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Monday, 12 September 2011

ZooFights Round Two round up

Oh, do excuse the mess, stay, I'll chat while I tidy up.

To sum up: I've got a debut album of mashups in the pipes. As soon as my legal team exists, they'll be sorting something out and all is go.

In the meantime, I currently whore my services to the entirely fantastic ZooFights website, making mashups in tout-suite time to soundtrack the competitors and brawls of the sixth ZooFights tournament, set in the 1980s.

Well, the quarter-finals of the tournament concluded this week and there are seven more tracks (spread across three fights) to let you know about. Aren't you lucky?

Charles Bernstein '(A Nightmare On Elm Street) Prologue' v Vince Di Cola 'Escape' v Mike Post '(Quantum Leap) Main Title'; Written by Charles Bernstein, Vince Di Cola, Mike Post; Arranged by IronicHide; (c)Varese Sarabande 1984, Scotti Bros 1986, Crescendo 1989

Let's pick up where we left off. The joke finale of that Teddy v Transformer brew-ha was to have them both warp off through time with the fight unsettled. Then, midway through the last quarter-final, they both reappeared through time to finish things.
Knowing that this would happen, I actually had three weeks to make this track. Which didn't stop me doing it in a mad rush right before the fight went live.
There are three jokes with this: One, the last track of the Teddy Krueger v Delorelion mini-album ended with a sample from the original 1984/5 bumper 'The Transformers will return after these messages...' so this track was compelled to start with the reciprocal announcement '...We now return to the Transformers'. Two, having used Charles Bernstein's Nightmare On Elm Street theme here and here, as well as tracks from the second and fourth movie, I thought it only fitting to finally use his Prologue piece at the very end of the fight. Three, there was lots of chat of bringing in other '80s time travel references - Bill and Ted, Sylvester McCoy's Doctor Who - but I settled on using Mike Post's Quantum Leap theme, swung mainly by the episode where Sam becomes a monkey in a dress with a gun. Brill.
Though none of three tunes used are in the same tempo, they are in fairly harmonious keys: The Prologue is in F, Escape by Vince Di Cola is in A# and the Quantum Leap theme is in D#, each one a major-fourth of the other.
I'm not proud of the rush job making Quantum Leap fit with Di Cola's syncopated synth score but I do like the diad I created by having the first note (and echoing glissando) of Di Cola's chime with the opening tone of Bernstein.
Obviously, Escape is cut down to fit the much-shorter tune by Post but that, in turn, needed some bars being looped - noticeably the sax break - to fit the dynamics.

Aled Jones 'Walking In The Air' v Queen 'Flash'; Written by Howard Blake, Brian May; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) EMI 1985, 1980

This thing was rolling pretty early on. It was a re-jig of a cast-off idea for the competitor Teslacorn (from Round One) who got upgraded in to Horsepower. There's also an in-joke about Major Failure, who runs ZooFights, trying to get Brian Blessed to comment on the fight, hence the repetition of "Gordon's alive".
The first verse by Aled Jones is duplicated and inverted to make it sound as though the song is coming in from far away, from up in a dark cloud.
The two songs were easy to combine, one being devoid of time-keeping percussion and the other being built around a continuous bass-drum quarter note. It was also easy to cock up. When anything is possible in a mashup, imagination and execution are the only limits. There's only one moment I think I fumbled and that's toward the bridge. If I'd had time, the bridge from Queen - "He's for everyone of us / Fight for everyone of us" - should have been moved forward a few bars and let the instrumental section of Jones' track fade down on its own.
And, no, it wasn't that easy. Almost no two beats of Taylor's bass drum sound the same on that track and, what with using segments of it from all over the original tune, there's a lot of fading in and out, trying to smooth the transitions from different samples. That first verse contains at least 13 (I stopped counting) different samples from Flash.

