Friday, August 15, 2014

Words, Cups, Trock and The Rage Factor

Since the inception of this blog,
Very Us Mumblings has maintained that the state of music is currently headed on a downward slope. By process of devolution, entropy and disuse and misuse, our human capabilities and general understanding and musical facilities are breaking down, collapsing and eventually disappearing. As we have alluded to in our The Devolution of Music series, the final outcome seems inevitable. Essentially we perceive that human musical capability is devolving steadily, possibly to the point where, at some time in the not too distant future, humans are no longer able to make any sort of reasonably good music without the aid of some sort of computerized or mechanical assistance. And perhaps we may become so bad at making music that we let computers not only aid our voices and our (lack of) instrumental playing capability, but also write our music for us or even stop producing music altogether.
   Although it still seems that the human race is steadily moving ahead in its inevitable devolution and descent into the depths of steadily more terrible music, we at Very Us Mumblings have noticed some potential stoppers and brakes in the downward slide... perhaps only mere bumps along the path... but definite obstacles in the way of the descent into utter musical incompetence.
  But taking the positive route, we can take heart in some small victories that may lead to bigger ones...


Literacy and Music:
  No one likes a nitpicker, and no one needs to be interrupted in mid-sentence because they've simply flubbed or mistyped a word. But everyone has a point where they can no longer stand by and let all the mispellings and double-negatives just happen. Like most people who use and depend on the internet and the interaction of reading, writing and communication by text, we all have a point where the misspellingz, abrvashuns, obscure slang, and misuse of numb3rs becomes too annoying and ridiculous. Even simple codified message like 'LOL' become unecessarily extended to 'ROFLMAO!!!' with three exclamation points. There was certainly a time in the early days of the internet chat rooms and blogging where it might have seemed necessary to come up with some codes to increase the speed and clarify the emotion behind comments, but some people feel like it has all just gone too far, and those people are slowly, calmly beginning to suggest that some people in the internet-universe should probably take a basic English writing course before they proceed in typing out any more blogs, comments, tweets, text messages and so forth.
   It's not always enough to just read it over and be able to figure out what a person intends to say; sometimes you feel you have to start pointing out mistakes just because you can't seem to properly communicate with this person. And if he or she makes da same mistake too offen, then sum-times u think maybe their just plane stoopid or english not there first langwage.
    One of the best/worst examples of someone that has gone too far was when we at Very Us Mumblings saw a sticker on some persons computer that stated: "This masheen pwns noobs"  Which is supposed to mean "This machine owns newbies" which is supposed to be a joke on Woody Guthrie, a depression-era folk singer who put  a message on on his guitar that stated: "This Machine Kills Fascists". Woody Guthrie was making a political statement, suggesting his music helped to educate people, thus preventing fascism, while the guy with the sticker on his computer is clearly an educated person, (or at least is familiar with Woody Guthrie) who is deliberately misspelling three words and forcing others to decipher what he meant, only to find out that the actual meaning is not only wrong information, but useless and misspelled and a terrible joke because no one really wants to 'own' newbies anyway (Or maybe we've got it completely wrong and you'd rather pwn a noob, in that case go ahead). And if I have to explain what a noob or newbie is, then you've already agreed that someone has taken this deliberate use of misspellings a little too far.
  Writing a blog about music, we at Very Us Mumblings would have to say that it's quite nice to see someone combine the two skills of writing and musicianship into a song. When people first heard 'Word Crimes' by Weird Al Yankovic, there were probably more than a few bloggers and writers that were thinking that this is really what's needed. Someone really has to raise the bar, at least a little bit, on the level of basic grammatical education that should be required to write a blog and make comments online. The song is a parody based on Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' and Weird Al's version turns a somewhat misogynistic song into one that teachers might actually want to use in grade-school classrooms. The popularity of this Weird Al song is both surprising and heartening, and suggests that many people feel similarly about both literacy and music. And if you think that literacy and music should not be together or do not go together, then check the second video on the left.


