One of my biggest inspirations for assigning students to make YouTube-sourced montages is the fact that musical supercuts are already an ordinary practice, whether we’re talking about the best Nae Nae Vines or, say, all the footage of Elvis doing “Hound Dog” one can find.
In that sense — and I think this is consistent with the technomusicological enterprise — our practice is informed by digital folk culture, if you will, not simply academic theory, and our products are meant to themselves circulate as a form of online art, hopefully to some of the same communities, audiences, and individuals who serve as the subjects of our work.
Beyond that goal, YouTube montages also serve to archive some of this wonderful stuff in an age when we can’t necessarily take its permanence for granted. Along those lines, let me take the opportunity to note that my anxious critique about “Platform Politricks” I posted here five years back, was recently given new life — a new platform even!? — thanks to this recent piece by Ann Powers in which I serve as a sort of protagonist:
The advent of streaming was a game-changer for someone like Marshall, a connoisseur of older and emerging music surviving beyond mainstream. Material that once could only be found through diligent fieldwork â€” whether that meant connecting directly with far-flung communities or digging like crazy in record store bins or basement library stacks â€” was now immediately accessible, and framed by lively exchanges that often included the music-makers themselves. Streaming was changing music scholarship, as well as the day-to-day pleasures of any curious listener who could now instantly pursue a new fascination.
All that said — and you should read the rest if you have the time — I’m really writing here to share some stellar mega-montages from this spring’s technomusicology class. Without further ado, allow me to present a few favorites.
In the standout montage this semester (though I may be biased by the number of hours I spent in front of an NES), one student painstakingly assembled a collection of renditions of The Legend of Zelda “Overworld Theme” in 25 different styles! Complete with titles and framed with rare footage, this montage shows a striking, collective “nerduosity” at work in the ongoing social life of this enduring 8-bit earworm — particularly, the remarkable profusion of Brady-Bunch-style multitracked one-man-band freakouts:
Another student decided to plumb the depths of YouTube’s most popular video, “Gangnam Style” (currently at 2.3 billion views). In the process of auditioning 150 spin-offs and ultimately selecting 60 versions of the song/video to mash together, he discovered a fairly amazing thing: together, these “parodies” have 5-6 billion views, outpacing the incredibly popular original. As the student wrote–
Clearly, Gangnam Style created a platform of its own atop the YouTube platform, inspiring videographers the world over to ride the Gangnam wave to YouTube fame. But the viral genius of the video exceeded the easy-to-learn horse dance, as novel as it was. Psy unknowingly created a video framework for portraying style of any kind. Instead of Gangnam Style, it was now London Style, Klingon Style, Farmer Style; Oregon Ducks Style, Skyrim Style, Motorcycle Style, Filipino Style, Gandalf Style, the list goes on. By framing his video with the English word “Style”, Psy triggered a global video meme, powered by a viral platform. Anyone and everyone could use his common platform to spoof their culture or lampoon another.
Here’s 60 of em:
Ok, one more to call attention to, worth your consideration for its conceptual coolness. Another student decided to compose his own video montage of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song from a concert he himself attended by combining the sound-board audio that he purchased at the close of the show with 8 other concertgoers’ hand-held recordings of the performance. I’ll let him do the rest of the framing:
For my etude this week, I chose not to focus necessarily on a â€śviralâ€ť spread. YouTube has encouraged countless amateur recordings; there were several examples shown in class about home videos that became viral, remixed, and spread. But there are also many videos that are uploaded without the intent of going viral: many people simply upload to YouTube so that their videos can be easily shared amongst family members and friends.
I wanted to show a way that this trend, combined with music, would do sort of the opposite of a viral spread: It would actually unite and bring a community of people together. I used to upload my own videos of concerts I attended, until I realized that if I truly wanted to reflect back, there would be tons of other people uploading that same concert. So I began enjoying the concerts in the moment, and finding the recordings later. I have made several online acquaintances from finding videos filmed by complete strangers that were standing next to me, so close that you can hear me singing.
To emulate this in my etude, I gathered various recordings of the same song from the same concert: 8 different people, all unrelated, in the same arena, enjoying the same performance. I chose â€śOthersideâ€ť by the Red Hot Chili Peppers because I had a high quality mp3 recording of that entire night, and Otherside was the only track in the set that was under 5 minutes. I used the mp3 as an anchor for the video: the other clips still play their audio, though considerably muted.
By shifting between the different clips, these 8 strangers come together and produce a fuller view of the same event, sharing their insight and creating a bond. The result almost resembles what the band would sell as a concert dvd, all produced by amateurs with cell phones.
During the draft/workshop/revision stage, we encouraged the student to mix more of the ambient sound from each camera/smartphone into the video in order to give the audio some of the personalized texture of the video clips. The final version is quite the document:
And that’s just a sampling. If you’re looking for more, you can check out others via this playlist —
My students have been hard at work in this spring’s session of Technomusicology at the Harvard Extension School (which I’ve just realized marks 10 years since I first started teaching there!), and I’m eager to share some standout projects.
We recently turned to the mashup as a media form to grapple with, thinking about the particular convergence of technologies that enabled its emergence (Napster, MP3, AcidPro) as well as the range of aesthetic approaches that mashups seem able to support.
So here are several stellar mashups made by this spring’s budding technomusicologists.
First, a mashy mini-mega-mix of nine varied renditions of the Spider Man theme!
How about a musically-inspired mashup of “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy and music from Mega Man?
Or perhaps you’ve really been waiting to hear (and just never knew it) how Gloria Gaynor sounds over a thumping four-four and, alternately, how Kelly Clarkson rocks over some ol’ disco beats — a time-spanning mashup of anthemic feminism!
