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Progressive rock is subgenre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid to late 1960s. Progressive rock, which initially had classical music influences, has come to include other fusions of music styles including jazz fusion, metal and folk rock musics. Progressive rock is an approach that combines elements of diverse styles. Jerry Ewing, editor of Prog Magazine, explains that "Prog is not just a sound, it's a mindset."Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci outlines that Progressive rock is defined by its very lack of stylistic boundaries. The advent of the concept album, plus the genre's roots in psychedelia, led albums and performances to be viewed as combined presentations of music, lyrics, and visuals.
Bands abandoned the short popsingle in favor of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz or classical music as part of an effort to give rock music the same level of musical sophistication and critical respect.[better source needed] Progressive rock abandons the danceable beat that defines earlier rock styles and is more likely than other types of popular music to experiment with compositional structure, instrumentation, harmony and rhythm, or lyrical content. It may demand more effort on the part of the listener than other types of music.
Musicians in progressive rock typically display a high degree of instrumental skill, although this is not always the case.[nb 1] Virtuoso instrumental skills are so closely associated with progressive rock that authors such as Bill Martin consider it as a defining element and exclude bands such as Pink Floyd from consideration.[nb 2] It is not uncommon for musicians to have received a higher-than-average level of formal training.[nb 3] Players from the genre frequently appear in readers' polls of publications that cater to musicians.[nb 4]
Progressive rock songs often avoid common popular musicsong structures of verse/chorus form, and their extended lengths allow complex themes that cannot be fully developed within the span of a three-minute single.Musical forms are blurred through the use of extended sections and of musical interludes that bridge separate sections together, which results in classical-style suites. These large-scale compositions are similar to medleys, but there is typically more thematic unity between the sections. Transitions between electric and acoustic sections provide dynamic contrast. Extended instrumental passages often mix composed, classical-style sections with group improvisation. These sections emphasize group virtuosity rather than individual skill, and they are a break from other pop forms in which a single, dominant singer or soloist is accompanied by a band.[nb 5]
These extended pieces are usually considered to be the result of experimentation with classical music forms, although an alternative viewpoint holds that they are explorations of the complexities possible within the popular music format. Many bands did, however, use compositional techniques borrowed from classical music, as noted in the following examples. Gentle Giant, whose Kerry Minnear held a degree in composition from the Royal Academy of Music, often used counterpoint in their pieces.Kansas songs such as "Miracles out of Nowhere" often contain complex passages in which the violin and one or more keyboards and guitars all play separate contrapuntal parts. "Close to the Edge" by Yes uses a classical compositional technique in which the arrangement is developed by the use of varied repetitions of a theme throughout the piece's structure and has elements of sonata form. Elements of classical music are sometimes borrowed for the cultural significance they carry.[nb 6]
Early progressive rock groups expanded the timbral palette of the then-traditional rock instrumentation of guitar, keyboard, bass guitar, and drums by adding instruments more typical of folk music, jazz or music in the classical tradition. A number of bands, especially at the genre's onset, recorded albums in which they performed together with a full orchestra.
Progressive rock bands often use instruments in ways different from their traditional roles. The role of the bass may be expanded from its traditional rhythm section function into that of a lead instrument. Bassists often play contrapuntal lines that are more independent and melodic than conventional bass lines, which emphasize the chord root. This is often accompanied by the use of an instrument such as a Rickenbacker bass, whose sound contains an unusually large amount of treble frequencies. Some bassists use the Chapman Stick, which is operated with both hands on the fretboard and allows polyrhythmic and chordal playing. Treble may be emphasized by the choice of strings, by playing with a pick, and by use of the instrument's higher registers. Drum kits are frequently expanded with orchestral percussion such as timpani and gongs. Acoustic guitar becomes more prominent and often appears as interludes played in the classical style of Andrés Segovia. Piano is played in a style derived from the classical piano repertoire rather than from the blues or boogie-woogie styles previously in use. Guitar may be dispensed with altogether, and traditional rhythm guitar is almost never used, as chordal backgrounds are typically played on a keyboard instrument such as the Hammond organ.[nb 7]
