Saturday, December 05, 2009

941 : The importance of sequence

I started listening to music (in an earnest fashion) when I was 7 years old using a National “2-in-1” that my dad bought for us paying 1500 in those days (a little more than a month of his salary) – I must rank that as one of the best investments he ever made for me.

In those days Aakash Vani, Radio Ceylon (for English songs – Appa later told me that they also used to play Tamil songs – I never seemed to have gone down that route), and Vividh Bharti on the radio, and a collection of tapes my dad had recorded classic hindi songs on.

As I grew a little older, beyond 10, I started acquiring a few tapes on my own. When you heard music on tapes, unless you were sitting on top of the player, you let it play all through and 30 minutes, pop the tape, change the side and press “play” again.

What happened was I (we) invariably heard the tape in its entireity, and in the sequence, the producer wanted us to hear it in. (Like it was common to have the first song on the album (side A) and the last song on side B to be the best compositions on the tape – why? well, because most places allowed you to sample before you bought – and you would start by playing Side A – i.e. hear #1 song, and then after a few minutes, flip the side (and now play last song on side B, and let the tape unloop itself).

The producers (and artists) used to invest in album sequencing and it used to be an art form. After all, the artist would decide how he wants to narrate a musical story to you.

“Singles” – were the first innovation, where tapes would hold only 1 song on a tape, and a cover or extended version on side B of the same song…..but they were made for economic reasons – and not because of artistic needs – to allow the customer to buy only the song he wants (a la Itunes).

Few side effects of hearing tapes in sequence
1. The album would become like a storyboard – almost a single, yet discretized narrative.
2. Songs would meld into each other – example “Father Figure” would always “Faith” on the George Michael album (and in your head the association grew) – to an extent, that after a point, if you heard only one of them, without the other – somehow the experience would be incomplete.

I can be a spoilsport – can lament the death of “sequencing” as an art (there used to be a job called “sequencer” in the recording studio), but I wont do.

But, I do want to remind the Ipod-Itunes generation – that sometimes listening to a single CD through and through on repeat and sequence – can be a very uplifting experience.

(I have been listening to Riding With the King – BB King and Clapton  - some 15 times in the last 4 days – on constant repeat and in sequence – and I am falling in love with music sequencing all over again.)

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