Friday, October 17, 2014

Buzzfeed, Beethoven & 5 Challenges to Your Attention Span.


A quick look at anyone's feed in Facebook, twitter or any other such networking site will put you
and about a half-million other people in touch with a web 'article' that is a list of 12 to 35 things that are all blah, blah, blah, and number 5 will supposedly 'blow your mind' or 'make you cry' or 'cause you to laugh so hard you'll crap your pants'.  You will click on this list, look it over and be mildly interested and briefly amused, number 5 will not blow your mind (or make you cry or crap), and you will probably think to yourself: "It's a good thing that this list is short and quick and doesn't contain much text to read, otherwise I might feel like I was tricked and now I've wasted my time."
  Of course, you did waste your time, but Buzzfeed and the creators of such short and distracting media know that they can fill your mind with a big pile of doggy-doo, so long as they
don't command too much of your attention. All they need is your click and three to five minutes of interest, and odds are 1 in 10 of you might actually share this mildly entertaining post that is mostly a distraction and trivial. Your 1 in 10 share is enough to justify all their advertising revenue.
  There isn't anything wrong with sharing this sort of list-thing except that what you're sharing isn't really meaningful or even particularly good writing or research. It isn't a blog, where some person is trying to describe what he or she really feels about a song or a video or some movie. Neither is it a legitimate criticism of some work of art or review of a play or some sort of live entertainment. It isn't really entertaining or exciting like a concert or a sporting event, neither is it really annoying, nor is it something that you want to spend some time on. Basically this isn't a particularly enjoyable experience and all it creates in your mind is the desire to just move on to something else.
  The problem with all of these shares of senseless lists of 'stuff', is that each one seems to lend itself to encouraging a problem that everyone is already aware of. Our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter every day and this is only another catalyst for this problem to get worse. (And you're probably already scrolling down to find out whether this blog entry is worth your while.) These lists of stuff are made deliberately to take advantage of our shorter and less willfull attention spans. They are silly and sometimes nonsensical 'musings' on trivial topics, reminders of cheap and quick observational humour, all designed to grab our attention, but only for a short time. We click on them and look at them almost without thinking, and it seems that each time we do, our attention-span gets a little shorter.
  What's wrong with a short attention span? Well, not everything is so trivial and flippant that it can be expressed in a short song or video less than two minutes long, or a couple or three sentences in a list of twenty things that likely won't blow your mind or crap your pants or even cause you to think twice about it an hour later. Add all these little distractions together and what you get is one giant and unnecessary distraction that hardly seems worth the trouble and takes up far more of your time than you'll probably admit. Wouldn't it be easier to set aside the time and get your attention into something really good and enjoyable for a longer period of time? Wouldn't it be better to be enraptured by something interesting for a half hour than waste two minutes at a time on nothing special that ends up wasting far more time in the long run?
   So let's go the other direction. Instead of trying to be short and sweet and clever, we at Very Us Mumblings are now going to attempt to take up more of your time than you want to give up.

A Direct Challenge to your Attention Span:
At this point Very Us Mumblings would like to issue a direct challenge to your attention span.  We will forgo the list format, make no claims about your reaction, and make no excuse for 'wasting your time'. Hey, we won't even suggest that it would be worthwhile to take part in this challenge and you can decide for yourself if you think this was worthwhile (Please feel free to comment!). We will offer five things to listen to that are far beyond the scope of a 3-5 minute rock or pop tune and while we will explain why we chose the piece, we will not guarantee that you will come out on the other end loving it wholeheartedly.
   However, there are some rules to this challenge (a list! Finally a list!):
1) There must be no other distractions under your control. Turn off your mobile phone, and don't be playing video games or reading a book or internet article while listening. The challenge is not to provide background music while you do the dishes. You may listen without watching the video, but you must avoid distractions.
2) You may pause, provided you start up again from where you left off. You are on your honour not to take unecessary extended bathroom breaks of an hour or more.
3) There are no partial credits for getting halfway or three quarters through. If you listen all the way through the song, you get an A+, if you don't, you fail. Feel free to start over or try again however many times you like or whenever is convenient, but no fast-forwarding or increased speed playback.
4) You don't have to listen to all five pieces back to back, or all in one group. You may listen in any order you like and you may have a coffee/tea soft drink or even an alcoholic beverage or two while listening. You may also dance, clap, bob your head, tap your feet, and bring as many friends as you like to join you.
5) None of the above rules are meant to burden you. Very Us Mumblings will forgive you if your computer screws up and stops playback halfway through without your consent. We will also forgive you if the phone rings, the doorbell dings, the baby cries, the kettle boils over, the dog eats the phone and the cat gets caught in the trap that you left for the mouse, or if there's some emergency or a death in the family. We will also understand if you choose to wait to take up the challenge on the weekend or some day when you are healthier or have more time to spare. Basically, don't fret the rules, it's all good.

The Temptations: Papa Was a Rolling Stone approx 12 min
Most people are familiar with the radio-friendly version of this song which has a running time of about 6 minutes. However, the original version of Papa was a Rolling Stone that appeared on the 'All Directions' album in 1972 was about 12 minutes long. It included breaks for guitar and bass riffs and improvisation. This song also features a mini string orchestra.
  Long before the 'extended dance mix' and the use of samples and digital technology to loop and lengthen songs artificially for play in dance clubs, musicians like the Temptations, Isaac Hayes and even Donna Summer extended pieces in what they called the 'cinematic soul' style, using improvisation and orchestral accompaniment to create funky music that resembled the score for a movie scene. The first examples were the theme from blaxploitation action movies like Shaft.
  Of course, this particular musical piece has nothing to do with a badass private detective. 'Papa' is instead much more seriously about a son who finds out what kind of man his deceased father was mostly through rumours of Papa's antics and reputation in the neighbourhood, all the while asking his mother for an explanation.
  The vocal ability of the Temptations is both evident and at its best. When this version is heard, not only will you enjoy the music, but before the end, provided you pay attention, you'll be saying: 'Papa, you bastard!' and then dance and funk-out as the song continues.