The Specials 'Ghost Town' v Rick Derringer 'I Am A Real American'; Written by Jerry Dammers, Rick Derringer; Arranged by IronicHide; (c)2 Tone 1981, Epic 1985

This was a pain. Can you tell? As soon as I knew that Luchadillo, a Mexican armadillo wrestler, was being updated to bring in the power to summon the dead, I knew I wanted to use Ghost Town, which is one of my all-time favourite tracks and should sit here as an example that I hold no cows to be sacred. It also has a two-minute Hispanic funeral trombone solo in the extended. That was getting used.
The trouble was that all my other music that suited the theme - Shellshock by New Order, the music from Pro Wrestling for the NES - didn't work with The Specials. Having such a languid pace, everything else would either have to be slowed to the point of serious sound degradation to match it or sped up to create a false double-time. While this worked for tiny moments, it rendered the two tracks auditioned almost constantly manic.
So I came across Rick Derringer's track pretty close to deadline. I had a few wrestling themes (because who doesn't?) and wanted to subvert this one the most by having "a real American", in the eyes of Muertadillo or those who clamour for Aztalan (I'll wait while you wikipedia that), mean somebody from Old California through to wherever Columbus landed.
For the techies, I knocked out the drums from Ghost Town using a standard equaliser. There's an interesting shift (cutting to exactly half tempo) after the first Derringer chorus and about halfway through I used four different samples from The Specials to cover a crack which still sounds pretty ropey.
As somebody on the ZooFights forums asked: "Did he just mix Hogan's theme tune with a vuvuzela?"

Erik B & Rakim 'Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness)' v The Cardigans 'Mr Crowley'; Written by Eric Barrier, Rakim Allah (Lloyd Pinchback, Bill Laswell, Michael Bienhorn, Bernard Zekri, Franne Golde, Dennis Lambert, Duane Hitchings, Mike Cleveland, Carlos De Jesus, Jose Diaz, James Brown, Fred Wesley, Rabi Shalom-Shabazi, Duane Jones, George Kerr, Samm Culley, Rick Jones, Michael Campbell, Paul Kiser, Andre A Brown, Vincent Montana Jr, James Lindsay, Melvin Miles Jr, Stan Watson, Randy Rhoads, Bob Daisley, John Osbourne; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) Fourth & Broadway 1988, Stockholm Records 1995

Both tracks from the fight between two New York streetwise scaly anteater dudes and a druid-raised heavy metal rabbit were arranged to soundtrack moments in the fight, rather than as theme tunes for any specific entrant.
As such, development was fun - lots of Sugarhill Gang, De La Soul, Herbie Hancock, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and King Diamond - but production was a pain. There's an A4 sheet with biro-glyphics all over it in my lounge. It looks like the diary out of Se7en. 
Anyhow, the rabbit was heavily Sabbath-themed and, well, the '80s were inconsistent years for Sabbath under Ronnie James Dio. They were, however, a boom time for Ozzy Osbourne's solo career, so he got used twice.
Admittedly, this is The Cardigans' cover of Mr Crowley but (a) it was a working acapella I had access to and (b) cover versions of '80s tracks are totally allowable in this project. So says me.
There was very little hard work in arranging the track, just chopping up Erik B and Rakim (the Coldcut mix I'm using is predominantly instrumental) to fit the acapella, with a few key samples ("I throw this switch", etc.) tying in with the lyrics ("fooled all the people with magic"). The outro was tacked on to reflect the Pangolins' attitude and as a nod to Mrs IronicHide who, the night I finished this, quite bored of "those funny blue lines on your computer".

Ozzy Osbourne 'Hellraiser' v Public Enemy 'Welcome To The Terrordome'; Written by Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, Carlton Ridenhour, Kurtis Blow, Sean Dickson, TS Monk, Tami Lester Smith, Michael Campbell, Robert Bell, Ronald Bell, George Brown, Robert Mickens, Dennis Thomas, Clifford Adams, Sonnie Martin, Shawn McQuiller, Rodney Ellis, Jirmad Gordon, James Taylor, Claydes Charles Smith, Rick Westfield, Gene Redd, Kim Miller, Raymond Earl, Scott Miller, Norman Whitfiel, Barrett Strong, James Brown, Alfred Ellis, C Robbin, John Osbourne, Ian Kilmister, Zakk Wylde; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) Epic 1991, Def Jam 1989