Ok, it’s true: what we all needed to hear was a mashy history, including commercial and amateur versions, of the genealogy connecting Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” to its go-go source, Chuck Brown’s “Bustin Loose”:
Well, that’s an edifying earful if I don’t say so myself! Here’s to my talented and dedicated students; stay tuned for some inspired, edutaining YouTube montages to follow!
Finally, if this sort of endeavor piques your curiosity and you’d like to join us on our next technomusicological journey, I’ll be offering the class next as a special, intensive 7 week session from June-August via the Harvard Summer School.
I reviewed RolĂŞ – Novos Sons Do Brasil, a new compilation from Brazil’s Mais Um Discos, for Issue 365 of The Wire (July 2014). Given my prolix proclivities, I was glad to get a little longer leash (i.e., wordcount) for this one. Nice to be able to stretch out a bit — and dig in — given how short record reviews tend to be. I was also especially happy to get the phrase “Carne vale, my ass” into print!
RolĂŞ – Novos Sons Do Brasil
Mais Um Discos
As prior Mais Um compilations have also trumpeted new waves, it’s striking that so many of these forty-three tracks spanning ten Brazilian states sound deeply familiar, even on first spin. In terms of sound — of musical forms and signs — little here seems new. The recordings were made recently, sure, but as far as the musicâ€™s references, nearly every track grins like a cat with a carnival feather dangling from the side of its mouth. Carne vale, my ass. The so-called new sounds of Brazil are still fully in thrall to the time-honored Brazilian tradition of anthropofagia, or cultural cannibalism.
If you enjoyed Luaka Bop’s retrospective takes on tropicalia and MPB (MĂşsica Popular Brasileira), much here will resonate as an extension of that mongrel approach to Brazilian and international influences alike. Stewing together such bottomless local wellsprings as samba, bossa nova, capoeira, and tecno brega with rock, cumbia, electro, and afrobeat, the compiled acts give voice to the fecundity of the present momentâ€™s access to the recorded past.
The compilation is organized into two parts, the second half allegedly devoted to “post baile-funk” dance music though it features as many live ensembles and mid-century styles as the first disc includes samples and synths. Moreover, a lot of the tracks on “Disc Dois” could have been made before funk cariocaâ€™s national and global diffusion and hardly seem to register its influence. But several fun, bass-propelled productions manage to capture the spirit, if not the sound, of the funk ball: Lurdez da Luz’s “Ping pong” channels Missy Elliott while teasing a berimbau sample; distorted cuicas drive another sort of musical feijoada on Thiago FranĂ§a’s off-kilter, one-minute interlude, “Picardia”; pandeiros float above the digital thump of DJ Mam’s smoothly recalibrated take on classic carioca forms, â€śCuz Cus De CanĂ´â€ť; and it’s fitting to hear US producer but longtime Rio-resident Maga Bo contribute a dancehall reggae romp in which the Jamaican presets have been replaced with local inputs, a slowly building track that puts vocals front and center all the while threatening to usurp their pride of place with growling bass.
Whether or not they meet the conceit of â€śpost baile funkâ€ť dance music, other tracks here merit your time. Joined by no less than Tony Allen on drums, Meta Meta’s “Alakoro” is a jittery jam with angular, interwoven riffs and starkly rendered instrumentation. Bixiga 70’s “Kalimba” engages soukous and afrobeat with its latticework guitars, horn blasts, and propulsive drumming, only to nod to cumbia and classic rock a few minutes in. Itâ€™s somewhat startling to hear such straightforward, synth-driven cumbia as Sistema Criolina’s “Pequi week bar,” but there it is, and itâ€™s not bad.
For their 4th etude of our summer adventures in technomusicology, my students produced their own YouTube montages (as I’ve discussed here and there), and, as usual, I’m smitten by the results. I even shed a few YouTubeTears in class as we screened them together. I’ve rounded them up in playlist form, but allow me to embed here several examples that are well worth a watch.
Many students did the mega-montage thing, and they selected quite a range of songs and routines to explore this way. Their subjects run the gamut from predictably enduring songs such as “Imagine” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to more recent upstarts such as “Let It Go” and “Thinking Bout You” to such YouTubey phenomena as “Canon Rock” and routines inspired by K-pop and the collectively-sourced cultural products built around Vocaloid software to tango warhorses. Wow!
A few videos merit a little more contextualization, so here they are with the students’ explication:
This is a video montage of “Bar Bar Bar,” the popular song by K-pop band, Crayon Pop. K-pop is largely characterized by bubble gum tunes and catchy lyrics, and “Bar Bar Bar” is no different. However, the song has somehow managed to rise above the rest of the K-pop scenery, taking Korea by storm and causing a multitude of different dance covers to surface in the past year . The various groups shown here range from Korean police departments to taekwondo teams in Korea, and this montage attempts to offer a vivid perspective into one aspect of the pop culture minutiae that permeates through Korean life today.
Kokoro x Kiseki is an original Vocaloid mix of two versions: Kagamine Rin’s and Kagamine Len’s. In Len’s version, he usually sings over a recording of Rin, but not vice versa. In some parts of this montage, it is possible to hear just Rin’s version, just Len’s version, as well as the mix of the two versions.
