Sunday, July 8, 2012

Last Notes on Round 1, I Swear

The Album. The final rankings are here.

My "semi-review" of Spintunes #5 Round 1 was posted before the judges postings. Now, I've written some weird reviews before, including a review of songs that weren't written. Reaching waaay back into SpinTunes 1 Round 1, I wrote a review of the judging. I was tempted to do it again this round, keeping in mind that everything I say here is opinion and shouldn't be taken critically. Honestly, almost everything I said in the previous post still holds true today, particularly my comments about the "love it or hate it (LIorHI) aspect of scoring in this contest. I'll start any comments here by quoting from myself. I'll call this RULE ZERO:
Despite anything I've said here, I disagree with none of the judges' opinions. They're opinions, and final, and not arguable. I also have no problem with the final rankings. I'm jazzed to be hearing a lot of great new music from friends old and new, and hope it goes on like this for the remaining rounds, and for future competitions.
Most of the judges compartmentalized their reviews this time; that's a Good Thing(tm). But LIorHI is applicable even to the most rigorous "scientific" scoring. It's just unavoidable. In the final wash, judges will score down or up based on preference, and then rationalize it in their scoring. The more "objective" the scoring, the more elaborate the rationalization, that's all. That's largely because they themselves choose the "objective" criteria, which therefore simply reinforce the preferences they use subconsciously. Often they're the last ones to recognize that this is what they're doing. Furthermore, I don't think there's anything wrong with doing that (see Rule Zero); but it's a helluvalot easier on everybody if you just recognize it and accept it.

And sometimes judges just miss the point. For instance, in a previous "historical" challenge,  Inverse T. Clown wrote a song involving a Quantum Leap in the events surrounding the first assassination attempt on Martin Luther King. Ignorant of that bit of history, I missed the point of the song, and this may have affected rankings. What's done is done. Let Sam Beckett put it right later.

(in this discussion, it may seem that I'm picking on certain judges, but actually, I'm simply referencing those who expressed enough of a concept to make discussion possible.)

In this round I think we had a few instances of "missing it". For instance, in Edric Haleen's "The Death of a Meme", Edric anthropomorphizes the concept of God. Not God Himself, mind you... but the concept of God. Someday in the past, the last earnest, sincere, devout follower of Zeus died. Who that was and when it happened are lost to history. Edric imagines a day when this happens to the monotheistic God, whether you call him Yahweh, Jehovah, Adonai, or Allah (there is no mention of any specific religion here). And yet, some of the audience hear what they are mentally prepared to hear, and think that it's an attack on a specific religion. It's not. Concerning the premise of the song, Mark Merrit ponders, "But memes are just information, inactive in themselves even though they cause other things to act, so how can they have a last day of work?" I believe the meme in question is the concept of a monotheistic God... this concept existing as a Platonic Ideal independent of any actualization of that Ideal through Belief. As such, there's no ambiguity here whatsoever... simply a bit of subtlety that was missed. Whether you agree with the ancient metaphysics or not is unimportant, in that this is used as a literary device. You remember a similar device from childhood, used in Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just A Bill". A Bill is neither a scroll, nor the words written on it, but the concept expressed in those words. It doesn't sing and dance, either; and that doesn't stop the song from being both enjoyable and thought-provoking.  Steve Durand admits to struggling with this, but is willing to accept it for the purpose of art.

Likewise with Zoe Gray's shadow, "Say Goodbye". It doesn't matter why the Sun is concerned that it has never seen a flake of snow. If you want to be purely materialistic about it, the Sun is a gaseous nuclear furnace: it has no concerns. What's missed here (and I missed it myself, to start), is the proper understanding of who the song is for. The song isn't written for the benefit of the Sun. Nor is it written to represent or further our understanding of the Sun's point of view. It's written for the benefit of the humans listening to it. Not all humans, either, but those who share to a large degree the demographics of the composer. These are the people who hear the Sun's lament, internalize it, understand what it would mean to them, and say "awwww." So to pick it apart and ask if it makes logical sense or not is to completely lose sight of the fact that Logic isn't the final measure of a song. Song is art, and therefore intended to evoke emotion, not expound scientific truths. I suggested in an update to my original review that Zoe may want to ignore much of my criticism. I stand by that advice.

