Ghost written: Kate Bush’s perfect pop

A lone clock, ticking away the endless hours. A sense of absence, of something missing, of time passing yet never moving forward. Time and timelessness colliding, pulling ineffectually at one another.

All these are perfectly captured in Kate Bush’s ‘Watching You Without Me,’  from 1985’s perfect Hounds of Love, which never puts a foot wrong.

The piece is a study in white. Stravinsky talked about writing ‘white music’ in the strings-only ballet-score for Apollon Musagete or the Mass;

In ‘Watching You Without Me,’ Kate Bush achieves a similar effect in pop; it’s a song in monochrome, the washed-out grey and white colours a perfect palette for the song’s narrative. The endless hours are marked in the ticking rim-shot of the snare-drum; the simple ostinato moving  across open fifths Bb-F / C-G, fleeting comments from the upright bass, and the occasional surge and fade of accompanying strings.

The sense of absence in the lyrics is created in the music by the lack of major or minor thirds in the harmonies. There are only two chords in the whole piece, which cycles endlessly between open fifths on Bb and C; the major third, when it does appear, is only fleetingly given in the sung melody – the lack of either third in the harmony creates a sparse, skeletal feel; this sits neatly with the singer’s sense of being ‘not here.’ Her ghostliness is an insubstantial as the harmonies.

The lone cries of the seagull towards the end, the fractured spoken passages, all reinforce the idea of loneliness, of the inability to communicate, of being apart.

Steve Reich writes music that uses one chord (Four Organs); Kate Bush writes a piece that only moves between two; in both pieces, you’re not really aware of the duration of the piece at all.  Minimalism finds itself a home in more than just the classical genre. Reich, Kate Bush: both fantastic composers.

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2 Responses

  1. It’s a stuck sort of feeling evoked in this track.

    • Absolutely: we are imprisoned in the music as much as she is imprisoned in her ghost-like state: there’s no real development in the piece, harmonically or structurally. Nowhere to go: for her or for us…

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