Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Musical Marketing Words

As a Mixed Meters occasional feature we present pictures of musically named products and companies. Or maybe it's a bug.  Either way, if you've been waiting for another episode, wait no longer.

This time we have
  • A famous Austrian composer at the mall selling valuable things.
  • A carbonated mixture of vodka and white wine which has become a simple and unconditional fusion melody.
  • Three vegetarian combinations of a melodic nature. (It's a medley of medleys.)
  • A work of art with Japanese raw fish and rice.
  • Another work of art in financial services.  (This one must be complicated because it requires a conductor holding a baton.)
  • A studio where the conductor points to the performers just as they're supposed to start playing!!!

This is the eighth episode in the series. See all of them.

Click a picture - it should get bigger.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Woman Is Not A Drum

Can you use the human body as a percussion instrument?  Sure - hit it and it will make a little sound.  The body is just a big sack of meat and fluid plus a couple air chambers for resonance.   Anyone (not just tenors as Anna Russell quipped) can have "resonance where their brains ought to be."

When it comes to slapping people it matters who you hit and how.  The act of hitting another person, especially if you're hitting a woman, can lead to unintended results. You could end up looking like a jerk.

Chapter One: Hitting Yourself

Our story starts with hambone.  That's where the performer slaps his own body, a musical style associated with black slaves in the Old South who, the story goes, were not allowed instruments lest they use them to secretly plan rebellion.  (Their masters must have feared talking drums).

Here's a video introduction to hambone:

Here's another hambone video, this one from the famous American cultural institution Hee Haw.  Here one-handed hambone is combined with an even more esoteric human-body percussion, rhythmic hand squeezing.  (The marvelous vocals are called eefin.)

Chapter Two: Hitting Other People

Now watch this video:

Three formally dressed, but shoeless, musical sadists slap a resonant masochist.   All in good fun, no doubt.

Although stylistically far removed from hambone, this video also shows the human body being used as a percussion instrument.  With obvious differences...

Most importantly, these three performers are not hitting themselves.  They are wailing on a fat man.  Let's call him Drum Man. We know this is not their first take because Drum Man's drum head (i.e. his skin) is already quite red.  And Drum Man starts the clip with a big sigh.

We can see his face the whole time.  This gives us clues to his personality.  Our hero seems to be taking his beat down with a sense of equanimity.  Or maybe it's just detachment.  "Okay," I imagine him saying "Let's get this over with."

Maybe he's got something to prove.  "Do your worst," he might say,  "I can take whatever you can give.  I'm a real man." It's like watching the losing fighter being pummeled in a boxing match.

Drum Man's eyes are fixed on the camera, on us viewers.  Maybe he's defying us.  Is he saying "Who you lookin' at?  You lookin' at me?"

Secondly, the players are getting a variety of musical sounds out of their "drum".  Hitting his belly, his arms, his back and later his (facial) cheeks create different tones.  There's enough timbral variety and humor to sustain interest for a quick minute.

I wonder if this video was made as a television commercial.  I can't find the term "Equipo Elite Mundial" online. A sporting goods company perhaps?

Try imagining variations to this video:
  • Instead of three male percussionists, how about three sexy women hitting Drum Man?
  • Imagine the three sexy female drummers hitting a large, nearly naked woman who, like Drum Man, was just standing there, taking the hits with a blank expression on her face.
  • Imagine these three male percussionists hitting the large woman instead of Drum Man.
  • Finally, what if these guys were hitting on an extremely sexy woman?  But only musically, of course.  This post IS about music.

Chapter Three: Duke Ellington's A Drum Is A Woman

Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's A Drum Is A Woman is a large scale work from the late fifties - a suite of pieces that tell a story.  You could think of it as an oratorio or even a short opera.  It was used as a soundtrack for a television show and released as an album.

When I was in my twenties I first heard two songs from A Drum Is A Woman played as musical interludes in certain episodes of the BBC's Goon Show, originally broadcast in the fifties.  The singer was Ray Ellington, an English son of a Black American entertainer and a Russian Jew.  Ellington was his stage name.  He was not related to Duke.

These two songs, You Better Know It and What Else Can You Do With A Drum, stood out because they contain references to hitting women.  This struck me as strange content for a pop song.  At the time I had no idea who had written them or why.  (Another tune Ray Ellington sang, Bloodshot Eyes by Wynonie Harris, fell into the same category.)

