You Can Feel It All Over-5 Years Of Soundtrack Of A Photograph

“Da da da dah, da-da-da-daddata-dah”

Five years.  Today is five years to the day since I nervously assembled what I hoped was a cogent idea for a blog combining my love for photography and music together in one place. I remember posting it late at night here on WordPress skeptical that anyone would bother to read it. Skeptical that it was any good. Skeptical that the idea would make sense. I shared it on Facebook, sent it out via email to some people and posted it on a music forum based in the UK and promptly went to sleep. A few short hours later I woke up and nervously checked my phone first thing to see what if any reaction there was.

That I am still here now writing this post is the proof  that the reaction was positive. In fact, recollecting that time I was overjoyed. Not just from the comments people were leaving for me, but because of the way it satisfied me personally. I have written about this before but it bears repeating-once I committed and defined this idea of giving a still photograph its own soundtrack I knew that I had created something unique that satisfied me deep down. It touched all the right buttons for me-combining the disparate thoughts and themes of my life into something that made sense. Where urban meets nature, where art meets architecture, where transportation meets history. All with a song to go along with the photo that seemed fitting no matter the genre.

‘You can feel it all over’

And it still  satisfies me to this day. The writing has changed, the understanding of how to promote posts has changed, there have been false starts, one-offs, mistakes, highs, lows and there have been surprises. I have been touched by the response to my words, and I have touched others with my words. I have made deep lasting friendships with people literally around the world.  Most of all there has been a  feeling that no matter how many views or comments I receive, I am on a path that remains meaningful to me five years on with over 200 posts published and being read in 122 countries to date.

It is inevitable during occasions like this to look back. To dig through the archives and see the evolution. I have been doing that for the past few weeks, reading posts I haven’t read in a long time, grimacing at the mistakes I spot easily now and surprising myself at  passages that came out of nowhere. I saw moments where I lost the point and ones where the focus was sharp, focused and completely on point. On the photography side I realized that the earliest posts were typically a ragtag assortment of recent and old photos made to fit the theme whereas with recent posts I quite often took photos with an idea and a song lurking in my head before I had written a single word. As a result In the five years since I started, I think this has made me a better photographer as well.

‘Music is a world within itself

With a language we all understand’

It is a useful thing to look back. Regrets can make you shake your head in amusement at what once was important in your world-the jacket you wore in 1977, that song you swore in 1983,would never get old, a book that became your ‘philosophy’ in 1991. Years later you might be embarrassed to own up to any of them, but you know they were a part of you regardless. Looking back at my old posts I have that same feeling about some of them.  However rife they may be with wordiness or so-so photographs they are still a part of me. I am especially fond of my four previous anniversary posts. For the first I took a walk across the Manhattan Bridge accompanied by the sounds of Red Baraat. For the second I imagined myself in the director’s chair assembling the opening scenes of a movie to the accompaniment of guitarist Dan Ar Braz. For the third I wrote a letter to the young ‘me’ from the old ‘me’ with a fitting song by Jack Lukeman and a series of self-portraits. Last year I wrote a fictionalized account of a concert setup using songs from Bob Seger.

I had two stipulations for the song I wanted for this post. First it had to be an artist I have not written about before, and secondly, I wanted it to be a fun, upbeat and celebratory song. But then I had a third thought- to find a song that was about music itself. About how music makes us feel, about the emotions of music.  The beat, the groove, the hook, the lick, the riff, the pulse, the rhythm, the melody, the harmony. Music is the universal language and all of these elements are contained in practically every song. Thinking about those stipulations I realized the song I wanted was lurking on one of the most perfect albums of all time-Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder. And that song (in case you haven’t already been grooving in your seat) is the infectious ‘Sir Duke.’

‘Music knows it is and always will be

one of those things that life just won’t quit.’

Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those special albums that just takes you in right from the start with ‘Loves In Need Of Love Today’ all the way to the end with ‘Another Star’. The reason it still sounds fresh today is because the songs and arrangements were performed with real care and thought. Recently I have been reading about the great music studios such as Stax, Muscle Shoals and Motown. They all had in common a group of musicians who knew how to make great music not just for the hits, though the track record for all three studios speaks for itself in that regard.  Yet they also made music you feel deep down with arrangements more complex than they let on.  Songs In The Key Of Life is nothing but intricate arrangements in fact.  Song after amazing song goes by and does not let up for a second.

