Track By Tracks: Before & Apace - The Denisovan (2021)

1. Zeno:

This is the one song that didn’t start with one of my ideas. (Original bass player and contributor to the composition process) Jesse Selkirk actually brought in the first few riffs, which became the first third or so of the song, and I composed the rest. Unlike the other songs, there aren’t really any thematic elements that I tried to represent musically. I’ll attempt to speak for (singer) Bryce by saying that lyrically, it references Zeno’s paradox - specifically Achilles and the tortoise. Basically, the paradox suggests that motion is merely an illusion. It states that a faster runner (Achilles) can never catch up to a slower runner ahead of him (the tortoise) because, in the time it would take Achilles to close half the distance, the tortoise would have also moved forward, advancing his lead (meaning that the gap between the two is now larger than the half that was just covered by Achilles). If you repeat this process of Achilles always covering half the distance between them (and the tortoise pulling further forward each time), then Achilles can never catch the tortoise. Initially, I had thought that Bryce wrote this as an allegory to the slow pace at which the band gets things done, but he has refuted that. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure why he picked this topic.

2. Limbics:

This is probably the most straight-forward song from a thematic point of view. I think this is also one of the reasons it may be the most accessible. Limbics is named after the limbic system, which are the parts of the brain that govern emotion. Bryce was pissed at someone or something – though I’m still not sure who/what.

3. Ontogeny:

While in university, I was in two particular physics classes: one focused on modern physics and quantum mechanics (i.e. the smallest scale that we currently comprehend), the other more to do with grand-scale, cosmic forces. When calculating the forces between planets, you multiply the mass of each, divide by the distance between them squared, and multiply by Newton’s gravitational constant. For atoms and molecules, the equation is exactly the same (though the constant is called something else). Even so, the force of attraction that compels planets to each other is the same as what attracts atoms and molecules to each other. Not to mention the (now debunked) theory that the structure of an atom (i.e. small, orbiting electrons around a dense nucleus; mostly space) resembles the behaviour of a solar system. The notion that an atom is (in some ways) a microcosm of a solar system struck me.

Similarly, the human body can be thought of as a microcosm of the planet we live on. Not only are there general similarities, such as both being comprised of about 70% water, there are some more specific and pertinent ones. Whereas our bodies have specialized organs to perform specific functions that maintain the general operation of the body as a whole, the planet has ecosystems that serve the same function. If we destroy one of these organs (or ecosystems, on the larger scale), then the entire system can suffer or even die. When I realized that the clear-cutting of rain forests had a similar effect on the planet as a chronic smoker would have on the host’s body, I realized that we must think of ourselves as part of a larger organism if we want to ensure our continued existence. In essence, we are merely part of a microcosm, where we can inform our participation in these systems by looking on larger/smaller scales for reference. (for the record, the microcosm can be applied one level further down, as animal cells – each with their own specialized organelles, and also roughly 70% water – can be thought of as a microcosm of the human body, as a whole). The idea of humans being part of a micro- and macro-cosmic continuum let be to realize that we are interconnected with each other and with our environment.

The song was named after Ernst Haeckel’s biological theory that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, which is another now-debunked theory that the development of an animal organism from embryo to adulthood is a near-microcosm of the evolutionary path of the species. Whereas each species has evolved from a single-celled organism to a multi-celled one, then from a simple organism to a complex one with specialized organs, so too does each individual organism in its own individual life-cycle. In essence, the development of each individual organism is a microcosmic representation of the complete evolution of its species.

These realizations about microcosms all came within about a 3 day period in my early 20s. The revelations made me feel like they could inform our behaviours and our engagement with the world around us – that there are lessons there about our place in the universe and our relative significance/insignificance – though recognizing at the same time that we can shape our existence into a harmonious one with our environment and each other, rather than simply ignoring these things.

So I chose to write about this. And I wanted to represent some of these ideas of harmonious existence and scales of things (the micro- and the macro-). I did so after writing the main riff, which always evoked a feeling of “cycling” or “things in cycles”. It was one of those riffs that I just picked up my guitar (an acoustic, as it happened to be in this case), and just played the riff. And even though the riff had never been played before, I just played it perfectly the first time, somehow just “knowing” how it went.

From there, I came up with the idea that the main riff could serve as a microcosm of song as a whole. So, whereas the riff has this pattern (note, these aren’t the actual note names, but rather represents the pattern) A-B-A-B-A-C-B-A-B-A-C-D-B-A-B-A-C-B-A-B, I arranged the song so that the parts follow the same progression. Each section of the song correlates to a note within the main riff, and they both follow the same sequence, just on different scales.

4. Simultanagosia:

Is a psychological disorder which is the inability to recognize multiple objects in a scene, such as being able to see a tree but not the forest or vice versa. It is an allusion to those individuals who dedicate themselves to only one facet of life, at the expense of all others (e.g. someone who is only immersed in their physical appearance and therefore lacks emotional or intellectual intelligence, vapid personality, etc. – or someone who spends their energy only on mental gratifications – think video game addictions – at the expense of their bodies, or their emotional state). The idea is that one must find balance to be functioning person.

When she was in her early 40s (my age now), my mom was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. In addition to a traditional medical plan, and with a dire prognosis, my mom also looked into alternative medicines – one being a holistic healer, who said that many ailments are because of an imbalance in 3 main facets of life: the physical, the mental, and the spiritual/emotional. Now, I’m still not certain what tangible medical results can be gotten from this basic mantra, but in principle I agree: balance is crucial. So I set out to compose essentially a mini-symphony, complete with a main theme, and multiple “movements” that play with that theme.

It was to be written as a “trilogy in 4 parts”, where the first 3 would tap into a disjointed version of each of those three facets of life: the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. Each one was meant to be jarring, disharmonious, or incomplete in some way on its own - incomplete or imbalanced. The fourth movement was intended to be where a component of each of the first 3 movements was taken and integrated together, such that the parts would only now make sense. They would be complete.

One example of this disharmony of each individual theme (at the expense of the others) is in the second movement, the mental/intellectual. I used a rhythm based on the Fibonacci number sequence – a cool, naturally-occurring number pattern that I’ve been aware of since I was a kid. The pattern can also be represented by a “Fibonacci spiral” and can found in nature in everything from seashells to sunflowers to spiral galaxies. I used the sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, .... - which is generated by adding the two previous numbers in the sequence to find the next one) as the basis for the rhythm. But in the spirit of evoking the feeling of disjointedness intended by each movement on its own, I made it into an incomplete Fibonacci sequence, changing the last value to a “7” (i.e. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7).

Later in the movement, I used Pascal’s triangle (another number sequence, this time defined by Blaise Pascal rather than Fibonacci – though the Fibonacci sequence can actually be extrapolated from the Fibonacci sequence as they can be related) as the basis for the chord progression (beginning at 9:02). This is the pattern of Pascal’s Triangle:

To construct Pascal’s Triangle (above), each line of the triangle is made by adding the two digits above it. If these values are written out linearly (i.e. 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 3 3 1 1 4 6 4 1) and then applied to the degrees of a musical scale, then voila – there’s the chord progression at 9:02.

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