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Regarded as a prog metal classic, Dream Theater's Metropolis pt.2: Scenes from a Memory is now 20 years old

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Apr 17 2017 09:20AM

The scourge of anyone writing an essay is the charge of plagiarism and though I may have put personal academic involvement behind me, in a career that began pre-PC when my undergraduate essays were hand-written, I retain a professional training role and have a duty to check the work of a couple of my colleagues. The easiest way to avoid accusations of cheating is to use multiple sources, fully reference your work and include a comparative analysis as a summary to indicate your understanding of the subject. There are no shortcuts to essay writing when there is a multitude of plagiarism-checking software, free on the web, for use by both markers and students.

As an experiment, I ran the first 100 words of this article through Quetext which suggested I may have copied the sentence “The easiest way to avoid accusations of cheating is to use multiple sources, fully reference your work and include a comparative analysis as a summary to indicate your understanding of the subject” from a Wikipedia article on Fair Use! It may sound paranoid but I’ve written blogs and reviews on subjects that subsequently appear in Prog magazine where my phrasing and ideas, which I believe are characteristic of my personal style, have been included. There’s actually a rational explanation for this phenomenon: I mostly write about contemporary events, about artists touring or releasing material or appearing in the news for another reason, such as the support of Pink Floyd for the ‘Women’s boat to Gaza’; I’m writing about progressive rock so it’s likely to be something experienced by a fairly limited number of people who have similar expectations; our commentary will be largely based on audible and visual observations, though these may be perceived differently.

The feeling that just when you think you’ve come up with a great idea, somebody comes along and steals it took a further twist this week, following an article in the main section of The Guardian reporting that Ed Sheeran had settled out-of-court for $20 million after a plagiarism claim. My colleagues tend to tune into the radio at work, playing nothing that interests me and some things which really infuriate me (Sigala’s Sweet Lovin’, for example, which has undergone subtle mutations and is still being played as though it’s a current hit even though it originally came out in December 2015.) To my ears, a large number of pop songs are indistinguishable and this lack of musical diversity in pop music in general is a result of commoditisation, manufacturing and packaging which stifles creativity. The potential ground for borrowing the work of other song writers, particularly within dance music, gave me an idea for a blog and I emailed myself a few ideas and a rudimentary plan so I wouldn’t forget. Imagine my dismay when I opened G2 on Friday, with a front page headline “Has pop run out of tunes?” and a lengthy article inside the supplement by Peter Robinson The songs remain the same, dealing with the complexity of copying and plagiary.


The first time I noticed an obvious similarity between songs was not long after I’d seriously started to listen to music. Block Buster! by The Sweet (written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman) was released in January 1973 and I thought that the main riff was heavily derivative of David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, released a couple of months before in November 1972; with fairly good reason, It transpires that the Jean Genie riff has itself been compared to The Yardbirds’ cover of Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man.

The mixture of influences on progressive rock make it an ideal genre to scour for appropriation, though in its nascent form the influences were far less likely to be other rock bands than from the jazz and classical worlds. Rondo on the debut album by The Nice, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack was a reworking of Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo à la Turk but, according to Martyn Hanson in Hang on to a Dream – The Story of The Nice, Immediate Records boss Andrew Oldham somehow managed to credit the band with the composition, but never explained how. The main difference between the two pieces was Brubeck had composed the piece in 9/8 time but the Nice played it in 4/4 but when I first heard the Nice version in 1972 or 1973, it was instantly obvious that they had lifted, wholesale, Brubeck’s piece. According to Hanson, the band had never considered claiming composition responsibility. Whether through naivety or by design, Keith Emerson would go on to have further issues with the lack of credit for other composers when he started ELP.



Peter Robinson’s G2 article touches on the legal arguments used to define plagiarism and it seems likely that a plaintiff will lose their case if they themselves have borrowed from a source that is out of copyright. This means that Emerson didn’t have to credit JS Bach for The Three Fates (on the first ELP album) even though he’d previously name-checked Bach, and other composers, on various Nice albums. When I eventually got around to buying Passio Secundum Mattheum by progressivo italiano band Latte e Miele and listened to the track Il Calvario it sounded like a note-for-note rendition of Emerson’s Clotho, indicating the original source.



Surprisingly enough, the next instance where I detected what I thought was undue influence was listening to Relayer at 12’47” into The Gates of Delirium, at the moment the battle sequence commences to resolve. At this point Patrick Moraz plays a lead synthesizer line that I thought was straight out of a Beatles song book but, when put into context where there’s so much going on in the Yes song, it’s obviously not The Beatles. At the time I was becoming aware of the spread of influence of the Fab Four and it didn’t seem such a ridiculous notion.

