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Context : MusicalStuff, OnGranularity

A format of recorded music. Typically 40-80 minutes long.

Quora Answer : How can you create a music album that makes no sense, but at the same time is completely genius and forward thinking?

May 17, 2020

There's no such thing as an album that makes no sense and is worth hearing.

Part of the virtue of what makes a great, "genius" album, is that it has a kind of coherence to it.

However, that doesn't mean that the coherence needs to be simple in the sense that everything sounds the same.

Or that it needs to be obvious.

Part of the pleasure of some great albums can be in puzzling out the coherence. Or the fact that you can feel it imposing its own vision and order on what feels like such disparate material.

One album like this that comes to mind is Current 93's Swastikas For Noddy

This is an album that I don't like much. And hardly ever listen to. In fact it's been years since I bothered. And I've only come back to listen to it to write this answer.

This is, on the surface, not a promising album. It's from a band with a reputation for some kind of Satanist tendencies. With two (by all accounts) obnoxious neo-fascists involved. "Nudge nudge, wink wink" references to swastikas. Plus the dubious participation of a "runeologist". It has sophomoric Charles Manson references. A quote claiming that "the Anti-Christ is a black man" (which I presume is Manson related). Fragments of portentous Nietzsche. And a bunch of misogynist songs featuring a scary rapist, someone laughing at a woman falling down stairs, a slut-shaming children's rhyme.

Musically it's all over the shop. The lead singer pretty much can't sing in tune. There's a bunch of arbitrary "samples" (probably just bits off of tape) of hymns and classical music, sounds of tanks and other random shit thrown all over the place without any apparent attempt at structure or working them into the rest of the music. There's a cover of a forgotten minor pop hit from the early 80s for no good reason. A breathless version of an English folk song with its words mangled. A lot of dreary acoustic guitar, strummed artlessly. Hardly any tunes. And bookended by some other completely random folky guy singing about everything being cursed. But who doesn't turn up anywhere else or seem to have any other connection to the band and music.

In other words, a mess of disconnected random junk. That you almost certainly wouldn't want to listen to.

And yet ...

This is a band which has become my second favourite band of all time. The guy behind this record, David Tibet is undoubtedly a genius who I am an awestruck fan of. Who has gone on to make many incredible records. In fact only a couple of years later, he goes on to make a stunningly beautiful, creative and powerful record, one of my all time favourites ...

... out of more or less the same elements!

ThunderPerfectMind isn't quite a perfect album. I think a couple of the songs go on a bit too long. But it's damned close.

On that, everything has had a bit of an upgrade. The melodies are now gorgeous. The singing is a bit more in tune. The electronic movements and the samplings of other music are more carefully and subtly layered in. The sequencing of the tracks has more of a sense of narrative. And the dodgy misogyny and racism have thankfully gone. But there's still a song about Hitler. And another about Satan. And another about one of the fascist guys from the earlier album. There's still quite a lot of acoustic guitar strumming. And random folky references.

But the thing is this. Thunder Perfect Mind is a wonderful album. While Swastikas For Noddy is kind of horrible. But it's absolutely obvious that Swastikas for Noddy is a sort of prototype or dry run for Thunder Perfect Mind.

You see. I may not like Swastikas much. But many people are passionate fans. And love it intensely.

And here's why it's so powerful.

You can hear that the participants are horribly committed to it.

They may, or may not be, taking the piss with some of the outrageous negativity. But they are always serious about this thing.

The impression the album gives is one of absolute, uncompromising, artistic vision. This is a scrapbook of random odds and ends, of recordings, of songs, or song ideas, or fragments of poetry, or collaborators, that David Tibet has obviously found, decided he liked, and decided to bricollage together.

It doesn't matter that things are played or sung badly. It doesn't matter that some of the people involved are shunned by polite society. It doesn't matter that you think jokey horror about rape is bad taste. Or that many ideas are undeveloped fragments. Or that the overlaid samples are out of key and out of sync. Or that the songs don't really have any proper structure. Or that the album as a whole is such an unstructured hodge-podge that doesn't seem to go anywhere or say anything.

The only thing that matters in this is that Tibet thinks that these are the right things to put together into his system. Without compromise to any other concern. It's a magnificently crazy esoteric conspiracy theory. You may not understand the secret logic of this. But you can feel that he does.

And you can sense that this is the album that he wanted to make. To express himself with. Completely free of anything that he might have felt obliged to put there. You know that. Because what's here is so outrageous, that if there had been any constraint on him, either externally from a record company or manager, or due to his own internal inhibitions, half of this stuff wouldn't be on the record.

And that is ... to be honest ... thrilling.

And it's the way Tibet goes on to make his other albums ... many of which are amazing.

