Monday, March 26, 2012

Look what we can do...

I don't have to apologize for posting so late on a Monday again, do I? I think you all know me by now. :)

Toward the end of last week, I saw a lot of my favorite bloggers linking to a video and calling it amazing, epic, creative, inspiring, and so on. I generally ignore viral videos, but when enough people are talking in exuberantly positive terms about one, I tend to pay attention. So eventually I gave in and went and watched this:

At the risk of blogging heresy, I have to say: I didn't like it.

Sure, from the musical engineering perspective, I suppose that arranging for all of that noise to occur when it was supposed to was difficult and time-consuming. I'm sure the whole thing took a lot of hard work--those poor old upright pianos didn't put themselves into the correct position to be smashed into to create one last burst of sound, for instance, and the sheer number of bottles and rods and other things boggles the mind. But when I'd finished viewing the video all I could think about was how seemingly destructive it all was: smashing and clinking and battering into things, some of them built into metal cages in the middle of a barren and dead landscape and arranged on purpose to be bashed into by the various appendages attached to the car.

Now, maybe this is one of those male vs. female things, where most men will look at the video and think about how cool it all is, while most women will look at the same video and wonder who's going to clean that giant mess up. But I'm not sure that that's the only reason I found the video to be disturbing.

Videos like these seem to be demonstrating a simple artistic concept along these lines: look what we can do. And it's certainly true that modern Western culture is good at showing off our ability to intrude into nature and create a giant, noisy, jarring and colorful mess. We're good at that, and at least some of our art, if it's being honest and true, is going to reflect that.

But what about other cultures? What about the culture that produced this video? Sure, it's a commercial instead of a music video, but for some reason it was the first think I thought of when I watched the OK Go video:

The musical instrument, a huge marimbo made by Kenjiro Matsuo, fits harmoniously into the beautiful surrounding natural environment. The music, Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, does not blare out or sound like discrete crashes and noises, but is subdued and lovely. According to the commercial's creative director the only enhancement made to the video was done to bring out the natural sounds. Instead of intruding into nature, the music in this film works with it and respects it.

Granted, in some ways this is an "apples and oranges" comparison; the two videos were made for different audiences and for different purposes, and even the two styles of music do not compare easily. But it isn't unfair for me to say that I dislike the first and like the second, or even that I find the level of noise and destruction in the first distasteful. Is it, however, unfair to draw conclusions about our culture based on that first video? In America, is it the case that the statement, "Look what we can do!" is often a statement that precedes destruction, wasteful consumption, a using of both man-made and natural resources that implies a profound contempt for them and for the natural world (and perhaps even for its Creator)? Should there be more humility, more harmony, and less consumption in our view of what we can, and should, do?

And, on the other hand, is the second video somewhat ironic given that it is an advertisement for something that could be a symbol of wasteful consumption: the cell phone? Back in 2007, Gizmodo estimated that 426,000 cell phones were decommissioned every day just in the United States; most of those end up being thrown away. So while a Japanese cell phone commercial may seem to be portraying a different sort of culture than the culture of wasteful consumption, is it the case that the commercial is, in fact, less "honest" in an artistic sense than the first video?

What do you think?


bearing said...

Thanks for sharing the second video. I am looking forward to showing it to my kids when they wake up...

LarryD said...

Meh on the first video. The second one, even though it is ostensibly just an ad for a phone, demonstrates more creativity, as the end result reflects the time and effort taken to reproduce a beautiful piece of music in a new and original way.

Anyone can make noise. Music takes genius.

Amy R said...

Yes, I had to watch the destructive video too, because one of my kids found it and thought it was awesome. But I'm with you, thinking well, it's very loud, destructive, and what a mess.

But obviously, a lot of planning went into its making. They have these gifts, but don't know what else to do with them.

Now, to watch the Bach one.

c matt said...

To some extent, de gustibus etc.

I will agree the second video is a far more elegant accomplishment, but I found both creative in their own ways. As far as contemporary rock music goes, the OK Go production is actually pretty good. It gives performance art a whole new twist. It recognizes and works with harmony, melody and rhythm - it's not just a random collection of noises. It makes use of things that are not normally considered instruments in an ingenious way.

It reminds me somewhat of Pink Floyd's use of a cash register for part of the melody/rhythm in Money, albeit in a less meaningful way (that is, PF's use of it was directly related to the lyrics). While viewing the video once was enough for me, I can appreciate it.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

I have to agree with c matt. Don't love it but can appreciate the first one. But the second one also only impressed me as a feat of physics, not necessarily music. I wonder if a person's preference for classical vs. modern era music has any bearing on their opinion of these two very different offerings. Does a classical music preference slightly prejudice someone to the first one and vice versa?

Dirtdartwife said...

I wonder if I would have enjoyed the first one more if they'd taken out the sounds of the car grinding on the dirt/rock. Otherwise, it reminded me of when my husband, brother and I went to a production of STOMP (an entire musically talented group of people using every day objects to create music that was very enjoyable).

But to be honest, I thought both of them were pretty unique.