Due to the nature of this being a Vocaloid song, there is heavy emphasis on the accompanying video. Though there are some vocal and instrumental covers of the song, the majority creative works kept the original song but changed the video. In the different videos, people got creative with using their own drawings to make an animation, making slideshows of pre-existing art and playing with timing, cosplaying and acting out the story of the song, translating the song, and playing with camera angle and various other features of the Miku Miku Dance (MMD) program. There is an official dance for this song, so the dance is the same in the videos that use the dance, but the smoothness of the dance, the camera, and the backgrounds and costumes are noticeably different.
In this video montage, I focused on showing the different videos that people have uploaded onto Youtube. The song’s lyrics tell a linear story, so I wanted to keep the flow of the story of the song. I achieved this by keeping the video clips with their respective section of the song and by giving the videos their own space in the limelight. The only video that I showed multiple times throughout the montage was the Official Live version. The Live performance of a Vocaloid song is impressive, and I felt that letting it flit through the montage follows the story of Kokoro x Kiseki.
Since the majority of videos used the original song, it was not very difficult to sync the videos to make a smooth song. The difficulty in creating this montage was choosing which frame to switch videos because this song is riddled with pickups. Depending on what followed the pickup, I alternated between changing videos on pickups and on downbeats. The instrumental/vocal covers also used the original song, so even if they weren’t perfectly synced 100% of the time, they always met back at the start of new phrases. I decided not to forcibly sync the covers with the original song because it would be destroying the artistic license of a human musician.
Aside from the videos with creative animations, MMDs, cosplays, and covers, there are some videos there that are more featured for the translation. The few that I incorporated into this montage are Vietnamese, Spanish, and English subs, which give a small view at how popular and widespread this particular song is.
In the pre-WWII era, the song was recorded throughout the world by classical, jazz, opera, and popular music artists, swing bands, and orchestra’s. I have tried to pull from my own research into the song: the ripped collection of videos as well as those recordings and amusing or exciting interludes that best exemplify most of the era’s this song has run through, as well as some really old Tango dancing by Rudolf Valentino (who was really quite passionate about Tango dance) from the film, The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse and taken from a video that mashed up Rudy’s moves with the Italian pop singer Mina’s over the top production of the song from 1968.
I also include some very nice dancing by Tango artist Chicho, dancing with a lot of ornamentations with his partner to a recording of a live band. A little later in my clips, I cut in Mina’s production film as she is singing the last verse of lyrics from the popular version, an ending to the effect of, to paraphrase: “the sun no longer shines the same on the abandoned bedroom, and even our dog stopped eating because you left and finally ran away from me, on seeing me so miserably alone.” An amusing farce indeed! Since it matched up to the Mina versions eventual cheesy guitar passage, I added Gene Kelly’s solo stepping to the song, from Anchor’s Aweigh. On a humorous note, I close it out with a scene from Some Like It Hot, when Daphne (Jack Lemmon disguised as a woman) forgets and starts taking the Tango lead from his/her would-be suitor and the orchestra plays an interesting version of La Cumparsita.
I took advantage of the many pauses and lurches inherent to the song and made single audio layer with plain cuts of the phonographs playing 78’s and a 45 rpm of the song. I did the same with the cuts between the live Tango orchestra’s of Alfredo De Angelis and Juan D’Arienzo. I did not need to do any fading or layering until at the end of Mina singing the farcical passage after which the song starts again with a real twanging 60’s guitar and a rock beat. That is when I fade it out and in comes Gene Kelly dancing a relatively soft shoe tap dance to the song. I enter the song from that scene of Anchor’s Aweigh since it matches with Mina’s rock passage, and that then easily lends to the rather interesting version from Some Like It Hot.
No one does radio (by which I mean, audio storytelling) like Benjamen Walker. You may know him from his incarnations as the host of Your Radio Nightlight, Too Much Information, or Theory of Everything, which has recently become one of the flagship programs in PRX‘s new podcast network, Radiotopia.
I feel very lucky to count Ben as a friend. His incisive sense of humor consistently cuts to the chase of the kinds of things we find ourselves concerned about in this modern world, or should be. His commitment to running down good stories and telling them with audio aplomb is downright inspiring. Man oh man, the stories he could tell…the stories he does tell!
So I’m thrilled to report that Benjamen has made one of the best episodes of his life with “1984.” To put it plainly, this is a monumental work of media history, largely sourced from YouTube (but also via vintage TV Guides, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, & his own rich trove of alienated adolescent experience). “1984” is a deeply engaging examination of, as Benjamen puts it, the year, not the book.
I found myself totally entrained and entertained listening to it, and you will too. Benjamen masterfully interweaves and teases out trenchant themes as US society tries to come to grips with the advent of the hyperreal and media politricks in precisely the year that George Orwell freighted with such significance. Borrowing Orwell’s central narrative conceit of the diary is a stroke of genius on Ben’s part, but it’s the dazzling execution of his vision that is most impressive. Imagine Marclay’s The Clock stretched out over a calendar year with grainy advertisements and newscasts in place of Hollywood film fragments.
Here’s how Benjamen frames it:
In 1984 your host was twelve years old, and like Winston Smith he kept a diary for the citizens of the future. For this special installment of Benjamen Walkerâ€™s Theory of Everything we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips â€” all from 1984 (the year, not the book). Along with personal memories of making the transition to middle school the show focuses on four of the most important people of year: Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, and Clara Peller.
Do yourself a favor and make some time for this one. Ben brings the beef, no doubt.
an utterly awesome eight-year-old diva, via YouTube
This past week I’ve whipped up another couple YouTube montages in the vein of Gasodoble, Bump con Choque, and my students’ projects in last year’s technomusicology class. Unlike my previous efforts, which not too surprisingly involve reggaeton, these new mega-montages engage repertories that I don’t generally mess with: opera and K-pop.