The Cups Song:
One of the more heartening things to come along, musically speaking, is the ingenuity shown by creative YouTube singers using plastic cups as rhythm/accompaniment. Displaying both coordination and singing ability.
Approximately one year ago, we at Very Us Mumblings suggested that one of the ways to stop the continuing slide into the Devolution of music was to use less technology. The idea was that by using less tech, we would develop our human brain and skills to compensate. It was suggested in Part 5 of our series on the Devolution of Music and the best example we gave was of a guy named Alpoko Don who used his fist and a pen on the railing of a front porch to make his music while he rapped about 'sitting sideways'. (that video has over 2 million hits now) Unbeknownst to us, Several years before that, some girls came up with the idea of using plastic cups as their rhythm section based on a fairly well-established cup game that dates back to at least the 60s if not before. The song sung while playing the cups actually dates back to the 1930s but is more likely some version of  'You're gonna miss me when I'm gone' as performed by Lulu and Lampshades, though it has been re-covered by Anna Kendrick in the movie Pitch Perfect. There is some dispute as to who is the originator of 'the cups song' and put the cup game and the song together but the earliest example to be found on YouTube (posted by Lulapinga - the top right video) was made over five years ago and features two girls performing the 'cups' and the song at the same time, while taking turns singing harmony and lead.
   Re-combining the ear/hand/timing co-ordination necessary for humans to make music without mechanical assistance, this little game/song/party-trick has become immensely popular, inspiring several viral videos, including tutorials, and variations using the cups to provide back-up syncopation to everything from rap songs to covers of already well-known tunes. The choice of popular music may not always be so catchy or even vocally demanding, but at least it's 100% human produced and the fact that so many people are actually learning to do it suggests this may be a positive step back up the musical evolutionary ladder to where we develop our human capabilities and skills to create.
 BTW: If you think the cups song is too simple or easy, check the second video, posted by GloZell on the right.

Trock:
No, I didn't mispell the word 'Truck'. It's Trock, also known as Time-Lord Rock, or basically songs about the sci-fi television series Doctor Who and the characters and themes that are contained within this legendary TV Series.
  Since the re-generation of the Doctor Who series in 2005, a whole new group of fans has tuned in and turned on to this unique show that is equal parts sci-fi and shlock horror. Doctor Who seems the perfect mix of sci-fi hyper-imagination and old-fashioned 'Creature Feature'. Old and new fans have returned to what was once considered a 'cult' show. And many of these new fans are so inspired by the series that they've decided to create their own genre of music, and they've named it simply Trock.
  It may seem trivial or silly, but to a previous generation, the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings and other fantasy tales, including role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and the even strange and convoluted sci-fi/fantasy epics like Dune have proved fertile ground for inspiring music and songs. It's certainly possible that Doctor Who and other sorts of popular fiction may do the same yet again. Most importantly, it provides a new source of inspiration to music, thus providing a break from the constant copying, imitation and repetition of mainstream subjects of pop-culture and pop music.
  With Trock, as with many new sub-genres or subculture art, its strength lies in human creativity, not in gobsmacking effects and expensive technology. Which is strangely appropriate considering that the original Doctor Who series had such limited special effects that it seemed as though a red flashlight was enough to make a person faint (Of course, back then, TV programs couldn't outsource special effects to some external company, usually owned by George Lucas, the way they do now.)
   Trock songs can be accompanied by as little as some strumming on a ukelele to a full out rock band performance. Some Trock songs are original songs that retell or revisit existing stories of the Doctor, such as Blink by Chameleon Circuit. Some are reworkings of already famous songs to fit the Doctor Who theme and some are simply 'inspired' by the series but are not about any particular episode. It's also apparent from almost every song heard in this genre as to the songwriter's favourite doctor, episode or even companion might be. 
  It would be difficult to think that a Trock song might actually make it onto the best-selling charts anytime soon, or even rate as a truly viral video of millions of hits plus, but at the same time, it's quite possible that some of these often very young songwriter's might take what they learned from exploring this unique genre and go on to greater things.

