I am often asked how I listen to a piece of music. It is a strange question to me, because I don’t think that I listen in some way that is fundamentally different than anyone else does. That is sounds go into my ears and into my brain.
I think that the primary difference is probably that I have more practice describing those sounds, and I have developed a technical language to communicate with fellow musicians about the experience of listening. I think that the ability to contemplate the sounds after the fact and imagine them with clarity is somewhat different than the average person.
For example, on our way into work today, my wife was playing Creep by Radio Head.
I dropped her off, parked the car, and had to walk about four blocks. When I got up to my computer, I jotted down my thought process from the walk so that everyone could have a peek inside the musician’s brain. I’m sorry for the technical jargon, but it is the only way I know to give you a real view of how we work.
1. That repeated progression works so well. I remember using it to show a class an example of a chromatic mediant. I wonder if that it the best way to think about that though.
2. What is most interesting, is that it could be considered from the point of view of parsimonious voice leading. The first two chords could be a simultaneous LP transformation in Neo-Riemannian theory. If that is the case, the IV chord that follows would have to be a re-assertion of the vertical pull of the bass progression so that the essential compelling nature of the progression is a switch between the voice leading part and the re-assertion of tonal pull.
3. The case for parsimonious voice leading is problematic in some ways. I can get from G to B using the LP transformation, but guitar players tend to think in parallel motion. Isn’t it better to think of the B as the applied chord V/vi with a deceptive resolution to the C?
4. Perhaps, it would do even better to simply think of it as a I – iii – IV – iv progression where the iii has been altered to III. Like Schoenberg’s vagrant chords, the III has just wandered in off the street corner, unshaven and smelling a little like stale beer. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the essential function because I don’t really hear it as an applied chord.
5. It would be interesting to tell the story of the D#/Eb issue in this progression. The D# problematizes the progression, and only when it functions as Eb is the issue resolved.
6. Looking at it from all the perspectives always gets us into the issues of the intentional fallacy, and I’m not sure that Radiohead even thinks in these terms.
7. One of the problems with the intentional fallacy is that it can ultimately lead people to argue that there is no connection between an artist and his or her work.
So that is four blocks of thinking about four chords and how they fit together. I’m not sure if I am typical, but I have enough friends that dedicate their lives to contemplating sounds and how they work that I think I am not too far outside of the norm. I’d be curious to know if the rest of you work in a similar fashion.