If you want to hear great albums, I recommend Thunder Perfect Mind, Sleep Has His House, I Am the Last Of All the Field That Fell. These are deeply, deeply poetic, spiritual albums, with gorgeous and daring music, thrown together from disparate elements and guest collaborators, that are absolutely made to work by Tibet's vision and artistic "will-to-power".

But if you actually want to hear that artistic will-to-power in its rawest, most blatant form. Spread out and open to inspection and analysis. Then listen to Swastikas for Noddy.

Like I say. I don't know if you'll enjoy it. I don't, particularly. But you might find it instructive.

And it's the answer to this question. How an album can "make no sense" ie. seem so lacking in coherence, structure or musical virtue. And yet be completely genius. And "forward looking". (In this case, the technique / artistic intelligence clearly on display here is applied over the next 30 odd years to make great albums.)

It's that artistic single-mindedness, and ability to make the musical elements that don't "want to" fit together, fit together into a coherent whole.

(More Current93)

Quora Answer : What is the point of making an EP rather than a full length album?

May 15, 2020

The way I think of it, an EP is the exploration of multiple aspects of a single theme.

Obviously that "theme" may be as simple as "what we, the band, are up to this month". Or as Kellan Aisley says, "this is a sound the band are experimenting with".

But it's still a single theme.

An EP is short enough that it only needs a single theme like this. And yet it is long enough to allow, and long enough to demand, that it contains some variety and contrast. Contrasts of styles or approaches. This contrast can be done in many different ways ... fast and slow, loud and quiet, major and minor etc. Or maybe something completely different. But there need to be some kinds of contrasts within it.

An EP is about the same length and "size" I think as a classical "suite". Which has multiple movements or scenes from a single narrative.

An album, on the other hand, really needs at least two "themes". It's a bigger undertaking that needs some kind of greater complexity or ambition. An album is building a world of interacting inhabitants.

The main reason to make an EP rather than an album is that you don't have enough themes for a good album. Even if you've technically got enough music. You've only got a single theme. But you do have enough material to say something interesting about it.

That means you don't really have enough to make 40+ minutes of world-building out of it. If you have enough material to write a short story, but not a novel, then you have an EP.

BTW : with respect to the above distinction, this is why I think PinkFloydAnimals is "really an EP" rather than an album. Even though the tracks are long enough that the whole is "album length".

Quora Answer : What makes a music album good?

May 15, 2020

Two things :

1) is that is has good music on it.

Which is kind of obvious. But it's worth stating because it forces you to confront what makes music "good", which is too long to go into here ...

Oh, all right then. I believe music can be good and bad. But it's fiendishly complicated to explain exactly why, because every time we discover a new genre of music, the criteria for being good within that genre is different from, and often in contradiction with, whatever rules we discovered for previous genres.

Maybe ask another question about that :-)

2) that the music on it "fits together". Albums are not just compilations of random tracks. Or even "best hits" compilations of singles.

I like the EP format for music. Which is rather like the "suite" in classical music. The way I understand an EP is that is basically small enough that it only needs one idea or theme (not "musical theme", I mean conceptual theme) but big enough that you can and should explore different aspects of that theme, through a contrast of moods. An EP is multiple aspects of a single idea. That's what gives it interest and consistency.

So what about an album?

I'm tempted to say that a good album is bigger than an EP. It really needs to have more than one theme. Like a symphony, it needs two or more. An album is a novel not a short story. It needs to describe some kind of "world" where multiple things interrelate or interact. And yet still bring them together into a coherent whole.

I'm being deliberately vague because music is vast, and there can be so many ways of doing this, which are (again) genre dependent. But I think that's important. For people to be bothered to listen to 30+ minutes of music, it can't be a single idea. To carry you that far, you need some sense that you've covered a territory or explored a space, to see the richness within it.

But, as I say, this is purposefully vague, because there are so many ways of doing it.

This is a great album. Despite being a single minimalist vamp between two chords on a single groove. It still takes you on a journey and explores a world.

Brian Eno can make very long albums from what seems like a single idea. And yet which nevertheless seem to work because he finds subtle variety within the simple consistency. (That's not always the case, some of his albums are just wittering on too long without covering enough ground.)

So yeah, a good album is a consistent world in some way, and a world which has more than one thing in it.

Often people complain that an album is "not good" because of "filler". What they mean is tracks that don't add anything. Either because they are unnecessary repetitions of an idea that a previous track explored. Or because they don't really fit into the overall coherence of the world. Sometimes, an objectively "not very good" track can nevertheless work on a good album, because it does fit into the overall whole. Short instrumental breaks, hip-hop sketches etc. can do this. You wouldn't listen to them outside the context of the album. But inside it they help to structure the space.