The Return of eLf ideas

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Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Halves: ‘Unusual Species’

(On GMA’s 1996 Review of Half Life Half Death’s Concept Album Pymyth Prahn [1996, Viva Records])

by aLfie vera mella

{dedicated to Michael Sutton and Goldwyn Morales Azul)

My fellow music enthusiast and journalist Michael Sutton told me almost a decade ago how he discovered the album of my former band Half Life Half Death. He said that his late friend Goldwyn Morales Azul wrote a glowing review of our album back in 1996, the year the album was released. I have to say that I was teary-eyed while reading every word Goldwyn had to say about our album—just like how he had obviously been able to appreciate every bit of the detail that I (we) incorporated into the album and had gotten what the album was all about.

[Click the image to enlarge.]

For the record, he was the first ever of the rare ones (music critics at that) who were able to understand our music. And considering the fact that Goldwyn wrote the review in 1996, the year the CD version was released, he was really a spot-on music reviewer. (I knew that what he reviewed was the CD version because only the CD version contained "Kapit-Tuko" [my decision] as a bonus track; the cassette-tape format did not include it.)

I like also the fact that Goldwyn described the album as a "concept-like debut album," simply because it was a concept album--the order of the tracks--from one to end--I really arranged painstakingly, thinking of the segues that I had to inject to make every song flow smoothly to the next.

Channel Check
For example, the first track, "Channel Check," may seem just a filler, but it opens the album for a very important reason--that is, to let the listeners know that what they would be hearing would depend on the left-speaker-right-speaker ability of their stereo system.

A Feast in Pastel Castle
Then, obviously "A Feast in Pastel Castle" (Hear ye! Hear ye!) is the call for the celebration of the album.

After the call, here comes "Alimango," which ends with sound of waves (think of little crabs playing by the seashore), then seagulls sound by the sea to segue into the seawaves intro of "Butterflies."

The technical musician should have realized that the basslines of "Alimango" sounded like a crawling crab--in fact, the way Ramil Aznar plays the bass on this song, he would literally finger-tap the bass strings with his fingers looking like he was gesturing crawling crabs.

The violin-like swelling guitar melody of Rain Paggao in 'Butterflies" is Rain's nearest approximation of the fluttering wings of butterflies. (I remember telling him after Pet de Jesus and I had given him a rhythm guitar-vocal rough recording of this song that the guitar melodies that I want him to make for the song was one that would remind us of fluttering butterflies, and he was able to achieve it.)

As "Butterflies" fades out with a sad note, here comes "Kapalarang Kuwago" starting with the same somber mood.

Kapalarang Kuwago
Actually, "Kapalarang Kuwago" should have had a guitar melody that sounded similar to that in "Butterflies" to emulate the slow flapping wings of owls, but Rain just did not pursue making this (and this is another story--a personal one concerning turmoil within the band during the time, which I no longer want to delve into. This is the reason "Kapalarang Kuwago" was left out very instrumentally naked compared with the rest of the songs in the album).

If All Sleep Tonight
The next song, "If All Sleep Tonight," did just that--the flapping-flickering sound of the guitar melody in the intro and in the pre-stanza interludes. And this is what connects "Kapalarang Kuwago" to "If All Sleep Tonight"--the fluttering-flickering sound that should have been also in the former song. I have to mention also the fact that the short drum solo Bimbo Ballesteros made in the intro of "If All Sleep Tonight" was an allusion to the intro of The Cure's "Inbetween Days."

Brother's Pen
"Brother's Pen" starts with "too-too-too"--this is a continuation of the "choo-choo-choo" in the coda (ending) of "Butterflies." This is the reason in the self-produced HLHD CD that I produced I rearranged the order of the songs, putting "Brother's Pen" right after "Butterflies." This is one detail I failed to take note back in 1995.

Summer's Rain
The Classical piece "Summer's Rain" was composed by Rain long before many of the songs in the album were made. The keen listener would have realized that the chorus of the next song, "Radio Madness," was built around that melody. Originally, "Summer's Rain" was voted out during our band deliberation on which pieces to include in our album--the reason of my bandmates who voted it out was, this Classical piece is out of place in this kind of album. I really couldn't sleep over this decision. I always believed that "Summer's Rain" is a perfect prelude to the song whose choral melody was built upon it. What I did was pester Rain endlessly for many evenings, calling him over the phone, to insist that we should include this in the album. He said he couldn't defy the decision of the band as a whole. I did not pursue the issue anymore, but begrudgingly.

