You want to be complex and clever, but sometimes you can outsmart yourself.Lindsay Graham, composer and creator “1865” audio drama by Airship FM / Wondery
Join Lindsay Graham, showrunner and composer for audio drama 1865 in a historical soundtrack to the story following President Lincoln’s death. An immersive listening experience. Headphones recommended.
The piece of music we’re listening to in the background is the outro theme music from the historical audio drama 1865. Today, we’ll break it down and get into why and how it was made. You’re listening to How I Make Music, where the musicians of audio drama get to tell their own stories. This show will break apart a song soundtrack or composition and investigate the insights into how it was made. My name is Lindsay Graham. I’m a composer, sound designer and podcast host and producer from the United States. And this is How I Make Music. Welcome back to How I Make Music, “1865”, by me, Lindsay Graham, thanks for listening in. “1865” is a historical audio drama that tells the story of the aftermath of President Lincoln’s assassination. The protagonist is largely forgotten in American history. He was the Secretary of War at the time. He really rose to the occasion, and tried to put the country back together in this fraught period of American history that still reverberates today.
When I was thinking about a civil war themed show, you immediately think of the Ken Burns documentary and those in those fiddles. And while violin is the lead instrument, I wanted the rest of the score to sound nothing like what you would expect a civil war documentary to sound like. And I was inspired by Cliff Martinez. His score for The Knick, their use of modern dark synthesizers was really not something you would expect. Conflict. Tenseness. So I wanted to borrow that methodology. I think what was striking about Cliff Martinez’s score was how anachronistic he was. He just went very far in the direction that he sought. And I think you can hear that. At the same time, I also wanted to nod to the era and and so there’s a recording of an old song Shenandoah by Bill Frisell that, that – I really enjoy Bill Frisell in general – I enjoy and it speaks to, you know, kind of a very Americana feel to it. It’s got a lot of open, wide intervals in it. And that’s where my head was when I started writing this and so it went in that direction. I wrote this as I do most things on guitar first. Starting on the guitar keeps me honest, I suppose. And it’s where I feel most helpful. trouble.
Harmony usually comes to me first before melody although one can lead to the other. Like I mentioned, I wanted a synthesized sound. You spend hours and hours auditioning sounds and sometimes you create some. I did want to bring period acoustic instruments into it, but mangle them. They’re time-stretched and distorted but it’s violin and acoustic guitar and mandolin. Take a listen.
6:17 OUT OF TIME
I had gone too far with a modern synthesizer sound became too close to a Stranger Things kind of feel. So I needed to back off and do something else lest I be compared to this very popular thing. And it wasn’t the right feel, anyways.
6:55 PEDAL TONE
In this instance though, I can pose the entire thing over a low A pedal tone. And the song is mostly in D. But it felt too static this time. And so I was surprised when I moved away from the low pedal tone to a more standard base that followed the harmony that had suddenly opened up a great deal. I remember the shift from you know, there’s a B flat chord and the A underneath a B flat chord was just not working. Once I went to a regular harmony, then then it just opened up and felt a lot better. You want to be complex and clever, but sometimes you can outsmart yourself. Pedal tone or drone. The name comes from the organ when the lower register is played with your feet on pedals. And so oftentimes in organ music, an organist will just plant their left foot on a very low octave note and hold it even though the harmony above it moves. And it has a routing effect. And, you can reverse it and have a high pedal tone, which you will hear very often in orchestral music with a high string note. And it also does the same thing it keeps it in place. Even though things are changing.
Period pieces like 1865 usually use historical music and hear the violin is the lead voice. Everything else though, is aggressively synthesized. The violinist in this case was Becky Howard, a good friend of mine. We recorded her just playing long waves of notes, single notes that I recorded and sampled. And that allowed me to manipulate her – the same violin that’s in the lead instrument – into a much different beast. A synthesized, distorted mangled sound that nonetheless is not a synthesizer. It’s not a circuit-derived sound. It has all the organic noise of a real acoustic instrument, even though it’s not recognizable anymore. Maybe that comes across, even though you wouldn’t know it.
The tempo that I chose was deliberate to also provide uncertainty intention. The arrangement, especially those synthesizers could be counted off pretty fast. While the violin the melody is very slow, it feels halftime. This is deliberate. I chose 65 or 130, depending on how you count it. And that simultaneous feeling of fast and slow, I think really does a good job of achieving the uncertainty intention that I was looking for.
12:14 PASTORAL MUSIC
So this being an American story about American history, you can’t go too far without thinking about American classical music. And Aaron Copeland is certainly probably the king there, at least the progenitor. One of the things that makes American pastoral music like Copeland’s sound the way it does, is the use of wide intervals. These are notes that are far away from each other. If you take a listen to just the first few notes in the melody, you will hear a very open wide sound. They’re almost all fourths and fifths. When you think of a symphony, tuning up, you’re hearing a bunch of fourths and fifths altogether. These intervals are often heard in this type of music. But when the melody leaps like this, between these large intervals, it has a call-to-action feel. Any sort of heroic music will usually use one of these intervals, probably on a brass instrument.
That’s about it. For this week’s episode, we’ll listen to the full track in just a moment. But before we do that, thank you for listening to How I Make Music. Catch new episodes on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else. We’ve been listening to music featured in the audio drama called “1865”. Be sure to catch season two, which comes out this month, April 2021. To hear the full story or to check out my other compositions, follow the links in the show notes. We video recorded the making of this episode, check it out and support the show by becoming a patron at Patreon.com/howimakemusic. How I make music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, contact John Bartmann via the show notes. And now here’s the theme from 1865 in its entirety. My name is Lindsay Graham, and thanks for listening to How I Make Music. We’ll catch you next time.
Bill Frisell – Shenandoah
Cliff Martinez – Son of Placenta Previa (from “The Knick”)
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How I Make Music is where audio drama composers get to tell their own stories. In a dramatically edited sound experience, we challenge composers to break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and get into why and how it was made.
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How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, visit johnbartmann.com