Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dance Little Lady Dance

From 1994

I’m reading Stockhausen’s notes on the works, and I’m wondering at this descriptive project of Stockhausen’s, this listing, this projected matrix of ideas that is then re-cast back onto sound. Somehow this is upheld as a liberation into ideas, and allows a consequent transformation of sound. Yet I don’t know where this transformation is, and the casting of some idea of “transformation” onto what happens sonically is arbitrary and slippery in its monumentalism. What is Stockhausen really about? Can I hope to get there? Where is this transformation? Have I missed it? Does my loss somehow lessen my appreciation?

What if “Dance Little Lady Dance” were the highpoint of Western art in the 20th Century? How do we know anything is a great work of art? What if something small and lost in the fray is actually a major work? What conditions would need to be met, or what would it need to do, for “Dance Little Lady Dance” to be considered great? Why do I advance the idea that something small and lost like this, something that isn’t even considered worth a listen even when we do pay attention to it, is worth a listen anyway?

What I want to do in this essay is to sneak into that small space that lets me enjoy “Dance Little Lady Dance” despite its age, its context, its hipness (or lack of it), its low “production values”. I want to see if even this song, which is about as extreme as we can get in looking at notions of value in recorded sound, can help us understand how technological sound arises in our listening, how technological sound has repositioned music and listening, and how music has been lost in the context of technological sound. I want to find some sort of kindly analysis of music in sound under a ruling technological order.

It would be easy, for instance, to begin from a position of the cutting edge, and explore notions of what sound is and how it shapes certain ideas. The cutting edge in itself packages a whole set of values and ideas that are amenable to using sound to break open our attitude to “post music”. Yet I suspect that by listening to the cutting edge we will actually miss, or be distracted from, the very thing which makes our listening anew under the order of technological sound. In a sense, by listening to the cutting edge, and coming up with some matrix for sound as a result, we won’t get anywhere revealing with technological sound. We’ll just get a series of axioms that predict our listening, rather than finding a way for us to be in our listening. I can asseverate the truth or otherwise of sound under this order, but I may never simply be there with it.

By listening to “Dance Little Lady Dance”, I want to duck out of distinct and big categories. I want to continually return to some sort of modal empirical method, of returning to my own feelings and how these may sit with a position in recorded musics. To be explicit, I find no automatic reason for attributing any sort of value to any particular (kind of) music, and therefore, why “Dance Little Lady Dance” should not be accorded as much weight or attention as any other. I’m not interested in finding an endpoint to this argument, however, by replacing the (masculinist hegemonist) canon prevalent in popular music with one populated by trash (though I think such an exercise would have numerous interesting erosive and redistributive advantages).

I’m not even trying, ultimately, to make a point about the “size” of this song, its artistic position or its lyric stature (though its cultural “size” and its ephemerality are of prime concerns in this essay). Instead of measuring this song, I want to pick out those points that spring up when listening, I want to listen to those voices that are aroused even before, but also during and after, the song makes its way through the speakers.

As I’ve already implied above, the first voices I lay credit to are those that say that this song is not worth listening to. If I “listen” longer (though these voices are as much generated by me as part of a continuum on which my ear happens to fall), then I hear that the production of this song is very “flat” (and “cheap”). There’s very little sense of a “space”, particularly either some sort of originary space in which the music may have been ideally performed (i.e. the studio or other recording place) or an imaginary alternative world in which the music is moved into (e.g. a cavernous cathedral, a dry plain, an empty basement, etc). In fact, there’s very little sense of space (between instruments, within our speakers) in the recording as well. It sounds like it must have been recorded in five minutes, with virtually no post-production. The backing band sounds like a sequenced sample, if it wasn’t for the fact that we know these things weren’t available in 1976. Thus, a song so buried in the production milieu of the time, so buried in the machine, that not even the live production of music sounds “real” or live, that the only alive thing is Tina Charles’ voice.

This is, no doubt, part of the reason why that first voice (that of dismissing the song) gains credence. Yet surely this song’s similarity to sequenced musics, particularly as it has arisen in a (virtually) pre-digital era, should give it some status. Techno, for instance, employs very similar techniques of “de-localising” sound and sonic architectures, so that chunks of sound become modalities in a palette of sound. That palette, as the term suggests, leads sound to have a much more two-dimensional character, and fudges the relationship between listener, speakers, and the productive process. For all intents and purposes, the only reality in techno is the artificially generated one midway or around the speakers, in which the listener happens to fall.

In particular, this song has a similarity to ambient techno which, along with the drug states which often accompany its (techno’s) playing, partly predicates on some notion (traceable to Stockhausen and other modernist programmes) of transformation and liberation into another existence through technological purity and rarefaction. Perhaps, then (if we were to use the lyrics of the song as a gloss) “Dance Little Lady Dance” moves into some sort of transformative position reflecting that of the little lady (through romance and dancing).

My point here, however, is not so much to claim some equality for “Dance Little Lady Dance” with the predominant recorded art music of our time, but to tease out the difficulty for us of taking as read the inherent value of the assertedly worthy, in this case, that of techno, the predominant recorded art music of our time. Simply: to say ambient techno is implicitly worthy because of its transformative agenda becomes a problem when we line up other musics (of reputedly lesser value) which, without setting out to do so, achieve the same ends. This would even occur with other musics that aren’t devalued: “Carolyn’s Fingers” by Cocteau Twins[1], for instance (which, though produced in a way which focuses on the production process, the relationship with the listener, and the nature of recorded sound, nevertheless results in having a “net ambient effect” in which the listener can become buried), or It’ll End In Tears by This Mortal Coil (an album much closer to “Dance Little Lady Dance” than many people would care to admit).

Perhaps the reason that this becomes a bigger problem for art musics of our time is that the asseveration of transformation in the operation of music such as ambient techno becomes doubly redundant, both because its claim to special status is eroded by comparison with other music, but also because it really goes without saying in recorded sound. Recorded sound will always be, in a very simple way, transformative, because of its inherently physical and enveloping nature (i.e. our listening environment will tend to be re-shaped by recorded sound). Even whether representationalism or theatrical projection is pushed into the sound before, during, and after its production and reproduction (and these are separate issues to the transformationalism of music such as ambient techno), there remains the nature of sound to re-cast our listening environment (obviously in a way that no other art form can do, except, perhaps, literature, by extension from the enveloping modality of reading).

My concern here, however, is not to show how ambient techno tackles any special extra considerations of transformation. I believe that ambient musics set up their own circular problems in this regard which, for my ears, tend to remain unresolved. (In fact, by becoming a more written medium, particularly in terms of writing on and across our listening space, I imagine this circularity will be exacerbated.) What I am interested in is where this leaves us with a song such as “Dance Little Lady Dance”. Given that its transformational aspect can be taken as read, the distinctions held out against this song become less tenable. Given, moreover, that the transformative musics against which it can be compared employ similar notions of repetition and derivation as are articulated through the recording of the backing band of this song, there seems to be more to this song than meets the ears.

For instance, the song also has a somewhat (but not markedly) peculiar place in the production context of the time. At a time when sound/studio production was becoming an industrial entity of its own, when the studio was becoming embedded as an industrial machine with which to present recorded sound, when recording technology as a result was becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex, this small unsophisticated unoriginal song reached the top of the charts.

This has implications for our listening now in that recording of popular music is in a similar position, except that the full weight of the machine itself is right through the production of music now, rather than heightened at one end. There is no recorded music these days that is not exceptionally highly produced and unproblematically so. The highly produced is the norm, even in terms of small songs potentially equivalent to 1976’s “Dance Little Lady Dance”, such as Ace of Base’s “The Sign” (which, for instance, in its marrying of light ragga rhythm with a Swedish ABBA-pop sensibility, has the same kind of small kooky idiosyncrasy of “Dance Little Lady Dance”). As we can, however, hear in a song like “The Sign”, the capacity for the kind of leakage available through a small and insignificant work like “Dance Little Lady Dance”, even despite the latter’s “unspatial” recording style, is actually reduced with a more written medium, such that the relationships within the work as a projected whole (as a series of written discourses related through digital technology to each other even before they leave the hard disc) become predisposed onto our listening before the relationship exists in real time and as-lived-with by us in our living rooms (or wherever the speakers happen to be). This is not to say that we can’t make what we will of what we hear, but that the conditions (but not necessarily the possibilities) for doing this are more (at least at this stage) restricted. Under digital, on the input side, even with artists who are directly and self-consciously aiming to burrow into the implications of the digital forms, the small, the lapse, are hardly seen (or heard) as possibilities. With the written matrix of digital, these things are overlooked (or perhaps not even able to be overlooked, so that the possibility for leakage is severely limited), while paradoxically the monumental paradigms and programmes of modernism are able to gear themselves up again. It’s quite strange that the aleatory forms explored under late modernism are both quite natural under digital (through digitalised random generation), and yet also, in the main, actually excluded.

What I’d like to pursue further, therefore, is how our experience of recorded sound (working from our listening position) occurs regardless of this monumentalism (even though it may or not be present in or around a work. For our listening of “Dance Little Lady Dance”, much of this lies in the relationship which Tina Charles’ voice has with the listener, and with the relationship established between her voice and the backing band in that formulation. Listening as we now are in a digital world where decay is so strongly resisted, Charles’ voice sounds to us doubly so close on the technological (and hence aesthetic) form, close to the point between physical location (as placed in the recording studio and on the physical tape), and yet is also being buried in an overcoded subcultural matrix (i.e. sounding tacky, cheap, ephemeral, sounding like a piece of girly fluff). These two tendencies are twinned in there, so that there’s a point of suspended animation between the two. This kind of constant mediation and interaction is highlighted in other more self-conscious works, such as “Slogun” by SPK[2], where the point of physical location and presence is crossed such that the medium’s fragility and inherent weaknesses are exposed and factored into the aesthetics and the listening. (I would argue that this is present in all recorded sound, but its phasing in our listening is suppressed by other recorded forms and works, including and especially digitally recorded and produced works.) There’s no escape for the sound of SPK out of the analogue bind, in a similar way to Tina Charles, whose voice almost distorts in the medium despite itself. The potential breakage of her voice is as much a threat (albeit muted) of breakage of the medium, so that the medium itself becomes close on our ears. In a sense, there’s a kind of inverse breakage with the backing band as well, in its extreme overcodedness: the backing band (in its repetitiveness, both in a sonic mechanistic way and in the performative norm under which the industry has placed them), as well as its recording, resist any attempt to take on the full range allowed by the recording medium, so that its very low fidelity causes a sort of internal collapse or implosion for the medium, especially when laid behind the careless overcoded girly abandon of Charles’ voice.

In this way, the medium begins to arise as a physical and metaphorically arisen entity predetermined and preexistent with our own experience of it, so that the experience occurs as much across as within the speakers, and across our shared experience outside the speakers and regardless of the production process. (At a different level, this is analogous to the way adolescent girls make of pop stars what they will, despite the supposed repressive manipulations of the industry[3]). The cliché of this form, therefore, is a kind of planned or inbuilt redundancy which mediates a kind of rhythmic cultural movement (in this I don’t mean a capital M Movement) across the medium and across a range of communities of interest.

This is allied to the way repetition and cliché became opened up by the arrival of house and rap music (for the latter, particularly in its mid-period of the late 80s). Repetition became some sort of recuperative process, but not in the way that might be immediately apparent (i.e. recuperative of earlier musics in a straight borrowing sense), and not recuperative in the sense of trying to return music to some utopian performative norm (much of the music on which this is based already arises from a living as-performed context by real people in real communities). The recuperation here is one of constant momentum and cycling, not necessarily of renewal but of re-living through living on. The idea of cliché, in fact, becomes redundant when the entire oeuvre is recursive and derivative. Instead, the repeated becomes a means of progressing sound, animating life, maintaining networks and relationship, and this across a community of interest and a community of sound mediated through a range of networks, including radio, dance parties, record stores, and so on. (A case in point is the repeated sampling of James Brown’s “unh”, which, through its excessive repetition, had less to do with cliché and more to do with shared exchange of an artistic moment.) It’s no coincidence, then, that house tended to sample works from the genre of “Dance Little Lady Dance”, in a sense revivifying that pulse of broad aesthetic/cultural rhythm. As much as any other performance event, this kind of aesthetic rhythm becomes articulated as a shared cultural practice and modality.
©Timothy James Horton 1994

[1] From Cocteau Twins’ 1988 album Blue Bell Knoll, available at; "Carolyn's Fingers" available at iTunes Store
[2] “Slogun” appears on SPK’s 1983 album Auto-Da-Fé, available at
[3] As studied by someone like Sheryl Garratt in “Teenage Dreams”, in Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin’s On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, Routledge, London, 1990, available at
"Dance Little Lady Dance", "The Sign" available at iTunes Store
It'll End In Tears available at

I Eat Cannibals

From 1994

Why listen to Toto Coelo?

Toto Coelo appears to be a group of 5 girls that had two hits in Australia, “I Eat Cannibals (Part One)” (which I bought at the time) and “Dracula’s Tango (Sucker For Your Love)” in 1983. My re-acquaintance with this group occurred when last I saw a 3-person drag show in inner city Sydney with one of the performances choreographed to the second of these two songs. Moved as I was, I bought their album (Man o’ War) when I next happened to be browsing through the old vinyl in the back aisles of Gould’s Book Shop in Newtown. In writing this essay I want to focus on “I Eat Cannibals (Part One)”, though I also have the rest of the songs on that album in my ears, particularly “Dracula’s Tango (Sucker For Your Love)” and “Hey Rajah”.

