to go by, anyway -- is the lyrical content. This is because they're human beings.



What we need is more machine-reviewing. What you see above is an analysis of Coming in a Girl's Mouth by -- if not a machine, at least a rigid labeling system which gives a more objective overview of the song's features. Instead of just noting the offensive lyrics (as humans tend to do), this "mechanical analysis" by Pandora's Music Genome Project notes: "thru composed melodic style, major key tonality, synthetic sonority, a prominent harpsichord part, subtle use of strings, offensive lyrics".

One problem with human reviewers -- and one reason I welcome a future of machine-reviewing -- is that humans are so blinded by content that the moment they hear a song is "about" something, they stop paying attention to its formal machinery. Formal properties are only examined when subject-matter and content are removed. I touched on this in a spoof review I wrote of my Stars Forever album in 1999, in the guise of one Brian Grey, writing in a magazine called The Mire:

"The eradication of song structures and lyrics has been almost completely successful... We are getting closer daily to the triumph of ground over figure. Thanks to Tortoise, Kreidler and Stereolab, millions now living will never hear a pop lyric. Nothing, now, sounds more anachronistic and less intelligent than narrative. In this climate, Momus arrives like a holy fool with thirty songs crammed with words, stories and semi-fictitious identities purloined from the subjects of these musical portraits. He calls this Analog Baroque. In fact it's closer to the wretched British tradition of variety music hall, which jazz and electronica artists have always correctly scorned for its cheap wise-cracking, crass populism and the excessive decoration of its music.... The tragedy is that, had Momus erased the story-telling tropes and released this record as thirty instrumentals, it would have been one of the best albums Warp never released, sitting alongside Autechre, Plaid and Boards Of Canada for sonic inventiveness and textural interest."

It's fair to say that the Music Genome Project would have managed to analyze the DNA structure of this album based on just one wriggling sperm. Its all-hearing machines wouldn't have been distracted by subject matter or the presence of lyrics. What's more, it would have made some great jokes, like the one in its review of The Penis Song, in which it notes: "prominent organ".

In case all this sounds too vain, I'll add a note of self-criticism: my Spanish is abysmal.

83CommentReply

fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)

why do you write songs with bad words? why can't you just write normal songs?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)

Hee hee hee, you forgot to be anonymous! (So it's been you all along, hasn't it, Fish!)


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
the mire

and your The Mire predates this blog
http://www.thewire.co.uk/themire/
of many. many years
Francesco


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Re: the mire

Yes, they stole my spoof name! And they still don't review my records, ten years later, despite the fact that I am now the foremost jazz musician of modern times!


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Re: the mire - (Anonymous) Expand


Re: the mire - (Anonymous) Expand

Re: the mire - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)

That line from Brecht - dismiss the people and elect another - comes to mind. Reviewers and anon commenters and the like are all saying something I don't like! Get rid of them and bring in machine reviewers! And more "objective" reviews (whatever the fuck that is, Mr Nicholas "everything's relative" Currie)! If everyone comments only on the lyrics of Coming In A Girl's Mouth, perhaps that's because you got the balance wrong. Your song doesn't actually do what you wanted it to do. Perhaps the lyrics should have been more subtle and sly instead of hammering us over the head with the oh-so-transgressional naughtiness of (gasp!) fellatio. But I happen to think you're right, your music is a lot more interesting than your clunky, sixth-form-clever, tell-not-show doggerel-as-lyrics.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)

I will be a hero to the coming age of thinking machines, just you wait and see!


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milobusbecq
milobusbecq
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
fucking brilliant

As much as I love your lyrics and find you ideas at the very least interesting & amusing, the only god damned reason I bought all your records within six months of discovering your existence is that you are a masterful composer. I can think of few people who can write melodies that equal yours (really, Louis Philippe, Brian Wilson... then who?) and none who arrange them so wonderfully oddly. You songs are masterpieces of formal sophistication and intelligence; their lyrics would be very much diminished with less subtle and sublime settings.

Do not let the musical illiteracy of music reviewers and most listeners get you down. The machines cannot save us, but at least you don't have to read NME, right?

One last note: not to hoist you with your own petard or anything, but I was struck the other day by the fact that you mentioned only the lyrics, not the densely textured and subtle arrangement, of "Landrover." It is one of your finest pop songs. Its simplicity and texture allows the sadness and horror of the diary to be embodied, to be something other than a conceit. I find that in this case the "content" as it were is actually really just the occasion for a work of tangible, material, non-discursive art.

Bravo, musician extraordinaire!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
Re: fucking brilliant

Thank you, you have made my day! All I need now is for a progressive black politician to become president of the United States and I will be entirely happy.

