When my wife and I moved earlier this year from Manhattan to Queens we gained some things compared to our old apartment. A kitchen, nice floors, a balcony bringing in fresh air and sunlight and a blissfully shorter climb up the stairs from a 5th floor walkup to a 3rd floor one. The other thing we gained was a majestic view. A beautiful panoramic view looking out in three directions. Our old apartment was on an air shaft and the only view we had was by craning our necks at an angle to get a glimpse of outside. It was a nightmare figuring out what the weather actually was most of the time. Having that view has been a wonderful thing, and I spend as much time on our balcony or looking out the windows soaking up as much of it as I can now.
Now that view does have its limitations I have to admit. Partially obstructed views of some tall buildings in Manhattan, together with the varying heights of buildings on the next block and a back alley limit what we actually can see in terms of the New York skyline. What makes it a majestic panorama for me however is for the scene above me in the sky. Since moving in March, we have been treated to an enormous variety of colors and different cloud patterns in the sky. Red, Orange, and Violet colors at sunset. Shimmering Golden colors at first morning light and the cool hint of blue forming moments later. Then there are the cloud patterns varying from dark and ominous, to ones that seem as if they have absorbed the color of the sky that particular day, wrapping reds and oranges within their shapes. Finally it also gives me a chance to see the moon and stars which provides real comfort and calm. Of course being a photographer all of these things have allowed me to take some great photos of that variety, both on my regular camera and on my Iphone.
Being able to sit in the comfort of my home and watch those cloud patterns and colors changing rapidly in front of me is great, especially after so many years in the ‘darkness’ of our old apartment. Recently as I watched a particularly outstanding sunset that came out of nowhere one evening, I thought how that rapid change in color applied to music sometimes. The idea of one simple phrase, one single note, or sound completely altering the song the way it had existed mere moments before. Or how a subtle change of tempo can alter the tone of a song completely reminds me of how those colors of the sky change so rapidly.
It happens quite often of course, one famous example being the organ riff to Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ After several unsuccessful attempts to record the song, Al Kooper, who was more of a guitarist than a keyboard player found a way to sit in for one take. As the story goes, everyone involved with the session said not to bother listening to what he added, but after hearing the take for himself during playback, Bob Dylan said to bring the organ part up front to the mix, and the rest is history. Similarly, back in an earlier blog I wrote about Bob Seger’s song Roll Me Away, which was intended to be an all out rocker but instead became a mid-tempo anthem thanks to some studio experimentation.
In both cases they happened quickly, just like those times when you gaze up and see rapid color changes to the sky. Photography and music are all about experimentation of course, but sometimes those happy accidents occur that allows things to fall in place with great results. For me these past few months that has meant being in a position to grab the camera and take shots of those varying colors as they happen. In music it can happen in times like the examples above, or it can happen when your guitarist accidentally leans his guitar up against an amplifier causing feedback. When that group is the biggest of all time, you go with moments like that.
That is actually what happened in 1964 as the Beatles were recording I Feel Fine. The opening guitar lick made this song interesting enough already (which has its own story), but as Paul McCartney recalled-
“We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it. He really should have turned the electric off. It was only on a tiny bit, and John just leaned it against the amp when it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!’ And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ ‘Wow, it’s a great sound!’ George Martin was there so we said, ‘ Can we have that on the record?’ ‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object, an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.”
Though other artists were experimenting with feedback live, I Feel Fine is widely believed to be the first instance of using it in the studio. What I like about the story is that everyone involved quickly recognized that there was something special in that sound and tried figuring out how to incorporate it in the song on the spot. In photographing the sunsets or occasional sunrise from our apartment I have had to rely on the same realization that the scene unfolding before me is going to be special. There is something about the moments just before that tell me whether the light will be unique, or something more ordinary. There is that momentary glow and the first tinges of a color forming. Will it be red, will it be orange or something else? Will the clouds obscure or aid the scene? What settings should I use on the camera? In music those choices can happen in accidents like the feedback to I Feel Fine, or from a subtle chord change, or a singer changing the pitch. Whether in photography or music, sometimes the best results come from adapting quickly to a situation. I can’t speak about making music, but with my photography, I hope that will always be the case.
Special thanks and appreciation on this one to my friends Alan Standing and Jules Gray. I didn’t use their suggestions in the end, but you most definitely helped me out. Thanks guys!
I Feel Fine-Written By John Lennon & Paul McCartney
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
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