I think of Mr. Bungle as my favorite band. They’re unpredictable and can be hard to listen to. Sometimes I can’t tell if they’re joking or creating music that is complex and profound. So if I Made A Mr. Bungle Documentary, what would it be like?
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We’ll explore that idea, followed by a music theory segment called How To Write Ugly Music, Part 1: Harmonic Dissonance. Understanding is useful, so here we go.
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CARL KING THE HUMAN UPDATES
Just a few Carl King The Human Updates, and then we will officially get beginned.
Number 1. Some of you might remember the Sir Millard Mulch cover of “Come Sale Away” – part of Hemisphere III: Hermes, on the How To Sell Album.
Well, the lead vocals on it were performed by my very good friend from music college, Dale Lewis. Dale is suffering from serious health problems, and we are raising funds to get him a mobility scooter. He has devoted his life to helping others, and now he needs our help. So if you can spare a few bucks, I am putting a GoFundMe link in the show notes. Thank you.
Number 2. In 2011 I published a sci-fi/fantasy short story called CUYAHOGA! It’s been on Amazon Kindle all these years, but I decided to also share it as a PDF download for all of my Patreon members.
It was written during a dark time in my life when I was experiencing paranoia and constant panic attacks. Adam, the main character, faces those things in a supernatural form. So head over there to my Patreon to read it.
And now, let’s move on to This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week!
IF I MADE A MR. BUNGLE DOCUMENTARY
This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week is something a little different, because it’s a film that doesn’t exist and probably never will.
I think of Mr. Bungle as my favorite band. They’re unpredictable and can be hard to listen to, because they blend total chaos with virtuosity. So sometimes I can’t tell if they’re joking or creating music that is complex and profound.
Back when I cared about making documentaries, I had the urge to make one about them. And I’m glad I didn’t try. I doubt it could ever happen because I would want strict control over it, and I’d need to be paid a quarter of a million dollars minimum.
It’s not that I’m greedy or THAT GOOD at making documentaries. It’s just that it would require me to take two weeks off from this profitable YouTube channel. Also, I’m too old to get pushed around by musicians, and I’m sure they wouldn’t cooperate or answer any of my questions.
But as a thought experiment, what would that imaginary Carl King Mr. Bungle Documentary be? If I had to decide right now, it would focus on the creation of a new Mr. Bungle “Proper” song. To my knowledge, it would be the first in 24 years.
And my filmmaking process would not only document… but also influence the music. As the director, I would demand the following musical constraints: 1 – The band must reunite what Trevor calls “Mr. Bungle Proper” – that would be Trevor, Mike, Trey, and the return of Danny and Bar.
2 – Those five guys would live and work together in a large recording studio. We’d film them during their waking hours, like that Metallica Black Album documentary. For the sake of a linear narrative and a ticking clock, the band would have only ONE WEEK to collaboratively write and record a new, original Mr. Bungle song from scratch.
And I say “collaboratively” because it couldn’t be one of those deals where Trey, Trevor, or Mike writes a song, and the others play it. I’d want to see them creating together.
3 – The song must not contain more than 10% metal (or anything resembling their recent album, The Raging Wrath of The Easter Bunny Demo). But they could work with any other genre (or genres) and play any instruments they’d like.
4 – I’d require them to notate all of the music and provide an analysis using their best understanding of music theory.
5 – At the end of the week, they’d record the song together, live in the studio. They’d be allowed as many complete takes as they want, but no punching-in or overdubs allowed. No editing and no guest musicians.
Since they are known for such elaborate post-production, we should change things up and focus on the raw sound of “Mr. Bungle Proper” playing music in a room.
And finally, 6 – The song’s lyrics and abstract theme must be about a Documentary (of their choice). Any documentary, domestic or foreign. Examples: Grey Gardens, Sherman’s March, American Movie. Or whatever their favorite obscure documentary might be.
They could even make it a self-reference about this very Mr. Bungle Documentary and title it “Documentary.” Although I suspect they’d translate it into another language. Maybe French or Italian or Latin.
I’m sure Mr. Bungle fans would object to such a strict process. Who is this guy with the big forehead and the influencer glasses, squashing my favorite band’s creativity, telling them what they can and can’t do? My argument is this: Mr. Bungle can get a job like the rest of us. And hey, it’s only for one week!
Of course, the band would never agree to any of this. Their ethic is all about artistic freedom and contrarianism. BUT in that same spirit, I think a Mr. Bungle Documentary should be contrary to Mr. Bungle.
That would be easy to achieve if I were the director because the guys in Mr. Bungle don’t care about the same things I do. And neither do their fans.
First of all, the band values being mysterious. Both personally and musically. My documentary would aim to destroy that mystery. We’d see right there on camera: how they come up with their musical ideas, how they communicate, how they rehearse – and how they SOUND when rehearsing.
