Sunday 18 January 2009

The trouble with Prog

I've been writing a very promising song in the last couple of weeks. After a fair bit of work, the song had reached a point, about 4 minutes in, when it was a either a complete tune, or needed a twist or change to take it into a different direction so that the first 4 minutes became part of a longer piece.

Anyway, I got drawn into trying to write something a bit more substantial and I had found a possible way forward, a nice little change into a fast-paced bit in 5/4. Then, I got stuck. So, I let it stew for a bit and, last night, picked up my guitar, en passant, and played the chords for the 5/4 bit for a few minutes. Still nothing, then...something; I found a sweet chord, then another and another and started improvising some vocals and, even with my limited voice, I thought it was sounding pretty damn awesome. I ran to get my little Micro Track, pressed the red 'record' button and captured it (phew...I find it's important to get something down almost immediately as that is when the raw writing is still happening – a few minutes later on, after I've run through a new bit a few times, it will become sanitised; smoother and cleaner, but with the kinks straightened out. And there can be some interesting things lost from those uncertain early moments, when the chords and the melody are not quite settled.)

So, as I was getting to the end of my first recorded run-through of the new bit, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I reached the last chord in the sequence and was about to turn the recording function off to keep it tidy. Instead, I carried on improvising, and the guitar and voice found a common purpose and took the tune off soaring to new heights. Every new chord I played seemed to be the right one and the melody found a perfect course. I had written about three minutes of music in about three minutes. And I was recording while it happened! I love it when it’s like this.

After this improvisational burst, I spent a few minutes tidying the new sections up and then backed it up on the computer. Then, I made myself an espresso (have you tried the Nespresso machines? -they’re fab) sat back, and started to worry.

Thing is, this new bit is, I think, really strong. And so is the first four minutes of the song which I’d written previously. Both sections deserve to be heard. The question is; should they be together, as they were written, in a single seven or eight minute piece, with a great beginning and end? Or would they each get more attention if they were two separate shorter songs?

Prog fans (and I am, of course, a prog fan) often tend to gravitate towards the more epic material. We eulogise about Awaken or Firth of Fifth, not Wondrous Stories or I Know What I Like. Is it because those longer pieces are actually better, or simply more to our taste? Are we confusing the substantial (as in size, or, in this case length) with something substantive?

At the moment, I'm thinking of sticking with this new song as a single eight minute track. But I might try it both ways, just to be sure I'm not being a creature of habit.


Steve Dunstan said...

I like 28 Years as much as I like Albion Perfide. Can-Utility and the Coastliners is a perfect track, however short it may be. But the longer tracks not only appeal to our inherent music-snobbishness (cant imagine a Boyzone fan listening to anything over 3 minutes long :p), they allow a song to breathe and develop in a way that appeals to me personally - the silence in some songs is as powerful as the crashing chords and mello's, likewise the way a song can twist and change into a new direction.

Anonymous said...

I feel your dilemma, happens to me all the time. In the past I would maybe have done 2 separate songs, now I tend to shoot for the epics. On a cd, I like to have both long and short tracks. I favor Firth to I Know What I Like, because I like the music better, but I also love After The Ordeal and Blood On The Rooftops, which work better short. Though I haven't heard your new piece my gut tells me it'll be great as an epic.

Unknown said...

There's always the old, part one, part two option as well, which essentially keeps the song as a long version, but broken into two individual tracks. Whatever you do I'm sure we'll all love it. However now that you've told us about it, we will want to hear the complete long version, whether released that way on the new recording, or downloadable through your site, or maybe as a bonus track. :)

My ears can't wait to go out and play in the Underfall Yard.

Gregory Spawton said...

David, I think you've hit the nail on the head. I like the short and long versions, so why not make both available?

I'm in a writing frenzy at the moment and have just written another one with a similar potential, so there may be a number of tracks with alternative versions.

Steve Mourton said...

Of course as already mentioned we have not heard the piece yet, but all I know is that, when I hear a song/tune that I love, I do not want it to end in 3 or 4 minutes I want it to go on, even if it moves into a different direction, so long as it returns to the original theme I am happy.
There are so many short songs I love, but there are not many where I do not wish they had been developed further, so I can sit back and drift away with the music.