But on an album of such stellar material, Sir Duke is my favorite, and one of my  favorite songs by Stevie Wonder period. Beyond that killer horn intro and singalong chorus is a song about what actually makes music so compelling. Think about that for a second…when you are in the business of making music, you write about the things and people in your life. Social injustice, religion, love. Songs In The Key Of Life has songs about all of those things. Then along comes Sir Duke. Partly an homage to some of Stevie’s own musical hero’s-Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, and the ‘king’ Duke Ellington,  Then it informs you what the key to a great song really is-

‘But just because a record has a groove

Don’t make it in the groove

But you can tell right away at letter A

When the people start to move.’

I wanted to use a song that was about music for a reason.  In  five years of writing I have attempted to  make a case for how special music truly is for me. How much I think about it daily in good times and bad. How much I feel the music be it from the Scottish Highlands or the Sahara, Donegal or Detroit. In five years of writing and pairing my own photographs what songs like Sir Duke reinforce for me is that –

Music is life

Music is love

Music is challenging

Music is bewildering

Music is happy

Music is sad

Music makes you groove

Music makes you dance

Music takes you in

Music makes you question

Music lies deep in your soul

Music is for sharing

Music is personal

Music is of course ultimately personal in how we respond and feel about it. Everyone is right and no one is wrong-the woman on the subway bopping along to the music on her headphones, the oboe player in the orchestra, the bass player thumping out a funky beat, the singer in a metal band all feel music differently. But on the really special albums like Songs In The Key Of Life these forces unite into something special and satisfying. You really feel it all-challenged, happy, sad, questioning life. You feel the love. You want to dance and sing along to every song.

The reason I wanted to use a song about music itself in this post was to make a point.  All I have ever wanted to do here is make my own contribution to the music I love so much. When combined with my photographs it made me feel like I was doing precisely that. I realized that music has broad enough shoulders to hear my contributions to it without me actually singing a note or playing an instrument. Stevie sings in Sir Duke that music is something you just don’t quit. And despite occasional frustrations, Soundtrack Of A Photograph is not something I will be quitting. I can share my feelings about music because I really do feel it all over. And that will never go away.

The video of Sir Duke posted below is something I made as a celebration.  It runs through the main photo I have used in every music post from the past five years to the present in the order published.  Short of reading all those posts it shows you where I have been the past five years. Seeing that past I now have a glimpse of where I want to go in the future. I plan to take this blog to some new and challenging new places in the very near future with even more evocative photographs than ever before, so please stick around!

Thank you to EVERYONE who has read, liked, or commented on any one of my posts in the past 5 years. I am truly humbled by your support.

Extra special thanks must go to all of the following-

I have been blessed that many of the musicians I have written about have liked and shared my posts on their social media. Several of them have gone further and became friends. In no particular order, I would like to thank some artists that have gone above and beyond- Ralph McTell, Jimmy Castor, Chris Trapper, everyone at Daptone Records, Saundra Williams, Christa Nia, The Coral, Red Baraat, Dan Ar Braz, Carrie Newcomer, Fairport Convention, Orphan Colours, Ahab, Julissa Lopez,  Jules & The Jinks, Oysterband, Runrig, Jake Shears, The Mint Juleps, Thea Gilmore, Jackie Venson, Horslips, Danny Thompson, Alan Doyle, Toli Nameless, Rosanne Cash, Jack Lukeman, Altan, The Travelling Band, Angelique Kidjo, Ray Cooper, Joanne Shenandoah, Sarah Cahill, Leyla McCalla, and Ginny Mac.

To my parents Bob & Mary, my sisters Noreen and Eileen and their husbands Mike & Jose and my niece Kenna. To all of my dear cousins in Ireland and England-Brian, Niamh, Kellyann, Nora, Sarah, Laila, Mona & Hannah and all 3,743 spouses, kids and everyone else too numerous to mention!

