I plan to examine some of the works by former members of King Crimson, beginning with Ian McDonald's and Michael Giles's eponymous album, recorded in the early part of 1970 and released in the Autumn of the same year following McDonald's and Giles's departure from King Crimson in December, 1969. It is a very different album from 'In the Court of the Crimson King', and illustrates the gentle, feminine or Yin side of the group. It could even be regarded as the Double White album as compared to Sgt. Pepper if a comparison is made with The Beatles.
Ian McDonald appears as multi-instrumentalist - guitars, keyboards, woodwinds, reeds and sundries - and takes the main vocal parts, with Michael Giles on drums, percussion and lead vocals in one song. Peter Giles plays a key role as bass guitarist, with 'guest' appearances by Steve Winwood - piano solo and organ on the long piece, 'Suite in C' - and Michael Blakesley on trombone. The arrangements are by Mike Gray. Melody, harmony and rhythm are at the centre of the work as opposed to counterpoint, although there is a contrapuntal section in the long piece, 'Birdman'.
Two long multi-sectional pieces, 'Suite in C' and 'Birdman' - the first written by McDonald and the second by McDonald and Peter Sinfield - frame three shorter songs, 'Flight of the Ibis', 'Is She Waiting' - the first by McDonald and B.P. Fallon, the second by McDonald - and 'Tomorrow's People-The Children of Today' by Michael Giles. There may even be a case for comparing the structure with 'In the Court...' possibly as a parody of it:
'Suite in C' = 'Schizoid Man'
'Flight of the Ibis' = 'I Talk to the Wind'
'Is She Waiting' = 'Epitaph'
'Tomorrow's People' = 'Moonchild'
'Birdman' = In the Court...'
Structure and overview
1) 'Suite in C', a multi-sectional piece dedicated to Charlotte Bates, is characterised by dramatic changes of key and tempo with the title conceived as a play on words: Suite = sweet. The piece begins on a G7 chord which quickly becomes V7 by establishing the tonic C major. C major is the key centre of the entire work and also closes the album. If related to the Baroque concept of 'affect' it is felt as being optimistic. 'Suite in C' has examples of accumulative textures, and this is found during the first main section of the piece: Verse 1 begins with solo voice, treated in a megaphone-like way, accompanied by electric guitar, adding bass guitar and percussion in Verse 2 with the addition of other instruments and timbres during the subsequent two verses. To reinforce this, McDonald has carefully structured his material through the use of melodic sequences, raising the emotional impact of the subject by means of ascent: 'The sun shone till Turnham Green' (B-G [G7)-E-D-C [C]), 'What happened to that face I'd seen (C#-A [A7]- F#-E-D [D]), which prepares a section of wordless voices, 'Ah---' (A-G-C-A [F major/F major7/F7]// A-B-C#-E-G [A7]-F [D minor]). Verses 3 and 4 are repeated using the same music but underpinned by a thicker texture. At the end of this, with the addition of strings for further heightening the emotive character of the music, a long instrumental section follows, on D minor/mode, called 'Turnham Green'. This features a virtuoso flute solo, emphasising descending minor thirds balanced by rising major thirds, passages for solo piano climaxing in parallel triads in the Hammond organ part which again emphasise minor thirds leading to an exciting climax. The drums are featured not just to provide standard rhythmic underlay, but as a virtuoso part in itself. Coupled with the bass guitar, the rhythm section was a model for many groups of the period and after, more akin to jazz than rock, helping to reinforce the level of excitement felt in the music particularly at climactic points such as the end of this instrumental section. There is a dramatic rallentando leading to the slower, more lyrical section 'Here I Am', which is felt as a point of arrival made even more accute by the soaring strings. Ian McDonald has said (telephone conversation with A.K., 12-viii-00) that he felt Paul McCartney's song, 'Yesterday', was 'the beginning of progressive-rock' with its inclusion of strings as an integral part of the texture, and 'suggested to me how classical elements could be brought into rock music'. The piece closes with a bright acoustic rock section in A major, a minor third (major submediant) from the opening, reflecting the descending major thirds found in the melodical material at a microcosmic level. The piece is an extended essay in contrasting musico-psychological states, which are mirrored not only by the compositional techniques but also with careful attention to orchestration.
