Saturday, April 18, 2009

I do not deal the cards and I play a lousy hand

How are you? he asks me, as I'm pulling out of cello intoxication.

Emilly: Good. Put out an entry voting no on Evestus, putting out one voting gods only know for Johnny Hollow once I finish it
Fawkes blinks
Fawkes: Well, that's good then.

I spent most of the day yesterday listening to music off and on, and trying to hear those indefinite, indefinable chords that seem to "lock" a band or artist for me, in this emerging search.

Emilly: I'm still puzzling over it
Emilly: Is this darkambient?
Emilly: Is this steampunk?
Fawkes: I'd say no on Steampunk. Though the push towards technology is there, it's Modern technology. The Wires and Electric flow that runs through our lives. Which means it's not Steam. Cyberpunk more if I had to.
Fawkes: Could someone use it as a Steampunk song? Sure. The Video is fairly Steamy, but it's from a French Movie, not the band.
Emilly nods Much as the cello work is stellar

How do we define music? Music is, at its heart, art--art being what we make because we're pulled to make it, however we can--painting, sculpture, writing, music, poetry, performance. Art is who we are, when we yearn for understanding, yearn to express what we see, what we feel, to us and not-us.

Music, also, reflects its culture, the time it's set within--most of the time. There are musicians and bands that hearken back to other areas, or forward to uncharted realms (think the Mediaeval Baebes for one direction, Ladytron for the other).

(And if you've never heard either group, try Temptasyon, Byrd One Brere, or All For Love of One for the Baebes, and Seventeen, Runaway or Destroy Everything You Touch for Ladytron.)

Steampunk, bright or dark, centers around that moment of innovation, the realization of concept--passion in distilled form, passion poured into invention, into creation. Potentiality, unlimited, unrestrained. That technology--the technology of the "future", as seen through the past--can and will make things better...for the most part.

Emilly: Yes and no
Emilly: Because I'm also tying in the darker side of steampunk--with so much invention and personally-powered machines, there's going to be less of a social net, per se
Emilly: So more people falling through the cracks, from urchins to post-industrial adults just needing a hand up, not a hand out
Emilly: Why wouldn't they turn to music, with whatever they had or could make to make music on? But of a necessity, their songs would speak to tragedy as well as flight
Fawkes: Well, and there again is the issue I've said before.
Fawkes: You are creating your own Steampunky world.
Fawkes: Then filling it with music.
Fawkes: None of those is specifically Steampunk, it's only Steampunk in that it fits your world.
Emilly: Yes, but I'm having to. Because if I go by what other people are saying it gets confusing
Emilly: Besides which, everyone starts from the fashion, and hey, the fashion's fun, but that's not the heart and core of any musical genre, what people wear
Emilly: That's never been it

And it's true, this is what I'm trying to do--define what I consider steampunk, and then go back and listen to the rest of the community--but I have to come to some initial conclusions first, of what the music "made" for the nonexistent culture sounds like, is made to sound like, the instruments it uses, the "feel" of each work and the stylistic integrity of it.

And me being me, I am drawn more to music in minor keys, which I'm accepting for now--because that level of detail I can't engage right now, I just have to push through the list and then start to refine. Somewhat like panning for gold--first you get chunks of sediment and rocks, then you wash and shake the pan, and you have sand and gravel, and a few glints, and then you carefully wash water over what you've got, and start to see flakes of raw gold. (The days of nuggets just drifting downstream from mining being mostly beyond us.)

Fawkes: There's very few songs out there I'd consider undeniably Steampunk. If only because there are few Steampunk worlds they'd not work in.
Fawkes: The top one? Coin-Operated Boy.
Fawkes: But even THAT song is her calling OUT for such a thing. Where a Steampunk world would HAVE such a thing.
Fawkes: The song is more Steampunk Inspir*ing* then Steampink Inspir*ed*
Emilly: True, but it's one on nearly everyone's list, because it mentions [steampunk concepts]

That's part of the problem too. As the steampunk culture would evolve, it would slowly gain in some of what we understand as early modernization technologies, but it would be backed, as a society, with far more tinkerers, basement scientists, performers, and free-wheeling theatrical sorts--because any society centered on invention becomes inventive in other areas.