In listening to Toto Coelo, I’m posed with a problem. I’m meant to read this work in a particular way, hear it in a particular way, dismiss it in a particular way. Yet I love “I Eat Cannibals (Part One)”. Rather than work backwards from this position, starting from a place that inherently has little to do with our actual listening, I want to start at a place, perhaps (for the object of this essay) to one side of (and at times between) the speakers cast up at ear level. I want to alternate between forgetting and problematising the pre-judgement that defines this sort of song as not worth the time of listening to it. And rather than coming to a point of making some sort of cheap academic justification for liking trash, I want to find out why this song can stir me (who’s been through the academic process, who knows the rules and understands the game) and make me find some sort of aesthetic, cultural and sonic resonance for it, rather than a simple sub-cultural niche for it.

There’s nothing about the music (as text, as some sort of cultural form) per se of this song that should necessarily make us be particularly interested in this song as art. It doesn’t seem to me (a musical illiterate) particularly inventive as a musical form. The melody is not striking (except as a hook), the rhythm is not in itself very complex (in context of the time, it figures in a particular way, but I may return to that later), the lyrics are scarcely “deep” (though again, they’re points in a larger mosaic which figure significantly). It’s a slightly unusual variation on the pop song form, in that it ends with a lyrical extension and variation on the verse/chorus content of the rest of the song, but this in itself is not strikingly unusual.

It’s from this point that I want to start pondering the issue of what is music these days, whether in fact we listen to music, how recording has changed our listening, and how there is, at one level, very little difference between the kind of listening involved in any (recorded) electronic music and any other recorded music. Wanting to draw a long bow, I want to show that Toto Coelo, for instance, are direct inheritors of Stockhausen’s initiatives. Not only this, but that they also contribute significantly to the playing out of recording and electronic sound art since Stockhausen, and to the critical question of where technology and music are post recorded sound.

Let’s add up the incongruities. For a start, there’s something very peculiar about this ensemble of 5 women (if we can believe it’s 5 women - I’ll discuss this below) singing the peculiarly terse extended metaphor of “I Eat Cannibals” (which in fact, as “performed” in the recorded song, gets abbreviated to “I Eat Cannibal”). (Is this in fact a metaphor? What does this line do, as realised in a pop song, when it seems to be more, or something slightly different to, a metaphor? After all, the line is not strictly analogous to an act that these girls would be referring to, though there may be some direct referentiality in it.) These 5 women, as they are represented (visually, through their own singing styles, and through the production of their voices) as being a tackily artificially suburban recreated version of some notion of the cutting edge of the New Wave (after all, their hair stylist is credited on the back of the album).

Furthermore, we don’t even know if it’s 5 women, whether it’s these 5 women (i.e. the 5 women in the video and on the album cover), where they were recorded, whether they were recorded together, whether in fact it’s only one woman multitracked and electronically treated. The women’s voices are all treated in a way that refuses to place them geographically. In fact, despite the mixing and multitracking of the voices, the very process is resisting any conventional sense of the ensemble in the work. There are some choral similarities, but no choir really sounds like this, where there are too many jumps between song styles, song modes, and sonic “locations”.

These women are also singing about things and in a particular way which is not particularly typical (though it’s more common now) for the western white woman in pop songs. Yet these desires are articulated in an exceptionally false and artificial way. There’s no “truth” pointed to in these words. There’s no referent. As the strangely twisted title metaphor conveys, the world which the lyrics points to belongs nowhere in actuality. This in itself is strangely arch and fetishistic. Pop song lyrics, sung by girlies, that not only don’t match up with girlie aspirations, and don’t match up with any sense of a “real” referent.

Already, built into the work, comes a sense of its lack of authenticity. Already the sense of the real is being eroded. What happens to the performed event in this? Is there a referent of live performance, of musical ensemble production (as opposed to recording production)?

The recording itself captures and highlights certain performative elements of the voice (certain husky tones, grunts that regularly punctuate the work). As a result, there is a privileging of vocalisations that are not normally admissible in the formal performed world of live music. In a sense, there’s an attempt to render strange, or to fetishise, something (the voice) which in a single abstracted performance has the potential (and in this case actually did and does) to become extremely familiar in all its modulations and exigencies.

Added to this is the odd location for much of the instruments and chorus in a large, cold, artificial-sounding space, which can’t be specifically oriented. At the time, this space was in fact reserved for less lighthearted and “girlie” music, such as that of Joy Division, Public Image Limited, XTC, Killing Joke, U2 and so on.

As a result, there’s no sense of the referent, rather, a sense of enjoyment of the technology itself. It’s hard to place a Band in this, or any performed event. Who is playing these strangely mechanical drums (I wouldn’t know, just from listening, and particularly in the context of the technology of the time, whether these drums were programmed, or looped, or actually played discursively across time and placed on multitrack tape accordingly)? Where do the tiger-like roars fit? What position in the “space” do the girlies fall into?

Through this sense of the artificial, it’s very hard to start making a distinction between (recorded) electronic music and any other sort of recorded music. Aside from the fact that it’s all mediated electronically, the point with this sort of production is that there’s no such thing as a real event or performance to which any of this can point. Not even the real time playing of any instrument - even the real time vocalisations - can be identified as authentic, because we can’t match them up with anything within or without the recording that could possibly ground them or date them or contextualise them as a physical event. However, we can contextualise them not only within the world of the recording, but also within the world of our own listening. Here we very much start to hear something which is not to do with the merits or otherwise of this synthetic sound over another supposedly real world sound. All of these sounds are unreal in the sense that, as we hear them, they are not physically what they appear to refer to. There is no real ensemble of women’s voices here from these speakers. But there still is a real sound, which has in it the reference to real women’s voices, but which is yet entirely different. This is an electronic sound, with its own physical properties as bestowed by components, electronic signal, physical environment of the reproducing mechanics.

In this context, then, where there is no real time position for any of the originary musical and sonic sources in our own listening, where does music end up? There of course can be no music in this environment when no instruments are making music with us at our listening time. There can be no music when vocalists are not merging their own voices with our physical environment, and when they cannot shape their voices with and as a result of their presence with us. Our concept of music as a live lively thing cannot hold under the weight of technology apparently pinning sound down to a time and a place (which of course in itself is a nonsense, if not simply for the fact that none of the things that are in the technology in terms of sound are there at the same time as each other).

We could say that this creates a “new music” of sound, and certainly in some performative or behavioural ways we could cast recorded popular music in this way. Its position in our living space, and its way of interacting with us, is very similar to the way live music interacts (albeit in different contexts), not to mention the “music of sound” best exemplified by someone like Brian Eno. Yet to look at (or more properly, to listen to) what this “new music” is in physicality with us in those situations, it’s hard to see how we can start positing a new music. There is no way we can extract any performative element from within the music, there is no performance apart from that of the electronics (which in itself is highly significant, but which I argue is not musical in the live performed sense). We can say that there is performance in the reference articulated in such music, but that performance is back in the process, it’s not with us now, and in fact never really was (except as discrete events sliced into the technology). What remains is lively, and live, but live as a technological event injected with electronics and lived-with by us listeners.
Taken from this perspective, (recorded) electronic music becomes just one of the packets placed into this technological performative event. The packet brings with it a certain set of preconditions and listening modulations, yet the listening conditions and position themselves do not significantly change. What Toto Coelo seem to do is to bring this event back into our own listening grasp. They seem to resist the notion that there is some sort of purification or purer artistic state possible through the abstracted world of electronic sounds. This world in itself is ours (as listeners) as lived with. The notion of the cutting edge, which is so strongly asserted in the music of someone such as Stockhausen, seems to be relegated to fairly overambitious rhetoric when faced with the reality that, in the end, technology takes us no further than our own listening.
©Timothy James Horton 1994

Man O'War substantially repackaged as I Eat Cannibals & Other Tasty Trax with all original and some additional tracks, available at
"I Eat Cannibals (Part 1)", "Dracula's Tango (Sucker For Your Love)", "Hey Rajah" available at iTunes Store

