Under A Binary Tree (2009)

With quiet grace and cultured airs, The travelling salesman plies his wares:
Spaghetti forks and plastic spoons; Accompanied by market tunes
On Jacob's steps, in measured bars, 'Neath seashore sun, and desert stars.
But now and then when time is free, He rests beneath a binary tree

Under A Binary Tree cover

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Under A Binary Tree is the second album by the Purple musical project. It was recorded in Fenham, Newcastle and Prudhoe, Northumberland in 2009. It takes the music further than 11 Bells did, at times more complex, at times simpler, certainly more varied and musically experimental. While it remains melodic and lyrical, it has moved further into the "progressive rock" heartland with alternative tonalities, and more complex rythmns and interplays. It is a bit less immediate than 11 Bells was, but will reward the listener who takes the time to savour it (come on, this website is all about promotion, let's not shy away from that, let's really SELL this one!)

There are two tracks, of equal length. "The Ebony Queen" is an exploration of dichotomies and contrasts using "real" instruments and sounds, and "The Ivory Tower" explores some computing paradigms with a focus on synthesized sounds.

  1. The Ebony Queen
    1. Theme From A Dream
    2. In The Court Of The Ebony Queen (Playing Mixed Doubles)
    3. Lost In A Monochrome Desert
    4. Jacob's Ladder
    5. To Help Pat Ego, Get Apple Hot
    6. Hush
    7. The Horns Of A Dilemma
    8. Officer & Child
  2. The Ivory Tower
    1. The Binary Tree
    2. The Cathedral And The Bazaar
    3. The Travelling Salesman
    4. The Dining Philosophers

Under A Binary Tree explained in depth

Under A Binary Tree is the second album under the brand-name of Purple, and heavily features the number 2, which also manifests itself in contrasts, dualities, binary numbers, and in a musical exploration of some computing ideas. Computing is after all all based on binary. The name itself is a play on the computing concept of a binary tree, or binary search partition, a way of organising data.

Conceptually this album started with ideas and names of sections, and the music was created to embody these ideas and names, which is harder than the other way round as it was in 11 Bells, but an interesting challenge.

There are two tracks (come on you must have seen that coming), each of which is 32 minutes long, which are "The Ebony Queen" and "The Ivory Tower".

Track 1: The Ebony Queen

This is really named because I wanted track 2 to be "The Ivory Tower" and in a play on the duality of Ebony and Ivory I needed an Ebony something. The queen of course lives in a castle. This track is entirely composed of "real" sounds (although some are sampled and played by keyboard - the distinctions between real and artificial are so unclear these days). There are 8 sections, delineated by gongs of various kinds, each section being 4 minutes long. Each section features a particular idea of contrast or duality.

Section A: Theme From A Dream

I know it seems somewhat repetitious to feature dreaming again, but the tune featured here came to me in a dream, and I had to write it down quick as soon as I woke up. the contrast here is between "Classical" and "Rock", different treatments of the same tune. We also hear the first use of a riff from Sheherezhade.

Section B: In The Court Of The Ebony Queen (Playing Mixed Doubles)

Firstly the name: as well as the obvious play on tennis terms there is a nod here to the classic King Crimson album title "In The Court Of The Crimson King". Musically this is kind of in 7/8, except only in some senses. The feature here is of doubling speed, sometimes with the accompanying pitch shift up an octave, sometimes without (and sometimes just the pitch shift). There are two sub-sections, the first to introduce the themes, the second to explore the mixed doublings.

Section C: Lost In A Monochrome Desert

The name refers back to "Lost In A Moonlit Desert" on "11 Bells", this time an electric piano rather than an acoustic. A few of the musical ideas from "Moonlit Desert" are revisited and developed. The big contrast here is in my opinion quite subtle - the first half is played entirely on the white notes of the keyboard, the second half entirely on the black notes. The second half comes in with a motif in 7/8, which seems to be a popular time signature for me - often when tapping out rythmns they happen in 7/8.

Section D: Jacob's Ladder

This section starts with the electric piano doing a musical morph to an acoustic. This section is deliberately lo-fi in sound, gentle piano and drums, and an old 12-string guitar. Once again we are in 7/8, the contrast here is that the first section (with flute) has a descending bassline, while the second section (with melodeon) has an ascending bassline. I am particularly proud of the chord sequences here. The melodeon calls to mind Parisienne streets, while the piano feels quite anti-folk.

