Yesterday, upon the stair,Hughes Mearns – Antigonish
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…
Still missing Ziggy after all these years? Do you find yourself wishing to find a way to grow a Ziggy of your very own to keep you company during these long, cold quarantine nights?
Congratulations Dear Reader, for your perverse wishes have been granted. We have performed many an alchemical experiment within the bowels of our Dark Meaning libratory, and are prepared to unveil the result of our mad experiments with YOU! Yes, I am prepared to state loud and clear for all persons far and near – we have not only achieved a resurrection of Ziggy, but by doing so we have also unveiled the TRUTH behind his nature that will have you gnashing your teeth and stomping your feet in horror – “Surely,” you will howl to yourself, “this must be a joke! This is all a bad dream!” And to that I say – Dear Reader, that not only is this a joke and a bad dream, but that this is also, in fact, Reality!
As with all experiments of a serious nature, we shall be employing the Scientific Method™ in order to properly communicate, demonstrate and replicate our revolutionary findings.
Think I am exaggerating? Skeptical, perhaps? Ha Ha Hee Hee, you fool! It will be a cold day in hell before you prove me wrong!
If you want to learn about how you can conjure Ziggy, but do not want to read our extremely serious analysis of the Dark Meaning within The Laughing Gnome and Ziggy Stardust, skip down to The Experiment for directions and Data Analysis for a few examples. YouTube videos with examples will also be scattered throughout. Yes, this is happening.
In this article, we’re going to be showing you some examples of GNOME SPEED™, discussing their pros and cons as well as some of the weird stuff we’ve found in our research into the gnome itself. Oh yes, IT is happening.
In spring of 2018 we made a pilgrimage to New York City to attend the “David Bowie Is…” Exhibition. 5-6 hours flew by as we made our way through the museum, taking our time to investigate every little detail. On our way out through the gift shop we made sure to pick up a few records, including the the 7″ “Time” single, made exclusively for the Brooklyn Exhibition. The following evening once we had made it back home, we hastily opened our new records (RUINING THEIR PRECIOUS COLLECTORS VALUE), threw “Time” on our budget turntable, and sat back to enjoy after a long day of travel. It didn’t take long, however, before we started noticing something a little odd about the music coming out of the speakers. The music seemed to be at a different tempo from the versions we were used to; a little more quickness on the “Time” pianos, what sounded like a cool slight-delay effect on the clapping in “Prettiest Star”. Whatever it was, it succeeded in calling our ears to attention.
Almost as if the title of the record was egging us on, our curiosity got the better of us, and we started fiddling around with the pitch and speed settings on our turntable. Moving the pitch down to slow the record revealed an incredible amount of space within the music, giving an epic vastness to Garson’s piano (while Bowie’s lower, slower vocals really sold the whole ‘sad clown’ shtick); it also made me wonder if certain elements might have been intentionally recorded at a slower tempo to be pitched-up after the fact. Next we decided to pitch the record up in the opposite direction, and as it started to spin around faster and faster we suddenly heard a familiar voice coming through the speakers…
“David Bowie Is…” Exclusive Time/Prettiest Star 45 Single: Dropbox
So we pitched Bowie’s voice up to make him sound like Ziggy. Neat parlor trick.
Here’s the thing though… Doing this to some songs makes them positively sparkle. Others, not so much. It appears that specific versions of albums and songs have been engineered in such a way for them to be playable at various speeds. Not every version has this effect, so results may vary. In our experience the Ziggy effect pretty much exclusively works on vinyl. The differences between them seem to come down to whether or not the timing and instrumentation works across the full spectrum.
I also bring this up because, despite Ziggy Stardust being the most beloved and widely known Bowie character, I haven’t heard many people acknowledge that Ziggy’s voice differs from David’s normal singing voice. In fact the only time most acknowledge Bowie manipulating the pitch of his voice at all is in The Laughing Gnome, a song which is almost too perfectly wretched to be believed.
In fact I can’t think of anyone else in the pantheon of Classic Rock Gods whose embarrassing early material even comes close to approaching the same degree of fame (and awfulness) that “The Laughing Gnome” achieved. How exactly does someone accidentally produce something like that, and then just 3 years later goes on to release The Man Who Sold The World – an album that any band with decades of experience would be proud to produce? So how exactly did he get so far in only 3 years?
