The Lime Pickle Principle

‹-- PreviousNext --›

My original plan was to use the actual label for today’s concept as my title, and use lime pickle as my primary metaphor to illustrate it. But after staring at a blank screen for a while I realised I don’t actually have a clear, precise label for this idea, so I’m going with Lime Pickle Principle as my title until I get this figured out. A label may emerge during the act of writing of course, but I won’t be bothered by then to go back and change the title and first paragraph so you’re stuck with the metaphorical title for now.

This concept emerged whilst coaching Amersham A Cappella the other week. The song we were working on is a really interesting one, in which the persona is incredibly vivid and engaging, but there are occasional whiffs that they might actually have a bit of a nasty streak to them. And this bit of friction in the sympathy is part of what makes it so engaging: you really want to identify with them, but also you’re a bit uncomfortable when you do.

I likened this to eating lime pickle. Lurking behind the big hot/sour/salt hit is a flavour that I’m not sure I like. So I have to eat some more, just to be sure. It’s is weirdly addictive.

My initial thoughts about this stayed amongst culinary metaphors, noting how a little of an opposite something can act as a powerful flavour enhancer to your primary vibe. A pinch of salt in your sweet baking, a touch of sugar in your tangy sauce, an edge of bitterness in either sweet or savoury dishes. In the same way a touch of orange brings a blue colour scheme to life, and a little crunch of dissonance stops diatonic music sliding into blandness.*

And whilst that is a useful principle for creating creative impact, it is perhaps too routine and too general to capture the lime pickle principle. Adding a little bit of the opposite does make something a more vivid and multi-dimensional experience, but you’d often describe the result in terms of it being more satisfying. Balancing salt, sweet and sour, is like balancing a chord: get it right and the flavour rings. It is an experience of consonance, whereas the lime pickle addictive quality arises from dissonance: both attractive and repulsive, and it is the tension between the two that drives your spoon back into the jar.

And though I’ve not yet discovered a label for this phenomenon, having analysed it, one can recognise it as a well-established aesthetic and indeed experiential principle. (One of the roles of art being of course to give us practice at dealing with the imaginative and emotional complexities we might meet in Real Life.) It can be deeply dysfunctional, informing the dynamic of falling for the charmer who becomes abusive, or of scatological interests amplifying prurience. Or it can be applied with great subtlety, enhancing the impact without alerting our moral senses explicitly.

The value of the lime pickle principle in the arts is the way it greatly increases the expressive range available. The danger is of course that the inherent discomfort risks alienating some people. Not everyone likes lime pickle.

So the practical take-aways from these reflections are, first to notice this dynamic when we happen across it: it is distinctive and powerful and will be better handled if we’re aware that’s what we’re dealing with. Second, to be sparing in how often we deploy it. Lime pickle is a condiment, not a main course. Third, is to be strategic about how and where we use it: awareness of audience, of occasion, placement in set, are all more significant for this kind of material than for your bread-and-butter songs.

* Bonus! I have located where I wrote about compressing arrangements, my theme of just a few weeks ago. I knew I had expressed that thought somewhere!

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.

Archive by date

Syndicate content