SOUNDS LIKE... Part 2


Electric Ladyland opens with Jimi's second piece of pure programme music, "...And The Gods Made Love". Initially entitled "At Last The Beginning", Jimi described this track as "It's like when the Gods made love, typifying what happens when the Gods make love, or whatever they spend their time on." Jimi told the press: "You're really going to be disappointed when you hear our first track on our new LP, because it starts with a 90 second sound painting of the heavens. I know it's the thing people will jump on to criticise so we're putting it right at the beginning to get it over with." For "...And The Gods Made Love" Jimi recorded a tympanum drum, snare rimshots and his own voice saying "OK, one more time." The tape was then reversed, slowed down and treated with echo.

In "Long Hot Summer Night" when Jimi sings "And the telephone keeps on screamin'" he bends the "G#" note on the top string, sixteenth fret up two frets to "A#" at 1:45. This bend seems to scream and aptly illustrate the vocal line.

"The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp" was the first JHE track to feature a foot-operated Wah-wah ("I Don't Live To Day" used a similar effect but created by hand). Jimi described the Wah-wah as "that loneliness and that frustration and the yearning. Like something is reaching out." Commenting on the song itself, Jimi said: "...I think everyone can understand the feeling when you're travelling that no matter what your address there is no place you can call home, the feeling of a man in a little old house in the middle of a desert where he's burning the midnight lamp."

The Wah-wah on the opening melody perfectly suits the slightly "downbeat" feel of the Mixolydian mode (when compared with the major scale, that is - both are major scales so both are "happy" sounding scales as far as the third of the scale goes, but the minor seventh in the Mixolydian mode gives it a certain bittersweet quality). The intro melody is interesting in that the ear naturally assumes the melody is formed from the "C#" major scale ("The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp" is in the key of "C#", not "C" as is often assumed) until the appearance of the "B" natural note at the beginning of the third bar, which establishes the "C#" Mixolydian mode. In Andy Aledort's musical analysis book In Deep With Jimi Hendrix , Aledort notes that "though Mixolydian most closely represents the prevailing tonality in Hendrix's music - the dominant (or dominant 7th) tonality - there aren't nearly as many primary riffs based on this mode as minor pentatonic or the Blues scale." "The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp" is one of few riffs that uses the Mixolydian mode.

From 0:24 to 0:26 and 1:15 to 1:18 Jimi uses the Wah-wah pedal to signify the loneliness sung about in the lyrics. From 1:54 to 1:55 Jimi uses the Wah-wah and vibrato arm to create a "burning" sound immediately before he sings "burn" at the beginning of the solo at 1:55. Jimi uses the Wah-wah pedal and the vibrato arm to create a "loneliness" sound from 2:18 to 2:24 to illustrate the "loneliness is such a drag" line.

Jimi had an uncanny ability to imitate speech with his guitar as can be heard in "Rainy Day, Dream Away" from 3:11 to 3:17 and in the equivalent part of "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" from 0:03 to 0:08. Although Jimi used a Wah-wah in these two excerpts to invoke vocal inflections, he could achieve the same effect without a Wah-wah as can be heard at the end of the Winterland 10 October 1968 performance of "Red House" from Variations On A Theme: Red House . In response to the audience's applause Jimi says "thank you" with his guitar at 14:07.

Listening to "1983...(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)" the recently deceased and controversial critic Albert Goldman commented "I'll call the piece "Atlantis" because it raised a sunken continent in my mind; yet I know that this rock La Mer must have been composed by Hendrix out of his recollections of his youth spent in a seaport near the Pacific [eh?]."

Continues Goldman: ""Atlantis" is an impressionistic evocation of the sea and all its sounds. Its dominant theme is one of those plangent psychedelic melodies that sing of sensuous surrender, of upturned eyes and outspread limbs and head humming with cosmic vibrations. Around this unforgettable melody (played mellifluously on a backless [eh?!] guitar), Hendrix has composed a remarkable assemblage of oceanic motifs: lonely ship buoys (whose notes bend blue) are blended with exquisite wind chimes; throbbing ship motors become basso ostinatos for clusters of sonar pings. The sea collage is enriched with musical pastiche: a bolero rhythm shading into a military polonaise, a Krupa drum break dissolving into a flamenco bass solo. Towards the end, Hendrix sings in the entrancing voice of a siren, 'Down and down and down and down and down and down we go'; as he disappears into the vortex, the theme comes wailing up from the sea bottom. The final impression is of an empty sky pierced by gull cries and the whine of a distant jet."