Could it be that there is something MORE to the infamous Laughing Gnome? What was so funny anyway? Could it be remotely possible that the song was grown in a jar in some nefarious audio lab? Even if that was the case, it would surely be blasphemous to suggest a connection between the worst abomination Bowie ever created, and our dearly departed Ziggy Stardust!
Ha ha hee hee Dear Reader. As I write this, I can hear your scoffing and protests all the way from the future, but it will not sway me from this important discovery! Onward with the experiment!
A Brief History of The Laughing Gnome
“The Laughing Gnome” was originally released back in 1967 on Deram/London as a stand-alone single (b/w “The Gospel According To Tony Day”; neither song was featured on David’s debut LP released that same year). The Gnome appears to have been just one in a string of attempted “novelty songs” that David was playing around with at the time, to little commercial success. Pink Floyd’s debut LP Piper at the Gates of Dawn had also featured a song about a gnome on it, so perhaps Wee Winky Davey wasn’t entirely off-base, but it still wouldn’t be until “Space Oddity” in 1969 that any of his novelty songs would actually take off.
Over the next few years Bowie would continue to build on the success of “Space Oddity”, while the Gnome was left behind in the dust, understandably forgotten in favor of more rock ‘n’ roll-flavored characters. Then, in 1972, coincidentally Five Years after “The Laughing Gnome” debuted, David struck gold with his most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust. By the time David released Aladdin Sane in 1973, and then “killed” Ziggy on stage at The Odeon, Hammersmith, demand was so high for all things Bowie, that not only did Deram reissue “The Laughing Gnome” single, this time the wretched thing actually charted!
Ever since then, in spite of whatever else he might have been trying to do with his career, Bowie still couldn’t shake off “The Laughing Gnome”. Not that he ever seemed to really try (as we’ll see shortly).
The Laughing Gnome – Covers
We also discovered that multiple covers of the song existed. Could it be that Boomers were so thoroughly addled by all the drugs and free love and financial stability in the 60’s to actually enjoy this shit? I mean at one time Laugh-In was the pinnacle of comedy TV in America, so I’m only half kidding here.
Mr Agogo, the French Laughing Gnome:
While that would be odd enough on its own, it wasn’t until we discovered the French Laughing Gnome (Alternate title: Mr. Agogo) that we became increasingly suspicious, as its lyrics are vastly different from its English counterpart.
On the road, and the hill
I met one nice morning
A man, not taller than 3 feet
Not too smart
As he saw me, he had a good laugh
I thought he was mocking me
I would have liked to share his joy
And I took him
Between my fingers
(Note: this is the actual wording)
“Hey lil man, you giggling?”
(Note: “fou rire” translates to “crazy laugh”)
“It’s from seeing your face!” (Laughter)
BOTH: ha ha hee hee hee
Are you the devil or the holy spirit?
Ha ha ha hee hee hee
Are you wisdom or madness?
“Say I beg of you”, I told him
Come to my place
It may not be heaven
“Oh I won’t go”
(Note: Not sure, but it sounds like he’s complaining)
But I will know your philosophy
You’ll tell me
Why you laugh
“Where do you come from?”
“We laugh a lot, we love a lot, we sleep a lot”
“All right, I got it”
In one’s sleep one laughed without making a noise
And in the morning
I told him
BOTH: Ha ha ha, hee hee hee
I know who you are mister à-gogo
(Note: à-gogo meaning “a lot”)
Ha ha ha hee hee hee
Take me to the à-gogo, quick
Stop laughing or I’ll die
Ha ha ha hee hee hee
Mister à-gogo please laugh a bit lower (Note: as in volume)The French Lyrics to “The Laughing Gnome” – Generously Translated by Mateo
(The Gnome says something strange – probably a satanic curse – and they laugh themselves to death)
If anyone can translate that last line and show proof of their work, I will send you something really cool. Our (native-French) translator tried and was unable to make it out. (Maybe it needs to be reversed?)
I’d be lying if I said those lyrics didn’t creep us and our poor volunteer translator out a bit, but more importantly, they bring to mind a much older song titled The Little Man Who Wasn’t There that seems to be relevant to this increasingly absurd wormhole. The song itself is based on a poem called “Antigonish” which also has some lyrical references to both The Gnome and The Man Who Sold The World.
This is beginning to traverse some strange terrain, so keep this in your hat, as this particular strangeness will be the focus of a future article.
