Muse’s Absolution shares the coveted title of “albums I bought after hearing the single for the first time” with Radiohead’s Ok Computer. It wasn’t the big single “Time Is Running Out” that did it for me, incidentally, but the somewhat less-popular “Hysteria” that pushed me to the record store. From the first beat, “Hysteria” appealed not only to the part of me that loves hard rock, but the part of me that can’t get enough of cerebral and complex soundscapes. The rest of the album (those of you who have listened to it know what I’m talking about) is almost theatrical in its presentation – blistering rock woven into a tapestry of operatic composition. It’s a masterpiece.
Since then I haven’t missed a Muse album release date. While they achieved galactic superstardom on the back of the Black Holes and Revelations album, I was far more partial to their next album The Resistance which stands out to me as their best work. Their most recent album, however, gave us the song that is probably their single best individual contribution: “Madness”.
My dad was a big fan of legendary Brit-rock band Queen, so we heard a lot of Freddie Mercury in my childhood home. The thing that makes me love Queen and Muse is the fact that they do not shy away from classical European music (largely of the Romantic-era vintage, another personal favourite), with all its bombastic overtures and haunting ballads. It’s all there. Beethoven would feel very much at home playing backing keys for both bands. “Madness” is what happens when Muse tries to recreate Queen’s magic touch, and it hits all of my musical pleasure centres.
Because the song is so closely tied to its classical roots, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try and re-create the song on my favourite classical instrument: the viola.
All parts, including percussion and ‘cello’ were produced using my viola with an occasional assist from my Line6 POD HD500. Most of the ‘effects’ on the string parts were added in production/mixing. This song sets a personal record for “largest number of tracks”, weighing in at a total of 18 separate parts. It was a monster to put together, but definitely a fun experience. Recording it forced me to come face-to-face with my own limitations as both a sound engineer (obviously) but as a player as well. I also got to stare the sonic limitations of my viola in the eye in a way that I don’t normally have to when it sits under my chin.
All in all, it was a fun project and I’m looking forward to doing more. If you like it, please share it!