In any event, I'd no longer advise someone like Zoe to go back and fix a song. Rather, learn from the criticism, keep in mind that other people think of these things when listening to a song, and apply them to the next creative effort. Even then, don't ever feel remorse about "breaking Logic". Go ahead, break Logic all you like, Just don't do it accidentally. Do it deliberately, because you have something that is more important to say with Emotion than with Logic.

Menage a Tune's "Crowning Glory" was a study in contrasts, earning anywhere from 6 to 29 points from the various judges. What a spread! Some details were lost even in the good reviews. For instance, Mark seems unaware of the theory that the Great Pyramid originally had a golden capstone, sometimes called a "pyramidium", lost to Time and symbolically referenced in these lyrics as a "crown"... a good choice, metaphorically, as it allows Menage a Tune to use the shorthand theme of "crowning glory".  It is this same capstone that is referenced by all three characters in the song: the Architect, the Pharoah, and the Archaeologist. Hazen Nestor thinks the guitar intro is too long (I personally don't disagree), but for Charlie McCarron it was the best part of the song! For Mick Bordet the rhythm was "tribal", to Hazen the song sounded "Sunday school" and for Charlie it evoked the Renaissance... despite the fact that JoAnn researched authentic Egyptian rhythms, there isn't a single Christian theme in the song, and the instrumentation had to be approximated using common modern conventions for practical reasons. For John Dahl the chorus was "repetitive", but Mark pointed out that the song could benefit from more repetitive forms. 

How can a composer possibly respond to all of these observations, which conflict both with each other and historicity? Simply by asking yourself if the judges seemed to understand where you were going, and if not, then why not? Then ask yourself if, in the face of the observations, do you still like what you did, and chuck out the observations that don't matter. I think most of the critical statements referenced here deserve the boot.

Sometimes, "missing it" is comical. Buckethat Bobby's "On the Pogey" is sung by an East-coast Canadian national in his native accent. But in the "Unofficial Spintunes Discussion Forum" Caravan Ray questions "an American singing Scottish slang with a fake Irish accent." Sometimes we "know" too much for our own good.

These examples aren't exhaustive. I had also thought to go through some counterbalancing examples of where the judges DO get it, but this just takes too long and I don't have the time, even though I'm dictating most of it into an Android phone. Just assume that most of the time, the judges get it right, even when their rankings indicate that they completely disagree. The old saying, "there's no accounting for taste" isn't 100% accurate: a diverse pool of judges DOES account for taste. That diversity averages out, leaving the songs most touched by the LIorHI effect somewhere in the middle of the rankings, as they should be. You can pretty much figure that where the judges widely disagree, it's because of taste; but where they mostly agree, it's because what they're agreeing upon is as close to objectively true as you're going to get, be it positive OR negative.

The comments are open. Feel free to have at it.


Joe Covenant Lamb said...

This has all happened before...
... this will all happen again....

JoAnn in VA said...

I think I like your review of the reviewers even better than the reviews themselves! Mostly because you actually got it as opposed to some of what they thought they were hearing. I guess my song is kind of like the story of the elephant and the blind men trying to describe it. Everyone felt- or in the songs case >heard< a section that they could liken to something they were already familiar with. This means that many didn't understand the rest of it. You were able to encompass the whole "elephant" though.

Mark S. Meritt said...

Lots of great thoughts here, Dave. Really valuable.

I talked a bunch about the subjectivity issue over at Facebook, so you know I'm with you on that. For so many reasons, people just have to take all the judging with a big giant grain of salt.

I agree with you about rationalizing preference, no matter how much one tries to break down one's thinking. My purpose in breaking things down was in part to help me be clear about my preferences. In past rounds when I was a contestant and looking to contribute to the popular vote, I'd do a much more casual sorting by just asking myself "do I like this one better than that one?" In the end, taking the far more involved approach I did last week in judging, then looking at the results, the total scores led to a set of overall rankings that I could easily see would have been probably about the same if I'd taken the much simpler approach. But to me, that doesn't mean I should take the simpler approach when judging. That's because helping me understand my own preferences was really only a secondary reason to judge the way I did.

