Artists Hunting Monsters

The motto of the Parlando Project is “The Place Where Music and Words Meet,” but in practice it has been the place where music and poetry meet.  However, just as I want variety in the music used (within the limits of the musician’s talents) I don’t plan to always use poetry for the texts here. Today’s post is an example. I’m going to use a short public speech, but as I have done with poetry in other episodes, I’m going to treat the words as if they are specifically meaningful, and I’m going to treat those words as if they want to sing.

We are also continuing the investigation of artists and politics, something I’ve touched on several times already this winter.

A few days ago, a cast of actors received an award, and the actor acting as spokesmen for the cast delivered the acceptance speech. Though not entirely a political speech, it was received as one, and it was almost certainly intended to make a political point.

The actor, David Harbour, was speaking for the cast of a series available on Netflix called “Stranger Things.” That show is a sort of bumblebee. Like the famously un-aerodynamic bee, it shouldn’t fly, but it does.“Stranger Things” is a show that uses tropes of 1980s movies and books to tell a story set in that same decade. It should be a winking meta exercise where you spend more time noting the references than to the story itself, or a dreary “I’ve seen this one before” drama that plays as an unoriginal re-hash of ready-made plot points and incidents. Perhaps for some viewers it is one of those things, but for many viewers it’s an ingenious contradiction of all the ways it could fail, doesn’t, and instead flies.

bumblebee flying2

I read on the Internet this is supposed to work!

As an actor, Harbour was part of that levitation. In his acceptance speech, he makes a choice as doomed to fail as the concept of “Stranger Things.”  In his awards-banquet tuxedo, standing in front of an audience of actors, he gives his acceptance speech more-or-less in the person of his character, a gruff, down-on-his-heels Midwestern town sheriff.

What’s the percentages on this working? First off, actors are not their characters, often not even close. Humphrey Bogart wasn’t a grizzled tough guy, he was the son of a cardiac surgeon who grew up upper-middle class. John Wayne was a football player and son of a dirt farmer, not a cowboy or a military man. Actors themselves would know this more than anyone else. Secondly, whatever audience size “Stranger Things” has, that audience isn’t everyone. Will folks who haven’t watched “Stranger Things” get your message if it references tropes from your series?

Well, like the series, like the bumblebee, Harbour’s speech worked in the room none-the-less. You can view that short speech and the reaction here.

In turning this speech into today’s post, “Artists Hunting Monsters,” I changed a few things. First off, the video I first saw after the event did not include his prelude to the words I ended up using. In the part I didn’t have while composing, Harbour talks eloquently about his view of an artist’s role today. In editing the words I did have, sifting them down, and dressing them with music, I choose to universalize his rhetoric to the degree I could, so that even those who haven’t seen “Stranger Things” would have access the message; and in so doing, I changed things to address the role of artists in general, not only the actors that were his present audience.

I’m once more going to violate a principle I thought I would hold to here, and “explain” the text. Harbour, and my selection and recasting of his text, says that an artists’ job, an artist’s calling, is to offer succor to the disenfranchised: to show with our artifice, truth; with our play fighting, successful struggle; with our imagined detectives, the underlying monster.  It’s a call to arms for artists to pick up blunted stage-swords and to deploy magnifying metaphors against oppressive decisions, systems and persons.

How did I speak with the music? Well, I won’t be so bold as to dance about that architecture. The main melodic line is a guitar played with an Ebow, a device that drives an individual guitar string into a cycle of feedback where it sustains with increasing volume until the device is moved away from the string. As the name implies it, it can mimic the sound of a bowed instrument, but that increasing volume feedback loop takes some finesse to manage. The secondary electric guitar line that emerges about halfway into the piece is a guitar feeding back with an amplifier, an even more chaotic effect. I was playing that part live in the main tracking session with bass, drums, and keyboards and was trying to get to the feedback “spot” with the guitar, but mics and other stuff were in the way, and it wasn’t until the track was nearly over that I finally got it to howl properly. And so, I was “hunting monsters” during the main tracking session for recording this piece.

Ebow on Telecaster

This guitar D string is about to find out how bumblebees fly

Before we leave the music part, did you know that the way the bumblebee flies is the way those guitar strings vibrate?

There are still questions left to examine on the role of the arts, and more Parlando Project expressions of music meeting up with words to be posted here in the upcoming months. If you would like to be notified about these new pieces when they are posted, you can click  the little orange “RSS – Posts” icon down on the right side of this post. To hear the LYL Band perform “Artists Hunting Monsters”, use the player you should see just below.

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