I will say that my melodies often come from the buried melody within the phrases which express the song's content, because language, in itself, does sing. And my arrangement, as I say above, is often conceived as a context designed to counterpoint or recontextualise the lyrical content. I think this is one reason why songwriters who start with words, titles and ideas often come up with much more interesting melodies and arrangements than purely musical composers. Language has a way of structuring things differently, setting the whole composition up as a dynamic semantic field. (Oh dear, someone will probably clobber me for that phrase!)


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand







(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)

Tongueing a Girl's Clit would have been so much better than the fratboyish coming in a girl's mouth


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)

I think we all agree on that one.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)

lolololol this is the most epic replying to self I've ever seen.

What else have you got lined up for Defensiveness Week? It's a great topic for a theme week.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)

Tomorrow on Defensiveness Week: I AM NOT AS UGLY AS UGLY PEOPLE SAY!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
yeeeeeee!

This is my favorite Momus album, The Little Red Songbook. Moogs and Harpsichords are some of my favorite instruments. Melodies: beautiful! The lyrics are very well written, and seem to snap in my head right away (where some other albums take many listens to decipher) Yes! It's a good one! "I can See Japan" is the best track on the album, even though it's only 15 seconds long, and you sung it as a child.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
Re: yeeeeeee!

It took a lot of helium to sing it that way, I can tell you!


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Old Friend - (Anonymous) Expand
bugpowered
bugpowered
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)

I hope it was clear that my comment on Ornette Coleman and Tony Bennett was ironically targeted towards Anon.

You are obviously a very talented melodist --something you don't see much nowadays.


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sleepyworm
sleepyworm
Compton G. Olive
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)

Honestly I've always thought of you as an incredibly skilled composer. The first album of yours I heard was The Little Red Songbook, and right off the bat I was struck by how the arrangement of "Old Friend, New Flame" evolved from verse to verse instead of the usual playing-the-verse-the-same-way-each-time strategy. I'll be the first to admit I don't know dick about theory or composition (though I've certainly tried to write my share of songs), but to me, the prurience of the lyrics was just one delightful element among many for these clever, intricate pieces.

And thanks for posting a link about through composition; I didn't know what it was, but I'd found the structure of "Coming In A Girl's Mouth" very striking and unusual.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)

If you consider tricky time signatures as a sign of greatness, I understand why you've been reappraising Genesis lately.

Momus, you expend so much energy disparaging pop, and yet when it comes down to it, you're a pop artist. Is there some deep dark Freudian reason for your constant disparagement of everything you essentially are (British, middle class, male gender, etc.)?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)

I am not James Bond; I will not kill to support the hegemony of my own kind.


ReplyThread Parent
cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
Blowing smoke up your ass week

Dude, you rock!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Blowing smoke up your ass week

I share that sentiment, with the somewhat more British "Momus is actually rather good (and tragically misunderstood)".
miles


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)

Go watch some 13 year old Chinese girls play piano on Youtube and come back and tell us that you're actually a great musician.

As the anon in question, I wasn't trying to put you down or damn by faint praise. I guess what I was saying is that, despite the fact that you're not a virtuoso musician, there is some _musical_ substance there that connects with people, beyond whatever concept your songs may have. And so your move into the art world, and your shedding of that emotional connection for 100% conceptual formalism, might be the reason why some folks are not 100% with you on your art career. That was just wild speculation in the spirit of yesterday's post.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)

your move into the art world, and your shedding of that emotional connection for 100% conceptual formalism, might be the reason why some folks are not 100% with you on your art career.

Those folks would simply be wrong about "100% conceptual formalism"! I'm sitting in art galleries telling stories, and I'm sitting in recording studios telling stories. The difference is all in the prejudice of the eye of the beholder, and it's a prejudice I'm trying to battle. Oh, and talking of Battles, dig this for 100% conceptual formalism!


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xyzedd
xyzedd
xyzedd
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
Baroque Obama

(Sorry for the bad pun--I was just hoping for something connected both to today's major international event and this blog's somewhat smaller topic of discussion.)

Anyway, at last something I can comment on as a mere fan who is too stupid or at least too out of it to get involved in debates about art theory and practice. To put it simply, I wouldn't own every single thing that Momus has released if I didn't find almost every track musically adventurous, if not always stretching the idea of the "pop song" to its very limits. (I listen to a lot of music, most of it stuff that is hardly "popular," at least currently, or palpable on a mass level.) I say "stretching," and yet one can also sing along to most Momus songs--not something one can casually do with the average Xiu Xiu track, for instance.

As far as "avant-garde" composing goes, I'd consider Momus to be downright conservative, if not always formally so; still, that's only in relation to other artists who wouldn't even dip their smallest toe into more "commercial" waters like this thing vaguely labeled "pop" or "rock." I mean, Momus is neither Merzbau nor Messiaen--and doesn't intend to compete in quite so rarified arenas, I presume.

