New Song: “Fractal Laughter (Essay 3)”

Estimated read time (minus contemplative pauses): 4 min.

“Fractal Laughter (Essay 3)” is the first song I’ve written in about nine years. And it took 30 years to write (more about which below). This is a special song for me, so I’d like to say a few words about it. First, here’s a rough mix of a demo, along with lyrics (photo by Joe Derr, circa 2000):

oh my friend, where have you been?
it has been a long long time
drink the wind from crown to brim
we will sing all night again

it has been so long, i wrote this song
i knew we’d meet again

friend o’… what? i’m listening but i don’t understand

friend, oh my, your hair is fire
rolling flames fill up the skies
i forgave you when you left
can you forgive me one lie?

let us grind our sins down like dry twigs
we will spark eternally

ah (ha ha) remember what you said was the first one that you didn’t like?

viking showers and soulful power
and a kung fu christian cry

for the bell i cracked through smoke turned black
imprecations weren’t unkind
that we did not flee, i am so sorry: the shadow crumbs were lost

“hey” the girls say charge the stage
they’ll be by(e) by your last song
i’m so glad you found your breath
and all those who breathed through you

now we beam through clouds of shattered sound
bleeding shards of fractal laughter

For more about this song and why it’s special for me, read on.

First, it was written in loving memory of a best friend who passed earlier this year. We met in high school. He was a huge influence on me in many ways, including musically. Not only because he introduced me to a lot of great music I hadn’t heard before (and got me into movies, one of the best things that ever happened to my music), but because he was always encouraging without sparing me unfiltered criticism when (he felt it) warranted.

I’ll let the song say the rest, though I’m not going to explain the title and lyrics. Rather, I will share some things about the music itself, which spans over 30 years, from around the era during which I met him to the present. That it covers so many years is the second reason the song is special to me. (In fact, there are some nods to other friends here, either passed or lost—but not forgotten—to time; but let’s not get into that.)

Here’s the rundown.

The words were written over the course of ten days in September 2020. The seed of the core musical idea is from around 2002. Well into the song, you can here the original tape recording of the idea: humming over a nylon guitar (with some sparse piano added on top). All the parts where I’m singing words are derived from that core idea.

Some of the wordless music is even older. The oldest bit here is the tape recording of the band (you can’t miss it), which is from around 1987, when I was 15.

The counterpoint-ish piano breakdown is from around 1996. The actual tape recording is included here as well, underneath a new recording of it, which is why the sound changes. The original was a MIDI demo of a cello sonata, which—as alluded to in the lyrics—my friend didn’t care for, after liking all other such stuff I’d played for him up to that point; I guess I couldn’t let it go :).

I never finished the cello sonata. Nor did I finish the song in the high school band snippet, which might be my first attempt at a full-on song. But now those ideas have been “finished,” alongside my my most recent ideas for a song (i.e., the new stuff I wrote for “Fractal Laughter” (Essay 3)). So, again, this new song has been over 30 years in the making.

Next there are the “zombie ghost opera” voices after the piano breakdown and at the very end of the song. These are from around 2010, from a soundtrack I wrote and recorded for a movie called Damn Dirty Hippies by Adam Payne. Here’s an excerpt from the original recording, which I re-pitched a little to fit the key of the new song (all the voices are mine; the image is Day 42 by Vesna Jovanovic, from her 2020 Stay-at-Home Order series):

Finally, near the end of the song, there’s a guitar/piano duo that I recorded with a borrowed guitar around 2013. I was in college at the time, deep into studying philosophy, doing little-to-no music, but was in the mood one afternoon to doodle. This is another snippet waiting to be used for something; now it has been.

The reason I’d borrowed a guitar is that I did not have a fully functioning guitar. Nor do I now. I sold nearly all of my music equipment before moving to NYC in 2012. (I have two guitars, but the acoustic is broken and the electric has bad circuitry.) But I’ll do what I can. More demos are forthcoming.


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