Here are recordings of these tunes, clipped from Goon Show airchecks, plus some of the lyrics.

Ray Ellington sings You Better Know It from Duke Ellington's A Drum Is A Woman
Zajj,  darling.  We're in love, it appears.
And I surely want to thank you.
But if you get ideas
I'll surely have to spank you.
Ray Ellington sings What Else Can You Do With A Drum from Duke Ellington's A Drum Is A Woman.
There was a man who lived in Barbados
He saw a pretty woman one day
He took her home and when they got there
She turned into a drum.
It isn't civilized to beat women
No matter what they do or they say
But will somebody tell me
What else can you do with a drum?
Several tracks from Duke's original recordings of A Drum Is A Woman are available on YouTube:
It was only within the last 10 years or so that I finally heard the entire A Drum Is A Woman.  To me it still seems like a strange metaphor on which to base an extended musical work, especially one which is essentially about the history of jazz.  I suppose the Fifties were different times.

Madame Zajj is the main character ("zajj" = "jazz", get it?).  She is created out of a drum.  She changes back into a drum.  She is the drum and the drum is her.  I guess, really, she is the rhythm itself, the rhythm which drives men wild.

Her love interest in this story is named Caribee Joe.
Once there was a boy named Caribee Joe.
Spoke with the animals in their jungle slang.
His heartbeat was like bongos
And he sang every song they sang.
One day he found an elaborately fabricated drum
And when he touched it, it actually spoke to him, saying,
"I am not a drum, I am a woman.
Know me as Madame Zajj, African chantress.
I can make you rich and famous.
Together we can travel
and make beautiful rhythm for the world."
But Joe was in love with the jungle, the virgin jungle,
God-made and untouched,
and with the jungle he had to stay.
The drum beat up a storm, screeching,
"I am the one and only Madame Zajj.
But there are many Joes,
and one Joe can make rhythm as well as another."
So she hopped a trade wind
And away she went to Barbados
in search of another Joe.
Zajj appears in scene after scene.   She dances seductively at Mardi Gras.  She's a snappy dresser.  She drives a big car (one with 88 cylinders that goes 440 miles per hour - but she gets a ticket for stopping at a green light).  Later she makes an entrance from inside one of those flying saucers.

Duke's narration is sly and well modulated.  His prose often turns flowery and surreal.
And we know it is about time now for the Mississippi River
To look like a puddle of pecan blue pudding,
Pistachio and indigo, and the sun and the neon-rose lollipop
Is being drawn up over the horizon into a fizzy bunch of grape colored clouds.
Zajj turns out to be too much woman - or too much rhythm - for Joe.  After travelling to New York, where he learns about be-bop in the jazz clubs, he seems happy to return to his jungle.  There he teaches other drums to tell this story.
Ahhh Hah!  Madame Zajj.
She's from way back, as far back as way back goes.
She's been way out, as far out as far out goes.
Enjoyed triumph on triumph, as the fanciest and the most famous.
Wealth and good looks.  She has everything but Joe.
She draws on all the resources of sorcery,
Trying to steal Joe from the jungle.
Joe too has had a fair amount of success giving drums lessons.
And in the evening he sits by the fire
With his fabulous collection of drums around him.
And Joe likes to tell them about his trip to New York
And Madame Zajj's dream.
When Joe gets sleepy he takes his favorite
New shiny drum on his knee and says
"Now you tell me a story."
And the new drum clears her throat and starts to recite
"Once there was a boy named Caribee Joe.
One day he found an elaborately fabricated drum.
And when he touched it, it actually spoke to him,
Saying 'I am not a drum.  I am a woman'."
A Drum Is A Woman is really a story in which love of musical rhythm is metaphorically compared to the love for a woman.   An allegory.  Madame Zajj represents the essential rhythmic feel of jazz.  

Duke makes his essential analogy at the top.  Here are the very first lines of A Drum Is A Woman:
A drum is a woman
Who won't stay out of your blood.
A drum is a woman
It's beat is like the quickening of a heart in love.
Metaphor or not, regardless of the quality of his music, we suspect that Ellington understood that he might be misunderstood - even back in the Fifties.  I suppose that's why he feels the need to tell us "it isn't civilized to beat women".

We should already have known that.

