Modern-day Haydns

I think the closest modern equivalents to Franz Josef Haydn are the Arctic Monkeys.

HaydnArctic Monkeys

Yes, I’m serious.

Haydn lived during the late 1700’s, a time when form was paramount. In fact, Haydn himself actually had a hand in standardizing sonata form, which came to be considered the ideal form for “serious” music for something like a century after his death. But although he helped to standardize and regularly used this form, he was also constantly playing around with it. Where the standard form called for two different themes, he experimented with using one theme in both places. Where the standard form required the first theme to be repeated in the home key of the movement, he would repeat it in the wrong key, only to repeat it again in the right key later on. Where the second theme was supposed to be repeated, he would repeat it upside down. He wrote palindromic minuets, and minuets that were also canons. And he’s also known for his sense of humor, the most famous example being the slow movement of the “Surprise” symphony, which has a sudden loud chord in the middle of a quiet passage. He also wrote a string quartet (op. 33 no. 2) where the end of the finale is filled with long pauses, just so he could laugh as the audience got confused about when to applaud.

The Arctic Monkeys have a similar kind of shtick going on; they constantly play around with the standard verse-chorus form, often throwing in jokes as well.

From the Ritz to the Rubble

This song has no first verse; the introduction runs long, and then transitions straight to the chorus. The next part, beginning with the words, “This town’s a different town today,” might be what the first verse would have sounded like if it hadn’t been overridden by the introduction, but that’s just conjecture. Then after the second chorus, what sounds like the bridge suddenly transitions into an outro, and the song is over. So our traditional verse-chorus form is cut off unexpectedly at both ends. It seems like they were experimenting with beginnings and endings in this one.

Still Take You Home

This song starts with a short, distinctive introductory motif before jumping into the first verse. The verses aren’t particularly unusual, but the chorus has a moment (between the words “So what do you know?” and “You know nothing”) where it slows down noticeably.

After the second chorus, we finally find out the purpose of all that slowing down: it prepares us for the bridge, where the song changes tempo and style to the point of almost sounding like a different genre.

Then as the bridge is ending, the introductory motif is played again. This part kind of reminds me of the first movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata, where the introduction is repeated before the development (basically the Classical version of the bridge) and again in the conclusion.

After the bridge, the chorus is repeated again. This is just like the conventional form. But then after the chorus, the song ends with one last verse! =O

So we have a genre change during the bridge, and then the song ends with a verse. I’d hesitate to call it “unprecedented”–there’s always someone somewhere who’s thought of something before you did–but this kind of structural tweaking is definitely rare, to put it mildly.

You Probably Couldn’t See for the Lights, but You Were Staring Straight At Me

This one also has some funky formal stuff going on. Although there are two fairly obvious verses, there’s no clearly marked chorus or bridge; there is one part that sounds like a chorus, beginning with the words “so tense, never tenser,” but it never gets repeated. The song also introduces some new melodies before ending abruptly.

But what I find really interesting is the way this song handles voicing.

We first hear the main melody of the verses played by the guitar during the introduction. This is then picked up by the backup singers, before the lead singer picks it up. Then for the rest of the first verse, the backup singers and lead singer keep throwing the melody back and forth. (The lead singer sings the second verse alone, though.)

Passing melodies between voices was actually one of Haydn’s favorite tricks. The first example that comes to my mind is the very beginning of the first movement of his string quartet op. 33 no. 1.

(Don’t feel obliged to listen to the whole thing, all the stuff I refer to happens in the first 10 seconds or so)

The melody starts out in the first violin. Then after the first cadence (0:07 in the video), the cello picks up the melody, and the violins switch to accompaniment. But then before you quite notice it, suddenly the first violin has taken the melody back and the cello has switched back to accompaniment (at about 0:10). Of course, this is much more subtle, though.

And then–going back to “You Probably Couldn’t See for the Lights”–there’s the accompaniment during the verses. The Classical period was partly a reaction against the Baroque penchant for multiple melodies, so Classical pieces generally have one clear dominant melody. However, Classical composers (including Haydn, of course) did like to form their accompaniments from the same motifs as the main melody, so that when you heard them together it sounded like there were multiple melodies going on even though there was only one. This was so distinctive of the Classical style that even during the Romantic period, when composers wrote in sonata form they made sure to use this trick. And in this song, throughout both the verses, the guitar is constantly repeating an accompaniment figure that begins with the same notes as the main verse melody. They do pretty much the same thing as well throughout the aforementioned chorus-ish part on the words “so tense” etc. So the Arctic Monkeys have here replicated one of the quintessential techniques of the Classical period, pretty much to the letter.

So that’s why I like to think of these guys as the modern rock version of Haydn; they have that same love of experimentation with form.

