the Books

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

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Aug 2

Free Translator

Hi Everyone.

This track came out of a simple concept that we discovered a few years ago.  During the Lemon of Pink era, every so often we would get a review in a foreign language, like Japanese or Italian, and it seemed so exotic, of course, we would want to know what it said.  In fact, sometimes we get reviews in English that look like a foreign language as well.  We needed a translator so that’s when we discovered freetranslation.com.  Of course there are a lot of machine translators out there and they’re always getting better, but sometimes better isn’t better…  The mediocre translators often give the most poetic results, and we loved the foreign reviews because the translator made our record sound twice as interesting.

Machines are dumb, but sometimes they do brilliant things because they can’t help themselves.  They don’t talk themselves out of anything, and so they just go for it.  No judgement whatsoever.  Taking advantage of machines in these moments is a great way to overcome the self-consciousness problem that Drew brought up in London (see post of July 21). 

I think part of what we’re trying to do with the Books is to break the back of language, to bend it until it snaps and then examine the pieces to see what of it’s essence remains.  Poets and songwriters have been in business so long, trying to say things in just the perfect way that they’ve crowded out the front door to meaning which is all tightly locked up by cliches.  Essentially we’re looking for the back way around. So it’s really heartening to find a site like freetranslation.com that so egolessly shreds language like it’s making a vat of sauerkraut out of your precious word cabbages. 

For this track we took a very well known folk song (which we’ve been advised not to name) and using free translation software, we translated the text into, for example, German, then into Italian, then into French, then into Swedish and then back into English.  The results were spectacular.  All of the imagery became completely warped, sentence structure was geniusly scrambled, errant nouns would inexplicably enter into strange situations… it became a machine free association on the original lyrics to the point that the ‘cover’ became a new original.  Who wrote the song became completely unclear at this point… it became some mass collaboration of linguists, programmers and songsmiths.  Both Paul and I translated an retranslated these lyrics so many times that new characters began to emerge and we made a collection of the best moments in our texts.  I then set them to the music the best I could, adding conjunctions and fixing the rhythm of the sentences where necessary to make a smooth vocal line.

The “And I see” chorus became the keystone of the musical structure early on and we improvised a bit around it in London.  Paul found that sample on an old folk guitar instructional record, and cut it from two instances of the same lyric over two different chords.  That set the key and tempo of the track.  The trick was figuring out a way to move off of those two chords, so the bass does the job of reframing the two chords so that the song move in a more interesting way.  The alpenhorn solo at the end came straight off a Swiss record that Paul found, documenting the customs of a small town.  The wind sound at the very end I made on one of Nigel’s very special vintage synthesizers by tweaking the frequency knob of a filtered white noise source.  analog wind….    

Tomorrow the last track on the record, Group Auto 2

Nick    


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