Last week I worked on a little music project, arranging and recording an electronic version of Henry Purcell’s great aria Dido’s Lament (technically it is named “When I am laid in Earth” but everyone knows it as “Dido’s Lament”) .
Quick back story – Henry Purcell was a 17th century English composer and is regarded as one of the greatest English composers of all times (until he 20th century, no other English born composer compared since Handle was not born in England). One of his most famous works was the opera Dido and Aeneas, based on the Aeneid.
After escaping the downfall of Troy, Aeneas ends up in Carthage. Dido, the queen of Carthage, falls in love. He would happily spend the rest of his life there, but destiny calls; he has to found Rome, you know. So he leaves, and Dido commits suicide.
The opera ends in three pieces: a recitative to introduce the aria, the aria itself, and then a choral part in all of its Baroque counterpoint glory. The recitative (Thy hand, Belinda) is often performed with the aria while the chorus isn’t, but to me the chorus caps it all off greatly… But that aria, called Dido’s Lament, is what most people know.
Have you ever taken a music appreciation class (talking Western Classical music here)? If so, you most likely have heard this before. It does a great job of demonstrating a few Baroque techniques, such as ground bass (that part you hear from beginning to end). It is also often called one of the saddest songs in Western Classical music.
For some reason I often think of Radio Head when I hear it.
In fact, I have this version of the song deeply embedded in my head done in a Radio Head style.
For years I wanted to do that recording that Radio Head never did… And last week I decided that time is now.
Of course, when I started playing around with it, I quickly dropped trying to make it sound like anything but me. I will admit that, like a lot of my music projects, I drew it to an end earlier than planned, but hopefully still good.
About my recording.
First, I did just the aria, but I rearranged it a little, adding an intro and outro, plus a keyboard solo.
And since this is an aria, I sang it. Yes, it is a female’s song, but there is nothing that says it can’t be sung by a male….
I practiced it for a bit to get it right. I also had to learn to play the voice part on a keyboard as I sang. You see, I sang through a vocoder. I have done other music with the vocoder, and once described it. In super simple terms, it takes a sound, say a synthesizer sound, and shapes it like another sound, say a human voice. That being said, the better you can sing the part, the better the vocoder sounds. If you play musically and just talk, it sounds like a sick robot. If you sing, well, it doesn’t sound awful. I hope ;) You can hear a couple of places, particularly in the first verse, where my keyboard playing and my voice got a little out of sync. I think it is slightly jarring to hear that robot sound! but it is like two small glitches, so hopefully not too distracting. Also, one or two notes are a little high for my range….
In a few places I mixed my natural voice in, so it isn’t all synthesized voice…
Besides the Behringer VC340 vocoder, I used two other synthesizers. The string bass sounds, toy piano/chimes, choir and “breaths” are performed on a Sequential Prophet Rev 2. The deep bass (comes in the second time around of “Remember me”), the synth solo, and the sound effects were played on a Behringer Model D (Minimoog clone). The Model D was run through my modular synth’s real spring reverb and I used a few modules on the effects, as well as heavy analog echo.
So, here is the music. I hope you enjoy!