Stress (Homestuck Vol. 9 Track Commentary)
art by P-RO at nomorepros.tumblr.com. P-RO always does a maximally amazing job so why I asked her to draw the art is a non-question.
Stress is actually a pretty faithful arrangement of an original track by George Buzinkai. Buzinkai has been responsible for several HS-important melodies like Doctor, Endless Climb, and Explore and his work, for me, has always established a certain “essence” of what Homestuck is. My goal for this piece was actually to create a classic strife theme for Dirk with the core feeling of earlier pieces like Showtime or Doctor, so basing the piece off of something with that “essence” was important.*
I can’t say why Buzinkai wrote this piece the way he did, so I’ll instead highlight the differences between the original and my arrangement.
- Updated the instrumentation. Buzinkai’s usage of PXTONE is indeed charming and nostalgic-sounding, but I wanted to push things bit further. One major difference is the arrangement of the strings - Buzinkai’s PXTONE strings have an sharp attack to them, while mine come on a bit softer but are thicker. My strings then sound more “lush” but less “urgent.”
- I added a section between the original A section and B section with lower intensity. This was because the song got a bit too repetitive and static simply repeating like Buzinkai’s. Oddly, the repeats didn’t bother me in his track. I think this is partially because MY loop point, unlike Buzinkai’s, lowers the intensity a LOT more by removing a bunch of instruments where his simply flows into a repeat. I need to think about that more.
- Added an introduction and a true ending to make it more of a proper start-to-finish song.
About the similarity to Teal Hunter and a fun syncopation lesson
- This was unintentional - I not only started my arrangement of this song before the contest was conceived, Buzinkai made the original song back in 2010. THOUGH as soon as I heard Teal Hunter I KNEW people would call out the similarities because, surprise, there are plenty of them! Here’s the big one:
- Both pieces are in 5/4 (5 beats per measure, try counting to 5 over and over on the beat) and use the SAME syncopation (syncopation = the division of notes into smaller off-beat rhythms within the measure) throughout the track. Actually, many many many pieces in 5/4 use this syncopation. See: Hollow Bastion. Why do composers keep doing this? Two reasons: One, because it sounds awesome. Second, because the main way to compose in odd time signatures like 5/4 or 13/4** is actually to cut things into smaller units of 3, 2, or 4. Though each measure is comprised of 5 total beats, each measure in these songs is cut into 10 notes of half the length going 123-123-12-12. 3! 3! 2! 2!
Wow, that was a very poor explanation. But please go to that Hollow Bastion video I linked and count “one-two-three-one-two-three-one-two-one-two” very quickly along with each note the harp plays. You’ll get it. (And I’m just making things more confusing, but isn’t it awesome how the syncopation switches at the end of the 4-measure phrase to “1234 12 12 12?” The little bit of contrast makes it feel complete.)
So, why don’t people just cut things up differently? like 3 2 2 3? it’s definitely possible! Here’s my theory about why people favor the syncopation they do: It seems like ending a measure with a shorter note ON the beat leads into the next measure more naturally. It even sounds like a leadin: dun-DUN! This is supported by the fact that one of the most popular syncopations in existence is the one in 4/4 that goes 3 3 2. This is probably the same principle.
3 3 2: ON OFF ON
3 3 2 2: ON OFF ON ON
- Besides the fact that the syncopation is identical, the chords and melody are similar and the way the strings are used are basically the same. I have no explanation for this other than… great minds think alike???
RANDOM FUN FACT: Awakening is also in 5/4, go to 1:40 and sing the melody to Stress. Hell, I’ll do it for you. It fits!!! The main melody of awakening also starts with a similar rhythm as Stress. it’s the curse of the 123 123 12 12’s.
Wow, I really got off track here. But I hope you learned something today.
*Yes, Bill Bolin also started an arrangement of this piece before he left the team. I think we were both attracted to the same “essence” present in Buzinkai’s piece.
** Bonus challenge: See if you can count out how I divided the measures in this song! If you can do this, you can easily understand how to compose in time signatures like this. It’s actually VERY simple and derived directly from the other breakdowns I did.