The dear colleagues I have to blame for these excursions are two Berklee faculty, Isaiah Jackson and DJ Hatfield. I’m collaborating with them, as well as with Lori Landay (who has posted her own video here) and Darcie Nicole, to explore the possibilities for using YouTube in the classroom, as well as in our efforts as scholars — and as artists.
We’re giving a collective presentation at Berklee tomorrow morning as part of the college’s annual BTOT event (Berklee Teachers on Teaching), and I’m grateful to Isaiah — an ol’ friend, an acclaimed conductor, and a consummate gentleman — and the others for letting me interlope and help guide the discussion.
In a nutshell, or an abstract, here’s how we’re framing the thing —
We are all familiar with YouTube as an endless archive of weird, ordinary, awesome, and awful performances, but suppose we approach YouTube itself as a creative teaching resource. Since we can now remix video as easily as audio, YouTube performances can be edited into montages that 1) tell vivid stories about contemporary music culture; 2) stand as artworks in their own rights; and 3) supply valuable insights to students seeking to understand the role of social media. This session will explore the ways in which everyday audio/video software and global publishing sites now render visible and audible a staggering variety of musical performances. Participants will learn how they can harness new tools for examining the state of musical arts.
Of course, I have my own favorite examples in this regard, from Kutiman’s collages to the works that I and my students have cooked up, but I was excited to partner with other faculty, with their own realms of expertise, to see how the technique of using montage to represent a song or dance’s social life, as made visible by YouTube, might play out in other musical and cultural domains.
The first (mega)montage I’d like to share reveals the remarkably sustained “virality” (i.e., the ability to find new hosts) of a tune composed more than 200 years ago. Isaiah suggested that I take on Mozart’s well-worn soprano aria, “Queen of the Night,” as the sort of musical text so resonant that surely a staggering number and variety of performances would reside on YouTube.
Sure enough, Isaiah picked out (and annotated!) about 30 instances for me to consider, a small selection all told, but a fine cross-section of contexts, modes of performance / reception, and arrangements. Notably, one of these selections, which I didn’t actually use, was itself a mega-montage of some 40 different renditions. (In that regard, it’s worth noting that the amateur montage is something of a native YouTube genre in its own right, though as Lori will explain tomorrow, as a cultural form “Soviet” montage has been ascendent for some time.)
I’ve been chatting with Isaiah about what has emerged from this exercise, asking how a text so, well, old could continue to enjoy so lively a social life — only glimpses of which are revealed by trawling YouTube — even into the media-suffused 21st century. And despite clearly calling for a certain virtuosity (which some deliver and some do not), one significant detail that Isaiah noted about the story behind this favorite aria from The Magic Flute is that it was composed precisely to inspire such a desire to sing along (or hum or whistle). Apparently, Mozart’s friend Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto and played the role of Papageno in the production’s first run, encouraged him to make the aria short and punchy, the sort of thing that would be popular at “the Lodge,” as Isaiah put it (they were both Freemasons). In this sense, Mozart’s aria might be thought of as a proto pop song, written to be short and catchy and popular. It sure looks and sounds that way according to YouTube.
To my eyes and ears, the montage, which aside from a slightly extended coloratura section essentially sticks to the original (brief) length of the composition, vividly reveals how the aria spans professional and amateur contexts, gender and age, virtuosity and cringeworthiness, various modes of reception (e.g., note which examples contain applause), drama and humor, private and public settings — the sort of versatility that helps to secure a certain longevity. Despite pre-dating “participant culture” theory by a few centuries, surely this is a spreadable song for the ages!
The other montage I worked up may be more familiar in some ways, if you keep up with YouTubey dance memes, but I find it no less interesting or revealing when it comes to grappling with YouTube and what it shows us about music culture in the contemporary moment. DJ Hatfield’s central text is a song — and, crucially, accompanying dance — called “Sorry Sorry,” performed by the popular K-pop “boy band” Super Junior. (And yes, there are already other fan-produced montages of it floating around.) Like lots of other popular song+dance routines (e.g., Crank Dat), one can search for “Sorry Sorry” on YouTube and discover a plethora of examples, from solo routines at home to large numbers performing their mastery of the popular steps in public.
Pointing me to just over 20 examples — again, a small slice of what’s up — DJ led me down a K-pop rabbithole, wherein I found residing alongside each other a marvelous variety of instances: slick commercial productions from Korea and ambitious spoofs from Mexico, goofy karaoke sessions, dead serious tutorials, all manner of home- and school-based versions, breathless TV broadcasts, anime remixes, toy robots, and of course, Filipino prisoners. (You just haven’t made it as a dance meme if the CPDRC hasn’t immortalized the choreography in all their orange splendor.) You can even see the choreographers of the dance, two guys from Los Angeles, strutting their stuff in their own darkened dance studio version. It’s really quite a rich set of instantiations, raising on old question for me: what’s the text and what’s the paratext? (EL QUĂ‰?!). Take a look yourself —
One genre that I couldn’t resist including here, and which may also deserve the status of “YouTube native,” is the K-pop reaction video. Apparently, watching people watching people on YouTube on YouTube is a thing. Special thanks to longtime W&W interlocutor Alexis Stephens, aka @pm_jawn, for bringing this phenomenon, which really deserves a post or two of its own, to my attention. The K-pop reaction video gave me a way to frame the whole montage that was just too meta to resist.