The synthesizer became a viable instrument when modular synthesizers, such as this one played by Keith Emerson, were replaced by smaller, simpler versions
In the 1960s, it was impractical to work together with an orchestra on a regular basis. As a substitute, the Mellotron is a keyboard instrument that contains tape-recordings of individual notes of various instruments and voices, and plays back their sounds as the keyboard is pressed. Its sounds included woodwinds, choirs, brass and, perhaps most famously, strings. The technology available meant that its sounds were not exact reproductions of the instruments, but instead had a haunting quality that many bands prized.[nb 8]
The Hammond organ is another instrument closely associated with progressive rock. It is a versatile instrument that can function like a pipe organ, can be played through a guitar amplifier for a distorted tone, is capable of sustained notes and rapid melodic runs, and can make percussive sounds. The ability to adjust its timbre while a note is held and its capabilities of vibrato and, when a rotating Leslie speaker is used, tremolo, make it a very expressive lead instrument. The use of organs and choirs reflects the background in Anglican church music shared by many of the genre's founders. Various other electronic and electro-mechanical keyboard instruments were in common use.[nb 9]
The birth of progressive rock roughly coincided with the commercial availability of synthesizers. Early modular synthesizers were large instruments that used patch cords to route the signal flow. Programming the instruments meant placing the patch cords to connect the individual modules. The Minimoog, a smaller, simplified synthesizer that needed no patch cords, began production in 1971 and provided keyboardists with a more-easily programmed instrument that could imitate other instruments, could create new sounds of its own, and was highly portable and affordable. Progressive rock was the genre in which the synthesizer first became established as a common part of popular music. Synthesizers could be used to play the rapid, virtuosic lines that changed the perception of keyboard instruments.
The reliance on the use of multiple keyboard sounds meant that some keyboardists appeared onstage surrounded by ten or more keyboards. Modern digital synthesizers and samplers have reduced the need for huge keyboard stacks, as they typically allow sounds to be layered or for one keyboard to trigger another's sounds through a MIDI connection. They also provide a reliable alternative to instruments such as Mellotrons, whose delicate mechanical apparatus is prone to breakdowns, and are much more portable than bulky instruments such as the Hammond organ. Digital synthesizers are also suitable chordal instruments, unlike early analog synthesizers such as the Minimoog, Moog Taurus and ARP Odyssey, which could play only one note at a time and so were mainly suitable for drones, basslines and lead playing.
Modern synthesizer technology has reduced the need for huge setups of bulky equipment. Here Rick Wakeman plays a digital synthesizer with one hand and programs a Minimoog with the other
The concept of the studio as an instrument led certain audio effects units to become identified with progressive rock.[nb 10] Progressive rock guitarists showed a distinct preference for Hiwatt amplifiers.[nb 11] Advancements in recording technology were key in enabling the production of progressive rock albums.[nb 12] As multitrack recording with as many as 64 separate tracks became available, bands took advantage of the additional tracks and created increasingly dense arrangements.[nb 13]
Rhythm, melody and harmony
There is a tendency towards greater freedom of rhythm than exists in other forms of rock music. Progressive rock artists are more likely to explore less common time signatures such as 5/8 and 7/8.Tempo, key and time signature changes are common within progressive rock compositions.[nb 14] Complex time signatures are sometimes used to create a polyrhythmic effect.[nb 15] Progressive rock often discards the blues inflections and pentatonic scale-based melodies of mainstream rock in favor of modal melodies. Compositions draw inspiration from a wide range of genres including classical, jazz, folk music and world music. Melodies are more likely to comprise longer, developing passages than short, catchy ones.
Chords are typically standard triads, although many keyboardists would alter these triads by playing a nonchord tone in the bass.[nb 16] Chord changes are typically based on modes, as is typical of rock music, and deviate significantly from the tonality of music from the classical era. Unexpected chord changes in the style of impressionist composers like Claude Debussy are common.[nb 17]
Progressive rock lyrics tend to avoid common rock and pop subjects such as love and dancing. Lyrics are typically not written to appeal exclusively to adolescent audiences. As a result, progressive rock songs depart from such youth-oriented themes as violence, nihilism, rebellion, anti-adulthood, and the macabre. Sex is not a common subject.[nb 18] Themes found in classical literature, fantasy and folklore occur frequently, and intellectual topics such as psychological theories may be addressed.Romantic poetry and J. R. R. Tolkien are frequent sources of inspiration.
