I’ve listened to Death Cab For Cutie’s 2003 album Transatlanticism all the way through dozens of times – it’s definitely one of my favorite albums.
Over those many, many listens, I’ve noticed a nifty production trick that they use throughout: almost every song has this wavy reverb going on underneath.
It’s pretty far from subtle; it’s the first sound you hear on the album. Here’s the first track:
It’s everywhere on the title track:
The same reverb pops up again as “We Looked Like Giants” bleeds into the closing track “Lack of Color”
And throughout “Passenger Seat” the low notes hang in the air like fireworks on a hazy night, clear but then slowly fading, like a Polaroid in reverse, mingling to naturally echo the artificial reverb from other songs:
(Maybe it’s also there on “Death of an Interior Decorator” but I always skip that one. I do not acknowledge that song.)
The result is that with just this little sonic thread, every song seems just a little more strongly connected – more than they might feel without it. The album feels more like a cohesive experience, instead of just a group of songs. It’s a little bit of genius.
I was reminded of this when I saw this video by Erica Schoonmaker on Method and Craft (expanding on this shot on Dribble about her trick for creating harmonious color schemes:
Secret to cohesive color schemes: pick a bunch of colors you want to do (purple, blue, etc like you did here), then pick an overall color (let’s say orange, for playfulness) that you want to tint everything towards… Overlay the “overall color” (or soft light, or whatever blending mode depending on if you want darker or lighter colors) and play with the opacity till you get something you can work with.
Take a few different things, layer some other thing on all of them, profit. Same trick as Transatlanticism, but with colors instead of sound. Clever.
I’m totally stealing that.
Update 25 August 2012: Two more very recent articles that touch on a similar theme. First, Mark Schacter at Luminous Landscape explores how photography can draw inspiration from music:
How does the idea of counterpoint translate from musical to image composition? Instead of musical lines or themes think of visual ones. In contrapuntal music, your ear keeps wanting to jump from one leading line (“melody”) to another. […] A similar thing happens in a contrapuntal photograph: your eye wants to jump from one dominant line to another, and back again. Whether in music or photographic images, competing, independent thematic lines excite the senses by creating harmony out of complexity.
And the idea of using repetitive elements to build a sense of consistency comes up in (of all places) this recap of a decade-plus-old episode of Animaniacs at The AV Club:
[F]rom the beginning, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot have been the glue that binds the show—sometimes blatantly, as on the occasions where Warners interstitials bookend and segue between an episode’s segments. Details like the tower escape and re-entry bits, the Wheel Of Morality mini-segments, the post-credits tower gags, the Warners appearing in the background of other characters’ skits, and so on create a sense of cohesion that’s especially valuable in an episode that combines, say, a Pinky And The Brain short with a dialogue-and-reference-free (read: very un-Animaniacs) short centered on a character we’ve never seen before and never will again.
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