Tuesday, July 7, 2015

For those for whom the "Star-spangled Banner" melodic range is too narrow...

Back in 2009, I posted a July 4th video on Facebook in which I set off some carbonated fireworks with a sleeve of Mentos and a bottle of 7-up. The explosion doesn't last long, but I ran it backwards and forewords and slowed it down a few times to turn it into more of a video show, with the inimitable sound of Doug Yeo's multi-tracked 26-serpent version of the 1812 Overture providing the perfect soundtrack.

Six years later, with the iPhone's HD video and slo-mo capabilities, it seemed like the right time to try this again. (I'm expecting to revisit this well in 2021 when smartphones are capable of generating 3-D holographic recordings.) I added a couple more Mentos to the sleeve and the 7-up shot way up over my head, surpassing the 2009 results!

Then came the inevitable question: what soundtrack would best serve this viewing experience. I wanted something patriotic, but a little off the beaten path. I remembered that Stravinsky had made an arrangement of our national anthem which, in my mind, I'd conflated with his much spikier version of "Happy Birthday." The tunes actually begin with strikingly similar gestures rhythmically.

Curiously, it's not this irreverent take on a then-copyrighted song that got Stravinsky into urban-legend legal trouble, but rather his relatively unspangled and respectful "Star-spangled Banner":

I'll admit I was disappointed to hear how sober and solemn this is. It would've been fun to re-work that Happy Birthday dressing for the Anacreontic Song, but I was running out of time to post before the 4th ended, so I first decided to speed up Stravinsky's anthem by about 30%. When that still wasn't interesting enough, I used Audacity's Sliding Pitch Scale Tool to create a constant pitch slide up through an octave. The effect was cooler than I expected. In fact, my violinist sister with a great ear commented, "That music made my ears hurt."

When you've successfully annoyed your little sister, then a brother's work might be said to be done, but I do think this version has other virtues. There's something wonderfully aspirational about the way each phrase seems to arrive at a new key [insert Francis Scott joke here], reaching, soaring, never satisfied with the status quo - a virtual representation of the American spirit. Or something like that.

Anyway, this is merely Exhibit #157 along my strange journey of finding that the most compelling listening (for me) comes not necessarily from a) great classics performed impeccably, nor from b) modernist works that strain my ability to make sense of their sound worlds, but c) an odd combination in which the familiar is deconstructed and re-imagined in a way that mixes the pleasures of a and b. I realize this hardly makes me some bold progressive, but it's not an aesthetic position at which I'd ever expected to arrive.

Yet, here I am...albeit a few days late of July 4th.

P.S. Yes, I probably shouldn't have had my videographer film this in portrait mode, but on my iPhone at least, you can get it to play more or less full-screen in portrait mode if you hit the little "expand" button.