Why 3 minutes?
Since the introduction of sound-reproduction media, the originally partly arbitrary, partly pragmatic limitations imposed by the medium have shaped listeners’ comprehension of what the appropriate dimensions of a piece of music are. The archetypal three-and-a-half-minute song of the ten-inch, 78-rpm shellac record became a naturalized format in the course of the first half of the twentieth century, but it has continued to be effective long after its foundation in technological constraints has been superseded by the long-playing vinyl record, the compact disc, and the playlist. The object of this paper is to discuss dominant sound-reproduction media technologies and formats since the early twentieth century and how these have contributed to the shaping of dominant forms of construction of temporality in Western popular-music recordings.
One of the most specific characteristics of music is its ability to structure time, to fill time passing with an affectively meaningful, ordered yet dynamic content, and in a sense 20th-century popular-music history may be viewed as a continuing investigation of different ways of effecting this meaningful time-filling function. The fixation of musical temporality in recorded music renders it principally different from live performance situations, in which, due to their inherent space for contingency, there are ample possibilities for the destabilization of the cohesive self-containedness of music. In the paper, some general characteristics of typical modes of temporal structuring in popular-music recordings are identified.
Keywords: compact disc, gramophone record, mediatization, MP3, popular music form, song duration, sound-reproduction media formats, streaming, temporality