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In this episode, Carl King examines one film and one song: The Dark Crystal (1982) + Devin Townsend’s “Moonpeople” (2022)
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SHOW NOTES / LINKS
“Friday” Rebecca Black Cover on BandCamp
Hero’s Ship Or Minimum of One Planet Must Explode In First Act
Devin Townsend / Moonpeople
Devin Townsend / Ancient Cassette Demo
Strapping Young Lad / Skeksis
Get The Dark Crystal on BluRay
Get Devin Townsend / Lightwork
I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Podcast, where we learn about music, filmmaking, and the other creative arts. To support this podcast, head over to Patreon.com/carlking, and join for just $1 or $5 per month. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom. Special thank you to my Illusionist $51 level patrons, both Hank Howard III and Chewbode.
Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media.
Now let’s get this episode Beginned!
CARL KING THE HUMAN UPDATE
Two quick CARL KING The Human Updates, and then we will officially get Beginned.
Number 1 – Yesterday, on Monday, I released a prog-metal cover of Friday by Rebecca Black. Remember that song? No? I’ll play a quick snippet of my version right now.
Ok. That’s all you get. To hear the entire song, head over to my Bandcamp page. It’s also coming to all streaming streamers in the coming days or weeks. And that BandCamp link will be in the show notes.
And Number 2 – Last week, on YouTube, I released an Instrumental-only mix of my 46-minute prog-rock composition, “Hero’s Ship or Minimum of One Planet Must Explode In First Act!” That’s from my album Grand Architects of the Universe. As fun as it is to listen to with all of the sci-fi narration, you can now focus on the scales and finger-exercises. So head over to my YouTube channel to give it a listening. YouTube.com/carlkingdom
And now, let’s move on to the Song Analysis of the Week!
SONG: DEVIN TOWNSEND / MOONPEOPLE
This week, we’re going to put on our Music Theory Socks and analyze MOONPEOPLE by Devin Townsend, from his latest album, Lightwork.
Now if you don’t know this one, go and give it a listening. I’ll put a link in the description.
Devin Townsend / Moonpeople
This is a simple, straightforward song. And catchy, too. I’ve gotta say, the moment I heard it, I thought, dang I LIKE that. And it features what I think is his best asset: his voice. The song starts with just a single Devin, and by the end, there’s a whole choir of him.
Mr. Townsend works with a lot of the same basic compositional vocabulary that I do. We’re both major chord oriented, or at least we gravitate towards using a lot of simple triads. Although Devin tends to overlay more occasional extensions like 9 and 11s for added texture. I almost never do. We both modulate a lot, and both use the Lydian mode. He’s also big on b6 scale degree and augmented or whole-tone sounds. And we occasionally throw in some sort of bitonal two superimposed major chords thing.
Now let’s talk about the specifics of Moonpeople. The song stays at 88 bpm all the way through, in the 4/4 time signature.
And it all starts out with a verse in Bb major. Which is a good choice of key. Perfect to accommodate jazzy improvisation.
I have to point out that the first verse is actually two verses – or one verse repeated twice. So I’m going to call this first one VERSE 1A.
The bass guitar is chunking along down there on a Bb note. And Devin implies Bb major with his vocal melody. He starts on the 5th scale degree (F) and walks down to 4 (Eb) and 3 which is a D. He also throws in a 6th scale degree, which is a G. Now, those vocals are entirely diatonic to Bb major. HOWEVER! He reharmonizes the next phrase with a Gb major chord. Singing the notes C and Bb over it.
To refresh your memory, the notes in Gb major are: Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F. 6 FLATS. BUT, he’s singing the notes C and Bb. And in the key of Gb, that C would usually be a Cb. But he RAISES it back to C Natural. So that makes it’s a raised 4th. Music theory nerds: what do you call a major scale with a raised 4th? That’s right, Devin has temporarily modulated from Bb major to Gb LYDIAN.
Also: the distance in the roots between Bb major, and Gb Major, is a minor 6 up (or a major third down). Thus, we have one of the classic sci-fi chord progressions, and a chordal relationship that Devin has all over his music. Two major chords, a major third apart.
And by the way, that Lydian #4 is something you’ll hear everywhere in his songs. He’s been doing that at least as far back as Ocean Machine and Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing. It’s almost like he can’t help hitting #4s and b6s.
Now: anyone else writing this song would probably just keep all the chords in Bb major. That Gb major could have instead been an Eb major, and that would be a IV chord. That would have fit the melody just fine.
