State of the Art

2 08 2012

There is a great track on the Making Mirrors album from Gotye called State of the Art

Musically, these are a lot of samples and sounds from different instruments and sources.  His voice is processed through some kind of eerie effect that gives it a quality that is not completely unlike the voices on the other end of the phone in those ransom call scenes in movies. 

The video is quite clever – I love the animation style and the story it tells:

The central subject in the song and video is an electronic organ called the Lowrey Cotillion Model D-575. I had to read the lyrics and then look up the Cotillion in order to decipher the song’s meaning.

image

I found a great article on a British music website that had interviewed Wally (Gotye) about this song. Here’s what he had to say on the subject:

———-

My favorite piece of kit amongst this long list is easily the Lowrey Cotillion organ. My parents bought it for me from a Salvation Army second-hand store for $100 in 2009. It was released in 1981 and I’ve been told that it retailed for around $15,000 at that time! I had always loved playing with the various electronic organs hiding in dark corners of studios I’d visited over the years, but I found they had a lot of similar functions, effects and sounds (endless electronic flutes!). It was a joy to discover that my folks had chanced upon a fully-functioning organ that also happened to be a brilliant and idiosyncratic synthesizer. I instantly fell in love with the Cotillion’s sounds- there are a bunch of quite peculiar ones, but also a host of really vibey patches that, despite the D-575 being a digital model, have an analogue grit to them which I find really appealing.

I got so into the sounds on this organ that I wrote a song not just to showcase them, but also a self-reflexive lyric that mused on how fascinated I was with their peculiar sonic qualities. The song, ‘State of the Art’, is one of my faves on my recent record, and it features a whole bunch of Cotillion sounds.

———-

Part of the lyrics talk about “throwing out the TV” when they bought the Cotillion, and about staying home rather than going out in order to have fun playing the organ.

This is quite a contrast to a story that the NY Times ran recently about how so many older pianos are now being hauled off to the dump rather than being donated and/or fixed up – especially since new pianos of similar quality, made in China, can now be purchased cheaply.

It was not that long ago, as the NY Times article points out, that practically every middle class household had a piano for entertainment. If you liked music – and who doesn’t? – you had relatively few choices in terms of enjoying music inside your home. You had the radio, the phonograph, and live music.

It’s sad that we’ve moved away from learning to play music. These days it is becoming more rare for the average person to be trained in at least one musical instrument.

The other kind of cool part of these contrasting articles is the robustness of the D575. Granted, Gotye thinks that his was produced in 1981, but still, it has evidently held up pretty well. It seems like a shame that so many things these days are not built with quality, built to last. Everything feels disposable, from modern cars to pianos.

Thankfully, Wally’s parents recognized the Cotillion for the treasure that it is at the Salvation Army, and put it to good use on his album.

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