Saturday, 9 January 2016

A Cappella Covers

There isn't a single piece of music that is improved by removing the original instruments.

It's not that I don't like the human voice, it's that what I like about a vocal performance tends to be destroyed the more voices you have competing with it. You won't find a Leonard Cohen or Michael Gira in a choir. I don't even necessarily mind a cappella music itself. I like the original version of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner", and one of my favourite songs ever is Einstuerzende Neubauten's "Halber Mensch". I like the works of Ligeti. Those are not cover versions. I do hate Meredith Monk, though.

A cappella covers of songs always contain admissions that their artform is inherently dull because some twat will try to studiously imitate the missing instruments by making ridiculous, embarrassing noises. Usually right at the top of their range, too, because the missing instrument is a piccolo or electric guitar. This is incredibly grating.

You have no grounds to respect this crap on its creativity, either. It always sounds exactly like the ridiculous drunken scatting people do in a car on the way home from a club, which has innately humorous intent and is at least participatory. And talent? You're a really talented vocalist, that's why you sing in a choir. Sure.

Not all music needs percussion, dynamics or bass, but songs that do are not improved by removing all of those and replacing them with feeble vocal attempts. Shut the fuck up.

Monday, 28 December 2015

"Geek" and Nerd" as Adjectives

Before we begin, there are probably a few definitions that need to be settled on.

"Geek" has moved from its origins as a noun meaning a lurid performer at a sideshow distinct from the physical freaks to meaning "an enthusiast in a specific field of interest". Somewhere in the middle, it was used to disparage people whose interests were considered below those of the socially well-adjusted. A "nerd" was someone of intellectual achievement, who may or may not have been geeky about his interests, but was certainly down a social rabbithole that predicted poor outcomes until his or her adult income allowed admission to normal society, but now it means a fashion choice consisting of piercings, blue hair and slogan T-shirts. Far be it from me to police the evolution of language, but this is a rather sad dilution of a term.

Now, you may say that society has changed and is more accepting of the sorts of people those words used to describe but that would be nonsense and I'm going to explain why.

Remember an old movie called "Revenge of the Nerds"?  You will note the depiction of the nerds in question as being scrawny, embarrassing, socially awkward losers until they combine their brainpower to thwart their bullies. This is a typical underdog story that everyone can get behind (except maybe that rape scene). But what has changed is that now the prior domain of these nerds - the world of computers - is now so ubiquitous as to be an assumed, unavoidable facet of any modern individual's life. You're reading this using a computer.

The media has spun a narrative of how we're all geeks now, because children's entertainment like Star Wars and comic book superheroes are the mass juggernauts they are instead of the slightly embarrassing secret adult hobby interests they used to be.

Except these are lies. Star Wars  and superhero films have been literally the most mainstream form of entertainment that has ever existed since the late 1970s. Did you not know about all the box office records they shattered? The merchandising avalanche they precipitated? There has been no time in the last thirty five or so years that you have not been able to buy merchandise for these franchises, and the reason they have suddenly become so acceptable to adults is because the original target audience is now all middle-aged and has never stopped buying the tat.

What's really happened is that the rise of the marketability of these nerd/geek signifiers to an adult audience has allowed a certain type of vocal narcissist to claim nerdiness or geekiness as a sort of safely "oppressed" identity, primarily thanks to the prior idea of what they were without offending anybody of a sexuality or race that is genuinely at a disadvantage in current society.

So what happened to the real nerds and geeks? Let me tell you. You changed the words. Now they are "basement dwellers", "neckbeards" (or "legbeards" now too), "manchildren", "kidults" and a host of other targeted insults that it's unlikely that anyone else will claim as a fighting standard. They have no defenders and, to be fair, don't really deserve any. The old computer nerds are now the embarrassing denizens of the world of tech support that the rest of the computer-using office scorns as "weird" while constantly asking for help.