What makes the example especially interesting to DJ — and notably what doesn’t show up as much on YouTube as the dance routine per se — is that, back in 2009 or so, the particular hand-rubbing gesture for “Sorry Sorry” entered the greater gestural lexicon. People would do that hand-rub gesture anytime they apologized! Such quotidian moments don’t show up especially well on YouTube, but one other interesting example of the dance’s “migration” connects to DJ’s work on music in Taiwan. As you’ll see at the end of the montage, a Taiwanese artist named Suming incorporates the gesture into a video for his song “Kapah” that mashes up a variety of traditional and popular Taiwanese (and other) gestures and references.
There’s a great deal to be teased out here, obviously, and it’s our collective hope to do some of that tomorrow morning while also gesturing (sorry sorry) to other possibilities and uses of YouTube, whether we’re thinking (or singing or dancing) as scholars, teachers, artists, choreographers, or toy robots.
On the 243rd anniversary of the Boston Massacre (bigup Crispus Attucks!), I’m reposting the merely titular-pun-related mix of Boston-associated songs I cooked up for the Somerville Art Council back in 2005. This is also (barely) germane to the day given the currently flaring debate over Massachusetts’ official rock song. (As they say around here, I shit you not.) Not to mention, if only very tangentially, the emergence of one of the best mashups in years. (Really love how it reproduces the effect of that ol’ Eminem/Britney mashup, revealing the underlying pop sensibilities of two putative hardcore outsiders.) Without further ado, here’s the Boston Mashacre (my follow-up, the Smashacre, resides over here)â€¦
we begin with sounds of the davis square farmer’s market, with several different languages being spoken, including what sounds like a guy saying “habibi.” the percussion is an empty soda bottle that another guy was banging on his hip, quietly singing what sounded like a reggae song at the same time. confirming my impression, yet another guy–this one a farmer/vendor–walks up to him and says rather dryly, and to my incredulous ears for stumbling upon such a soundbite, “champion sound, yeah?” from there, the man with the bottle plays a classic 3+3+2, reminiscent of so many caribbean styles, and we hear car alarms and horns spin into melody. as a bus pulls up and takes off again (and “buses” was one of the most popular returns i got to the question “what are the sounds of somerville?”), the familiar strains of the standells’ “dirty water” enter the soundscape and the mix. from there, the incidental sounds of the city–which, as you can hear, are rather musical in their own way–yield to the “musical” sounds of the city. that is, we enter the realm of pop recordings, of the boston soundscape as MOR radio presents it (at least as filtered through the ears of a lifelong boston jerk who harbors a strange mix of pride, humility, and humiliation when it comes to the sounds of his city).
after the standells, the lineup moves through a number of boston mainstays and one-hit wonders, has-beens and shoulda-beens. the full tracklist is as follows:
the standells, “dirty water” (not a boston band, but they might as well be) the cars, “you might think i’m crazy” (yup, a boston band) dj c, “boston you’re my bounce” (beat research) NKOTB, “hangin’ tough” (omg! jordan is my fave lol ;-) mr. lif, “home of the brave” (so he lives in berkeley now, and what?) tracy chapman, “fast car” (used to play T stations) extreme, “more than words” (found an acapella!?!) aerosmith, “walk this way” (nice break, dudes) run DMC, “walk this way” (better break, jam master) NKOTB, “the right stuff” (williamsburg where ya at?) bell biv devoe, “poison” (girl, i must warn you: i know that BBD album by heart) the cars, “just what i needed” (uncanny how the intro mirrors BBD’s) j geils band, “angel is a centerfold” (urbody whistle now) boston, “more than a feeling” (guitars are for dorks) ed O.G., “i got to have it” (representin’ the bean harder than guru since 1991) MBTA, “davis square redline stop” (a wicked hahd-to-find recording)
listeners will notice that some of these tracks are in more fragmentary form than others. (hope not to leave anyone hanging too much, but you should seek out the originals in that case.) as with most mixes, it was the tracks’ suggestive qualities and affective resonance that i was going for–not some sense of their textual wholeness. this is however less a mix or a mashup, per se, than what might be better called a mix’n’mash. at times, i play songs on their own, though more often than not i play two or more songs at once (or instrumental versions/loops of them).
the sound and shape of the music i am making here is a product of the technology that i am using: ableton live. having the relative freedom to stretch tempos without changing pitch allows me to match a number of songs together that the average vinylist couldn’t/wouldn’t. of course, i also change pitch sometimes, purposely, either to make a harmony sweeter or to weird/chipmunk something out. generally though, at least in this case, i have preserved the original pitch/key of the songs in question, which i think makes them much more recognizable. the changes in tempo are less noticeable. you’ll notice i like the echo button, too.
Longtime W&W readers will no doubt hear echoes of my own experiments in this regard — namely, Gasodoble & Bump con Choque — and perhaps a little bit of YouTube collage master, Kutiman, as well. Despite that I have not found many other examples along these lines, I think there’s great potential for this sort of form, or method even, to demonstrate and delve into the wide, weird world of YouTube — which is to say, the wide, weird world, period — despite that the site is also an incomplete, ephemeral, willy-nilly archive hosted on corporate servers.
As you’ll see in selected submissions below, students embraced the assignment with panache, producing wonderful little documents of the varied social and cultural lives of such things as recent pop hits, well-worn war-horses, video game themes, public domain experiments, and Elvis impersonators.