So while most of us immediately leap to Amanda Palmer:

Who could ever, ever ask for more?
Love without complications galore
Many shapes and weights to choose from
I will never leave my bedroom
I will never cry at night again
Wrap my arms around him and pretend--

Which is all about the yearning, the want, the emotional need for such a thing--when, as we've said, a steampunk world would have clockwork constructs, early automatons, finely crafted and only occasionally running amok to wreak havoc.

Emilly: Y'know, this is reminding me a lot of the early days of the gay movement--so many historians speaking in documentaries saying gay people lived on crumbs falling from things, rather than social support. Films that mentioned a "sissy", or a man who wore perfume for no explained reason; women who were strong with short hair and eyed other women boldly.
Emilly: But those weren't "gay films" as we know them now, they survived on hint and innuendo
Emilly: I think now we're in the steampunk hint and innuendo stage

Which is both exhilarating, and frustrating, I'll admit--and because right now, to a lot of people, it is just a fashion thing, slap on a pair of brass goggles and you're good to go--but musically, orchestrally, it has to be more than that, deeper than that--for me, at the very least.

Emilly: See, but if it's only a visual then virtually anything could be tossed onto the label and it would hold
Emilly: Songs that have nothing at ALL to do with vintage music and quirky instrumentation would, because they have a clockwork video, be ushered in
Fawkes: But anything could. Steampunk is a Genre, Goth isn't, not in this sense. Steampunk ranges from one end to another, it's a setting. I could create Steampunk analogies for pretty much any song out there. Lennon's Imagine? Would be easy. Steampunk is a frame that people place stories into, and songs are a form of story that can be placed into a frame.

I agree with him, I do, but this makes identifying steampunk music on the visual end of things extraordinarily wide, and nearly impossible to do. Which is why I'm doing my best, initially, to just concentrate on the music and the music-makers. Band by band, singer by singer, instrument by instrument if I have to.

And then take on the issue of steampunk, as defined by the visual.

Fawkes: Take Otherside. The style and visual is a bit Goth, Burton in crack. But it could work for Steampunk, especially the lyrics. The idea of two sides, is a classic Jekyll and Hyde type song.
Emilly shakes her head. Oh my love. You so need to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the very least
Emilly: That video? Is all about the 1920's German silent film revolution, the territory of Max Schreck and Nosferatu, of reaching hands and a style that is still influencing gothic culture to this day, wasp-waisted fainting boys in black
Emilly: At the very least, track down clips from Metropolis and watch the video side by side
Emilly: Three minutes from Dr. Caligari
Living Dead Girl from Rob Zombie: your direct line of influence, and that ties in Otherside, same film homage

It should also be said that gothic culture, as we understand it now, has its roots in early German visual expressionism, and most 'goth historians' (are there goth historians?) know this. How'ver, how much of steampunk emergent culture is also tracing back to this same point? How much of what's now being displayed and talked about, relates more to the 1920's than the 1890's?

Emilly: Right now I'm basically developing an alternate musical stream to influence a culture that doesn't exist
Emilly: Of course it's going to get odd at times

Absolutely. It does, it's bound to. It can't not, in a sense, because that's where we are--we are in that space of nonexistance. We are trying to pull together cultural threads for a non-culture; musical threads for so very little music. Ten years from now, will there be a steampunk culture? Or maybe Fawkes is right, that steampunk is a genre, a mostly literary one at that--and as such, it only has the music we give it, and none of its own.

So maybe that's what I'm trying to do--give steampunk its own music.

Emilly: And even I fall into the American pitfall of equating the 20's and the 30's, and the early industrial revolution, with Victorian ideas and ideals
Emilly: I'm fairly sure that's not happening with out-of-this-country steampunks
Fawkes: The Industrial Revolution fits better with Steampunk anyway.
Fawkes: One of the cores of Steampunk, is what if the Industrial Revolution happened sooner, and it happened in Steam and Mad Science.
Fawkes: So songs that deal with the Industrial are Steampunk songs.
Fawkes: "Working in a Coal Mine" would be an Steampunk song

This still baffles my mind: the concept of Devo as a steampunk band--


--again, the synthesizer action, I have to draw the line--but the concept of cogs and electronics, steam and synthesizer, it has an odd allure to it.