The main reason was to be as solid as possible in providing feedback to entrants. To me, judges who say hardly anything seem to feel that their job stops at serving the mechanics of the contest. I just don't think the contest is important enough in itself for that to be the end of the line. When reviews of my past entries had only brief or vague comments, at best I found it useless in helping me grow as a songwriter, and at worst I at times felt certain judges had real misunderstandings that might have been ameliorated somewhat if they'd bothered to think through and articulate themselves a bit more. I most appreciated the reviews that went into a bit of depth and were specific in their feedback, regardless of whether judges liked or didn't like what I'd submitted. So that's what I choose to do in judging. It'd be nice to know whether enough entrants actually appreciate it, because if they didn't, I sure as hell would like to save myself the time and effort :)

Mark S. Meritt said...

Also, interesting that, with what you said about my own judging maybe being off in certain areas, it turns out those songs were all among my favorites, and despite my criticisms I scored them Good or Excellent in those very areas, except for one Fair for Zoe's lyrical content. You and I agree that judges' perspectives are what they are, and most of the time there's not much point arguing, but there were a few things I wanted to respond to about what you said about my reviews.

About Edric's and Zoe's songs, I'd hoped that my comments made clear that I wasn't just arguing about logic for the sake of logic. I fully understood what both of them were doing, and I had absolutely no problem with anthropomorphizing and mythologizing. I love it. Any storyteller should know that it's fine to buck real-world logic for the sake of a story and for the non-intellectual truths it's meant to convey. But just the same, any storyteller should also know that it's not fine to buck the world-of-the-story logic that you yourself create and that you must create with integrity in order for the story to be as strong as possible. The things I said to Edric and Zoe may have had something to do with real-world logic, but not because I wanted real-world logic to trump story-world logic, only because there were some ways that real-world logic had some meaningful bearing on the internal consistency of their stories.

I came right out and said to Zoe that I responded to the song on an emotional level initially and was hoping to point the way to even greater emotional depth. I wasn't saying that gaseous nuclear furnaces can't complain, I was saying that there were even stronger ways of motivating that character. Truly fantastic for Zoe that she was able to create a song that evokes reactions in people. Even more fantastic if it were to evoke even deeper reactions.

Likewise with Edric, where my issue wasn't with the use of a device but with what made most sense in that particular dramatized, mythologized world in light of the challenge being about work. Of the countless examples you could have picked, you actually picked one that makes my point. In Schoolhouse Rock, Bill freely admits to his passivity. Lawmakers made him, they drag him around from one institution to another, and he'll "sit here and wait." To me, that's what makes sense for memes as well. They don't create themselves, they don't select themselves, they don't replicate themselves, they don't enact themselves. They're completely passive. I took exception not with the anthropomorphizing of a meme but with passive memes doing work -- a storytelling choice that I didn't think made sense for the world of the story.

In Menage a Tune's song, I got that the crown was to cap the pyramid in the first verse, I just didn't get anything about the verse having to do with the architect or anything else specific to tell me just what the nature of that part of these tory was. First off, to me it's simply unclear. Second, it would make no sense for an architect to come first when the architect's work only begins after the pharaoh has a vision, and that doesn't happen until the second verse. I'll stand behind my opinion about the lack of clarity of verse one, independent of what I could or should have known about Egyptian history outside the song.

Maybe nobody is swayed by any of these things I thought about these three or any other songs. But it's possible that someone could be. It's even possible that the songwriters themselves could be. Whoever is or isn't swayed, it's still hard to tell much about anyone being actually right or wrong about these kinds of things. But it's worth articulating and talking about, because it can point the way to better things, whether anyone chooses to rework a song or whether people just take new lessons into future work.

Mark S. Meritt said...

Two clarifications.

If you take Edric's song to be about an anthropomorphized Platonic Ideal concept of God, the song may be just fine, and my criticisms may go away. But memetics is a theory of cultural evolution. Memes are variously thought of as cultural traits (things made manifest in culture) or the information encoded in our brains that initiates the manifestation of cultural traits. Platonic Ideals and concepts may be memes. Some people would say they're not, since they don't exist outside our brains. Either way, memes are not remotely all Platonic Ideals or concepts. I think we all know that Edric is someone who is careful about his use of words and not someone to say something he doesn't mean. Because of some common interests that he and I have outside of songwriting, I know at least part of where his interest in memes comes from, and it's from a place that leads me to believe that he's not just using the diluted, incorrect pop-cultural notion of the term. Anthropomorphizing is clear. It's not the subtlety that needs to be pointed out with respect to this song. The nature of memes is. If Edric had not framed his story as being about memes, I'd have no cause to be "picky." But he did, and it has bearing on the internal story logic of his song.