First, a veritable YouTube chorus performing the 2012 pop hit, “Call Me Maybe,” showing how quickly a popular song can enter into myriad genres of performance, presentation, and play (including some YouTube-specific ones, like stitching together political speeches to make presidents stutter along too):
Or this one, combining a handful of home versions of the Halo theme, seeking specifically to document the “resurgence” (or at least newfound visibility) of “amateur” musical practice and appreciating how even people’s mistakes “actually add some character” to the performances —
Another student sought to plumb the YouTube depths for impersonations of Elvis, uncovering in the process not simply the expected plethora of examples but an interesting recent wrinkle: most of these would-be Kings are lip-synching not to an original Elvis recording but to Junkie XL’s popular 2002 remix of Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation.” My student found it notable that so many of the Elvises he encountered on YouTube “aren’t so orthodox in their impersonation”; I do too!
Several students went beyond the American pop repertory (which provides no end of subjects thanks to its imperial ubiquity) in order to explore YouTube instantiations of tunes that originated and enjoy rich social lives elsewhere.
Take, for example, this beat-matched collection of performances of “Asa Branca,” which my student describes as “a classic Brazilian baiĂŁo composed by accordionist Luiz Gonzaga and lyricist Humberto Teixeira in 1947.” He continues —
This song has become so emblematic of so many things — Northeastern Brazilian regionalism, Brazilian diasporic identity, environmentalist movements, Brooklyn world music hipness — that I wanted to juxtapose as wide a variety of interpretations as I could, while choosing versions that retained the pulse of the original. From Korean fusion to muscle-metal play-along to small-town talent shows to arena TropicĂˇlia, with GonzagĂŁo himself making the occasional approving cameo as a backup singer.
Or this one, documenting the variegated “going public” of a recent lullaby from Taiwan. (Notably, the student has only made the video semi-public — requiring a direct link — given concerns about unauthorized use of children’s performances, which she’s seeking explicit permission to include. Such ethical questions have been a recurring theme of the course, and I always encourage students to think about them as they record, copy, and manipulate the sounds and images of others.)
Finally, here’s a montage of a tune popular in both Turkey and Greece (and in both Turkish and Greek): “Kalenin Bedenleri” / “Siko Horepse Koukli Mou.” One curious thing that emerges here is how songs outside of the (Western) pop canon tend to be characterized on YouTube less by remixxy, YouTubey confections and more by familiar stagings of home, community, and local TV contexts. That said, a few clips of webcam-style pedagogy — a popular YouTube genre to be sure — make it into the mix too.
Here’s hoping that our experiments might lead to others in this vein and beyond. No doubt there is material aplenty to work with: YouTube reports (currently anyway; these figures keep changing) that 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. What a willy-nilly, wonderful world!
Africa Is a Country, a wry but passionate blog devoted to “Africa” — the idea, not (simply) the song — in contemporary media (but “not about famine, Bono, or Barack Obama”) has been threatening to make a weekly series out of the genuinely remarkable resonance of Toto’s 1982 soft-rock anthem. It’s a begrudging tribute of sorts to the song’s “resilience as a piece of media about Africa.” Did you know that in addition to dozens of covers, which they promise to feature, the song is also popular sampling fodder for hip-hop producers (among them, Madlib)?
It promises to be entertaining, whether or not you can withstand the earworm. This week they pointed to a new appearance of what they’re calling “the Toto ‘Africa’ meme” courtesy of r&b crooner Jason Derulo, which, I have to admit is both “inane” as they note over there and a pallid by-the-numbers attempt to reproduce the feel and form of “Watcha Say,” his debut single and highest charting song (it hit #1).
I can’t help but be reminded of a strange and oddly apropos discovery about Toto’s “Africa” I made a few years ago, which may be of passing interest to some of you, especially fellow followers of Africasacountry.
Here’s how it happened: my dear friend and colleague, Sharon, is a doctoral student in anthropology who studies the transmission of traditional Malian dance, especially in transnational contexts. A longtime trad-African dancer herself, she has studied and danced in Mali, the US, and France. Anyway, long story semi-short, when Sharon was getting hitched a few years back she asked me whether I might help her arrange some music for her reception (an awesome & lively affair, full of drums and dance, in which a young & chubby Nico got to prance about with the august & strikingly spry Dr. J. Lorand Matory).
Her idea was to take one of the common rhythms from the Malian repertory and mash it up with some pop or hip-hop tracks that employ the same patterns. The idea was suggested to her by the fact that her local teacher, Joh Camara, himself would reference Will Smith’s “Gettin Jiggy Wit It” as a sort of mnemonic device when introducing students to the didadi rhythm. You know, the na-na-na-na-nana-nah bit. You can hear it pretty clearly in this performance I turned up on the ‘Tube (esp between 0:40 and 1:00):
This seemed like a fun task, especially given how much I love tracing patterns across different repertories. But after a few days of intense humming along to myself and attempting to trigger things in the recesses of musical memory, I had come up with relatively little. However, while I had only located a couple tracks that make reference to the rhythm, I had seemingly stumbled across an almost incredible possibility: that Toto’s “Africa,” which seemed like one of the least African songs I could imagine, might actually be based around an actual African rhythm. (And I use actual there twice because it’s a magic word, like Africa.)
Here’s what I shared with Sharon:
I have to confess that I’ve found it rather challenging to think up other songs that employ the same rhythm(s) as Didadi (aside from the tight fit that is “Gettin Jiggy Wit It”). Been racking my musical memory, which has led to some false leads and close fits, but nothing else — until this afternoon — save for a funny refrain from a Cypress Hill song (“la la la la la la la la” in “Hand on the Pump”).