Friends far and wide. Some from the blogging community, new friends & old alike. But all people whose kindness, generosity and friendship I truly value- Jennifer Andrus, LaTasha Robinson, Scott Swenson, Patty Hillingdon, Trudy Louis, David Kenney, Ben, Alex & Mickey! Amrita Sarkar, Erica Weir, Adam Robey & Maritte Rahav, Lynn Aley Howe and all of the Aley family, Celina Wigle, Marquessa Matthews, Sandra Bretnall,  Sasha Berry, Liza Fernandez Zapata, Joe Blackburn, James Maxstadt,  Pratyusha Jain, Neece McCoy, Soranny Mejia, Aakansha Srivastava. Kristin Summers Overstreet, Linda Weal,  A Jeanne-Francois Marie Poitiers, Brendan Byrne, Wendy Westphalen, Carol Amezquita, Anna Koppenhofer, Armando Garcia, Janani Viswanathan, Sandra & Ron Schoeffler, Shelley Langaine, Dan Braz & Shelley Olsen, Danielle Des, Tony Lorenzen, Paula Couture Palmerino, Jhaneel Lockhart Veronica Dominguez, Shalini Mandhyan, Amy Sivco Kierce,  Daiana Bispo, Laura Macaddino, all at Talkawhile Forum-especially Alan Standing, Jenny Parsons, Andy Leslie, Bill Wallace, Jules Gray, Zoe Buck, Michael Caddick, Jim Campbell, Dan Ogus, Trevor Rickards, Addie Burns. To all of my Instagram family too numerous to mention I thank you all for being part of my community. Anyone else I may have left out forgive me!

Sir Duke-Written By Stevie Wonder

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Every once in awhile you find yourself propelled into a musical universe that didn’t exist for you just moments before. But just a few notes in you get it. You get the vibe. You sense where the music is going, feel familiar with the songs even though it is actually new to your ears. Right away you get a feeling as a listener you are witnessing something you want to nurture and support, however small the contribution might be. These are exactly the feelings I had last month when I came across a new band to my ears-Jules & The Jinks.

I was at a favorite local spot in my neighborhood, a big open space barbecue smokehouse joint that has music on the weekends. It was the last night of my week long 50th birthday celebrations and I wanted to close it out with some good barbecue food and some more live music. Now I have seen bands at this place before, and I have heard some decent stuff, but (no slight intended) most of the music there has been pretty standard Saturday night bar music. Fun at the time, but not necessarily memorable afterwords.  And as I saw the band setting the gear up, I had a similar feeling. But then the music started off tight and funky. And then…the voice, oh that voice of lead singer Julissa Lopez came booming out. And it was then that I knew that this was a new happy addition to my musical universe.

Within just a few notes I was held spellbound by both the music and Julissa’s vocals and stage presence, not to mention a lot of hair! They wound up playing three sets, and I stayed for all of them. I could tell that they were also playing all original material, though a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On was totally bad ass. More impressive was the fact that the songs ran the range from soulful ballads, to hard driving rockers, propelled by a band well versed in the music. A friend who joined me part of the way through made a comment that you could hear the band down the block, probably no surprise.

A few days later I bought the band’s self-titled EP on Itunes and started checking out some videos on YouTube. One song they had played that night stood out in particular to me-Where Do We Go From Here.  Not only because Julissa really belted it out with great accompaniment by the band, but it also resonated with me for more personal reasons. In the few weeks I have been listening to it, these words-‘Where Do We Go From Here’ really gave me pause. Yes it is a common phrase, but I really thought about it in different contexts. When you really think it is a very powerful question.

First I really love what the group did here with this video. Visually it looks terrific, but it also drives home a serious point. That is one way of thinking about where do we go from here as a society. How we discard, destroy, and demolish with little thought to the future. Is ‘progress’ really worth it if we bulldoze every thing both literally and metaphorically that lies in its path? As I watched the video a few times I drew a parallel of sorts to what I have always wanted to do on this blog. To ask the questions without truly having the answers, letting the visual of the photo speak for the song, or maybe letting the song become clearer with the visual.  I don’t know where we go from here in that regard but I do know we need to keep asking ourselves the questions.

Second the song made me question my own life the way the special songs do. Some of you know what has been happening to me personally the last few months. I don’t want to recount that here, suffice it to say it has me spending a lot of time thinking. And it is not simplistic on my part to say that the driving question throughout this process has been-what next? When I heard Jules & The Jinks the question quickly changed to where do I go from here? What do I want to do? What makes me happy? Where do I want to live that makes me happy? And on and on like that. Right now I do not have the answers…but I have the question. And questions are good things…

Please spend some time listening to the music of Jules & The Jinks wherever you get your music. Big news for them is that just a few days ago, they were crowned winners of the coveted Battle Of The Bands slot for the AfroPunk Festival. They are a band on the rise, and just like with Jackie Venson another artist I wrote about not long ago, I want you to remember where you heard it first!

