15 Aug 2011

Transcribing Incantations

Incantations is an album by guitarist and composer Mike Oldfield. I’ve loved his music ever since my dad introduced me to Ommadawn, which is still probably my favorite album of all time. Mostly instrumental quasi-folky music with occasional ripping guitar parts, these album-length songs really impressed me when I was learning the guitar. Still, most people I knew never heard of this stuff.

Recently I bought Incantations, which I’d never heard before. I was inspired to transcribe the guitar part starting at about 3 minutes into the song “Incantations 3.” I didn’t even look around on the net to see if anyone had done yet, I really just wanted to do it myself for fun. I used the charming music notation program Lilypond, and wore out my mousepad going back and forth over the faster guitar parts to write them down.

I wrote down the music in ordinary notation with pencil and paper, and learned the guitar part at the same time. I made a synth loop to be able to practice the harder parts at a slower speed. I took a break from transcribing at about the midpoint of the guitar part (about 5 minutes of music) in order to memorize and consolidate what I’d learned so far in my mind. This was hugely entertaining, but a bit irritating for Kris who got tired of hearing this song over and over!

Finally, on this holiday weekend I transcribed the 2nd half of the solo, then entered all the music into Lilypond, in what reminded me of my days of typing in programs from “Antic” magazine as a kid. Just look at it! Now you know why I have a headache.

Here is a picture from the first page of the transcription. The PDF is here.

I was hoping to benefit from Lilyponds automatic tablature support, but the strings they chose were always terrible, so I just decided to specify which guitar string every note appears on. I did this while the family watched “50 First Dates,” so it was about 2 hours of entry and occasional puzzlement just to get that feature done.

The music could use more expressive marks, for sure, but it doesn’t make much sense to learn without being able to hear the original song anyway.

All markings on the high E string that are higher than the 24th fret are actually achieved by bending the string up. Careful…you have to reach a high G…I broke a string at least once trying to do this! You really need a 24-fret guitar to be able to play this piece unless you occasionally transpose something down by an octave.

Another interesting thing about this song is that Mike Oldfield apparently had a Gibson SG guitar with amazing intonation in the high fret region. I, sadly, don’t have this, so some of the sweeps of 5ths and 4ths near the end just don’t sound as good when I play it.

I’ll follow up with a video of playing over the song. Anyway, if you want to see the music, it is here.