Sound in How To Toothpaste

I don’t feel visuals, the way I do words and music, and while I’m used to what people pay attention to in my more standard forms, I’m still surprised by the way people seem to be skilled at ignoring sound as background noise. Especially in my last video it is the sound and words that are important, the sound created with perfect intention, but apparently the visuals are distracting so I’ll point out some of the details to you and then you can try listening for them, if that’s your kind of thing.

I knew I wanted music for the last section, to say the dark things there are no words for, which means I needed music for the first section for consistency. The fast melody is inspired by the rhythm of teethbrushing. I wanted a cheap background-musicky feel, the kind of happy little thing often stuck on to videos, that being both the right thing to introduce the PSA and also very easy for me to improvise melodies and harmonies for. I sang along while listening to the narration, intentionally doing things like slow happy rising chords during “I extend my hand and invite you to join me in the civilized world,” holding on a major chord during “You do not have to worry about any thing and life is beautiful.” Back to the fast toothpaste melody when back to the old way of squeezing toothpaste, and when we recall “Life is Beautiful,” and add “also Meaningless,” we recall the held major chord and move to a minor one.

Coming back to toothpaste after the first false ending, the melody returns, with a more muted closed vowel sound. During “My thought are pure, my thoughts are minty fresh” the two voices hold a perfect fifth, vibratoless and clean, the vowel relaxing from an “ooh” into a neutral “ah”, a mouth going zombie-slack.

Moving into the last section, it begins with a single note, then a perfect fifth added above. This should be very consonant, but even with the first note there is a dissonance: not the note itself, but in that the key has shifted up a quarter tone. This section is incompatible with the last. The fifth establishes the new key, and from there we can add its own dissonances.

This is the sort of music that makes sense to me, every note exactly where it should be, unlike the arbitrary niceness of the intro toothpaste melody. It is not an accident that that high pure note comes radiating down from the heavens just as I say the word “shining,” held, this fragile note itself both a comfort and weakness, the only higher note coming in a half-step above it, the high screaming dissonance on the word “voiceless,” a dissonance that cannot be resolved, we can only let it fade away, replaced by the howling of wolves.

I’m actually surprised no one’s mentioned the wolf-howl-inspired vocals; I thought it was maybe a bit too heavy handed. A low tentative howl transitions us in, then more voices join, one after another, free independent creatures that care not for fitting into consonant triads, and yet together create a perfect pack. “Oooh” is the vowel of the howl. Then there’s the choice of how to say the words: “howl” could have been performed loud and howling, but that would be too much release too soon. How much more effective to say a word like “howl” softly, between clenched teeth! How much more contrast between that dark closed howl and the loud open vowels of the word “wide”! There’s an arc to that paragraph, starting shut and opening wide and landing in a bitter heap. The music does the same: the howling “ooh” opens up into “aah” during “open ourselves wide,” slides into a recognizable triad for the duration of “escaping,” then collapses with a 7th in the base, and a darker more dissonant note below that, too quiet to hear unless you know it is down there, waiting.