Ziggy the Puppet
For Ziggy, Bowie drew on his experience of meeting one of his heroes, Lou Reed, backstage at a concert in 1970. He chatted away with Lou for half an hour, later recounting the meeting to a friend, who pointed out that he had, in fact, been discussing the merits and demerits of “Waiting For The Man” with Doug Yule, Lou Reeds replacement in the Velvet Underground and a dead ringer for the original. Initially agog, Bowie went on to ponder the significance of the deceit: ‘It was at that point that I realized at the time it didn’t matter to me whether this was the real one, or the fake one’“Stardust Memories: Thinking The Unthinkable”, David Buckley’s introduction to the 2002 Ziggy Stardust 30th Anniversary Edition
Buckley continues to quote Bowie on the same topic:
‘The only trouble with copying someone well known is that you know all the facts about them, so you can’t actually be that person. But because Ziggy was kind of an empty vessel, you could put a lot of yourself into being your own version of him’
This bootleg single titled “Bowie Does Reed” (featuring “Waiting for the Man” b/w “White Light White Heat”) provides not only a good example of this Warholian philosophy, but it also gives us an audio demonstration of what sounds like electricity altering Bowie’s voice into something that sounds distinctly Ziggy.
The song begins with young David lethargically singing like Lou, his voice sounding “so sick and dirty, more dead than alive” as he anxiously waits for “the Man” to arrive with whatever fix he’s Jonesing for. Then, at the start of the second verse (around 1:24) more electricity starts to flow from the guitars before David’s voice shifts into a significantly higher register for the “Here she comes…” section, sounding quite a lot like the pitched-up ‘Ziggy’ voice on the “Time” single above. Then, after some Man Who Sold The World-esque guitars at 2:00, his voice returns to its normal register (the effects of the electrical hit perhaps having worn off, until the final chorus at least).
Bowie Does Reed (Bootleg 45 Single) – Dropbox
Our hypothesis is that by pitching up Bowie’s albums on vinyl, one can essentially transform any Bowie record into a Ziggy album. We suspect there is a link between Ziggy Stardust and The Laughing Gnome that is somehow connected to electricity and time. Ya know. Tesla shit. In a sense, The Laughing Gnome is the joke that never died, but rather evolved.
In order to perform our experiment, we combed through our entire collection of Bowie’s music on vinyl since we now have every major release on that specific medium.
Doktor Dee-Ranged’s Fool-Proof Method To Resurrect Ziggy:
For this experiment you will need:
- 1 Record Player with:
- 33 & 45 RPM speeds
- For some singles, 78 RPM speed will be necessary to make contact with the fabled hypergnome
- pitch adjustment lever.
- Hands (Sanitized)
- (Optional) Record cleaning gear and/or canned air
- Nitrous Oxide
- The Gift of Sound and Vision
- Any Bowie album or Single on record
- Place the record on the record player
- Set the speed of record player to the RPM (rotations per minute) indicated on the record
- 33rpm for most 12” long-playing records,
- 45rpm for most 7” singles and extended-plays
- 78rpm for old 10”; these can vary and labels can be misprinted/LIES
- Turn the record player “On”
- Manually adjust the pitch settings on the record player!
- Now you can hear all of your favorite artists sing like the androgynous little gnomes they were always engineered to be! *Cough* Pünky Brüster *Cough*
- Some records can be sneakier than others, hiding plenty of in-tune alternate versions at different speeds/pitches, each one bringing out new and different elements in the performances and production, giving you hours of new, high-fidelity listening at your fingertips
- If that’s not enough of a fix for your perversions, you can always QUESTION AUTHORITY and PLAY THE RECORD AT THE WRONG RPM, breaking all the rules of time and space. For example, you can:
- Turn that upbeat pop classic into your own gross down-tempo jam (The Scientific Term for this is Laughing Orc Speed),
- Transform that 30-minute-Long doom-metal epic into an even more insane 10-minute Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks NIGHTMARE!
- You might even discover where your favorite music has been secretly stolen and/or recycled over the years by countless other artists (or repeatedly, ad nauseam, forever, by one ArTiste in particular)
A field report from the diary of Doktor John Deeranged:
In the interest of serious scientific pursuit, my partner and fellow researcher Doktor Deeranged – at great risk to his mental and physical well-being – listened through every major Bowie album (at standard 33rpm speed) and kept a field journal tracking each time he spotted one of these high-pitched auditory nightmares.
(WARNING: Contents contain multiple references to gnomes, Gnomey and paranoid delusions.)