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pump Up The Volume

Part of the movement of sound production from the 60s to the 90s was a movement to a more dense use of soundspaces, so that by the early 90s there was a component of dance music where each track was "playing" soundspaces, rather than sounds or representations of instruments (e.g. Messiah’s “Temple of Dreams” or Felix’s “Don’t You Want Me”). This movement was of course made available, and mediated, and arguably "caused", by the increasing facility of sound production made possible through the development of technology and increased computerisation. By the early 90s, it was no struggle to posit a sound in the production that came ready-made with a complete sonic environment that in an earlier era might have taken many hours or days to generate in the studio.Of course, this move was gradual, and predicated on a whole series of strategies employed by producers and engineers to represent sound on a recording. There are many examples of this, and this is by no means the earliest, but a key early example is Ken Scott's recording of Bowie's Hunky Dory: the opening piano note of "Changes" wraps up a whole world of emotions, simply in the one note, before any other elements are introduced into the mix or any other notes are played. Furthermore, the dislocated spaces of early 90s dance music are well founded in non-dance productions, as far back as the mid 60s: George Martin and Geoff Emerick were already setting up alienating spaces in a track like "Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite", where the brittle crispness of the track, the reverb with its own peculiar quality, and the choice of instruments, set up a sonic image not just of another time, but of another slightly skewed world that does not sit squarely with our own. By the 80s, producers are well experienced at setting sonic elements against each other for an ulterior effect: Launay's production of "I Send A Message" has the rhythm of the track not only created through the instruments themselves, but through the sonic displacements caused in the productions of these instruments. Most notable in this is the infectious bounce of the keyboards and guitars in the opening bars, where one sound seems to bounce off another, as a kind of sonic echo of the other.So it is by the time of "Pump Up The Volume"[1] that producers are constructing highly complex soundspaces built up from many disparate elements. It is not just that the soundspaces are complex in terms of the instruments or sounds used; it is that the soundspaces are given a multidimensionality where the sonic elements have not only musical effects (such as to build up rhythm), but also emotional effects constructed on various cultural dimensions. "Pump Up The Volume", as an early piece of sampled and electronic dance music, provides a strong example of the sophistication of this multidimensionality.The sonic rhythm of "Pump Up The Volume" starts in a similar fashion to "I Send A Message" - three separate sounds working (metaphorically) contrapuntally, the bottle-sounding synth plonking in distinct positions in the space, with the hi-hats bouncing off this, and the brushed-drum bouncing almost into any position in the soundspace. The synth and the hi-hats are actually systematically and carefully positioned - the synth is positioned in three clear spaces, mid, and fairly far right and left, with the right and left appearances somewhat muted. The sound of the synth itself, and this tripartite positioning, gives it a fine, precise quality, almost like it is tickling the ears as it falls into the various spaces. There is a distinct physicality to this sound, like a sonic ping pong ball, and an aural sensuousness in the way it teases the ears by dropping onto the speakers in each position. The sound has a kind of sudden round completeness that quickly goes, so that it has a kind of mysterious, attractive and cute wonder to it: a sweet almost pretty sound that is like a sonic fairy, darting in and out of the listening space. Yet the sound is also somewhat cool and slightly distant, making it almost ethereal.By comparison, the hi-hats and brushed drum are relatively dissipated sounds, though their dissipation is tightly contained: there is a sense that they are cut short, as if they are part of something that would otherwise be larger. This interestingly enough draws a superficial connection with the bottle synth, as it carries on the somewhat mysterious quality of the latter sounds. However, the dissipation of the hi-hats also pulls away from the bottle synth, as if there is a kind of dragging of the thread of the track away; this is compounded by the way the other brushed drum, with a slightly different tone, smacks into the right speaker and then across from left to right. A rhythm is created, not just in the timing of the two types of sounds, but by the way the hi-hats seem to flick up off the bottle synths, and the brushed drum then starts to seem like it is flying around the soundspace, like the bottle synths are drops of water that leave splashes in the form of the hi-hats and brushed drum.Yet the phantasmic quality of the bottle synth, its sensuousness, the way it drops on the ears, and the interplay with the hi-hats and brushed drum, makes it seem like these sounds are actually falling randomly in the space, fracturing the listening and resisting a settled consistent soundspace. This sets up four seconds of tension where the listener is working out exactly what is to come, where the rhythm will settle, and what kind of musical form will result.Within this four seconds, therefore, a musical space and a soundspace is created that is already given a number of dimensions. There is the interplay of the qualities of the different sounds; the rhythmic "bounce" and contrasting disfigurement that occurs by the way the sounds fall into the space and across each other; the purely physical and pseudo-physical positioning of the sounds in the speakers (right, left, central, moving across these positions); and the physical quality of the sounds themselves as they fall on the speakers and the ears. There is a kind of putative physical space, from the positioning of the sounds and the qualities of the sounds; intersecting with which there is a putative musical form, created by the purely musical rhythm, and the metaphorical rhythm of the interplay of the sounds, as if this musical space is a kind of second dimension on top of or intersecting with the lateral dimension of the soundspace. Note that even in this, it is not entirely adequate to depict the lateral dimension of the soundspace as one dimension, as the qualities of the sounds themselves give a kind of imaginary height and depth to the soundspace - the bottle synths and the brushed drum sound both higher and closer than the hi-hats. In another production (and as we shall see, later on in this production), added strength could be added to such a dimensionality by the way in which the sounds are shaped with post-production techniques, such as echo and EQ - echo could be used to retreat a sound "back" in the soundspace, and EQ could be used to also heighten or lower a sound.However, the primary determinant of dimensionality in "Pump Up The Volume" is the quality of each sound, and their interplay, as here in the first four seconds. This becomes more obvious when the track's musical rhythm becomes clear at 0:04, when the kick drum appears, then vocals, then scratching, then piano, maracas and the more formless treated vocalic sounds that appear in left and right speakers. The kick drum immediately (but temporarily) cuts the dislocation short: it is a neutral central sound that brings conventional rhythmic order to the soundspace. But it has an automatic and disregarding quality, as if it too is expressing some kind of alienated position. For our purposes here, this quality serves to further the track's dimensionality: as if the drum is a kind of featureless sun in the middle of the orbit of the other sounds, or a deadspot itself separate from the other sounds. The first vocal, of Wolfman Jack or a simulacrum, adds another dimension (or perhaps another two or three dimensions) to the soundspace. This dimension could be conceived of as a fourth temporal dimension (though there is already a natural and inherent temporal dimension in any musical work, as part of the revelation of a musical work in the way it plays itself across time), in that the vocal is realising a kind of remembered space. It is important to note that this dimension is more complex and more inherently structural than appearances of spoken or quoted or sampled vocals from other earlier recordings, such as the train announcements in Supertramp's "Rudy" or the spoken ruminations on dying in Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky". This is primarily because the sampled vocals are played musically in the space, so they gain a structural position within the song from the outset. So their position in the space automatically complicates it: they are not inherently "of" the space, because they originate from elsewhere than the system on which the rest of the music is being created. They carry the codings and environment of the recording or space in which they originally appeared. By appearing in this new space, their appearance gives the total space a more explicitly abstract nature, so that the space is (if it ever was) even less about a real performative space (like a club or even the studio), or a projected real space, but about a "mind" or “aesthetic” space. As noted, by this time there has already been an extensive history of "head" spaces in popular music, from the unsettlement of "Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite" to the complete alternative universe of Tangerine Dream's "Phaedra", and the host of dreamy spaces of dub reggae. However, though the "head" space established by the use of sampled vocals has some similarities with these headspaces (most simply because, to sample the vocals, some treatment of the vocals has to occur, so that they sound somewhat bodiless), the mindspace of sampled vocals in this and other tracks of the time has the effect of deepening the spatial dimensions of the track by setting up, as another dimension, the dimension of the recorded space itself in its completeness. What I mean by this is that the elements within the mix are metaphorically placed on a continuum of recorded spaces, so that the sampled vocals take up a position of being in an "over there" of recorded space of their own. As listeners, we are more less hearing across a dimension of various recording spaces. There is the recorded space of the "instruments" themselves, then there are the various recording spaces of the different sampled vocals as well (from Wolfman Jack to Eric B. to the wailing middle Eastern-sounding female). It is tempting to describe this as a continuum of remembered spaces, and this is certainly one of the overtones of this use of sampling. But the "remembered" quality of the spaces is as much to do with the EQing of the samples to dampen extraneous sounds, and to posit them as "remembered" actually limits the way they work in our listening.Similarly, it is tempting to describe the continuum on which these spaces are placed as a historical continuum, and again, that is partially true, and part of the overall effect of the use of the spaces: it is as if we are listening to a snapshot of the history of recording, and we are at one end of this historical continuum. This partially explains the "depth" of this dimension of the soundspace. But again, this is not the full "picture" of this dimension. The dimension works by a depth of "recordedness", so that it is as if our position in relation to the recording is less one of spatial position, but of a textual position. "Textuality" is a convenient term for this position, and somewhat captures the sense of the position as a non-real one related to an artefact, but it does not quite capture the sense that our listening is as much conditioned by a whole host of recorded spaces, and spaces represented in a recorded production, as it is by real instruments playing in the air. A visual image of this dimension might be a landscape comprising a series of different recorded or broadcast environments retreating from us to the horizon.A comparison with Paul Hardcastle's "19" may make this a little clearer, in terms of how this latter song represents voices. "19" has a series of vocals represented in a number of different ways, including the relatively unmarked vocal of the female "backing" singers. In a sense, the backing singers are of a recorded space of our time, or current with us; it is not that the space represents anything physically congruous with our own listening space, but that the space sounds "now", both due to the style in which it is recorded, and due to the clarity and depth of the sound (which in itself makes this as “now” as the “nowness” of the whole style and currency of the song itself). Receding a little further from this is the vocal of the narrator[2], which is produced in two ways. The first is where the voice is narrating statistics, and sounds ever so slightly "thin" or cushioned, but still sounds somewhat present, perhaps like he is narrating over FM radio; the second where he is presenting a news report and sounds like he is narrating over AM radio, representing the historical past of the war, as well as the historical past of recorded sound. However, there is a quality to both these recorded spaces which does not recede the sound from us further than our listening present, because even the AM radio space sounds like it could be a current representation of a past recording style. It is important to note, though, that the spaces of this voice are slightly ambiguous, and this adds to the sense of recession of the spaces, while also resisting it: it takes a little listening to work out whether these spaces are re-created ones, not past sampled ones, partly because both are slightly treated (and even then, one is never entirely sure whether the spaces are re-created or sampled). The ambiguity is enhanced by the fact that the voice itself sounds like it is of the Vietnam War era - it is a style of voice from that time, and may well be of a reporter or announcer well-known from that period (and the "news reports" complicate this, as they appear to verify the voice as one from that period).Finally, even further from the AM radio voice, and clearly a voice from the past and from another recorded space, is the voice of the soldier: "I wasn't really sure what was goin on". The sense of recession is not just in the quality of the voice, but in the tone of "extraction" to the soundspace of the voice - it sounds like this is an extract from a larger utterance from the soldier, as the start and end of the vocal sound slightly rounded off. There are other voices and sounds from roughly the same space – the opening crowd noises, the scream at 1:29, and the gun fire at about 3:03.

“19” does not fully explore the kind of dimensionality found in “Pump Up The Volume” (partly because “19”’s focus in the use of the various voices is on a moral exploration), but it illustrates how the various voices, in a relatively pragmatic way, are made to step back from us towards other contexts, and to step back from the foundational soundspace of the synthetic instruments, so that our own relationship to the soundspace deepens, or perhaps, our awareness becomes spread out away from the foundational soundspace. “Pump Up The Volume” takes this further by not having these “found” spaces step away from a central core: instead, we are posited as participants in a much larger (multi)dimensionality – our involvement in the space seems to be part of something larger, beyond our full comprehension. The image of the kickdrum as a sun at the centre of a solar system is illustrative here: if the space is a solar system, then it and its various elements are moving away from and around us, like a solar system: each element in the space seems to be circling away from us, and circling away from each other, so that we as listeners end up being just one element in this solar system. Unlike a conventional recording, we are not so much projected into a space (as might be the case with the foundational space of “19”), but posited as having a position in the space equivalent to the other elements. Under this regime, the space is completely neutralised and abstracted, so that it is not representing a physical space, but an abstract presence, an abstract re-reality, in which we are located as one of the elements. We are basically in a new world of understood spaces, known spaces, spaces with which we are familiar and are familiarised, remembered spaces, internally experienced spaces, “felt” spaces, not (just) physically experienced or heard ones. As a result, our memory, our understanding, our context of the various musical elements, are as much participants in the space as the elements themselves. It is as if we are almost regardless in this space, casual listeners or participants in some other world or activity to which we don’t fully belong, or of which we don’t fully understand, and which have their own rules which we are not privy to. In a way, the “rememberedness” or quotedness of the voice of Wolfman Jack doesn’t just have this quality because we remember it (which in fact we may not): it has this quality because there is a sense that it is also someone else’s remembered voice, as if there is another plane of memory with which we just lightly intersect. This of course partly has to do with the fact that there is a kind of cultural memory here: we may have heard Wolfman Jack in other contexts, and so he represents a quoted, textual, broadcast element in our broader sonic understanding. As a radio voice, he is predominantly (in our awareness) disembodied, predominantly broadcast, and therefore predominantly a recorded artefact. But there is also the fact that, by being broadcast, he is part of a wider experience to which we don’t have personal access (the experience of the millions of others who have heard him); and, moreover, he has been broadcast over such a long period of time, and used in all sorts of different cultural contexts, that we also don’t have personal access to all the experiences of these manifestations either. This is all the more so because Wolfman Jack is sampled as saying “this has got to be the greatest record of the year”, as if somehow, from this other history, from this other experience, he is casting a judgement on something in our space. So our experience of Wolfman Jack here is like an intersection with all these other manifestations, all these other experiences and memories of him. To compare with “19”, this quality is back-of-mind in the use of Peter Thomas; but the various treatments of his voice, as noted, give a stepped-back quality to these manifestations, so it as if the various manifestations are stepping back away from us towards Vietnam itself (but also towards a moral comment on that war). In “Pump Up The Volume”, however, there is no similar stepped-back quality: Wolfman Jack is both already “stepped-back” (speaking to us from “another” time), but also present in all sorts of other realities and memories, as reported to us in the sampling of him here[3].

Which makes it all the more complex when the sounds in “Pump Up The Volume” are made to physically bear upon us – the sound in the speakers (rather than the sounds as remembered entities) is just one dimension of our relationship to the sounds and the space(s). This helps to explain the effect of the bottle synth, for instance, which has a delightful physical presence on our ears, but also seems to be coming to us from somewhere else: it is a kind of intersection with us of another world, or of another experience, or of another experience of this sound. So, too, the apparent randomness of the synth and the hi-hats operates so that these instruments are like particles flying around in space, which seem to fall around us and occasionally onto us. In this framework, we are just another celestial body which is subject to the effect of these sounds; but in a sense, these sounds cannot have the effect that they do without us being equal participants in the space, part of the fabric that constitutes the space.

This framework therefore explains more generally the use of sampling in this track. When the title line (a sample of Rakim from Eric B and Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul”) is sampled, it seems to come to us from somewhere else, while playing musically in the space; it is not just a sample in itself, played for musical effect; it has a textual function, quoted from another text with which we may or not be familiar. Like the Wolfman Jack quote (which sounds “broadcast”), it comes with its own medium’s baggage: Rakim here sounds like a recorded voice, because the sample is made to include the vinyl surface noise which comes with the recording. But in this quoting, and the inclusion of the surface noise, it also has a textural function, by adding to the various sonic characteristics of the piece. It seems to come fully formed from somewhere else; but its musical position in the piece (as the title line, repeated rhythmically) also fully locates it in the song as well, so again, it is as if two worlds are intersecting here in the musicality of the track. (There is a tangential effect too as a result of the use of this sample: because it does have this quality of seeming to come from another experience, there also remains a question in the back of our minds as to whether this really is Rakim, even when we fully know that it is: this lack of certainty is a kind of aura that sits around or behind the sample, rather than coded explicitly in it, so that our own experience of the sample continues to carry with it this sense of another possible experience or existence separate to us.)

It would appear to be no accident that Eric B and Rakim are sampled here, because their output at this time, as a result of their unique style of sampling, scratching and production, has a dreamy, “spacey” feel to it, a feel of drifting-off spaces and sounds calling in from afar. M.A.R.R.S. appear to be drawing on this characteristic in both sampling Rakim, as well as building up the soundspace of “Pump Up The Volume”. This becomes more evident in the next set of vocalic samples, from 0:16 to 0:27, which seem to be voices set in deep space, coming to us through a technological medium. The sampling here creates both an odd deferred headspace feel to the samples; but even more striking is that, though the samples kind of sound like they are broadcast to us over some sort of deep space transmission, there is also a quality to their sound that makes the broadcast character not quite on our minds as we listen to them. We don’t quite get the front-of-mind sense that we are being broadcast some message through deep space, partly because the quality of the sounds has this headspace feel: there is more a sense that these sounds are glancing at us from afar, from some other existence, as if we are passing a spaceship and as we come closer we telepathically become more familiar with the sounds occurring within that spaceship. Obviously, this is strongly conveyed through the Doppler-effect quality to the two different samples: the one at 0:16 has a bullet-like attack and slow decay to it, and the one at 0:21 (what has always sounded to me like “pipe down”) has a slow electronic attack and seems to have a slight spitting quality to its decay (this is because there is a metallic instrument or sound beaten under the vocal on each of its utterances: this could be a tambourine, though it is unclear; this sound is separate from the distinct tambourine placed left and right in the space). Added to this, each sound is located specifically in left and right speakers respectively, so that they retain a sense of peripheral glancing impermanence.