Oh, and lastly, the Arctic Monkeys’ sense of humor is pretty well known, but here’s one example just for completeness:

Just a Few Kagerou Project Song Translations

I first found out about the Kagerou Project through the anime, Mekakucity Actors. Like I usually do, I decided to watch it just based on the thumbnail picture on Hulu:

Mekakucity Actors

I saw that thumbnail and, if I remember right, thought something along the lines of: “Well, what’s that girl so happy about? And what’s up with those blue lines on her cheeks?” So I got curious and watched it. And that’s basically how I got into the Kagerou Project. A lot of the anime I’ve watched, I got curious about for stupid reasons like that. Like the reason I got into A Certain Magical Index was because I saw the thumbnail on the Funimation website and thought, “What the heck kind of a title is that?!” (Well, technically I saw the title of A Certain Scientific Railgun first, but it’s the same idea.)

After seeing Mekakucity Actors, I tried looking it up on Wikipedia and found out that it’s actually part of this whole multimedia project called the Kagerou Project, which consists of a bunch of music and novels and manga as well as an anime. I thought it just sounded like a lame money-making scheme, so I didn’t bother looking into it any further. But then just a few weeks ago, out of curiosity I tried looking up the songs and actually ended up liking them a lot and buying both the albums. It’s funny because it seems like Jin (the guy who wrote the story and music for the Kagerou Project) wrote exactly the kind of music I like: most of his songs are fast-paced and in a minor key, with plenty of electronic sounds and dissonance; then there are some happy, bouncy songs, a disco-ish song, and a few relaxed songs with nice melodies. They sound earnest, but not sentimental.

Anyways, I just felt like translating a few of my favorite songs in the Project, specifically, “Toumei Answer,” the aforementioned disco-ish song; “Jinzou Enemy” representing the minor key electronics-heavy category; and “Yuukei Yesterday” representing the happy, bouncy category. Of course, there are tons of translations out there already, so if you don’t like mine, go ahead and find another one. Go ahead. See if I care.

I tried to translate literally where possible and non-awkward, but of course, there were plenty of places where I picked less literal, more elegant phrasings. When the lines were cryptic, I translated them cryptically rather than trying to interpret them. Like in “Toumei Answer,” there’s a part where a textbook, uh, talks. And another part where the narrator talks to his alarm. And the grammar doesn’t leave any other interpretation open. So I just left those parts as-is rather than try to layer some interpretation over it. I also generally tried to make my phrasing sound relatively colloquial.

I marked verses and choruses, but Japanese songs always blur the line between verse and chorus; what feels like the chorus never has exactly the same words each time around, and what feel like verses often have recurring phrases. The second verse is also often musically tweaked compared to the first verse.

Toumei Answer

(Verse 1)
In this not exactly dizzyingly fast
daily routine,
as if floating in it, I sit down in my seat again and again.

“So how’d you do?”
Again, as if testing me,
the textbook with no numbers in it says something.

(Aa-aah…)

If you’re asking about my test results,
well, I guess they’re on the good side.
I’d gotten a piece of recycled paper with a 100% on it.

In the next seat over,
laughing sheepishly,
you sit down; your score had been short on digits.

The reason I don’t look for anything outside the window
is because the answer always comes up right away.

“In that case, well, that’s just boring!”
You always look like you’re having fun.

(Chorus 1)
Don’t touch my heart that wants to disappear anymore.
I don’t see any earth or anything anywhere I look today either.
All alone I’m telling the alarm that went off,
“I’m such a cold guy, aren’t I.”

At this point, even if we checked our answers together as if it were a wonder,
for some reason I would understand everything through and through.
So it seems stupid even to whisper,
“Even if I died right now someone else would take my place.”

(Verse 2)
The days that seemed like they were floating
keep on repeating.
But to think you wouldn’t come to school… I feel some uneasiness.

Well, in any case
the test that comes back tomorrow
probably won’t be getting any better either, huh.

(Aa-aah…)

In that not exactly dizzyingly fast
daily routine,
something might already have been off.

Your hair’s color,
your smile…
Somebody might not remember them anymore.

I wonder, how do things look
from that empty seat on the inside of the window?

It seemed like I knew you,
but I didn’t understand a thing.

(Chorus 2)
Every time I stop my alarm I’m forced to notice
that those days that seemed like they would continue forever
if I had only understood even a little
are gone.

In the classroom you were laughing as a disguise again and again
while wounding your heart that wanted to disappear.
Now you’ve jumped down from here and gone away.
But I won’t forget your smile tomorrow either.

Jinzou Enemy

(Verse 1)
“There’s no point repeating a routine that has no dream in it anymore.”
Well, now isn’t that sublime.
You, too, say “I love the unreal” or some such thing with your finger,
though with your mouth you can’t say anything.