2)'Flight of the Ibis' is felt as a contrast to the preceding piece. It is the original melody of 'Cadence and Cascade' (see my analysis of 'In the Wake of Poseidon') and is scored for voices, acoustic guitars, electric piano, zither, bass and drums. The song has three verses with integrated choruses. Verse three is sung unaccompanied except for the drums. The speed is crotchet = 69 circa, compared to the crotchet = 58 circa of 'Cadence...'. The Ibis is related to the Egyptian god Thoth and is a symbol for resurrection of rebirth, perhaps conveying the birth of a new musical language found on the album.
3) 'Is She Waiting' is the shortest song, and is in E minor/mode. It includes three verses which are in the minor, with integrated choruses in E major. The song is lightly scored for two voices, two acoustic guitars and piano and includes a descending bass line of four pitches with a suspension reminiscent of 'Epitaph'/'Court' respectively.
4) 'Tomorrow's People - The Children of Today' is written by Michael Giles and dedicated to his children. It is in C major with a balancing descent to Bb major, and is a bright, optimistic and energetic piece with a middle section featring solo drums and percussion which precedes a flute solo with electric guitar. The first half of Verse 1 is also sung over the drums alone, with the ensemble entering during the second half of the verse. The central section section is balanced by a section of long parallel chords for brass and flute, with bass and softly struck cymbal attacks before the recapitulation of Verse 1, this time including a funky organ accompaniment with some unison electric guitar and brass riffs. The song ends with a soft coda, with the bass outlining a whole-tone scale A-G-F-Eb, which subsequently becomes the repeated pitches A-G with A minor7 - G minor7 chords. These underpin melodic fragments from the chorus, 'To-Mor-row's Peo-ple', A-A-C-A-F, which again emphasise the minor and major thirds which seem to be at the centre of the entire work. Another case for this is the key-centres of the first side of the album:
1) C major;
2) E major;
3) E minor/major;
4) C major.
The song closes on F major, suggesting that the C major of the remainder is felt as a dominant prolongation: C (V) - F (I). The song also brings the first side of the record to a close.
I will continue by looking at 'Birdman', the magnum-opus of the album and by far the longest piece lasting nearly 22 minutes and taking up the whole of the second side.
'Birdman' takes the main weight of the album and balances with the first piece, 'Suite in C'. This also provides the album with a carefully conceived structural design, with 'Is She Waiting' positioned at the centre. Both 'Suite in C' and 'Birdman' end a third lower which also relates to the third-related melodic motives which saturate the work. The following diagram clarifies this as well as the structural and textural contrasts:
'Suite in C': multi-sectional piece; full texture; C maj.-A maj.
'Flight of...': strophic song; reduced texture; E major.
'...Waiting': strophic song; much reduced texture; e min.-E maj.
'Tomorrow's...': strophic song; relatively full texture; C maj.-F maj.
'Birdman': multi-sectional piece; full texture; E maj.-C maj.
'Birdman' is an Ian McDonald/Peter Sinfield composition, a suite/fantasy in six sections which includes an introduction:
ia)(Introduction);ib) The Inventor's Dream (O.U.A.T); ii) The Workshop; iii) Wishbone Ascension; iv) Birdman Flies!; v) Wings in the Sunset; vi) Birdman - The Reflection.
The original impetus for the piece came from Sinfield and was written in 1968, possibly when the composer and lyricist were part of Sinfield's group Creation. However, it is also may be possible that a large part was written during the early stages of their involvement with Giles, Giles and Fripp in the early stages of what was to become King Crimson.
The piece may be read in several different ways. Jon Green has said that the piece can be interpreted as a re-telling of the Icarus myth, or as the story of a mad inventor. Ian McDonald has suggested (telephone conversation with A.K. 11-viii-00) that it is 'an enlightenment piece...a reflecting on the world...seeing things from a different perspective', while Peter Sinfield has commented (E-mail to A.K. 13-viii-00) that 'It is biased towards what Ian (McDonald) says...for twere it not a challenge to the gods...a subliminal desire to rise...apart from overcoming his earth-bound self...going up revolving and coming down dissolving'.
I will discuss each section, some in more detail than others.