Chapter Four: Jorge Perez Gonzalez's Bottom Percussion

If Duke Ellington's A Drum Is A Woman is a delicate dance metaphorically combining love of music with love of women, then Jorge Perez Gonzalez's recent video Bottom Percussion PATAX shows just how low the art of metaphor has fallen.

Perez lines up four pairs of hairless naked be-thonged butt cheeks, arranges them so that's all we can see and then he spanks them with his hands, synching with a (prerecorded) instrumental track.  He occasionally hits a suspended cymbal.

He tells us that this is music.  I think he needs to be told that it isn't civilized to beat women.  Or anyone.  After all, it's not the Fifties any more.

Previously JPG's most watched video had about 30,000 hits in ten months.  Bottom Percussion got hit over seven million times in just two weeks.  Since Bottom Percussion is no more interesting musically than those other tracks (actually less interesting), it's not hard to figure that this popularity results from the particular "instrument" he uses and how he plays it.

People (meaning, in this case, mostly males, according to YouTube statistics) must want to see musicians hit women.  With such a large viewership, Perez has almost certainly opened up a new You Tube revenue stream for himself.  Sequels and copycats can't be far behind.

In an attempt to excuse himself from well-deserved accusations of musical misogyny, after two weeks Perez revealed that only two of the butts were female.  The others were not female, they just appeared to be.  He released another video showing these four people standing up afterwards with blurred faces.  I guess the Butt Cheek People don't want their identities known.  Maybe they are afraid that their mothers would find out.

At least Drum Man looked us straight in the eyes. And he only got hit above the waist.

When struck, the Butt Cheek People all make pretty much the same sound.  Perez seems to carefully choose which cheek he will hit.  But maybe he's just hitting randomly.  There seems little musical point for changing cheeks.   It's easy to imagine him thinking "I enjoy spanking one butt.  Four butts will be four times more fun."

If Perez had chosen a wide variety of body sizes to beat on presumably there would be aural distinctions between them.  A butt of a morbidly obese person might serve as the "bass butt".  A little girl or boy butt might serve as the "soprano butt" (that's a disgusting thought because Perez ought to know that it isn't civilized to hit children.  He could use a petite adult instead).

Maybe Perez only knows beautiful, hairless, tight-assed people with insufficient bodily resonance.  I think it's more likely that he just likes to hit on butts.

Because Perez has posed his instruments so the camera can only see one section of their bodies and because he chose to portray them as identical and interchangeable, he can be validly accused of sexual objectification.  Male or female, he has turned people into things.  Thank goodness he only used his hands to hit them.

Watching videos of spanking turns some people on sexually.  Some like to spank, others like being spanked.  As long as the relationship is consensual there's no problem.  Bottom Percussion really should be labelled as soft porn.  Keeping music and porn as two separate categories would be the civilized thing to do.

Seven million hits can't all be wrong, can they?  Everyone is free to draw the line between music and porn where they see fit.  There are more than ten likes for every dislike.

You might want to compare Bottom Percussion with this definitely NSFW video which shows a man "performing" on a young girl's behind.   Like Bottom Percussion you can't see the spankee's face.  Unlike Bottom Percussion there is no pretense of musicality.   It really is soft porn.

Others have called for Bottom Percussion to be removed from You Tube.   That's never gonna happen.

Instead, I hope that Jorge Perez Gonzalez does many more videos and lives an extra long life - long enough to someday understand what is so objectionable about this performance.   He has sunk to great depths without even knowing he's in a hole.  Getting out of his hole is going to require an awful lot of time and effort.

Who knows - this video might make his career, lead him to fame and fortune, the way Kim Kardashian's sex tape benefitted her.

To "honor" Jorge Perez Gonzalez's musical travesty and maybe give hs career a little extra boost I've decided to dust off the long dormant Mixed Meters awards program called The Dockers.  After all, this is awards season; the Oscars are this weekend.

The envelope please.

And the Docker For Setting A New All Time Artistic Low By Pretending That A Soft Porn Video Is Really Music goes to ... Jorge Perez Gonzalez for his video Bottom Percussion.  Take a bow, Jorge.

Chapter Five: Jayne Cortez's If The Drum Is A Woman

I was happy to discover other, more civilized opinions which employ the metaphor of women and drums.

Jayne Cortez, who passed away recently, was a poet.  She performed her work with a band called The Firespitters.  Beyond her own successful career, she came of a high jazz pedigree as the mother of Denardo Coleman.  She was once married to Ornette.

