Musical Space: Caesura

May 22, 2018

(Music: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”,

)

This is “Alright,” from Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. There are so many amazing things going on, but my favorite part is the jarring silence. The dramatic pause is one of the most powerful things a composer can do.

It’s a punctuation mark, a caesura, a place to breathe. But musical pauses don’t function as moments of repose; if anything, they ramp up the tension as the listener wonders what will happen next. It’s more like a comedian’s timing between the set-up and the punchline. The next verse, the last chorus, the epic guitar solo are made more important by the quiet that precedes. We feel the pulse of the drums in their absence.

(Music: Handel, “Hallelujah,” The Messiah,

)

Interrupting a groove is risky - it’s awkward when you don’t know if you’re supposed to keep dancing - but, as Claude Debussy said, “music is the space between the notes.” In music, the noisiest of art forms, silence is golden. 

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Listening list:

Warning: Spoilers

Beethoven:
Beethoven, String Quartet #14 presto

James Brown, “I Want You So Bad,” (1963)

The Four Tops, “Bernadette,” (1967)


A false ending, foreshadowed

Brian Eno, “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” Here Come the Warm Jets, (1974)

Death Cab for Cutie - "Why You'd Want To Live Here" The Photo Album (2001)

Q-tip, “Breathe and Stop,” Amplified (2000)

Queens of the Stone Age, You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire, Songs For The Deaf, (2002)

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