The piece begins in E major, with an introductory section of eleven bars of four-part unaccompanied vocals in 4/4 time, all multi-tracked by both McDonald and Giles. The first bar includes the pitches A-B-E-F#, presented as a staggered entry, and is an example of the main melodic motive - presented here as an accumulative chord - which appears many times in many different forms throughout, unifying the piece on a number of different levels. The two outer pitches are a major 6th apart, or a minor 3rd when inverted (A-F#; F#-A). Although these four pitches create a pentatonic-like aggregate the chord resolves onto a root position E major chord in bar 5, which is sidestepped by moving directly into E minor in bar 6, to a diminished chord (E-Bb/E/G) in bars 7 and 8, to ic in E minor in bar 9 together with a series of triple and double suspensions and, finally, to a rich tonic E major chord. There seems to be an allusion to the sacred music of Mendelssohn or S.S. Wesley, and in this way the music is placed within a 'sacred' context or, at least, gives the listener a sense of 'otherness'. The soft vocal texture is disturbed at the beginning of bar 12 with an 'explosion' of noise from the Hammond organ, with harmonics obtained by the manipulation of the drawbars. This section is grounded by a low E pedal pitch from the Hammond bass pedal, which prepares a magical sounding, aleatoric section of zither and metallic timbres. The zither part sounds a transposed version of the opening motive on the dominant, E-F#-B-C#, which is partially 'filled-in' in the high register (B-A-G#-F#-E) with the exclusion of the C#. This aleatoric section functions as a huge anacrusis towards a climax of great intensity, by including swirling, chromatic flute passages, reinforced with percussion and many other sounds hidden deep within the texture. This prepares 'The Inventor's Dream'.
Section 1b) 'The Inventor's Dream (O.U.A.T.)'
In this section the words are set strophically (i.e. they are repeated to the same music), in this case over three verses. The music seems removed from reality, even child-like in character which the subtitle, O.U.A.T. (Once upon a time), underlines. The music of the BBC T.V. series 'The Magic Roundabout' is brought to mind, which would also tie-in with Sinfield's interest in the circus and funfairs (see my analysis of 'Lizard'). However, the scene depicts a workshop of an inventor dreaming about the possibility of flight, with the story being set in the London suburb of Walthamstow which, in a sense, familiarises the concept. It is also the second piece on the album which deals with 'flight', the other being 'Flight of the Ibis'.
An electronic organ, reminiscent of a child's wind-reed organ, begins alone with root position A major triads which eventually alternate with Ib E major traids, playing repeated crotchet triplets. Triplets are an important rhythmic element of the album occurring at the end of 'Suite in C' (as quaver triplets), during the section 'Wishbone Ascension', and at the end of 'Birdman' (as crotchet triplets). On the fifth bar the bass guitar plays the pitches A and E on the beat divided by crotchet rests, with the snare drum playing off-beats including a snare drum roll on the final beat of every second bar which provides an anacrusis into the next bar. The electric guitar plays staccato A major and E major triads on the off-beats. This simple texture accompanies the two-part vocal setting of the words beginning, 'Long ago in Walthamstow/ A man he dreamed a singular scheme'. The words 'Long ago in...' are sung to the pitches A-B-E-F# which is the main motive of the work, although here it appears tranformed rhythmically (dotted crotchet/quaver etc.) and linearly as compared to the harmonic version of it at the beginning of the introduction. This creates a sense of overall unity, binding Section ia) to ib). In relating the motive to the introduction, McDonald metaphorically alludes to Sinfield's words: he not only 'designs' and 'builds' appropriate music, but does so by upward and downward motives ('Long ago in Walthamstow = A-B-E-F#/E-C#-B) symbolising the rising and falling motion of flight. The antecedent phrase is mirrored by a consequent phrase which is similarly shaped, but transformed by a chromatic descent on the words 'singular scheme' ([1st vocal] E-D#D-C#; [2nd vocal] A#-A-G#-A; [bass guitar] F#-B-E-A/E glissando).
