Attack’s composition expert Oliver Curry examines the melodic elements which help make Tensnake’s 2010 single ‘Coma Cat’ a modern classic.

The Breakdown is a new series in which we break down (get it?) well known tracks, showing what makes them so effective. Unlike our Passing Notes series, the emphasis here isn’t on practical tips. We’re not trying to show you how to recreate these tracks, but to get under the skin of a few classics, new and old, and to explain what makes them special. Sound design, composition, mixing, structure, even lyrics – anything goes.

Coma Cat – background

In the first edition of The Breakdown, we’re going to look at a number of simple but effective musical elements of Tensnake’s 2010 crossover hit ‘Coma Cat’. Let’s start by listening to the track:

‘Coma Cat’ has two prominent melodic parts – the bass and vibraphone lines. Both melodies are taken from Anthony and The Camp’s Jellybean Benitez-produced 1986 track ‘What I Like’:

Pentatonic scales and syncopation

The bassline uses just the pentatonic notes from the D minor scale. For an explanation of minor pentatonic scales and their use in house basslines, see a previous Passing Notes article.

Looking at the piano roll below we can see that the notes highlighted in blue fall on the 16ths immediately before or after the first beat of each bar:

This syncopation (or swing) is key to the feel of this bassline and is a rhythmic trademark of funk and disco basslines.

A similar rhythmic effect is implemented throughout the vibraphone part, which also employs chords built using the D minor scale to reinforce the melodic structure of the bassline:

D minor 7 inversions

The intermittent, delayed, piano chord hits (at 1:48, 1:57 and so on) play different inversions of a D minor 7 chord (see Passing Notes on deep house chords for an explanation of 7s):

Inversions of a chord use exactly the same notes but at different pitches. In this case the D (highlighted in yellow) is just moved alternately up or down an octave to change the sound of the chord without affecting its key or context, as we can hear below:

This subtle variation in the construction of this chord helps provide movement and continuity in the track.

Structure

Finally, the simple but effective way in which the track gradually combines its parts contributes hugely to its uplifting dancefloor appeal. The DJ-friendly intro uses percussion fills, vocal cuts and a very minimal, stripped-down bassline, before the vibraphone parts are introduced on their own at 1:27.

When the drums and bassline finally drop with the cut vocals (at 1:43), the vibraphone is omitted. At 2:15, the anticipation of having heard both parts separately for so long means that the effect of introducing them both simultaneously is hugely increased. This is a very simple and commonly used structural approach in house.

After dropping and reintroducing the various parts once more, the main elements are all reintroduced for a second time later in the track, providing one last focal point before the long, percussion-led outro.

Author Oliver Curry
22nd October, 2012

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