Re: Revolution 9 is not a song
posted at 1/17/2014 4:28 PM EST
The Wikipedia entry on Revolution is excellent. Here are some excerpts from it.
"Revolution 9" is a recorded composition that appeared on the Beatles' 1968 self-titled LP release (popularly known as The White Album). The sound collage, credited to Lennon–McCartney, was created primarily by John Lennon with assistance from George Harrison and Yoko Ono. Lennon said he was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using sound. The composition was influenced by the avant-garde style of Ono as well as the musique concrète works of composers such as Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
All the thing was made with loops. I had about 30 loops going, fed them onto one basic track. I was getting classical tapes, going upstairs and chopping them up, making it backwards and things like that, to get the sound effects. One thing was an engineer's testing voice saying, "This is EMI test series number nine." I just cut up whatever he said and I'd number nine it. Nine turned out to be my birthday and my lucky number and everything. I didn't realise it: it was just so funny the voice saying, "number nine"; it was like a joke, bringing number nine into it all the time, that's all it was.
—John Lennon, Rolling Stone, 1970
Much of the track consists of tape loops that are faded in and out, several of which are sampled from performances of classical music. Works that have been specifically identified include the Vaughan Williams motet O Clap Your Hands, the final chord from Sibelius' Symphony No. 7, and the reversed finale of Schumann's Symphonic Studies. Other loops include brief portions of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, "The Streets of Cairo", violins from "A Day in the Life", and George Martin saying "Geoff, put the red light on". Part of the Arabic song "Awwal Hamsa" by Farid Il-Atrash is included shortly after the 7-minute mark. There are also loops of unidentified operatic performances, backwards mellotron, violins and sound effects, an oboe/horn duet, a reversed electric guitar in the key of E major, and a reversed string quartet in the key of E-flat major.
Portions of the unused coda of "Revolution 1" can be heard briefly several times during the track, particularly Lennon's screams of "right" and "alright", with a longer portion near the end featuring Ono's discourse about becoming naked. Segments of random prose read by Lennon and Harrison are heard prominently throughout, along with numerous sound effects such as laughter, crowd noise, breaking glass, car horns, and gunfire. Some of the sounds were taken from an Elektra Records album of stock sound effects. The piece ends with a recording of American football chants ("Hold that line! Block that kick!"). In all, the final mix includes at least 45 different sound sources.
Lennon described "Revolution 9" as "an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens, just like a drawing of revolution." He said he was "painting in sound a picture of revolution", but he had mistakenly made it "anti-revolution". In his analysis of the song, MacDonald doubted that Lennon conceptualised the piece as representing a revolution in the usual sense, but rather as "a sensory attack on the citadel of the intellect: a revolution in the head" aimed at each listener. MacDonald also noted that the structure suggests a "half-awake, channel-hopping" mental state, with underlying themes of consciousness and quality of awareness. Others have described the piece as Lennon's attempt at turning "nightmare imagery" into sound, and as "an autobiographical soundscape." The loop of "number nine" featured in the recording fuelled the fallacy of Paul McCartney's death after it was reported that it sounded like "turn me on, dead man" when played backwards.