The second half of the first verse leads to a section of subtle word painting on the word 'fly': first, there is a dramatic change of key onto a C major chord followed by F major7; secondly, the metre changes from 4/4 into 3/4 although the pulse is constructed so that one feels one main beat per bar; thirdly, there is a subtle switch from the staccato character of the preceding ten bars to one which is legato. This is reinforced by the electric guitar part which now plays sustained, full chords with the drums playing a softly struck ride-cymbal on beats two and three. The word 'fly' is sung to a long melisma with the vocals sung vertically in thirds ([1st vocal] G-E-F-E-C; [2nd vocal] E-C-D-C-A). There is also added reverb which distances the music. The overall effect is one of 'gliding', taking the listener from earth to sky. It also represents the ever-changing psychological states of a dreamscape or an inscape. The second verse repeats the material of the first with the melisma falling on the word 'light'. The third verse includes a clarinet which not only doubles the melody, but rises from E-F#-G#-A above the chromatic cadence point of 'now the work starts'.
The coda not only balances with the introduction, but is an example of a reversal of roles between the electric guitar and bass guitar parts. There are twelve bars in 4/4. The organ part plays crotchet triplets throughout them, on the first four bars the electric guitar plays off the beat (on beats 2 and 4), while the bass plays on the beat (on beats 1 and 3). However, on bars 5 to 8 the electric guitar plays on the beat (on beats 1 and 3), with the bass guitar playing off the beat (on beats 2 and 4). In bars 9 and 10 the original is restored with the guitar playing off the beat, and the bass on the beat, and in bars 11 and 12 the roles are again reversed. In bar 5 a solo acoustic guitar plays a busy repeated note-pattern, A-G-A-G tied to G-A-A-G, which gradually crosses the audio-space from left to right. The acoustic guitar part also prepares the energy heard in the subsequent section, 'The Workshop'.
Ian McDonald has said that the coda was influenced by the theme music of another television programme (E-mail to A.K., 14-viii-00). The section ends with a Perfect Cadence struck forcibly in the electric guitar part.
Section ii: The Workshop
'The Workshop' is a musical metaphor for the intense activity in the workshop of an inventor. This is represented, initially, by the faster harmonic rhythm which accompanies the words 'Toiled for days on struts and stays/Upteen screws and numerous glues/Harness leathers and rainbow feathers/Hinges and joints at relevant points', and the speed of the music, crotchet = 112-116. The activity of the drum part, which picks up the acoustic guitar semi-quavers played in the coda of the previous section, is altogether busier together with the bass guitar riff, A-E (crotchets) A-E-G-E (quavers)| A-E-A-E (crotchets). The bass part also has something in common with the previous section emphasing the pitches A and E which are 1 and 5, respectively, in A major. A solo acoustic guitar plays rather wayward off-the-beat chords, providing another component to this frantic texture, with an occasional piano part added at the end of lines.
The vocals for the verse 'Toiled for days...' are written in three parts, with the top part outlining an A major Mixolydian collection of adjacent descending tones with a rising minor 3rd at the end, A-G-C#-B-E-D-E-G. The lower parts are involved in suspension-like movement on the word 'glue', and close on an A major chord. Suspensions have been anticipated at the cadence of Section ia) of the introduction which, in turn, balance the oscillating organ suspension, I - IV/I, at the end of the piece. The second verse beginning 'Harness leathers and rainbow feathers' extends the previous suspensions on the word 'points' closing on a sustained A9 chord. An instrumental section of alto saxophone, bass and drums follows. This is bass guitar riff-based, essentially A-A-E-G-E-G-A, underpinning a lengthy alto sax solo which McDonald has said (E-mail to A.K 14-viii-00), 'is echoed by the bass during the Reflection/Theme at the end'. There are also hand-claps on the off-beats which contribute to the activity.
The sax solo is played over a twelve-bar blues structure: four bars of A (A7); two bars of D (D7); two bars of A (A7); one of E (E7); one bar of D (D7); one bar of A (A7); one bar of E7. On the second refrain of the twelve-bar the texture is thickened with the addition of an electric guitar which plays rather waywardly, often off-the-beat. On the third time there is added distortion at the bottom of the mix, which Ian McDonald has since said is 'Michael sawing a piece of wood' (E-mail from I.M. to A.K. 19-viii-00). On the fourth time the bass riff changes to A-A-E-A-Eb-D, providing even more intensity with the increase of tessitura, as well as a straddling of the bar in the guitar and drum part over bars 9 and 10 of the section. On the fifth time there is a gradual rallentando over nine bars on a prolonged D major (IV) chord, which creates tension and anticipation for the listener. The chord is re-spelt as V of the new key centre G major of the subsequent 'Wishbone Ascension'.