This glancing impermanence is also a result of the fact that, chronologically, each of these sounds is “triggered” by a resonant piano note in the left speaker, which creates a small but complex sonic couplet. Within each couplet, there is firstly a mental image of an entity flying close alongside and then faster away forward from us (the piano), and another entity consequently flying slightly further away towards us (the vocalic element). There is also a back-of-mind ballistic image, as suggested above, where the vocalic element is a delayed ballistic response to the pulling of the trigger of the piano note. In this regard, the second sample, having a duple structure (in my analogy, “pipe” and “down”), seems to have a ricochet. There is also a musical rhythmic function here, where the piano and the vocalic element seem to be a kind of stretched beat, the piano initiating it, and the vocalic element completing it. But furthermore, the piano itself, in its resonant musical quality, when set against these samples, has a kind of springy arrival into the space. Its acoustic musicality seems to land in from another location, even though it is not produced so as to be placed in a soundspace markedly separated from us; the springiness of the piano itself suggests a kind of autonomous movement of the piano into our path. Its resonance also has a fullness that seems to come from another fully realised place, coding it as coming perhaps from some kind of putative acoustic performative world. This fullness also gives it an organic presence in the mix that seems to make it stand equally against the other electronic sounds: the spring from piano to sample seems to mark some kind of sonic challenge between the two sounds.

Furthermore, the sampled sounds have been treated so that, as my interpretation of the second sample indicates, it is impossible to decipher what these samples are “saying”, or whether they are “saying” anything at all, or indeed, whether they are vocal samples at all. The treatment also gives these samples a metallic quality (the “tambourine” under the second sample compounds this quality) which both removes them from any real-world spatial representation, from any “live” representation, and from any congruence with our own space.
All these qualities and relationships therefore add to the disfiguring quality of the samples and the space, and consequently, to the sense that these sounds are part of a logic separate to our own involvement in the space. They remain forever locked away from us, fellow travellers in the space that we encounter briefly before disappearing.

Similarly, the James Brown “brothers and sisters” sample that begins at 0:29 has some sense of appearing from somewhere unknown, slightly ahead (it is placed horizontally centre and vertically slightly higher than centre in the space). The sample here, because of the scattered echo on it, and the slightly flattened fidelity of the sound (possibly because of the EQing and the need to limit its spatial range), also has a kind of broadcast quality to it. But it also, because of the nature of the vocal, coupled with these other qualities, has a kind of “calling” quality to it, as if it is calling to us from afar; or, alternatively, and just as heard in the space, a kind of calling to someone else in the space (after all, it is a sample of a voice raised in supplication to others), as if we have, in passing, come across a rally. The sample has a tantalising quality too, because it always, due to its spatial location, remains just ahead whenever it is repeated: this compounds the sense of it being always somewhere else from us.

At this point in the track, there is a complex series of interweavings of sound, constructed so that it is as if we have entered a space with high traffic activity, with the various elements in the mix running at some speed across each other, but never meeting. I won’t address every one of these elements, but they are not confined to vocal samples, though there are plenty of these. At 0:29, just a fraction ahead of James Brown, a high pitched repetitive electronic sound appears right and plays a sequence under (or over) Brown, then repeats this left, then right, then left again. This sound has a cool, large but spread-away reverb on it, and seems to get louder as each sequence progresses, but never quite hits us so to speak – it never seems to quite hit the speaker or quite worm its way into our ears, though its pitch has a sharpness that seems to threaten shrillness. Again, as a result, the sound seems to be travelling near or towards us, but never with us, and never in our own space, though it seems to hold the prospect that our two spaces will intersect.

From 0:32, two separate vocal samples appear that are commenced from scratches: at 0:32, “you’re gonna get yours”, and at 0:36, “pump that bass”. Both of them are placed centre in the space (along with James Brown and Rakim), which would seem to be a fairly conventional location for vocal elements. But it is unusual for separate voices to all be placed virtually identically centre in the space, with the same size. Being samples, each of these voices carries with it some of the characteristics of their own recording spaces, as well as the vinyl surface noise, so that there is a stacking up of voices here. However, the stacking up does not amount to something new or bigger: by stacking up these series of voices (and attendant soundspaces), it seems something keeps being held away from us, because we never quite seem to get to the central or unique soundspace in the midst of this. Moreover, because of the multiplicity of voices, and the fact that their words are only sampled extracts, we never quite seem to get to the message that any of them is conveying; nor do we ever quite seem to get to the world to which they belong. They all seem to be calling or singing or rapping across our space, or across our path. Again, there is a quality here that all these voices are someone’s else’s memory, or perhaps even in someone else’s hearing (we may not, after all, know who these voices are or from what recording they come, yet they have appeared fully-formed in our hearing in their own packeted soundspace), and we have just happened across them; so again, as a result, we become just one of the many entities in the textual space created around us.

Stepping back for a moment, there are two musical elements in the mix which have been introduced slightly earlier that add to the complexity of this passage. At 0:12, the bass has appeared, though its presence is not fully felt until perhaps 0:18. The bass is not produced in any remarkable way – it sounds like a bass, and is placed central and slightly low in the space (a conventional position for the bass). It does have a distinctness which may be slightly surprising, but given the prominence of the bass in 80s music, again, this is not necessarily unconventional. However, the conventionality of the bass here is what complicates the space. It is on the one hand a distinct musical element, so that it is not removed from us in the same way that the samples or the synths are. It has a conventional musical presence, and if it is removed, this is, in one way, just a function of its projected space. However, in its conventional function within a projected recorded space, the bass often works in a non-declarative sense; that is, it works viscerally, so that we sense its rhythm, rather than necessarily distinctly hear it. It is a felt presence, rather than primarily (in perceptual terms) a heard one. In this track, the bass is also given this presence, so that it has a throb in the woofer that spreads through the lower areas of the space. By working simultaneously as a heard and a felt presence in this space, the bass also seems to move away from us. Firstly, as a distinct heard presence, there is a vocalic quality to the bass (perhaps heightened in our perception by the fact that sampled vocal elements in the mix have an instrumental quality), so that it both seems to be something more than it otherwise isn’t (a voice rather than an instrument), and therefore more present in the space than it would normally be (and more present than the actual vocalic elements, the sampled voices); and also somewhere else than it otherwise is (that is, it seems to have an existential logic, a logic of voiceness and humanness, that sits somewhere slightly outside its otherwise normal musical logic and the musical logic of the track). Secondly, as a felt presence, it seems to be coming to us from somewhere else, from the depths, intersecting with us in the speakers and in the soles of our feet. The net result is that this alloyed presence of the bass makes it seem like it is brought to us from somewhere else, that it may be sampled[4] and from another soundspace, even though we cannot be sure of this; and therefore it, too, is another entity that has made some kind of glancing contact with us, reflecting back at us off the other entities in the space, especially the explicitly vocalic elements. There’s an odd sense of self-satisfaction that comes with this: it is as if the bass can declare its bassness, while also fully realising a personality in the space that can stand alongside the other elements in which personality would normally reside; it is as if the bass player or the bass itself wears a smile as they play their part in the space.

The second instrumental element I wish to highlight here is the scattered synthetic “brushed-drum” sound that first appears at 0:02, but whose presence is not particularly felt until 0:27. This sound takes up a similar role to that of the bass, for its presence is partly felt, and partly distinctly musical. Its felt presence is not the same as the bass’s, however, because it is the nature of bass frequencies to be more felt than heard; however, the way this brushed-drum is mixed in the space, alongside other higher frequence sounds, particularly in the introduction, means that it seems to flit in the space, rather than stand out in it. In the introduction, because there are so many elements entering and scattering through the space, the brushed-drum seems to belong to other sounds, or fly out from them. Its tentative and temporary nature in the introduction, as well as the way it flies from speaker to speaker, also seem to bury it perceptually, so it just seems to be written into our hearing as “introduction”, as part of setting up the piece, rather than as featured in it. However, its construction in the piece from 0:27 takes on the track’s broader logic, as it takes on distinctness as a scattering element in the piece, a piece of flying debris in our listening path. Moreover, its sound sits somewhat against the other elements in the mix, as it is quite “present” in the mix, forward and on the speaker, almost touching our ears with the distinctness of its contained dissipated sound. However, this also seems to bring it more forward than it logically can be: it has the quality of having entered our ears, an internal (but not necessarily in-the-mind) felt presence. This is exacerbated by its scattering from speaker to speaker, and the fact that it always seems to end abruptly or too early, so that it never seems to sit still long enough to be anchored in our hearing. Again, this combination of the heard and the felt makes this sound, though musical, seem to be brought in onto us, while at the same time part of our listening space.

This broader logic of the track is conveyed structurally across its length as well. Two sampled spaces or passages are used to cut in across the track’s path, at 1:46, 2:41, and the third immediately after the second at 2:59. The passages function in a number of ways in the track, some of which I will not explore in depth here. One of these ways is an aesthetic which runs parallel (and which is ultimately subservient) to the aesthetic of the intersection of referred spaces, that is, an aesthetic of bricollage. Much has been written about this elsewhere, but for the purposes of my argument, it is important to note that this bricollage sets up a consciousness of the media which construct the piece. In effect, this pushes the piece away from us, and away from a realistic representation of a space (whatever that space may be, and however performative), so that it remains always just beyond us as an experienced space. By being conscious of the piece’s source media, we are made conscious that we are more or less at the end point of the various recording processes represented: we are the (listening) players in a whole galaxy of recording processes and recorded spaces. Moreover, there is a sense that the sampled passages are made to stand like openings or crevasses or landings in the space, to which each of the smaller samples have been leading. Each of the smaller samples, as noted, are like glimpses into another world; the sampled passages are like landing points in these worlds, where we touch down for a few seconds. This is all the more so because these passages are rubbed up hard against the rest of the track: for instance, the first passage appears to have no elements from the preceding 1:46: it is a fully realised eight seconds from another track (albeit edited and scratched from 1:51), carrying with it the vinyl surface noise. In fact, the scratching and surface noise act to dislocate the passage somewhat, so that we are not made to sit in it: they draw attention to the medium and the recording process, pulling us out of the passage, and pulling us out of any clear trajectory into a unitary projected space. This lack of unitariness is also contained in the fact that the sample is a recording comprising mainly acoustic and electric instruments (various percussion instruments, and a voice), not electronic ones, so that the space suddenly shifts a level in projection – it is no longer comprised largely of explicitly artificial electronic sounds, but of reproduced “human” sounds. Also in this example, the rhythm has a heavy drag to it, and contrasts with the track’s general rhythm, so that it seems to weigh the track down somewhat, creating the contradictory effect in the listener of not quite being able to settle into the rhythm – the listener has to shift gears in the attempt to do so. This lack of settlement is also conveyed in the return to the Rakim sample following this passage: though the irruptions of these passages seem to operate in one way like landing points in the worlds represented by the smaller samples, they are also made to not quite connect with the smaller samples, so that the Rakim sample in this example seems to be slightly regardless of the foregoing passage, in turn cutting across the passage. The Rakim sample could be made to seal or cap off the passage, but it doesn’t: instead, it seems to operate independently of it, and almost independently of the track as a whole, despite the fact that it has been operating like a chorus through the track. This is all the more so because, in the repetition of the “dance”, there is a kind of curbed surface noise around it, which distinctly starts and stops on each repetition, operating like a buffer against the rest of the track, and even against the “pump up the volume”.

It would be wrong to overstate the disjunction afforded here by either the sample passage, or the subsequent Rakim sample, for the track continues to work rhythmically and musically through these passages. Part of what the track is doing is maximising its rhythmic pleasure, so that the listener, as a dancer, is not locked into a single monolithic rhythm. The irruptions work as a kind of pressure valve in the rhythm, hooking the dancer further into the rhythm, and then allowing some form of reprieve (in the Rakim sample), and then providing an easier return to a smoother rhythm with a return to the electronic sounds from 1:59. However, this rhythmic effect cannot be achieved without the sense that the various sounds and spaces represent intersections with larger existences, so that there is a rhythm in the interplay between them, and in the movement from one to the other.

In fact, by the second and third sample passages, there is a kind of normalisation of the passages in the overall trajectory of the track: the tambourine that has been consistently keeping rhythm in the track (except for the first sample passage) continues under the second passage, along with what seems to be an electronic hi-hat and kick drum (though the kick drum changes quality under the passage, and may well be part of the samples used in this passage), and consequently the fundamental rhythm does not change. Some of the elements in this passage are also given similar positions in the space to those which immediately preceded them: so the “brushed hi-hat” sound that has been placed reasonably far left and right is replaced by the steel drums in the same position (the steel drums also in their staccato metallic quality seem to substitute for the scratches which have appeared at 2:26, 2:28 and 2:31), and the iconic bass of the track is replaced by a bass synth centre in the space (though the synth is slightly higher spatially and tonally). However, this normalisation also has an odd shifting quality within it: it is as if we have opened a door into a new space that is still somehow the same space as before, with a whole new cast of characters that somehow know how to fit into place immediately we open the door. There is a kind of organic energy in this space, because some of the new elements seem also to be held away from us, all the while that they fit in with the overall rhythmic architecture: so the steel drums for instance, though they maintain the consistent rhythm of the piece, and though they even take over the spatial position of elements we already know, and though this position is actually quite close to the speaker, there is also a sense that they are somehow not right where they are supposed to be – they seem to be somewhere else even while they are here with us. This is carried through to the third sample passage, where toms immediately replace the position of the steel drums; this in itself seems to keep the security of this position at bay; but the wrapped-up quality of the sound of the toms, allied with their position (which being so far right and left seems to be almost under the ear), seem to make the sound of each beat disappear before we can really grasp it. In a sense, the second and third passages are at one level brought forward to us as more readily graspable within the logic of the song; but then their various elements seem to be playing to us from somewhere else, from another performative context, so that we don’t seem to have access to the full context or logic for their performance. This shift within the normalisation is also manifest through the way these sample passages are presented to us. Unlike the first sample passage, it appears the second and third are much more thoroughly assembled from different elements: it does not seem that a single piece of music has been sampled (as appears to be the case with the first passage). So with the second passage, the vocal sample seems to have nothing to do with the steel drums; and the various other percussive elements not only don’t seem to have anything to do with the vocal and the steel drums, but also may or may not be sampled themselves (e.g. the bass synth). Similarly in the third passage, where the middle eastern vocal, the drums, the vocal chant and the closing indefinable screech in the left speaker seem to be totally disconnected. So while we have a passage that is carefully musically constructed to be rhythmically affecting, its elements all seem to stand at some distance from us in an imaginative and spatial sense. If we have “landed” in these passages, then perhaps now these various elements are like faces or tableaux in a crowd which appear for a time alongside us then disappear.

