Hebrew School

The 1:30 rule

More and more in the digital age, music enthusiasts have complained of gluts in their collections.  What was once the strict provenance of high-browed critics and DJs— the ability to scratch one’s chin and self-importantly wonder, “what shall I listen to today?”— is now the conundrum of the avid consumer.  We have hard drives full of gigabytes of music we may never listen to, and yet our dopamine receptors twitch at the prospect of acquiring more.

As the now decades-old failure of physical music media— corresponding with a pitched rise in sources for cheap and free digital music— turns us all into critics and curators, it’s only logical that consumers would begin to develop their own artistic and empirical criteria for listening, enjoying and sharing.  With that in mind, I’d like to share a couple of tools I’ve used to wade these waters.  In the realm of pop music, which is to say, audio pieces structured as songs between two and ten minutes long, I’ve found these strategies remarkably dependable.

The first is a bit of a no-brainer with a finite twist:  If a song does not grab me within about one minute and 30 seconds, I move on.  Of course, we all make aesthetic valuations of pop songs by playing them from the beginning, but do we do so for a full minute and a half?  I didn’t always.  Vocals with an Eddie Vedder-like husk or guitars that sounded like mid-’70s Eagles would have me scrambling for the “next” button in five to ten seconds.  Now, with the exception of the horror-inducing, I’ll wait these out.

What happens in this 1:30?  Invariably and in different combinations, a number of things:

  • An introduction comes to its end, and “the groove” starts.  Take for example O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples:”
  • One or two verses end, and the chorus ties the song together:
  • A bridge or new (non-chorus) section redeems or reinforces the beginning (this one happens for me at 1:40— like I say, it’s approximate):
  • A break (often after a chorus or verse) winds up the tension:

This listening technique has led me to believe that most pop songs have a tipping point in time, a “fish or cut bait” moment where the artist must act to keep the listener engaged.  And if an artist proceeds past this mark, he or she better have already done something wholly compelling for me to continue on.

Do you have certain strategies for wading the high volume of music out there?  How do you manage your listening experience without limiting it?  In my next post, I’ll take a look at how harmony guides me through my collection.


Do it again: Christopher Williams @ Dance Theater Workshop

“you don’t have to be Catholic”

Sometimes, even in New York City, an evening of truly enjoyable performance is hard to come by. Somewhere in the mire of public transit, running into people you know, crowds of sweaty people in dank, cold spaces, coordinating busy schedules, and the sometimes obscure haze of an artist’s vision, a lot of perfectly good production suddenly goes meh.

You’d think more so when faced with the prospect of a three-hour piece chronicling the lives of medieval Christian saints: I mean, shit, sometimes it’s all I can do to devote three lunchtime minutes to someone’s Twitter account. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get the ants out of my pants to be able to sit down to an entire opera without leaving during intermission.

Not so with Christopher Williams’ latest triumph, The Golden Legend. Sixteen saints’ solos bookended by a pro- and recessional, a slew of live musicians (including Peter Kirn, Gregory Spears, and members of Lionheart and Anonymous 4), magical puppetry, eyeball-breaking costume design, genre-bending and rigorous contemporary movement underscored with narrative, plus a chance to look up someone’s ass and see Santa Claus: For the hours not to dissolve away effortlessly, you would have to be a sun-blind actual resident of the medieval world rather than the frenetic, media-saturated world from which we so desperately deserve escape.

At the end of the performance, I was tempted to rouse a cheer from the packed house and demand an encore.

Can you imagine, an encore of a work of that size and scope? I’m not exaggerating– that’s what I want.


Interview with Christopher Williams + 10 Questions [Dance Theater Workshop]

Lives and Deaths of Saints, and Puppets [New York Times]

Martyred men and medieval music [Metro]