About Menage a Tune's song, when I said that I thought it would benefit from stronger repeating forms, I didn't mean that any particular verse or chorus "should" have been more repetitive. I meant that a musical and lyrical structure used for a verse or chorus should then be rigorously adhered to in subsequent verses or choruses, instead of varied in little ways whose sloppiness detracts (I believe) from the paralleling of themes across the different parts of the story. So my comment doesn't stand in contrast with John Dahl's, since we were simply talking about different things.

Dave Leigh said...

Great feedback, Mark. I probably should have made it clear that this post isn't intended to be be a critique for the judges. This is why I go to great pains to state that the judges' opinions are final and not wrong. Rather, it's to help contestants and prospective contestants deal with judging. It's easy for someone to read widely disparate reviews and think "I wuz robbed". The point of my final paragraph was that, when you see broad agreement, you weren't robbed. But individual judges sometimes DO miss some things, as I have confessed to for myself, above.

I realize that all those songs were among your favorites. That's because I didn't care a bit where they were ranked when I chose them. It is not my intention here to somehow prove that judges ranked someone improperly and that this or that entry should have fared better or worse. Rather, I am pointing out areas where judges do not agree. I could have picked a number of other songs for the same purpose. Go back to the results page and look at rankings for Gorbzilla, or Mariah Mercedes, or Boffo Yux Dudes... hell, ANY of them.

Ignoring the rankings, I chose these three in particular because they all had something a bit more interesting to say lyrically than "take this job and shove it". As such they all evoke better conversation than the rest. If it seems I picked on you, that's simply because you WROTE MORE than the other judges, providing me with a more fertile field of comments.

Concerning story logic, Edric knew what he was doing, and your criticism basically becomes one with the definition of work. I have a desk job... do I work? Not according to my brothers. What is the "work" of a meme? Hell if I know, but in anthropomorphizing it, we allow that there is something. My brothers don't know what I do either, and it doesn't keep me from getting paid. As to passivity, the fictional Maytag repairman has been paid to do absolutely nothing but sit there and wait for decades. Is what he does work? The IRS would say yes. ;) It's possible to pick a metaphor to death to no productive end. It is there as a symbol, and it is not proper to analyze it beyond that intended purpose. An analogy is not the Thing. A globe is not the Earth.

Zoe is 11 years old... my comments are written with her in mind as the primary audience. They're written obliquely so that the one or two others who care to read it don't feel left out of the conversation.

I will say this in the special case of "Crowning Glory": it's true that the Architect didn't say, "I am an Architect". Context pretty much nailed it for me, but I'm something of a pyramid buff. Frankly, it wouldn't matter if it were a gang worker singing, as it would apply to anyone laying that capstone. I simply considered that a gang worker would not have those thoughts. The line "Now my work is done" elminates any measure of ambiguity that would significantly affect the narrative. However, it makes PERFECT sense for the Architect's story to come first. The Pharoah's vision is clearly spoken of in past tense. You merely forgot the very most basic aspect of the challenge... it's about the LAST day of work for each character, not the FIRST. And the person laying that capstone is done before the Pharoah. As I said, it's very easy for the best of us to miss something fundamental.

Mark S. Meritt said...

I'm with you that you could have picked any set of songs to make the same points. It was just interesting that you happened to find "critiques" of mine in songs/areas that I scored rather well. I didn't think you were picking on me, definitely not. I took your post as intended, not as critique of judges but for the very, very, very good and important message you were trying to get across to entrants about how to view the reviews.

For some people (myself included, for better or worse), these things can be tempting and even fun to talk about, so it can be easy to just go down the road of debate and analysis even though there may be no real point. Unless we can sometimes agree that we're just doing it because it can be fun to think and talk about such things and explore the different angles, regardless of whether we convince anyone of anything.

Metaphors in stories are definitely there as symbols to serve a purpose. But let me tell you, I just spent a year and half reading more than 20 books by and about Joseph Campbell and his work on mythology, metaphor and story. One overarching point he makes is that it's the artist's job to choose their metaphors as wisely as possible to communicate underlying truths as well as possible. So I have to disagree with you about it being improper to analyze metaphors beyond their intended purpose. That's like saying Consumer Reports shouldn't review anything, because all those products were designed for their intended purpose after all. The point is how well they serve it. Someone might pick a metaphor appropriate to their purpose and then not execute it as well as it could have been. Someone else might pick a metaphor and execute it however well, possibly even brilliantly, even though some other metaphor would have served their own purpose far better. For anyone who wants to get good at their art, whether it's storytelling or otherwise, it's not only not improper to look at these issues, it's absolutely crucial, since it gets to the very heart of all art.

