Paranoid Android

Paranoid Android

Preface

I have a synesthesia - I see sound. This is an attempt to describe my visual field while listening to this song in a darkened room on a very, very pretentious set of headphones and 100% (ish) sober. The metaphors and similes may change if I re-write this in the future, but the actual visuals will not. I highly recommend listening to the song (linked after its title on both YouTube and Spotify) prior to and during your reading of this post.

Paranoid Android - Radiohead

Spotify, YouTube

0:00 - 0:19

The song is kicked to life by a raspy washboard sound tearing though my right ear, not unlike an uncolored extremely fine square wave. Center stage, a few high guitar tones pluck around, earthen and melancholic. Behind these are some lower, more loose notes, browner and more squiggly in nature. on the far sides of the stage (thanks heavy stereo mix) we have some sort of shaken percussion instrument, a maraca or similar, leaving a linear trail of of EKG-like waves moving in a very serious fashion. A bass drum kicks a simple beat that is short and distorts most of the outside edges of my vision, amorphous and not unlike a raindrop crashing into a still pond. The higher-pitched wood-ish percussion leaves a small circular shape in it’s wake, and the snare-like thing punctuates the center stage with bright, white lights that come in and out of existence rapidly. At about 9.5 seconds, some electric guitar oozes into the mix hard on the left. It is a shade of ethereal green that fluctuates in luminosity according to volume, and it’s tone does not seem all that friendly. It looks like a wobbly bubble, like the type of bubble made from a large wand and very soapy water, as it struggles to define its place in gravity and life. (A friend suggested that this might be apt in describing the video and she was right. The scene is quite lovely.

0:19 - 0:45

Please could you stop the noise,

I’m trying to get some rest From all the

unborn chicken voices in my head

Thom Yorke’s crystalline voice breaks in a bit low and right as spikes of quartz and amethyst, the attack of his notes comprising the tips of the crystal and the notes building the shaft, with the lower frequencies leavingg wider bodies and the higher frequencies slimmer bodies. The crystals are far, far brighter and intense than any of the other noises, though the soft guitar bubbles bubbling into existence provide a lovely contrast to the sharp coldness of the voice.

What’s that? What’s that?

(I may be paranoid but i’m not an android)

moments after Yorke sings “…head”, a metallic twang blips to life far on the right, a whitish bright light that shoots at you like the reflection from the noon sun through a spinning prism might hit you, swirling from bottom to top quite quickly. York’s voice becomes powerful and desperate, an impossibly long amethyst that has minor cuts and abrasions along its surface that become more wave-like as the undulations gather in severity (and beauty). “Marvin” the paranoid android’s computer voice is a mumbled, deep set of square waves obscured behind Yorke’s voice, completely inhuman, contrasting with the words he speaks.

When I am king, you will be first against the wall

With your opinion which is of no consequence at all

We are back to the base of the first part of this song. Yorke’s voice goes from a sort of detached indifference to a sinister judgement, staying in its crystalline form with the word “all” displaying some of the same imperfect crystal qualities as seen in the minor chorus. There is quite a bit going on here, with the percussive lights, little square waves, bubbles, and so on.

1:39 - 1:58

What’s that? What’s that?

Back to the first section’s chorus. The crystal’s of Yorke’s voice are again impossibly long and intense and the music feels really distant and desolate.

1:59 - 2:19

a chimerical bass line drops in to say hello. It evokes an image of a lion laughing and i have no idea why. It buzzes in a delightful manner, a deep and not too bright light providing a floor on which the other odd sounds my stand. Yorke’s odd vocal mumblings are a bit less crystalline and more unnatural.

2:20 - 2:43

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly

Kicking and squealing Gucci little piggy

the bass line warps into something sinister blasting out of the left of my vision. It crescendos on itself, waping from a vespertine grey to a neutral grey as it rises up. Thom’s weird vocal overdub thing is a worm that bores its way out of my vision from the bottom.

2:43 - 2:56

You don’t remember You don’t remember Why don’t you remember my name?

Off with his head, man

Off with his head, man

Why don’t you remember my name?

The song really kicks it up here. The crash cymbol and guitar jerk fight for light, like a rubber band being pulled in three dimensions of chaos. Thom’s voice morphs from a melancholic moan to furious snarl, lashing out with highly jagged edges over the delicate backdrop of waves and lighting strickes. The band join suit with distortion and volume, the guitars registering like spotlights jumping at your face in the night, bright and white, oscillating in intensity with their volume. The drum fills are like little bullet holes in a sheetrock wall, leaking light into the scene at an uneven pace.

2:57 - 3:06

I guess Tom’s voice does it’s amazing thing again - its waves flattening out as tendrils out of vision, only to abruptly switch pace to raise the waves as snakes might have raised from Medusa’s head. The guitars staircase down, their distortion still bright and white and angry.

3:07 - 3:30

(guitar solo)

the distortion is ripped from the left and replaced with the brightest busrsts of lightning from a gun flashing from left to center, contrasting with the right, a midnight grey base. if you rotated the scene 90 degrees on its axis, you might get a set of axes for a graph and an ultrafast lightnining storm for a graph.

3:30 - 4:06

The view turns to a hurricane as the instruments are overtaken by a noise pattern. A crash ends the gales and we see a new scene emerge, with a backdrop of midnight blue on which the low, reverberating voices dance macabre with the agonized light of Thom’s voice. Each voice’s octave dropping allows the other voice to gain dominance, a blanket that shockingly cools you as it hugs your shoulders. I have piloerections constantly. The there is another synth noise on the right that looks like the folds from an acordion mid fill, jiggling just a bit.

4:07 - 5:08

Rain down, rain down

Come on rain down on me

From a great height

From a great height,height

Rain down, rain down

Come on rain down on me

From a great height

From a great height, height

Rain down, rain down

Come on rain down on me

The dancing is relegated the the background for a moment, but only to allow the brilliance that is Thom’s voice to break into stage, radiating its whirling bits across the stage. There is something depressing and distressing about his voice and I get a heavy sensation of falling. My mind flashes to scenes of desolate man sinking in a body of still water, forgotten by the world, soon to hit the bottom and rest for eternity.

5:09 - 5:41

That’s it, sir

You’re leaving

The crackle of pigskin

The dust and the screaming

The yuppies networking

The panic, the vomit The panic, the vomit

God loves his children, God loves his children, yeah!

The previous scene continues, the dance in full climax here, the voices overwhelming in their takeover of my vision, the bulletholes from the snare breaking through with their slivers of light.

5:42 - 6:24 (end)

The dance is cleared and the stage destroyed, ambushed by that chimerical little bass from earlier and his enraged friends. The bullets become rockets when the crash is crashed and the guitar’s lightning bolts spiral around the stage, Emperor Palpatine relentlessly assaulting Luke in the Death Star. Sorry for the Star Wars analogy, but it’s appropriate here. The warped voices, screams and growls and snarls, seem right for the scene.