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SERIES CREATION HISTORY

Be Warned! This section describes the history of how the theory of the novelistic approach gave birth to this series. It is abstract, so many of you will find this to be DRY AS A BONE. Madmen only please.

Also, before we proceed, an apology to system designers. You will find the first half of this pretty basic. We are just establishing a common background at first so there is no misunderstanding about the second part.


There are two basic aspects to designing a package of information; cohesion and coupling.

The fundamental rule in play here is that human beings cannot understand anything unless it is broken down into comprehensible units, which we will call components for reasons that will soon be made plain.

     Digression For The Contentious
If you have any doubts about this, consider what is involved in a situation like a human being with a thirty pound pack on their back walking transversely across a gravel covered hillside. You have all the historic, sociological, biographic, cognitive, and biological aspects of a human being. This is unimaginably complex in itself. This entity is interacting with the slope and changing footing of the hillside environment, producing physics that are simply incalculable. Further, this is taking place on the surface of a planet that is spinning on its axis while orbiting a star that is part of a galaxy that is hurtling away from other galaxies. All these things are made of a vast set of molecules and atoms and subatomic particles. And all these major groupings are only a fraction of the systems, let alone components, involved.

So let us get over the idea that we are some omniscient species. Humanity barely understands in theory a fraction of what is always going on around us, let alone in real time. The smartest individual essentially knows nothing compared to what can be known. Do not misunderstand. I am impressed by human knowledge, but I ought to be since I am human, opinions to the contrary notwithstanding. Only our culture is so full of itself, measuring our present against our past, that it seems necessary to point out just how finite we are. In fact, even our past should give us a good hint about this, since we are the descendants of those whose knowledge we now smile down at. Yet they were as confident as we are.

Anyway, if we are going to communicate something of any complexity to another human being by way of symbols, we must break that communication down into bite sized symbols.

For example, few people have the experience necessary to understand how to design an entire house. But it would not be difficult to teach a person how to design the work triangle of a kitchen, or how to plan the waste line plumbing if given the floorplan, or how a roof is shingled. In other words, taken individually, these components of the homebuilding process are comprehensible. This is cohesion.

Cohesion measures how completely and accurately a component of information describes its process. But if you need to build a house, you need to understand more than how to shingle it. You need to understand the relationships among the thousands of components. This is coupling.

Coupling measures how well the information components join together. For example, it does no good to have a strong cohesive understanding of how to lay carpet in a house if the house is going to have wooden floors. This would be an example of a problem with match coupling. As another example, it is pointless to have a strong cohesive understanding of how to shingle a roof if you do not understand this process must be done long after the process of building the foundation. This would be an example of a problem with sequence coupling.

Taken together, cohesion and coupling describe how well individual components (cohesion) have been constructed in route to building the final assembly (coupling). Quest To Be Whole is our final assembly.

Note that when we say cohesion and coupling are measures, this does not imply you can say a 'high number' is always good or a 'low number' always bad. There are many items that are properly 'loosely' coupled instead of 'tightly' coupled. For example, the carpet laying process is tightly coupled to the subflooring process, but loosely coupled to the roofing process. The carpet and roof are coupled because they are components of the same assembly, the house. But if someone saw these two processes as tightly coupled, they would be misunderstanding the relationship.

Believe it or not, all this talk about cohesion and coupling really does relate to Mirror Covenant. If you read this far, you might as well read the rest.
 
 

Now that we have a common background, let us return to the novelistic approach, and its implementation in the series, Quest To Be Whole. Once we decided to make rock music that meant something, and to use all the communication formats at our disposal, the issue of cohesion and coupling became paramount. Where would the meaning reside?

We wanted the meaning to be on many levels, so we came up with the novelistic approach, but in some ways that only made the issue of cohesion and coupling more critical. When, not if, we faced a situation where increasing the cohesion of the series entailed lowering the cohesion of one or more albums, should we do it? What about similar problems with the relationship between an album and its songs? Should we do something that would increase the coupling strength of an album, but lower the cohesion of one or more songs?

After a bit of staggering around in the dark, we realized there were two basic approaches to the novelistic concept. To oversimplify, we will call these two approaches tightly and loosely coupled. A tightly coupled album series would come out like an opera. Everything would be a part of the clear overall plot. A loosely coupled album would be joined together by inference and allusion.

The tightly coupled approach had several advantages.

1.  The relationship among the components would be plain, the way picking up a glass of water is obviously related to drinking a glass of water.

2.  The work as a whole would be relatively easy for the audience to understand.

3.  The only time absolute creativity would be required, the only time the blank page would have to be faced, would be in creating the plot. From that point the plot would tell us what albums were required, and what songs we needed to write.

The loosely coupled approach had several disadvantages.

1. By not following a linear story, we would be abandoning the artistic structure with which almost everyone is familiar, and with which everyone is the most familiar.

2. By doing something unfamiliar, we would be shrinking our potential audience. In the big money era of the blockbuster media event, this disadvantage alone is generally more than enough to kill a project.

3. We would need to make significant demands on our audience. In the tv era of passive entertainment, this again is usually enough to kill a project.

4. It could be quite difficult to construct. Where the tightly coupled approach would only require facing the blank page long enough to come up with one story, we would be faced with significant creative effort on multiple levels throughout the project. Further, it might not be easy to tell when it was done well, because the standards are unusual.

