Have you ever listened to music, only to find a random short track in the middle? With music streaming and stand-alone singles, interludes are a lost art. If you want to find interludes in music, you’ll have to dig deep. So, why do some albums have interludes?
Artists use extended instrumental sections as a break within a composition. These interludes are an opportunity to refocus the listener. Various artists have taken to using Interludes to create momentum and connecting thematic dots.
What is an interlude in music?
An interlude is a short music track connecting two parts of an album or song. They’re almost always under one minute and can appear anywhere on an album. Interludes vary depending on the genre, song, and artists that use them.
The interlude began as a transitional momentary track for listeners throughout entire albums. Today, interludes are most commonly employed as a pit stop; an opportunity to recalibrate and refocus our ears on the bigger picture.
Because interludes are a tradition that stretches back as far as several decades, you can find them in almost every genre of music. Yet, they are often a staple of R&B and hip–hop albums.
Some musicians use them to add dramatic effect to the intro, others are in the middle for that aforementioned break, and some serve the purpose of a chilling outro. Their purpose changes depending on how the artist uses them.
What’s the purpose of an interlude?
Much like interludes on television, musicians use them for similar reasons:
- To transition between different thematic parts of an album or song
- To create an engaging climax for a song or album
- Transitioning between different emotional feelings in a song or album
- Showing changes in the tempo, melody, rhythm of a music
- To provide a break for someone listening to an entire album
Any major transition divided by music is a sign you are hearing an interlude. This includes you transitioning from not listening to music to currently listening.
When an artist wants to vary styles between songs, interludes often act as palate-cleansers. They’d prepare your senses for another experience. Interludes provide a smooth transition with switching without remnants of the previous track overlap on top of what is new.
Why do musicians no longer use interludes?
Music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have changed the way we perceive music albums. With new digital platforms and instant online distribution, artists often release stand-alone singles. Singles rarely appear on albums.
Instant gratification and the comfort of our smartphones may this use of interludes seem somewhat redundant.
In the current time, listeners are no longer obliged to hear the entire album from cover to cover. But back in the days of cassette tapes, Sony Walkmen, and CDs, artists would often expect the listener to hear the album for the entire time. In that case, interludes made sense.
What are Different Types of Interludes?
There are three different types of interludes in an album or music:
- Introductory interludes
- Transitionary interludes
- Outro interludes
Some artists like to use an extended instrumental break at the beginning of an album or song set the stage for what’s to come. They either use a standalone track or clump the interlude and main composition together.
Sometimes, the introduction acts as a great way to set the story. Much like reading a book, you know that a powerful introduction can help bring you into the experience.
Interlude Examples in Popular Music – Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish used the 14-second track “!!!!!!!” to kick off her 2019 album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
This 14-second track, which merely comprises a few sniffs and laughs, sets the bedroom atmosphere and separates the album from some of the biggest pop band alternatives. Billie Eilish is fairly unique compared to many competing artists in the same genre.
Transitionary interludes (mid-album or mid-song)
Mid-album (or mid-song) interludes are by far the most common and well known. They come in all shapes and sizes and give an opportunity for the band to show a bit of personality.
These transitionary interludes can be anything, but are often musical breakdowns. These can help bring you into the album’s story further, transitioning through thematic changes. You’ll also often see them as part of beat- or melody-related changes.
Transitionary interlude examples
Municipal Waste provides us an excellent example of this in action. These thrash metal icons use interluded on almost all of their albums to mix up the pace.
You can see this in “Death Prank”, “I Want to Kill the President”, “Black Ice”, “Thrashing’s my Business… and Business is Good”, “Enjoy the night” and “Ratbite” among other songs.
Even chart-topping pop stars like Christina Aguilera sometimes use spoken-word interludes between catchy hits.
The third interlude type is an outro. If an artist has more music to include that doesn’t fit with the flow of an album, it’s tacked onto the end of a final track. These are most often an extended silent break prior to a “secret track.” for die-hard fans.
Outro interlude examples
System of a Down’s highly successful album “Toxicity” is my first experience. If you punch in the number 15 in the CD player, you would hear a hidden track tacked to the end of the album.
Much to my surprise; middle-eastern type music started playing for a little over two minutes. This was none other than a version of “Der Voghormia” (Lord Have Mercy), taken from Armenian Liturgy attached to the end of the then nu-metal hit, “Aerials w/ Outro”. You can also listen to the outro track, “Arto” alone.
I believe artistic freedoms like this offer us an insight into what kind of band SOAD really is. Their interlude selection separates them from genre staples. The additions also showcase the band’s Armenian side, which is often found in their lyrics.
Another interesting outro track was at the end of Molotov’s 2007 album Eternamiente. The track, aptly named “Outro”, includes nothing but a child singing off-key followed by giggling for 45 seconds. How heartwarming!
Tool’s Mastery of Interludes In Modern Rock
If you want an extensive masterclass to “what is an interlude in music,” look no further than prog-rock giants, Tool.
Both the band’s songs and albums include varied instrumental additions to build atmosphere. This choice has kept many fans listening to their albums in one sitting, landing them repeat success on rock charts.
Listening to their second album, Ænima includes two memorable interlude tracks. The first is being a 38-second instrumental track named “Useful Idiot”. The second track was a 57-second track named “Intermission.”
“Useful Idiot” is a derogatory term (of the same name as the aforementioned track) for a person perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who is cynically used by the cause’s leaders.
The second interlude track on Tool‘s album Ænima was “Intermission.” The track is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “Intermission theme from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Besides paying homage to the track, its purpose is unclear. Some fans speculate it’s there to make people laugh. Others say that it’s the following song’s (“Jimmy”) main riff on the piano in a circus-type arrangement.
Whether an artist uses interludes as an opening gag, an homage to a brilliant comedy show they watched, or a palate-cleanser, is entirely their artistic decision. Whatever the reason an artist made an interlude for (sentimental, cultural or otherwise), I would like to thank them for a great listening experience.
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