Posts Tagged The Phantom Tollbooth
With The Terrible Trivium being a little too tedious for the judges’ tastes, The Quantifiers were eliminated from round 2 of SpinTunes #16, but the competition encourages ‘shadow’ entries from people not competing, so we wrote a song for the next round anyway. The challenge was:
Write an uplifting song to sing for a Graduation, Dedication, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Funeral, Baptism, or similar event.
We decided to continue writing songs about The Phantom Tollbooth. Joey came up with the idea of writing a song for the ceremony at the end of the book celebrating the protagonists’ rescue of Rhyme and Reason. I thought we could recap the events of the book in such a way that the lyrics could also be interpreted to be about any celebration of somebody’s hard-won achievements. Here’s the song we ended up with:
Here are the rest of the entries:
We got the challenge on Saturday morning (in my timezone), with the deadline being the following Sunday, and the next Thursday we were both flying to Minnesota for MarsCon 2020. Usually I start off by writing a full draft of the lyrics over the weekend, and then I sit back while Joey writes music for it, sings it, creates instrumentals, and mixes the recording. We didn’t want to take time out of MarsCon mixing a song, so I thought we’d probably end up recruiting some of the musicians at MarsCon to perform a live version.
Instead, while we were discussing it over videochat on Saturday morning, Joey immediately recorded a trumpet tune and sent it to me. That afternoon, I sent lyrics to that tune as a chorus, and suggested writing verses abstractly describing the things the characters had fought through. I planned to read the book on the plane so I could have the lyrics written by the time we met in Minnesota.
That night before I went to bed, I sent Joey a recording of myself singing a couple of possible lines for the verses, in a tune I’d made up based on the chorus tune. On Sunday evening, Joey sent back a recording of my chorus lyrics with extra trumpets, just as you hear it in the final song.
On Monday, I felt like I was way behind in my part of the song, so that evening, I skimmed through the book and wrote a line for each scene, unrhymed, and a final eight resonably rhymed lines about the scene where Rhyme and Reason were rescued. I arranged the unrhymed lines in quatrains with the fourth line of each a little shorter, and choruses between them.
By Tuesday morning, Joey had already recorded a great ‘quick and dirty’ version of the song, with more instrumentation than our previous songs had. It had fewer choruses than I’d imagined, and the last four rhymed lines were cut. I submitted that one as a ‘safety’ in case we didn’t manage to finish a better recording, but I also pointed out some small things which could be improved.
On Thursday morning, I got up at something like 4a.m to go to the airport, and Joey had sent an updated recording, so I quickly updated our Spintunes submission before getting ready to leave. That was our final entry, and I like it more than the songs we spent the full week on. I probably should have taken the time to fix the slightly shorter lines that were once at the ends of quatrains though — one of the judges commented on how they didn’t fit properly into the tune.
The final four lines, in case you are interested, were:
Your every action has a tiny effect
To never fail would be a sorrow
What one day seems useless will later effect
the wonderful secrets of tomorrow
‘The wonderful secrets of tomorrow’ being a direct quote from the book.
The prompt for the fourth round of Spintunes was:
Write a song about something that seemed a good idea at the time, but ended very badly. Maybe you should have given it a little more thought…
We did not submit a shadow for it, since we were busy on JoCo Cruise (and yes, we considered writing one about going on a cruise during a pandemic), but here are others’ entries:
The world was quite different when we got back to port, with all future cruises and many flights being cancelled, but as far as I know we all made it home, and nobody on our cruise had the virus. I’m now staying at home, like most of you, and uploading my 29 hours or so of JoCo Cruise videos — so far, the New Monkey Orientation and part of the first Red Team concert. Subscribe to my channel if you want to see the rest, but be warned that there will be a lot of uploads over the coming months, so they might flood your recommendations or notifications.
And now for something completely different: I’ve also uploaded a guided tour of Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis, recorded a few days before the cruise:
I recommend watching this immediately after the full pre-show video I uploaded earlier, if you haven’t seen that already. Joey and I also sang a few things at a song circle at MarsCon, but perhaps I’ll put those in a different post.
