Waking Up to Change the World: Songs to Spark a Revolution

Prelude: This is a piece written a year ago, riddled with opinion. I do not claim that my views are those which are solely valid. There are indeed, arguable points—points that can be polished by healthy debate among perspectives. Several of the claims and comments on society made here are based on my direct and indirect observations. The lack of academic research is an apparent point for improvement. This piece of writing simply offers a glancing version of the truth which I, as a member of society and practicing music critic, perceive. This is also a window to my younger mind, slightly edited and appropriated for a blog entry.


Waking Up to Change the World: Songs to Spark a Revolution

It’s a miserable world, almost. Heavily submerged in a culture of mediocrity and wastage, we’ve become sedated. We’re in the thick of a space-out way of life, more appropriately. Hardly anyone bothers because changing seems too difficult.

The words “hardly anybody” imply that there are those who still have hope and do what they can to make a difference. For the rest, it’s a matter of snapping out of a daze—of waking up. It doesn’t just happen, though. It could take a jolt, a cheer or inspiration.

Speaking of this “awakening,” I believe that art has the power to do just that and transform the community in the process. Let’s discuss music through the lens of alternative rock. Apart from the mainstream themes of romance and partying, some bands dedicate their work to opening our eyes and saving the world. I have chosen three: Muse, Rivermaya and Switchfoot. Despite the diversity of their musical and lyrical techniques, their message is essentially the same:

Wake up and do something.

What I am about to present is a brief critique of three songs by three rock groups underscoring the central theme of rousing society, from different angles. A relatively formalist approach will be utilized in tackling the musical works, with the exception of sporadic historical and cultural references. The discourse includes a juxtaposition of the methods by which the artists present their message. A brief exposition on the backgrounds of the songwriters has been added to achieve a broader point of view.

 

The Songs

The Apocalypse: Butterflies & Hurricanes – Muse

Album: Absolution

Track: 10

Length: 5.02

Muse are well-known for their apocalypse-themed songs packaged in epic arrangements. Butterflies & Hurricanes makes the cut. It opens with a pre-emptive silent bass-tap, conditioning listeners to Matthew Bellamy’s voice, singing “Change everything you are … revenge will surely come/your hard times are ahead… you’ve got to change the world.” A Queen-like vocal harmony block enters crescendo, followed by a Middle-eastern oriented scale played in unison by the piano and bass on a flurry of drum beats. The verse repeats and resumes with Matt singing an octave higher than the former. In the bridge, the chaos recedes into a piano arpeggio, fading into a rest. This silence is broken by the explosion of chords on a bed of strings, alluding to the superfluity of romantic-era pieces. Afterward emerges “Don’t let yourself down/Don’t let yourself go/Your last chance has arrived.” The madness revisits as the chorus rings forth and the song is closed by the Middle-eastern scale played in unison.

The title of the songs is a reference to the Butterfly Effect of Edward Lorenz’s Chaos Theory. In simple terms, the Butterfly Effect describes the situation involving how the wind caused by the flapping of each butterfly’s wings contributes to the culminating force of a hurricane. A parallelism is implied such that each person’s actions affect society. The song suggests that the sum is greater than its parts–that the combined effect of each individual’s actions surpasses the seemingly small effects when taken apart. Unsettled? Good. This proves the effectiveness of the song.

Note: The band usually extends the Middle-eastern scale-riff instrumental before moving into the piano arpeggio during live performances, as with the embedded video. The same riff is executed by guitar rather than piano live.

 

Call to Arms: Liwanag sa Dilim – Rivermaya

Album: Between the Stars and Waves

Track: 16

Length: 3.41

My classmates and I were mad about this song back in high school. Most of us were novices at the guitar and it was something we were excited to learn. I didn’t really get to appreciate this song in-depth until recently.

The recording begins with an acoustic guitar that segues into the bright riff that gives the song its anthem-like dynamics. Rico’s voice enters, beckoning the listener to take up the role of a savior, “Ituring an iyong sariling tagahawi ng ulap sa kalangitang kulimlim…” The chorus bursts with the lyrics victoriously singing, “Isigaw mo sa hangin/tumindig at magsilbing liwanag/liwanag sa dilim!” Lyrical development ensues as the next verse is played over a groundwork of tom-based drumming, alluding to Philippine ethnic music—a nod to patriotism.  The song is electrified by Mike Elgar’s guitar solo. The virtuosic outbreak of notes resolves in two bars’ length of a high note and another two in feedback. A rising chord progression is used in the last choruses to signify a break from the earlier form—a dauntless forward motion.

