Happy Accidents

July 29, 2008 5:39 AM

Brian Eno says, "Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention." Care to reveal some of yours?

I was thinking about this after edlundart (commenting on my latest song) said that he "really enjoyed [the] touch" of the rhyme between the spoken-work hypnotist and the sung vocals. This blew me away, because it never occured to me until he mentioned it.

Lots of my songs end up with accidental noises in them -- Postcard has a truck or bus downshifting outside in between the verses -- thematically perfect, perfectly timed, and nearly inaudible. Happy has, in the intro, the sound of the lyric sheet being flipped over; the sound got run through a flanger (I think) before I got around to taking it out, and at that point seemed to fit, and so wasn't taken out after all.

Corduroy's had a couple of nice ones lately -- the television set in Hobbes, and the string scrapes that I comment on in Time To Get Up.

So -- mistakes that you left in? Unintentional coolness that you never noticed until someone else pointed it out? What are some of your favorites?
posted by Karlos the Jackal (15 comments total)

Hey, never mind the happy accidents, Karlos, when're we gonna hear some of those collaborations, huh? HUH?

Just kidding, of course. As concerns accidents, yeah, the cars outside, I get some of that from time to time, and they generally work, somehow. But all in all, I'm a pretty careful listener, and I don't think there's too much sonically that escapes my notice. In other words, if you hear something, it's gonna be because I knew it was there and I liked it there.

That said, the Eno quote about accidents being hidden intentions is, I think, a great and insightful one, and I certainly have my share of accidents in playing, which often become the impetus for reworking a part. There's another quote, though I don't remember it exactly, but going something like "do it once, it's an accident - repeat it, it's a part". There's plenty of truth to that as well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:06 AM on July 29, 2008

Man, one of the first songs that I posted here was with one of my sons. I had him all prepped and ready to do a vocal when our dog barked and he said "uh oh!". That was absolutely beautiful, unexpected and set the stage for the song. Neither one of us gave it a second thought, but when I mixed the tracks, it was gold!

I think flapjax raises a great point regarding "happy accidents". I've always loved listening to stuff like Led Zeppelin because their studio situations were so loosey goosey sometimes, and there are some great "fuck ups" (background stuff) to be heard.

For me, the really great "happy accidents" occur then I'm really pushing myself, fuck up a phrase or note and think, "holy shit, that was right on!", and then continue to nail it.
posted by snsranch at 6:54 PM on July 29, 2008

I think flapjax raises a great point regarding "happy accidents". I've always loved listening to stuff like Led Zeppelin because their studio situations were so loosey goosey sometimes, and there are some great "fuck ups" (background stuff) to be heard.

Yeah, I love finding out stuff like that. My favorite is in the beginning of the Police's "Roxanne," you can hear Sting accidentally sitting on piano that he thought was closed.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 7:09 PM on July 29, 2008

Yeah, snsranch, dog barks and kids crying have been the ones that have happened to me while I've been recording. My mom's dog at the end of holden/elie wasn't planned, and wasn't edited in. A neighbor just walked by the house right after I finished singing the last section.
posted by umbĂș at 7:30 PM on July 29, 2008

A long, long time ago, I had a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder (yeah, that long ago) and I had recorded a couple of mono tracks, drums and a keyboard and a guitar, into an ambient track of sorts. At the time I didn't sing at all, and so I was stumped for how to flesh it out into something interesting.

So I grabbed a radio, flipped around until I found someone talking on an AM station that I found interesting, and hit record with the radio up to the microphone. What followed, out of pure coincidence, was spoken almost as poetry, with long pauses between each phrase, and slotted perfectly into the music I had already recorded -- so much so that by the time I hit stop at the end of the song, an entire surreal but cohesive story had just been told, about counterfeit candy bars at a senate hearing(!).

I couldn't slide tracks around or anything (4-track Tascam, remember) so what I had was what I had; there were a couple of awkward phrases that I covered in the middle with a strange chanting that I did in a hurry, and that was that.

