deconstructing songs

I’ve been deconstructing songs, trying to figure out what magical combination of pitches and timbres and rhythms can create such an intense response in my body. Every song is a puzzle when you try to fit the composition into what a person can do without studio editing or a band.

On my quest to unlock such a puzzle, I discovered Final Fantasy performing a Bloc Party cover of This Modern Love, what is now my favourite song of all time1, having dethroned Blonde Redhead’s Elephant Woman of the honour it held for many years. It strips me bare by layers and layers, and even though the lyrics found relevance in my life before I decided that distance would keep me sane, it’s only in recent months that it’s gone from being a song I never skip to a song I always play.

To be able to see how Owen Pallett reproduces it with only a violin, a loop pedal, and his characteristically frail voice is a particular treat. Not only because he can draw the same intensity in me as in the original version, but because you can see how it’s done; what part he keeps to present the listener with the essence of the song, what he’s changed to fit the tools he uses, and even where he takes his breaths. It’s like finding an elegant solution for a puzzle that has perplexed you for years.

But I’ve yet to sit down and attempt any serious covers of my own cause I’m still waiting for my musical knowledge and guitar ability to catch up with what I want to accomplish. I’ve been learning classical pieces for a better foundation, and in that pursuit I came across this particular version of La Catedral.

I enjoy classical music (though I’m really picky) cause it can evoke a specific emotion in me, but most pieces cater to only one emotion at a time, or there’s a lot of development before the part I really like. La Catedral, on the other hand, has it all, from sorrow to elation, and every bit of it is bliss. I’m convinced that this is how the old Paraguayan guitarists rocked out with their cocks out, and it amazes me how someone could write such heavy emotion when there were no metal idols, no amp distortion, no screaming back then.

I’d say that for anyone to fully understand me, they’d have to understand this song too. It represents everything I love about music and emotion and sex, cause it’s all in this song, and only Denis Azabagić plays it the way it was meant to be played2. When watching this for the first time, I remember thinking that I would make love to this man, this man who looks like some guy’s uncle, because he plays like he’s touching every nerve of my heart.

I love the way he moves with his guitar, the way he cradles the body, the way he purses his lips or widens his eyes with every swelling of passion. To be able to play like him is is exactly why I started taking up guitar; I want to feel as good as those who lose themselves to the music, and learning this piece has become another thing I hope to do before I die.

  1. As a person who listens to almost any genre but is still obsessively selective with music, saying that I have a single favourite song is a big deal. []
  2. I never liked this song until I heard him perform it, the last 45 seconds in particular, with his orgasmic finish. Every other classical guitarist uses pauses that break up the flow of what are supposed to be relentless sixteenth notes, to the point where it feels like the entire song is ruined. []


  1. Have you ever seen Imogen Heap in concert? You MUST! Especially if you liked this live version of Final Fantasy….. There is an amazing richness to everything she does and you can’t believe it’s just her and her little electronic glovey things and her keyboards and loops.

    I have never heard Le Catedral before – Thank you. : ) I think the end would require this flourish, you’re right.

    • I haven’t seen her in concert, but I have seen her live before, using a loop machine. It was pretty spectacular, and I remember thinking that the song was better than the album version.

  2. It looked as if Denis were playing the violin or double bass. At one point I turned the sound off and just watched his movements. Nothing like I’d ever felt or experienced before.

    • I’ve never considered watching him without the sound…I wonder if I could pick out where he is in the piece just from the way he moves.

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