Not being a musician myself, I really couldn't judge too well if Momus is technically a "good" musician--he seems awfully technically proficient and "musical" to me, but that could half be digital smoke and mirrors (as if I care, as long as it sounds good). Of course, the words mean a great deal to me, too, and it's the tension between the two--the curious musical structures and the (mostly) highly "intellectualized" or conceptualized lyrics that make Momus music so exciting to me --and to many others, as well, I imagine.

That said, draw in your spikes, Momus: you have no need to be self-defensive. You've been fortunate enough to be blessed with an enormous talent which has expressed itself in multitudinous ways, and you've been able to make something of a living at it, which is more than almost any artist could ever dare to dream. Your success may be miniscule compared to the pop flavor of the month, but it has brought a lot of enjoyment to a perhaps more discriminating audience. And if you think your nonmusical forays are perhaps a bit slighted, even by your readers here, maybe it's just because we can all put a Momus song on our audio machines but we can't of course all be there to see you in a gallery or museum. (Videos of said events can't quite substitute.) Not that anything I've said in this paragraph is new to Momus, or would mitigate any real or imagined pain, but perhaps it needs to be said again. And again.

Along me to go on and stretch this column a bit further. It's interesting to me that people who would read any amount of "offensive" dialogue or description in, say, a novel, will find lyrics to a song like "CIAGM" too much to take. (I know; I've forced people to listen.) Why are "pop" or even "art" songs somehow sacred--and if they discuss sex, why must they never be too frank? "CIAGM" is not among my favorite Momus songs--through-composed operas are not my favorites either, but I do recognize it as a compelling type of narrative, possibly or possibly not very close to the composer's own beliefs or experiences. Is Humbert Humbert Nabokov, part of Nabokov, or not him at all? What does it matter? As if this is an original argument! As if that last line of mine really matters!

I might add here that despite being fiercely devoted to much of what is called "avant-garde" or "experimental," I usually experience art on a far more emotional than intellectual level. Not enough has been said here or anywhere else about the real power of Momus's music, however "intellectualized" to have a personal, sympathetic impact on its hearers (maybe that's what the one anonymous poster meant by saying Momus might not be a great musician but still his songs meant more than anyone else's.)

OK, I'll put down my pom-poms now.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Baroque Obama

Thank you, dear friend!

It really sounds as if I put on my dungarees, picked up bait and tackle and went fishing for praise today, doesn't it? Then again, I did stuff some newspaper into my pants, expecting a bit of a kicking too.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
As a different anon who has also given slight praise

How refreshing it is to hear you praise your work.

When first introduced to your songs, though, it was always based on your lyrics and the stories that you told as opposed to the musical framework of the song. Granted, at the time that I was introduced to them, the song in question was "Bishonen" and the person who introduced me to your music had yet to become as intensely interested in style as he is now. Even so, the wonder of your best work is how well you hide the framework of the music; sometimes by advertising it as such.

What makes me flinch, however, is when you write blogs much like the one where you asked for reviews of Joemus. Claiming not to like those reports that are 100% praise made me think that you are not aiming to be the world's greatest pop artist anymore. That's one of the charms of the Creation era records, you sound hungry for fame and willing to reach for it. Even Voyager and Timelord, where you had put aside your deliberate pop chart seekings from Don't Stop the Night, still sound like you want people to recognize your true talent. Your usage of offensive topics was only one part of the calling card to the Momus package.

In the last few albums, by collaborating as you have, your contribution is seen more as the lyrics and vocals than the music (despite how close the music was in your Oskar pre-mix and the official release). Joemus was written about in your blog and feels more like a lark than an honest contribution to your records. This is not necessarily bad, but it does grate against some fans. What I see now is not Momus the musician, but Momus who wants to be a renaissance man and is trying to infiltrate all different mediums. Ok, but you can't get upset when you aren't called a musician anymore. You are "transcending" that and becoming an "artist."

And you are right when you wrote that there is a connotation of pretencion in defining someone as an artist.

I will end this by saying that I do enjoy your albums, all of them to different degrees. I am hoping, at some point, that you will return to being a musician and constructing music that features the same hunger from you (as opposed to from your contributers) as was more prevalent in your earlier records.
-Edge


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
Re: As a different anon who has also given slight praise

Not the Edge?


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eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)

My friend, a man who treated everything except classical music with barely-disguised contempt, was extremely impressed by the arrangement of "bishonen" on slender sherbet.

For my part, what, do you think it's the lyrics that keep me coming back? I wish you would play your guitar more these days.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)

There's quite a bit of guitar on Joemus, actually -- Widow Twanky, The Next Time, Dracula, Goodiepal, Fade To White, The Mouth Organ, The Man You'll Never Be and The Vaudevillian all have fairly prominent -- and real -- guitar on them.


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