Funny enough — actually I think you may find this discovery fascinating — as I was trying once more this afternoon to think of other songs that might match (and I’m being fairly exacting in wanting a good match — a direct rhythmic overlay), I started humming the rhythm to myself: buh-duh-duh-duhduh-duh-duh. Eventually a vaguely familiar bassline / chord progression emerged from my murky brain. I couldn’t place it, though, and couldn’t remember any words, so I just sang along with the melody until I reached the chorus, where, I hoped, I might remember a single Googlable word. When I got there, I was stunned: the word was “Africa” and the song, natch, “Africa” by Toto! What a hilarious coincidence! I have no idea whether the group was intentionally figuring Africa with that rhythm — it’s never sounded very African to me, but it sure does now!
Anyhow, I’m afraid that means I have only turned up 3 songs that use the same rhythm(s) as Didadi. And two of them are quite cheesy. But this is all in good fun, right? Anyhow, see attached and tell me what you think. For now, I’ve chosen to leave Joh’s performance unedited, so you hear the entire ~2:00 rendition that he gave us, the full arc, including all his variations and the general accretionary/crescendoing dynamic. If that works for you, that’s cool. If not, we can do some editing. Just let me know what you think. It’s easy enough to loop any of the measures he plays or to cut something here or add something there. I could extend any of the songs mashed with the drums, or shorten them, or change their order. I could also change the tempo so that it is faster or slower or gets faster over time (Jo does gradually get faster, and that’s one change I’ve made: now he stays at the same tempo, which helped me to mash/match things up).
Now, judging by this Wikipedia entry and it’s detailed accounts by members of Toto of the way the song came together, it sounds like the guys in Toto might have more or less entirely stumbled upon this felicitous rhythmic concordance. Meter minutiae aside (however fascinating), I find this quotation from drummer Jeff Porcaro most pregnant:
… a white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.
At any rate, you can imagine the bizarro eureka moment as I pulled that schmaltzy tune out of some dark corner of my mind. As for the main keyboard riff’s Africanness, you’ll have to decide for yourself. Here’s the “mashup” I sent to Sharon (which, suffice to say, was a little too goofy to work for the wedding):
Not long after my last post went public, a savvy searcher quickly proved that what I thought was fairly ungooglable (at least without knowing Arabic) was, in fact, waiting for me on eBay. And beyond simply locating & IDing the music/CD in question, this kind commenter hit Arabkidsmusic paydirt.
First, I want to take back my description of the CD itself (pictured here) as “clutterred”; scans of the jewelcase reveal heretofore unimagined photoshop riches–
And the seller pointed to other visually alluring CDs that I now want to hear, including one clearly ‘shopped by the same artiste —
And one which departs significantly in visual style, but is no less tempting —
Plus, the seller decorates with nifty gifs to boot —
Taken altogether, even with my lack of Arabic, I find the whole ensemble to offer a rather fascinating snapshot of some of the various and sundry artifacts gathered around music culture today.
But the best part of all is that it turns out, not too surprisingly, that the tracks I shared yesterday are fairly popular songs by Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram, who — though we must keep in mind that its a bot’s list — has a YouTube channel with 13,000+ videos on it.
I’m not too surprised to learn it was Lebanese, since Boston and Cambridge and especially neighboring Watertown have a relatively large Lebanese (and more generally, Armenian-via-other-places) community. This is why we are so fortunately rich in hummus and other goodies. (Hands down, IMO, Eastern Lamejun beats any other hummus in the Greater Boston area, but I digress…)
The songs I posted yesterday appear, in the same “medley” fashion, in a rather fantastic (and apparently “big budget”) video, which the eBay site links to as a “preview.” They were released in 2007 on an album for kids after Ajram “discovered,” according to the Wiki page, that young people were a substantial part of her audience.
Here’s the must-see video, which, if the beginning gets too cutesy-pedantic you might fast-fwd to 1:20 or so to see Ajram-as-Tinkerbell descending into a city of children-dressed-like-adults:
My daughters, incidentally, really enjoyed this — the visuals as well as the music, though I have to admit I liked it a bit more when I could imagine reggaetoneros in the mix.
At any rate, while perusing the Wikipedia page for Shakhbat Shakhabit, I was slightly surprised to see what seemed like an obvious bit of moralist editorial —
The album & video were the most notable and successful work for children at the time, following a huge wave of works directed to children. The reason for this could be the fact that it was purely meant for children, unlike children works by other singers that included sexual content for adults.
This didn’t seem surprising, exactly. There’s plenty of oddly salacious stuff that gets marketed to children (and their parents) in the US too, of course. Still, “sexual content” seemed a bit strong. But then, in my ensuing random walk (or rabbithole spelunk) on YouTube, I turned up a few things that, in the immortal words of Arsenio Hall (or Freedom Williams), make you say hmmmm, e.g.–
But there’s a lot of fun stuff to be seen too — and lots of songs about telephones maybe? — such as the following, which is awesomely jarring in its treble-culturized teeveediation, but also depicts a roomful of kids having a lot of fun dancing to some classic rhythms:
Anyway, I’ll stop there for now & leave you to your own funky spelunks, but I’m glad to solve this mystery — thx mystery commenter! — and to have found another YouTube musical wormhole to wiggle through.
I’m thrilled to report that Venus’s partner-in-rave, $hayne (pic’d above), will be joining her on the trip. That means we’re gonna be treated to a tag-team/4-handed Ghe20 Goth1k performance the likes of which Greater Boston has not yet been party to. So get ready, and get to the club by 11, knamean.
(When I told Venus she wouldn’t be playing in the middle of the night, as she’s used to, she sounded happily surprised! Oh yeah, and just in case you’re on autopilot, this is happening at the Middlesex, not the Enormous Room [RIP].)