Eddie Kramer recalled how Jimi created these "gull cries": "One interesting thing about it, the seagull effects are not really seagulls, it's Jimi with his earphones feeding back into the microphone. He just cupped them over the mike and got this squeal and said, 'boy, that sounds nice,' I put some delay on it and wha-la! Seagulls!" The "seagull" noises can be heard particularly clearly in "Moon, Turn The Tides...Gently, Gently Away" from 7:40 to 7:50.

"1983..." and "Moon, Turn The Tides..." are full of musical symbolism. In the Performance Notes for "1983..." in the Electric Ladyland transcription book Dave Whitehill notes that "the 'spaceship sound' at the conclusion is the resultant pink noise from regenerated tape echos." In Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy , commenting on "Moon, Turn The Tides..." the authors note: "At one point the tapes are slowed down and then speeded up to represent a shoal of fish swimming up to investigate these strange beings [Jimi and Catherina, presumably] that have joined their world. Their curiosity satisfied, they swim away."

The evocative descending fills in "1983..." - created by "slide guitar and volume control" according to the Electric Ladyland transcription book - could be symbolic of something specific in the lyrics or general "story". These fills can be heard in the second verse - the first two are at 1:13, 1:17, then there are two descending slides on 1:21 and one each at 1:24, 1:35 and 1:36, then a longer descending slide during the second chorus at from 1:47 to 1:52.

Michael Fairchild makes a more general comment in the sleeve notes for Electric Ladyland : "The whooping crescendos of Jimi's sigh-in-the-sky flora and fauna fantasy expand the 'sound painting' concept heard earlier on "Third Stone From The Sun" and "If 6 Was 9". But "1983..." has more in common with 19th Century 'programmatic' music, where orchestral effects mimic the sounds of nature."

Guitar wasn't the only instrument Jimi used in "1983...". Paul Caruso: "In "I983..." he uses what he called the 'Martian dinner-bell' effects," speaking about a Carroll African flextone and further explaining, "it's a bent strip of metal and a ball, and it strikes itself." Auctioned at Bonhams of Chelsea on 18 August 1994, this flextone was priced at 250 - 350 but was either unsold or withdrawn. Presumably this is the effect that can be heard at several points of the tune such as at 0:02 to 0:03 and 0:13 to 0:14 - where the instrument also has been treated with delay [and assuming the flextone produces only one pitch, the variations in its pitch must have been produced by varying the tape speed].

Jimi stressed that these recording techniques were used to enhance the music, not as gimmicks. "On some records you hear all this clash and bang and fanciness but all we're doing is laying down the guitar tracks and then echo here and there, but we're not adding false electronic things. We use the same thing anyone else would, but we use it with imagination and common sense. Like "House Burning Down", we made the guitar sound like it was on fire, it's constantly changing dimensions, and up on top that lead guitar is cutting through everything." The "burning" effect can be heard at the beginning of the song from 0:00 to 0:28, created in the studio presumably using tape phasing/flanging and delay.

The "burning guitar" isn't the only piece of programme music in "House Burning Down". In the middle of the second verse Jimi creates a "motorbike noise" from 2:34 to 2:36 by depressing the vibrato arm then hitting the fifth string open, then slowly releasing the vibrato arm so the note returns to pitch. Jimi uses a similar effect on the fifth string at 3:46 to 3:48 and a similar effect with strings three and four from 3:56 to 4:00. The tape phasing/flanging and delay makes these effects sound all the more effective.

