I’m going out on a limb today. I’ve thought about this long and hard and I think my position is well informed and logical. Revolution 9, a soundscape produced by John Lennon and appearing on The Beatles White Album, is brilliant.
That being said, I don’t particularly enjoy Revolution 9 and very rarely listen to it but it is a pretty brilliant sound collage. Lennon’s idea was to give an audio representation of what revolution sounded like to him and, in setting a mood of unease, unpleasantness, and paranoia, he achieves just that. Anyone who has listened to this piece with headphones in a dark room knows that it is creepy and will have you looking over your shoulders.
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Backwards loops, short sound clips, and stereo panning are just some of the tools Lennon, and presumably Yoko Ono, used to really drive home the uneasy feeling. Upon closer inspection, however, this piece is constructed in a very musical, almost, symphonic way. There are recurring themes and motifs (obviously the “number 9) ranging from short pieces of dialog and chanting to piano underscore and symphonic loops. These little themes appear throughout the entire piece and ground it in some form of familiarity.
Also, the piece starts off simple, with a piano motif that sneaks in throughout the track, and the panned “number 9” vocals. The piece builds on that, often introducing several motifs simultaneously, until there is a cacophony of noise. Several times the tension is pushed to a near breaking point and then relieved only to be pushed all the way back again. How is this any different than the chordal and rhythmic dissonance that classical composers have been using for years? =
Instead of using conventional instruments and musical ideas, Lennon is using sounds from every source he can get his hands on to create the same textures, emotions and tensions that a composer would create in a symphonic piece. While “Revolution 9” hardly ranks among the great compositions of the 20th century, it is not without artistic merit and deserves a closer inspection by listeners.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the revolution in all it’s glory.