Episode 016: Liberty Leading the People
In which we discuss revolution, primal screaming, and happy mistakes.
Like so many others, the concept of “liberty” has been on my mind a lot recently. “Justice” too.
This goes beyond the last few words of the Pledge of Allegiance, of course.
I really wanted to find a painting that would inspire me to write a piece about liberty. So down the internet rabbit hole I went…and rediscovered the awe-inspiring Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget things you’ve known about forever. But then there is the experience of rediscovery. It really struck me seeing this painting again, through the lens of my life today.
This beat has not one, but two great examples of mistakes that end up better than anything I could come up with intentionally.
I was struggling to invent some sort of militaristic-sounding rhythm for the breakdown and the out. Must have spent a couple of hours trying new beats, combinations of drums and patterns, recording things live in my office, using different sample sets. It all sounded rubbish. Whenever I'm trying to do something on purpose it just doesn’t come out right.
Then I inadvertently dragged the drum part to a track with a raggedy acoustic guitar patch on it. I hit play without realizing what had happened, and the drum pattern started playing on the acoustic guitar sound. I think I said something like “what the heck is that, that's perfect, that's it, what is that?!?”
I truly didn't know what was happening. But once i got my bearings, I loved it, and it ended up unchanged in the breakdown and the out!
Second, I wanted the Lady to speak. Problems: 1) these beats have no lyrics; 2) I find that using chopped-up samples of singers usually sounds cheesy.
I thought, “what would she be saying?” Then I decided she would just be yelling. She would just be screaming at the top of her lungs to try to urge these people forward through the Revolution.
In an earlier iteration, there were some background oohs and ahhs happening, trying to get a vibe. Something I ended up not using at all. Then, again by accident, I had flipped one of the samples of the woman's voice backward, and it was just in the right place leading into one of the drops where it simply sounded like somebody yelling. Just a Primal Scream. I added some effects on it and et voilà. Perfect.
Mistakes can be beautiful.
A lot to take in here. Lady Liberty practically jumping out of the painting. Marchers climbing over mounds of dead. People with weapons. So much to cut cut cut down into a simplified geographical representation. This reduction only had room for the flag, the lady, and the two guys with guns.
Did you know that Lady Liberty has a name? Marianne. [Also my mother-in-law’s name.] Since the French Revolution, she has personified the French Republic. [Lady Liberty, not my wife’s mom – although she’s pretty powerful too.)
Speaking of names, I wish I knew who was in the Top Hat. Dumas kiboshed the thought that it’s the artist himself, but I put a little bit of me in every beat, so why not Delacroix in this painting?
Coldplay used this painting on an album cover.
And finally, it’s what Victor Hugo may have based Les Misérables on, which is fantastic.
Back to accidental discoveries. How about this list:
Amazing what the human brain can inadvertently discover while looking for something else.
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and top hats], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.