Section E: To Help Pat Ego, Get Apple Hot

This section is the most "free-form" of the album, featuring bass, piano and guitars. This whole section is a musical palindrome (if you play it backwards it will sound exactly the same as played forwards). While this features lots of noodling and randomness, there is also a theme which is itself palindromic (which I thought of on 9.7.9, a palindromic date), the Sheherezhade riff again, and the first vocals on a Purple track: me saying "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama", which is also a palindrome.

Section F: Hush

This section contrasts quiet and loud, with a simple chord sequence following a familiar kind of pattern from this album and "11 Bells". The patterns come in threes, first quiet, then with loud creeping in, then loud. I am particularly proud of the vague wandering guitar solo in this section.

Section G: The Horns Of A Dilemma

Because I'm having contrasts I particularly wanted this title, and of course it had to be brass. The contrast here is left and right channels - the stereo separation is extreme. I enjoy this brass band waltzing in the rain through three tunes. The middle tune is a tune from a song I wrote years ago, and the final tune is "Glen And Heather's Wedding" from 11 Bells. The rain is a special tribute to Jean Michelle Jarre's "Band In The Rain" on the album "Equinoxe". Also it sounds really cool on headphones.

Section H: Officer & Child

This last section is a contrast between major and minor keys. The musical ideas came about while idly messing about on a guitar. The middle section was an experiment in simulating a string quartet with seemingly random wandering. It is in fact pretty random, I recorded two of the lines just "seeing what I would play", without hearing the other, and then worked through and found chords for each beat, creating the other two tracks to fit with these chords. This is followed by a short free-form section which I really like. Back in with the rythmn we are in a minor key. I love the way it musically hangs expectantly at the end.

Track 2: the Ivory Tower

In contrast to track 1, this majors on sounds which have some element of arrtificiality. Much of this is synthesized sounds, but I stretch to include electronic organ and church organ (which was originally intended to synthesise the sounds of other instruments). Each section is now 8 minutes long, and although there are some contrasts, the major theme here is computing - each title its taken from some kind of computing idea or problem (which I am not going to explain but feel free to google them). This is natural to me as a programmer, and the link to the number 2 is the prevelance of binary in computing.

Section A: The Binary Tree

I really attack the binary theme here in a big way. First of all there is a rythmn track, comprised of 8 different synthesised bass drums. There are 256 bars here, and the pattern of beats in each bar is different, in fact counting in binary from 0 to 255 (in a "bigendian" form). Over this there is a gentle synth pad following a chord sequence which lasts for 32 bars (and is designed to cycle easily). Over this there are three other synth sounds whose presence or absence again signify zeroes and ones in a binary sequence over the 8 iterations of the sequence. These are a lead, a harmony and a bass. I am proud of taking this overly idiotic self-imposed structure and producing what is my favourite section of this track. I especially enjoyed ornamenting the lead synth.

Section B: The Cathedral And The Bazaar

What could a "cathedral" be except a church organ? What could a "bazaar" be except a snake-charmer flute sound? First one, then the other, and then they meet. The tonality is deliberately "modal" to give an eastern feel, and is probably about as authentic as a very fake thing. The rythmn sequences accentuate the bazaar, and at times owe something in the way they are applied to relatively modern dance music. The sound effects are open to your own interpretation.

Section C: The Travelling Salesman

This section was the most work on the whole album, with many ideas rejected before settling on this format. Like the travelling salesman, constantly moving on from town to town, I wanted to make it feel disjointed, changing far too often, and yet have an overall feel of sameness (by using similar sounds for much of it, with one synth constantly morphing) - representing the ubiquitous travel inns and franchised MacFood. There are 24 mini-sections in this section, each in a different time signature (from 1:1 to 24:8), each in a different key (12 major and 12 minor) and each exactly 20 seconds long. Sometimes there are only subtle changes from the previous section, sometimes jarring shifts.

Section D: The Dining Philosophers

This section picks up the motif from the end of the last section and runs with it. This is a bass line idea I had years ago which I call "bong widdle-iddle eep beep". After a free-form start we begin to be introduced to the philosophers, fo which there are 5. Each philosopher alternately eats (the bits with more energy, and the bassline) and thinks (the more open sections). My favourite is the middle one, who seems to almost talk. After we have visited each of them we round things off with another free-form section, with the five voices piping up as we go finishing with a final "Bong widdle iddle, eep beep!"