What Are Your Favorite Songs That Defy Expectations?

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To paraphrase the words of our special guest for this week’s episode of the podcast, the most powerful songs are often the ones that both meet and challenge our expectations of music.

Because of years of auditory conditioning and generations of artistic traditions seemingly set in stone, we tend to make a lot of “assumptions” as listeners. We can’t help but expect songs to more or less adhere to certain forms, progressions, instrumentations, and countless other patterns.

Overall, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As writers, producers, and performers, we can rely on those instincts to create specific atmospheres, invoke complex emotions, and otherwise understand and connect with anyone who listens to the music we make. But of course, there’s quite a bit to be said for surprise and delight — the big ideas and tiny details that stray from the standard and draw us in by defying that which we’ve come to expect.

In the latest episode of Soundfly’s podcast, Themes and Variation, Carter and Mahea are joined by composer, producer, and the artist-instructor behind Soundfly’s newest online course, Son Lux’s Ryan Lott to discuss exactly that…

This episode covers things both technical and introspective, leaning heavily on pieces by Still Woozy, John Cage, Erik Satie, and of course, Son Lux, along the way. Yep, you read that right! For only the second time on the show, the Themes panel had the chance to dig into a song with the artist who actually created it.

If you haven’t yet, you really need to check out Ryan’s brand new course, Ryan Lott: Designing Sample-Based Instrumentsit’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

And now, listen to the full Episode 48 of Themes and Variation right here.

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Episode 48 Highlights

1. Carter on “Goodie Bag’s” harmonic restraint:

Carter: “This song is really built on four chords, really the entire thing. Yes, at the end of the song, it kind of varies from that — I think just the root motion changes. The bass kind of takes over a little bit more of the harmonic motion. But, when I think of a song that’s like, “Okay, it’s got four chords,” I feel like it can get static, maybe on the edge of getting a little stale. This song absolutely does not do that. I think they’re getting the absolute most you possibly can out of very static harmony.”

2. Ryan on how the topic of expectations relates to how we experience music:

Ryan: “You can go to a piece of music in search of how your expectations are going to be met. And I think that’s very intuitive for us. And that’s because we love pattern, because our lives are all built on pattern. Our meals, the up and down of the sun, our sleep, our breathing, our heart beat — it’s all pulse based. It’s all based on repetition in variation, and expectation is our embrace of those rhythms, right? And I think when we come to music, it’s important, for me, that my expectations are both met and also challenged.”

3. Mahea on some of the unique experiences induced by Erik Satie’s “Vexations:”

Mahea: “So like when Cage did it, he brought 11 pianists and they played in 20 minute shifts. In 1967, a performer played a 24 hour solo marathon of this piece. In 1970, a pianist named Peter Evans had to abandon a solo performance after 595 repetitions because “he was being overtaken by evil thoughts and noticed strange creatures emerging from the sheet music.” Performers report, crazy ranges of emotions with this. Like they start feeling happy to play. They go through a period of agitation. They get bored. That’s not how I’m used to experiencing music.”

Episode Playlist

With every new episode of Themes and Variation, we launch a new Spotify playlist that includes the songs mentioned in this episode and more. Here’s this episode’s Spotify playlist!

We’ll see you in a couple weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a (bass) line at [email protected]!

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