Oliver Schroer – Before Dreaming
Before Dreaming is the thirteenth track of Oliver Schroer's album A Million Stars. With its repeating rhythmic motives and atmospheric effects the track has (to my ears) a slowly-circling, hypnotic sound. I encourage you to listen to the entire track and take a look at my full transcription.
Before Dreaming follows an AABB form, to which Schroer adds an introduction, interlude and tag to fill out the entire track. I discuss the form of the entire track below; here’s a complete pass through the main tune:
Listening to Before Dreaming, several features of the tune jump out at me. To begin, the tune has a persistent rhythmic motif: three eighth notes, a quarter note and an eighth note. The vast majority of the notes in the tune’s A section fit this pattern: only the first note, which is anticipated by a quarter note, and the final measure of the A section depart from tune’s predominant rhythm.
The B section begins with several statements of the rhythmic motif predominant in A, but this motif is then varied. To my ears, the notes A-G stand out as the motif is varied: in the first two measures, they straddle the middle of the bar, but in the third and fourth measures of the section, they are displaced backwards by an eighth note and then a quarter note.
The measure that follows is striking, departing abruptly from patterns established earlier in the tune. To begin, every measure up until this point opened with a run of several eighth notes. In contrast, the fifth measure of the B section begins with a quarter note, which Schroer accents in both the melody and the accompaniment parts. This note marks the tune’s high point, with a B in the melody, but Schroer plays the open E string at the same time as this B. This serves not only to exaggerate the tune’s peak—the E is a perfect fifth higher than the previous highest note we’d heard, an A—but also to mark a change in both texture and timbre: other than the tune’s introduction, this is the first instance of a double stop, while the open, unwound E string has a different sound than the fiddle’s lower, wound strings which had mostly played stopped up until this point. Two measures later, we hear an echo of this striking moment, with a similar double stop one string lower played with less of an accent. The B section closes with the same closing melody as the A section.
Form and Meter
Before Dreaming begins with an unmetered passage, with singing bowls and small metal percussion instruments, which lasts almost exactly one minute. These instruments set an otherworldly mood.
At exactly 1:00, the five-string fiddle enters with accented long-long-short-short shots. Clustery chords played by multi-tracked violins swell in and out, while a sparse bass line and quiet pizzicato melody slowly emerge, making it clear that the introduction is in a 3/4 meter.
After 16 measures of metered introduction, Schroer begins to play the main melody of the tune. The repeated rhythmic motive that makes up much of the tune’s A section creates some rhythmic ambiguity: the third beat of each measure has no onset, while the note on the “and” of beat 2 is slightly accented, and is twice as long as every other note in the pattern. Without the underlying 3/4 meter in the accompaniment, this pattern of notes could easily be heard in 6/8, with two beats of three eighth notes rather than three beats of two eighth notes.
After two repetitions of the tune, the interlude begins. Schroer continues playing eighth notes at the same rate, but after a few seconds, it becomes clear that these eighth notes are grouped in four quarter-note beats rather than three.
After three 8-measure sections of 4/4, the meter of shifts again. I hear this section of the interlude having three slow beats per measure, and have transcribed it in 3/2.
Following this passage in 3/2, the fiddle drops out, and the quiet pizzicato of the introduction returns. I hear this passage as a return to 3/4, but the three long beats of the previous section still hang in my memory.
It’s worth noting that the 3/2 and 3/4 sections of the interlude have a similar relationship as the introduction has with the melody of the tune: whereas in interlude, measures of three half-note beats gave way to pairs of measures of three quarter-note beats spanning the same length of time, in the transition out of the introduction, measures of three quarter-note beats give way to a melody easily heard as pairs of three eighth-note groupings.
The tune closes with a full repetition of the tune plus an added tag – the last two measures of the B section, repeated three additional times.
This analysis and transcription scratches the surface of Before Dreaming. In particular, it could be interesting to track the different chords heard in the violin swells, and tease apart some of the countermelodies that accompany the main tune. If you have any thoughts about Before Dreaming or my transcription and analysis of it, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Posted: Mar 19, 2021. Last updated: Apr 15, 2021.