With Dining in Dictionopolis, Joey and I came eighth over all in Spintunes #16 round 1, and with all the rankings close to the extreme ends, were apparently Marmite for judges. This means The Quantifiers were indeed qualifiers, making it to round two of Spintunes #16, though we would probably have written a song for this round anyway. The challenge was:
Your lyrics must prominently feature counting. How and what you count is up to you – you can count up or down, by ones, fives, tens, logarithmically, exponentially; you can count steps in a process, miles in a journey, hours in a day…
Which seemed like an invitation to stay in the Phantom Tollbooth universe, and sing about Digitopolis. We ended up writing about a scene from after Milo has visited Digitopolis, in which a demon known as The Terrible Trivium engages the protagonists in easy but worthless tasks, in order to keep them from their goal. As before, I wrote most of the words (though Joey suggested the scene) and Joey did the music, most of the singing (I sang some additional vocals), and the arranging. Here’s the song:
Click through to see the lyrics or download the song for free. Milo ends up using the magic staff (a pencil) he got in Digitopolis to calculate that the tasks would take them 837 years to finish, so they escape thanks to the power of arithmetic, although that part didn’t make it into the song.
The rest of the songs submitted for this challenge are in this album:
Commenters at the listening party surmised that we would end up writing a Phantom Tollbooth musical, which is probably the case, although despite one person’s suggestion, it probably won’t be on ice.
The next challenge will be due while we’re at MarsCon, so rather than spending a lot of that time mixing a song, we might recruit some of the musicians there and record our song live. I’ve already put my copy of The Phantom Tollbooth in my carryon luggage.
Joey Marianer and I knew that it would be ridiculous to enter into SpinTunes #16, what with the deadlines for later rounds falling just after times when we’d be busy at MarsCon or on cruises, so obviously we entered. I’ve been passively following SpinTunes and its participants since before it even started, with its inspiration Masters of Song Fu, and this is the first time I’ve teamed up with someone musical enough to actually join in the fun. We called ourselves The Quantifiers, based on what we wore to MathsJam 2019, and filled in the rest of the entry form with the first things that came to mind. We continued to foolishly use the first things to come to mind as the contest started.
The first challenge was, “Write a song based on a scene from a book or movie”, so I thought of one of my favourite books which Joey has also read, and one of my favourite scenes from that book, and started coming up with lyric ideas while Joey was still asleep in another time zone. At some point Joey wrote some music and made a first recording while I was asleep. Joey also contributed lyric ideas, and I contributed music ideas (and one line of singing) but mostly the words are mine and the music and singing are Joey’s.
The book is The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, and if you like puns, you would love it. The song is about the scene where the protagonist, Milo, is invited to a banquet lunch with King Azaz the Unabridged, of Dictionopolis. As guest of honour, Milo must choose the menu, and he gets exactly what he asks for.
Click through to see the lyrics or download the song for free.
The rest of the songs submitted for this challenge are in this album:
I haven’t listened to them all yet, but I’m listening to them in the SpinTunes listening party right now and following along with the comments. The actual listening party for this round starts at around 53:10. The other songs have more instrumentation than ours, and it generally sounds like the artists have more experience with this kind of thing, which they do, but one commenter described our song as “A less trippy early Floyd”, so I’ll take it. I don’t know what possessed Joey to do this with me, but my main goals were to have fun making the song and make a few Phantom Tollbooth fans smile, and we did both. If this inspires you to reread the book, consider reading it in another language or in another version of English — I know there are a few sections that are noticeably different between the edition I have and the one my nemesis in the US has.
If you’re familiar with The Phantom Tollbooth, you might think it a bit weird for two people dressed as mathematical symbols to write a song based in Dictionopolis, but we’re both into maths and linguistics, so let’s just say I’m the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and Joey is the Princess of Pure Reason, although I believe this song was actually edited in Cubase.
Here’s hoping we have just as much fun in the next round, whether we’re still in the competition (in which case, The Quantifiers will be Qualifiers!) or we just decide to submit a shadow entry.