I’ve recently found a new favourite YouTube clip, and it’s got me thinking about the need to vary tension in a scene or story. Music is a useful tool for illustrating how to bring a scene or story to emotional life as it is an art form that connects very directly with our emotions. You feel a song when you listen to music. This particular song is sung in Gaeilge, a language I don’t understand, so the intensity of feelings it creates are totally dependent on the music, not the words.
Check the clip out here: “Óró Sé do Bheatha Bhaile” by Seo Linn, a new Irish band specialising in songs in Gaeilge.
This is a great version of a traditional folk song, a rebel song popular as a fast marching song with the Irish volunteers during the Irish war of independence. So naturally it is filled with emotional significance for any modern citizen of Eire, and that comes through strongly in the performance.
In this clip, it is the changes in pace and intensity of the music that bring the emotions of the song to vivid life.
It starts out slow and measured, the lead singer’s voice repeating the chorus and first verse with the only instrument the drone of the accordion, then it brings in a simple drum beat. Gradually, that drum beat becomes more insistent. A song heading somewhere with purpose.
Then the drum beats increase in pace and complexity, like storm clouds roiling on the horizon.
And now the song opens up with a fast and building guitar strum, the singers’ voices join in with the same chorus line repeated, and then in come the drums, the electric organ and base guitar till the whole erupts in a wall of sound, driving madly into climatic activity as the lead singer’s voice climbs on and out. Driving, driving. Intent and rising in energy.
Suddenly the instruments all stop except the drone of the accordion and the very measured call of the lead singer. But then the drum beat softly starts again, a whisper in the background at first, but louder and louder. Until the entire band erupts in a wild wave of sound and energy. Watch the band’s faces as they play.
To suddenly stop. There is only the paced and measured singing of the band members in military precision. Then one single line with just the voice of the lead singer, each word exactly placed in tone and pitch as the sound fades out.
At the end, this song leaves me jumping out of my skin. Ready for anything, bigger, stronger, capable and aroused.
But that only happens because of the huge contrasts in pace, complexity, volume and intensity throughout the song. The crashing walls of sound only work because they occur in bursts of energy, bracketed by the slow, measured, but ominous simpler and quieter phases.
Similarly in writing a scene or story. A constant wall of sound or emotion is tiring, and loses it’s impact. Burst of energy work when following a rising tension, or when contrasted with a quiet, simple, less intense passage.
Without the lows, the highs lose their impact. And the peace of the lows is only recognised when we’ve had to fight through the storm clouds of the highs.
If you’re interested in finding out more about my books or writing, check out the BUY links on my books page.