This brings us to a larger question which remains from all of this, a question which relates to this track’s position within Western recorded popular music from this period on. Why does this track, and dance music in general, take to sampling, and more generally take to a sense of intersecting spaces, so extensively? A large part of the explanation lies in the fact that the dance space (as opposed to the more familiar listening space of a domestic room) liberates us from having to imagine a place for us in which we are listening to the song: as dancers we are already physically liberated into the dance – by dancing, we are physically realised anew in a new space, and are fully physical in the space. The space does not need, therefore, to be an imaginative re-creation of a physical space. What a track like “Pump Up The Volume” seems to do is re-create imaginary worlds in which our intensively physical experience can re-create itself: we are released into these new worlds on the dance floor. This obviously has a connection with the drug states which are induced in the dancing environment, but a track like “Pump Up The Volume” shows that positing a putative drug space (for instance, the spaces of dub reggae, or the dance music spaces influenced by this genre as found in Usura’s “Open Your Mind”) is not the only way to re-create the space in which we find ourselves. “Pump Up The Volume” represents an engaged way of re-creating the space: as noted, the various sonic elements take up position in respect to us so that they become, for us, like brief intersections with other experiences or memories; as a result, we are constantly put in the position of having to renew our relationship with these elements. However, “Pump Up The Volume” takes this further by rhythmically playing these intersections through the space and along our experience of the track: not merely in a chronological sense (one intersection follows or responds to another, as with the piano/sample couplet), but in a synchronic sense with us as participants in the space. In effect, under this regime, we are one of the rhythmic elements of the space, so that our response to the space, to its elements, and to the rhythm, forms part of the rhythm of the space. In crude terms, the playing of these elements heighten our desire to keep dancing, to find new ways to physically engage with the rhythm. For this reason, the smacking of the sampled passages in the space across the other elements is like a challenge to us as participants in the space: we are made to stand and fall by how we can respond to these elements, and thereby take part in the space. It is the intersection of spaces taken to an extreme: we are asked to physically re-engage in our own (dance) space by physically engaging with the new abstract “world” glanced at us in the form of the sampled passage.
[1] The edit of this track studied in this essay is the version found on Pump Up The Volume: Classic Club Sounds From The Late 80s and Early 90s, Universal Music TV, 2001.
[2] Peter Thomas (
[3] An easy way to appreciate this differentiation – between a “stepped-back” sense of sampled sounds, vs a multiplicity of intersecting experienced sampled sounds - is by listening to two different works by the same artist. A good example of where this occurs is in two Cabaret Voltaire albums – 1980’s The Voice of America (stepped-back sounds), and 1985’s The Covenant, The Sword and the Arm of the Lord (multiplicity of intersecting experienced sounds).
[4] If the bass were sampled, this would only complicate our perception of it further, because its salience in the space gives it a distinct musical presence, sampled or not; so that, though sampled, it would appear to us primarily as musical and recorded (a here-and-now presence, rather than a referred one); and then, on reflection, or on further understanding, with us realising it was sampled, it would then take on a deferred (quoted) quality.


Sound production has an odd effect on us in aesthetic terms. The created sound is fully physical: it is an acoustic physical entity real here with us in the listening space. As a result, recorded sound creates a physical entity in our presence – the entity of the reproduced sound. Within this, there are qualities of the physicality of the sound that can seem to affect us bodily, not just acoustically – a bass sound can be felt in our bodies, and a sharp high sound can hurt our ears. However, recorded sound also re-creates a physical entity, resulting in a perceptual change – the entity of our listening space is re-shaped, so that we hear anew in the space. At the simplest level, we hear “as if” the recorded elements are here in our listening space. At a more complex level, our listening space takes on apparent properties that did not seem to be there before – we hear as if the space in which we are physically located has qualities which it cannot in reality have. This occurs as a result of the fact that recorded sound (like music) has a three-dimensional sculptural quality – we as physical and perceiving beings are actually located within the artwork itself (the reproduced sound); so that the “as if”-ness of the perceived re-created space is barely “as if”, because to a large extent, the space in which we are experiencing the work has in reality been changed.

Yet recorded sound is also entirely abstract, creating an alternative imaginative space - the space we perceive is in fact not real. The result may be that our small listening space may appear to become, for example, a vast stadium. At the most complex level, the relationship between us and the actual physical reproduced entity can seem to take on an entirely new nature – we are no longer hearing the sound as sound being reproduced for us by the speakers. The result may be that we feel as if we are in a new state of consciousness; or that we feel as if we are hearing something that is not sound, but something unreal, like a whispered thought, or a memory.

The physicality of recorded sound also has one further dimension – the temporal dimension, as (like music) its physical nature is also constituted by the fact that it has duration over a period of time: recorded sound is therefore not just a physical entity fixed in a single here-and-now instant. Furthermore, it changes over the time of its duration. This means our hearing of it will change over that time; the re-created space may change over that time; and our relationship to the recorded sound may change over that time.

The complexity of the re-created space thus leads to the odd experience that we fall into a new perceptual world, where at various times and in various circumstances, we can forget partially or wholly what we are hearing, and only some things become real or aware to us. We can’t take in everything that we hear; and we can’t hold in our memory everything that has been made present to us over the duration of the piece. We kind of don’t hear what there is to be heard (or part of what there is to be heard), or what is fully present there, and yet we fully do. Because the reproduced sound can have a more or less physical presence, and has a duration (and a mutability) over time, it can be more or less “present” to us, even in a single moment where it is fully upon us physically, and yet we cannot grasp everything that is being made to bear upon us. Alternatively, what is “present” to us may not be the physicality of the sound itself, but a memory, or a resonance of the sound, that is recalled or brought to bear by other elements of the recorded sound over the duration of the piece.

"Jet" is a massive thumping chunking rock of sound that rips out of the speakers. It immediately starts big, and then just pounds out at 0:27 the biggest densest block of sound for miles. The opening of “Jet” picks up on the orchestral grandiosity of the track that preceded it on Band on the Run, the album’s title track. Laden with brass, underpinned by a quasi-reggae rhythm guitar, and laid over a slow deliberate drum beat, the song lumbers into our listening space. The lumbering is partly due to the constant rhythmic tension in “Jet”, and the opening sets the scene for it: each sonic element seems to drag at the other. The thick semi-orchestral melody sits at odds with the lightness of the sound of the rhythm guitar; but the guitar itself is playing a slow semi-reggae rhythm; the plodding drum beat underneath this is nonetheless played light and sharp into the mike; and the sound of the drums themselves, though sharp and contained, fall dead as stones into the speakers. However, rather than the drums, the mix posits a dense wash as the grounding central foundational element (in the opening, the brassy orchestra, and in the main body of the song, the combination of synth and guitar), and again, this is one of the reasons why the song seems to lumber in the soundspace – these foundational elements are thick and continuous, rather than punchy and rhythmic (as would be the case if the drums were in their place), filling the space with a dense mass of sound. The denseness of the sound is compounded by the effect of the brassy orchestra spread across the soundspace (though it is predominantly centre and right), and by the fact that it lacks a distinct clarity in the mix, with the various instruments seeming to blend together, so that it is hard to distinguish exactly what instruments are being played (and in fact, there may be a lead guitar buried under this in the right speaker).

“Jet” rolls into the space, therefore, like a massive boulder, and as such, it has a flinty quality, with elements of the song seeming to strike or spark off the main mass. There are two main elements which enact this “flintiness” over the duration of the piece: the drums, and the vocals. The drums are almost the most startling thing about this recording: because they are so dry and hard, they work against almost everything that drum recording seems to have moved towards over the 70s. They are right on the speakers, rather than somewhat recessed, balanced and forming the sonic foundation for the soundspace, as is found with most other recordings of the time (compare, for instance, Pink Floyd’s “Time”, or Sweet’s “Hell Raiser”). They take up almost a kind of fourth vocal element, and in the mix seem to play almost independently of the rest of the instruments. As a result, each strike of the toms seems to strike against or into the thickness of the song’s overall sound, without seeming to impede its progress: they seem to work almost as a counter rhythm to the drone of the orchestra/synth and guitar. The other main element contributing to this flintiness is the vocals, which broadly, in our recollected perception of the song, seem to be working through an overall belting quality: that is, when thinking about or recalling the song, our perception of the vocals is that they are belted out for its duration. However, in an attentive listening to the song, it is apparent that the vocals generally sit within and at times strike off from the mass of the song, as well as against each other. It is in evidence here at the start of the song in roughly the first 25 seconds, as McCartney rhythmically vocally extemporises with verbal (“come on”) and non-verbal utterances, which are echoed by, or echo, the rhythm and lead guitars (thus almost scatting). There is a sense here that the vocals don’t have any purchase in the song’s overall weight, rather, that they are in a sense caught up in its relentless flow, and then scatter in its wake.

The rhythm guitar and the strum of the lead guitar also have a similar quality of sparks struck off rock – they scratch in the mix with a metallic edge, and sit close on the speaker, though they are not especially prominent in the mix. It’s a rough grainy sound, drawing attention to the sound’s quality, especially with its metallic mechanical edge. The “scratchiness” is further conveyed by the changing quality of the rhythm guitar in the left speaker: it seems to get scratchier, higher and thinner between each appearance of the brassy orchestra, following the strum on the lead guitar (part of this seems to be due to how the guitar is played, perhaps a result of McCartney manipulating the strings in a certain way), so that the metallic quality becomes heightened. This “sparkiness” is further heightened by the strums on the lead guitar at 0:08 and 0:19, which musically and sonically seem to fly off from the rhythm guitar. These two strums also work paradoxically like brakes on the song – they seem to sit over the top of the lumbering rhythm of the piece, almost interrupting it or distracting from it, further exacerbating (by virtue of the contrast with the rhythm) the song’s monolithic feel.

It is not just the individual instrumental and vocal elements, however, which are made to feel like they are flying off from the mass of the song. This sense of relentless flow interposed with intermittent obtrusions is conveyed by the sonic rhythm of the opening. As implied above, the intro works through two and a half sets of sonic pairs, where the brassy orchestra plays two lines, these are marked off by a single note by the orchestra immediately followed by the strum of the guitar, and then the rhythm guitar scratches its more metallic notes until the brassy orchestra returns and the sequence is repeated, with the second repeat ended after the first line of the orchestra. There is a sense here that the soundspace is “backing off” when the rhythm guitar features, so that somehow it seems to recede away from us, in a series of rhythmic pulses, with the weight of the orchestra still looming in the wings.

It is an odd sense of recession however, in two ways. Firstly, as already suggested, it does not result in a sense that the main bulk of the sound, the thickness of the orchestra, has been pushed back or repelled, because the plodding rhythm continues in the rhythm guitar. The contrast with the orchestra, and the space left by it, actually gives an overwhelming sense of its presence through absence, and it is as if its relentlessness is a silent presence weighing down the rhythm of the guitar. Secondly, the recession does not work in a strictly projected performative sense. It does not feel like the orchestra has “stepped back” in the soundspace, in a kind of Motown choreographed move, with us being made aware of the other musicians playing around them (though certainly this is probably the sonic “model” for the movement here). It does not feel this way, because the orchestra is in a way not of the rhythm guitar or the drums: the soundspace is not quite literally here a performative one, where we might feel that the overall framework is that orchestra is front of stage (from which position it might be able to “step back”), drums are centre and rhythm guitar is left. This is partly because the soundspace as a whole is not presented cleanly or distinctly: it has a somewhat muddy quality (witness the “thickness” of the orchestra itself), so that we don’t quite have a fully rounded projected image of individual instruments playing before us. It is also partly because the thickness of the orchestra seems to sit around and through the drums and the rhythm guitar, so that it doesn’t quite seem to have a positional relationship to these other instruments – the orchestra has nowhere to step back from or to in relation to these instruments. It is also partly because this thickness lacks a sense of space in it: the orchestra doesn’t seem to be located quite anywhere in an imaginary projected sense, rather, having a predominant quality of undifferentiated bulk, and of filling the space. Though in the mix it is primarily central and right, it does not feel that the orchestra is located like this in front of us as a stage presence (individual instrumentalists ranged across the stage from centre to right), so again, there is no imaginary position which the orchestra can be posited as moving into or out of. The orchestra stands as an indistinct but strong overall presence in the sound as a whole. Instead, and by contrast, when the rhythm guitar features after each series of orchestral lines, it has a faint halo of the studio about its sound: it feels like the guitar is contained within the small confines of the studio, with its sound bouncing off closed-in walls. The preciseness and physicality of the scratch of the rhythm guitar also provides a contrast with the continuity and thickness of the orchestra. This contributes to the quality of the rhythm guitar being flicked off from the main bulk of the sound, as if it is being thrown onto the walls of the studio and it is etching itself into them. The relationship here, therefore, between the rhythm guitar and orchestra, is not directly or primarily posited as a spatial performative one (rhythm guitar is “left” of the orchestra centre and right), though spatial positioning in the mix is a key determinant of the relationship; instead, the relationship is posited in terms of its sonic presence, or as a kind of sonic pulse, so that the rhythm guitar is both a kind of reprieve from and a contrast with the thickness of the orchestra, as well as being, in spatial terms, a kind of detritus, an element “left behind” by the main mass, but soon to be caught up in it again. There is an elasticity in this relationship, which is an essential factor in the quality of “presence through absence” of the orchestra: the recession to the rhythm guitar is, in metaphoric terms, like a splat of paint in the soundspace – the bulk of the orchestra lands squarely and undifferentiated forward in our hearing, but then seems to spring outwards to its edges as it ceases and is replaced by the strum of the lead guitar (like the thwack of the paint on the walls), and then by the scratching of the rhythm guitar (like the dripping of the paint down the walls).

