About “Note to the Listener”
The opening track of North Light was almost the last track to be written and recorded for the album. I wanted it to be something like a key to the album, while still standing alone as an earnest and universal plea to be heard.
I’ll try to give an explanation for it, which will be incomplete, I’m sure.
First, the words; to read before, as, or after you listen:
It feels like a cloudy sunrise.
It feels like a caged bird.
It feels like a lonely baby.
That’s how it feels.
That’s how it feels…to sing…
to sing songs,
to live life,
to be in time.
But—if you’re there—
be the eye to my light,
and the hand to mine,
and the ear to my song.
The images here are all allusions to the images that litter the rest of the album: the light, the bird, the child, the song, life, time. Each is mutually descriptive and intertwined with the other. I made a half-hearted attempt to create a chiasm–but, it’s not quite right.
The sunrise is to time as the bird is to the song, or the child to life. They are at once the incarnation of the abstract idea and the things that shape the idea. So it is with the knower and the known. The one informs the other and cannot exist without changing the other.
Our effort to sing a song–to tell something of ourselves–is something like the shame of a bird–a picture of freedom, beauty, hope, and possibility–that is bound. It seems futile for it to sing. And yet it can’t help but be heard. So despite its shame, and all it lacks, it can still change those who hear it.
Our lives seem to pass in loneliness like that of a child, longing for company. We look for comfort, for companionship, for touch, for love. But, perhaps there is something in that need that is redemptive. This is an idea that will be explored further especially in “Frozen Lake/This Old World”.
Time is oppressive, and unrelenting at that; but, while the sun’s rising is a reminder of time’s endless cycle, it is also the thing by which we see everything else. Obscured light is therefore some kind of lack, and one unseen sunrise is one that is forever lost to the viewer. The notion of light informing perception is fundamental, and the idea of seeing or perceiving is likewise central.
In all these aspects we find ourselves longing to know and to be known.
As you listen through the album, try to pay attention to these themes. Hopefully you’ll see how they are woven throughout.
What you are hearing:
I prepared my old, neglected piano for this piece by isolating the strings I would be using. I muted most of them with a strip of tuner’s felt and I positioned some loose-leaf paper over the C to give it that buzzing sound.
I wanted the rhythm to be nearly predictable, but also unsettling, so I didn’t keep the pulse steady. After recording the initial pulsing piano, I cut out parts of the track in Audacity, and reversed some sections to make the pulse nearly regular, but unsteady. I recorded a few piano parts and then layered them.
The melodic motive in the trumpet part became the basis of “This Old World”, which was intended to be both a reprise and a resolution to some of the themes in the album. Listen for it.
I wanted the trumpet parts to proceed like a round and become oppressive to work with and against the piano. In so doing, I was trying to evoke the sense of longing that the album and this song explore.
Somewhere near the track’s golden mean (“to be in time”) the cacophony clears a bit to highlight the voice, and little by little, parts drop off. Finally the voice is left alone to plead that the listener “be the ear to my song”. This sentiment is of course, personal, but also universal.
Let that be a start. Thank you for listening.