Her poem If the Drum Is A Woman speaks to the issue of domestic violence against women.  The poem uses Duke's woman/drum metaphor.  This seems like an appropriate way to conclude this post.

Here's a video of Jayne Cortez reciting If the Drum Is A Woman with accompaniment by The Firespitters.  Appropriately they play a lot of drums in the background.  Read the whole poem here.  I include a short excerpt below.

If the drum is a woman
then understand your drum
your drum is not docile
your drum is not invisible
your drum is not inferior to you
your drum is a woman
so don't reject your drum
don't try to dominate your drum

It has been almost three years since I awarded the last Docker.  This is a link to all the awards.

Mixed Meters has never discussed spanking before.  But the subject of penises has come up a few times.  Some of those posts even have musical connections.

Want more eefin?  Check out this eefin post from WFMU.

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Super Bowl Baby Trilogy - Reposted

American culture is just chock full of fun holidays which combine the celebration of competition with crass consumerism.

For example there are the Oscars (and Grammies and a slough of other pointless entertainment award shows) in which Americans are encouraged to pay their money to enjoy a blockbuster movie (or pop album or whatever) because it is on the list of industrial in-crowd-chosen nominees heavily advertised as this years "can't miss" entertainment.

Another good example of an American holday devoted to competitive consumption is Black Friday.  That's when patriotic Americans wait in line all night for the chance to elbow their fellow Americans in the gut (or pepper spray them) while sprinting through the aisles of Wal Mart (or Best Buy or K-Mart or whatever) seeking yet another deal of a lifetime on cheap mass-produced merchandise which carry generous 90-day warranties.

The best example, however, is Super Bowl Sunday.

Super Sunday celebrates competition in the form of metaphorical warfare between two football teams from cities you don't much care about who fight over symbolic territory with a weird leather ball but periodically wait around doing nothing while elaborate advertisements are shown to people on big screen TVs as they consume mass quantities of chicken wings (or pizza or beer or chips or guacamole or whatever).

Here's an article about the effects of the Super Bowl on domestic violence police calls and other health related matters.  I wonder if the sale of Alka-Seltzer spikes just after the game.  Apparently more food is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday in the U.S. than on any other day, except Thanksgiving.

Here's a helpful video for people mystified by the game of professional football.

In the past Mixed Meters has explored the Super Bowl tradition.  Most recently there was a largely unsatisfying effort to find a connection between Milton Babbitt and the Super Bowl.

Long before that, way back in the darkest Dark Age of Mixed Meters (about 2006 or so), there was the Super Bowl Baby, a trilogy of 30 Second Spots.

In those early days I was composing on a laptop at Starbucks.  You may think that a crowded noisy Starbucks was not conducive to musical composition (you'd be right) although mostly I found it easy to ignore the distractions.

But one day (January 29, 2006, a Sunday, to be precise) my local Starbucks was afflicted by a small baby, wailing with all its might, no doubt after imbibing one-too-many cups of bitter Starbucks coffee - or maybe just not happy with post-partum living.   I still managed to finish my piece (a half-minute march, inspired by John Phillip Sousa, including a trio section in the subdominant).

I decided to immortalize that damn baby in the title of my piece.

click here to hear The Crying Baby Halftime March
Copyright © January 29, 2006 (and 2013) by David Ocker - 34 seconds

The next day, Monday, I returned to the same Starbucks where I transformed The Crying Baby Halftime March into another, very different sort of music.  The baby still gets the title role:

click here to hear The Sleeping Baby Postgame Wrap-up 
Copyright © January 30, 2006 (and 2013) by David Ocker - 33 seconds

I tried the same trick yet again that Tuesday, transforming the first piece into another Thirty Second Spot.
click here to hear The Hungry Baby Pre-game Tailgate Party
Copyright © January 31, 2006 (and 2013) by David Ocker - 31 seconds

You can see that the trilogy was not composed in sequential order.  This doesn't matter much.  Heck, it doesn't matter at all.  Listen to the three spots in whatever order you want.

I'm reposting now because I've uploaded the files to a different location and added a new playback option (which uses a new computer hell called HTML5 that allows playback on my mobile Apple device).  (If you have trouble listening on your device, please let me know.)

And besides, according to Google's records, the original post has gotten only one hit in over five years.  I'm hoping to double that within the week

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