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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Sky Is Bust - Elmer Bernstein v Blackalicious

Sky Is Bust by IronicHide

Elmer Bernstein  'Ghostbusters (Main Title Theme)' vs Blackalicious 'Sky Is Falling'

Written by Elmer Bernstein, Tim Parker, Xavier Mosley

Arranged by IronicHide

© MCA 2002, Arista 1984

Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

This one was made up in a bedroom, underneath a bunk bed no less, in Brentford. It's still one of my earliest finished projects and it'll go on my first compilation of blessed efforts.

I had got stuck in to - and consequently got stuck while making - a mashup concept album (time of writing: 10/14 complete) and was still wondering what to do with those early orphaned tunes, including Burning Over and the electro-jazz-minimal track that now has legal complications.

So I gave myself the morning off to do something unrelated to anything else. It was sunny outside. Or maybe that's only how we shall remember it.

I love Blackalicious. Seriously, Wu Tang, Beasties, MC Hammer, John Barnes, they can all move back one space, Blackalicious are winning at IronicHide's Favouritist Hip Hoppers.

I had a bunch of bits from their Black Arrow album lying around, more spoils from my time at Universal, and wanted to graft them to something upbeat, something that reminded me of childhood.

Ray Parker Jr's Ghostbusters track is everywhere. An ubiquity. A musical gratuity. It's no longer a tune of childhood, it's a tune on an advert so annoying I think I'm going to cry blood every time I hear it.

Now, musical gratuity, as you well know, squirt, is an admirable thing to me. The shame is that there are ten numbers on the Ghostbusters soundtrack and approximately nine of them are better than Parker Jr's track. Including the instrumental version of it.

Elmer Benstein's Main Title Theme (which isn't used in the main title at all, I always remember it from the hotel sequence) has three things going for it: Firstly, it is fun (see the import of which, above), in a nostalgic and (mandatory low-note tuba oompahpah) rollicking way. Secondly, it has a count in at the start (from the tuba) which helps me to time and sequence everything else. Thirdly, under Bernstein's baton, the orchestra really have the rythm of a metronome.

Aside from mucking around with that count in, Bernstein's track is exactly as-is (although sped up an iddy biddy bit), with all the Blackalicious stuff built around it.

The beat, like the acapella, is from Sky Is Falling, taken from the first clear two bars I could find without any strings or bass, recut and rearranged pretty much by hand (by eye, ear and mouse, specifically, yes). Check the stuttering quarter-notes I hit with the bass drum around two minutes, kinda proud of that one.

Dropping the beat out at various points was an experiment at first to see if there were a few muscial phrases I liked and could highlight. I did and I liked it.

So, the beat was stuck to the orchestration. Just had to overlay the acapella rap. Sped it up, didn't fit, slowed it down, didn't work, halfway between the two, didn't work. Got fed up. Started lining up individual bars alongside the music. Better. Made a note to myself not to approach these things half-assed and presuming that everything will work automatically.

The chorus, though, lined up perfectly, first time, and comes in at (what I think of as) the start of the eighth bar, rather than any other, because it's (more) in tune. Again, I chopped it around a bit - listen out for the "Plum-Plum-Plummeting" refrain - I kinda like that, too.

This was all back in 2008, under that bunk bed on what I remember as a sunny morning (the track was actually made over a week or so). I gave the track a touch up in 2011, swapping around the channel arrangements (the chorus and second verses are in stereo, the rest mono).

I still wasn't happy with the way Gift of Gab's rhymes sat in certain places - listen, to the track, there are certainly a few off-beat emphasises in his cadence - so went back to the solution I had with first putting the beat to the music - dropping the beat out at key points. If I had managed to derail Gab's flow from the beat that it was made for, I'd figure it could ride on Bernstein's strings.

The alternative would be editing the acapella syllable-by-syllable (something I have done on other tracks when needed) and, well, I neither like giving myself work or interrupting what I think of as two organic pieces of music stuck together (as compared to most of my work whereby one piece will always be machine-built music).

So, to date, my shortest mashup and Mrs IronicHide's favourite. Coincidence? I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.

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