Section iii) 'Wishbone Ascension'
Here, the speed is slower: crotchet = 66 circa, and is marked by a richer and fuller texture including Hammond with a pipe organ-like timbre. Ian McDonald has said that it may be possible for listeners to sense a quasi-devotional thread running through the piece, particularly with reference to the harmonic suspensions, but does not want to overstate the case for an interpretation such as this (telephone conversation with A.K., 17-viii-00). However, 'Wishbone Ascension' is felt as a point of arrival within the structure and is, as the words suggest, a place of rest. This may connect it to Sinfield's reference to 'the Gods' (see Part 2 of this analysis) and could, in this way, be related to the time that God rested on the seventh day of creation.
The chords G major to Bb major rise a minor 3rd, and fall a minor 3rd from F major to D major, as well as accompanying the legato organ melody B-C-D-E|F-E-D-F|C-Bb-A-G|F#-G-A tied. This becomes, in turn, the melody for Sinfield's evocative words, 'Til in the golden dawnbeam sun/He saw that all his work was done'. The first three chords, G major, Bb major and F major also become the harmonic basis for the subsequent 'Birdman Flies!' section. The shape of the phrases, sung in 6ths, rises (B-G), falls and turns back on itself (F-E-D-F), and is then partially inverted or 'mirrored' C-F#, finally rising from F#-A. There is a textural reduction at the words 'Cast his eyes on distant skies and slowly moved his arms', which is sung over piano arpeggios with organ accompaniment. Arpeggio figurations become the basis of the material for the 'Flying' section. It seems as though McDonald prepares later material by alluding to it by partially 'hiding' it in different forms, and in this way the melodic, and harmonic material grows organically. The word 'arms' is sung over a D major 4-3 suspension, connecting to the numerous other examples of suspensions found throughout the piece.
The words 'Slowly up, then slowly down' are sung to a rising and falling melodic phrase, E-F#-G-A-G-F#-E which further stresses the importance on melodic symmetries which are at the heart of the music. The vocal part is imitated by a 'C-Melody' saxophone which McDonald has said he came across during the recording of the album (telephone conversation with A.K., 17-viii-00). An acoustic guitar also places attacks on beat 2 of every bar during the initial three bars. As the music moves on the words, 'Faster up then faster down', are 'painted' by a slight transformation of the sax line, with the acoustic guitar now playing on beats 2 and 4. There is a further intensification in the accompaniment during the repeat of these words, where the sax is double-tracked with more rapid and syncopated attacks in the acoustic guitar part. This leads into a triplet-based underpinning of chromatic ascent in the voice parts over a D natural pedal in the bass guitar, building tension towards the 'take off' point in the structure heard on the words, 'Til at last with a swishing sound/He very gently left the ground'. The word 'ground' is sustained on the pitches G natural and B natural, from which emerges a sustained G major organ chord transforming itself up the harmonic spectrum, underpinned by soft cymbal attacks played on every beat. This is the point at which the spans, or sections, have been aiming towards: at last, Birdman is airborne! The long sustained chord prepares for the kernel of the piece: the spacious 'Birman Flies!'
There has been a gradual increase and decrease in the tempi from the introduction up until this point which, in a sense, reflect the ascending/descending melodic symmetries:
ia) Crotchet = 72-76;
ib) Crotchet = 112;
ii) Crotchet = 112-116;
iii) Crotchet = 66 circa, with a decrease to crotchet = 60-63 in anticipation of 'Birdman Flies!'.
'Birdman', Section iv) 'Birdman Flies!'
This purely instrumental section of the piece emerges from the previous 'Wishbone Ascension', which closes with an ascending G major chord. The chord gradually transforms into the minor mode, reminiscent of the 'fate' motive in Mahler's Sixth Symphony, and comes to rest on a high G minor second inversion. The gentle cymbal attacks continue to underpin this chord in quavers, which help to mark the speed: crotchet = 60-63. The Birdman is airborne, gradually flying higher and higher and gazing down on the spacious terrain beneath.