Ok, disregard everything I've said about trying to only use music from the 1980s. I finished this, liked it and then checked my album sleeves. Hellraiser is 1991. You know what? So's MC Hammer, the TMNT Rap and Global Hypercolour t-shirts. The early '90s were a glorious rooster tale to the '80s, with the brightest colours and shapes of what went before it on display. Also, damn it.
Public Enemy's track (squeaking in to the '80s by four days) was sped up a fraction and pitch-shifted down by a semi-tone to fit, instrumental sections were selected and stuck together. Think of it as two 16-bar sections from Welcome To The Terrordome and two 16-bar sections from Hellraiser (the palm-mute single string riff played twice) played together, with the moment's inhalation from Chuck D before he announces the song's title used as a segue.
Actually, I'd miscalculated the tempos slightly so that Ozzy is played too fast, Public Enemy is then sped up to match it (again, too fast) and Ozzy is sped up once more toward the end. Which, at least, gives the track some impetus.
Also, I picked ...Terrordome because it had the same sample from Geoffrey Sumner's Train Sequence ("this is a journey in to sound") as used in Paid In Full. If I'd had time, there would have been a third mashup using You're Gonna Get Yours (because ...Terrordome samples it). Maybe, one day, with some Saxon.

Gerard McMahon 'Cry Little Sister' v Quindon Tarver 'When Doves Cry' v Duran Duran 'A View To A Kill'; Written by Gerard McMahon, Michael Mainieri, Prince Rogers Nelson, Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor, John Barry; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) Atlantic 1987, Capitol 1996, EMI 1985

There aren't many songs in the '80s with birds in the title. Birdhouse In Your Soul was 1990 (see above), Wings Of A Dove is a bit obscure and The Chicken Song will not mix with anything. 
When Doves Cry, however, would work nicely seeing as I had Quindon Tarver's version (again, '80s covers are legitimate targets) with a near-acapella first verse compared to Prince's. Also, this was the theme tune to a female murderous bird, so I wanted to use a feminine voice. (Turns out, Tarver was a boy and not a woman at all. Again, damn it.)
Originally I thought I'd only have time for one mashup for the fight and, going by the fight script, used Gerard McMahon's theme tune from The Lost Boys as the other half of a synthetic duet, as if the prawn in a tank that had to fight the terror-chicken was trying to goad her when she asked why they should fight (and they both end in tears).
In a rarity for me, I actually switch tempos at several points in this one. Normally, if I speed up a track, it stays sped but there is a change of gear with the first McMahon chorus, then again with the fade in to Duran Duran (thrown in for fun and because it matches When Doves Cry too well to be abandoned), and once more before the final chorus.
Though I think the finale works well - there are three different Quindon Tarver choruses singing over the top of Cry Little Sister, each starting half a bar after each other - the transition in to it was the moment I spent longest on in the entire thing. And I'm nowhere near happy with it. Just ignore it. Close your ears for two seconds, the remaining two minutes, 39 seconds around it are quite good. Just be thankful I abandoned one last flash of A View To A Kill.

Samuel E Wright (as Sebastian the Crab) 'Under The Sea' v Yello 'The Race'; Written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Boris Blank, Dieter Meier; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) Mercury 1988, Disney 1989

This, I don't even know what's going on. It's a song about a crustacean who lives in a supercomputer on tank tracks and wants to kill a duck-chicken-dodo-ostrich-thing. It was made in two hours, 21 minutes. (This thing was made over three years.) Dieter Meier's voice was emphasised using the inversion trick, Sebastian the Crab (from The Little Mermaid) was sped up a bit and had his first two verses and choruses taken out (originally, he was going to sing over the top of Yello, not the other way around). I hate it. There's loads wrong with it and it could have been great. Somehow, it's the most popular thing I've released to date, shooting past my favourite mashups in about an hour. You people are fickle and shouldn't reproduce.

At least, if you've read this far, you've found out the real names of Prince, Ozzy, Lemmy and Chuck D.