"Mind" (Spotify) is the sixteenth song (of 25) in my Atlas: Year Two series. The third song written for the "Intelligence" theme: Body, Heart & Mind, inspired by the Enneagram Intelligence Centers. To learn more about this theme, and all of Atlas: Year Two's themes, please read here!
One of my favorite musical instruments in the world is the Casio SK-1. It's a small keyboard that was born in 1985, only 2 years after I was. What makes it interesting, is that it has a small microphone built-in so you can record sounds and it will automatically pitch and lay them out across the keys of the keyboard, so you can play music using any sound you can make. This feature was, no doubt, primarily used by teenagers to record themselves making fart noises and playing them back on the keyboard, which does have its charm, BUT it's actually a really wonderful, lo-fi sounding sampler and I've been in love with it for years and have used it in a bunch of my songs. But never so front and center as it is in "Mind." The SK-1 is the where "Mind" began. I sang a single falsetto note into the built-in microphone and wrote the core of the song. Since this is how the song was born, I felt the SK-1 should start the song off, so that's what you're hearing at the front (and throughout) "Mind": my voice sampled on a Casio SK-1.
This lead to the idea that the majority of instruments in this song should be a combination of sounds made by the mouth (voice, wind instruments, etc.) and electronic sounds. Mouth sounds because it’s the organic representation of our minds (which reside in our heads.) I liked that connection. And electronic sounds because our brains are essentially machines, filled with energy. So those were the two rules I adhered to when I was writing and producing "Mind."
In that “mind-made” spirit, the drums are mostly beatbox style- made from mouth noises: mouth snare drum sound, kick drum sound, mouth cymbals and even mouth shakers. (I had fun making redlicious sounds all day to create the "drum set" you hear throughout the song.)
In keeping with the mouth/mind-made theme, I invited my friend Sarah Wilkinson to play French Horns. She's soooo talented and played soooo beautifully- love how the brass continues to open up louder and louder as the song moves forward.
I overdubbed myself singing a whole bunch of times in an attempt to sound like a choir. I've tried this before, but failed to realize that what makes a choir sound like a real choir isn't in the sheer number of singers, it's in the unique voices coming together. So I studied a few choir performances and tried singing my arrangement in different voices with each overdub I recorded (the bass voices are hilarious on their own) and I was super excited to hear that it sounds kind of like a real choir, and not some dude doing impressions of different singers over and over. I had a lot of fun keeping to this mouth-made rule and added whole bunches of other instruments you hear throughout, each made with the mouth in some capacity. I had fun recording little bits of my old melodica, another wind instrument too.
For the electronic bits, in addition to the Casio SK-I mentioned, I had a bunch of fun with some gadgets laying around my studio. A little bit of my OP-1 (from teenage engineering), as well as my PO-12 (also from teenage engineering) and a bunch of other synths and keyboards! Used a a lot of Omnisphere too! Endlessly enjoyed making this song.
To unify the two ideas (mouth made sounds and electronic sounds) I invited Sarah to sing background vocals with me as well. We sang the lyrics: "zeros and ones, zeros and ones, zeros and ones" which I thought was a fun way to merge the two rules of the song, organic and electronic. It also ties into these lyrics and concept of the song:
"’til binary systems, binary systems run
and the vibrancy of everything becomes zeros and ones."
The brain and mind have vital connections to repetition. We need it. We are shaped by repetition. So I decided to challenge myself to write this song using really only one chord progression over and over. We cling to the familiar- the known, which is why repetition is so ingrained in us. Practice makes perfect. So I knew that this idea had to play a large role in the arrangement - repeating itself and evolving. In lyrics too:
"but repetition, repetition sings
’til finally the melody is sacred, rooted, unchanged."
Easter Eggs: In my song "Body" I recorded my wife, our 2 daughters and I clapping, in "Heart" I recorded each of our heartbeats, and lastly in "Mind" you can hear each of my family members singing a single note. These 3 songs contain my family in body, heart and mind.
I invited my dear friend and previous bandmate, Dan Perdue to play Bass. As the song was coming together, I knew bass should play an important role. So naturally I called my favorite bass player in the world. He played brilliantly and I love the tone and feel that the bass brings to this song.
Lyrically, this song is about the gifts and curses of our minds. We contain the right ingredients to understand far more than we allow ourselves to. Meaning, we find comfort in patterns and repetition, in binary, in black and white. This keeps us safe, but stationary. But we are fully capable of living and growing in the uncertain, uncomfortable and entirely beautiful space of grey. I don't mean a place of indecisiveness, or apathy, but a place of reverence for things so much greater than ourselves. I think true faith requires us to live in that grey space. So I loved the idea of tying that metaphysical concept into the physical grey matter in our brains:
"in our grey matter, all grey matters.
an embarrassment of riches in our heads,
we gravitate to black or white instead."
(Brief Enneagram note: If you're unfamiliar with the Enneagram, (in the words of wikipedia) it is “a model of human personality which is principally understood and taught as a typology of NINE interconnected personality types." Each of these nine types fit into one of the three "Intelligence Centers": Body (the EIGHT, NINE and ONE types), Heart (the TWO, THREE and FOUR types) or Mind (the FIVE, SIX or SEVEN types)
As part of the Enneagram Intelligence Centers, Fr. Richard Rohr says this of the "Mind," or "Head" types: "Their main concerns are security and survival. Their control tower is the mind." In Chris Heuertz' upcoming book "The Sacred Enneagram" he explains the "Mind" types: "Head people, those in the intellectual center, have highly developed mental faculties they use to assess and address everything in life that is experienced as a threat or assault on their inner state." So I nod to this idea, as well as back to my song "Fear" throughout the lyrics. An example:
"it overwhelms the nervous system,
this fearful constant state of comparison."
The very last moment in the song is played on piano, which brings a more human and emotional tone to the song, ending on the final lyric...
“patterns form and feel important,
it’s the first brush stroke of a self-portrait.”
... which leads to the next and final set of songs in my Atlas: Year Two series: Enneagram. 9 songs based on the 9 Enneagram personality types. The Enneagram is exactly what the lyrics describe, a "self portrait" of our inner workings as human beings.
Thank you so much for reading!!
first, the ground rules get established:
memory is historically inaccurate.
but repetition, repetition sings
’til finally the melody is sacred, rooted, unchanged.
patterns form and feel important,
the starting lines of a living blueprint.
all this information in formation is key
to draw a distinction between waking life and our dreams.
it overwhelms the nervous system,
this fearful constant state of comparison.
in our grey matter, all grey matters.
an embarrassment of riches in our heads,
we gravitate to black or white instead.
we were designed to send mixed signals,
one image made up of different pixels
all subject to interpretation.
’til binary systems, binary systems run
and the vibrancy of everything becomes zeros and ones.
patterns form and feel important,
it’s the first brush stroke of a self-portrait.