Texture in Music Part 1: Beeps and Boops


Credit: Drew Dale

Drew Dale

I’m a sucker for musical texture. I’ve always been drawn to the timbres of a song, its pulsing bass, its sticky vocal harmonization, its clattering drums. But beyond personal indulgence, my hope is that in exploring musical texture, as opposed to rhythm, melody, lyrics, and other musical elements, this column might bring attention to some overlooked aspects of music. Perhaps in listening for the unique, sometimes unnatural textures across music, we can come to a better understanding of the ontologically alien, an understanding that will extend to how we see ourselves and the other beings of our universe. Or maybe I just want to talk about cheeky beeps and boops. Lucky for me that’s all I’ll be doing today.

(If you’d like to stay up to date with my explorations of musical texture, be sure to check out the running playlist below).

Grooving with beeps and boops: You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You – Marvin Gaye

Coming from the greatest divorce album of all time, You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You is an emotionally charged (and very toxic) examination of the process of splitting from someone who you once loved dearly but who has since become the biggest obstacle to your personal happiness. Only Marvin could take such a personal topic, sing about it over glorious grooving synths, and have it actually work. From the get-go, the analog synthesizers, accompanied by syncopated guitar and bass, burble (0:00-0:02) and peal (1:20-1:58 and throughout) along to Gaye’s crooning and the swing of the drums. Panned to the far left and right, these bubbles of ecstasy strike a contrast to the sweet acid of Marvin’s lyrics, reminding us that there was once love in this now loveless relationship. And while synthesizers may not have been entirely novel in 70s funk, this song makes them seem like they were created just for it, as if all the technological advancements in sound synthesis from the past two decades had been achieved only to buoy Marvin Gaye’s beautifully egotistical self-pity.


Beeping in drone: Ultramarine Dew – Regular Citizen

Rarely can a drone track be described as a bop. At best they lazily circle the drain of existence, an endearing trait to be sure, but not exactly a lively one. Regular Citizen flies in the face of this tendency with his pulsating Ultramarine Dew, a straight-up danceable drone tune. Ultramarine Dew is propelled forward by trance stabs and plopping digital plucks (both throughout), giving an inexplicable sense of simultaneous falling and rising to the track’s arpeggiated melodies. What’s striking is how this track uses alternating on and off-beat synth bleeps to keep its own internal rhythm without ever straying too far from the drone ethos at its core. This pulsating sonic texture gives Ultramarine Dew the sense that its really going somewhere, even as it spirals around itself over and over, consuming and recreating itself as any self-respecting drone track should.


Beepenstein’s Monster (blasted bleepin’ earworms): Not PLaying – Playboi Carti, and Nothing More to Say- Dub – SOPHIE

The worst guests are the ones who walk into your house unannounced and then refuse to leave. Not PLaying [sic] and Nothing More to Say- Dub, then, are truly terrible guests; these songs are both infuriatingly catchy, and once burrowed in your head, they will never leave you a moment’s peace. Only the truly masochistic should listen to their sticky digital melodies, because once you’ve heard them once, they’ll be stuck in your head for good. Maybe the greatest pleasure is really found in pain because these songs are just as irresistible as they are vexing. The bouncing, spiky tones of Not PLaying (throughout) give Carti’s hedonistic boasts a glittering quality and somehow makes his yelping claim that he is “not playing no more” seem truly legitimate. In Nothing More to Say- Dub, SOPHIE creates one of the most infectious melodic lines in all of dance music, all by the power of golden, ringing beeps and boops. Beyond being a catchy tune, however, these digitized sounds speak to sexual expression through dance music, making the song at once a club banger and an anthem for queer liberation. I guess maybe these earworms really aren’t so bad after all, or maybe the beeping has gotten to my head.


The King of Beep-Boop: CIRCLONT6A [141.98][syrobonkus mix] – Aphex Twin

Anyone who has heard of Richard D. James knows that the man seems to be from a different planet; for those unversed in his music, one look at the title of this song should be enough (or you could just watch his T69 Collapse video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqayDnQ2wmw). Richard’s music, however, has always been an examination of the material – and himself – to the extreme, even, and especially, at its most otherworldly. This is because James knows how to translate the alien sounds of synthesized beeps and boops into examinations of the worldly at its most alien. Every part of this song is itself a little gurgle of expression; from the many beeping synths (throughout), to the ploinking percussive rimshots (0:05-0:32), and the strangely distorted vocals (0:00-0:21), every element of the song is its own blinking, burping entity. Yet, these entities all come together to convey something larger, something beyond usual expression, and yet something rooted in the tangible, unfamiliar, world around us. How can a song be so deeply moving and so carelessly fun at the same time? The key lies in its beeps and boops, each one sparkling in its own existence, sharing its secrets slowly, gloriously, one drip at a time.