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Production Breakdown: El Prez’ “Phantoms of Opera”

Posted by Richard on 10/31/09 | Filed under Features, Production Breakdown, El Prez
El Prez
I can't think of a way to put this without sounding like I just chowed down on a sheet of blotter acid, so I'll come right out and say it: I hear colors, maaan. To 99% of people reading that probably sounds completely crazy, but I'm serious – if you were to play me me a song, I could without hesitation give you a color, or palette of colors I mentally associate with it, and sometimes I'll even be able to tell you the shapes of certain elements of a composition. As in, “This guitar riff sounds like a wavy orange line.”

Far out, right? Not really – the mental association of colors with sounds falls under the umbrella of synesthesia, a harmless neurological condition that – to put it non-technically – encompasses all sorts of sensory overlaps. About out of 23 people have it in some form, the most common being the pairing of colors with either letters and numbers or days of the week, but it can also occur with taste, touch, smell, or even more abstract concepts – I once knew a girl who thought of numbers as having personalities, which is something I even begin to understand. While I and most simply associate one sense with another, some perceive these connections, seeing a page of black text as a jumble of different hues or getting treated to their own personal laser-light shows whenever they attend a concert.

The point I'm trying to make here is... well, none, really. It's just sort of funny (both funny “ha ha” and funny “peculiar”) that, as a guy who writes about music as much as I do , I end up filtering out so much stuff that's going on in my head while listening to music. To bring this back around to the topic of production, the track that inspired me to write this was Inglewood emcee El Prez' latest Booth feature, the reader-acclaimed, inexplicably-titled mixtape inclusion “Phantoms of Opera” (off forthcoming album Animal Style, due out this winter), which features a simple yet incredibly addictive instrumental by School of Velocity.

I knew the record was worth discussing in a column, but I was at a loss as to how to write about it without getting into the beat's strong yellow-ness – not only that, but the choral-synth 'ah's reminded me of small gold circles, which, in my mind, seemed to jibe perfectly with the image of Scrooge McDuck diving into a swimming pool filled with money, as evoked by the sampled intro (Of course, this is all completely arbitrary – even if you did share my tendency to associate sounds and colors, you might hear/see something totally different). So I thought it over and decided, “What the hell, why not give everyone a glimpse into my head?”

If you read this and thought “Wait – not everyone knows that the letter 'A' is orange?!” you can find plenty more information on synesthesia online – Wikipedia's a good start. Those who have an hour or so to kill can even test themselves with the very in-depth Synesthesia Battery. If, on the other hand, you're thinking that I'm completely nuts, well, all I can say is that you're definitely not the first

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