The musical semi-colon – and a You Must Read This

I’ve just finished reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I picked it up last week in my favourite bookshop, simply because I liked the title. The cover blurb says very little about what’s inside, and I’m not going to describe it either. Because you don’t really understand what it’s all about – or even what genre you’re reading, if that’s important to you – until you get to the very end.

It’s a tough read in some ways, because it’s structured as a set of interlinked episodes told in non-chronological order over several decades and from different points of view. Imagine trying to understand a painting as complicated as a Breughel simply by looking at small, random sections of the canvas, and then finally standing back and seeing the whole thing – you can’t quite see where the individual bits fitted in but you know it worked and you know that it’s great. Like that. I’m going to have to read it again, possibly with a notebook so I can keep track of the different characters and how they relate to each other.

Anyway, there’s one whole chapter written as a series of PowerPoint slides, which sounds a bit naff but is in fact a thing of beauty, describing an entire family and their interactions in very few words and at the same time talking about the power of the pause in music.

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I’m not keen on any of the tracks mentioned, but I’ve always been fond of this musical device. It’s used to great effect in many of my favourite techno tracks (such as DJ Mismah & DJ Tim’s Access; there are even better examples in the genre but I can’t remember offhand – or more probably never knew! – any of the titles), and it always works best when what comes afterwards is a kind of a “See?” It’s like a musical semi-colon; my favourite punctuation mark.

Here’s one where the artiste really got that. (Although this version skips shortly after the pause, which comes at around 4.36, so I’d recommend listening to it on a music streaming service if you’ve got one.)

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