Aftermath and Symbolism
Notes on the Fractal song Aftermath, by Nic Roozeboom
The (in)significance of numbers
Numbers abound in Aftermath, but not necessarily numerology. Some are significant, some are deliberate, some accidental and some merely convenient.
The Chorus and Spiral sections are in 11 and in 9, respectively. There is no specific meaning attached to these numbers. Mostly, they are merely the result of implementations of thematic variations, and an overall objective to introduce variability in meter to create a general sense of changing perceptions of time.
As a freak of circumstance, the first full-arrangement draft cut of Aftermath totaled in time to 9 minutes, 11 seconds. This occurred before there was any realization what this piece was going to be “about”. Yet, it occurred after all the subsections had been fully composed and arranged. This somewhat baffling fact has become one of the key thematic characteristics of the song (just by leaving it be so).
Introduces the basic mode and harmony. Guitar coins the basic pitches: 1/5, 2/minor 7, and only in passing the flat 6. The strings introduce the major third (a positive injection), but then strongly emphasize the flat six (a conflicting and contrasting ‘negative’ dose).
In seven. Over time, this strangely becomes the most natural-feeling meter in the song, and an anchor of reference as such.
The musical intention of the verse is to establish a mood of emotional detachment (effected by the canceling effect of positive and negative elements, vying continually but unsuccessfully for resolution). Key concepts: detachment, loss of affinity, giving up, attempting to live life having parted with certain key values that define life, denial, putting up a shield.
Once, the verse dwells (guitar only) on six rather than seven. One of a few devices used throughout the piece to distort the perception of time
The “Metal” bits
These sections are heavily contrasting, loud, intensely percussive, and rhythmically somewhat confounding single-meter interjections to the Verse. There are four of these sections, and they reoccur always in the same sequence, interspersed throughout the Verse. The four sections each differ in meter (12, 15, 13, 16) and percussive intensity (progressively denser in the order mentioned).
The musical intention is that of (in movie-simile) the shock-abrupt nightmare flashback.
Their symbolism is the least cryptic of all: there were four airplanes, you see. Each suffered its own violent fate. These were individually significant and tragic events, but their grouping of four significant more so.
There is more symbolism in the number four: some traditions and religions regard four as the number of death; the four horsemen of the apocalypse, harbingers of impending doom.
In eleven. Not ten: - eleven.
The primary symbolism embedded in the chorus is that of an Escher-staircase arpeggio: intended to convey a general sense of ascent (signifying hope, positive inclination, looking-forward-to-ness) and its ability to self-reinforce (by wrapping around with almost complete continuity)
Note that while the feel of verse and chorus are very distinct, you may be surprised at how structurally very similar they are. The mode (major third, flat sixth) is the same (with a minor third thrown in the chorus), and the rhythm and phrasing of the chorus is only a small modification (different note lengths) of that of the verse.
The final solo, first four repetitions, features disjointed, snippet-like solo guitar phrases as well as soundscaped, harmonically-correlated randomly-emerging pitches. The symbolism is that of souls evaporating (to where?).
The final three repetitions of the Chorus feature a written solo: a single, mostly ascending melody over the entirety of almost four octaves (low E to high C#), and borne by the propulsive nature of the infinite-staircase arpeggio. Musically as well as thematically solo represents a culmination. The solo’s notes are not new to the piece (in fact the melody in basic form is embedded in the piano arpeggios), yet it is brought with newfound energy, enthusiasm and optimism.
Comprises two sections: a Spiral Descent and a Spiral Ascent
Descent chromatically modifies (downward) the three notes of the major triad, through minor à diminished à major triad a semitone downward. This is a simple gimmick harmonically, but gains complexity when implemented in the Spiral’s particular rhythm.
Ascent modifies only one element of the above, using the diminished as a pass-through device to arrive at the major triad one whole tone higher rather than a semitone lower. This somewhat surreptitiously introduces the turnaround to an ascending sequence, progressing twice as rapidly upward as the Descent moved downward.
The symbolism of the Spiral is that of the unlikely and magical emergence of hope (or new life) from - and in spite of - an overwhelming and seemingly inevitable spiritual decline.
The Spiral also forms the backdrop for the drum-non-solo. The specific directives to the drummer were:
Acknowledge but do not emphasize the meter in any way
Imagine you are drumming yourself out of a burning building
Aftermath deals with certain existential emotions and questions in response to events of unfathomable significance, and how (and perhaps why) somehow these are absorbed and assimilated over time.
The nightmare sequences are, as the piece progresses, dissipated by the mantric repetition and reappearance of the redeeming Chorus and Spiral sections. Horror can only serve its function for so long – it is necessary but so is its catharsis; it is unwise to ignore or repress but also destructive to dwell. Ultimately, the very same Verse emerges from the process at the end, yet with a different perspective.
Ultimately I chose the title “Aftermath”, for the confluence of two meanings:
For its meaning as it had become in much use after the events of September 11th 2001
For its (original) literal meaning as “new growth” or “second growth”
The title came to me while listening to early demos of the track while on a flight from San Jose CA to Vancouver BC, exactly one year later on September 11th, 2002.