THE RECORD

The fourth record in the series deconstructs the bass guitar and drum parts of Space Oddity. These instruments, together with the rhythm guitar, make up the rhythm section in a band.

The bass and drum parts were recorded together onto master track (available on the Space Oddity 40th Anniversary EP), which is well worth listening to by itself. The virtuosic performances featured within – from bass player Herbie Flowers and drummer Terry Cox – are easy to overlook when listening to the finished track, but once you hear them you realise they have a huge impact on the song's overall sound. This record visualises every bass note and drum hit played by these excellent musicians in Space Oddity.

The data for this record took the longest to gather out of all the records. By our reckoning, there are 528 individual bass picks in the song and 943 drum hits – counting instances where two drums are struck simultaneously as one hit. We counted them all!

He's got rhythm: bass guitar player Herbie Flowers today

He's got rhythm: bass guitar player Herbie Flowers today

 

Data collection

Miriam gathered timing data from the bass and drums track using a music analysis tool called Sonic Visualiser. Sonic Visualiser allows you to analyse timing in recordings by tapping on your computer keyboard at the point where each note or drum hit starts (this is the onset). This produces lines on the waveform of the recording that play back as clicks. You can then manually adjust the position of these lines until they correspond with the waveform and the clicks match perfectly with the sound. This gives you the time point of all the onsets, which can be exported as a data file.

In the bass part, we calculated the duration between picks – or plucks of the string – by calculating the time difference between the subsequent note onsets (known as the inter-onset-interval).

This gives you the approximate duration of each note. (The exceptions were at phrase ends, where we instead calculated the duration between the note onset and the approximate point where it stopped sounding as the length of the note.)

One pick does not always mean one note, or pitch. Slides, or glissandi – where the player moves the left hand along the string while it is sounding – are counted as a single pick. And we sometimes counted two or more distinct pitches within a single pick where we thought we could hear a hammer-on or pull-off.

The data on the pitch of each bass note, bass guitar techniques and ornaments and drum types and techniques was gathered by ear.

EXPLORE THE DATA

 

Visualisation

Of all the records, this one is probably closest to a traditional musical score. The drum part is arranged around the outside of the record and the bass part towards the inside, with higher pitches towards the middle. Bass note duration is represented by circle size in the visualisation – the larger the circle, the longer the note.

Each type of drum is represented by a different symbol. As in 3 Texture, we tried to communicate the character of each sound visually.

Oddityviz_4_rhythm_keybassdrums
 

You can see large-scale structural patterns in the visualisation – especially the contrast between sections, which are clearly defined by different drum patterns.

The regimented opening section is marked by a slow, plodding bass part and a military-style snare drum as Ground Control prepares Major Tom for liftoff (‘Commencing countdown, engines on’).

Oddityviz_4_Rhythm_sections1-4
 

Next we have liftoff, where the bass drops out. Just before the first verse kicks in, a drum roll and bass arpeggio announce Major Tom’s arrival into space.

Oddityviz_4_Rhythm_sections3-4
 

For the rest of the song, the bass part is nimble and florid, hopping all over the instrument’s range.

Terry Cox’s drum part is marked by the contrast between the regular kick-kick-snare pattern of the verses and the ethereal ride cymbal pattern of the rather introspective choruses (‘Here am I sitting in my tin can / Far above the world / Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do’).

Oddityviz_4_Rhythm_sections5-6
 

As Major Tom floats away, the ethereal wins out and the ride pattern continues throughout the outro. Both bass and drums become chaotic at this point, interrupted by sudden crashes and slides as Major Tom’s rocket slowly disintegrates and the song fades out.

Oddityviz_4_Rhythm_sections12-end

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