The way in which this lack of performative congruity conveys a kind of springiness in the space, and sustains the feeling of flinty sparks struck off the main mass of the soundspace, is also demonstrated outside the passages of recession in the way the vocal extemporisations and the drums relate to the other elements here. It would seem that the containment of the rhythm guitar may well sit seamlessly with the thinness of the vocal and the “patness” of the drums in representing a rear curtain of performative elements behind the dominance of the orchestra. However, these elements do not quite work in this way. The vocal extemporisations are thinned out, with almost a radio quality to them, or a distant exteriority to them, as if they are shouts being heard through a window. They do not sit quite alongside the similarly distanced rhythm guitar. In a way, they have some congruity with the strums of the lead guitar, firstly in a musical way, because they also have the quality of being strummed or flung out, and secondly in a sonic way, because they have a kind of echoic quality; but again, they do not sit within the same space as the lead guitar, which is forward and close to the speaker, with a hint of reverb. There is actually a back-of-mind impression here that the vocals are somehow the endpoint of the strum of the guitar, as if they are the crackly tinkle at the end of the strum, or at least located at the sonic point where the strum ends, because the hint of reverb on the strum, and the strum’s sustain, seems to drift off into a slightly remote place, a place in which the vocals are located. It is as if there is a series of flicked movements of sound across the intro, first to the lead guitar strum, then to the rhythm guitar scratch, and then to the vocal extemporisations.

Similarly, the drums might be expected to be located somewhere congruent with the lead guitar, as both have a fairly clear position in the mix, and have a somewhat normalised position (drums centre, lead guitar left). But when we hear the strum of the lead guitar, we realise that the drums seem to be contained in a slight hollow at the centre of the mix (coded partly by the “patness” of their sound), slightly removed from everything else, in both a contained place, but also in a kind of non-place. It is a non-place precisely because it doesn’t seem to spread anywhere that comes close to the other elements in the mix, and because its self-containment doesn’t even seem to relate to a place or a space outside the sound of the drums themselves. It is almost as if the drums are a pebble caught up in a car tyre that can never be shaken free, but which can never be fully absorbed into the tyre either.

The net result of this is to compound the sense of the relentlessness and size of the main bulk of the song (conveyed by the orchestra and the song’s rhythm), by positing a series of more contained but relatively disparate sounds that seem to get carried along and then left behind in its wake, or lie strewn around its bulk. This “left behind” quality is key here, because it is this quality that lends both an elasticity to the sound (a kind of stretch or furtherance of the bulk of the song), and a flinty “sparkiness”, which seem to form part of the way in which we are engaged in the trajectory of the song. These qualities are further compounded by the fact that the intro (the first 27 seconds) seems to go for a bit longer than it needs to – it seems like the main body of the song should start at about 0:13. It’s not entirely clear what it is about the intro that suggests this, but certainly the first strum of the lead guitar is like an announcement into the song; and conversely, McCartney’s vocalisations suggest a purposeful attempt to drag out the intro longer than is necessary, as if he is encouraging the band to keep going with the intro.

Of course, at 0:27, the song firmly settles into its main body, with a more or less immediate musical movement that is matched by a movement into a more consistently dense block of sound. The overall effect is that the main body of the song is big in a way which one rarely ever hears - not big in a stadium sense (as with the sound of much of the contemporaneous Dark Side of the Moon or The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), but big in that everything is just squeezed in hard and tight right in and over and under the speakers. It seems to be congruent with much glam production of the time (such as the ChinniChap productions of Suzi Quatro or Sweet), and with the production of heavy blues-oriented acts like Status Quo and AC/DC, which is generally close on the speaker, raw and even at times distorted in sound quality, punching into the speaker and relatively lacking in clarity in the mix. However, unexpectedly, it is heavier and denser than even the production of these acts, unexpected because this is the sweet pop half of the Lennon/McCartney team, and also because the denseness of the sound has a “lo-fi” quality which would seem inconsistent with the recording options available to the ex-Beatle (compare for instance the contemporaneous glam-oriented “Devil Woman” by Ringo Starr which has a much cleaner and brighter mix). Furthermore, “Jet” lacks the strictly performative representation of these acts: Vanda and Young’s production of AC/DC, for instance, though relatively lo-fi, has a performative quality (in terms of spatial placement and separation of instruments in the mix) that “Jet” does not have. A good comparison here is with “Helen Wheels” (recorded at the same time as Band On The Run, and included in some versions of the vinyl album and in the 25th Anniversary Edition of the CD), which is generally presented as being played by a full band ranged in a normative way across a putative stage in front of us, balanced in the mix to reflect a cohesive band performance.

“Jet”, by contrast, is more abstract and distorting. It is not that the sounds are so “over-recorded” that they distort in the mix; it is that what we hear distorts what we might otherwise expect to be our relationship to the music. The full-on nature of the sound assists with this sense of distortion, as it might be expected that by comparison with, for instance, the ChinniChap productions, this song would have distorted sonic elements, though there is no obvious distortion. There is a sense that the song is somehow pushing us back from the speakers, from itself, and from a normal relationship with such a song, and that everything withers and breaks down, or threatens to break down, in its path, including the sound itself. As noted (and similar to the way we might expect the intro to be performative), we also might otherwise expect the music of the main body of the song to have a performative quality, in that the spatial placement of instruments and vocals matches that of a visual image of an imaginary band performing in front of us. However, the main body of the song sits very oddly in the soundspace, if not the least because of the denseness of the keyboard and guitars. There is also a fibrous quality to the thick block of sound, a slight vibration in the guitars and brass, that seems to almost flutter in our ears (which can be heard more easily, for instance, in the passage from 0:52 to 1:03), which is possibly responsible for the sense of distortion, but which also unexpectedly draws attention to the quality (both in terms of its acoustic properties, as well as its “hi-fi”-ness) of the sound (unexpected because, on face value, because of its apparent lower fidelity, this is a work which might be seen to be content with a lower level of punctiliousness in the sound). Added to this, the shouted title line has a peculiar echoic and elevated choral quality, the impetus for which does not seem to arise automatically from the musical logic of the song or the lyrics. There is, of course, a musical imperative for the shouted line: the song is massive, and invites a massive response of any sort; but the title line is shouted by a number of voices, when up till now the vocal has been confined to McCartney alone, and which is his alone for most of the song; furthermore, as noted below, McCartney’s solo voice is produced in a somewhat squeezed way and generally not multitracked, thereby relatively diminished (rather than bulked up) in the mix. The shouted title line therefore seems to sit a bit oddly with this diminishment, as the song doesn’t seem to have been “owned” quite as communally to this point. Yet though the title line is shouted by many voices, it is also somewhat indistinct - we are unable to quite hear the final consonant, and it is not entirely clear whose or how many voices are involved; and it also seems to get lost in the mass of sound, or perhaps get lost on the air. Again, as with the subtle incongruities of the soundspace in the intro, the title line also does not quite sit in the same space as the main bulk of sound; it has an echoic quality that is slightly rounded or enclosed and extended (this quality seems to be focused on a vocal or vocals in the right speaker), partly as if it is shouted in or down or near a metal tube. Whereas the main bulk has a neutral, non-place quality (simply because it is so massive, thick and continuous), the title line is situated just away from us, just away from the bulk of the sound, directed upwards and outwards away from us, and almost in a different context of hearing, like it is a cheer at a football match, as if we are in the bottom row of seats in a stadium and the title line is shouted out above us and echoed back at us under the stadium’s curving roof. As a result of all these factors, the title line also has an exultancy which, though of the expansiveness of the song’s sound, also seems to make the song travel further than it otherwise might seem it should: “Helen Wheels”, for instance, just keeps rolling down the road; “Jet”, however, seems to keep spreading out or spinning off blindly.

As the way in which the title line works would suggest, there is a flintiness to this production which belies the denseness of the sound: an initial assessment might suggest that this denseness is unmarked – it’s a big thunderous song, so ought to be big in the mix. However, the mix is not clean or exact – the most dominant instruments, the keyboard and guitars, are thick and undifferentiated (similar to the undifferentiated quality of the brassy orchestra in the intro), so it is hard to make out exactly what instruments constitute this massive chunk of sound (the notes to the 25th Anniversary Edition suggest there is some string orchestral accompaniment in the main bulk of the song here[1], as they don’t seem to be evident elsewhere; and furthermore, by referring to “guitars”, I am indicating how difficult it is to work out exactly what sort of guitars contribute to the sound, or even whether there is something else in the mix than just keyboards or guitars). This contrasts with “Helen Wheels” where virtually every instrument, including the bass (which is often buried in a mix, to be a felt rather than a perceived presence), is distinct in the mix. There is something cataclysmic and threatening about the sound of “Jet”, precisely because it is so large and undifferentiated, which is slightly unsettling for a song whose title line is shouted like a football chant as some kind of group imprecation. Moreover, it is unusual to have such a massive, undifferentiated sound to dominate the space and be placed central – this should be McCartney’s vocals’ spot, backed by drums, with perhaps another melodic instrument interwoven with it, such as keyboard (compare, for instance, the song that follows “Jet” on the album, “Bluebird”). Such a dense mass should ordinarily be underpinning the vocals and the more melodic or harmonic elements. Once again everything in the song flies off from this mass – it is as if each extraneous element is like a piece of detritus that is caught for a second and then is flung from it. McCartney’s vocals work like this – though they are both central and positioned right and left in the mix, they have a peripheral quality, as if they are being squeezed out to the edges of the space. This is of course assisted by the way the vocals are recorded and mixed – they are somewhat thinned and sound in themselves somewhat squeezed, a quality which is easier to hear by contrast with “Bluebird”. McCartney’s vocals on “Bluebird” are relatively clear, fully formed, recorded to convey many of their subtle qualities, clearly central in the space, forward of the rest of the instruments, and lyrical in quality. By contrast with “Bluebird”, McCartney’s vocals on “Jet” generally sound like they are buried in his head, even somewhere in or behind his nose. They also have a disembodied shimmering quality, as if sitting forward of the mix in a kind of holograph in front of the other sounds, suspended in the air, sitting on the forward edge of the sound. The oddness of this is compounded by the fact that they lack the kind of fullness of presence we might otherwise expect with lead vocals: they’re almost an old-fashioned radio voice. There is also a sense that the vocals seem to be squeezed out from the grain of the song’s sound, as if they are extruded from the fuzz of the main block of sound.

The rhythm and lead (when featured, as in the bridge “Ah Mater…” and subsequent instrumental bars) guitars and drums continue to work like this too – they sound dry and parched, as if there is no room for them in the soundspace, and they are battling to make their presence felt. The synth solo also has an odd position in this song: the wasp synth used is in itself relatively thin and “dinky” compared to the guitars, and so does not quite sit congruently with the weight of the song, and of other songs of a similar size (organ or electric piano are often the electric keyboards used on other heavy rock tracks, and even the rounder clearer sounding synth on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” has an organ quality to it). Furthermore, it is still relatively unusual to have a synth instrumental solo in a pop song (even the “Time” and “Money”, the U.S. singles from Pink Floyd’s contemporaneous production opus Dark Side of the Moon, which was remarkable at the time for its use of synths, do not have synth solos), and the synth was still suffering under the burden of being seen as not a “real” instrument, so its featured presence in such a heavy full-on song is not expected, especially when it is so diminished compared to the guitars. There is a kind of concession to the style of the song in the use of the wasp synth, as it has some of the harsh buzzy qualities of a lead guitar; but it nonetheless cannot escape a quality of sounding thin or slightly ineffectual in the solo. In a way, the synth solo has similarities with the lead vocal, in that it is thin and squeezed, in a similar frequency range, with a similar radiophonic quality, and has a lightly holographic suspended feel in the mix.

