Before the advent of recording media, a piece of music could be quite long without its duration meriting much notice, but when the mechanical limitations of the 7” 45rpm single codified the length of a song at about 3 1/2 minutes, the pop-listening western world really adapted its musical mindset to that standard, to the point where even a massive hit like “Hey Jude” drew anxious notice from radio for being 7 minutes long. And now there’s QuickHitz (“Twice the music, all the time”), a radio format that cuts off every song at the two-minute mark, which, if it catches on in a big way—and face it, have stranger things not caught on?—will surely result in loads of pop singles being produced at under two-minute lengths.
The Residents are prophetic yet again.
But in avant-garde classical and artrock circles, songs that seem crazy long by pop radio standards are a perfectly normal part of the listening experience. After all, what impact would Oneida’s infamous 14-minute, one note song “Sheets of Easter” have had if it were three minutes long? How about Television’s “Marquee Moon?” King Crimson’s “Starless?” Flaming Lips’ 24-hour song “7 Skies H3?” And those examples are all well within the rock idiom—I haven’t even broached the New Age, noise, and ambient genres. So many of us have been acculturated to think of long pieces of music as “pretentious” or “indulgent,” products of anti-populist ivory tower navel gazers who are hostile to average listeners. Well you know what? Fuck your shitty attention span.
The Fayetteville, AR composer Cheesy Nirvosa has been making glitchy, drony compositions since the mid-oughts, and under the name “crysknife007,” he’s established a YouTube channel to disseminate conceptual pieces of lengths that could fairly be seen as downright punitive to many listeners. These are often the sorts of things that, in a LaMonte Youngish kinda way, can be more interesting to talk about than actually listen to, especially since many of these works are 12 hours in duration. “12 Hours of Pi Being Dialed on a Rotary Phone.” “Yoda Laughs for 12 Hours.” “PSY Says HANGOVER for 12 Hours.” “6 Tone Car Alarm for 12 Hours.” (I recommend city dwellers skip that last one, it’s waaaaaaaay too much like ordinary life.)
But while a few of these ideas come off as overly winking and even mildly irritating noise-artist stunts, some of them are absolutely lovely—specifically, pieces made from looped ambient sounds culled from science fiction movies. The general thrum of Ridley Scott’s dystopian future Los Angeles filtered through Rick Deckard’s apartment windows in Blade Runner? That absolutely holds up as drone music, as does the TARDIS sound effect from Doctor Who and various spaceship engine sounds from the Alien and Star Wars franchises. I endorse playing more than one of these at once, remixing them yourselves in your browser with the pause and volume controls, whatever. Knock yourself out. Maybe even, I dunno, listen to one of ‘em for 12 hours.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Lou Reed and Brian Eno together at last: it’s ‘Metal Machine Music for Airports’