Episode 15: Amarok by Mike Oldfield

Our takes

The Inspiration: Amarok by Mike Oldfield

Mike Oldfield holding up a copy of Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield Documentary

The original idea for this episode came from a discussion in the office about Mike Oldfield. Ray had watched a BBC documentary about him.  I think it may have been Ian who then told the story about how Mike had hidden a message for record company boss Richard Branson in his Amarok piece. His chosen method of encryption was morse code and his message told ‘RB’ where to go in no uncertain terms.

Inpsector Morse OST CD
Inpsector Morse OST CD

That was all it took to plant the seed.  An episode inspired by offensive morse code was born.  On googling morse code music it became clear that, Barrington Pheloung, the composer behind the theme music of the hit TV series Inspector Morse had also excelled in this area. In fact sometimes he gave away the name of the killer in the opening credits without any viewers noticing.

Frosty 1973’s take

Compared with the some previous episodes a plan for this one came together pretty quickly.  I thought I’d turn the idea on its head.  Write some lyrics in morse code and use this as the basis and rhythm of the entire song and then tell a few people where to go in plain English (using acronyms).

International Morse Code
International Morse Code

I found quite a few morse code translators online. Some of them output morse code in a midi file so this gave me a route into my chosen music software, Propellerheads Reason.

It was then simply a case of moving the notes to the appropriate notes on the sequencer for the chosen instrument set and embellishing it with a bit of spoken word.  I gave myself the restriction that all notes had to start on a dot or a dash.

Around the time I was completing the piece Theresa May was conducting her robotic strong and stable campaign so she made it in there.

Frank Zappa's Warning/Guarantee
Frank Zappa’s Warning/Guarantee

The swearing appears towards the end so this episode should really come with a parental warning sticker.  My preferred guidance sticker (above) comes from Frank Zappa. He waged along campaign against the censorship/rating of music/lyrics in the US in the 1980’s.  If you haven’t seen his appearance on US TV series Crossfire it’s worth a watch.


The Parsnip’s Take

Morse code. Rhythmic patterns. Bit of obfuscated profanity. Seems simple enough. What could possibly go wrong?
Originally, I thought Frosty1973’s idea was to do do a version of the classic Inspector Morse theme which would have been good as I like Denis Waterman but he explained it was something about Mike Oldfield swearing in Portsmouth because the Virgin record shops didn’t have his record in stock. That or Terry Wogan’s cryptic hand gestures in The Floral Dance. One of the two. I always get them confused. Anyroad…

The concept

Firstly, I had to come up with the concept and it wasn’t easy.
Using the definitive reference work on the topic:
Picked a random phrase. Let’s get it musical!
Not working out as well as I expected. Having trouble fitting it into the track in any musical manner. Far too long so I picked another phrase.

The music

Morse code.
I fed the word(s) into a morse code translator to get the ‘morsed’ version then transcribed the pattern to midi notes with dot = 1/16 and dash = 1/8. Coupled with a morse code sounding patch, it was the business.
The beat
I’ve been rattling through the Reason Super Neat Beat Cheet Sheet tutorial videos on YouTube. They are well worth a look for tips and tricks. Having just run through the
Liquid Drum n’ Bass tutorial I had a drum beat to work with.
Laying on the morse, it became rapidly apparent that it was rhythmically horrible so I time stretched (doubled) it to fit better with the drums.
Layering up drums sounds for kick and snare, as per the tutorial, is a nice idea but with parallel channels as well it was harder to bus everything together to sidechain the master bus compressor as I usually do and without that the drums didn’t really cut through the mix so I think I’ll stick to my traditional simpler approach in future.
The track
It’s the usual pattern. Start with the morse to let folk know what core I’m building from. Drums! Public service notice. Bass slides in. Filters all over the place as usual. A bit of busy arp to keep everything twitchy. Interplay with the morse. That’s the up now let’s drop down. Filter everything back to the morse again.
The morse on it’s own was a bit samey so I gated a swirly pad in time with the morse notes by muting a Selig Gain and filtered that in to replace the morse for the build up.
Filter in the bass and other pads. Build a bit more…then…
Come back with the drums. Another metallic arp on top for a bit of sizzle. The synth lead appears. Wobbly notes agogo. The style of the solo is inspired by a musical hero, Tony Soper.
tony soper
The wobbly notes and parp, parp, parp of the theme tune to Wildtrack (or, more obscurely, as Florida Fantasy as film geeks might know it from Midnight Cowboy) has had a big influence throughout my musical and, indeed, conservational career. Especially the parp. I can’t find the real titles to the TV programme but someone on YouTube has done a mock up, although they’ve not got his name right.
Tasteful bit of vox. Crescendo. And relax.
Filter everything back down (or up) until only the morse remains. Appearing from the echoes the vanilla morse signs off. Doo doooo doooo doo.

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