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.