In contrast to Muse’s perspective, Rivermaya takes an upbeat approach in prodding listeners to take the challenge of conquering darkness with light. Nowadays, we can’t be all gloom and doom—we must be optimists too.

 

Second Chances: Dare You to Move – Switchfoot


Album: The Beautiful Letdown

Track: 5

Length: 4.10

Something I admire about Switchfoot is their ability to write songs about change and spirituality without appearing preachy. In a world that has grown splintered in its beliefs, the issue of faith and morality colored by religion has become sensitive and taboo. Their lyrics are profound and clothed in music accessible to many. I regret missing their concert here in Manila. I would’ve wanted to hear them play my favorite songs, one of them being Dare You to Move.

The rock ballad begins with two fourth-interval chords, awash in distortion and the constant ring of a bright-toned acoustic guitar behind the mix (not present in this performance). Jonathan Foreman’s voice croons “Welcome to the planet/welcome to existence/everyone’s here…” The bass drum thumping below gives the impression of a heartbeat—a metaphor for life. Next is the part that people sing in answer when asked if they knew the song. Perhaps it’s because the message shines through: “I dare you to move/I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor… like today never happened before…” The second verse arrives with a movement in plot—the induction of conflict, aptly conveyed by the arrangement. After each line is sung, guitars fiercely respond in minor-scale riffs and octave jumps, implying agitation. The atmosphere turns dense as pain and failure materialize. The punch line comes in the bridge: “Salvation is here” is sung in a lingering falsetto, followed by a guitar solo that leads to, incidentally, the awakening of the unconscious surfer kid in the music video. The subsequent chorus is played with a renewed passion that surges through until the end. This is the middle ground of the first two songs. It’s the redemptive motion to Butterflies & Hurricanes and grounding take on the heroics of Liwanag sa Dilim.

 

The Songwriters

Matthew Bellamy was a classically-trained pianist as a child, and his inclinations are apparent in the arrangements of Muse (see a clip of Matt playing the piano at 12 years old here). His keen interest in science fiction has also affected the content of his lyrical work, hence his use of scientific theory and apocalyptic imagery in Butterflies & Hurricanes. Next, Rico Blanco had already been writing songs themed with empowerment and hope by the time he accomplished Liwanag sa Dilim. Listen to Elesi, Umaaraw, Umuulan and Posible–which was used as the anthem for the Southeast Asian Games in 2005. Lastly, I’ve always seen Jon Foreman as an extremely humanizing being. I admire that his lyrics are about the heights of human potential, the power of sacrifice and comment on post-modern issues like consumerism and sexuality. Some of his songs are laden with philosophical content (Stars is injected with Descartes). He is also known for his brief inspiring lines preceding a performance of Switchfoot’s songs at concerts. The following is a transcription of his words before they played Meant to Live at a live show.

Life is too short to stand idly by, letting the world spin around without us. Whether or not you like it, every day you wake up, you change the world. Every day you wake up, you change the world. Every day you wake up, you change the world–and that’s whether or not you like it.

 

Conclusion

I’ve cited three songs that can help us transform society—from “how it is to how it should be.” Along with these, a brief word on the artists and writers behind the songs. Coming from various musical and conceptual trajectories, they are tangent to one point with the intent of sparking any form of revolution. We’ve been frightened, dubbed as heroes, and spurred to rise above and beyond ourselves. We’ve been spacing out for too long, with senses numb and idle trying. Nobody comes to our rescue but ourselves, and we can’t do it in this static collective state of mind. We need a flip in paradigm. It’s about time we snapped out of our daydream—to wake up and do something before it’s too late.

 

The original version of this article appears on the January 2010 issue of Tube Magazine, the official publication of my organization, the Ateneo Musicians’ Pool, otherwise known as (((AMP))).

Get more electric:

1. Tube 2010

2. The Butterfly Effect and Chaos Theory (a)

3. The Butterfly Effect and Chaos Theory (b)

4. Rene Descartes (a)

5. Rene Descartes (b)


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