The Rage Factor:
The Rage Factor is actually a story that is five years old now, but at the time, it didn't get a lot of attention in the North American news media, and much like the original 'Cups Song' video we mentioned previously (also about five years old) didn't get a lot of credit for starting a trend that is not only fascinating, but something other people might definitely want to know about.
     In the final months of 2008, a part-time DJ/technician named Jon Morter and his wife Tracy from South Woodham Ferrers, about 35 miles away from London England, had become increasingly frustrated watching winners of the X-factor, (a televised sing-off talent competition) constantly go to number 1 of the British charts just before Christmas. It had seemed almost automatic; for four years in a row that the winner of the Simon Cowell produced tv competition would have an automatic number 1 hit just in time for the Christmas Holidays. Morter, on a whim, began an internet campaign to fight pop with pop and pushed to have people buy another song, Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up". Needless to say, the X-factor winner Alexandra Burke was number 1 'again' at Christmas-time in 2008, doing an incredible rendition of a song written by the uniquely over-rated and under-talented Leonard Cohen called 'Hallelujah'. This was five in a row for Simon Cowell.
  In 2009, X-factor winner Joe Mcelderry must've thought he was guaranteed to be at the top of the charts with a rendition of Myley Cyrus' "The Climb". Nineteen million people watched the X-Factor show as Joe Mcelderry won. However, Jon and Tracy Morter from South Woodham Ferrers, determined to try again to knock the X-factor out of the number one spot  and started another Facebook campaign. This time, the Morters took a different strategy, targeting dozens of internet 'groups' with similar musical interests. At the same time, instead of using an older number-1 pop tune, they decided to promote a song with a brash anti-establishment message. Jon Morter himself is an avid Iron Maiden fan and no doubt his personal taste led him to choose to promote an early nineties tune by Rage Against the Machine. "Killing in the Name" is a powerfully heavy rap-rock song nearly 17 years old at the time, full of expletives, and though it was hugely popular amongst the Generation X alternative crowd, it had never reached number one before, neither in the US, nor the UK. Furthermore, Rage Against the Machine was a politically-charged rock group from clubs in Los Angeles California and it seemed unlikely to think they could win over British audiences, let alone reach the coveted #1 at Christmas with a song that included the f-word about eight times.
   However, support came from celebrities who spread the message of the facebook campaign. The first was comedian Peter Serafinowicz, later it included Paul McCartney. As the word spread, the facebook group swelled to over a million members encouraging all to buy the song "Killing in the Name". When Simon Cowell, producer of X-Factor heard of the campaign, he quickly claimed that he would be victorious on Dec. 20 when the last charts were posted before Christmas. Joe Mcelderry, claimed the song 'Killing in the Name' was 'dreadful' and wondered: 'How Could anyone enjoy this?' Most magazines and newspapers suggested that despite the campaign, the X-Factor singer would be number one at Christmas. 'Killing in the Name' was full of anger and cursing and it just wasn't a Christmas-y song... but of course, that wasn't the point of the campaign. Rage Against the Machine would never win a Karaoke contest like the X-Factor, but they were a great band, excellent in live performances and produced music with a real message. The point of picking such a song was to screw-up the whole marketing system that allowed a TV show to control what people listened to at Christmas time.
   When the band Rage Against the Machine heard about the campaign they decided to take up the battle. However, X Factor performances were being broadcast weekly on television, promoting the competition. So Rage Against the Machine quickly arranged to play a live performance of the 'Killing in the Name' on BBC's most popular morning show program. Unfortunately, the show had to chop out the last part of the song due to the use of cursing in the lyrics. After this performance, Rage promised to give part of the proceeds of the song to charity and to perform a free concert to London if they won this unusual competition.
   Some have suggested that the X-Factor and Joe Mcelderry picked the wrong song to promote, that a cover of a Myley Cyrus tune had no chance against a time-tested proven song like 'Killing in the Name'. Some have suggest that the campaign was overblown due to the support of Paul McCartney and other big names. Some suggested that Cowell, win or lose, stood to gain because the over-arching record company, Sony Music, actually owned the publishing rights to Rage Against the Machine and also owned a subsidiary company that produced X-Factor. However, when all was said and done, it was 'Killing in the Name' that was at the top of the charts at the Christmas Break, and it wasn't that close, selling fifty thousand more copies than the 'The Climb'.
   This surprising and massive WIN came with side benefits: London got their free 'celebration' concert by Rage Against the Machine, a charity called 'Shelter' got a big cheque to help homeless people, Jon Morter earned the coveted title of 'Defender of the Faith' by Metal-Hammer magazine, and Simon Cowell's behemoth marketing machine was defeated by music fans, proving that things can be changed, and everyone benefitted by listening to some better music at Christmas and afterwards. And all of this provides one giant example that if enough people demand it, then we can have better, more meaningful, more intelligent music and art capable of moving people and making them think and organize.
  So, at least partially, it's up to YOU to demand better. Stopping the downward slide of devolution would be much easier if people like you simply refused to spend your money on the wrong side. If you don't like Simon Cowell, cheesy pop songs and the kind of auto-tuned music that he or any other sleazy promoters are feeding you, then change the channel, don't watch it, don't buy it, and start demanding better!

BTW: If you live in the UK, you can continue the fight against Simon Cowell (and all bland music) and help make Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast the Christmas chart-topper by joining the facebook group Iron Maiden for Christmas No. 1 2014