With "Crowning Glory," yes, the best of us can miss something, and my saying that things weren't clear to me is admitting that maybe I did. But in art, as in all communication, the onus is on the communicator to craft a message so that it will be received as intended. Yes, it's also on the recipient to pay attention. But given my role as a judge plus the fact that I liked the song as much as I did, it's not possible for me to have been more attentive in this case. I did my job pretty fully. If a songwriter can be okay with only a few of their listeners "getting" their work, good for them, and let them enjoy their niche audience. But if only a few get it and they wished a lot more did, including people who diligently and actively pay close attention but still didn't get it, then neither they nor those audience members who got it can blame the rest of the audience. They've got to reconsider how well they communicated.

Dave Leigh said...

I'm smiling broadly at your assumption that more attention to lyrics equals broader appeal. If anything, history shows us the opposite. You don't have to find an unintelligible extreme like "Louie Louie" to make that case, either. Carefully crafted artistic lyrics can be intellectually opaque, as with "American Pie"... but I sincerely doubt Don McLean would have done anyone a favor by trying to expand that "niche audience".

In other words, You tend to over-analyze. ;)

Here: The carefully crafted songs that don't appear in these lists don't tend to chart well either. Lyrics are misheard not just because they're unclear; but often because they just don't make sense to the listener. This doesn't affect their appeal. If so, it's at a level where folks like you and I could liken it to a billionaire calling a millionaire "poor".

I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't carefully craft songs; I'm merely pointing out that music is art. Listenability and likability are tied more closely to emotion than logic. It's a fact of life, supported by the preponderance of the evidence. So it's fine to take poetic license.

As we've already seen how impossible it is to please everyone, please yourself. Be critical of your own work so that you can write work that YOU like better. But if someone else is critical of an aspect of your work that you actually like and deliberately put there, it's 100% OK not to care.

Mark S. Meritt said...

I wasn't generalizing about a correlation between attention to lyrics and amount of appeal. I was really responding to JoAnn's situation as sort of a case study about what you're talking about here.

You can do your thing and be happy with it regardless of what others think. You can also learn how to reach a broader audience. These are the two basic paths, which is what I was getting at in my last comment. Both are valuable, and it's possible to have them work together, but they're most basically at odds with each other. Depending on the nature, purpose and execution of any given project, you end up with however much of each.

Based on the comments she's made here and elsewhere, heaping praise on good reviews and rejecting bad ones, JoAnn doesn't seem to be satisfied to be proud of her voice and appreciative of a niche audience. She wants to reach more people. Getting that can be possible by opening up to, rather than defending against, the feedback of contrary opinions. Even an artist who's happy with their voice and lets the popularity chips fall where they may can grow a lot from that kind of openness.

To be bothered deeply by your detractors yet unwilling to communicate differently so as to better get through to them, you end up stuck. Stuck there, you can't win, and I'm not talking about SpinTunes.

Mark S. Meritt said...

A question: if you believe only that artists should write for themselves and not worry about what anyone else thinks, then what's your purpose in writing thoughtful reviews of people's songs? I'm really asking and not trying to put you on the spot with some answer that I'm assuming. Because I can imagine that you might do it just for your own interest, or who knows why else. But if you hoped others would read your reviews, and if you hoped that songwriters might grow from your feedback in some way, then to at least some extent the notion about songwriters writing for themselves wouldn't be the only thing you think. I'm really asking, because I'm curious what your answer will be, and I know it will be a thoughtful one. Why do you publish thoughtful reviews?

Dave Leigh said...

What ever gave you the impression that I believe that artists should write ONLY for themselves?? Have you not read a single thing I wrote? I don't change my mind with each post, or each sentence: they all go together.

I said to listen to consensus. When everybody says the same thing, they're very likely right. When the opinions are all over the map, they very likely don't matter. In that event, stick to your guns.

I said to use logic, but be willing to "break" it deliberately, when you have an emotive message that supersedes it. This is just good advice. As is all art, music is primarily emotive. You can write mathematically perfect, technically correct music that stinks of three-day-old roadkill. It's also possible for a rank amateur to blow the socks off of an audience with emotion. You have to balance these things.

