Walking with a Ghost: A Musical Replication Study [Repost]

Editor’s Note: On Twitter today, there is a hashtag #twopaired making the rounds. Folks are posting favorite duets. That is not enough for us. This post has a duet of duets, featuring duo Tegan & Sara and duo The White Stripes both taking a run at Walking with a Ghost. Originally posted 22 October 2012.

Last week, I got on the topic of replication studies. Dan Mangan’s new EP got me thinking about how our human desire to be pleasantly surprised is one way of thinking about why readers, reviewers and editors often prioritize novel findings over careful verification. This week, I’m pleased to present what I think is my favourite musical example of a replication study.

Tegan and Sara Quin, identical twins from Calgary, have carved a solid niche for creating sparse but poetic mostly lo-fi rock. Their voices are eerily similar bringing an unique quality to their harmony. And while they do work with a backing band, the focus is almost always on the interplay between their guitars and voices. This song, Walking with a Ghost, from their 2004 album So Jealous, is a clear example and completely recognizable as a Tegan and Sara song.

And actually I can back that statement with some experiential evidence. My husband and I have a game, played usually on road trips and during renovation projects. He finds an underplayed song from the back catalogue, and I have to guess whether it’s Tegan and Sara or Yeah Yeah Yeahs (whose lead, Karen O, I think sometimes sounds like T&S). Walking with a Ghost was one of the easiest selections to peg.

That is until I head the White Stripes cover.

Their version is almost identical in instrumentation and arrangement, aside from a more extended solo break. This is not a cover like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Woodstock, which made a completely new piece of art out of Joni Mitchell’s framework.

This is in some ways a replication: a straight up attempt of the same procedure by two different people with slightly different equipment. And I think the results are a complete success. In the hands of Jack and Meg, this sounds the same as the original and yet utterly like a  White Stripes song. Had I not known any better, I would have been perfectly unaware that it was not their own.

I would venture to say that the results of the replication study support my initial hypothesis: Walking with a Ghost is a great song.

Author: mcshanahan

Science education researcher and writer

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