I can feel that “something” that connects people that have no face or voice.
I’m sure it isn’t love, though.
And so today, another day ends, but
you just pretend to live, pretend, pretend, and then go to bed.

Though you try saying, “Ah, so boring” and turning your eyes away,–
but you can’t close them–
Say, for someone who doesn’t acknowledge that at all,
today again you’re looking at me inside this screen with quite an unpleasant expression.

(Chorus 1)
I’m sure you know that that isn’t the best choice.
Wallowing in this withered, dark routine must be smothering, right?
If you don’t understand what a reality that isn’t a lie is,
then how about living with me in a world created by people?

(Verse 2)
There’s no point being in the kind of place that would deny you, is there?
Just say “no” to everything else and look at nothing but me.

Though you try saying “Ah, sublime isn’t it” and clapping your hands,
everything is a lie, and outside it’s littered with trash.
Say, after you’ve buried yourself in all of that so much that it hurts,
why are you looking at me out of the corner of your eye, wearing a cold expression?

(Chorus 2)
I’m sure you know too that that isn’t the best choice.
What lies beyond that is a bottomless loneliness.
In the room where you were repeating this routine that no light reached,
the noise of me starting to fall apart resounds.

To my shout of, “I don’t understand this at all,”
you replied, “I’m bored of this toy that does nothing but blabber.”

Yuukei Yesterday

This one came out a little rough around the edges. The words in the original Japanese have way more syllables, so a lot of the lines that sound rhythmically complete in the Japanese sound short and blunt in English. The original Japanese also has a lot of stammering in the choruses–e.g., instead of “mitsuketa taiyou niramitsukete,” they say, “mitsuketa-ta-ta-ta-taiyou niramitsukete”. I thought of writing out the stammering in the translation, but it looked kind of weird–the verses are all normal text, and then all of a sudden you get to the chorus and see, “I g-g-g-g-glare at the sun that I found.” So I took that out. Just know that when you hear the stammering in the Japanese, that’s the chorus. Try filling in your own stammering as you read the English if you want. Anyways…

(Verse 1)
The faces of people horsing around happily
bathing in the sunlight pouring down–
I cut across while glaring at them all
the morning after pulling an all-nighter.

Past all the people who dodge my frustrated, depressed eyes,
stands that guy, saying “Good morning!”
with his long bedhead
standing up.

Before I notice, I get the feeling our eyes have met.
I’m not interested in any sappy love or whatever.
But why could it be? I can’t look him in the face.
No, that has nothing to do with it, I mean… Augh, so frustrating!

(Chorus 1)
I glare at the sun that I found.
Though I try to put a lid on my beating heart,
I can’t push down this emotion–so uncomfortable
What can it be? Such a weird feeling.

Whoa, whoa, whoa–My attitude shows up on my face.
I get mysteriously tense and my voice cracks.
I don’t get this situation anymore! It makes me so mad!
You know, I’m kind of an idiot.

(Verse 2)
Today the classroom is quiet again. I yawn.
Alone with him at a table by the window,
I can’t help feeling self-conscious,
even as I listen to the radio acting bored.

Standing up, I let down my guard
and let my secret out into the open.
The headphones I had been pretending to listen to
had never been plugged in anywhere to begin with.

“As time passed, I feel like I must have forgotten;
that must be it!” (A bit stubborn, maybe.)
But why…? I can’t get the words out of my mouth.
I get frustrated, but not a word comes out.

(Chorus 2)
I decide, “I’ll get it across with my behavior.”
Closing words off, I spun my wheels again today.
You know, if this went on that wouldn’t be too bad…
Pretty lukewarm, huh.

Whoa, whoa, whoa–“You seem like you’re in a good mood today!”
“Don’t you see I’m mad?!” I pinch his face.
I can’t stand that dense attitude of yours.
What’ll I do? Today’s already going to end.

One more time!–I glare at the sun that I found.
“Wait, don’t set yet!” I take a deep breath.
My pounding heart hurts.
This is kind of a bizarre feeling.

“I want to get it across!” I break out running.
I don’t get this feeling anymore; it feels like I’m going to explode,
because before the sun goes down,
somehow, I want to get it across.

Do something, God!

(Pa-ra-ra-ra, pa-ra-ra-ra-ra….)


 

I used to think that music should be able to stand on its own, and music that goes with a story is somehow not as good as stand-alone music. But the Kagerou Project has made me rethink that. When I was first listening through the songs on the Mekakucity Days album, I didn’t really like “Toumei Answer” all that much. I mean, the disco-ish-ness was kinda cool, but it didn’t really stand out. Then I watched the video and found out what the song was about, and all of a sudden it was 100 times more interesting. Similarly with “Jinzou Enemy.”