The section comprises a series of G minor, Bb major and F major chords each one extending over four bars, making a twelve bar period like a huge 'ground':
Bars 1-4: G minor;
5-8: Bb major;
9-12: F major.
These chords, excluding D major, are the chords used in the previous 'Wishbone Ascension'. However, the Perfect Cadence of the previous section - the point of resolution - has been taken away, and the listener becomes aware of the complete modality, and circularity of the music. There is something about this section, and the following section 'Wings in the Sunset' which are slightly reminiscent of 'Atom Heart Mother'-period Pink Floyd which the long harmonic rhythms and the inclusion of brass. The section is a carefully paced textural accumulation used in a tone-poem, narrative-like way. I will list each section of 'Birdman Flies!' by including the main instrumental components within it. It is possible to see, from looking at the following diagram, how the music gradually accumulates building to an enormous climax in bars 101 and 102 of the section:
A) Bars 1-12:
i) electric piano plays the main riff which outlines the accompanying chords - G-Bb-D (F) X4|Bb-D-F (G) X4|F-A-C (A) X4;
ii) organ sustains chords of G minor, Bb major and F major;
iii) susp. cymbal - quaver attacks (hard sticks pp) ;
B) Bars 13-24:
i) electric piano + flute play main riff (flute plays for eight bars only);
ii) electric piano arpeggiates high harmonic centre every four bars;
iii) organ sustains chords;
iv) cymbal continues quaver pulse;
v) snare-drum accented sf attack on second beats of bars of bars 13, 15, 17 etc.;
vi) reverb percussive element gradually fades over length of a bar in semi-quavers triggered by the snare-drum attack;
C) Bars 25-36:
i) two legato flute pitches (Eb-D) descend as anacrusis and overlap with this section;
ii) electric piano riff 'thickened';
iii) organ sustains chords;
iv) drums: beat two - snare attack; beat four - tom-tom fills;
v) acoustic guitar introduces fragment of counter-riff (G-F);
vi) bass guitar as anacrusis into:
D) Bars 37-48:
i) electric piano riff;
ii) flute solo improvisatory (arpeggios become anacrusis in bar 48);
iii) drums fuller rhythm;
iv) bass guitar in bar one only;
v) high electric guitar Paul Kossoff-like bends (see 'Free Me' - Free/Free) - Bb-A-G-band to D over Bb major; band F-G over F major chord which tiggers acoustic guitar riff (G-F syncopated);
E) Bars 49-60:
a) electric piano wide riff;
b) bass guitar joins with the riff;
c) drums now less fragmentary, supporting the rhythm more fully;
d) flute plays decorative flurries;
e) Acoustic guitar counter-riff intensifies - (G-G-G-F over G minor; F-F-G-F over B b major);
F) Bars 61-72:
i) electric piano riff;
ii) bass becomes freer;
iii) drums fuller and sometimes doubling-up attacks on beats one, two and three of a bar;
iv) acoustic guitar counter-riff intensifies further (G-G-G-G-F over G minor; F-F-F-G-F over Bb major; F-F-F-G-F over F major);
v) electric guitar in bars 68-69 'Badge'-like (Cream) descending chords joining Bb major to F major: (Bb major) Bb-F-Bb, A-F-A, G-F (F major);
vi) two flutes lead into:
vii) strings long, gliding pitches;
G) Bars 73-84:
i) riff slight distortion in the electric piano;
ii) bass riff + free;
iii) drums fuller with rolls on tom-toms;
iv) acoustic guitar counter-riff slightly extended with C-C#-D semi-quavers as anacruses;
v) strings long pitches, high tessitura in octaves;
vi) brass attacks: Bar 81 - beat 4, second half of beat; Bar 82 - beat 2, second half of beat; Bar 83 - beat 1, second half of beat plus beat 4 on the beat; Bar 84 - beat 3, on the beat plus beat 4, semi-quaver rest/ semi-quaver chord/quaver as anacrusis;
vii) strings play version of the main four-note motive in augmentation: Bb-C-F-G. Here it has been transposed up a semi-tone from the original, A-B-E-F# which, in this case, has been used as a musical metaphor for ascent;
H) Bars 85-96: Full texture: piano riff, bass, drums, flute, brass play more often, strings play the pitches closer together;
Approach to climax:
Bars 97, 98, 99 strings play quavers Bb-C-F-G; Bar 100 strings play Bb-C-F-G in crotchets with huge crescendo, flute trills and scales;