I said you should satisfy yourself... as well you should. There are plenty of stressed out, rich, successful miserable dead people who thought more of other people's opinions than they did of their own. There are also plenty of HAPPY successful living people who do what they love because they love it, even when other people don't "get it" or have some formula to "improve" them. I don't care what your income is, how broad your audience is, if YOU are not happy with what YOU produce, then you are not a success. This trumps all other factors, so it is immensely foolish not to put it first, even as you continue to pay attention to ALL other, lesser factors.

I point this out because other people DON'T, and because it is True, with a capital T. And I don't have to expound on all the "other factors" because there are LOADS of people who are willing to do that, and precious few who will spend any time on the ONE thing that in the long run is going to matter to you personally the most.

Most of the competitors here have no illusions about making it to Carnegie Hall. I know I don't: I'm an incredibly gifted computer programmer, a mediocre songwriter, and a poor performer. I write the songs because I love to do it and it enhances my life. There is a vast difference between what I hear and what I choose to perform because I already have the song in my head. I have my fix. I have all my own music stuck in my head in perfect fidelity. It's better than an iPod. I am not and never have been "a performer". Read the masthead. ;)

But I'm not other people. Other people are concerned about how they're received. I can clearly hear when there's a gap between concept and execution, which is why I minimize it in my reviews. I try to look at their songs from their perspective because, "Did I like it?" is a pedestrian question that is usually answered in 30 seconds or less; whereas, "Did I see this challenge from a new perspective?" is VASTLY more interesting to me. Finding that perspective is worth hours of entertainment.

I try to give people consideration because they're people, and they deserve it. Often they deserve more than I give them. If I can't take the time to say something of value I try not to say anything. I'm not always successful at that. Sometimes I flat-out fail. But I offer my observations, as well as the advice to consider criticism but let their own satisfaction be their rule and guide because I want them to do their best to deliver the kind of music that THEY like. Because that's what *I* want to hear.

In other words, I review thoughtfully for the same reason I compose at all... for my own satisfaction.

Mark S. Meritt said...

I'm not sure whether my question for you came from a temporary oversight about your not narrowly ignoring all concerns other than self-satisfaction, or if it may have been a purposeful but subconscious-for-me straw man intended to draw out a strong and thoughtful response, but either way, I'm glad I asked it, since it led to what you just said.

I think you've just given a really excellent statement on the primary importance of pleasing oneself artistically, the strong value of also keeping in mind other factors, the particular benefits of listening to others when there's a consensus of opinion, the lower but not necessarily absent worth of considering others when there's a variety of opinion, the significance of judging more on the basis of what's interesting rather than simply what you liked, and, especially, the importance of taking perspectives other than your own.

Would that all SpinTunes entrants and reviewers shared your perspective. The best in all of them would be brought out at all times.

Thanks for the conversation, Dave!

Edric Haleen said...

At the risk of unlocking another torrent of posts in the comment section, I'll respond to one of the earlier topics of conjecture.

(In re: The "work" an anthropomorphic meme might "perform"...)

I'm going to answer this in a variety of ways. Pick the one that most closely corresponds to your own theological bent. (I'll save my own for last.)

1) Creative work. (Literally.) Going back to the creation of the universe. (I'm thinking of an impersonal "clockmaker" god here.) God wouldn't have to make another blessed thing.

2) "Deterministic" work. Mapping out the course of events. Determining destinies and fates. Shaping the Divine Plan. (I'm thinking of an omniscient, omnipotent, "overseer" god here.) God wouldn't have to keep tabs on the Master Schedule any longer.

3) Maintaining interpersonal relationships. Providing strength and guidance, when asked. Answering prayers -- in the instances where "God's infinite wisdom" deems a prayer to be worthy of granting. (I'm thinking of the personal "companion" god here.) God wouldn't have to listen to a bunch of whiny followers any more.

4) Apologizing. Admitting to each believer at the moment of his or her death that there IS no god; that there's not an afterlife nor any Heavenly rewards; that anything the believer postponed in life is now never going to come to pass and that anything the believer thought (s)he had coming is not going to materialize. Confessing that there is no and never was any artificial, external source of strength or comfort or guidance to be had -- just whatever was inside the believer all along. (I'm thinking of God as simply a meme here.) God would never have to come clean to another deceived believer again.

