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The result of Sunday afternoon boredom: A song about Mining

During the long dark tea-time of the soul in the last months of 2022, I found my myself looking for the places that I’ve lived in on Google Earth. Bad idea. Sure sign of boredom. That led me to think about the things that I enjoyed doing long ago when I lived in South Africa, and that I miss. And that, in turn, led me to compose an album of songs about the things I miss most. It really proves that you cannot get away from what’s in your head, and your past, when you write a book or compose music – that “accidental dance between collected memory and influence” to which Nick Cave refers is always going on.

A deeply personal list and album

The album is called “Time Shift”: the songs are about the past but their forms are modern, particularly Melodic Techno – so that’s the “shift” in the title. The 3rd song on the album, which I’m releasing this weekend, is about mining, called The Trembling Ground. It is the first song that I’ve written that has lyrics and vocals. The playlist, with inspirations and song titles, is:

  • Music of the 90s:- Groove was in the House
  • The sea and sailing: The Ocean in E
  • Working on a mine: The Trembling Ground
  • The open veld (or veldt): The Veld
  • Ballroom dancing: Soft Shoe Shag (a shag is a type of dance)
  • Wildlife: Enter the Lion
  • My Dad: Yellow Bird Redux
  • Skiing in Europe: Hypnotic

    How do you depict mining in music?

    This is how I did it: I expressed the feeling of going underground in a cage and coming up again, with machine-sounding synth instruments playing rising and falling arpeggios. I expressed the trembling ground with a fast, high-reverb beat, and added a stuttering, droning Step FX to the vocals. I took the recording of an underground rock burst, known as a “bump” – the one shown in the music video as a seismic readout, and matched the amplitude and frequency of the readout to notes. Out of that, I shaped the melody. Then I recorded the lyrics – a man’s voice – and comped the vocals to fit.

    Surprisingly, the lyrics that I’d written long ago as a poem fitted the music pretty well and I did not have to do a lot of rewriting. The trick was to use the technical terms correctly, bearing in mind that I’m not an engineer or a geologist.

    Here it is – let me know what you think

    I  feel the trembling of the earth,
    I feel it through the floor,
    when workers drill the longholes 
    to blast gold-bearing ore.
    The hanging wall is crumbling, 
    and the earth is shifting 'round,
    but I sleep soundly, like a child, 
    above the trembling ground.
    The tunnels underground are hot, 
    three thousand metres deep.
    The cages down are rockets, 
    descending into heat.
    The pressure keeps on building, 
    till the spalling rocks resound.
    But I sleep like my heart is pure, 
    above the trembling ground.
    I miss the days on the gold mine, 
    where the headgears whine and creak,  
    and the bumps go off all through the night, 
    and rock me in my sleep.

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