Bars 101-101 climaxing ff on a Diminished-like chord. There are several ways of interpreting this particular collection: a) G#/B/D/F# (note that a true diminished chord would include F natural, but is here modified by F#) with D natural as the root; or b) Ab/Cb/Ebb/F# with Ebb as root pitch (in this way the chord functions in a similar way to a German Augmented Sixth, with the two outer pitches resolving: i.e. Ab resolves downwards to G; F# resolves upwards to G. If it was a true German Augmented Sixth, the pitches would be Ab/C/Eb/F#). The former interpretation of a 'modified-Diminished' has the advantage over the latter, as the chord may then be regarded as V to the following G major chord which, in turn, is V to the C major centre of the next section, 'Wings in the Sunset' and, indeed, the whole album; c) having discussed the chord with Ian McDonald we feel that the probable definition is as a B minor/D with a sharpened sixth (Bm/D#6). This definition is probably the most successful, mainly because of the aural force one experiences in the abrupt shift from the preceding Ab major chord into the B m/D#6. This is due, in part, to the tritone Ab (in the Ab major chord) to the D (of the B minor#6). More importantly, this chord becomes a central feature of 'Wings in the Sunset'.
Section v) 'Wings in the Sunset'
A listener is bound to feel this section as a resolution after the tremendous tension built-up during the course of 'Birdman Flies!', which is the apotheosis of the piece and the work as a whole. The material which makes up the bulk of this penultimate section has already been heard from bar 15 ff. of 'The Inventor's Dream' (Section ib) on the words 'fly' and light'. Previously it was in 3/4 time but, here, is in 4/4 at crotchet = 60 circa.
The melody is sung in 3rds, the first vocal part taking the pitches, E-E-E-C-D-C-A, while the second, sung above the first in rhythmic unison, is heard G-G-G-E-F-E-C. The words are: 'Weary from his journey/ Birdman circled homeward/Flying through the sunset/He very gently floated by/Down to the ground', and has been conceived as a dynamic quasi-recapitulation. In setting the words to the second melody of the Introduction, McDonald suggests a possible structural allusion to a modified Sonata Form:
The Inventor's Dream = Exposition (1st and 2nd subject groups);
The Workshop = Bridge Passage;
Wishbone Ascension = precedes Development (possible third subject group, but more of a development by inversion of the original ascending motive);
Birdman Flies! = Development section;
Wings in the Sunset = Recapitulation which is developed by accumulation;
Birdman - the Reflection = Coda
However, even more than this the material in this recapitulation reinforces Sinfield's words, 'circled homeward', and in this way a powerful musical metaphor has been suggested. Also, with the resolution to C major, listeners feel they have been taken on a satisfying musical journey now, at this point in the structure, being brought 'Down to the ground'.
Besides the same music being sung as in the Introduction except with the metrical transformation, the textureat the beginning of 'Birdman Flies!' is taken up again suggesting timbral unity: sustained organ, quaver cymbal pulse plus and, in this instance, two vocals and bass guitar. The section of words is an irregular nine bars in length, with an abrupt modulation to Ab major on the word 'sunset', itself an effective piece of word-painting. The chords, each lasting for one bar, are:
C major|F major7|C major|F major7|C major|Ab major|Ab major (with dissonant descending line)|D quasi-diminished (B minor/D #6)[anticipated in bar 101 of the 'flying' section])|G major (repeat)
This section is another development by accumulation based on the the melodic and harmonic material from the section of words, with an ever-increasing dynamic range from p to fff. Ian McDonald has said (telephone conversation with A.K. 17-viii-00) that the material was inspired by something he heard by Tim Buckley. The material also anticipates the coda of King Crimson's 'Islands', by using similar melodic motives and using, as a basis for both, chords I and IV/I.