But Devin was clever to… early on… throw in that little modulation and say, “This isn’t a normal diatonic song. I’m going to mess with you.”
When working this song out, I noticed there’s a strong melodic similarity here to the Verse of U2s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” When Bow-No sings “Only to be with you.”
Another thing, the bass guitar STAYS on Bb when they go to the Gb major chord. Which means that Bb functions as the THIRD of the Gb major chord. Creating a first inversion. It’s functioning as both a pedal tone creating tension, but it also works as the MAJOR THIRD of the Gb major chord. Since the notes in a Gb major are Gb Bb Db. Nice move. If you keep the same bass note and move the chords around on top, it’s a great way of creating tension. It’s a very John Williams thing. It’s a compositional trick to hold out that static bass note over a whole progression before finally changing it at the last moment and creating impact. You can check out the Indiana Jones theme to see what I mean.
Anyway, Verse 1A is just those two chords, Bb major and Gb major. And it’s 8 bars long.
Now, it continues into VERSE 1B.
He starts with Bb major again. But then he switches to Bb minor. Spooky!
Going from Major to Minor is a little bit ear-bending — but it’s not all that unusual of a trick. Two other examples of this are… Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Strauss. (C Major, C Minor) Which you might know as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And you can also hear it happening in the chorus of Faith No More’s Midlife Crisis. (E Major, D Major, A Major, E MINOR.) Because the second time around they switch to E minor to accommodate that Mike Patton vocal melody on the word “Me, you’re only.”
But back to Moonpeople. Here’s a very common move. Let’s say Bb major is the I chord. Which it is, in this verse. But when we change it to a Bb MINOR, you could think of it as a ii minor chord in the key of Ab major. Because what happens? Devin goes up to Eb major, which is the V chord in Ab major. That works as a ii-V progression. Starting from Bb minor and moving to Eb major, it’s a DORIAN mode sound. Super common thing.
Normally that would be setting up a ii-V-I progression landing on Ab major.
But what’s not so common is, it hangs on that Eb major for THREE BARS. And the drum layers disappear, and we have this magical cloud of Eb major for those 3 bars. That means: VERSE 1B is 7 bars long. That’s right, there’s a bar missing. And that’s good. It creates some subconscious unpredictability.
So even if a song is 4/4 all the way through, it can have an odd number of bars. Add a bar, subtract a bar. Surprises the listener.
After that odd bit of cloudiness, it hits into the big release of the Chorus.
Bit of a strange move, I think — for the Chorus to start on F, a whole step up from the previous chord. But that’s alright. I don’t think it’s the strongest move to make, but it works fine.
Now think the big picture. The Verse is in Bb. And the Chorus is in F. If you were to reduce this song down, that’s a big I-V. Makes sense.
Ok, we’re in the Chorus. And the progression goes F-C-Eb-Bb. All major chords. In roman “numberals,” that’s I – V – bVII – IV. Super common progression used by every punk rock kid, because it’s kind of a square on the guitar neck.
Devin also used it when he was 14 years old, as the basis of the first song on his Ancient Cassette compilation. So he’s been working on this one for… a while.
Devin Townsend / Ancient Cassette Demo
That goes 4 times, a total of 8 bars. Okay than. I will let everyone know.
Then there’s what you can call a Post-Chorus for 4 bars. 2 bars of Bb minor, 2 bars of Bb Major. Notice that here, he reverses the previous major to minor shift. And that B major has some overdubs that give it a Bb Lydian sound.
Then there’s a 4 bar re-intro.
What we can call Verse 2 is 10 bars long. It’s Bb to Gb again. And after 8 bars of that, there are two extra bars of Magical Cloud. At the end, Devin says STOP IT. As if to say, stop getting all mysterious and get back into the song.
And he does.
Chorus 2: F-C-Eb-Bb major chord progression. But it’s a double chorus this time. The orchestration is building up as he goes.
Then from that last Bb major chord of the chorus, we get a sort of Bridge with the heavy guitar and we move to Bb minor. Then Bb Major. Then Bb minor.
Then it’s another cloud of sound effects for 4 bars.
Then we get a much heavier Chorus 3: F-C-Eb-Bb.
Second time through the heavier chorus, there’s a very low blues melody. Under the F major chord, the heavy guitars play the notes Ab – Eb – E – F. Those are the scale degrees b3 – b7 – 7 – 1. And that same time, for that single measure, the drums deviate a little bit from the VERY straight beat from the rest of the song. Which can be disorienting, but if you listen closely it’s still just plain old 4/4 at the same tempo.
