Monthly Archives: June 2010

Two Views of Rhetoric, Visually

I’m putting together my PowerPoint for the Remake | Remodel conference in Germany in a couple weeks, and I thought I’d share my two favorite slides so far.

The concept is pretty simple: my presentation discusses fan remixes (on Lost Video Island and OverClocked ReMix) from a rhetorical perspective, so I’m giving a very simple primer on what I mean by rhetoric. First, there’s the traditional view:

The ideal rhetorical situation

Rhetoric: The Idealistic View

But then there’s the more realistic view of rhetoric, that acknowledges that people create their own meanings based on their situatedness in time and space, their emotions as they hear the message, etc.:

The realistic view of rhetoric

Rhetoric: The Realistic View

Then I’ll point out that the reason I’m interested in fan remixes is because the rhetorical effect of a text is complicated when the text includes aspects that the audience has seen/heard before. But that uncertainty is managed in part by fan communities, where the norms and literacies of the discourse community are shaped and tweaked and learned.

That’s one reason I like this image so much: in a sense, I’m “remixing” the original Creative Commons licensed photo from Flickr, “orator” by southtyrolean. And people’s reactions to the image will be affected by their own history with Lego bricks–for some (like me), it’s an instantly nostalgic, familiar image because of the Lego element, but for others it might look childish, odd, etc.

In other words, the image itself demonstrates my justification for talking about fan communities in my presentation.

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One reason I’m excited about my presentation at the Remake | Remodel conference in Germany at the end of June: I want to learn more about filking.

What is filk? I’ve appreciated this roundabout discussion from Debbie’s Filk FAQ in my search for definitions, which wisely warns readers, “don’t let yourself get mired down in the controversy and politics of defining filk.” (This is quite a lot like the first couple weeks of a class I took on cultural studies, where we decided that no one agreed on a definition before we even really attempted a definition.) But more practically, it’s the practice of singing folk-y, parody-filled songs with science fiction or fantasy themes.

I admit I’m new to the term, so as always when peering into a new crevice of fandom, there’s an inherent problem: knowing filk is probably pretty impossible without doing filk–hanging out in a circle, listening, and singing along. There’s something inherently weirder in standing aside and reading the Wikipedia entry from afar, scratching my beard and wisely nodding at my computer screen.

But as my interests are increasingly turning to rhetoric and sound/music, I’m excited to learn more about filk as an example of music being the vehicle for indirect kinds of rhetoric. I mean, even when music is instrumental, it still communicates something, just not with the clarity and precision we (overly) value in word-based communication. But when we have music with lyrics (and satirical lyrics, to boot!), it seems to me that we have something between instrumental music and straight-up verbal delivery without accompaniment, in terms of how the music reinforces or causes us to question the words being said. It’s a fun mess of meaning, and I love that.

But back to the problem of observation from afar: the video below is from BoingBoingTV and (oddly enough) sponsored by Verizon, even with a built-in commercial in the middle. But it’s a good introduction to the tradition–though a filk should probably be written about the mix of satire and praise and commercialism in the video.

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The Rhetoric of 8-Bit Music

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the different ways music can be described as “rhetorical,” even (especially?) when it’s instrumental.

(Ooh, instrumental is a cool word. Need to look up the origins of its different meanings one day.)

One example: I’m listening to Sabrepulse right now, one of many artists creating new music from 8-bit technology. (As far as I understand it, he performs with computers that are actually hooked up to modded Gameboys, actually using their original music hardware.) (Check out the 8bitcollective for more amazing artists.)

And as I listen to the bleeps and boops, I’m trying to figure out why I like it so much. There’s the purely musical angle–the fact that I love the tight rhythms and syncopation and inspiring little melodies. (Preferences which, I suppose, aren’t really “purely musical,” since those preferences are direct products of my years of wading through popular music.)

But then there’s the nostalgic angle–the fact that I’m reminded of years of playing Mega Man games and soaking in the music. So Sabrepulse’s stuff has a sort of rhetorical “message” for me, I think. It carries a meta-meaning beyond the purely musical that says something like, “This music has added value because of what it makes you remember.” Its shape has a particular effect on me, which affects how I understand its meanings and purposes, regardless of whether Sabrepulse had those meanings in mind when he composed this stuff.

I’m also a few chapters into Alex Ross’s exploration of 20th-Century classical music, The Rest is Noise, which makes me wonder if there are parallels between my experiences with 8-bit music and, say, Germans in the 1920s who heard the occasional new composition that was surprisingly tonal, nostalgic, un-modern. Thoughts?

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