Robert Fripp famously made an out-of-court settlement over a plagiarism dispute with the producers of soft-core porn film Emmanuelle for misappropriation of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (part II). There are at least three short pieces of music credited to Pierre Bachelet and Herve Roy that occur in the film, which are remarkably close to Fripp’s instrumental piece. A more recent example of possible copying a King Crimson song is on Astra’s 2009 release The Weirding, where the title track comes close to quoting from Cirkus on Lizard. Of course this may be accidental, but it’s evident the band are inspired by early Crimson because apart from the use of doom-laden Mellotron there is a great deal of Sinfield-like imagery in the lyrics: ‘All the blind sight kills the white light / Fire blood raven screams / Spreading influence through waking dreams / The world spins out of tune / And there's nothing we can do...’ and again: ‘Blindly follow twisted tales / It seems forever without fail / Cat's paws mind their fairy stories dear’. Kanye obviously got around any potential problem by including the appropriate credits to his song Power, which sampled 21st Century Schizoid Man.



The distinction between copying and source of inspiration may appear to be a grey area but, as Robinson points out, you can apply maths to the problem. In this way, based on pitch, rhythmic placement and harmonic context, you can make a statistical judgement whether two pieces of music are similar. The chances of two songs, independently written and sharing an identical 39-note sequence backed by similar chords and with the same rhythmic accentuation is really remote; this was the case with Sheeran’s Photograph and Amazing by Matt Cardle. Inspiration is something entirely different. Marillion used to be labelled a Genesis-clone and though the original members will no doubt admit that their music was informed by Genesis, and (ex-) vocalist Fish used to apply grease paint and, to a lesser extent don costumes for his adopted persona in the manner of Peter Gabriel, the similarity remained superficial. I’m more interested in Fish’s lyrics because he’s spoken of Peter Hammill as being one of the musicians who influenced him. Hammill recorded Flight from A Black Box in 1980 which includes the lines: ‘The lines on the road trail the arrow in the sky/ I search for the mote in my brother’s eye’ and four years later Fish penned the words to IncubusYou played this scene before, you played this scene before / I the mote in your eye, I the mote in your eye’. These are the only two lyrical references to a mote in an eye that I can think of but that doesn’t mean that Fish has copied Hammill.


There appear to be more cases of alleged plagiarism going to court than ever before, something I think is a reflection on the current state of the music business. I genuinely find it difficult to distinguish between many of the songs played on daytime radio, and find it even harder to like any of them. The idea of the music star and celebrity means that a record company has to invest in protecting the image of artists and the sum of $20m (£16m) was obviously worth it to Warner to ensure that Sheeran’s reputation and artistic integrity wasn’t too badly affected by alleged copying – unless the money came out of his own pocket. Such ridiculous sums of money spawn a culture of claims and that can’t be good for music, as money is diverted into the legal aspects of the industry rather than nurturing creativity. On the other hand, if it means we get less manufactured music, which stands more chance of accusations of copying, then that would be a great deal better.


There’s only one sure-fire way to avoid accusations of copying: cite your references.


Peter Robinson’s article appears here:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/apr/13/has-pop-finally-run-out-of-tunes-ed-sheeran-plagiarism







By ProgBlog, Jul 31 2016 09:34PM

Progressive rock covers a huge number of themes, even though it is frequently derided for (mistakenly) being a one-topic genre: fantasy, the realm of elves and wizards. Rick Wakeman is less to blame than the music press but a much-used clip of Wakeman on the rocks at Tintagel posing with his Hammond and mini Moogs in cape and wizard’s hat, most recently appearing in the second episode of The People’s History of Pop, presented by writer, journalist, broadcaster and confessed prog fan Danny Baker which was aired on BBC Four last week. This episode related to 1966 to 1976, the years of Baker’s youth and included a piece about progressive rock from the perspective of a (now) Managing Director who was a 14 year old at the time, living in Crawley. The photo he showed of his teenage self could equally have been me captured in 1975. Baker, who should have known better, introduced this section from a record store (he used to work in One Stop Records in central London) by stereotyping glam rock fans, heavy metal fans (circa 1975) and prog fans: “Pale, introverted types, they took things very seriously... ...possibly with a copy of Lord of the Rings with them...” It’s true that we took our music seriously and, even though Hatfield and the North, Supersister, Focus, Zappa showed they could laugh at themselves, the musicians took the music seriously, too. However, I fell into the stereotype yesterday when I listened to the 1982 Jethro Tull album Broadsword and the Beast for the first time for years and was compelled to translate the runes on the cover. I may have done this when I bought the record when it was released, though I’d normally have left a copy of the translation inside the sleeve. I have form in this sort of thing and I imagine that there are many other prog fans who share this thirst for knowledge: I translated all the runes and the elvish script wherever I found them in my copy of Lord of the Rings and I cracked the encrypted letter from Tom to Jan that appears in Alan Garner’s Red Shift. It turns out that the runes on Broadsword and the Beast are Anglo Saxon and they just quote a lyric from the track Broadsword: “I see a dark sail on the horizon set under a cloud that hides the. Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding. Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman.” The word ‘sun’ is missing from the second (bottom) panel because the Ian Anderson elf-like creature’s sword crosses the border at that point, although I don’t believe the three runic letters would have fitted in that space. The artist’s initials can be found top right, with runes for R, I and M plus the superscript ‘c’ for R Iain McCaig. There is more writing on the inside sleeve, indicating that it was ‘scribed by candlelight’.