Then, one recording session when I was late (I was rarely late during the entire recording process because I really wanted to be involved in every detail of the making of the album), Rain was already in the recording booth. I wondered what he was recording, and when I finally realized what it was, was really surprised very pleasantly—Rain was armed with his Classical guitar, recording “Summer’s Rain”! Why he eventually heeded my request, I no longer asked him. More important was that it was finally included in the album.

Radio Madness and We Are the Saints
The fact is, even “Radio Madness” was nearly voted out of the album. My bandmates felt that the song was an oddity in our music, simply because it was already a Progressive Rock song—if one is to analyse the complicated structure and diverse instrumentation. Well, what could you expect—we made this song as our entry to the 1991 Yamaha Band Explosion, so it must be a competition quality—although we did not win, but that was okay—the contest gave birth to this very beautiful song. Truth be told, “Radio Madness” was already complicated but I was still dissatisfied by it back then because I still planned to incorporate more elements, but by the time we were recording it (it was the last song that we polished during the session), the recording budget that Viva Records had allotted for the album had run out! We were actually pitching in monetarily already for the remaining hours of recording! I still wanted to hire a string quartet, get a gong and a timpani, hire a rondalla group and a church choir (for both “We Are the Saints” and “Radio Madness”), but my bandmates were already being weirded out by my “crazy” musical ideas.

Then “Sarimanok.” Again the technical musician should have realized that the guitar lead parts in this song sounded like the scratching and clucking sound of chickens. Rain made that possible. The festive quality of the music for this song should remind the listener of the style we used for our Christmas single “Sa Paskong Darating.” Again, this song was nearly voted out of the album—the lyrics, they said, was too pretentious, trying to be patriotic to a fault. By virtue of the music itself, I fought for it to be included. I made a compromise—I told my bandmates that I would revise the lyric a bit, so I did. The result was not anymore too serious. I was able to put humor in it. The original words to this song came from an old poem I wrote, entitled “Pagtilaok ng mga Manok.” I had to change this to “Sarimanok” because during the time I had more fondness for one-word titles. But in retrospect, if I could go back and change something, that would include reverting all the titles of the songs in our album that I had to shorten. “Butterflies” was actually “Butterflies Die in Silence.” “Alimango” was “At Nanipit ang mga Alimango.” “Sarimanok” was “Pagtilaok ng mga Manok.” And “Kapalarang Kuwago” was “Kapalarang Kuwago ang Sinapit Ko.”

“Aligue” is my (our) kid version of “Alimango.” And even before, I never denied that my inspiration for this was The Clash’s “Career Opportunities,” which has a Punk version and a kid version. I also wrestled with the group for this song to be included in the album. For the sake of fun, they had to concede. Even Francis Reyes was goofing around with the plastic toy guitar during the recording of this track.

Engkanto and Cariñosa
 Obviously “Engkanto” and “Cariñosa” are two separate songs, but in my mind, they are really musically interconnected. So, I put them beside each other, using the cricket sounds (which Pet and I personally recorded using a portable cassette recorder one early morning at the tree and grassy area near our house in Project 6, Quezon City.

Yes, every single detail of Pymyth Prahn was well-thought of. From the album cover to the order of the songs to the text on the sleeve. From every note and sound effects to the instruments used. I remember literally sketching on paper the panning position (left to right speaker) every track for every song in the album would take. For example, Pet’s main vocal part in “We Are the Saints” was panned 45% to the left and my accompanying falsetto 45% to the right, and we employed this trick for every twin-vocal approach that Pet and I made—“Sarimanok” and “Engkanto.”

Furthermore, I have to mention also the fact that I personally suggested and arranged for the guesting of most of the members of Half Life Half Death for the album--in hindsight, I knew that this might be the only album that we would have had to release so I ensured that they were a part of this musical celebration of everything Half Life Half Death was all about: Carol Pobre, Rozylyn Torres, Edmund Villafuerte, Jonathan Mejino, and Joel Reyes; and not to forget the slew of fellow local artists whom included Lani Toquero of Tribal Fish, Jett Pangan and Francis Reyes of The Dawn, and Zeejay Jacob of Kelts Cross.

Pymyth Prahn is a concept album, and it was all planned. It was my personal idea of a kind of music combining clearly my three most-favorite genres--Classical, Progressive Rock, and New Wave.

I thank the late music critic Goldwyn Morales Azul from the bottom of my heart for having been able to get the concept of Half Life Half Death’s music. And it was in 1996, the year the CD version of the album was released. (The cassette-tape format was released in 1995.)


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