A Bars 1-9: solo acoustic piano playing main melodic material accompanied by the above chords, p;
B Bars 10-18: piano, 'hummed' vocals in 3rds and 6ths, bass and drums;
C Bars 19-27: piano, vocals sung to 'ah' with a similar texture but increased dynamic to mf;
D Bars 28-36: same texture plus organ, more piano arpeggio figuration marked up to f;
E Bars 37-45: same texture but includes saxes double-tracked, strings reinforcing melodic material strings;
F Bars 46-54: fuller texture - snare-drum on every beat, saxes in thirds, lead taken by clarinets;
G Bars 55-63: brass included plus 'swooping' horns, ff, virtuoso drum part especially on the quasi-diminished chord bar;
H Bars 64-72: Brass/strings high tessitura, fff, with rallentando in bar 72 to bar 73 with massive climax on the Perfect Cadence, then a fade/diminuendo.
Section vi. Birdman - Coda
This section comprises: a) soft organ chords oscillating I - IV/I (C major - F major/C pedal pitch) which eventually come to rest on chord I (C major); b) soft brass playing the four-note motive over the chords which fades into the distance by reverberation. The listener hears and sees the evening scene, where the Birdman watches the sunset, reflecting on the journey he has made.
The section provides structural book-ends as well as a satisfying conclusion. It also connects the very end of the piece with the key-centre of 'Suite in C'. Ian McDonald has also pointed out that the last chord of the more recent 'Drivers Eyes' (1999) closes with the chord ('Let There Be Light') on which the album begins ('Overture').
Apropos 'Birdman', the coda's rising organ chords (I-IV) include the pitches G-A as part of the pitch collections, which are also included in the final version of the four-note motive: G-A-D-E. The four-note motive has appeared in many different forms in the piece, providing a strong reference point for the listener as well as unifying it:
Introduction: A-B-E-F# (opening voices; vocal part of the verses);
The Workshop: G-A-D-E (end of sax solo);
Birdman Flies!: Bb-C-F-G (strings);
The Reflection: G-A-D-E.
The piece also begins in E major and ends on C major which underlines Birdman's return to earth. The descent of a major third in the larger-scale harmonic framework is also connected to the fall of a major 3rd in the melodic line of 'Wings in the Sunset' on the words 'Weary from his journey': G-G-G-E-F-E-C. This allows the minutiae of the motives to be reflected as though in microcosm.
'McDonald and Giles' is one of the best-kept musical secrets of the 1970's, along with such albums as 'Bored Civilians' by Cross and Ross (1972), 'It'll All Work Out In Boomland' by T2 (1970) and Peter Sinfield's 'Still' (1973). One wonders if 'McDonald and Giles' was, in some ways, a prototype for Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' with its multi-sectional, almost one-man approach in recording a complete musical work. Ian McDonald has said that Island records were reluctant to release the album at the time, and that he also had reservations about it. Its strengths lie in its careful structural and dynamic pacing; the use of cyclic keys (Suite=C major; Ibis=E major; Waiting=E minor/major; Tomorrow's=C major-Fmajor; Birdman=E major-C major). It has a strong sense of key (C major) which frames pieces by falling a 3rd (Suite and Birdman); its eclecticism anticipates Peter Sinfield's 'Still'; the arrangements never encroach on the musical substance, but reinforce it by reference to the main motives and through careful attention to word-painting. In 'Birdman' there is a Schenkerian Urlinie outlining E-(D)-C which may be thought of as being underpinned by a long-term E major (III) to C major (I). This is by no means conventional, providing an example of a third-divider (III) which begins a work, but may be a possible neo-Schenkerian interpretation. From a sonic viewpoint the album is well-produced, with the bass and drums used in a virtuoso-like way, leaving McDonald to add, in places, inventive and economic quasi-improvised instrumental parts. The words, particularly those of 'Birdman', are evocative and colourful bringing into play powerful archetypes, and their musical potential has been fully realised by McDonald.
(I would like to thank Ian McDonald and Peter Sinfield for their suggestions, help and enthusiasm throughout the writing stages of this analysis. The analysis is copyright, Andrew Keeling/Discipline Global Mobile, August 2000.)
: In the Court of the Crimson King
/ In the Wake of Poseidon / Lizard / Islands /
McDonald and Giles / Red / The ConstruKction of Light / Interview :