Medievalism and science fiction themes are common and often appear as metaphors for spiritual transformation and the quest for an ideal society.[nb 19] Many early lyrics express utopian themes that reflect the genre's origins in psychedelic rock and address the subject of spiritual transformation. Spiritual and religious themes are common.[nb 20]Monty Python and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band-influenced humour appears in some progressive rock lyrics. This is especially pronounced in the more eccentric, Dadaistic approach adopted by some of the Canterbury bands.[nb 21] Several groups valued lyrics so strongly as to employ a lyricist as a full-time band member.[nb 22]
Social commentary is frequently present.[nb 23] Many progressive rock bands were strongly rooted in British folk music, and this resulted in a tendency toward pastoralism in the lyrics.[nb 24] As social and economic problems increased in Britain within the 1970s, many artists gravitated away from pastoralism and ecology at varying degrees, with temporary to near-permanent shifts towards modernism, contemporary political satire, and realism.[nb 25] Awareness of nature sometimes combined with social criticism to produce lyrics that expressed concern over the ecology.[nb 26] Ecological themes were sometimes carried out to an extent that even genre fans found embarrassing, and they were frequently satirized by Frank Zappa as naive.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a general trend among rock and pop artists toward albums in which many or all of the songs shared a common theme. This tendency was especially pronounced in progressive rock. Experimentation with expanded musical forms contributed to this, as songs that were more or less thematically related were often combined into suites made up of several movements.[nb 27]
These extended pieces carry on in the Romantic-era tradition of program music, which is intended to tell a story, and they often are inspired by works of literature.[nb 28]Story arcs are sometimes spread out over several albums.[nb 29] The advent of multi-part suites that occupy an entire LP side roughly coincided with the rise of FM radio and its practice of playing albums, or album sides, in their entirety.[nb 30] Some bands stretched the format beyond their audiences' capacity to tolerate.[nb 31]
Some bands had elaborate stage presentations.[nb 32] Some acts indulged in pure showmanship.[nb 33] Progressive rock visual styles sometimes extended to the stage sets.[nb 34] This enthusiasm for showmanship was not shared by all progressive rock bands.[nb 35]
Album covers prior to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band usually consisted of a photograph of the group, but the trend toward concept albums was accompanied by a move toward artwork that depicted the album's concept. This artwork often contains science fiction and fantasy motifs executed in a surrealist style.[nb 36]
A number of artists became closely associated with the genre.[nb 37] Artwork was sometimes commissioned from artists who were famous in their own right.[nb 38] This combination of music and artwork is intended to function as a total work of art, which is a further use of concepts borrowed from high culture. The practice of connecting an album's artwork to its concept still exists, but its effectiveness is limited by the smaller display area used by compact discs and mobile devices.
^Neither Greg Lake nor Boz Burrell had ever been a bassist prior to filling that role in King Crimson. Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond joined Jethro Tull because of his social compatibility with the band rather than musical skills. "Jeffrey didn't get into the group because he was a good guitarist," said bandleader Ian Anderson, "because he could hardly play a note."Pink Floyd and Brian Eno are notable examples of artists who are able to build complex structures out of simple parts and who are virtuosos in the sense that their instrument is the recording studio.
^Keith Emerson was acclaimed as "the Hendrix of the keyboard." Bassist of Yes, Chris Squire helped to redefine his instrument's role in rock music and influenced bassists across a range of genres.
^Although many progressive rock songs are of three to five minutes in length, and bands such as Kraftwerk did adhere to pop songwriting principles, long-form pieces of twenty minutes or more are not uncommon.
^Yes frequently used contrapuntal sections to create the impression of a baroque style, as in a fugue-like section at the eight-minute mark of "Close to the Edge" and in the harpsichord solo of "Siberian Khatru." Gentle Giant created a medieval feel through their use of the madrigal.
^Genesis built huge, orchestral textures by blurring the lines between the roles of the keyboard and the guitar.
^This instrument became the signature sound of the Moody Blues and was closely associated with many later progressive rock acts including Genesis,Strawbs, and King Crimson.
^Pink Floyd, especially in their early days, were noted for their heavy use of vocal delay. Robert Fripp and Brian Eno employed a tape-delay system using two 1/4" tape-recorders, and later dubbed "Frippertronics," that allowed self-accompaniment and the creation of textural, evolving soundscapes. Frippertronics debuted on Fripp & Eno's 1973 No Pussyfooting album, and was later incorporated into Fripp solo albums and mainstream works such as Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall's 1977 Sacred Songs.
^The Moody Blues were given access to an orchestra for the recording of Days of Future Passed because Deram Records wanted to showcase their production technology.
^Some artists, such as Yes and Brian Eno, later saw this as having been taken to excess and either simplified their arrangements or distanced themselves from the genre altogether.
