To The Beat

The world seems to be plummeting inexorably toward hell, so I’m going to write about music. And beware, because I’m one of those people who has just enough musical training to out myself as a damn fool on the subject.

When I was a kid, I went to a Baptist summer camp. (I was not Baptist, but my friends were going, and they told me it’d be fun.) (Now that I think of it, I don’t think they were Baptist, either.) There were a lot of things I loved about it, like the art projects and the prizes we got for memorizing Bible verses. (I had an excellent short-term memory. I won a lot of stuff.)

But the best part was the singing. There were the usual hymns, of course, but then there were bangers like “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and the school’s theme song, which adapted beautifully to a pack of children bellowing. At camp, I could sing as loudly as I wanted without fear of standing out.

All the adults thought I was marvelously pious. In truth, I was perhaps slightly more religious then than I am now (spoiler: I am not at all religious now), but I took nothing about God and Christ away from this camp. I took popsicle-stick birdcages, and music.

I was raised with music in the house. My dad was a massive fan of classical music, but when my brother and I were very small, he was also playing the Doors and the Carpenters and the Beatles. And an odd little record he bought in 1973: the theme music to a controversial horror movie called The Exorcist.

Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells hooked me like nothing had before. Consisting of two continuous compositions, one 25 minutes and one 23, it was the first thng I’d heard with a symphonic structure that wasn’t written by somebody long dead.

(Look, I love me some Beethoven, but most of that stuff leaves me cold.)

I bought a lot of Oldfield’s work over the years (I may actually own all of it), and although I have to give Hergest Ridge the nod for my favorite, I think it’s probably fair to say Tubular Bells is his most fascinating and influential work. As for what it did for me? It ushered in what 45 years later has become my enduring weakness: the continuous EDM mix.

I tried–just once–making a mix of my own. Reader, I suck at it. Not in a million years would I have thought it was difficult to do a fade-out fade-in on a pack of dance tracks, but it is. It’s like the old mix tapes I used to make, where I had to get the feel of the sequence right, only you can’t use silence for transition. It was so much fun to make, and I want to do another one, and I may never get the time, because it’s unbelievably difficult. (DJs do it all the time. They do it live. It’s astonishing.)

Anyway. Here’s a list of my favorite continuous mixes made by people who actually know what they’re doing. There may be single tracks I like better, or small groups of songs I like to play in clumps, but these are the mixes that really work for me.

For those of you curious about my own ham-fisted mix, here’s the track list:

  1. “Stars” – Gareth Emery (from Northern Lights)
  2. “Mariana Trench” – Above & Beyond (original single mix)
  3. “Voyager” – Solarstone (from Pure)
  4. “Until Tomorrow” – Hybrid (from I Choose Noise)
  5. “Illusion” – Giuseppe Ottaviani (from Magenta)
  6. “On a Good Day” – OceanLab (from Sirens of the Sea)
  7. “Gave Me” – Giuseppe Ottaviani (from Magenta)
  8. “Finished Symphony” – Hybrid (from Wider Angle)

(Goodness, that dates it, doesn’t it?)

If you know any of these tunes, it’s probably obvious to you why it was hard to put together, because too many of them don’t quite mesh. I took a pack of songs I really liked at the time and shoved them together so I could have a continuous workout mix, when what I should’ve done was picked an anchor or two and built a landscape around them. It makes for a great workout soundtrack, but as a mix it mostly outs me as an utter amateur.

These days I use drag-and-drop playlists for workouts, usually dominated by the stuff I’ve bought most recently (although my playlist containing half of Hyperfall also contains Rachel Yamagata and Paul Simon). I put them on shuffle, and I let them get me through the dull bits of exercise without thinking much about pacing. They’re easy to make, and they’re easy to change when I get bored, and they’re not very creative.

And now, having recognized I made my mix four-and-a-half years ago, I’m a little afraid I’ve talked myself into yet another way to put off finishing my draft. The brain is an amazing thing when it wants to be distracted.

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