Category Archives: music

You and I are going to the top of the charts!

So, a “supergroup” in the UK provided the latest British entry in the ongoing spectacle that I like to call, “What’s Up with People?” This, from the guardian, via Boing Boing:

Later today, Pete Doherty, the Kooks, Billy Bragg, Imogen Heap, Orbital and many more will gather in a London studio, collaborating in a bid for this year’s Christmas No 1. But the strangest bit is not the team-up: it’s that they are not recording a single note. The ad hoc supergroup is assembling in support of Cage Against the Machine, a charity campaign to take John Cage’s infamous 4’33” – a composition of pure silence – to the top of the Yuletide charts.

So many things.

First, referring to a collection of musicians as a “supergroup,” when the headliners are Imogen Heap and the Kooks is like referring to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ “All-Star lineup.”

Second, doesn’t a charity campaign to take a single to the top of the charts sound a bit like a McDonald’s “charity” campaign to sell a lot of Happy Meals?

Third, am I going to be listed in the credits for my performance on the Jingjingler? Are you going to receive royalty payments for your performance on the Floofloober?

Fourth, WTF?

Okay, to be fair, it seems that the proceeds from the record will be going to actual charities. And, also to be fair, I did not actually stand in the studio not playing my Jingjingler for four and a half minutes. I have no information on the whereabouts of you and your Floofloober on Monday.

If you’re like me – and my particular personality disorder makes me assume that you are – you have no idea what is going on here. If you’re in the UK, you’re probably familiar with the backstory, but if not, here is my understanding of the situation. There is a TV program called X Factor, which is the Simon Cowell’s replacement for Pop Idol, which is the off of which American Idol was spun, along with a host of other things. Apparently, for three or four years running, the winner of X Factor would release their record, and it would shoot to the top of the downloads chart around Christmas.

Eventually, some people got fed up, and last year there was a campaign to get people to buy the profanity-heavy “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine in late December, specifically to keep X Factor winner Joe McElderry out of the top Christmas song spot. And it worked, by something like a factor of 10.

So, this year, there are multiple copy-cat campaigns designed to keep this year’s X Factor winner out of the top spot, including Cage Against the Machine, as well as an apparently much more popular one focused on the 1963 hit “Surfin’ Bird.” In addition to being derivative of last year’s “Killing in the Name” campaign, Cage Against the Machine is also highly reminiscent of a drive from just a couple of months ago to sell copies of “2 minute silence,” a track containing two minutes of silence, a reference to two minutes of silence observed on Remembrance Sunday (think “Veterans’ Day). Apparently the dance group Orbital (think “Neifi Perez“), which is part of the Cage Against the Machine group, released a remix of one of their tracks back in 1994 that consisted entirely of four minutes of silence.

An excerpt from my new novel, 947 Pages. I will be starting a 501(c)3 dedicated to getting onto the New York Times bestsellers list in time for Intergalactic Tutu Day.

Let me be clear. I am 100% behind loosely organized groups of people doing things that are snarky and pointless. And I’m not questioning that the money Cage Against the Machine donates to the British Tinnitus Association will be well spent. I guess. Also, this is not a complaint against conceptual art.

What this is a complaint about is the smug recycling of conceptual art that, in my view, completely misses the point. When Duchamp calls a toilet a fountain, it is a statement – or a question – about what constitutes art. It is a big moment, and one that contributed substantially to a change in our collective perceptions. If I come along 90 years later, take a toilet and call it a fountain, it is just a lazy attempt to embezzle some cultural capital.

From xkcd:

Ni, Mr. Cage., Ni.

On sex and singles

So, the post title is clearly designed to pump up pageviews, but those of you who have come here hoping to see photos of me with dollar bills hanging out of my G-string are going to be sadly disappointed. The good news is the money you’ll save having your corneas scraped.

This post is actually about the evolution of sex, or “recombination,” as the biologists like to call it. The question is, why does sex exist? Or, at a genetic level, why would an organism do something that passes on only half of its genes (by mating with something that donates another half), rather than simply making a genetic copy of itself. This is often referred to as the “two-fold cost of sex.” Presumably, there must be an evolutionary benefit to sex that is great enough to overcome this two-fold cost.

As with everything in evolutionary biology, there are an enormous number of theories that have been proposed to explain the evolution of sex, but there are two major arguments. One is that sex allows beneficial mutations that arise on different backgrounds to be recombined onto a single genetic background. This allows adaptive evolution to occur at a faster rate. The other (which is really sort of another side of the same coin) is that sex permits more efficient purging of deleterious mutations.

Let me use an analogy that requires us to take a walk down memory lane. You kids may not know this, but a long time ago, music came on albums, which contained a bunch of songs. The problem with the album system was that most bands would put out one good song, and then fill the rest of their album up with crap. So, to get a collection of good songs, you had to buy a whole bunch of other songs that you didn’t actually want. Sure, you could buy the 45, but who did that, seriously?

So, in this analogy, the first theory, the one about beneficial mutations, is like how you would take all of your albums and put the best songs together on a mix tape that you give to a girl you’re trying to impress. Yes, back then, this was done non-ironically by people who were not hipsters. She would then listen to the first few songs out of a sense of politeness, make some awkward comment about how knowledgeable you are, and then mysteriously change her phone number.

One of the great things about the advent of mp3s and digital music sales is that it is easier to hide your embarrassing musical taste. It used to be that your friends would always pull out your Night Ranger album and make fun of you. Now you can rock out to Ke$ha and just close your computer when someone knocks on your office door.

Also, and more relevantly, it is easier and more natural now to buy individual songs. So, you don’t ever wind up owning a whole pile of non-I’m-Gonna-Be-(500-Miles) Proclaimers songs. Music has undergone a transition to where it is more like our second theory, where recombination permits the elimination (through failure to purchase) of deleterious mu(sic)tations.

I’d write more, but there’s a pile of cash on the dresser that I need to count.