I don't care about these people, because they are generally almost as insufferable in reality as mainstream society has deemed them. I also really don't care about the "legitimacy" of the new geeks or nerds, because these terms are now utterly meaningless. And that's why you should stop using them and fighting over them, you fucking children.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

"I Know, Right?"

Somehow, this West Coast abomination has crossed the Pacific and ended up in my country of residence. Like uptalking, this interrogative-declarative is a petty demand for attention. Not content to merely endorse a statement with a "well said!" or "hear, hear!", the yammering fuck that employs "I know, right?" is asking for their affirmation to be affirmed. Congratulated, even.

You can call this "hypersocialisation of conversational roles" whatever other buzzwords you use to get attention from people you're trying to flatter or excuse with your disposable thesis, but you're wrong, and it's really just the mark of an irritating cunt.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Cliché of Surprisingly-Talented Uglies

I don't watch TV aside from the occasional series I buy on disc, but every now and then my embargo on broadcast entertainment is broken by a link passed around YouTube. The latest has been another installment in the reality entertainment cliché of a fat, ugly or shy person possessing clarion-like vocal abilities.

I don't want to dispute the talent displayed by Susan Boyle, Tony Roberts or lately Jonathan Antoine. They are undeniably good singers. My grievance is the narrative that propels their rise to popular consciousness. They appear to audience and judge ridicule on a talent show and then proceed to outsing the heavenly host to gasps and cheers.

What's sold to audiences and repeated by gulls is that prejudice robs the world of talented performers. Aren't we awful for being so shallow? Shame on us.

Firstly, bollocks. You may be awful and shallow, but there are plenty of fat, ugly and old performers who are critically respected. If your definition of "success" is universal pop cultural adoration and an anus cleaned by wadded currency, then you are playing into the hands of the industries who define it as such to maintain their monopoly and prey on ignorant fucks like you.

Secondly, great vocalists are almost as dime-a-dozen as great guitarists. Any guitar shop you can find is likely bedevilled every weekend by lightning-fast fretwanking of no artistic merit, but guitar solos are out of fashion outside of the world of party games. Do you think Susan Boyle sounds like Elaine Paige? Did you actually like and listen to Elaine Paige before Susan Boyle appeared and sounded just like her? No? Then of what fucking use is a performer who sounds just like Elaine Paige and why are you buying her albums? Charity?

Thirdly, you're a stupid philistine fuck, because you were surprised that someone ugly or fat sounds amazing. Why, barring severe deformities of the mouth and neck, should appearance have any effect on their vocal abilities. Have you ever watched an actual opera? It's all great big fat people in cartoonishly heavy makeup, at a distance. This is not a triumph over disability, it's par for the course in music outside of the pop crap you're used to and continue to support by watching talent shows.

Stop congratulating yourself for overcoming stupid prejudices.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The High-Rising Terminal, or "Uptalking"

You know it well. The Australian/Valley-Girl tic of making declarative statements sound like a question: "So I went to, like, the shop? And, like, saw this dress? And it was, like, so cute? I, like, had to buy it?"

Fuck. Off.

Intoning every sentence as a question makes you impossible to listen to or take seriously.

Don't be one of these apologist cunts who excuse this bad verbal habit saying it's a natural evolution of the language that somehow shows sensitivity to the listener by checking to see if they've understood. Because it isn't that, and even if it was, I'd call that "condescension".

The constant yoyoing of pitch is a way of making the listener pay attention, something like the whine of an annoying child or spoilt dog. It is narcissistic approval-seeking, and a petty, continuous attention-grab by the vacuous. It is a verbal probe in search of ego-stroking nodding heads and murmured assent. It removes every shade of intonation from proper elocution and turns your speech into the equivalent of a flashing advertisement. It is mentally taxing, forcing you to repeat mentally what you've just heard to parse the grammatical structure.

This used to be an exclusively pubescent female thing, but now you seemingly can't avoid it from people of any gender or age. But you still sound like a pubescent female to me and so I'm going to consciously accessorise you with a a small, pink, Swarovski-studded handbag and "Princess" T-shirt.

I am going to make an actual suggestion here. When the people you know and care about start to do this: Call them out on it.

I want teachers punishing children to prevent it becoming standard English. I want parents soaping mouths. I want friends playing games that involve inflicting pain on offenders.

Get to it.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Intra-Female Babytalk

Sometimes, when strategising for my personal apocalypse (or when I'm stuck in a waiting room), I browse women's magazines.

There are definitely interesting things in ladymags. One can definitely learn a lot about how truly inadequate one is as a person when confronted with one-season outfits consisting of about one handkerchief's worth of material that cost more than a second-hand car. Sadly, I do think the sex advice subject matter well dried up in about 1982 because the truly interesting stuff, as covered by Dan Savage, is just going too far for most sponsors. What does prey on my mind though, when reading about womanly matters, is the language used.

Why do they write articles for adult women in babytalk? What is this paedolinguistic abomination that is female-targeted copywriting? Why are outfits for grown women "cute"? Why, after puberty, do you have still have "tummies"? Why, in a magazine that features tips on the act of fellatio, do you resort to infantile euphemisms for your breasts? 

If they write it because it's proven by marketing people not to confront the readership, then, come on, harden the fuck up, ladies. That cheesecake-distended, orange-peeled abdominal sac of adipose tissue that's hanging over your pantihose isn't getting any smaller when you refer to it in the diminutive.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Post-War Architecture

I recently had an argument with an architect friend about the merits of Brutalist Architecture. I argued that, as with all things, Sturgeon's Law applies and the vast bulk of it is an utter blight. Poured concrete fortresses designed specifically to upend the viewer's sense of space and mass ("exhilarate") do not make liveable environments.

You could argue that it represents a vision, that it is bold, striking, clear, clean, and has of late acquired a historical "warmth" through familiarity and association. You could argue those things, but then you could argue that quite a few nice people have been born as a result of the many rapes committed in the tangled concrete intestines of cheaply-erected poverty warehouses like the Trellick Tower.

I'm not saying that I don't see the stylistic boldness in the cantilevers, I'm just saying I don't want to be underneath them, because the impression of hanging weight above you is not "exhilarating" as much as it's immensely disconcerting on an animal level. This kind of thing makes for striking video game levels and sci-fi movie sets, but vast expanses of temporarily congealed grey slurry hanging above you in person are threatening. Additionally, the sheer finality and planar blankness of Brutalist design does not lend itself to anything much in the way of modification and softening but graffiti, something it attracts almost as well as the walls erected by political segregationists.

This particular dislike of mine forced me to examine my stance on contemporary architecture. Do I, in fact, like any of it? I had to think hard. I admit that I like looking at books of architecture. And I like how some of the more imposing designs look in carefully composed and lit photographs. But do I actually like any of the buildings in person? No, I actually don't.

Of particular vexation is the popularity of utterly talentless swine like Frank Gehry, who apparently think that building a rapidly decomposing structure composed of concave mirrors in a hot climate is a tenable architectural style. His Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall is renowned by locals for creating a "death ray" that heats the surrounding pavement to sixty degrees Celsius and sunburning passersby.

I can't help but feel that something went horribly wrong with architecture after the Second World War. The understandable desire to leave history behind was acknowledged as a flaw by Post Modern architects, but their solution was not to move back and carry on from where the pre-Modern styles left off, but to tack hideous, infantile references to older styles onto the same asymmetrical building blocks. The funny thing is that I like challenging art, but challenging architecture is art you can't escape. Have you ever got hopelessly lost in one of these "adventurous", award-winning public facilities designed to escape the confines of the grid? This is bad design. There seems to be a genuine problem of architects needing to escape modish peer criticism instead of building something likeable.

Of late I've noticed that materials like stainless steel and stone have made a pleasing comeback here and there, but I still haven't seen a new building that looks remotely inviting. Every time I see a small, humble old house made of carefully cut stone with lumpy windows next to a towering robot factory, I can't help wondering if the architect in question felt like a bully when observing the contrast himself.

I hope he did.