Second, I’m a reductionist and musical atheist. Most believe music has a “magic” dimension that can’t be measured or explained. But I don’t think music (or any art) is anything beyond its material components. I’d be there annoying everyone by constantly turning the topic back to music theory.
Along with the “let’s write a song” narrative, there would of course be interviews. But I would skip all the typical biographical “Wikipedia” stuff. I don’t care where they grew up, what year it was, the list of albums they made, or who else they played with—no need to waste time with facts.
I’d get right into the conceptual stuff, psychologically interrogating the band members. Starting with…
1 – Audience Torture. Most bands don’t do that! Ah, but most bands aren’t Mr. Bungle. Performers need the audience to like them, or they quickly find themselves out of a job.
However, Mr. Bungle got signed to a major label but didn’t take it seriously. Anyone else their age would have said: “This is our big break!” But as we know, they were contrarians. Their showmanship was more like anti-showmanship. Long sets of feedback. Random cover songs no one wanted to hear.
They created a dissonant experience not only with their choice of musical notes but in their relationship with the audience. Especially during the Disco Volante tour.
I would want to know: what were they thinking at the time? How did they talk about it? What are some of the memorable ways they tortured the audience? Did they think that was funny? How did they challenge the definition of a “show?”
2 – Music Industry Context. In the early ‘90s, pre-internet, music was still distributed through mainstream corporate channels like MTV and commercial radio. When I grew up In small-town Florida, it was HARD TO FIND stuff that wasn’t part of that formula.
It felt like only ten bands were allowed to exist at any time: those few who were funded and promoted by having a big hit. No big hit, no visibility. Because Faith No More had a hit with Epic, Mr. Bungle snuck through the delivery system.
They were a gateway drug that introduced kids like me to more possibilities. Frank Zappa was a parallel. What those artists did musically wasn’t itself original or new. They only combined diverse influences. Example: Zappa is Stravinsky + Blues Guitar + Doo-Wop. But it was RARE — within the context of the early ‘90s.
Horizontal Genre-Hopping also was not new. Would they be willing to acknowledge that, and dispell the myth? As humble normal adults, which I think they might be now, I’d ask them to debunk their “musical genius” status.
Since they can probably name their direct influences on a piece-by-piece basis, do they feel they have gotten too much credit for being unique and original? Would they agree that all innovators in music are overrated? Is all music more similar than different?
3 – Music Vs. Noise. Mr. Bungle’s music, especially Disco Volante, can function as an introduction to Avant Garde & 20th Century classical music techniques. So, I’d ask them to name some of those techniques. And how they tested the boundaries between music and noise.
So I’d ask them their thoughts on the following concept: if you go around a circle to the right, you have complexity (like prog rock and shredding). If you go around a circle to the left, you have noise (like musique concrete). At some point, those two things blur into each other and become the same thing. Were they conscious of doing that?
I’d also Ask them about specific choices — for instance, the drumming on Platypus. The OU818 demo version was super tight and precise. The Disco Volante version was all over the place, the drums speeding up and down around the song, and lots of fooling around.
Did anyone in the band consider they might be ruining the song? Or did they think it was funny? Did everyone agree on the dirtection? The previous album was almost “proggy” in its precision. Did they want to rebel against that?
4 – Trevor & Trey’s Classical / Jazz Education in College. I’d get those two guys in a room with a record player and listen to… and talk about half a dozen pieces of music that influenced them in their college days. Maybe Ligeti, Bernard Herrmann, Stravinsky.
It seems like parts of Travolta, with its minor major 7 chords were straight-up horror music played by a rock band. Not many use that tonality. Or are they aware of rock bands who have? What did the original version of “A Walk Through Necropolis” sound like when it was composed for a jazz big band?
I’d ask them to name specific examples of compositional techniques they learned from other composers during college. I’d say, “Now let’s listen to them, on camera, and show me where you used those techniques in your own music.”
5 – Trevor’s “Wrong Note Jazz.” Ask him to demonstrate his odd melody note choices, placing dissonant notes in the vocals. Example: Retrovertigo.
Related Trevor topic: how much of the band’s path was determined by Trevor? He designed their logo and named the band. Is he seen as the bandleader or manager? Would anyone in the band think of it that way, or are they truly a 3-way democracy? Is there any disagreement there?
6 – Mike Patton’s Cognitive Understanding of Music. Does he genuinely have perfect pitch, as Trevor claimed? Sit him down at a piano, and force him to explain his mental modality for music. If he doesn’t use music theory, what IS his internal understanding of it? Does he see shapes? Intervals?
