"The A was in an avalanche"

"The A was in an Avalanche."

Here we are again near the top of the week. Okay, the first half of the week. The first half of the week for normal people. Yes, for purposes of discussion I am including myself among the normal people. Stop laughing.

So. Here we are again near the top of the week and it’s time once again for multimediazation at Chez Pannaceaeae. I’ve decided to use this week’s selections to touch on a topic near and dear to my heart: TYPOGRAPHY, and the history of writing in general. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail because, well, because I could write a book about it. Other people already have. (Here are some on typography from the ITC website, and some from Typophile. I’m also partial to Anatomy of a Typeface, which doesn’t appear on either of the foregoing linked lists. And the authors sure would have had trouble writing those books without alphabets!*) Another reason I don’t intend to get carried away on some sort of psychotypological flight of fancy is that I’m using it primarily to set the stage for the music that I’ll be sharing with you, Dear Reader(s).

Where do music and alphabets intersect? Everywhere, I suppose.

  • Musical notation is a written language in its own right. The diatonic scale typical of Western music has named notes •do·re·mi·fa·so (sol)·la·ti (si)·do (ut)• and I wouldn’t be surprised if non-standard and non-Western scales also had distinctive names for their notes.
  • Children much more often than not “learn their ABCs” via a sing-song rendition of the alphabet. In English “The Alphabet Song” (with the same melody as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” Mozart’s Variations on “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman,” and… oh, for a much more complete discourse see the Wikipedia page) is ubiquitous.

There are many more examples, but already this is starting to get away from me.


On to the music!

Rivmic Melodies

First we have selections from The Soft Machine’s second album, 1969’s Volume Two (Rivmic Melodies). The Soft Machine were a whole different flavor of jazz-rock fusion, completely different from what Miles Davis and Weather Report and those people were doing (don’t even get me started on self-indulgent rock bands’ “Jazz Odysseys” à la Spinal Tap), and much more to my liking, although I will admit that they’re a bit of an acquired taste.

Soooo, I’ve excerpted for your listening pleasure experience “A Concise British Alphabet- Pt. 1,” “Hibou, Anemone and Bear,” and “A Concise British Alphabet- Pt. 2.” The middle track, while not alphabetic in the least, appears between the two others and, since all of the songs on the album flow into one another, I’ve preserved the songs’ sequence. If you just can’t bear to listen to the six minutes of interstitial psyche-jazz, I’ve also (with a little audio editing wizardry) extracted the framing alphabetic songs, which combine for an eminently concise 22 seconds.

"I don't think a song should fall apart, like a cheap watch on the street" - Van Dyke Parks (image from Michael Ochs, via vandykeparks.com)

"I don't think a song should fall apart like a cheap watch on the street." - Van Dyke Parks

Second is a masterpiece of sublime weirdness from secret music industry overlord Van Dyke Parks. In 1972 he recorded an album combining two of his great inspirations, crooners from Hollywood’s Golden Age and Caribbean steel band music. As you might already be aware, I too adore steel band music, so this unlikely but magnificent recording, for that (and several other significant reasons) holds a special place in my collection and my heart. “G-Man Hoover” contains, among many, many other things, typewriter sounds, elaborate string arrangements, a baritone backup singer, and the lyrics “she’s afraid you’ll use your gat” and “take it on the lam.” Admittedly, he recites the alphabet only as far as G, which amounts to a wispy 37% of the English alphabet, but I don’t care! The song’s going live here. Besides, he goes up to G three times, so that’s more than 100%.

So there we have it, Alphabets in Music, pann-fried. Hope you enjoyed this edition of the Multimedia Inflammation. What? What’s that you say? I promised an “incendiary abecedary”? Okay, okay, but only because I’m the nice one:

Winding up in flames

* I am, for convenience’s sake, not including non-alphabetic writing systems such as Chinese and other Asian calligraphy.
nb: Audio tracks will remain available for approximately 2 weeks after date of post; if you are interested in hearing something you have missed, please make a request in the comments.