May 18th, 2012

Sound Sound Sound: Writing Geeky Songs without the Novelty

By Bart J Helms

I like clever songs. Silly songs. Novelty songs. I’ve attempted to write many such songs. I believe making someone laugh is one of the most important things you can do in life. But at some point in the last few years, sitting at the piano to pull together a new song began to feel weighty. If we were going to perform it night after night, it felt essential that each song mean something.

The two traditional routes were out. I’ve never been a fan of confessional songwriting, and End Times is a diverse bunch politically. But there is at least one thing we do all stand behind: science. Not just as a collection of facts about cool things, but as Ann Druyan put it:

It is a great tragedy that science, this wonderful process for finding out what is true, has ceded the spiritual uplift of its central revelations: the vastness of the universe, the immensity of time, the relatedness of all life, and life’s preciousness on our tiny planet.

Take a look at this Hubble ultra deep field photo.
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field
To the naked eye, that patch of sky is a void between visible stars, one tiny patch of black in the sky, but when you look closer you find countless worlds. This is the world we live in. How can that not affect your views? Yet it’s difficult to find songs that express this.

That’s the realization that struck while I was struggling with a song about the more harmful branches of pseudoscience (the anti-vaccination movement in particular). I’d hoped to write something clever, but it was hard to shake off my rage and keep it light. On my coffee table was a copy of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. It made me think about the great statement attributed to Sagan (though apparently unsourced): “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” I decided I was having trouble because I wasn’t saying what I meant: that the world is far more interesting and worthy of exploration than most of the drama we invent.

Here’s an mp3 of us playing it live on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special back in March. The lyrics are below.

Sound Sound Sound (live)

We’ve been playing “Sound” live since December, but we’re still polishing it. I hope you enjoy this take, and maybe some day we’ll have a studio version.

Thanks for reading this. I hope to write more song explications like this as we begin to work them into the live set and make demos.

Sound Sound Sound

The world speaks as you and I speak
The starry seas, the tidal leaves parley together.
Syllable by syllable its coda repeats
Through peaceful eves or stormy weather.
So why does the music of last month’s newspapers
Pull on your heartstrings so much greater?
Put down that megaphone I do insist
And turn, yes, turn upon the abyss of…

Sound, sound everywhere
And not a drop of meaning,
Chitchat shed with idle care
While donning profound seeming.
Somewhere something incredible
Is waiting to be known,
Signals lost within the lull
Uncertain, faint, alone.

Listen to the stars
On the backyard radio.
Their blips and squeals have meaning
Above, beyond “Hello.”

Someone’s whispers interfere
With unattended thoughts.
Nonsense flitters lips to ear,
And great unknowns are lost.

This accelerating world
Will leave you trembling, pale.
There’s no escape from dreaming
When you let go of the stale.

Someone’s whispers interfere
With unattended thoughts.
Nonsense flitters lips to ear,
And great unknowns are lost.

Whereof one can’t speak,
Silent one must be

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