I would play consonant chords and have him sing dissonant non-chord tones. Play some dissonant chords, and ask him to write a melody around it. Talk about his choices of intervals. Add harmony. How is he doing that internally? How well can he distinguish the notes in polychords? This would be the only segment focused on Mike Patton.
7 – Trey’s Symbolism and Musical Quotations. Why does he not credit the original composer for parts of “Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz?” Are there other instances of musical quotations in his music? Does he have a photographic memory? How does he store that much information? Was he able to do that from a young age?
8 – Neurodivergence. Are there any traits of autism or ADHD among the members? What are their personality types or temperaments? Any extremes? Introverts vs. extroverts? How do they annoy each other? Why is it hard for creative people to be in a band?
9 – What are their thoughts on obscurity? Do they WANT to be obscure in some ways? And why make “difficult listening” music? Do they believe that improves the experience of art (for the in-crowd)?
10 – Investigate and feature some surprising details about Danny and Bar. They don’t get enough credit or attention. What are the major, specific things they have contributed?
So there it is. The pitch for my imaginary Mr. Bungle Documentary that I’ll never need to make. Because honestly, why go through all that trouble? Why ask some musician dudes questions they don’t want to answer? I know that documentaries are way too much work, so I can’t wait to not watch it. And most importantly, to not EDIT it.
Since I didn’t need to do anything except think about it, I gave this film 5/5 stars – and a little heart – on Letterboxd.
And now, let’s move on to This Week’s Analytical Music Theory Analysis of the Week.
How To Make Ugly Music, Part 1: Harmonic Dissonance
In this Week’s Analytical Music Theory Analysis of the Week, we will explore How To Make Ugly Music, Part 1: Harmonic Dissonance.
If you’re into METAL or HORROR MUSIC, I’m about to share some tips for writing music full of unpleasant chords. But first, a disclaimer: I’m not a professional scientist, so beware of any claims I make regarding physics. And remember, half the stuff I say on this show is a lie.
We’ll start with a single musical note. (PLAY) That’s an A, and it has a frequency of 440 Hz. That’s 440 sound waves going into your ear per second.
Here’s another note. (PLAY) That is another A, an octave up. It has a frequency that is double the other A. This one is 880 Hz. That’s 880 sound waves going into your ear per second.
If we combine two musical notes, we have what is called an Interval. That’s the distance between those notes. Snobby guitarists like to call it a DIAD. As in, “Utilizing a Diad.” I’d rather call it a two-note chord or even a double-stop.
The sound that two combined notes make is determined by whether their fundamental frequencies (and overtones) reinforce or interfere with each other… and by how much.
When I play that A note (at 440 Hz) together with an A note an octave above it (at 880 Hz), those frequencies are reinforced and sound harmonious because they are a simple 2:1 ratio. 880 divided by 2 is 440. The second note is a simple doubling of the frequenc of the first. You can see where their peaks line up with these lines, every other time. The notes are not clashing, not ugly.
Because of the math, our ear says: hey, those sounds go together. They fit together nicely. They’re stable rhythms. We hear that interval as Consonance. But you and I are here for the DISSONANCE. So let’s make some.
Instead, if I play an A (at 440 Hz) and add a Bb (at 466.16 Hz) only one half-step above it, that’s a far more complex ratio: approximately 1.05946:1. Notice how many decimal places there are there. “1.05946.” It’s not simple like 2:1. To get 466.16 Hz we need to multiply our original 440 Hz by 1.05946. And you can see here at the red circles, the waveforms no longer line up. They’re close, but they rub against each other as if they’re out of tune. There is a LOT of interference. And our ears detect that as Dissonance.
When the frequencies are out of sync like that, it creates an ugly buzzing or beating sound. But remember, these waves are happening super fast. They’re going in and out of sync hundreds of times per second. It’s like two cars going around a racetrack at only slightly different speeds. At some point, they’ll appear to be in sync but then go out of sync again.
You can hear the dissonance more prominently if you drop that minor second down a few octaves. Hear that wobbling? That’s because the interference pattern is “slower” in that range, where we can perceive it. But in this case, on this A note at 55 Hz, the waveform oscillates at 55 times per second. And the Bb is at 58.27 Hz. The cycles are too fast for us to consciously distinguish. So I suspect those slow wobbles we hear are only the interference pattern on top of the fundamental frequencies.
And if we move it up a few octaves, the interference pattern becomes faster — it’s more difficult to detect that wobble. So we can get away with using more dissonant intervals in higher frequency ranges. That is if we wanted to avoid dissonance for some reason. Which we don’t. So first tip — play dissonant intervals in a lower range.
Now here’s some math, which I’m no good at.
Each of the 12 intervals in the chromatic scale has its own mathematical ratio, creating its own amounts of Dissonance.
