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Analyzing a Piece: "Flower Sermon" by Lotus

Jam band is a genre with strong performance practices, as stated earlier. One of these common practices is recording. Recording live performances has always been a large part of jam band, with it beginning with the Grateful Dead. This is because with such a strong emphasis on performance these are usually the best versions, being much more real then studio recordings. Here I analyzed “Flower Sermon� by Lotus. This is a jam band piece, being 13 minutes long and with improvisation throughout, it shares many qualities of more customary jam bands. However Lotus is a more electronically influenced band, using standard instrumentation with added more electronic pieces such as the drum machine and the keyboard. Here is the same recording that has been analyzed in the following text.

Lotus is a jam band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a slightly different style than most other jam bands. Instead of using the basic rock sound, with guitars, bass, and drums, they put a more electronic spin on the genre. They have synthesizers, sampling software, computers, and drum machines as well as the more traditional instruments. They bring two different crowds together, and are able to make music never made before. The song “Flower Sermon� is a perfect example of how Lotus is able to combine the musical and performance practices of jam band with the sounds of electronic music to create a unique sound.

Because of their electronic influences Lotus does not incorporate many lyrics into their songs. If there are any voices they are recorded and are used for their sampling purposes. Of course, even without lyrics there can still be a distinct melodic line found in the song. In “Flower Sermon� the repeated melodic line acts the same as a chorus but is not found in similar places as other choruses. The “chorus� actually begins the song, and is repeated three times throughout. There are a few more repeated lines that are throughout the 13 minute piece, however, these are not nearly as important as the first, chorus type line. With this type of music there is a lot of organization but nothing repeats exactly as is heard in other recordings. There is a lot of improvisation throughout the band and each time the song is played it sounds a little different, continuing certain parts of the song while shortening others. This analysis is from a recording of “Flower Sermon� from January 20, 2006 at the Stone Church in Newmarket, New Hampshire. This performance sounded a lot like other times Lotus has played “Flower Sermon� with some great guitar and synthesizer improvisational sections.

“Flower Sermon� begins with a minute long introduction; this is mainly focused on the synthesizer along with bass and a bongo and symbol. A guitar enters lightly toward the end of the intro and with a small build up then a quick cut off then the song begins with its repeated section, which is essentially a chorus. This continues for 40 bars and is made up of a heavy harsh synthesizer, plucking guitar, bass, and quick drums. After a repeat of the “chorus� preceded by a short cut between the two an interlude begins. The focus here is the bass line in the beginning, and grows into a light guitar solo backed by drums, bass, synthesizer, and keyboard. The guitar solo lasts until 4:44 where the guitar plays written lines instead of improvising for close to 20 seconds before a xylophone enters and performs a solo from 5:00 to 6:45. After the xylophone solo the “chorus� returns, with a harsher synthesizer sound. This lasts for 32 bars and leads to another interlude which lasts until 8:18. The interlude has a sort of continuation however with a portion focused on the synthesizer and electronic sounds of the band, which is soloed here from 8:28 to 10:38. After this there is a bridge, less than one minute, which is followed by a breakdown lead by the bass drum and synthesizer. Here the time is cut into threes with triplets, and this lasts for 10 measures. After this the guitar enters but instead of just simple plucking guitar it is looped and has an echo effect applied. This makes it sound different than any other time in the song. When the end of the song comes it actually leads into the next song in the show and it hints at the melody found in that song. So instead of coming to a complete stop Lotus actually continues right on through to their next song in the live show.

Without conventional instrumentation, with vocals as well, it can be hard to move the song for part to part. The way Lotus breaks up their songs is with interludes, which act as a sort of verse. These interludes are never the exact same however, and they act as a kind of break where the band gets in touch with their electronic side, making trace like sounds with echo and other effects. The synthesizer and electronic sounds can actually be helpful in dividing the song into different parts instead of making them blend together. This is because the sounds which they can produce can vary a great deal. It is very simple for effects to be applied and this can help separate different parts of the song. Throughout the whole piece the time and tempo never drastically change, so rhythm, instrumentation, and texture all play a large role in dividing the song.

Lotus’ music is complicated, intricate, and layered. This is because it is polyphonic, having many melodies and lines moving independently while flowing together. There are still clear leading and accompanying parts, for instance drums and bass. However, each piece of the band does have solos and moments where they lead. Rhythm is a huge part of this, and Lotus exemplifies great rhythmic skills throughout “Flower Sermon�. The entire piece is a rhythmic feat, something the members of Lotus are capable of, they work very hard on nailing rhythms and all other aspects of their music, they did start out as high school band geeks.

There is always a steady tempo throughout “Flower Sermon�, around 165 beats per minute. This is quite fast and it makes the talent of the musicians that much more apparent. How this is divided changes throughout the song, it is usually divided in 2’s, however since Lotus is influenced by funk and other genres this usually changes. The most common rhythm in the song, found in the chorus, is this two sixteenth note followed by a quarter note pattern, which is swung as well. This gives a short short long feel through the repeated sections. This is one of the only common rhythms throughout the whole piece. The bass lines are also intricate and have complicated rhythms; they, along with the drums swing their beats as well. These two lines, in the rhythm and melodic sections of the band combine to make a well layered sound.

With this heavily layered sound, and intricate rhythms and note patterns, it is hard to imagine that there is also improvisation. Jam band music is centered around live performances with long set times and lots of improvisational sections. Lotus does a great job of bringing these performance practices together with their unique electronic jam mix of a sound. A lot of the lines and melodies are written, there are parts of the song that are in it every time it is played, but there is also a good portion of Lotus’ music that is not written and not held to any rules. There is an interlude/verse in “Flower Sermon� that lasts over two minutes and it is made up of a lot of improvised guitar and other improvised instrumentation with bass, synthesizer, and keyboard. This is followed by an almost two minute long xylophone solo, a majority of which is improvised. The fact that two large parts of the song are based on improvisation is a way Lotus keeps with the jam band aspect of their music.

Because of the improvisation aspect of Lotus’ music there are a lot of scales used throughout all of Lotus’ music, they center on minor chords, flatted third, fifth, and seventh, and other blues scales. The melody in this song however uses more major chords, while other parts of the song utilize these tones. With these notes Lotus creates a lot of complicated and busy patterns and most of their songs, especially this one, feel very complex while still being interconnected.

With all these wide ranging combinations of notes, sounds, and rhythms there is a lot of feeling evoked by “Flower Sermon�. Because of its complexity and its upbeat feel one cannot help but find themselves intrigued. This is all done without the use of lyrics as well, something some feel is necessary these days to make an interesting and thoughtful song. Lotus proves this wrong and is able to conjure up the same feelings as singers do with just their musical instruments. With guitar, bass, drums, synthesizer, looping and sampling programs, keyboards, drum machines, and a whole other assortment of secondary instruments, Lotus is able to make a very intriguing sound. They bring a lot of instruments and styles together to make music that is attractive to many audiences.