Where Do We Go From Here-Written By Julissa Lopez and Erik Rosenberg

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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Soundtrack Of A Photograph, Part 18

FORENSIC PHOTOGRAPHY

Last year in commenting on a previous blog of mine, a friend used the word forensic to describe the photographs I had used. It was one of those times I wish I had thought about using it myself, because it is such a good word to relate to photography.  I kept it in my head to potentially use at a later time. This is that time as it turns out, but it comes with a catch of sorts. I decided to go one step further and use the application of forensics to the music as well as the photography. For the photograph I wanted to use one that had many things to look at and required careful looking to see it all. Similarly, for the music I wanted to use a song that had multiple components. A variety of sounds that together make the song special.

The photograph I chose is one I have used a slightly different perspective of here in this blog previously (way back in Part 2). But this one has more of a closeup view of the scene which I felt necessary. I took it several years ago on the Highline, the wonderful elevated park running through portions of downtown Manhattan. The song on the other hand, is one I have long wanted to break down in this forensic manner if you will. Long before I ever began writing these blogs, I told people that if ever I were to teach music, I would start with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ by The Temptations. The song has the complete package-vocals by The Temptations original lineup of Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin together with the music provided by Motown’s legendary house band, The Funk Brothers. There is more happening within the first 15 seconds of the song than just about any other I can think of. But perhaps for the first time here, this blog is not about song lyrics, or emotions, or memories from my past joined together with the aid of a photograph. This blog is about looking closer. Looking through the microscope to see what we can find.  As you will see, in one single photograph there can be many things to look at, and in one single song, there can be many components to listen to, if you do it carefully. So let the forensics begin.

First we need the evidence, so here is the photograph-

And now the song-

Next, here are the facts as we know them. The photograph in black, the song in blue

Continue reading “Soundtrack Of A Photograph, Part 18”

Soundtrack Of A Photograph, Part 12

“Harmonizing For A Photo”

PART 1- The Photos

Harmony-noun, plural harmonies.

  1. Agreement; accord; harmonious relations
  2. A consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity
  3. In music-any simultaneous combination of tones especially when blended into chords pleasing to the ear.

Harmony is one of those tricky words I think. In the first definition above, we come across it as an ideal worth striving for, yet as a global culture we never seem able to achieve or attain. The second and third definitions we seem to understand and appreciate more and we do better with for whatever reason. Most of us have been moved in some way by music of some sort that utilizes harmony, be it a gospel choir or bands such as  the Beach Boys. I have touched on this sort of harmony in a few blogs already. But before I go into the musical portion of this blog, the soundtrack, I wanted to explore that second definition above, that consistent, orderly and pleasing arrangement of parts. That definition is useful in describing almost anything that has a sense of orderliness to it. Everything from rows of books in a library to place settings on a dinner table seem more pleasing when defined by a sense of harmony and balance.  The objects complement one another into a unified whole. When one portion of that balance is upset however; a single book laying sideways instead of standing upright, a glass missing from the table setting at a restaurant, the harmony that should exist is broken. It is the individual elements or components that allow that second definition of harmony to exist and when it breaks down it does not feel orderly or pleasing. So jarring is the missing object that usually our eyes go right to it.

In preparing this installment I began thinking about objects in the photography world that did not suffer from that sort of problem.  Objects that fit that definition, of consistent, or a pleasing arrangement of parts. My mind thought large scale at first, in part due to living in a large city. What could I use? The skyline of New York City itself perhaps? Spread out wide on the 13 miles of Manhattan with peaks and troughs of tall skyscrapers combined with the smaller apartment buildings such as where I live when viewed as a whole have that sort of pleasing arrangement. If all the buildings were 5 stories high, or 50 stories high it would not achieve that sort of harmony however. But when viewed as a panorama it does because one building compliments the other.

However, showing that here seemed to be very complex to me, so I thought about other areas where objects are repeated and achieve that sort of balance. Rows of lamp posts on a path, or pylons on a pier were thoughts. The crisscross pattern of steel work on bridges and buildings were another.  The possibilities seemed many, but also very daunting as a photographer without certain equipment and access to photograph them. So I began thinking instead on a smaller scale, for something that could effectively show the photographic equivalent of ‘harmony’ and yet be something more manageable. As I have gone further along in these posts I have had flashbacks to writing papers in college. I remember stream of consciousness writing was discussed but I have to admit it rarely works for me. I do however seem to have a lot of stream of consciousness thinking, and lately I have taken to carrying notebooks around with me to jot things down as the inspiration hits, and I realized just the other night that the answer was in front of me the whole time, and I knew what to do for this post.

Continue reading “Soundtrack Of A Photograph, Part 12”