2:1 = Octave (440 and 880)
3:2 = Fifth (440 and 660)
4:3 = Fourth (440 and 586.66)
5:4 = Major Third (440 and 550)
6:5 = Minor Third (440 and 528)
5:3 = Major Sixth (440 and 733.33)
8:5 = Minor Sixth (440 and 704)
9:5 = Minor Seventh (440 and 792)
9:8 = Major Second (440 and 495)
15:8 = Major Seventh (440 and 825)
The Minor Second is tricky because some say it’s 16:15 (440 and 469.33)
And some say it’s
1.05946:1 as I showed before = Minor Second (440 and 466.1624) CORRECT
But those are complex ratios within just a few cents of each other, so it’s hard to tell.
The Tritone is another oddity. Some say the ratio is:
(440 and 625.77)
And some say it’s:
(440 and 618.75)
Which one is correct? We don’t know yet. I wasn’t able to find a definitive scientific answer within a reasonable amount of time. And most people will never hear the difference — they’re both such dissonant intervals, even when perfectly in tune. I welcome you to research the scientific basis of minor 2nds and tritones and share your discoveries as a comment.
But it does seem that the greater the ratios, the more ugly the dissonance. A similar pattern seems to exist in polyrhythms, but that would be rhythmic dissonance, a subject for another time.
Now, so far, we are talking about PURE intervals based on the overtone series that exists in nature. But in Western music, we use a system called Equal Temperament. Because it turns out that using those pure intervals is too tricky.
Our pianos and guitars would need too many in-between notes to hit all those exact frequencies. To keep it simple and get the job done, we use Equal Temperament. From this point on, we’re referring to equal temperament intervals.
In his textbook, Twentieth-Century Harmony, Vincent Persichetti divides those equal temperament intervals into categories based on how ugly they sound.
Perfect Fifths and Octaves are called Open Consonances.
Major Thirds, Minor Thirds, Major Sixths, and Minor Sixths are Soft Consonances
Minor Seconds and Major Sevenths are called Sharp Dissonances
Major Seconds and Minor Sevenths are called Mild Dissonances
Perfect Fourth is either Consonant or Dissonant (not sure why)
The Tritone is considered Ambiguous and can be either Neutral or Restless.
And that’s surprising because Tritones are very dissonant, VERY ugly. I think Persichetti must have had his own subjective taste for dissonance.
So maybe we need to turn back to standard Classical Harmony. According to Roger Kamien, the equal temperament intervals are divided into categories like so:
Octaves, Perfect Fourths, and Perfect Fifths are Perfect Consonances
By the way, this is probably why we call them Perfect 4ths and Perfect 5ths. In equal temperament tuning, they have the smallest discrepancies from their counterparts in the Overtone series. For example, Perfect 5ths are only about 2 cents away from being in perfect tune. But other intervals are made more dissonant BECAUSE of equal temperament tuning. Especially Major Thirds, but that’s another confusing topic.
He then categorizes Major Seconds, Minor Sevenths, Major Thirds, Minor Sixths, Minor Thirds, and Major Sixths as Imperfect Consonances.
And finally, Tritones, Minor Seconds, and Major Sevenths are called Perfect Dissonances.
Paul Hindemith, a German composer from the 18 and 1990s, also categorized those three as the most dissonant intervals. So if you want to create some ugly music, your best bet is to focus on tritones, major 7ths, and minor 2nds.
Now we know, from a scientific perspective, why metal and horror film scores emphasize these intervals. But I do think metal music has a long way to go before catching up — since the most common interval used there is Perfect Fifths, also known as Power Chords. And we know from science, those are simply too consonant.
So here are my 5 recommendations for metal musicians who want their chords to be more ugly:
1 – Stop using any intervals that are consonant. No more power chords. Only use minor seconds, tritones, and major 7ths.
2 – Avoid playing more than 2 notes of a dissonant chord per instrument. If you have a 3-note chord, put 2 notes on the guitar and one on the bass. And no doubling — meaning, have the bass guitar play its own ugly note that isn’t played on the guitar. Put it a minor second or tritone or a major 7th away.
3 – Too many notes on a single instrument, especially a distorted guitar can weaken its ugliness, making the sound too thick and opaque. The more ugly notes you add to a single voice, the weaker those individual dissonances become. It turns into mush. And we want those ugly notes to have nowhere to hide.
4 – You can also hard-pan the musical voices. You can put a tritone interval on the hard left and a minor second hard right. Give them space so you can hear all that wobbling. Show off those wrong notes with proud clarity. As my music theory teacher, Mrs. Lawler once said: “Strident ugliness.”
5 – When all else fails, play out of tune. That’s a quick way to add dissonance to any interval, even one that is consonant.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Show. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you consume to these dang episodes.
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