The way in which the song moves from the intro into the main body also demonstrates this flinty quality. At a casual hearing, there barely seems to be any “movement” in the soundspace, in that the size and thickness of the orchestra is more or less simply replaced by the size and thickness of the electric instruments (synth and lead guitar, and whatever else is in this mix). There is of course a musical change (in rhythm and instrumentation), which is also marked overtly (by a short drum roll, a slight musical pause in proceedings under the drums, and the shouted “Jet”); but the song still sounds “big”, relatively undifferentiated and relentless in our listening space. At first hearing, there is a kind of normalisation to the space by the removal of the slightly off-centre and neutralised brass, and their replacement by a solid rock core which drives forward the conventional rock rhythm, with drums and guitars positioned conventionally in relation to this core. However, the sonic change is characterised more subtly, felt more than overtly noticed: the main sonic bulk, for instance, moves from being predominantly central and right, to being predominantly central, with bass sitting squarely central underneath it, and the shouted title line spreading upwards (and slightly left and right) above it, even though drums and rhythm guitar remain in position and do not change in quality. This change in itself has an odd “flintiness” to it. Closer listening also reveals that the title line is oddly disembodied and rises above the core (matching the disembodiment of McCartney’s lead vocal); and as noted, the drums actually don’t move anywhere, they don’t fill out, they don’t rise in size, and they retain their contained slightly vocalic quality. There is a kind of “peering through the mist” quality to this change therefore: when things appear to have become normal, they have actually become slightly phantasmic, with elements seeming to float in and out of the mist.

This kind of subtle variation over the course of the song is one of the key ways that the song leaves its mark on us as listeners, and one of the best ways to illustrate this is through the way McCartney, in subtle detail, uses and manipulates his voice over the lines: the variations of McCartney's voice build up a subtle complexity which contribute to the "bigness" of the song, with a kind of travelling over the landscape of the song through the little markers and variations of his voice. As a result, and almost confoundingly, McCartney’s voice doesn't retain a single kind of projected image of who the narrator is - it's not entirely cock rock power singing, and it's not all ironic sauciness, and it's not entirely scouse streetwise. The narrator remains somewhat elusive (which perhaps reflects the fact that the narrator is somewhat elusive even to himself: “I thought the only lonely place was on the moon”), so that we as listeners slide with the narrator through the emotions of the song.

It’s important to realise the net effect of this variation, and how this variation works. It’s not that the variation is constructing like a jigsaw a cohesive imaginary picture. The variation works in a less articulated way than that, and it is perhaps this kind of variation that illustrates how sound production works as art, or at least, one way in which it works as art. The variations are like little bits of life, little blossoms on a tree that set up a moment of pleasure in the total run of the song. Not that the song overall isn’t pleasurable; but in the arrival of each variation, there is a momentary feeling of pleasure arising from the contrast that the variation creates from the mass that surrounds it. Again, this contrast does not work as some kind of aesthetic mechanical lever, though in other situations it could; on “Jet”, the contrasts are worked subtly and almost surreptitiously, so that each moment of pleasure seems to just barely surface from the morass. They work partly through repetition as well: it is by playing the song over and over that we build up a sense of how the variations work against each other and within the context of the song, and how they actually stand up as entities in their own right. They work at times as tiny brakes on the flow of the song (such as the drawn out and slightly morose “And Jet…” lines), giving a small pleasure in twisting us away from what we are expecting; or as tactile conduits of the song (as with the continuation of this line, as it moves from the slight scouse pronunciation to an almost screamed cock rock belter in “I thought that the major/you was a little lady suffragette” in the last two manifestations). In the play of this line in itself there is a kind of pleasure, because McCartney is using the fibre of his voice to twist out the words against the grain so to speak, against what we are expecting with how the line should work. For instance, there is almost a physical palpability to the way he pronounces (with a slight accent) “And Jet”, with the sustained scouse sibilance to the final consonant in most of its iterations, and a kind of textural quality to the second vowel, a faint thickening of the vowel. It is not that he is giving the line a meaning it might not otherwise have; it is that he is articulating it with more complexity and with a flow that we might not otherwise expect (we might normally expect a line that is simply belted out in its entirety). In the repetition of the line as well within the song (rather than the effect of repeated plays of the song), there is a construction of pleasure from altered expectations: each time the line appears, it is slightly different, and different in ways that operates in a kind of conversational and cumulative way, so that even though McCartney is not predominantly speaking to the listener, it seems like there is a sense that he is, because the line changes subtly as if he is engaged with the listener in a conversation to-and-fro. (Ultimately, McCartney does address the listener, as Jet, which makes the address of the song more complex.) The line is variously:

- And Jet, I thought the major was a lady suffragette
- And Jet, I thought the major was a little lady suffragette
- And Jet, I thought that the major was a little lady suffragette
- And Jet, do you know I thought you was a little lady suffragette

It is as if McCartney is refining his sense of who the major is for a listener (or for himself); which is obviously complicated by the fact that it seems that the major becomes Jet in the end, or perhaps that McCartney is working through a fog of comprehension about who is playing what role in his mind. There is also another sort of refinement worked out in this line, though the variation in the way McCartney sings the line over the course of the song. With respect to the first part of the line, “And Jet”, each repetition (at 0:48, 1:17, 2:17, 3:16, and 3:31), and especially the final two, seems to be sung with increasing love but also increasing resignation, and an increasing sense of reflective maturity and mellowness, as if the narrator must deal with the fact that he can’t have what he obviously wants, though this is also a source of frustration for him. By contrast, with respect to the second part of the line, McCartney sings each repetition with an increasing rawness, as if in thinking about Jet’s unattainability, he is increasingly reminded of the effect she has on him, with the increasing rawness suggesting that part of this effect is sexual. This quality is also conveyed by two repetitions of part of the line (“my little lady”) after the final full repetition of the line, with a falsetto “ooh” following the second of these two partial repetitions follow further conveying the sexual dimension of this reminiscence. One of the results of this is that the narrator is given a personality which seems to extend larger than, or outside, the song: there are aspects of his personality that seem yet to be discovered, which in itself seems to draw us back to the song to discover what these aspects are. This also shades off into giving the song an overall personality: it lends a quality of desirability about the piece, of (as suggested) a knowability, which we seek to re-engage with each time we listen.

This variation of the line thus generates its own sense of small pleasure, which is aided by the conversational tone of the line, the use of the odd image of the major being a lady suffragette (generating a series of questions in the listeners mind: is this major a transvestite? Is the major a female soldier? Is “major” being used in some odd metaphorical way?), the twisted pronunciation of the words across the line, and the complication in the final repetition of the full line in Jet becoming the lady suffragette. It’s common for McCartney and Lennon to use odd phrases (often uses of nouns as epithets, such as in “I Am The Walrus”, and so on) that seem to spin out from the sense of the line, verse or song in which they sit, and here McCartney’s use of “lady suffragette” is quite contained and taut – a fleeting image that gains little explanation in the song, and as a result gains resultant pleasure in its very failure to explain itself.

The pleasure also works because of the variation’s subtlety, and this is also expressed, other than through the use of the images themselves, through the way McCartney’s voice is produced. As noted, “Jet” is produced as a massive block of pulsating sound, and McCartney’s voice is quite small or contained within this: at times it’s almost like it’s squeezed out of the sound around it, or like it is one strand in a tight rope of sound, which is barely discernible from the other strands. But it is the “barely discernible” nature of the voice that makes the variations all the more pleasurable – where we barely discern the variations as they arise from the rest of the song, like subtle changes in the grain of the sound. In a way, there is a sense of McCartney’s voice travelling on the “wind” of the song overall (though “wind” is far too airy an image to accurately capture the effect of the sound of “Jet”), being tossed in the airstream, and flicking up like a leaf as it is caught in momentary updrafts or side currents (these being the variations), but all the time drawn along with the main current. The key to the feel of the song is in that line “with the wind in your hair of a thousand laces”, because it is this image that seems to generate the whole thrust of the production of the song: the sense of directional movement (the image of the line is of someone riding a motorbike – “climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky”), that is carefree in its intent, but still controlled by many constraints – the road, the physical requirements of the bike, safety considerations. There is a “Born To Be Wild” quality to the song, without the epic wildness of that song: “Jet” is both more contained and more detached, more unreal. The odd phrases and momentary images work in this overall schema as well, like characters fleetingly passed or faces fleetingly glimpsed while on the road. Lines like “was your father as bold as the sergeant major” and “Ah Mater, want Jet to always love me…much later” seem to speak for a whole series of experiences and relationships that we have little access to, and know very little about, but which seem to represent a great deal (after all, exactly who was the sergeant major, in what way were “he” and Jet’s father bold, and what is McCartney deferring to “much later”?). The reference in the definite article of “the sergeant major” seems to point to a window through which a whole other world exists, but of which we only have the briefest glimpse. Or the wonderful line “I thought the only lonely place was on the moon”, which is stretched out for most of its length, then almost rushed off in the last four words, as if consigning a whole set of experiences to the past in one fell swoop. This line also works in an odd way: it speaks through an odd interplay of distance and proximity. The image is constructed through positioning loneliness: loneliness has a place (“on the moon”), rather than a state, it is given a specificity and a physicality; but that specificity is actually very distant (as distant as human experience can be and ever had been); and by being distant, McCartney defers its usual location; yet in reality, loneliness for McCartney (by implication) is much closer than the moon, almost as if the place of loneliness is taken up in that space between him and where he has otherwise posited for it (i.e. “on the moon”). So the energy of the image itself – the distance of the moon and the consequent distance of loneliness – becomes the space in which loneliness exists, in the gap between where it should be (in the logic of the line, the moon), and where it actually is (in the heart of the narrator). The rhymes internal to the line (“only” and “lonely”), the way in which this line is sung (the long notes on these words), and the use of long open vowels in the rhymes, further convey this energy; with the closely-positioned internal rhymes seeming to tie up the image, so that it has a tight compression that works both by making its sense less than immediately obvious (we tend to hear or feel the rhyme, rather than the full sense of the words – we hear “loneliness”, rather than much of the detail of the image), and by giving the loneliness a touch of aching inevitability. Again, this image does not work simply by means of a clearly mapped structure; it works almost by default, or in retrospect, so that what seems to be the clear intent of the image is actually only the surface under which the image actually works. And again, this is how the song works as an artistic artefact overall, by its complexities slowly rising up from the broad mass which surround them.

Overall, as noted above with reference to such lines as “I thought the only lonely place was on the moon” and “with the wind in your hair of a thousand laces”, the lyrics have an odd picturesque quality that only becomes fully apparent over successive listenings. They seem to start at a point almost before where we might expect them to, as if we have been caught in the middle of a scene whose origin we were not witness to:

“I can almost remember their funny faces
that time you told them that you were going to be marrying soon”

These lines work in an odd layered way: superficially, they are describing a scene whose full features we do not have access to. To whose “funny faces” is the narrator referring? Who is the “you” of the address (for it is not immediately obvious that the shouted “Jet” is a person, and is in fact the addressee of the song)? And to whom is the “you” getting married? It is almost as if we have accidentally stumbled across this scene. Yet the scene being described is itself only a description by the narrator, so that our relationship is in fact with the narrator and the story he is telling (rather than the scene with the “funny faces”), and what we seem to have stumbled across is half a conversation, again the full context of which we don’t have access to. Yet the compression of the lines makes these relationships intermingle in our minds, so that both seem to be working at the same time: as a result, we seem to be invited deep into this situation, while at the same time we remain somewhat removed from it. In terms of the narrative conversation, it is hard for us to know why the narrator is talking to the “you” in this way, about a subject of a somewhat personal nature, especially when we are privy to the conversation - why are we given access to this seemingly relatively personal conversation? Furthermore, the manner of relating this anecdote is slightly odd: why does the narrator only “almost” remember – if he knows the faces were “funny”, surely he can remember them? And the “that time” suggests other times that the “you” has said somewhat startling things to the “funny faces”, though we have no knowledge of these other times or sayings. As a result, we seem to be caught in a moment which is passing us by even as we are introduced into it. Successive listenings to the song don’t increase our enlightenment much: we get an understanding that there is likely to have been something romantic between the narrator and Jet, but this is not explicit, nor that the “something” is in the past: the only illuminating references are at the end of this verse: “I thought the only lonely place was on the moon”, and at the start of the third verse: “Climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky”. With relation to the first of these lines, it could equally be referring either to loneliness after separation, or loneliness as a result of unrequited love; and with relation to the second of these lines, the narrator could equally be talking about the present, but even in this, it is not clear whether the narrator is inviting Jet to re-live a past experience with him, or to leave the situation that he/she is in and experience something new. Just as with the song’s production, we are made to feel that the song is rolling almost over the top of us, and we are helplessly caught up in its wake, with barely any purchase in its bulk, and at any moment we could be flung away from it through our failure to fully grasp the situation. Yet these lines, which seem to be so carelessly flung from the song, also seem to map out the song’s overall territory or trajectory, so that, though we don’t piece the song together like a jigsaw, it starts to build up an organic fluid shape which pulls us in at the same time that we feel like we are not quite getting what the song’s shape is. In a sense, these lyrics show that the song works up an abstract bulk that has a life of its own, and in which we find a part, rather than find a way to circumscribe or contain. What compounds this for us in this opening stanza is precisely the picturesque quality of the lines: there is a vividness or liveliness to the scene depicted in this stanza, despite the lack of detail, a liveliness that is as much to do with the feelings (both within the embedded scene, and within the relationship between narrator and Jet) as with the image conveyed. This lively picturesque quality is also conveyed through the parade of characters who are only brought to our attention as labels: “your father”, “the sergeant major”, “the major”, “Mater”, as if there is a whole world of people (with concomitant relationships) which disappears behind us as we travel through the song. This world has an idiosyncratic character too, conveyed through the archaic “Mater” (perhaps an idiomatic use of the word, and therefore keying into a regionalised sense of the world) and the military “sergeant major” and “major” (whose unexplained appearance leave us wondering as to the significance of their rank and military identity within this world).