(I bet most people can probably guess just which kind of "work" I actually had in mind when I imagined the meme's "last day" in THIS particular song...)




Dave Leigh said...

Ooh! More discussion! Since you're giving us CHOICES, I feel liberated! I can ignore these entirely and toss my own interpretation into the pot (as if every listener didn't do this anyway) ;)

How's this...?

Looking at Wikipedia's definition of "meme" I find this: "A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena."

Now, that doesn't sound terribly passive to me; especially since a "unit" can be defined as an actor, such as a machine, a person, or even a group working in unison. Is that stretching? pfft... a globe is not the Earth. Today I shall follow Humpty Dumpty's lead in choosing definitions.

I propose that even where the existence of the religious meme is generated by the belief of the congregation, the function (work) of the (anthropomorphized) meme may be considered to be carried out by the meme itself, in its active role as a carrier of ideas. You perform the rituals, and the meme is cued to do his job.

Thus, we may have a memetic "God" as a carrier of the ideas of Forgiveness, Virtue, Morality, Justice, Brotherhood, Love... whose last act is to present the Apology to the final believer at the moment of her death (and possibly the death of the meme).

There may be other memes not identifying themselves as "God" who carry these ideas between their own believers. There may be other memes that DO identify themselves as "God" that carry ideas of a less noble nature. But in this song, for this meme, it is the last day of work.

Mark S. Meritt said...

Do you guys really want me to chime in here? :)

Tons I could say re: Edric's comment, but we'd get more tangential than even I want to go, and I've already been more tangential than you guys surely ever wanted. I'll leave that stuff alone :)

A cup acts a unit for carrying liquids which can be transmitted from one hand to another through gestures. You may want to define that unit as an actor, but I wouldn't. I'd want to define as actors those doing the gesturing (or, in the case of memes, the writing, speaking, ritualizing or other imitable phenomena).

You buy some gadget and open the instruction manual. You follow the instructions to put the thing into operation. Did the manual do any work? It certainly fulfilled a function, served a purpose. Just like the cup did.

If we felt like smiling at our cups and instruction manuals when we were all done with some instance of using them, and if we felt like saying, "Oh, wonderful you, you've done your job well, your work is finished," that'd be cute. And it'd be a valid metaphor for fulfilling a function, for serving a purpose, as far as it goes. Just like Edric's song is a valid metaphor, as far as it goes. In light of the challenge being about work, and issues with memes re: information and action, I've just been trying to say why I don't feel it the strongest metaphor for the situation.

Irony: if Edric hadn't referenced memes at all, I'd have thought it much stronger. Personifying something simply non-existent, having a non-existent thing finish its work and have its say, would have struck me as delightful in its patent absurdity. Leashing that concept to a meme grounds it in a reality that reduces the absurdity, the cleverness, the delight, and on top of all that opens a can of worms as I've been saying. Admittedly, not many may agree, but what can I say, I've done a lot of studying of and writing about memes in my masters thesis and otherwise, so for me it's a can of worms. Without memes, I think Edric would have accomplished everything he wanted, just that much better.

One last thing: In my review, I said Edric's take on the challenge would have gotten an Excellent but for these issues I saw. Thinking more about this, I'm not entirely sure I'd have gone beyond Good after all. Daniel Quinn (of whom Edric and I are both fans, and who, purely coincidentally, is the common source I mentioned about memes) talks in one of his books about a term regarding something that's yet to come about. Everyone thinks they know what it means, but only when the thing actually comes to be does everyone learn what it really meant all along, and it's very different from what they'd thought. I think maybe this is what happens with challenges. Maybe I'm inclined to score Excellent those songs that give me the feeling, ah, yes, from idea to execution, this reveals the essence of the challenge, only now is that clear, we simply couldn't have known in advance. Still highly subjective, like any aspects of judging. So be it. Point is, it's possible I might have felt this way about Edric's song if memes hadn't entered the picture, but it's at least possible that even that wouldn't have led me to feel that way. So in general, but especially if it's possible that none of this would have made a difference in the scoring anyway, all this discussion is just so much analysis which we'd better all think is fun in itself, because I don't think any of us are convincing each other to change our minds :)

Mark S. Meritt said...

