Deconstructing Space Oddity, one dimension at a time
March 10, 2017 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Space Oddity – a visual deconstruction, AKA Oddityviz, is a data visualisation project on David Bowie’s Space Oddity by designer Valentina D'Efilippo and researcher Miriam Quick. The project visualises data from Bowie’s 1969 track Space Oddity on a series of 10 specially engraved records. Each 12-inch disc deconstructs the track in a different way: melodies, harmonies, lyrics, structure, story and other aspects of the music and lyrics are transformed into new visual systems. A poster accompanies each record, containing an image of the engraving plus a key. Read about the process, examine the raw data, or just sit back and watch this video which explains it all. [via Dangerous Minds]
posted by Room 641-A (8 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks to Johnny Wallflower for his expert musical help with this post!
posted by Room 641-A at 6:21 PM on March 10, 2017

This is such a weird and beautiful project, a labor of love that nobody could have ever asked for but is a natural, logical way to represent every part of a classic song.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:33 PM on March 10, 2017

I've wasted my life. Apparently.
posted by aramaic at 6:35 PM on March 10, 2017

Oops, forgot to link to Valentina D'Efilippo's other cool videos on Vimeo.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:38 PM on March 10, 2017

I love this so much. Great find!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:07 PM on March 10, 2017

Wow. These works really show how complex of a song this is structurally. It's wonderful.

And just the year before, Bowie was writing stuff like "Over the Wall We Go (All Coppers Are Nanas)", I mean, wow (I would have also added "The Laughing Gnome," except musically, that song is a bit more complex). The story I've read this year on the Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog about Tony Visconti thinking "Oddity" was a cheesy novelty tune and wanted nothing to do with it gave me pause. I've never thought it was cheesy. I thought it was existentialism, and now think of it as a piece with Bowie's exploration of different philosophies during this time. The irony is that of course this was a cash-in on Apollo 11, as well, but written in such a way that it supersedes that particular moment. And there was so much more to come!

I was thinking "Station To Station" would be a good song to explore this way, but now that I think of it, maybe the "Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing" suite would be better.
posted by droplet at 8:16 AM on March 11, 2017

The discussion of the project also refers to the 40th anniversary EP re-release, which includes the isolated strings, rhythm, and acoustic guitar tracks from the recording session. Well worth a listen; they bring out a lot of the complexity and artistry of the composition. Y'all knew it anyway, but Herbie Flowers has the funk, damn.
posted by Devonian at 9:35 AM on March 11, 2017

This is really beautiful work, and I love the narrative and structure ones especially: it's funny seeing how people solve the problem of visualizing a linear structure that refers back to previous segments of itself.

I tore this song apart myself when I was commissioned to orchestrate it for string quartet, so it's not out nitpicking so much as a shared appreciation for it that I bring up that I have some different ideas about what the harmonies in the post-liftoff verses achieve.

First, I think the claim that the key becomes C minor in the verses at that point is just an accident, since it's definitely C major, but more substantially I think there's more to what's going with the C-E7-F progression: it's true that it does broaden the harmonic palette and slightly destabilize the reign of C by briefly implying an A minor key and proceeding to F major by analogy to the deceptive cadence, but those effects are comparatively diminished by virtue of the fact that, (a), C's claim to the key is already pretty weak by virtue of the F major-leaning introduction and the fact that, although the verses are articulated by a G major to C major transition (the standard harmonic articulation for the end of a phrase), it's kind of elided: the end-of-verse flourish goes Am-C/G-D/F# (functionally, vi-V6/4-II#6), with the D major at the end briefly suggesting the key of G major, and with that expected G major only appearing implicitly on an upbeat before the return to C major; and (b), C-E7-F (functionally, I-III#-IV) is a really idiomatic progression to most people's ears and has a brightening effect for sure but doesn't really destabilize the key very much by virtue of its familiarity. I think its purpose is primarily to give the verse progression a more aggressive forward motion by introducing a leading tone to A, the third of the F major chord that follows. If you wanted to give this a thematic tie-in, you might note how the first verse with its oscillation between C major and E minor suggests stasis or frustrated movement (Common Practice harmony regards that transition as so weak as to basically not be a real harmonic movement at all, instead casting the E minor chord as a coloration and extension of C major harmony), where as the I-III#-IV progression accelerates forward into new harmonic regions. So, it has the broadening effect that they attribute to the progression, but specifically as a result of forward motion.

They also kind of neglect the F minor that follows, which is interesting both because of the standard melancholy cast that F minor in C major brings but also because of the voice leading it enables: the G in the C major chord goes to G# over the E major, to A over the F major, and now it starts to fall back down again: Ab in the F minor goes all the way back to G over the C major that reappears (in a nice bit of structural echo, this C major, in spite of C being the key, isn't a stable goal harmony: it extends and emphasizes the surrounding F major harmony, so by virtue of C major's temporary subordination you have a very literal display of F major's pull in this C major song). I most don't think it's worth trying to find some sort of one-to-one correspondence between meaning and chord in a song like this, so I think this chromatic rise-and-fall isn't necessarily meant to accomplish anything re the narrative. Instead it probably functions more for its coloristic effects and as a through-line for the verse: the rise from G to A is a breathing in, the fall from A to G is a breathing out, and it lends boundaries and identity to the section it occurs in.
posted by invitapriore at 12:49 PM on March 11, 2017

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