A couple of weeks ago, the 11-piece indie-folk behemoth Typhoon released their first new song in four years. It clocks in at a staggering twenty-one minutes. The song is the first of four movements, which will constitute their new album Offerings.
In a world driven by singles and digital streaming, the choice to structure an album in movements rather than individual songs presents interesting implications for the listening experience. As listening mediums evolve, listeners have been given more control over which songs they listen to and in what order. Artists can no longer resort to the use of music formats as a safeguard for preserving the sequential structure of their album.
Typhoon’s decision to offer four movements rather than twelve songs presents a creative solution to this problem. This structural design serves as a mechanism for controlling the way listeners experience so as to elicit a specific emotional response. As the options for controlling the sequential order of an album dwindles, artists must find other ways to steer listeners towards their desired progression of tracks.
From Vinyl to Digital
The evolution of listening mediums (Vinyl—CD—Digital) has redesigned the way we experience music. As we have transitioned from vinyl to streaming, the power of catering the listening experience has shifted from musicians to listeners themselves.
Though musicians control the track-list of their album, each successive medium has given listeners more power to craft their own experience.
Vinyl records provide listeners with one primary decision to alter the album’s sequence—they can choose when to play each side (A—>B or B—>A). Individual songs can be skipped, but it requires a significant amount of effort relative to other mediums.
CDs allow listeners to cater their listening experience through the ability to (1) skip/rewind with ease and (2) re-arrange the track sequence. CDs give the listener immediate control to skip a song they dislike or switch between tracks quickly. They also allow the listener to burn their own desired sequence of the album’s songs, though it would take considerable time and effort.
While CDs gave listeners the ability to seek and re-arrange songs, digital music improved the ease and speed at which they can do so. Songs can be skipped with precision, and new playlists with the desired track-listings can be created in a matter of seconds.
As these mediums evolve, listeners have been given more ability to impact the sequential structure of an album, and thus the listening experience itself.
(Un)constrained Listener Choice
A central implication of this evolution is that listeners are no longer forced to listen to an album in the order intended by the musician.
Music, like all art forms, is beautiful because each individual has their own emotional experience with it—there is no one “right” interpretation. That being said, musicians may structure their composition to elicit a specific emotional response at a specific time. If this is the case, then the sequential order of a track-list becomes an essential component of the piece of music.
The listener’s own unique experience and interpretation is important; however, the integrity of the album’s sequential structure is often of equal importance.
As technology and music continue to evolve, it becomes more difficult to preserve the structural integrity of an album as the music is increasingly distributed through digital channels.
Typhoon’s decision to structure their new album in four movements seems to be a deliberate attempt to preserve the structural and sequential integrity of the composition in the modern age. The band has employed the use of movements in order to control the listening experience more directly, introducing an additional step in the hierarchical structure of the album.
Listeners no longer have the ability to rearrange or skip the songs of an album, but rather they are restricted to the ability to rearrange or skip the movements, which are comprised of individual songs.
Each movement presents a distinct emotional experience, and the songs within them cannot be shifted around or skipped—Typhoon is controlling the experience so as to evoke a specific mindset or emotion.
As options for ensuring that a listener will follow of sequential order of an album dwindle, artists must explore other methods of preserving their artistic intentions. Typhoon’s structural choice of movements rather than songs presents an intriguing mechanism to maintain (some) control over their intended listening experience.
The album will not be released until January 12th, but Typhoon’s choice to employ a unique approach to the sequential structure of their album injects an antiquated model into a modern world.