the Books

A blog by Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong of the band 'the Books'

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Jul 26

I Am Who I Am

Hello All,

"I Am Who I Am" came from one of Paul’s greatest finds to date.  The whole rant came from a rare sermon that he found on a tape in a Salvation Army somewhere.  The sermon is about Exodus 3:14 and the many other occurrences of the "Name of God" in the Bible (and the Torah for that matter.)   In the Old Testament God tells Moses (in Hebrew) that his name is ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh’, which became the root of the Hebrew name of God:  Yahweh (or Jehovah).  It translates literally "I am that I am" or "I shall be that I shall be" or more modernly:  "I am who I am."  This is a bizarrely reflexive thing for God to call himself, but when you think about it, it makes sense that that would be your name if you were never born.  You just kind of "are".  

As Paul is wont to do, he went through the tape, which is about an hour long, and cut out only the parts of the sermon that were variants on the bible quote, leaving out all of the other stuff he said.  It became a minute-and-a-half of hemming and hawing about who he was, is and will be, eventually working himself into a complete tizzy. 

Since there’s never been (at least to my knowledge) a Prog-Hardcore track written about the Tetragrammaton, this was our big chance.  I had stolen an 808 kick from one of my favorite house tracks a few months prior and set it to thump at around 133bpm (dance-all-night tempo), and it seemed to match the cadence of the “I am rant” pretty well.  The natural flow of his speech became the model for all of the syncopation and crazy time changes through-out the second half.

The other great find from Paul that came into this track was from an old sound effects record.  Every once and a while Paul finds a sound that is so simple on its surface, so commonplace, yet so musically rich and useful that it breaks all expectational ceilings.  In this case it was the sound of a guy shaving his face with an electric razor.  If you listen carefully, everything that sounds like distorted guitar in this track is actually just the sound of a dude shaving, tuned and re-pitched to form the melody of the song.  

"An Animated Description of Mr. Maps" from Lost and Safe was my first attempt at creating a rhythm that mimicked the flow of human speech, and composing this was a chance to revisit that technique.  The first half of this track is devoted to various motivational speakers talking about everything they’re “gonna do” and everything you “should do”, but their rhythm is forced to conform to the unsyncopated drive of the kick.  In the second half of the track the kick becomes subservient to the preacher.

Apart from having great annunciation, preachers have great rhythm and they naturally use poly-rhythms to accentuate meanings and force certain interpretations.  I found that different sections of his rant were pretty well described by basic poly-rhythms around 133 bpm.  Apart from the 3/4 quadruplet that forms the base layer, there is half time and double time, two over three and three over four sections.  Working in strange time signatures has always been a deep interest of mine.  4/4 makes me yawn most of the time.  But it’s important to me that time never feels forced or confusing, the ups and downs of a rhythm need to feel natural and singable otherwise they become too cerebral.  I like rhythms that can keep the head firmly attached to the body, and allow both an equal shot at enjoyment.  (maybe we should call it “Rhythm as a strong neck”)  “IDM" tried to do this with some success through the 90’s which spawned Warp records among many others.       

What does this track mean?  A lot of things… I don’t want to bog you down with my own interpretation more than absolutely necessary, but here is one:  It’s hard to call this a track about identity because there is no personal biographical information in it whatsoever.  Instead it’s a track about existence itself, which is mushy territory, to say the least.  Apart from it’s Judeo-Christian origins, the tone of this man’s speech is very revealing.  By some miracle he is able to sound both uber-confident and completely baffled at the same time.  If that doesn’t describe humanity to a T, than i don’t know what does.  In fact, in a Judeo-Christian way it nails humanity to a T.  We need to insist upon being individuals that have free will to maintain self-respect, but through any analysis, (biological, spiritual, philosophical or otherwise) the delusion becomes woefully apparent. Analysis tells us that we don’t know the first thing about what we are or where we came from, and we are probably more accurately described as the property of an ill-defined collective with unknown boundaries.  Why make such a distinction between the moss and the rock? 

As Alan Watts said,  “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what: that is what our knowledge amounts to.”

Have a good evening, tomorrow “Chain of missing Links”

Nick


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