Devin is going nuts with the vocal overdubs at this point.
And at the end of that chorus, instead of a Bb, there’s 3 measures on a murky Gb chord, which was used earlier in the verse, a major third away from the Bb. And hey, those were the two chords in the verse. All he did here was swap one for the other.
That Bb chord lasts 4 bars, which extends Chorus 3 out to a total of 18 bars.
For a sort of outro, Devin goes around the little verse idea at the very end, he’s throwing in some heavy guitar notes over the Bb chord. Db (b3), D (3), F (5) which slightly bends down to a b5, and then a Ab (b7).
That outro is 8 bars, but it ends on BEAT 3 of the 8th bar.
As far as the “production” there is a slow and steady constant buildup of overdubs. Pretty interesting to listen to one of the later verses and then immediately listen to Verse 1A. You can hear how much the song had been built up with layers. It’s effective pop music production.
Overall, this was a fun song to take apart. Honestly when I first heard it, I wondered what the heck he was doing. And after figuring it out, I realized, oh, he’s doing the stuff that both of us do all the time. Mystery solved.
So I recommend that whenever you hear something in a piece of music you like, but don’t yet understand, take the time to figure it out. It can become a musical tool to use in your own music later. Just remember to steal from as many places as possible, so it’s not obvious where you’re getting your ideas.
Anyway, Devin has something like 30 albums. He actually puts out so many albums I can’t keep up. He tends to release 3-4 of them at a time, and they range from acoustic, to spooky country, to electronic, to extreme metal. I haven’t listened to any more of the songs on his latest album, Lightwork, yet, but I’m guessing it’s kinda good.
To find out more about Devin Townsend, type his name on the internet.
And now, for this week’s Film Examination of a Film.
FILM: THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982)
This week, we will examine… The Dark Crystal from 1982.
Mike Stone requested this one. But coincidentally — I think this is one of Devin Townsend’s favorite movies. It sure does make a nice pairing with Moonpeople.
Now, this film was directored by TWO directors. Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Both of them did some previous puppeteering work on a well-known late-night show called The Land of Gorch.
The Dark Crystal was Executive Produced by David Lazer, which is such a crazy 80s name, I had to look it up to see if it was real. And it… was, I think.
And this film was screenwritted by David Odell, who went on to write The Masters of the Universe movie in 1987.
The film starts out with Narration. Which works for a mythical fairy tale. But it goes on for 3 minutes, and starts to feel like an episode of National Geographic. I wonder, was it originally conceived to play without all that exposition?
Folks. Fooolks. I’m always interested in the specific timing of opening scenes. How long until we first hear dialogue? And how long until the main character appears?
Well, a minute goes by, and the narration STARTS BACK UP again. People, Places, Things. People, Places, Things.
Speaking of People, Places, and Things… I wonder if this movie contains the most elaborate puppeteering ever. Not only that, the SETS are epic. I can’t imagine how much effort must have gone into building them. I never even realized puppets could build sets.
At 7 minutes in, the main character, Jen, speaks for the first time. And I noticed, in some scenes, Jen’s mouth doesn’t move. So maybe that specific dialogue wasn’t originally intended? Or it’s supposed to be his thoughts? Or is he controlling another puppet somewhere?
The scene with Jen and his master dying sure does remind me of Return of the Jedi when Yoda is dying in his little hut on Degobah. Spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen either of these movies yet.
Anyway, in that dying master scene, the plot gets locked in. He tells Jen:
“You need to get a thing from a person and do something with it at the end of the movie.” That’s not really what he says. But what we have here is basically a video game mission.
So that’s what’s going to happen. Maybe not so much a story as it is an errand.
Now if we consider Jen the protagonist, he sure is kind of helpless. Because his companion Kira always saves the day. She has ALL the skills: she speaks animal languages, she uses weapons, she knows medicine, and can even FLY. Jen spends most of his time in the movie lost… not knowing what to do. Falling out windows, rolling down hills, getting stuck in mud, even dropping things. Kind of a Jar Jar Binks. I’m trying to remember if he does ANYTHING of consequence until the very last moment. So I’m not sure why Jen was the chosen one. If Kira had taken the shard she could have gotten the mission completed in 10 minutes and the movie would be over. Maybe filmmakers expect us to more easily identify with incompetent and confused characters. Like yeah, that idiot is just like me up there on the screen.
Now… regarding the spiritual philosophy behind this film. There’s the idea of DUALITY. An ideal race of perfect beings, seemingly made out of LIGHT called the UrSkeks — has been split up into the UrRus, also called the Mystics, and the Skeksis.