Part of the liveliness also rests in the way in which McCartney uses his voice through the first two lines of each of the verses: there is a touch of conversation in the tone of his voice, as it runs down over the melody of each line. But more than this, the texture of his voice changes too: with each line it starts out slightly strained and forced, but it eases down into mellower and warmer tones, slightly buried, by the end of each line. He also does something slightly odd with the articulation of the second line in the couplet (which he sustains over each of the verses): there is a lack of precision in the articulation of the first few words of the second line, coupled with the note of strain in his voice, so that it lends a quality of physical manipulation of his voice over the lines. This of course is partly to do with the fact that the second line in each verse feels slightly crowded syllabically: but this crowding seems to be in itself a function of the note of desperation of the song, as if the narrator is trying to squeeze in as much observation as he can without appearing overly observant, retaining a sense of relaxed cool. In keeping with the overall character of the song, there is only a hint of desperation here: the purchase, at any one point, of the details of the song in our consciousness is generally not great, with such notes working instead as subtle colours that build up over the course of the song. For instance, even the quality of the second line being somewhat crowded is only a shadow over the line, almost like an afterthought. In any case, the note of desperation seems to be in concord with the general flavour of the narrator’s attitude, one of reckless abandon (hence the “climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky”).

As suggested, this attitude of reckless abandon is characteristic of this song, inherent to its instrumentation and its production. The comparison with “Born To Be Wild” is instructive here, because “Jet”’s reckless abandon does not work in the same way as in this latter song. Steppenwolf’s version of “Born To Be Wild” is large in all its characteristics, musically, instrumentally, in its arrangement, and in its production. This song is indeed a manifestation of the lines “fire all of your guns at once and/explode into space”: the song, in its entirety, throws itself into space, with no sense of return, it lives fully in its moment of 3:30 and is gone. “Jet”, on the other hand, works so that the throwaway-ness is actually partly playful, and also partly (as noted above) has a kind of durability to it, a staying-behind quality, as if what is thrown away is like litter that remains lining our way through the course of the song, and stays with us after the song has rolled over us. One of the prime ways that this is manifest in “Jet” is the song’s glam qualities. The song is not entirely glam: it lacks the overall trash aesthetic of music such as that by Marc Bolan or Sweet, or Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust output. However, it has elements that draw on glam, loosening the thickness of the song ever so slightly, and giving a kind of aesthetic bounce or play to its relentless roll. The first way this is evident, as noted above, is in the chant-like “Jet” which repeats through the song. This echoes the playful football-chant qualities of songs like T-Rex’s “Chariot Choogle”, Sweet’s “Hell-Raiser”, or Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” – the group chant elements in these songs have a reckless play quality to them, a kind of group abandon, which is called on in the repeated title line of “Jet”. This quality is also found in other choral elements in the song, notably the “oo-oo-oo-ooh-oo-oo-ooh-oo-oo” following each “Jet” in the chorus, and to a lesser extent the intermittent choral backing vocals in the second and third verses. Another glam element is the loopiness of the repeated refrain (“Ah Mater…”), which echoes the glam of ChinniChap acts and T-Rex. This is conveyed in the slightly odd wording (the opening invocation, the use of a word – “Mater” – that has a kind of archaic quality or dialectic idiosyncrasy unusual in a pop song, and the ellipis of the “want Jet…”; compare for instance the lyrics of T-Rex’s “Telegram Sam”, or Sweet’s “The Ballroom Blitz”), and the touch of “jungle” rhythm in the drums (compare Suzi Quatro’s “Can The Can” or Sweet’s “Wig Wam Bam”, especially in the repeat of the first verse of this latter song). There is also a note of imminent (but empty) threat in the rising brass backing here, reminiscent of the ramped-up guitars of “Chariot Choogle” or the woody strings of T‑Rex’s “Children of the Revolution”. The glam elements here are at the same time fully part of the mass of the song, its massive exultant trajectory, but also slightly askew from it, as if in its relentlessness the mass of the song is spinning off small mutations, each mutation sticking with us and slightly playing with our perception of the song.

This sense of play is also evident in other ways through the song. One of these is the intermittent linguistic play in the lyrics (some examples of which are described elsewhere, such as the use of “Mater”, and the gradual changes in the repetition of the line beginning “And Jet…”). Another example is demonstrated in the title: “Jet” is a peculiar name for a woman, and it’s not entirely clear why it is chosen; however, from the logic of the lyrics, it seems that part of the reason is as a kind of expansive appellation reflecting the apparent carefree headstrong character of the addressee. Its use is also partly a function of being extracted from the word “suffragette”, which Jet turns out to be in the final lines of the song: there is a sense that Jet is independent feminism personified (and which is partly a source of the narrator’s admiration and frustration, as examined above), in name and character. Another example of this linguistic play is in the gentle referentiality in the use of “sergeant major”, which has overtones (obvious to us on analysis, though not immediately obvious in the logic of the song) of “Sgt. Pepper”. The resonance of this becomes slightly stronger with the fact that “Jet” appears on an album which in itself makes gentle references back to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, through its title and cover photo.

Another way this sense of play is evident is through another quality, already touched on, which threads through the song, and which when looked at separately seems to be slightly incongruous with the quantum of the song’s style. This is in the note of “tropicality” in the song. “Tropicality” is a slight misnomer here, as not all these playlful elements are necessarily tied to some sort of reference to “tropical” styles; but what is most important is the element of mellowness, relaxation, and sunny carelessness that acts as a fleck on the edges of this song, and which have some reference to a (westernised) view of Caribbean styles, or conjure a westernised image of a Caribbean setting. Some of these elements have already been referred to – elements such as the vocal extemporisations in the intro (“come on”), which are almost like distant shouts on a (Caribbean?) cricket pitch, the reggae-like rhythm in the intro (which is retained in the scratching of the rhythm guitar through the song), the opening out or recession of the soundspace in the intro triggered by the strum on the lead guitar (as if the space has been eased off and we are being led to look out in a relaxed fashion away from the immediate here-and-now, perhaps as if we are relaxing under shade looking off into the distance), the increasing mellowness of the first two lines of each of the verses, and the pseudo “jungle” rhythms which also figure in the glam-oriented refrain.

Other elements are a number of vocal utterances which have a slightly mellow sentimental feel. The first of these are the first three appearances of “I thought” (“…I thought the only lonely place…”, “…I thought the major was a lady suffragette” (twice)), which have an oddly attenuated semi-nasal quality, lending the words a slightly sentimental, affectionate, arch and almost self-deprecating tone. Some of these qualities are found in the first few repetitions of “And Jet”, which however have a slightly more distanced (and less self-deprecating) quality, but nonetheless retain a kind of watchful sentimentality, with a hint of mellow reflectiveness. Finally, this is also found in the “Ah Mater…” refrains, and especially in the closing words “much later”. Interestingly, these refrains also have a hint of scouse accent, plus, as a result, a slight reference to the more cutesy or saucy pop qualities of some songs by The Beatles (such as “Lovely Rita” or “Sexy Sadie”). This latter is an odd move, as it seems to slide the song ever so slightly out of orbit, and sits in distinction to both the heavy bulk of the song and the other “tropical” flecks in the song, particularly as it builds on the glam qualities of the passage, and introduces a kind of knowing wink in its touch of intertextuality. In the refrain, the song seems to momentarily begin to rise on a tide of pure lighthearted fun (rather than primarily reckless abandon): the referentiality seems to give us a glimpse of a world that lies outside of the song, almost a world that we shouldn’t be looking into, and almost consequential to this, the lyrics seem to slightly lose referentiality within the logic of the song. Though the refrain refers to Jet, it changes address; and moreover, the address is to the idiosyncratically named “Mater” (which has an obvious resonance to “major”); so that the refrain slightly confuses the song’s overall address and voice. In a way, the refrain provides a new slant on the narrator’s feelings: it more or less confirms the narrator’s love for Jet (though it still does not clarify whether this love is or was unrequited); but the playful quality of the refrain, and the nature of the address, actually simultaneously slightly shift it out of the orbit of the elusive love relationship between Jet and the narrator, so that it gains a kind of abstract universalised unreachable love song quality, along the lines of Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo” (or even, perhaps, like the first half of “Lovely Rita”). There is also a cheeky sidling quality, obviously consonant with songs like “Lovely Rita”, which seem to draw in an engagement with the lines through the attraction of their idiomatic quality. This quality is a soft tint however; it does not dominate the lines; it has a kind of familiar quotidian quality, or a quality of the ordinary and everyday, of a merry life looking up from the street; but again it serves to slightly detour the song. In these lines, this everyday quality sits slightly oddly over the abstract, slightly universalised sense of the words, so that what we are left with is actually a note of colour and warmth, a kind of special glow to the refrain that causes it to sparkle just that little bit more than the surrounding mass, hooking into us with a sentimental mechanism, without it being sentimental, as if the very tip of the way in which sentiment works on us is being applied, rather than a thorough concession to sentimentality.

This note of fun with an edge of sentimentality, a kind of mellow delight, is also found in the “Caribbean” play of the opening extemporisations and the reggae guitar, which is echoed later on in the song in the second round of slightly dramatised vocal extemporisations, just prior to the third verse, where McCartney (and possibly others) says what sounds to my ears like “what you say” (plus variations), followed by a vocal trill. This sense of Caribbean fun is also demonstrated in the song’s closing brass, which has an MOR tropical beachside feel (with an obvious similarity to McCartney’s “Goodnight Tonight”), and which also carries forward more explicitly a Caribbean touch conveyed in the faint hint of ska in the brass of the intro. The closing brass is intriguing: at first thought, it is simply a mellow winding down of the song. But it sits at odds with the main attack of the song, melodically, instrumentally, and structurally: a song like this shouldn’t wind down mellowly, and in particular, it shouldn’t wind down to a point where it seems to drift off into some vision of a relaxed Caribbean setting. It seems to close off the song without really closing it off, because it leaves an unsettled feeling, as if it expresses a lack of regard for the intensity of emotions expressed through the song. It also has a decided MOR feeling, a quality of musically “copping out”. However, in a kind of odd twist, it doesn’t feel like the song has “copped out” overall: it seems to slightly twist the song, leaving a veneer over our feeling that leaves us wondering, and making us wanting to go back into the song to try to figure out how the feeling we’re left with fits in with the rest of the song. For despite this sense of “copping out”, this mellow feeling also seems to fit inherently within the logic of the song: there is a kind of inarticulate “rightness” about this ending, which leaves us reflective. The mellowness has a quality of bemusement, of fatalism and resignation, of comfort, of wonderment, and of openness, that seems to flow from the narrator’s own sense of reckless lack of purchase into his own emotions (“I thought the only lonely place was on the moon”). It illustrates that it is wrong to assume that McCartney’s leanings towards MOR (which wax and wane over the years and from song to song) are somehow a demonstration of lack of artistic resolve or strength: at its best (as here), this deference to MOR manifests an odd combination of comfort and carefree abandon, a sense of joy and wonderment spinning out from the quotidian, that simultaneously celebrates the everyday, as well as floating high above it. Perhaps the greatest example of this is in “Penny Lane”. Here in “Jet”, this momentary piece of MOR has the quality of soothing the savage breast, while seeming to slide over the world and slide over a sense of resolution to the song. It’s almost like we’ve just stepped off the juggernaut for just a moment, and in so doing, our whole outlook changes with that simple action. It represents the final act in our overall way of engaging with the song – as a whole, the song is a mass that seems present to us, but which, as we travel with it, we actually seem to continually or repeatedly “forget” in a way, as we perceive the smaller flung off bits that seem to mark the variety or change in the overall bulk, like flecks in the quartz. This close is one final way of “forgetting”, of pulling away from the song; but in so doing, we are also led to open up another process of re-engagement, by sitting in a moment of calm pleasure reflecting on the song as a whole. In this way, the song has an aching or ponderous muscularity: it does not spring off the ear, or out of the speaker; the lyrics do not spring off the page; the imagery does not grab us with the lithe muscularity of carefully constructed conceits. Instead, these elements gradually unwind out of the song, a small movement at a time, which we only catch by being continually re-engaged through these elements themselves.
[1] “Visconti scored the…strings and saxes on ‘Jet’…”, booklet in the 25th Anniversary Edition CD of Band On The Run, MPL Communications Ltd./Capitol Records Inc., 1999.

Image © 1973 MPL Communications Inc., photo by Clive Arrowsmith
Band On The Run, Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (including "Lovely Rita"), The Beatles [aka The White album] (including "Sexy Sadie"), 1967-1970 (including "Penny Lane", "I Am The Walrus") available at
"Jet", "Band On The Run", "Bluebird", "Helen Wheels", "Time", "Money", "Hell Raiser", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Devil Woman", "Born To Be Wild", "Chariot Choogle", "Bennie and the Jets", "Telegram Sam", "The Ballroom Blitz", "Can The Can", "Wig Wam Bam", "Children of the Revolution", "Pretty Flamingo", "Goodnight Tonight" available at iTunes Store