For many years I’ve been working on watching all the films in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. Not the one linked, with Lady Gaga on the front, but a 2003 version which quickly lost its sleeve, and over long years of consultation its cover, and now sits as a well-loved, half-bound pile of papers on my shelf. My pace in this endeavour has
Sitting next to it in a similar state of disrepair is 1001 Albums You Must
The problem seems to be that seeing a film is more binary than listening to an album. Either you’ve seen it or you haven’t.
But first, I’ve come up with a solution for how to track progress with albums. It’s an idea that’s been on my mind for some time, but I’ve only recently put it into practice. It involves spaced repetition. I figured this would be a pain, but it’s actually
I’ve just created a “Albums” deck in the Anki flashcards app. The front side of each card has “Artist – Album (Year)” and the back side has nothing at all, at the moment. For a few albums I’ve added track listings on the back side, but I’ve found that the lower overhead of just entering the basic metadata on the front seems to work.
So then I open Anki, it shows me some flashcard with an album, and I’ll listen to that album, and score the card just as if it were a memorisation, based on how well I remember the album. (Really, I score it with something more like how ready I predict I will be to listen to the album in X time, which
Why is music harder to absorb than film?
In terms of length, density, and complexity, a film, ought, by rights, to be harder to absorb than an album. Consider:
- A classic album can be as short as 30 minutes, with the longest double-albums stretching to about 90. Films are rarely shorter than 90 minutes, and can be substantially longer. To give just examples from the 1001 book, Lawrence of Arabia, Once Upon a Time in America, Gone with the Wind, and La belle noiseuse are each nearly four hours—but the book also sees fit to include
Riget, a TV show that comes in at 4 hours 40, and Shoah, a documentary of 9 hours.
obviously,films require that you look at them. Though it’s possible that this makes it easier to absorb a film, since your full attention is engaged. Still, I think even sitting still with exclusive attention to an album would not result in the same level of familiarity as watching a film for the first time.
- Digital data requirements confirm this: An album, even in its uncompressed form, is rarely more than a few hundred megabytes. MP3 compression yields <100 megabytes per CD. The
blu-ray of Andrei Rublev (technically also compressed) is 41 gigabytes.
- Given the above constraint
s, a film could easily contain a whole album in its soundtrack.
So what is it about music that makes it take more time and repetition? I have a few speculations.
- Rhythm itself. Film is not inherently repetitive. And I virtually never want to watch a film again immediately after seeing it. (The same goes for novels, incidentally.) But a day after hearing a great album for the first time, I can hear it rattling around in my mind in such a way that demands another listen.
- Poetry. Perhaps film could
be likenedmore broadly to prose, and music to poetry. I’ve noticed that it takes meseveral reads to really getpoetry, which is rarely the case with prose. Music , of course, tends to containlanguage much closer to poetry than to prose as well. Modern songwriting is, at least in my life, the only form in which I still encounter metre and rhyme, unless I’m deliberately reading old poetry. For whatever reason, metric poetry is no longer practised in mainstream English culture, except in music.
- Memorisation. Related to the above, I don’t feel I’ve “learned” an album until I can remember most of its lyrics. That is not the case with films. I’ve never been one to memorise dialogue.
I may revisit this list soon, since I’m only a week into this Anki scheme. But so far it’s already expanded my musical horizons, with highlights being
I’m probably also going to set up Anki for memorising poems, which I’ve not done enough of since I was a teen.