Emilly: Then I'm wrong about Perfect Drug
Emilly: And I don't think I am
Fawkes: But I'm saying you're not
Fawkes: That any music can be Steampunk.

If that's true, if any music can be steampunk, then all music can be, it just depends on place and time, the setting, the people. And...maybe I am wrong, but I don't think that's right, either.

Tom Waits may well qualify as "steampunk-ish"--to me, at least; in virtually any setting, most of his lyrics, the music he makes, and his singing would qualify. Abney Park--for all that they're considered "cheesy" by members of the steampunk world, and for all that Robert and the gang want to be the poster children for the steampunk tribe, I think for me it's more of the music, again. Their unique meld of gothic alternative and gypsy rhythms is very compelling to me, in the sense of steampunks, creators, visionaries, explorers, bringing back their finds to their native lands, in the form of fashion inspirations, design aesthetics, and yes, musical influences. From cuisine to ethics, invention to percussion, where they went would influence everything else those makers and thinkers, musicians and singers, did--and only as it should.

Emilly: What I'm trying to maintain, whether or not I'm putting bias in--and the entire project functions on bias, but let's set that aside for now--is that high or low, bright invention on the meadow or back-alley opium dens with cavorite lighting--that this culture, this alternative what-if past, would have developed musically in a different way. So my task is, right now, to identify where they might have started, and 'age up' the culture to the alternate now: what would today's steampunks, still largely tied to the mechanical over the electronic, in a world where Tesla was revered, not reviled...what would they be listening to?
Emilly: And I'm trying to identify those bands first
Emilly: Even though the entire HISTORY is invented

I've never been good at developing alternate history lines. I get the 'what-if' play of fantasy worlds, speculative fiction; but playing 'what-if' with actual events? I'm less than stellar at imagining such things, though others have great fun with it. So it is something of a struggle for me, and one I'm likely failing: especially with, as more than Fawkes have said, steampunk is really a culture without a musical spirit.


Fawkes: Perhaps instead of trying to find Steampunk music, trying to find music to define your Steampunk World, sort of like creating a steampunk world using existing music, even trying to create a Coherent story? That'd be sort of awesome and definitely doable.
Emilly: Yes, see 'next stage of project'
Emilly: AKA, okay, we're through the Mass List-o-Bands, and Sepiachord's been mentioned, so now, who's doing what in steampunk, do they listen to anything specifically? And when does electrical power really come in?
Emilly: Because as much as I adore "dustbowl folk" (hee), there's more music out there. Emilly: And there would be more music out there.
Emilly: And this doesn't even touch subgenres--I mean, we actually have a growing (three whole songs! eee!) subcategory of "steamrap"

(And yes, for those keeping score at home, those are three active links, there.)

There are a lot of places to go; mine isn't the only voice trying to figure this out. But what I'm trying to do is start from where I am, what I hear, what I know, of music and making music, lyric and poetry, story and writing stories, and the alternate history with which I've had experience: and move from there.

It won't be a smooth even thoroughfare. There are jags in this road and conversational detours I may seemingly take on whim. At times we'll be in the hinterlands off the road entirely, armed only with our wit and whimsy. But it's the journey that will teach us, after all, far more than any decided destinations with.

Grab your pith helmet and your ray-gun--we're going in.

[Editrix' note: Fawkes points out I'm wrong about "Working In a Coal Mine"--DEVO did not do it first. I sit corrected. Allen Toussaint wrote it, and Lee Dorsey turned it into a hit in the sixties.]


Alexandra Rucker said...

I suppose some of it might be interpreted as falling into the "spirit of" rather than the "mechanics of" steampunk.

Devo's music vids always struck me as being very "whatever's on hand". Including the funky-ass flowerpots on the heads. And I do believe they chose their band name as a shortened form of "devolution", but I could be wrong...

That said, I like Devo just 'cause. :)

Emilly Orr said...

"Devolution" is right, actually, that's always been part of their thing.

I think--eventually, when the project gets to that point--I'll go into bands that fit the "spirit of", without necessarily *being* steampunk, in terms of instrumentation, at least.

Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle said...

FOUR for steamrap?

Emilly Orr said...