I like long.
I like quiet. I like noisy.
I like slow evolution.
I noticed that when I’m working on a piece that isn’t quite working, my default experiment is to pitch it down a couple octaves to see if it sounds more interesting. And very often it does.
Which has a couple interesting side effects. Everything gets a slow, meditative feel. And everything gets long. It becomes easy to make a piece an hour or longer.
On the other hand, the high frequencies disappear, and you can end up with some sound artifacts. But more importantly, it’s almost too easy to do. It can be lazy, in a bad sense.
“Classical” music provides several forms of different lengths, from preludes lasting a few minutes to symphonies running over an hour (though often broken into multiple movements). Modern popular music has mostly focused around short song formats. There are notable exceptions here and there, but long pop songs only tend to be twice normal length, and even relatively seamless concept albums are comprised of individual songs.
In part, the time constraints of the phonograph record is to blame. Prior to the Twentieth Century, to hear a piece of music, one had to listen to a performance by musicians. Music could be as long as people were willing to sit still. Even for a time after the invention of the phonograph, popular music was largely consumed as sheet music, meant to be performed at home.
Single-song phonographs hold about three minutes per side. This clearly affects what kind of music one can put on it. As records became the standard method of musical commerce, the popular music standardized on roughly three minute songs.
Technology has evolved to allow longer music, but for the most part, the three-minute pop song has remained. Longer media has resulted in albums of songs. Even the “concept album” generally is composed of individual songs.
Part of the reason that very long popular music has not emerged is the dilemma of promotion. The recorded music industry is now over 100 years old, and well-set in its ways. How do you sell an hour-long composition if you can’t play it (at least not all of it) on the radio?
There are, of course, long pieces (mostly of the Classical, Jazz, and Avant Garde varieties) available in your favorite record store. And there was a time when an album like Tubular Bells could sell millions of copies, but that is not the norm. (Even Tubular Bells is broken into sections, so excerpting a radio edit is easy.)
I have a 97 minute piece of music I really like. It doesn’t fit on a CD, so I’m not quite sure what to do with it. I don’t want to trim it down, but I want people to be able to listen to it easily. Obviously, it will not be a track on Music For The Monsters.
Of course, the piece plays back on an iPod or other audio player. Compressed, it fits on a CD, and many CD players will play back MP3 files. Even my alarm clock plays it (though not often – it’s a rather off-putting piece of music). So perhaps it is not a big problem.
If you bought a CD that contained a large MP3 file, would you mind?