Iron Maiden: Rime of the Ancient Mariner approx 13 min 
The Albatross follows ships out to sea. They have done so since the beginning of humanity's first treks across oceans. The albatross, like most of the humans, is going fishing and using a human-built boat as it's lifebuoy and a place to rest its wings. The following albatross has long been considered an omen of good luck. Then one day someone decided to write the story of what would happen if someone should kill the Albatross. Immediately the wind stopped blowing, the boat stops moving, the food runs out, water supplies run dry, days and days go by without any rain and the ships crew begin to die one by one. The Mariner is forced to wear the albatross around his neck to show his shame at having killed the creature.
If you think that Iron Maiden's version of Rime of the Ancient Mariner is long and taxing to the attention span, then you might be surprised to find that the original story, written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is written as a poem. Just think how long it took to write that whole story in rime-form poetry and perhaps you might think that listening to a 13 minute song is rather easy and enjoyable by comparison.

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 8 (Pathetique) approx 21min.
In three movements, the most recognizable being the third, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 shows the composer's talent, not only as a writer of music, but a true piano-performer. This is a piano sonata alone, without any back-up musicians or vocal parts.
   This piece shows how one instrument is able to convey so much more than just a repetitious set of chords and pop melodies but demands twenty-one minutes of your time. The playing ranges from soft and delicate to boisterous to incredibly complex runs that make you wonder how the pianist remembered all of those notes, since he has no sheet music in front of him.
  Give yourself time to listen to whole thing through and you may find time to listen to other Sonatas and Concertos by reknowned artists and composers. This piece is also a good way to introduce yourself to Beethoven before you delve into the other work by this great master that we've included below.


Genesis: Supper's Ready (Live) 26min
When Peter Gabriel was the lead singer of Genesis, the band was much darker and stranger than its 1980s incarnation. 
 Supper's Ready tells a tale of two lovers, religion, and a battle between good and evil all in some ethereal place where soldiers are afflicted with narcissism and an ever-fertile farm gives life to colours, plants animals and all manner of objects. The whole journey is loosely based on the Book of Revelations. After all their trials and tribulations, including surviving an Apocolypse in 9/8 time, the good wins out over evil and the two lovers and everyone is summoned to a great Supper of God in the New Jerusalem.
   Supper's Ready is a 23 minute long track on the 1973 Foxtrot album, but this live version is even longer because it contains an introduction-story by Peter Gabriel that only hints at a description of the song, but is really weird. Of course, with all this weirdness and grandiose music, Genesis is attempting the same sort of scale of theatrical performance as Rime of the Ancient Mariner, only done with much fewer speciall effects and less spectacular lighting.

Beethoven Symphony No 9 (Choral) approx 1 hour
There are numerous 'flashmob' videos of Beethoven's 9th symphony around the internet. This blog actually linked to one created by a Spanish Bank in one of our earliest entries. Most of these 'Beethoven-mobs' are usually performing heavily edited and much abbreviated renditions of the final movement of the piece. Many people have enjoyed these 'snippets' of Beethoven's 9th, but how many have listened to the whole thing? The entire symphony, written by a man now deaf due to illness, includes not only an orchestra and choir, but solos by four vocalists from baritone to soprano, giving your ears the full range of choral power. The lyrics to the choir section of Symphony no. 9 are based on a poem by Schiller called Ode to Joy, an uplifting poem dedicated to the brotherhood of all mankind.
 Why was a deaf Viennese musician in poor health so concerned of the peace and brotherhood of all the people in all the world? Well it might have been because earlier in his life Beethoven once supported Napoleon, hoping that the french leader was a true hero attempting to end feudalism and the oppression of the ruling classes. Beethoven fully intended to dedicate his 3rd Symphony to Napoleon. However, when Napoleon declared himself the Emperor of France, Beethoven became so frustrated that he tore a hole in his 3rd Symphony attempting to scratch Napoleon's name off the paper. He changed the title and dedication to his patron (financial backer) Prince Joseph Franz von Lobkowitz.
   Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is a true testament to the brotherhood and sisterhood of all human beings, but it is an hour-long musical vision that cannot truly be summed-up in a seven-minute flashmob video.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you passed or failed or didn't try and let us know why and if you'll try again!
Congratulations and A++ grade to anyone who has set aside 2 or more hours of their life to listen to all the music presented in this blog entry. And now that you successfully demonstrated that you have full control of your attention faculties, perhaps you won't be so quick to click on that Buzzfeed list of 23 things you do with your mouth (Number 3 will blow someone else's mind!). The next step, obviously, is to
with all your friends, especially the ones that you know have ADD.
Or you can or Google+

Update, Dec 28, 2014: A Defense of this Challenge: Due to some suggestion that this challenge is simply another distraction that is overly time consuming, we at Very Us Mumblings would like to humbly disagree. We can think of many things which take up much more time, and yet are considered to be very fulfilling. The full running time of Pink Floyd's The Wall is over 95 min (99minutes if you watch the movie) The average running time of the average movie is just under 2 hours, while Inglourious Basterds is actually 153 min (approx two and a half hours) All of these endeavours are far more time consuming than any one part of our challenge musical pieces, and they are best understood if you watch from the very beginning to the end, without any stopping or bathroom breaks.