Part of the earnestness of the musicians was manifest in the choice of subject matter for an album; grand themes, including literary interpretation, being a defining feature of the genre. I think there’s an innate rationality about the music itself and this, as someone who went down the sciences route at school, studied botany and zoology at university and ended up working in a medical science, is part of the appeal. Even something with a meaning as obscure as Close to the Edge works, not just because the musicianship is exemplary but, equally importantly, it has an appropriate structure that helps to convey the rather nebulous concept of seeking enlightenment; prog bands, pushing at the limits of what was sonically possible with the technology available, took on the role musical explorers and experimentalists where their artistic vision was equivalent to a scientist working to a hypothesis.

Flying used as a concept allows a band to utilise threads from a mixture of philosophy, technology and metaphor, from the Greek mythology of Icarus with its warnings against complacency and hubris, through the visions of Leonardo and his principles of mechanical flight, to understanding the physics; I love the parlour trick used in science museums to demonstrate the Bernoulli Principle with the table tennis ball or beach ball in the stream of air, fast flow creates low pressure and, when applied to the upper curved surface of an aeroplane wing, low pressure creates lift. Much of the original space rock concerned exploration, though the imagery of the lyrics for Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, one of my all-time favourite space rock-era Floyd songs, and one of the first Pink Floyd songs I ever heard, seems to relate to a quest to expand the consciousness rather than some kind of starship pilot plotting a course to crash his vessel into a star. Later, David Gilmour would write Learning to Fly (from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, 1987) which is about genuinely learning the mechanics of flying an aeroplane (the pilot’s voice on the track is Nick Mason going through pre-flight checks) but is also about the liberation of the spirit. I’ve previously written about my appreciation of A Momentary Lapse, and this is because the writing is much more thought-provoking than the last two albums of the Waters era.


The space rock vision of flight is best covered by Hawkwind’s Silver Machine (1972) and the related Robert Calvert solo album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters (1974) which satirised the story of the Lockheed 104 ‘Starfighter’ sold to America’s NATO allies, specifically Germany: the 104G. As a boy, Calvert, who co-wrote Silver Machine, had wanted to be an RAF fighter pilot but it is alleged that he failed the medical. The music on Captain Lockheed is quite varied but the album was originally conceived as a stage play. It’s not really prog, but it is very amusing; my favourite track being the Hawkwind-like Ejection.

Steve Hackett’s Icarus Ascending (Please Don’t Touch, 1978) name checks the son of Daedalus as a metaphor for someone who failed to achieve their goal (in the song, a stable relationship) where successful flight is eventually achieved “Never falling / Since your eyes first touched mine.”


One of the most profound uses of aeroplane and flying metaphors is Flight by Peter Hammill from A Black Box, 1980, Hammill’s first album after leaving Charisma and his first venture into long-form without the help of his Van der Graaf band mates. The side-long track could be compared to the VdGG epic A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers due to the structure comprised of different songs and moods pieced together with a unifying theme, the contemplation of fate and willpower and control. This was a surprise inclusion the last time I went to see Van der Graaf in 2013 although it had been performed by the K Group; the trio did a brilliant job, shifting from the manic to the melodic to the dissonant.

The idea of aeronaut as explorer is raised in Astral Traveller (from Time and a Word, 1970) a track that is almost steampunk with the protagonist being a balloonist within a futuristic-sounding setting. Together with The Prophet, this track seems to map out the future direction of Yes and forms a thematic link to Starship Trooper from the next Yes effort, The Yes Album (1971.)

When Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left King Crimson at the end of the first Crimson US tour in 1969, they put together a melodic, sometimes pastoral album that owes a great deal to the Beatles, where the mellotron is used for colour rather than doomy chords. Some sections (Flight of the Ibis, for example) are recognisable as coming from the Crimson stable, like bits of what would become Cadence and Cascade. The second side of the album is a multi-part suite conceived by Peter Sinfield, The Birdman, and this covers the desire of man to fly and his successful designing and building of the machine. This success is opposite to that described in Paper Wings by Barclay James Harvest (from Everyone is Everybody Else, 1974) where the protagonist is convinced of his ability to fly, but plummets to his death. I have the Barclay James Harvest Live version of this song and, though short, I really like it. The death plunge is a scenario revisited in Suicide? (from Octoberon, 1976.)

I was given a glider flight experience as a birthday present many years ago and headed off to the Surrey Hills Gliding Club based at Kenley, a few miles south of Croydon, for my taster. The sensation of unpowered flight is truly incredible and it’s no wonder that flying and flight has obsessed humankind. Should I ever get the necessary financing, it’s something I’d love to take up seriously.






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