Track 2 on Time Shift
Sound Engineer Luke Garfield, who mixed and mastered The Ocean in E, called it “sonically luxurious”. I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about a song I’ve produced. I want to frame it and put it on my wall. He had to avoid the piece sounding chintzy though. With a full orchestral sound, and choral vocalizations, and the entire piece being based on chord progression in E Major (major Ear Candy, pardon the pun), there was a distinct danger of the whole thing sounding over-romantic, commonplace and kitsch. I think he successfully managed to do that in the final mix. It was important to build into this composition both the easy ebb and flow of ocean waves, and the rough, dark and dangerous tone of a storm at sea. In other words, not too much light – dark as well. He got it right.
The choral vocalizations combined with the grooving beat means that this is categorized as Rhythmic Soul. I did not know there was such a sub-genre when I wrote it, but there you go…
The song started when I discovered how beautiful chord progressions are in the key of E Major, from a blog post in Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files. I wrote about how besotted I got with those sounds – of course, I knew there is such a thing as E Major. What I did not realize that playing the variations of the E Major chords in the right progression results in a lovely melody. I also learned that chords work only one way – you compose them from bass to treble, not the other way around – from left to right, up the scale. Yes, music boffins, I know this sounds really trivial, but it was an important TIL moment. The project taught me another lesson: no matter how nice the right hand part sounds on the piano, you need an actual melody. No song consists only of accompaniment.
After a hectic rewrite, the result was The Ocean in E. It has a smooth, grooving beat, and each part uses one of the twelve E Major chords:
E Major Chords
- E Maj
- E Maj
- F# Min
- F# Min Seventh
- G# Minor
- G# Min Seventh
- A Maj
- A Maj Seventh
- B Maj
- B Dominant Seventh
- D# Diminished
- D# Min Seventh Flat Five
My sort of Sea
The song has a distinct ebb and flow in the arrangement, rhythm and velocity, to depict the ebb and flow of ocean waves. That’s amped up with ambient effects in the outro.
While here, on the West Coast of Canada, the sea is quite close, it is neither as grand, nor as accessible, as the wide open, brilliant blue of the South Atlantic Ocean that beats on the pristine sandy beaches of South Africa. When you venture into the ocean off the Cape Peninsula, the next piece of land is Antartica. There’s nothing in between.
The Ocean in E on Soundcloud
The video was fun to make – I found footage of a group having a good time singing gospel in a church, and that fitted both the mood and the rhythm. The footage of yachts sailing is part of the story of this song: I’ve gone on a couple of sailing academy courses and trained on big yachts. Unfortunately, sailing is for rich folk who can afford the boat and the berth, and all the other costs associated with yachting. I never did own a yacht, or anything that sails, but I did a bit on hanging on and sweating in terror on a catamaran on the Vaal Dam near landlocked Johannesburg. The Vaal Dam, the second biggest dam in the country with a surface area of about 320 square kilometres (120 square miles), has its own micro-climate, and we were in some fierce storms there. Eventually, I had to admit that I’m not cut out to be a sailor. I’d best stay on the beach, admiring the waves and sometimes dipping my toes in the water.
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