5. Among the remaining potential audience, someone would still miss key relationships because many of them will be relatively obscure. This would be particularly true if the work were complex enough to justify using the loosely coupled approach in the first place. To make it work, we would be forced to do something few artists seem to enjoy: explain the work.

6. Yet how can you explain the work when it comes on a CD or cassette?

But we chose the loosely coupled approach anyway. Other than our obvious madness, why?

Because of a decision we made regarding cohesion and coupling. The reasoning behind this decision began with a question. What component is most likely to be experienced by the audience in isolation from the whole? The answer is the song. Someone listening to the radio is not going to encounter our work in its entirety. So we decided that the cohesion of each song would trump coupling considerations.

This was the watershed decision. In some respects everything else we have done flows from the decision to make the songs able to stand alone.
 
 

What follows is basically how we addressed the 6 objections, as stated above, to the loosely coupled approach.

In response to problems 1, 2 and 3 above, we chose to target an audience capable of dealing with this unfamiliar territory. Hard as it may be for some to believe, there really are folks, even in the U.S., who enjoy reading works by people like Tolstoy and Homer and Sartre and Dante, in the original language. On that level what we are doing is more childish than difficult. Such people will have no trouble understanding our content. This choice was not merely self serving. As we discuss in our piece about the target audience, one of the Church's least effective outreaches is to the 'gifted'.

The response to item 4 above is a bit more involved.

One of the immediate results of the decision to make song cohesion the overriding priority was in writing the songs themselves. Rather than being written to spec, so to speak, the inspiration for each song had to come on its own from our lives. If you have written any songs or poems, you know how frustrating it can be. As Dr. Who said, "That's the problem with ideas. They only come at their own time."

Another consequence is that you have to let the songs tell you what the series and albums are going to be about, instead of having the series or album tell the song what it is going to be about. This forces a person to be a critic of their own work in a way quite different than the built-in bull---- detector Hemmingway said a good writer must possess.

This factor is multiplied many times by the multiple format approach, where secondary creations like music videos are being drawn from the songs. The advantage to this is that, because the artist is reexamining the inspiration of the song as well as the song itself, many unexpected facets come to light. The importance of finding new inspirations in old ones can hardly be overestimated.

It also means you must have a critical mass of completed songs so the artist-turned-critic can get a feel for what the songs are saying as a group. What makes this particular task even more daunting is the need for between 80 and 100 good songs that can be fit into the structures.

I have many songs I think have the quality to make it on their own, but which have never fit the structure of any of the albums. Combine the good songs that will not fit and the almost good songs you have to write if you are going to write any good ones (leaving out the inevitable bad songs), and you come up with something like 200 songs.

Over any real span of time I have found it almost impossible to average more than one potentially useable song per week when the inspirations must come individually from life itself. So if you figure 200 songs at roughly fifty a year, you are talking about four years to reach a critical mass of songs. Four years to start. As you might guess, we initially did not understand the scope of this project. If there had been more people involved the process could have been hastened, but it is quite unlikely the result would be as cohesive. The selection and refinement process is pretty savage on my artistic ego, and I am doing it to myself.

All the negatives aside, what you end up with is a work where the critical ground level components are as strong as the artist can make them. The focus on cohesion before coupling will inevitably mar the larger structures somewhat, but this is not as bad a situation as it might appear.

First, these larger structures are not expected by the audience for rock music. Few individual albums have anything more than the loosest concept holding them together, and very few indeed then go beyond this to span multiple albums. And fewer still do so based entirely on original work. Some take the Bible as the source of their series, which is certainly not a bad thing, but that means they do not have to create things from scratch. So the typical fan will consider the larger structures as icing on the cake if they like the individual songs.

Second, as you go up the scale of abstraction, there is an increasing latitude for 'near field' rather than direct connections. If this were not so, any work of large scope would be impossible simply due to size. When you are dealing with a large scope, you must trust in the audience's ability to jump along the stream, so to speak, from one stone to another instead of shuffling inch by inch down a marble floored hallway. As long as the stones are near enough, and lead in the right direction, some irregularity is acceptable. But, to finish with this metaphor, let one joint in the marble floor stick up a quarter inch, and the shuffler goes down on his face.

A critical advantage in writing for people able to handle reasonable leaps is the freedom to cover a much larger terrain. Our approach would be insane for a band targeted toward junior high students (which is not to say some junior high students will not get it, but that certainly most will not).

The response to items 5 and 6 above has gone through several incarnations. Initially we had a set of liner notes in which we tried to distill down the explanations enough to fit within a CD booklet. Given that these explanations now occupy an entire website, you would be correct in guessing this idea did not last long.

The next idea was to expand on the established idea of selling sheet music books by also including the explanations. After all, those are just books, so they could hold everything. We would include a massively scaled down version as a CD or cassette booklet along with a blurb directing those who wanted to know more to the sheet music book.

Finally, praise God! hypertext and the Internet came along, with the results now before you. Now we have a technique geared toward large ideas (the novelistic approach), a theme that holds large ideas well (Quest To Be Whole), and the technology with which to present the work to an audience.

Now if we could just get the songs right....

 
SERIES CREATION HISTORY
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