Kalimba & Blades
Music,  Song Fu / SpinTunes

Schnipp, Schnapp!

Our new song, for SpinTunes round two, has now hit the net:

I was very pleased with the reviews we received for our first round song, both from the official judges and from others who took the time to review all the songs (quite a task, especially in the early rounds, as we both know from sitting in as judges in the past). Once the whole run is over I will gather them together and include them in a closing post. For now, let’s take a look at the new song. The challenge was:

Music To My Fears – Write a scary song, basically explore the horror genre in music format.

This seems to be right up our street, especially if you consider some of our previous responses to less horrific challenges. In SpinTunes 4 we were challenged to write about a childhood fear and to make a song from body parts and came up with these:

We decided to play it fairly straight this time around and within moments of the challenge being posted, Katharina had an idea. Within a couple of days she had a completed set of lyrics based on a traditional empty threat to children who suck their thumbs. Pair this idea with a chorus in german that sounds like a twisted nursery rhyme and it doesn’t take too much imagination to conjure up images of a Krueger-meets-Scissorhands figure, stalking the shadows, waiting for the moment when the thumb goes into the mouth.

I wanted the music to be fairly understated, so concentrated on finding a simple, but unsettling melody. This was played on the keyboards with a vibraphone sound, while a slightly edited version of the sound was used to distinguish a little between verse and chorus. The most difficult part of this initial process was getting to a pair of tunes that could be played simultaneously, as the last verse and chorus collide. I wanted to bring in some stronger dissonance to increase the feeling of tension, but without losing the uneasy sweetness of the jig rhythm. There was one particular combination of notes that clashed, but the more I tried alternatives, the clearer it became that it was actually the best fit for the song at that point, so there it remained.

Kalimba & BladesWith the melody and vocals recorded, the next task was to add the sound effects and background atmosphere; in this case a set of metal sewing scissors provided a suitable punctuation for the chorus. I then slid a kitchen knife through the strings of the electric guitar, which I retuned to match the key notes of the melody and fed the sound through a delay, filter and reverb. Very gently tapping the knife resulted in some percussive chords that rang out in the distance. This was overlaid with the little korean gong; a single hit at the start of choruses mostly, but occasionally also a longer roll. The third ringing, metallic sound is the kalimba. This was played normally for the plucked counter-melody in the chorus and for the verses was played with the e-bow, providing some wonderfully eerie long notes.

The final touch came from the first appearance of my ‘new’ accordion – a bargain 20 Euros at a flea market over the summer (it really needs a new set of leathers, but is still playable). I haven’t yet got to grips with it, especially the chord section, but was able to come up with a plaintive accompaniment to the chorus, which I think matches the German lyrics to give a bit of a Brothers Grimm atmosphere. Later in the song, it also sneaks into the background in verses as the boy realises he is not alone.

The lyrics originally had a final section with the boy being woken by his alarm, before the ‘schnipp, schnapp’ part of the chorus returned at the very end. I decided to leave this out as, despite giving a last fright to the listener, I felt it had been done quite often before in a previous SpinTunes and it broke into the creepy feeling of the song. However, we did record a last chorus and edited it down to a single line, which appears at the very end of the album (as a hidden track that is only available on the download). In this way, we maintained the long-standing tradition of the monster reappearing at the very end of the show. I was slightly surprised, but delighted, to see that nobody else had this idea!

Here is the full album, with some really creepy songs. More than the normal percentage of metal-ish songs, but also country, lullabies and even a rather dark ‘hymn’: