Sunday, March 30, 2008

now it's up to you, you know what to do

During yesterday's long haul through musical back alleys, I found something I truly think deserves closer consideration. That being...

Miss Emilie Autumn's Rules for Wayward Victorian Girls

Rule No. 2: Your corset is your armor. Lace it tightly. Breathing is unimportant.

Rule No. 3: Your stockings prove your virtue. Be certain they are clean, and free of tears.

Rule No. 4: When properly attired, invite yourself to the nearest tea party, or host one yourself. Guests are optional.

Unfortunately, I cannot track down Rule No. 1, nor any others past 4. Apparently, they are available on a tour DVD that Miss Autumn has released; I'll endeavor to see if there are more rules available.

And two interviews with her and her Bloody Crumpets:

"Honestly, I didn't really care, I did it just to do it." (nearly ten minute interview, cuts off for a few words in the middle)

"Victorian culture, it's fascinating for so many reasons, but one of which--they prided themselves on the asylum, [the] mental health care center...Of course, what nobody likes to talk about is the fact that...90% of the, the people, men and women, but very largely women...that were locked up there, were not mad in any way." (another nearly ten minute interview.)

Perhaps we're looking at this from the wrong angle. As with every societal movement, it starts from a certain space, and spirals outward from there. The steampunk movement, I still maintain, started with creators like Guy Davis and Gary Reed, the minds behind Baker Street, and K.W. Jeter, who first coined the term, because he was trying to find some comprehensive, understandable term for the works of Tim Powers, James Blaylock and himself.

So where I come from as a steampunk fan is from that position of acting against the powers that be, the eccentricity, the invention and the Things That Cannot Be, both biological and scientific...Mad science and madder experimentation, absinthe-laced and laudanum-fueled, dystopian Victoriana with a crunchy clockwork center.

There are many steampunk fans who do not agree with me that this is steampunk, pointing instead to William Gibson's and Bruce Sterling's seminal revisionist history work, The Difference Engine, which spawned a nigh endless number of "what if" alternate-reality works...most of them with a fervent sense of invention as well, but invention from the basis of the proletariat as it reconfigures itself in new technological spaces, from neo-Victorian designs and devices. There's more of a sense of 'can do', of hope, of creation, not destruction, in this form of steampunk.

Girl Genius fits into this latter category (but also, I do believe, fits into the first). Most of Tim Powers' and K.W. Jeter's works in the field fit into the first definition. Legend, covered here previously, I would say, fits into the latter extraordinarily well. One can play pick and choose all day, but in the end of things, it just comes down to personal interpretation.

In this view, though, on either side--it may be less about ideals than I think it is. Of course it comes down to fashion, to the look, to the presentation--just as so many crafters, creators, artists and dreamers are drawn to the 'modern middle Ages', so are many drawn to the lace and the watch-fob, the satin stripes, the button-up boots.

But I may be too narrowly interpreting the sound of the thing, which is part of it as well. For example, Rasputina and Emilie Autumn I always viewed as aural heirs to Tori Amos, along with the Dresden Dolls. But I don't consider Amos and the Dresdens to be, per se, steampunk musicians. Am I being too restrictive?

So what is steampunk music, then? If I--not a creator of music, myself, I sing, but I don't create--were pressed to define, I would say--music created by musicians from this era, using musical instruments, surviving audio recordings, and thematic elements from the Victorian age.

Which brings us back to Abney Park and Vernian Process (very interesting Brass Goggles "definition of steampunk" essay I found along the way, while we're on the topic), but let's bring up Sepiachord, which is not a band, but a reviewing service for--as they say--the 'genre that doesn't exist'.

Okay, so reading over that, what we seem to be nearing is DIY/homemade music, in a sense. Like 3-chord cigarbox guitars compares to Agent Ribbons and Tom Waits....except, aren't we talking American roots music again? Which is 1920's, at best? Like the Dresdens are in that musical hinterland between European and American burlesque traditions.

So maybe, right now, it's Vernian Process identifying as 'steampunk' that makes him he prefers 'cinematic darkwave', he's said. And Abney Park, who identifies as 'steampunk', well, most of their stuph is still darkwave/orchestral goth.

*turns up the gaslight*

We're lost again. And maybe that's part of it--I don't know what it is, the listener says, but I know it fits in with what I think of when I think steampunk.


So I'm throwing it open--who do y'all think of when you think of steampunk music and musicians? Name 'em. We'll see if we can get a consensus.


So: identified music (of a sort): the Wild Wild West soundtrack music (TV series, not movie). Named by at least one person as an influence.


Alexandra Rucker said...

What I consider steampunk, and my first - likely first, anyway, it's been decades - exposure is the oooold telly show, "Wild Wild West". Not the recent movie, that just kinda put a hollywood spin on it, but the original TV series.

Adventures of Jules Verne comes in that category as well, in my mind.

But hey, that's just me. :)

Emilly Orr said...

Yes, thank you. Read back. I mean steampunk MUSIC. What do you consider the 'steampunk sound', the music OF steampunk, the kind of thing that airship pirates and mad spark inventors and clockwork engineers would listen to?

Hmm...wonder if Tin Man had a soundtrack...?

Alexandra Rucker said...

considering I've had the THEME MUSIC for "Wild Wild West" tv series running through my head.....


Emilly Orr said...

Okay, so we'll go from there. :)