By the way, Devin Townsend’s band Strapping Young Lad had a song called Skeksis. I don’t see any connection between the song and the film, but I’ll put a link to it in the show notes.
Strapping Young Lad / Skeksis
Now. The Mystics are egalitarian hippies. They’re peaceful, gentle, have no leader. But the Skeksis are all fighting each other for power.
I think what the filmmakers were suggesting was… we need balance between the two sides, so we can be in harmony or something. But… what was wrong with the Mystics? They seemed to be doing just fine, chanting and making symbols out of sand. That’s pretty much an ideal life. So why not just keep the good guys and get rid of the Skeksis?
The good guys were entirely good and the bad guys were entirely bad. So what’s the point of a balance between them? I say, get rid of the bad.
It reminds me a bit of Rush Hemispheres. But at least in the case of Hemispheres, each civilization… or phase of civilization, suffered consequences.
So yeah, I don’t think we needed to have a grand conjunction or whatever it was called.
Like a lot of people in my generation, I was a kid when this movie came out. And I loved it. But I have to wonder:
Number 1 – How much of our enjoyment of this movie is simply Nostalgia? Since enjoying a movie about puppets is a life or death situation, I think we should question our motives here. Do we think this thing is good just because we watched it when we were kids?
Maybe ANYTHING we see as kids, we grow up to think it’s awesome. Movies and music IMPRINT on us. And as we get older, maybe it becomes harder for an imprint to be made. Is it because of neuro-plasticity? We don’t know yet.
And Number 2 – If this story weren’t specifically executed as puppets would we care about it? Is the actual STORY any good? Do we only care about the decoration? If it were live action, or a fiction novel, would we be as excited? I don’t think we would.
In my own subjective opinion, cinematography doesn’t get better than the cinematography in The Dark Crystal. Whatever film stock and lenses this was shot on, we shouldn’t have used anything else. Can we go back? It has a similar look to Flash Gordon and Empire Strikes Back. In fact, a lot of camera angles and lighting reminded me specifically of Empire Strikes Back. Could this puppet film have inspired it?
Well, no. Because Empire Strikes Back was actually 1980. Two years EARLIER. I was under the impression Empire was later on, maybe 1982. Okay than. I will let everyone know.
One last note on the puppeteering: at 1 hour 24 minutes in, Aughra (my favorite character) and Fizzgig the little furball, are moving through a passage. And I think there’s an unbelievably fast switcheroo between two different versions of Fizzgig. You can see Fizzgig #1 moving along down the corridor, I SUSPECT being by a string. And he moves behind a rock. Instantly, I think Fizzgig #2 pops up and barks, which would mean there was a HAND inside it. In one motion, Fizzgig #2 ducks back behind the rock, just in time for Fizzgig #1 to keep moving down the corridor. At least I THINK that’s how they did it. I’m sure the movie is full of tricks like that. If that’s not how they did it, I have no idea how.
The music for The Dark Crystal was scored by Trevor Jones. And in my own subjective opinion, it was a good movie score, but not as unusual and otherworldly as I would have expected. I would think a fantasy realm inhabited by magical creatures might have their own unique systems of music theory.
But this was a was pretty straight-up traditional orchestral score. And by coincidence, I discovered the following…
According to Wikipedia, “Trevor Jones initially wanted to compose a score which reflected the settings’ oddness by using acoustical instruments, electronics and building structures. But it was felt that an unusual score would alienate audiences.”
I don’t know what they meant by “building structures” but I can’t help but wonder what that alternate score might have sounded like! Maybe we were all cheated out of a work of 20th century compositional madness on par with Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes.
Related to this alienation of audiences: in a behind-the-scenes, it was explained that a lot of the characters originally spoke in made-up alien languages. But the screenings for test audiences were a disaster. The filmmakers expected audiences would still understand the story, but they left the theater totally confused. So, Henson and Oz went back in and re-recorded a TON of the character dialogue in English. AND they had to sync it up with the puppet mouth movements.
You know what? I say let’s go back and restore it to full alien-ness. Because we have enough movies that don’t alienate audiences. True fans of The Dark Crystal would probably go crazy over it.
In the meantime I’m giving this film 5/5 stars on Letterboxd. And I’ll give it a little heart, if and when we get those alien languages and alien music put back in.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts. And support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom.
And as always, special thanks to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for listening, and as I always say: Okay Than. I will let everyone know.