The "burning guitar" effect can also be heard on the solo lead guitar at the end of the song from 4:00 to the end of the track at 4:32. Jimi produces a 'siren'-like noise at 4:13 to 4:18 by hammering-on a flattened fifth interval between "F" on the fourth string, fifteenth fret and "B" on the fifth string, fourteenth fret. Whilst hammering-on these notes he slowly depresses the vibrato arm adding to the eeriness of the effect. The extreme "motorbike"-like noise at the very end of the track from 4:18 to 4:32 was created using an "echo plex" [sic] according to the Electric Ladyland transcription book with "regeneration up to threshold of runaway feedback."

In October 1968 Jimi played on and produced the album called Sunrise by Eire Apparent. At the conclusion of "The Clown" Jimi plays a "backwards" lick reminiscent of laughing (3:12 to 3:17). Caesar Glebbeeks notes in the discography in Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy , "It took Jimi ten minutes to rehearse the laughing sounds of the clown".

Jimi used the UniVibe effect and exploited the multi-tracking facilities of the recording studios to create a programme music effect in "Drifting" from The Cry Of Love . As Dave Rubin comments in the Performance Notes in Octavia & UniVibe : "Using different rates of UniVibe-generated vibrato produces a spacious, layered effect. With each track being at a similar volume and reverb, it allows the guitars to kind of like drift and float in and out of focus. It seems like passing through clouds almost." The excerpt in question is 1:39 to the end of the track at 3:48.

Whilst all the previously mentioned examples of programme music were created in the recording studio, Jimi's best-known track to use elements of programme music was a live performance: "The Star Spangled Banner" [L067 in the Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy biography]. Widely interpretated as an anti-war statement, Jimi neatly avoided being tied down on the Dick Cavett Show (9 September 1969) - "I though it was beautiful, but there you go..."

The sounds in "The Star Spangled Banner" during the Woodstock performance could be interpretated in a number of ways: Jimi's uses of feedback, vibrato arm and frantic slurs in the passage from 1:54 to 2:08 could be heard as a succession of bombs falling from the sky and exploding as they hit the ground. From 1:38 to 1:41 Jimi produces a "siren"-like noise similar to the one used in "House Burning Down" from 4:13 to 4:18 by again hammering-on two notes that produce a flattened fifth interval, this time between "Bb" on the fourth string, eighth fret with the second finger and "E" on the fifth string, seventh fret with the first finger (Jimi plays a similar flattened fifth "siren" lick in "The Star Spangled Banner" [L189] from Atlanta as can be heard on the Atlanta 70 CD from 1:31 to 1:32).

Jimi plays another "siren" lick in the Woodstock "SSB" from 1:48 to 1:49, again with fingers one and two although this time on strings two and three and using the vibrato arm - using the same fretboard shape produces a perfect fourth interval on these strings which doesn't sound quite as "siren"-like as a flattened fifth interval (or diminished fifth, to be technically correct). [Strangely, the official video version of "The Star Spangled Banner" seems to be faster than the official CD version, making the video version sound at approximately concert pitch whereas the CD version is approximately one semitone below concert pitch. The video version clocks in at approx 3:35 whereas the CD version is approx 3:42. The obvious question: why?!]

Jimi also conjured up the sounds of war in "Machine Gun" from Band Of Gypsys. Jimi uses fast strummed damped strings to imitate machine gun fire, the first occurrence being at 0:36 - Jimi "strums" the damped strings in demi-semiquavers (eight strums per beat) and uses the different "pitches" obtained from different groups of damped strings to articulate the effect. The next four times Jimi plays this lick from 0:50 to 1:01 Jimi seems to stick the the same damped strings apart from in the fourth occurrence when the final strum is played on higher pitched strings than the previous strums.

Although perhaps not as full of musical symbolism as "The Star Spangled Banner", "Machine Gun" still contains some very evocative sounds. The long "B" note (Jimi plays "A" on the top string at the seventeenth fret then bends it up two semitones) at the beginning of the first guitar solo from 3:58 to 4:10 sounds like an anguished wail, the note trembling with the UniVibe effect. Jimi uses the variable speed of the UniVibe and the vibrato arm to create a series of tortured wails from 6:06 to 6:23. The following passage of note cramming from 6:58 to 7:06, played with the Octavia pedal, suggests a feeling of frantic frustration.