I still love that song; it's on a cassette tape around here somewhere. If I can dig it up, and if there's any sound left (this was at least fifteen years ago) I'll upload it.
posted by davejay at 11:20 PM on July 29, 2008

I record my songs the very second I finish writing them, usually without really having rehearsed them at all. I record my stuff onto a digital camera, and, if the window is open, there are birds chirping and cars passing that the mic picks up. What can I do? I don't have a soundproof room, or quality recording equipment, or the expertise to use them, and I'm recording songs so quickly after I write them that the performance is necessarily going to be rough and unrehearsed. I figure the trade-off is that I am capturing the discovery of a song, and the environment in which it was discovered.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:53 PM on July 29, 2008

Yeah, you totally have to upload that, davejay.
posted by chimaera at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2008

Happy accidents make up a decent-sized portion of my music. In fact, most of my guitar melodies come from random, idle picking while I'm sitting down something else (reading, online, writing) and something will happen with my fingers and I'll think, dang, that sounds good!
posted by ORthey at 11:44 AM on July 30, 2008

Apperently my guitar is out of tune in this song. I didn't notice until someone pointed it out.
posted by chillmost at 2:51 PM on July 30, 2008

My cover of How to Fight Loneliness is non-stop accidents: I didn't run through it at all ahead of time, and did two tracks next to an open window. My wife walked in the door soon after I started the second pass (lead guitar and harmony vox), and you can here her keys, her voice, our Model M keyboard. Listen for the lead guitar panning over to the right in some spots to carry her voice over there.

Her keyboard comes in as an accidental percussive element right at the end of the chorus falloff/turnaround at about 3:02, which is one of my favorite accidental things ever.
posted by cortex at 3:19 PM on July 30, 2008

When we recorded the percussion track that we ended up using in this song we didn't even notice the crickets. They were such a normal part of our daily lives in that house in Guatemala that it wasn't until we had all moved out and were living in different countries that we realized they were there, and the song has now become like the perfect reminder of our life there.

Also, while we were recording the congas there was a snare and a big bass drum lying around (it was all recorded in a backyard, in a mountainside house), and the snare and the bass drum reverberated as the percussionist played the drums, which, in my opinion, adds an extra texture to the song. I really, really like that song, and for some reason only a few people here noticed it, but I guess that's material for the thread below, not this one.
posted by micayetoca at 3:31 PM on July 30, 2008

Track found, it's noisy but it's listenable; I just need to dig up a cable from the garage tomorrow, I'll post it then.
posted by davejay at 11:43 PM on July 30, 2008

I play guitar upside down. My right-handed friend let me borrow his guitar, but didn't want me re-stringing it. At first I tried playing it "the right way" but it felt wrong, so upside down, left-handed it went. And stayed. The guitar and me: one big (mostly) happy accident.
posted by February28 at 8:10 PM on July 31, 2008

Whoa, that's nuts. I'm sort-of left-handed, but I play guitar right-handed. I tried drumming lefty, but it was too much trouble to keep re-arranging kits, so I do that right-handed, too. I can't imagine playing guitar "backwards." Maybe I'll give it a shot sometime.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:49 PM on July 31, 2008

I keep things pretty loose when recording, but I don't think there's a good example here except for maybe this version of "Nothing New" that I did. You can hear the dryer at the beginning and end (it's actually going on one track the whole time, it's just more noticeable at the end--as well as the mouse click which has made it's way onto a lot of stuff--the sounds of cell phones too close to computers is another thing that I like). "Tea Parties" is essentially one long happy accident lyrically.

One of our cats ends up on recordings all the time, sometimes I'll take that and run it through effects or loop it or both, but I'm not seeing anything that he's on that I've posted here. I've even realized half-way through songs that a loop is off or something and taken it out, changing the entire song (that happened to some extent with this song and this one. Or leaving in people walking around the house... yeah, I love this kind of stuff and have recorded things around the house or outside just to place in songs at some point.

Hmm, I talked about my songs a lot. Sorry, but they're the ones that I know the best, probably.
posted by sleepy pete at 9:46 PM on July 31, 2008

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