The Internal Struggle With Dialogue And Recitative

29 Jul

A major component of musical storytelling i spend a lot of time contemplating and struggling with is how to deliver the in between song details. In the New Albion Trilogy i used a singing narrator for parts 1 and 3, but experimented with flat out spoken narration in Dieselpunk and the The Room Beneath. I even incorporated bits of dialogue, although spoken dialogue makes me very, very nervous. Still, i was pleased with the results so i continued to push the envelope.

By Slenderman i was confident enough to experiment with more and more spoken dialgue, including a type of recitative in some of the Zoe/Thomas exchanges. There was a lot of this type of exchange in the piece, indeed it was the heart of the piece, but moving forward i would never go quite that far again. And i question whether it worked, or where it worked and where it didn’t.

I have not listened to either The Slenderman Musical or The Atompunk Opera since they were released. I mean to… one day… but i really need to listen to Slenderman because i need to see what lessons i should have learned. I listened to The Hunt finally a few days ago and wanted to ritually kill myself with a samurai sword out of shame of doing a bad job. (Although giving the Slenderman a handjob was still magnificent.) This is nothing new, i’ve felt that way about every single album i’ve done at some point or another. I’ve been ashamed of Dolls, Dieselpunk, everything really at some point. Then i listen again some time much and think “oh, that’s not bad at all.” This is life.

In the Weird West Cabaret there is a significant amount of… stuff, character interaction, plot development, that occurs in between the main songs. This is one of the reasons i decided on a cabaret. Unlike the oddity of characters speaking or sing-interacting in a musical or opera, a cabaret can quite naturally have all sorts of dialogue and recitative devices occurring in between songs.

However, i’m still nervous and it’s still tricky. I worry that i really fucked this aspect up in Slenderman (although i could just listen to it a decide for myself after all this time) and wish to be very, very careful. But i also wish to continue my experiments and to play.

I have some spoken bits that i KNOW work. And they fit the form. And they’re the right quick, cute length. And some sung bits… i question. But if push comes to pull i need to favor sung bits. Because by the end, the interactions need to take place in multi-character epic songs. You know, like The Day They Come, where everybody sings at once. Well there’s a bunch more of that coming, and the piece needs to establish that as how its universe works. Yes, in this world people TOTALLY sing their thoughts back and forth to each other. In Dolls it works perfectly because no one EVER speaks, so this is easy to except.

But if we speak sometimes but not always, will this compromise the moments when we must sing our back and forth emotional dialogue? Do i cut out the speaking altogether? I really like the speaking bits… they work and i’m damn sure of it. If i did , though what the fuck do i do? I hate recitative, although i tried very hard to play with it during the initial Zoe/Thomas exchanges in Slenderman and i’m pretty sure they worked, although i REALLY need to listen to that damn thing. But i don’t want to repeat that, and i’m not going to.

I have a part where two performers are singing to each other in a beautiful melody (not a love song though) and i’m questioning whether it works. Because the lyrics lean towards a conversation. In a formal melody it’s almost… out  or place. Still deciding on that, but it got me thinking and looking for solutions.

Then yesterday the concept of Sondheim recitative suddenly occurred to me. Sondheim doesn’t do recitative and yet he does. his characters deliver dialogue-like thoughts in melodic form, using a particular type of Sondheimish melody structure that works fantastically.

Into The Woods is a masterclass in delivering various types of dialogue without breaking the musical world. There IS actual spoken bits, there’s back and forth sung dialogue using melodies that make the cadence feel natural, there’s whatever the hell On The Steps Of The Palace is… a perfect, gorgeous properly sung song that at the same time is EXACTLY like spoken dialogue…


But of course what we are more interested in is delivering a dialogue-like communication in a non spoken form. Sondheim famously hates recitative and as a result creating a new form of it that perhaps i should use as inspiration to solve my quandry.

On the other hand, it is a cabaret, It has a playful quality at times, being a small performance that can deliver spoken bits and shtick quite naturally as an intregal part of the very form itself. But yet it gets serious as it goes on, and that seriousness need reflected in the way the character interactions happen. What works closer to the beginning won’t work exactly the same in the later bits.

So i ponder.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 29, 2016 in Uncategorized


One response to “The Internal Struggle With Dialogue And Recitative

  1. J

    July 29, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    I feel like The New Albion Radio Hour struck a good balance (even if we exclude the narration). My favorite example is “The Discussion 2”. It starts as a sung conversation between Constance and Thomas, but when the VPs show up the two start talking, before Jackie takes it back into song again. The spoken word on “The Soiree” is also perfectly placed.

    Slenderman did feel a bit heavy on the spoken-word at times, which worked there and could elsewhere but I agree it probably doesn’t make for a great default. Finding the balance for each album would definitely be tricky though.


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