During the third verse after "So let your bullets fly like rain" Jimi plays a series of tremolo picked slides on the top three strings to illustrate the lyric. At the beginning of the fourth verse after Buddy Miles sings "Don't you shoot him down" Jimi illustrates this lyric at 9:48 by striking a "D" octave shape consisting of "D" on the fourth string, twelfth fret and "D" on the second string, fifteenth fret then taking the notes down with the vibrato arm.

There are also some wonderful bits in "Who Knows?" [L903 - 31 December 1969, 2nd show] where the guitar responds to Jimi's lyrics: "Do I live [happy guitar] or do I die [sad guitar]; do I laugh [laughing guitar] or do I cry [sobbing guitar]?"

On a lighter note, at the end of "Johnny B Goode" from Hendrix In The West Jimi gets a sound like a horse neighing from 4:27 to 4:34 - presumably a spontaneous occurrence since a neighing horse does not appear anywhere in the lyrics of "Johnny B Goode" but certainly a striking sound nonetheless.

In the Performance Notes for "Bleeding Heart" from the The Jimi Hendrix Concerts transcription book, transcriber Jesse Gress comments that "Jimi Hendrix was able to use his vocabulary of clean, distorted, and filtered timbres to get beyond the music and actually conjure pictorial imagery. Dr William Fowler has pointed out the similarities between Hendrix' music and the onomatopoeic (or pictorial) tradition of composition founded by Hector Berlioz in the 1800s with his Symphonie Fantastique . This tradition is certainly evident in many of Jimi's compositions besides "Bleeding Heart". (From this collection [ie The Jimi Hendrix Concerts transcription book], parts of "Fire", "I Don't Live Today", "Voodoo Child", and "Red House" come to mind).

Commenting on "Bleeding Heart", Gress says, "the three verses feature onomatopoeic responses to the lyrics, perhaps most evident in the fifth chorus (third verse) following Jimi's "moan for me, guitar..." command." This example corresponds to 4:20 to 4:24. Gress makes an interesting observation about "Fire": "though each pictorial 'fire' lick preceding the chorus (bars 17, 37, 93) is different, they all get the same idea across". These bar numbers correspond respectively to CD timings 0:48 to 0:50, 1:18 to 1:19 and 2:39 to 2:40. Gress perceives the short fills Jimi played in versions of "Fire" (heard in the Are You Experienced? version at 0:25 to 0:26 and 0:56 to 0:57) as symbolising "fire".

Once you star listening out for these "musical pictures" you hear them all over the place. The only limit is your imagination...

Sources Consulted

Are You Experienced? transcription book, Bella Godiva Music and Hal Leonard, 1989; Axis: Bold As Love transcription book, Bella Godiva Music and Hal Leonard, 1989; Bonhams Chelsea Entertainment Sale Catalogue, 17 and 18 August 1994; Electric Ladyland transcription book, Bella Godiva Music and Hal Leonard, 1980; Form In Brief , William Lovelock, A Hammond & Co, 1954; Guitar For The Practicing Musician , August 1992 and December 1992; In Deep With Jimi Hendrix, Andy Aledort, Music Sales Limited, 1995; Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy, Heinemann, 1990; Jimi The Composer , Bill Milkowski, Guitar World, March 1988; Octavia & UniVibe book and CD, Bella Godiva Music and Hal Leonard, 1992; Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, John McDermott with Eddie Kramer, Warner Books, 1992; Sound Bites , Albert Goldman, Abacus, 1992; The Jimi Hendrix Concerts transcription book, Bella Godiva Music and Hal Leonard, 1991; The Life Of Jimi Hendrix: 'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky , David Henderson, Omnibus Press, 1990; Variations On A Theme: Red House booklet and CD, Hal Leonard, 1989.

NB With thanks to Joel J Brattin

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This article was originally published in UniVibes issue 20, November 1995.

Copyright UniVibes 1995 - reprinted by permission of UniVibes, International Jimi Hendrix Magazine, Enniskeane, County Cork, Republic Of Ireland

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