If you want a taste of what you might expect, look no further than the live mixtape (and, yes, it’s worth noting that it’s live — see next paragraph) they just cooked up for Opening Ceremony —
Ok, look a little further — you’ll hardly be disappointed — and do yourself a favor by starting with Venus’s appearance this past Monday on DJ /Rupture’s radio show, Mudd Up!. (Kudos to SĂ±r Clayton, btw, on that Wire cover!) I was emailing with Jace today, as it happens, and he offered some off-the-cuff thoughts on Venus’s DJing that really encapsulate what’s so special, and daring, about her approach —
seeing Venus reminded me of how so many DJs just surf the wave of ‘new jams’ and dont really fuck with the form itself. Whereas its so fresh and refreshing to experience Venus going for it, really working the CD-js in a percussive way, pulling and pushing sound around to create a thing in and of itself
Now don’t get me wrong, as those in the know will know, this won’t be the first time Ghe20 G0th1k graces a Cambridge club. Indeed, it was at Rizzla & co’s Nu Life party where I first met Venus, having been tasked with sourcing a couple CDJs for the occasion. Of course, these days, Venus is tweet-lobbying Pioneer to donate 20 pairs for a next wave of rad gal DJs. But big-up Rizzla for balance-beaming across the bleeding edge, no small achievement in this little town that, better or worse, I’ll always call home.
As Hatsune Miku’s team thinks of ways to translate the incredible phenomenon she represents for US audiences/co-producers, I could hardly think of a better partner for the virtual idol. Venus seems to think folks here are ready for the kind of plastic pop culture we can mold and form into our own shapes, and, as it happens, so does Ian Condry, the cultural anthropologist in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program who is responsible for bringing Miku’s team to Cambridge next week (as part of the Cool Japan project). Ian, who wrote his first book about hip-hop in Japan, has recently completed a second book, this time about anime and collaborative creativity.
As he wrote in response to seeing a Hatsune Miku concert this past summer, Ian’s study of anime has led him “to see virtual characters as platforms of generative creativity in their own right.” Taking this a step further into the realm of invitational and reconfigurable culture, Hatsune Miku “demonstrates that there are likely to be many more kinds of platforms out there, waiting to created, built upon, shared, distributed, remixed and extended.”
Everyone was cheering, but at what? There was no one there, on stage, at the center of our attention, just a virtual avatar. And of what? Of whom? Of us.
Miku shows that pop culture, like politics, often appears premised on a leader on stage (or projected on a screen), but impact, and often creativity itself, whatever that means, emerges from broader, distributed collective actions. Miku hints at a world of untapped possibility, a model of crowd-sourced mobilization, and an instructive instance of a media platform that is part software technology (Vocaloid) part cultural idea (the character Miku).
Miku began as a voice on a music synthesizer software package called Vocaloid, created and sold by Yamaha starting in 2004. Vocaloid lets you make music by specifying instruments to play, like Garage Band, but with the added feature that you can write lyrics with melody as well. A separate company, Crypton Future Entertainment, released the Miku voice add-on in 2007, along with a cartoon image and biographical features (16 years old, height, weight, etc.).
Importantly, Crypton decided not to assert copyright control over the image, thus freeing up the character to have a life of her own, or rather, lives of our own. Itâ€™s as if we could all write songs for Lady Gaga, and she would perform them for us. Does it matter that Mikuâ€™s not real? How â€śrealâ€ť is Lady Gaga anyway?
Fans responded by posting hundreds of thousands of music videos online, with a variety of shared costumes and images (e.g., a green onion / leek). In the years since, Mikuâ€™s star rose thanks to the energy of the fans amplified through uploading and commenting on the Japanese video-sharing site Nico Nico DĂ´ga. So-called â€śNicodoâ€ť is like YouTube except user comments scroll by as you watch a video, thus adding an additional layer of participatory viewing.
Nowadays, top MikuP (â€śproducersâ€ť) sell their work online, and karaoke spots in Japan let you download and sing along with favorite Miku songs. Crypton has a site online for facilitating collaboration and licensing through a system, Piapro, which they say mimics Creative Commons. Fan work sells through other channels as well. In November 2010, I was one of 7000 attendees at a sold-out fan convention in Ikebukuro, Tokyo shopping from 500 fan groups who gathered to sell Vocaloid-related music, posters, DVDs, illustration books, video games, jewelry and more (see http://ketto.com/tvm/).
Given such fan excitement, it is small wonder that big business wanted in on the act. From 2009, Sega created video games for Miku under the Project Diva title, both for handheld devices and for arcades. Toyota is now using Miku for a series of ads as well, and they even showed a commercial prior to Mikuâ€™s Los Angeles debut (drawing some boos, but probably more good will). Ultimately, however, Miku is animated by the energy of fans, and thatâ€™s why watching Mikuâ€™s steps into commercialization will be interesting.
Miku reinforces some of the lessons for civic media that weâ€™ve heard before: people need to feel a genuine openness to participate; sharing and dialogue are key to building a community; free culture is more generative than controlled-IP systems; cooptation and commercialization are always risks, especially as popularity increases.
But Miku offers a particular schema of distributed creativity, different than both Wikipedia and human celebrities. Miku lacks a back-story. She has no pre-defined personality. She doesnâ€™t exist in a singular made-up fantasy world. This Wikicelebrity makes old-fashioned human celebs look like appliances, when the future is platforms.
Might this provide alternative ways of thinking about democracy and participation as well? If the social realities outside leaders themselves are what generate action and popularity, then questions of media should turn less on representational content, and more on the nature of platforms, how open they are, what forms of creativity they allow.
I’m getting a good feeling about this. Do help us make next Monday the first of many incredible meetings between Venus and Miku. Glowsticks optional.