The Spectral Court

Daringly Poking the Octopus of Wit with the Pointy Stick of Wryness.

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Location: Caerffili, Wales, Antarctica

Currently blogging at The Fractal Hall Journal and contributing to the Toybox of Solitude.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

If you can't say it in three and a half minutes, it's not worth saying

I think the above is a quote, but I don't know who said it or, frankly, in what context. Hopefully, it wasn't a Nazi.

Three and a half minutes is supposed to be the optimum length for a song. Not so short that it's easily missed, nor so long that it gets boring. It's the target length for most bitchin' pop tunes aimed at The Kids, the gold standard for craploads of tracks from Motown to Slade to Christina Aguilera.

But in all honesty, I think 3 to 4 minutes should be the optimum length for any band's tracks. It should be the bricks and mortar in whatever Wall of Sound you may be constructing. It's a nice basic unit to use, because I think it forces you to selectively edit the work, to cut out the weaker bits, the same way a word-limit or poetry metre works on a writer.

Sometimes, it's the limits we impose on ourselves that create the most interesting things, that force you to find interesting solutions. A film set entirely in one room, a tv series set on one single day; difficult, certainly, but isn't making it difficult for yourself the point? After all, when faced with the possibility of writing absolutely anything at all you want, no limits whatsover, most people freeze and end up writing absolutely nothing. Maybe that's why I'm not keen on modern, unstructured poetry (or modern, unstructured anything, whether on film or on canvas); I fail to see the craft, although that may be due to my own lack of insight or interest (and forgive me for using the farty old Daily Mail "modern" shorthand for anything new and rubbish. I'm currently drawing a blank on a better description.)

What it comes down to is this; I'm really aware that, if I'm busting out some super-fly, face-melting guitar work which is the very definition of freaking awesome, I never want it to end. And when you're embedded in the heart of freakish awesomeness, it's easy to assume that everyone's enjoying it as much as you are.

Sir, they are not.

This goes for floor-stompin' house choons and wildly improvisational jazz, too. Keep it concise, and you keep it interesting. If you positively have to break the barrier, ask yourself why you're doing it. I can only think of a few extra-long odysseys off the top of my head that were worth doing, and a lot (if not all) of them stay interesting not because it's the same three chords for eight minutes, but because they incorporate different movements. The big honking obvious one is Bohemian Rhapsody, perennial botherer of Greatest Rock Hits Charts; this one famously takes its cues from "classical" music, and incorporates several different movements.

The other track that springs to mind is Hey Jude. Now, there's no seperate movement structure here, but this track is a very, very rare example of a song so good no-one ever wants it to end.

(As an aside, the above sentence is hyperbole. I know not everyone likes the Beatles but a huge amount of people do, and a huge amount of people like Hey Jude despite its length. Let's just take it as read that a) everything here carries a "subjective" disclaimer, and b) lots and lots and lots of people like Bohemian Rhapsody and the Beatles.)

Example Number Three that occurs to me is Stairway to Heaven, which is kind of a mix of different movements and a track you don't want to end. On a personal note, I also think In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 by Coheed and Cambria is an awesome long-song, but I concede that Emo-Prog Epics about interstellar war are not of universal interest.

The short version of the above is this; you are unlikely to write something like the above tracks at all, never mind on your first time out, and people are unlikely to thank you for trying.

In particular, the grouchy old band you're supposed to be supporting.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Scent of a Halibut

There are some types of fish, I have learned, that shouldn't be grilled. Unless, of course, you want your house to reek of Aquaman's Finny Friends for, you know, a couple of weeks.

Trout, for example, is another.

New post up here.