Welcome to the first in a series of articles from us here at The Vestige, about the post-modern stadium rock band a truth called nothing’s rich history. Over the coming months, we will get to know these counter-culture savants in a way that hasn’t been possible before. We will be taking a look at different periods of the band’s production, from the making of some classic albums to the forming of the BOF itself. To help us, we have been given access to an extensive archive of documents, in addition to our interviews with the members and associates of the band.
Johannes Dalgren, a truth called nothing’s narcoleptic manager, record company liason and self-proclaimed creative director, is impeccably dressed and charismatic as ever, leaning back behind his desk at BOF Records’ Brussels headquarters. Always happy to discuss the band’s history, the man whose rumoured actual roles have included “enabler”, “mastermind” and “ghost songwriter” has had two boxes of historical documents and memorabilia delivered from the underground archives.
“So what did you want to ask about today?” he asks, with an easy smile. At the same time, he has already placed a certain pamphlet at center stage on his polished desk, steering the conversation with his well-known underhanded means. “You wanted to talk about 2005, right? The ‘Hope’ album was well underway, and we had just put this little piece of musical history exclusively in CD stores”.
The title of the humble publication is “Sam’s guide to participatory songwriting”. It is neither as exhaustive nor as immediately appealing as his later works on music theory, such as “Elemental Music“. But as the man himself attests, it does have a certain charm.
“Oh yeah, that thing. Man, we haven’t put out a pamphlet in a while. As I remember, this one was rather more successful than its predecessor, ‘Cranium-shaped cranium – Sam’s guide to self-shaving one’s head’. It’s all in good fun.”
The twenty-page pamphlet, which famously inspired another band to great heights of pseudo-song theft, introduced the idea of creating new music out of imagined “missing parts” of other songs. Here’s the rough version of the theory: listen to a bunch of songs you like and try to participate by singing along, humming or just hearing additional melodies in your head – try to look for empty spaces in the composition, places where something is missing. Lundgren claims that most people are able to “add” missing material to songs in this way. The listener should then take their invented melodies, remove them from their original context, and make new songs out of them. By changing tempo, time signature and key, as well as the melodies being “original” in the first place, the new composition will be completely legal and usable, in spite of having this close relationship with a well-known song. A kind of post-free jazz, if you will, this method might simplify the songwriting process and add that subtle frisson of outside involvement. Lundgren argued that it would be particularly useful for shut-ins, who might be able to use it as a substitution for human interaction and collaboration.
“My thinking was that these intuitive composition would also have their own value somewhere in between inspiration and borrowing”, Samuel states. “As far as I recall, the local music schools didn’t agree very much at all, but I’ve always claimed that we can’t leave inspiration to educators… I’ve softened my stance somewhat since, but I still think music educators have very little business directing people’s creativity. It comes from within.”
Of course the participatory theory would take shape during such a distinctively important period in the band’s history. “Hope” (2005) was, after all, the album that brought the band so much closer to the mainstream that it was actually distantly visible on the far horizon. Did the band use the theory itself during the making of the album? “I think we’ve not used that way of working too much ourselves, actually. It’s more of a Borges thing… you know, here’s an idea, maybe someone would like to use it someday. Hope itself was pretty removed from influences altogether, being that Adam and I used a kind of automatic writing process to generate those thirteen songs.”
On this, however, we will hear more another time. The next cardboard box beckons from mr. Dalgren’s desk as I make the call to our office…
Signed, Deacon Falke /editor and rock writer, The Vestige