^John Wetton, a veteran of several prominent progressive rock groups, later described frequent meter changes as an immature behavior that one grows out of. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman explained their use as necessary for matching the music to Jon Anderson's lyrics.
^As in "The Journey," from Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. An ostinato, played on a Clavinet in a 9 8 meter subdivided as an unusual 2+2+2+3 pattern, is overlaid by a 6 8 choral pattern in a 9 8 time signature with the standard 3+3+3 subdivision. Robert Fripp has spoken of meters based on 5, 7 and 11 as "vital and energetic."
^Song titles such as Hatfield and the North's "Big Jobs (Poo Poo Extract)" reflect this. Puns are common, as in the Caravan album title Cunning Stunts. The more serious symphonic prog bands occasionally recorded such comical tracks as "Jeremy Bender" by ELP, "Harold the Barrel" by Genesis, and "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles", an interlude from Jethro Tull's album-length A Passion Play.
^Henry Cow, an especially avant-garde British band with Marxist leanings, took the viewpoint that the major record labels were using their economic power to dictate which styles of music ever got heard by the public. The band organized a "Rock in Opposition" (RIO) festival to unite bands who similarly opposed music business practices.
^Genesis, especially when Anthony Phillips was a member of the band, used mythological figures and fairytale worlds to create this effect in songs. After his departure the band did continue to explore these fantasy elements, yet often in a more diverse approach as songs began to combine fantasy with more dark and bizarrely surreal themes such as "The Musical Box" and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed."
^This appears on the major Yes albums of the early 1970s and their later "Don't Kill the Whale." Ecology also figures heavily in Magma's lyrical concept.Manfred Mann's Earth Band's 1974 album The Good Earth carried an ecological theme and included a coupon that entitled its purchasers to a square foot of mountain property in Wales.
^These extended works are at best, as with "Close to the Edge" and "2112," considered to be among the bands' greatest works.
^This was the case with Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans, a two-LP set that contained a single 20-minute song on each side. The album caused disagreements that led to keyboardist Rick Wakeman's departure from the band, as he compared the new material to a "padded bra" and protested the new songs by eating onstage instead of playing. In the punk era, Tales became a symbol of progressive rock self-indulgence.
^Pink Floyd pioneered the concept of concerts as multimedia events, and they used sophisticated light shows meant to suggest or enhance the use of LSD. Their laser show was later replaced by even more sophisticated props such as aeroplane crashes, flying animals, and a giant wall that was constructed behind them and then torn down. Genesis took an operatic approach, as frontman Peter Gabriel used multiple costume changes to accent the theatrical nature of his lyrics. Their The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour reinforced this with a slideshow of as many as 1500 images. Pink Floyd's interest in multimedia performances later led to soundtrack work on several films and ultimately expressed itself in the film Pink Floyd - The Wall. Other progressive rock bands dabbled in film. Peter Gabriel collaborated with surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in an attempt to write a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway screenplay, and the Italian band Goblin was noted for their soundtrack work on Dawn of the Dead, Profondo rosso and Suspiria.
^Roger Dean designed stage sets for Yes that continued the visual themes used his album cover designs. Props included giant mushrooms and a drum set encased in a seashell, which nearly suffocated drummer Alan White when it failed to open during one performance.Tangerine Dream had a preference for performing in Gothic cathedrals and used light shows ranging from the minimal to full laser shows. Jean Michel Jarre integrated projections and fireworks into his performances.
^King Crimson initially employed a dramatic light show, but guitarist Robert Fripp became concerned that it distracted from the music. Fripp and Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett notably engaged in no stage movement at all and, instead, stayed seated throughout performances.
^Fragile, by Yes, has cover art that depicts the Earth splitting into pieces, which reflects the ecological focus of their lyrics.Tarkus, by ELP, has a William Neal-designed LP gatefold that symbolically illustrates the titular suite's concept through a series of drawings of fantastic, cybernetic creatures who battle one another.
^Roger Dean, who designed album jackets for numerous bands and worked extensively with Yes, created imaginary worlds with a sense of imagination and grandeur that matched the music.Paul Whitehead illustrated early Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator albums with nightmarish art based on the songs' lyrics, and he encouraged the bands to develop a visual identity.Hipgnosis, a London design firm with close personal ties to members of Pink Floyd, used the music as inspiration for surrealistic designs that incorporated photographs and visual puns. Dean and Hipgnosis have influenced later visual artists and advertising designers.
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