- Images (1967-1968): Feeling fresh and full of optimism today as I begin my task with this compilation of Bowie’s first full length album along with songs like “The Laughing Gnome”. Our copy of the album even features the little gnome sitting on top of a religious text going “ha ha ha” as he holds up a mirror to Ziggy’s face. The whole album is full of dreadful Davey gnome music, and I really don’t know how we didn’t stop him back when we had a chance.
- Space Oddity: Wow, a whole David Bowie album without any silly little character voices popping in (if we exclude some of that Ground Control/Major Tom business on the title track). What artistic restraint! I do very much like the moon song.
- The Man Who Sold the World: In this classic ode to blues rock and good, old fashioned insanity the gnomes make their return on “After All”, where they appear in great numbers to be singing about how they’re going to trip all of us giant folk. “Oh by jingo” indeed! Also on the title track they even meet upon a hill similar to the lyrics in “Mr-Agogo” and “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There.”
- Hunky Dory: Despite David getting a little suspiciously high-pitched on “Life on Mars?”, Everything was hunky dory on this album until the “Bewlay Brothers” at the end, where David’s voice seems to dissolve into a million little gnomes all chanting “AWAY!” as they lead you further and further underground until all you can hear are the gnomes and the sound of your own distant screaming.
- Ziggy Stardust: Ziggy is a gnome, and we’re all just going to have to come to terms with it. Fun fact: you can also hear the gnomes towards the end of the Ziggy-era b-side “Velvet Goldmine”, laughing away merrily as they merrily dig away in their velvet goldmine.
- Aladdin Sane: fewer OVERT gnome references here, but those goldmine gnomes are back towards the end of “Time”! I wonder what they’re up to down there…
- Pin Ups: The gnomes are back, baby! “See Emily Play” is full of em; sounds like they’re trying to lead little Emily AWAY to their underground lair! They also sound a LOT like the “Magic Dance” goblins from Labyrinth…
- Diamond Dogs: “Future Legend” opens the whole with a bunch of gnomey voices narrating the apocalypse. IS THERE GNO ESCAPE???
- Young Americans: “Across the Universe” sees the return of the artificially-pitched, alien-sounding Ziggy voice, so you guessed it: more gnomes, and now they’re in SPACE! Pretty far out! Oh yeah, the gnome’s also back in “Fame” singing “fame, fame, fame!” as it modulates up and down the pitch register.
- Station to Station: Is David singing a duet with himself pitched up at a higher register? Maybe it’s TOO LATE for an army of invading gnomes
NOTE: It appears that around listening to Station To Station I passed out into some sort of fugue state, not unlike David himself, and didn’t come back around until several hours later, when I awoke to the closing “Labyrinth” fanfare blaring from the TV speakers.
- Never Let Me Down: The bonus track “Girls” marks another example of Bowie pitching his voice back up to Ziggy levels towards the end of the song. There seems to be further connection between electricity and pitch levels!
- Black Tie White Noise: the bonus track “Real Cool World” has a chorus chanting “dig, dig, dig!” and with its corresponding film is also full of obnoxious, high-pitched cartoons, it’s safe to say the gnomes survived into the 90s.
- 1.Outside: the whole overstuffed concept album has pitch-adjusted character voices coming out the ass; considering there’s even more of them in The Leon Suites (“Shake a knife, honey!”), even after Bowie’s death there’s no escaping his gnomes.
- Earthling: do I have to spell it out for you?? The whole thing opens with Bowie listing off the names of the Seven Dwarves from the flippin’ Disney movie! The gnomes are underground! The gnomes are in space! The gnomes are frickin’ EVERYWHERE! WHEN I STARE AT THE COVER OF THIS ALBUM FOR LONG ENOUGH, I CAN EVEN SEE THEIR GNOMEY FACES MOCKING ME WITH THEIR LONG NOSES AND POINTY EARS. THEY HIDE WITHIN THE INK, BUT I CAN WINKLE THEM OUT.
- Hours: “There’s Something in the Air”. Oh fuck.
- Heathen: “Cactus”. Gnomes singing a Pixies cover. Very clever, David.
- Reality: Spoiler alert: “Reality” is a gnome song, with a similar heavy thudding beat track, the fuzzy ‘gnomey’-sounding guitars with their laughing quality, and David singing “Ha Ha Ha” again before vanishing… For years! Ha ha ha!
- The Next Day: the original gnome voice returns on “If You Can See Me”, singing “if you can see me, I can see you.” GREAT, not only am I seeing gnomes and goblins everywhere, now they can all apparently see me too!
- Blackstar: Do I hear a high-pitched voice singing behind David on the title track? I think so, dear reader, and its beautiful siren song tills for me! Perhaps if I just pitch this up a little higher—
Included below are a handful of the most outstanding examples we were able to capture during our experiment. The songs and albums below were chosen based on how well they worked at Gnome Speed™.
Reality: Full 2015 Vinyl (Ziggy Pitch)
Reality – Full 2015 Vinyl (Ziggy Speed) – Dropbox
The mix used on the vinyl pressing of Reality in particular has always sounded a little hazy and tinny to my ears. It’s already one of Bowie’s stranger albums, especially considering it was his final statement before pulling a Willy Wonka and disappearing for a decade.
Once we discovered that pitching up the audio on Bowie albums made his voice sound like Ziggy, we decided to experiment on various items in our collection, and found that Reality ended up working surprisingly well. The title track even references the Gnome! And “Looking For Water” sounds like it’s coming from the perspective of Tommy on his spaceship as it crashes to the earth in The Man Who Fell To Earth.
Earthling: Full 2015 Vinyl, Green Edition (Ziggy Pitch)
Earthling – 2015 Green Edition Vinyl (Ziggy Speed): Dropbox
Oddly enough the same goes for Earthling. The mix used on this particular vinyl always sounded a little clipped and tinny, especially when compared to the CD version which needs little improvement. Suspicious about why they decided to print such a strange mix onto such a beautiful vinyl, we tried pitching it up and found it worked surprisingly well.
Is It Any Wonder? Full 2020 Vinyl (Ziggy Pitch)
Is It Any Wonder? 2020 Vinyl (All Speeds) : Dropbox
Okay, I admit I may have gotten a little carried away with the editing, but it still sounds pretty good dammit. Especially Stay ’97
The Man Who Sold The World: 1973 RCA 45 Single.
The Man Who Sold The World, Single (All Speeds): Dropbox.
We have only included the B side of this single as it was the song that held up the best under our libratory gnome control experimentation.
Unlike the others, the full range of pitches are on display for this song. Laughing Orc, Normal, Ziggy, and Hypergnome. I was surprised at how intricate the audio engineering is on this song so that it actually works well at all speeds. Even the hypergnome has this high-frequency vibration to it that sounds remarkably good despite the whole… Gnome voice thing going on. Maybe thinking about them as machine elves is easier to reconcile with. Dan Deacon has been using these high pitched frequencies throughout his entire career!
For the sake of time, we will be updating our Youtube & Vimeo channels with more of these, as we have many more, and nothing but time on our hands!
So what exactly have we learned here?
OBVIOUSLY we have learned that we are geniuses and our hypothesis was proved correct beyond even the tiniest SMIDGEN of a doubt!
Basically this method seems to work best on vinyl mixes that don’t quite sound as engaging as they should at the normal 33 RPM speed. If you have a Bowie record on your shelf that you thought you’d enjoy more than you actually do, or it just doesn’t seem to make it into your normal listening rotation, try experimenting with it! Results may vary of course, but hey – we’re gonna be in quarantine for awhile. Maybe this will provide a few hours of entertainment. Even if those hours of entertainment are full of ranting about what a bunch of raving lunatics we are.
While it’s fun to hear old Bowie records in a new way, there remain some connections between The Gnome and Ziggy that still have not yet been answered, or even fully addressed. Yes, we have been able to replicate Ziggy’s voice and demonstrate how these sounds work, but the larger picture of why these choices were made is still very much up in the air. To figure out that mystery, more analysis is needed along with a basic primer on Hermeticism and Alchemy.
Since the gnome is an earth elemental, this lowest point of matter (and, by some accounts, of Bowie’s creative endeavours) is therefore Malkuth, towards which the lightning strike of genius/inspiration travels, making Ziggy, with his zig-zag lightning symbol, the electrical conductor.Stephen Moles, Dark Meaning Research Institute
The end product of the alchemical process involving the dwarf (or gnome) in the flask is to create a divine hermaphrodite with superpowers. But when has David Bowie ever played an androgynous superman?
It appears that this insanity ended up taking us a little further into esoteric territory than anyone would have expected or even wanted. But that career-encompassing riddle is a topic that we have to explore over the course of multiple posts, so this seems like a good stopping point for now.
If anything the biggest takeaway from this whole thing, aside from the fact that Ziggy is likely some kind of Homunculus, is that the occult really likes bad language puns.
I have to go ice my back now. Standing desks can be a workout.
Until next time,