Thursday, 11 July 2013

Lana Del Rey vs Hatsune Miku: which is more manufactured?

Right, so I'd better get this out of the way quickly. I'm not really a Lana Del Rey fan, simply because her music bores me to tears; there's nothing about it that outright offends my sense of taste, but at the same time it does absolutely nothing for it either. I'm more a Miku fan, although I'm more of the opinion that the producer is more important in regards to Vocaloid performers than the software package itself. I decided to state this because I thought I'd get my bias out the way early: it might be easy to assume that, if I were to argue in favour of one or the other that it might be personal preference getting in the way. That still may be the case, but at the very least you have a better idea of why my bias is there. 

So, on the one hand you have Lana Del Rey. Physically flesh and blood, with all the things that that entails. But at the same time she can be considered to be manufactured because she has the money and resources to adopt whatever trappings she needs to appeal to a specific audience, in this case that of alternative rock. The problem with that is that one of the things valued by most types of rock fans is a sense of genuineness. I know I certainly did when I first started venturing out and listening to my own music for the first time: while I could appreciate that the manufactured pop music you heard on the radio sometimes sounded nice, there wasn't much to it beyond that. Rock music catered to all the complicated emotions that pop music preferred to avoid, and I liked it that way. When you get manufactured rock or alternative music, it can seem like it's kind of missing the point. Lana Del Rey might be a fantastic songwriter and musician, but if she's only superficially adopting the trappings of a subculture, then it seems very cold and calculated and thus completely out of place in the genre. I remember there was a similar reaction to pop-punk bands like All Time Low and their ilk when I was in high school and college. My reaction was largely the same now as it was back then: if you don't like the music or the band, for whatever reason, then don't listen to them. Additionally, don't expect me or others to conform and agree with you, even if I do understand your reasoning. For instance, I couldn't stand the band Gallows, because they just weren't to my taste and the vocalist came across as a thoroughly unpleasant person, but I had largely forgotten they existed because I have better things to do than moan about music these days. In any case, not being a Lana Del Rey fan, or even an ex-fan, I couldn't really attest to the genuineness, or lack of, in her music. 

On the other hand, you have Hatsune Miku, and by extension the other Vocaloids. Not physically real, boiling down to the manipulation of pitch and phonemes. But I would argue that despite being not technically real, you cannot really say that Hatsune Miku isn't genuine in its intent, simply because her fanbase has the opportunity to add to her musical output. While it's almost inevitable that a portion of the music that is made using her voice will be indistinguishable from the manufactured pop music made with human musicians, the fact that the software is available to anyone who wants to use it and is only limited to the skill of any one producer makes for a potentially vast variety of results. With Hatsune Miku one only has to compare Gift from the Princess who Brought Sleep to World is Mine to prove this: one "voice" producing two songs that are totally unlike one another. This variety and potential for close involvement with the fan community is what prevents Hatsune Miku and other Vocaloids from ever becoming wholly manufactured, as there will always be one producer who wants to use them as tools in a wholly different way. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Mario and Surrealism

Better start off as I mean to continue, so here's a response to the first Idea Channel video, Super Mario Brothers is the World's Greatest Piece of Surrealist Art.

For those of you who don't know, Surrealism is an art movement that basically involves the combination of things that make absolutely no sense being together, which somehow creates a cohesive whole of sorts: it might not make any concrete sense, but its dream-like structure makes it seem plausible, as it were. The video makes the point that describing the things that can be found in the Mario games sound like the drunken ramblings of an insane person. Let's try it, shall we?
In the course of his adventures, Mario games include:

  • Headbutting bricks, causing showers of coins or mushrooms. 
  • Eating certain flowers that makes Mario breathe fire. 
  • A furry suit that allows Mario to fly. 
  • Birdo. Just Birdo. 
By themselves, those elements would indeed seem surreal. But I have a hard time buying that Mario and Luigi truly count as surrealist inventions. 

For context, my parents love Dali. We have at least ten of his paintings scattered about the house and I've grown up with them for almost my entire life, so he's pretty much my reference point when it comes to the surrealist movement. As such, I found myself almost automatically dismissing Mario games as surrealist, despite the compelling argument made in Idea Channel, because in comparison Mario feels too "normal". I guess that might seem a weird thing, but hear me out. For me, the surreal elements of Mario are essentially window dressing; they might be big elements of how you play through the game, but you could easily change them out for something else and the core elements would be pretty much unchanged. The core element of a Mario game is that it has a clear, defined goal: save the Mushroom Kingdom and/or rescue Princess Peach. There you have two of the seven basic plots, "Overcoming the Monster" and "The Quest", at their most basic. While there are many weird and colourful characters in the Mario universe, of the main four (Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser) there are three humans, and the only non-human is the series' main bad guy, who you sort of expect to be monstrous in some way. Get rid of the surreal elements and you have possibly the most basic conflict and set of goals that it is possible to have. I would argue that it would probably be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to make a truly surreal game, as it would involve a lack of goals to pursue; if there is no aim to the game, then surely it ceases to be a game at all? With visual arts, surrealism is easier to achieve, as the role and mechanics of art is a lot less rigid: while a piece of art could well have a meaning or purpose in the mind of the artist that created it, this meaning can be challenged by observers of the piece, who would then supplant that meaning with their own. Each interpretation of a piece is equally valid, creating a multitude of potential outcomes and thus obliterating any chance of defining what the goal of any one piece is. In the case of Mario, the visuals may well be surreal, but a game is not purely visuals alone and should not be treated as such. Thus, Mario is made less surreal through the inclusion of the linear plot and clear definition of player aims. 

I hope that I didn't end up repeating myself, and I hope that whoever reads this enjoyed it. Any comments would be welcome. 

Signing off, 

An introduction

Hello Internet!

I am Nisa, and this is going to be a personal blog of sorts, where I post up my own take on certain subjects that interest me. I hope that it will spark some kind of debate for people, so if anyone should wish to comment on the posts here, you are more than welcome.

This blog essentially came about because I discovered the PBS Idea Channel on Youtube. Every week they post videos presenting a particular debate in which popular culture is looked at from a new and interesting point of view. And every week, without fail, their videos succeed in jump-starting my brain and taking it in new directions that I never anticipated, so much so that I yearn to respond. The only problem is that I don't have a Youtube channel, and I don't feel that I really have much reason to get one. But, I've been blogging for over two years now, so why not write down my thoughts there? Thus, we arrive here. I've decided that I will go through and respond to their previous videos, just so that I have them out of the way, then the responses will slow to a weekly feature. In addition, if anything else turns up on my radar, topical or otherwise, then that will probably turn up in some form.

Hope to hear from people soon,

Hi to all those who read my book review blog. Nice to see you here.

Here's the link for those of you intrigued by the concept of the Idea Channel.