Tiana Feng

The age of Youtube and digital media in general has given opportunities for any little person to become famous. With social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Myspace music can be spread across the world. I have never actually heard of Primitive Radio Gods until the day I asked my twitter followers to suggest an obscure song to study for my Music and Meaning course. Before social media the only ways in which you discovered new music was very limited and you need to physically go check out the right record stores or the right clubs but most average people would not have the patience for this (Heavy Bag Media). Now there are a variety of music communities such as last.fm, hypem and elbo.ws that make your options limitless.

If you go back to the Youtube video of the Primitive Radio Gods song you will notice that it has over 540,000 views which is more than the copies of Rocket (the album the song is from) than the band actually sold back in the day.
Digital media has also enabled us to invent new experimental genres of music such as what we see on In Bflat where different Youtube videos are combined together as a musical composition. Eric Whitacre has different kind of example of this where he combines 185 youtube videos into one to conduct his virtual choir:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7o7BrlbaDs]
I propose to turn Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth with Money in My Hand into a collage like In B Flat where each performance of the piece is different because you can choose to play each element at different times. I think that the ideal amount of videos to do this would be around 12 so that we can include different elements but at a smaller scale because we are breaking down something that already exists. The videos would be arranged like the following diagram:

I numbered them as an easy way to refer to them. To do something like this successfully there has to be some basic rules and guidelines for each video so that you can play them in any order and still sound like a congruent piece of music. I would impose the following rules throughout the videos:
1. Play an instrument or produce a sound using phrases with the following notes: C E or F. Each video should consist of single line melodies. The whole piece should be centered around C major.
2. It should have simple floating textures that don’t follow any kind of tempo or predictable rhythm.
3. There should be a lot of random silences between phrases.
4. Low instruments should be avoided because they can make the harmonies sound muddy.
5. The volumes on each video should match.
6. Each clip should be at least 4 minutes long.

Frame one would be a spoken version of the B.B King line that happens randomly but shortened to “I’ve been downhearted” to fit the way I wish to alter the context and meaning behind the lyrics.

The next corner (Frame Four) would be a kind of world percussion instrument such as the timbale, with rhythmic patterns that occur at random intervals, but at a very low volume. This is to escape the very Western feel of the original song.
The other edges, 2,3,5,8,10,11 are for an y instrument that can follow the stated pitch rules of playing random melodies with C, E and F. Wind or string instruments that are pitched in tenor range or higher would work the best.

In terms of the original melody and lyrics, there are many different ways in which it could be altered. Firstly, if a female sang this song, some of the lyrics would be interpreted differently. This is a clip of me singing this song a capella just for experimentation, the “I’ve been downhearted line” has been left out.


If the melody was sung by a female the lyrics would be read differently. For one, the song would no longer be about a female lover (unless it is lesbian love), but the character “Jan” could be a lost friend, sibling or relative that was important to the singer. In this way the the presence of Mother Theresa in the second verse creates the illusion that this important female figure had passed away, and the verses fit perfectly. The original pondering of time passing by becomes haunting verses about the preciousness of life. It would more effective convey this if it was sung by multiple people (both male and female) alternation.
This would happen in one video frame, ideally in frame number six because the lyrics are central part of the song. This video however will be the only one that contains many videos inside of itself, showing different people singing the melody. Anybody can participate in this video, female, male, whatever orientation, whatever race. Indie rock has long been dominated by the white heterosexual male because in history those were the people whose rights of free speech had never been questioned.(Fonarow, 67).

The bottom two corners, 9 and 12 should consist of vocal improvisations in C major. One of which is male and one of which is female to be all inclusive.
Frame 7 would also be more of a visual than sound. It would contain video of world events such as the Haiti earthquake. The whole project would be inspirational in the way that it comes together and the way we use the lyrics differently.

In some ways it still holds some characteristic of indie music. For example it is or should be unproduced, meaning the original recording of sound should be unaltered. The experimental qualities of this recording would also be characteristic of the genre. In the ways where I have proposed a hypothetical medium for the song, the context and intended audience has also changed. No longer does it appeal to only to the middle class people of whom the original appealed to, it can be related to by any member of society.

This proposal was done for a project for school, but if anybody is actually interested in putting something together let me know!

Heavy Bag Media- The Effect of Social Media on Music
Lyrics to Primitive Radio Gods- Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand
-Fonarow, Wendy. Empire of Dirt- Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music. Middletown CT: Wesleyan University press, 2006.
-Burkart, Patrick. Music and Cyberliberties. Wesleyan University press, 2010.

<– Project Part 2

  • Dylan Robinson

    Nicely done, Tiana. Had to reply here – just seemed appropriate!