Sunday, November 6, 2016

Brad Osborn's "Everything in its Right Place"

Brad Osborn is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Kansas. His articles on Radiohead and other recent rock music are published in Music Theory Spectrum, Perspectives of New Music, Music Analysis, Music Theory Online, Gamut, and in several edited collections. Osborn writes and records atmospheric rock music under the artist moniker, D'Archipelago.

Osborn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The through-composed form [of “Fitter Happier”] provides the structure for a seemingly benevolent set of instructions near the beginning of the track to malfunction and derail toward apocalyptic prophecies including nuclear winter and horrific factory farming practices. Similarly, in “2+2=5” (2003–1, 1:54) the seam between the B and C sections results from the cooperation of timbre, harmony, and rhythm. The heavily distorted electric guitar playing power chords in 4⁄4 time—conventional timbres, harmonies, and rhythms which have not yet been heard in the track—instantly affords rock for the first time on the album, and perhaps even grunge for the first time since OK Computer.
My book examines four parameters in Radiohead’s music (form, rhythm, timbre, harmony), and argues that the ways in which they structure these musical facets activates a “sweet spot” just between expectation and surprise in our perceptual senses. Though I give each of these four parameters a sovereign chapter, it becomes clear that, especially in Radiohead’s music, these parameters are all interrelated and interdependent.

This excerpt, for example, comes from the “timbre” chapter, which analyzes not only all of the different instruments Radiohead uses, but the different ways that those instruments and voices are deformed through digital and analog effects. But our perception of timbre is heavily influenced by song form. Both “Fitter, Happier” (1997) and “2+2=5” (2003) have a pretty rare formal design called “through-composed.” Quite the opposite of your standard verse/chorus or strophic forms, which repeat sections several times, these constantly evolving forms are more psychologically taxing to process because they essentially contain 3–4 times more information.

Luckily, we don’t process bits of information as discrete chunks (talk about information overload!). Instead, we make sense of musical stimuli in terms of larger gestalt patterns. Therefore, our perception of rock and grunge timbres—which are pretty rare things for Radiohead just after Kid A/Amnesiac—relies just as much on the form, harmony, and rhythm with which those timbres are presented.
Learn more about Everything in its Right Place at the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue