Human League - The Black Hit of Space, Critical Analysis
I have chosen to analyse The Human League because they had an extremely innovative approach, treating music as art and incorporating bizarre themes with electronic and visual elements to create something new and edgy. They may be remembered for their crossover into the pop world with 1981’s Dare, during the video boom of more visual based new romantic bands, but before that, they presented much more unusual works. I choose Black Hit of Space because of the stabs of distortion that were rare to hear in this style of music back then, and the strange lyrical themes.
The lyrics are ambitious and attempt to tell the story of an unexplained scientific phenomenon. A hit record that becomes an entity, a malevolent force that begins to behave like a black hole. The Black Hit of Space Lyrics
Song: Human League - The Black Hit of Space Genre: Electro Pop, Synth Pop, Art Pop. Year: 1980 Key - D Bpm - 83.5 Time Signature 4/4 Song Structure Intro Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Breakdown Chorus Personel Philip Oakey - Synthesizer, Vocals Ian Craig Marsh - Synthesizer, Vocals Martin Ware - Synthesizer, Vocal Philip Adrian Wright - Slides, Films Technical Produced by The Human League and Richard Mainwaring - Engineer/ Producer (Also worked with Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Fischer Z)
Here is a video interview with Human League member Ian Burden discusing Synthesizers
The Main fundamental of the Kick comes in right on 100 Hz with the snare cutting through at 1K - 5K. The drum beat sits well in the mix and has some groove to it. The groove is increased by the arpeggiated bass line which comes in around 200Hz -400Hz. Once the groove is established, a huge distorted sound cut's through everything with a very strong presence on 200Hz, 400Hz and 600 Hz. The long distortion stabs are higher on the left and lower on the right. This sound has a huge impact and is quite otherworldly for the time, I believe this was a huge influence on what would later become known as industrial music. After the first long distortion stabs they become short percussive stabs throughout the rest of the song. The strange sci-fi synth effects fill out the sonic landscape of the song.
The kick and snare are in the centre, grounding the song. There is a string plucking sound moving from left to right. During the verse, there is a humming string pad slightly left, while the distorted stabs are slightly right. A wobbling bass line comes in leading into chorus on the left. The whole song is generally bassier sounding on the left. This isn’t so bad through speakers in a large room but on headphones, the song is very weighted to the left and a bit unbalanced. This is not uncommon in early electronic music as there weren’t really any rules yet, they were writing the rules as they went along and a lot of this music is DIY so they are just being creative and seeing what worked. During the break down the distorted stabs seem to be run through a ping pong delay, heavier on the left., dissipating on the right. During this section, the strings are humming right in the centre creating quite a nice balance.
Reverb & Delay:
The reverb in this song is used for placement and also used as an effect. Positioning the Drums at the back, the pads and sci-fi sounds in the middle with the distorted stabs up front along with the vocals.
The reverb in this song is used for placement and also used as an effect. Positioning the Drums at the back, the pads and sci-fi sounds in the middle with the distorted stabs up front along with the vocals.There is also a lot of colour added to various sounds with the use of delay and reverb that create the idea that this is larger than life and is happening in a big space, this is appropriate for the time and the genre. Digital Reverb units were relativity new, with the first reverb unit the EMT 250 being released in 1976. They would continue to become more accessible and affordable coming into the 80's and the use of reverb would get bigger over the next decade. A Brief History of Reverb
The dynamics in this song are really good. The drums are set at a really good steady volume throughout the track while other elements change, keeping the listener engaged. This is achieved by certain elements being introduced, taken away and then reintroduced as well as the use of volume, panning, reverb and delay to keep things moving.
There are 2 main breakdowns, the first verse which strips things back and introduces some strings and the breakdown, which uses similar dynamics to the first verse.
The intro sets the beat and then builds up until everything kicks in with a big distorted stab.
The first verse is stripped back with some added strings and things build back up into the chorus. The second verse stays full of sound with more variations on the noise and kicks into the chorus but during the breakdown, everything is stripped back again until building into the final chorus which introduces some detuned backup vocals.
- I believe the distortion stabs were created on the Roland 100 due to the effective noise function that this synth has. I Imagine it was created using a saw wave on the LFO, a triangle wave on the VCO oscillator, run through the mixer with added noise. I also think the VCF cutoff frequency was about half way with the resonance a bit under that, 3 also and with slow attack and fast release on the VCO ADSR
- I believe the bass line may have been created using the Mini Korg 700s It’s prominent and steady with fast attack and medium release
I believe some of the weird sounds may have been created using the Korg 770 as it is famous for its ring modulator. These sounds could also have been made using the Roland 100 too.
- I believe the drum sounds were created on the Roland 100 using triangle waves and white noise I imagine that these drums sounds were created on synthesisers rather than with a drum machine, due to the era, the equipment the band had and through much research.
- In order to create a drum sound on a synth you just need to think about what sounds make up the drum so for example for a bass drum you want an oscillator on a sine or triangle wave set to a lower frequency to emulate the resonance of the kick, (40-100 Hz) and you also want a higher sound to emulate the beater hitting the skin (2 kHz - 4 kHz) Creating a Kick
- To create a snare sound is quite similar, use a triangle or sine wave to emulate the resonance of the snare (200Hz - 400Hz) and add noise to emulate the rattle.
In conclusion The Black Hit of Space is an ambitious song, well ahead of it’s time created using an experimental approach to analog synthesisers it is charmingly naive while challengingly complex. There are many elements that cover a large frequency spectrum, the panning is creative yet somewhat unbalanced but the use of dynamics is fantastic and the overall artistic vision is achieved through the use of imaginative lyrics and experimental sounds.