Monday, June 1, 2015

Song Structure workshop - Delerium's "Silence" (original)

As discussed in my previous post, I'm going to be looking at the song structure of various remixes of Delerium's "Silence".   First, though, let's see what's going on in the original:

Future posts will analyze remixes of this track using both Verse-Chorus and EDM structures, but I think the original song is a purely Verse-Chorus arrangement, so I'm only looking at it from that perspective in this post.

This is what the song's waveform looks like in my DAW, overlayed with different colors to map out the song's components:

At the high level, its is a pretty standard Verse-Chorus arrangement:

Intro - Verse - Verse - Chorus - Break - Verse - Chorus - Outro

Let's look more closely at each section, and how they fit together:

Intro (32) - 0:00
The Intro is divided into four distinct sections, each eight bars in length.  The melodic element and focal point is a set of Gregorian chant samples.  They're present throughout, but different specific samples are used in each section (well, almost...the second and fourth sections use the same sample).  Drums enter in the second section, and synths in the third, escalating the energy can see things building up just by looking at the waveform.*  There's a pretty dramatic drum fill into the final eight, where the bass drops in and we establish the groove (drum and bass lines) that will be used throughout the Verses.

*Don't put too much stock in visual representations of sound.  I point it out in this case because the visual happens to match up pretty well with escalating energy level of the music, but there are many ways music's energy level, mood, vibe, emotional content, etc., can change without showing up on a waveform.

Verse(16) + Pre-Chorus(8) - 1:23
The Verses are pretty standard, structurally.  They groove, but they're not too high-energy and there doesn't seem to be much of a chord progression (it sits on A minor), so the song has plenty of room to build.

The eight bar sequence that follows the Verses, though (the "Heaven holds a sense of wonder" section) is far more ambiguous.  It has a significantly different and higher energy vibe than the Verse.  Strings enter, the bass changes, the vocal line is different.  A chord progression (changing chords every two bars) kicks in.

If you were to remove the actual Chorus from the song, this part would be the Chorus.  This isn't idle speculation...I tried cutting the Choruses out in my DAW, and the song still works.  I can't post the results without getting into copyright violations, but many remixers seem to have come to the same conclusion, so when we look at those remixes in future posts you'll see what I mean.

In any case, Delerium did add a separate Chorus, and this isn't it.  So, this section must be playing some other role.  It shows up after each Verse, but doesn't always go into a Chorus...the first time, it goes back into the...

Verse(16) + Pre-Chorus(8) - 2:22
Are these eight bars a Ramp, because they don't always go into the chorus?  Or are they indeed a Pre-Chorus, and the song is intentionally teasing us by making us think we're going into the Chorus, then jumping back to the lower-energy Verse?  Taking this line of thought any further would just be playing with terminology, and isn't likely to give any real insight.  I've decided to call it a "Pre-Chorus" because it has the same lyrics each time, but "Ramp" would be just as appropriate. 

Chorus(8) - 3:20
The energy ramps up more; the melody is higher, the pads are thicker, there are new rhythmic elements, and there are chord changes twice as often (every bar). 

Break(16) - 3:40
The energy comes back down considerably, which is a common trait of Breaks in both Verse-Chorus and EDM structure.  I assume "Break" comes from phrase "taking a break," because that's certainly what this feels like...taking a break from the emotional intensity of the song.

The first half of this Break is actually identical to the last eight bars of the Intro.  The groove continues through the second half, but the chant is replaced by an acoustic guitar solo.  The guitar has been present throughout the song, but until now it's felt like a supporting element.  For the last two beats, the bass drops out and we have a drum fill, which leads into a third...

Verse(16) + Pre-Chorus(8) - 4:20
That fill may seem to be of pretty minor importance when considered in isolation, but I think its impact on how we experience the song is significant.  Though the groove in the Break and Verse are identical, the Break feels like a moment of calm to reflect on the first half of the song, while the fill into the next Verse feels like the beginning of a new journey.  It's as is the song were two sentences, and this is the period separating them.

Chorus(16) - 5:19
The first Chorus was 8 bars long, but this one is 16.  You could say that this is a double chorus, which is something you encounter very frequently at the end of Verse-Chorus songs.  Or, you could say the first Chorus was really a half-Chorus, and we're only hearing the full version now.  The lyrics are slightly different in the second half of this one, but I'm not really sure whether that's a strong argument for either interpretation.  Like the "Is it a Pre-Chorus or what?" topic, I don't think it really matters what you call it.  What does matter is that it's musically interesting to listen to for a full 16 bars, and I certainly think it is.

This choice really rewards repeat listens; Once you're sufficiently familiar with the song that you know the Chorus sometimes lasts a full 16 bars, the producers' decision to only let the first Chorus last for 8 leaves the listener feeling like there's room to grow, building expectation for the second half of the song.  This is an echo of the songwriting technique they used in going from the first Pre-Chorus right into the second Verse, rather than giving us the Chorus at that point.

But, really, you don't have to be familiar with this song in particular to experience this...general familiarity with Verse-Chorus structure on a subconscious level, which you've inevitably developed from hearing songs throughout your life, primes you with these expectations.

Outro(12...ish?) - 6:17
The second half of the Break (the bit with the acoustic guitar solo) is reprised here.  Finally, the beat drops out and there's a bit of coda...a piano solo using the chord progression from Chorus.  EDM tracks tend to have pretty fairly uniform intros so DJs can beatmatch into the next song, but Verse-Chorus tracks tend not to be written with any such restrictive considerations.  So, you see a lot of variety in Verse-Chorus outros.  Most often, as in this case, they bring the energy level back down, and provide a sense of closure. 

Assorted closing thoughts...
  • The times I've listed are from my DAW.  They ought to be pretty close to any version of this track, but they might not be precisely the same as in the video I linked, or your mp3, CD, etc.
  • This song came out near the peak of Gregorian Chant's moment in pop culture...I actually started an essay on this subject nearly a decade ago.  Maybe I'll go ahead and finish it soon, and post it to this blog...
  • I've never been able to make out the first words of the chorus...the internet tells me they're "In this white wave."  Who knew?
  • The structure of the Intro resembles a Break-Buildup-Drop in microcosm.  Tension and release is really a pretty fundamental concept throughout music in general, so this isn't too surprising.  You could probably view the Verse-Chorus and EDM song structures as two slightly different applications of this fundamental principle.

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