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Slowly Building Something Worthwhile

There are some things that can only be said slowly. And there are some experiences that can only be communicated over time. Good stories must earn their climaxes. To mean more, you must communicate more. One can't borrow or buy an epic scale to their journey without going through an epic journey step by step. Every moment that is poured into a work has the potential of paying off in a big way.

Time is special like this. The purpose of this article is to highlight a few musical examples of works that take their time building up to their single, significant, and at times epic climax/conclusion.

If you're the kind of person that's in a rush, I suggest finding the time not to be. I also suggest listening to each of these songs. Play them in the background of your routine computer tasks if you must. 

I am very fortunate to have played the Firebird Suite with a full orchestra and Adagio for Strings with a full string orchestra. I must say that I didn't enjoy rehearsing these songs at first. Adagio is written in a key with 5 flats, which is very uncommon for string music. This made the song difficult enough, but it was even more grueling to rehearse the song under tempo. Some days, we'd only get through a few lines before our time was up.

Then one day it hit me. Adagio wasn't boring. It was building. Slowly, one small step at at time, it was still going somewhere. And it was going to a place I had never experienced before along a path that I thought was insufficient. I found that even though the song moved slowly, it developed much in the same ways as a faster paced song. Also, because the tempo was so slow, every change and inflection on every note was more pronounced. In this way, Adagio and slow songs like it create a richer listening experience per note simply because there's actually time to linger and express each note completely over seconds instead of split seconds.

These songs don't disappoint.

Firebird Suite by Stravinsky

Adagio for Strings, op.11 by Samuel Barber

Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap


Another good example of a song that fits the group is "Wait" by The Afters. Because I couldn't find an adequate online recording, I did not include it with the other examples.

Though the songs build slowly, time seems to melt away. At least, this is how it is for me. And it's not just time. My thoughts and physical state seem to match the song as well.

Forest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are two films that have a similar slowly building progression. In both of these films, the life of the main character is shown including their travels, battles, hardships, and growing pains. In Gump's case, the metaphor between life and a box of chocolates was made more impactful because the film shows us the life of this character. After having experienced the life of Forest Gump filled with mishaps and unforeseeable happenings, we can easily relate to the idea of never knowing what we're gonna get out of life.

I wonder if there's a video game with a slow building structure. Sure, many games slowly progress their stories and increase their difficulty through a series of challenges and scenes over many hours of play. However, I think the analogy between the songs/movies above and video games falls under game mechanics.

The nature of a game mechanic, in general, is an action and quick response. Hit the punch button and the character on the screen quickly punches. Tap the jump button, and the character on the screen most likely makes a short jump. To make a game with a slow build, one would have to develop mechanics based on actions that are slow and/or create responses that aren't immediate.

The closest examples I can think off are some of the exercises and games in Wii Fit. Holding a stretch is a single action that is drawn out for a small period of time. When doing the Tree pose or the Sun Salutation pose, the prolonged action and delayed response (scoring) of the game create a very slow, unique pace. Likewise, Lotus Focus is a game that tests the player's ability to sit very still for 3 minutes. SIT, in the case, is just one long action. When the player fails to SIT still, the consequences are quickly brought to the players attention. "CUT"



Reader Comments (3)

This is the first time I've looked back at this section. The point here seems to be to reduce the number of actions per amount of time so that you think about them more.

I know Kingdom of Loathing
an online adventure game, forced a maximum number of actions per day. It was also turn based. People focused their actions to make sure they did everything they wanted to that day. Unfortunately, their didn't seem to be much strategy.

Apparently the Japanese art of Banzai is also structured around slow, thoughtful pruning and contemplation.

If you let people move at their own pace, they will move too quickly to get this effect. There needs to be some structure to slow them down, such as the sheet music, director, or game mechanics.

Didn't Bangai O-Spirits have something like this?

How do I know when you reply here by the way? I haven't been getting notifications like the old site.

March 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Rosander

@ Bryan Rosander

You're right on with the Bonsai example. In fact, Bonsai, Yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation are all good examples of slow actions that happen to be Eastern in origin (I believe).

Most people aren't naturally slow, methodical, or fluid with their thoughts, movements, or actions. You're right. Structure is needed.

Bangai-O Spirits slowed down when a lot enemies/game elements were present in the level. In this way, the more (threatening) things get on the screen, the slower the game becomes. Though the game time remains constant, the player's real time in relation to the game time changes. When the game slows down, each individual action can become more accurate, deliberate, and calm. Being calm in the face of incredible danger/odds is a funny feelings. It's similar to the "out of body" "time slows down" effect people get in high stress situations. When you have time to look around the crowded screen between each shot of your rapid fire gun, even though there's more on the screen to see, you take in more than you would if the game were running at normal speed.

What a great example to bring up for this post.

Good thoughts. Thanks.

PS. If I can't get the system to email you when I respond, I'll just do it manually.

I've actually been thinking about this recently, though usually it is in the form of "Damn, Pink Floyd really knows how to take their time."

May 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Sheets

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