Something Ending

The story of a song from A MILLION TINY GLITCHES



When my brother Mike died in 2012 he did so in a dramatic way very much out of keeping with his calm and unflappable personality. An astoundingly rare condition took him away in the blink of an eye, without warning, three weeks after his wedding.

Beyond the shock, and the grief and the pain, it was the first time someone close to me had died in the digital era. I wasn’t on facebook but lurked on a borrowed account, watching my brother’s loved ones, his colleagues and friends, the students at his school, as they marked the end of Mike’s life and tried to make some small sense of what had happened. I couldn’t say whether it ‘helped’ me, and still can’t. But I’ve checked in on his page over the years, every now and then – in the same way I sometimes say hello to photos of him or listen to the music he made. Mikey left a ghost on the internet. Most of us will.

In 2017, after a spate of further losses among family and friends, Tanuja and I began creating a stage musical, a dream-pop odyssey about grief, and love, and love songs. Tanuja had a theme for our show that connected the experience of grief to the sense of the digital. She felt a resonance between grieving and our digital lives: the shifts and mediations, the question of what parts of a feeling were ‘true’, what came from without, what from within. We called the show A Million Tiny Glitches.

As the story grew, A Million Tiny Glitches needed some songs sung by the dead – rather than everything being sung about, or for, the departed. So with my brother and my family and friends in mind, I began writing a love song to be sung by a digital ghost.

I’d composed a tune back in my student days that scored the final moments of a violent play in which everyone died horribly. It was meant as a safety net, a huge and beautiful noise that I hoped might help the audience towards some kind of calm or contemplation. Its hymnal cadences were [nicked from] influenced by the ending of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, when an angelic wash of synth lifts Laura Palmer’s murdered spirit. That sliver of theatre score from my back catalogue had a kind of tidal drift, between deep acceptance and deep melancholy, which made it perfect for the song I was writing.

Then the words came easy, all told. They felt painful and true very quickly, but I didn’t know why they felt true – and I think that’s probably one of the best qualities a pop lyric can have.

As we workshopped the song, we routed the singer’s voice through a box of tricks that wrapped an auto-tune choir around her, a deliberate digital mediation – but all the while keeping that central voice quiet and vulnerable and mysterious.

The song was arranged to be free of automation or rhythm, just a bass hum beneath that warpy choral buzz, the singer in control. That vocal was shaped and expanded by silent chords I played on a MIDI keyboard, responding to it as well as altering it. We were looking for a real-unreal sepulchral glow, something to evoke a spirit in the wires, a spectre passing through the touchscreen.

And we knew it was working when, at the end of a performance testing at Bristol Old Vic, the amazing Zöe West finished singing that song… and the brief silence that followed was filled with quiet sobs and sniffles from the audience. That’s the shared permission we’re looking for in A Million Tiny Glitches. A space to feel sad without being sombre.

Our song was named ‘Something Ending’ and in the studio it was sung by legendary Bristol singer-songwriter Caroline Martin. You can hear it here, buy the album it comes from here, and hopefully one day you can experience the full glorious story in a theatre somewhere. If you’d like to help us get it onto a stage, please do get in touch.