In the XTC song "Dear God," God is addressed in the second person throughout, but based on what the narrator is saying, it's abundantly clear that the narrator doesn't believe that there's anyone there to talk to. Yet the conceit is never spoiled, not for a second. It's utterly illogical, but to such an extreme that the brain fry is irrelevant. The song becomes poetic, sublime. If the narrator had come out and said explicitly, "Dear God, I know you're not real, you're just an idea, and I know there's nobody there I'm talking to, only I can hear me right now," the song would have been ruined.

That's what I think the word "meme" does to Edric's song. The title, and the one lone line. Change them somehow to get rid of meme, to not break the story reality that's otherwise created, and not a single other thing about Edric's song would have needed changing, and it would have then accomplished something very much akin to the XTC song. Everything worthwhile would have been kept, none of which is made better be the presence of the word meme, but all of which is undermined by it. Oh, and guess what, I think this is all true even if you believe that the meme does work.

That's my subjective opinion :)

Dave Leigh said...

I don't think I could have better illustrated the counter-productiveness of over-analysis had I written the satire myself.

At some point (long before this) it's best just to sit back and enjoy yourself. It's called "suspension of disbelief" in drama, and "a decent set of rules" in RPG gameplay.

I once again refer you to Mr. Dumpty's excellent approach.

Mark S. Meritt said...

If an artist does something to compromise the integrity of the story world they've created, it makes suspension of disbelief difficult or impossible for an audience to maintain. See what J.R.R. Tolkien says at the bottom of about how the spell can be broken.

As for Mr. Dumpty, his author, Lewis Carroll, a professor of logic, felt it important to define terms up front before using them in unconventional ways, and Alice made even Humpty himself do this so that she could know what the heck he was talking about. But if Edric had done that with the word meme, this would have broken his song's spell even more quickly and harshly than merely using the word does.

Even though I think the word inherently pulls us out of the story in a Brechtian, alienating way that doesn't serve the song, I'm willing to grant that many listeners wouldn't have a serious issue with it, and that it's mainly just some knowledge I happen to have that accursedly breaks the spell for me. Alas ;)

Dave Leigh said...

For you.

Mark S. Meritt said...

Like I said, I'd bet the song would cast a deeper spell on others, too, if a technical word like meme weren't there to intellectually jerk us out of an otherwise emotional, spiritual, dramatic story. And I'd have imagined that you, appropriately and importantly focusing on emotion instead of logic in the impact of songs, would have agreed that the word can't do anything but detract from these qualities. Because of my background/knowledge, it's just particularly problematic to me even beyond that basic level. As any listener can, though, I can only for sure speak for me. Yup.

Edric Haleen said...

(Oh, I'm going to regret this. For at least a couple of reasons, I'm sure...)

One last foray into this fray. I'm going to address a couple of final points, and I'm eventually going to reach a point where I play the "I'm the one who wrote the song; I get final say over certain select aspects of my song" card.

Here we go...

Early in the going, Mark questioned whether memes could actually do work. As the creator of this song (and of the anthropomorphic meme who delivers it), I say, "Yes." The anthropomorphic meme has not simply been passively taking credit for the things ascribed to "God," but has in fact been put in the position of having to apologize to believers as they shuffle off this mortal coil. With the passing of this final believer, the meme's work is finally done.

Then Mark pointed out that "Edric is someone who is careful about his use of words and not someone to say something he doesn't mean," and then questioned my usage of the term "meme." (An aside at this point. Mark? My usage of this term actually stems from my reading of Richard Dawkins, not, in this case, from my reading of Daniel Quinn.)

Anyway -- back to Mark's points. He likened a meme to a cup that can carry liquid, and then expressed his reluctance to think of that cup as an "actor" (preferring instead to grant that label to the cup's handlers). However, the correct parallel to the meme IN THE SONG would be to consider an ANTHROPOMORPHIC cup -- one to whom we MIGHT VERY WELL say, "Oh, wonderful you, you've done your job well, your work is finished"...

Then Mark went on to express his belief that the song would have been better had I not referenced memes at all...

Okay -- let's talk about my intentions now.

Travis, in his review, wrote (in part), "I know everything you do with a song is intentional..." He's right. (Or, at least, I constantly strive to approach that ideal.)

Charlie, in his review, noticed that "... the melody is a little too meandering during the loud section of the song to get stuck in my head. Also, maybe it’s harder to get hooked by vocals that are rhythmically free flowing like these." That's cogent. More on that in a little bit.

Mark, elsewhere in his initial review, commented that "There’s a bit of looseness that I wouldn’t have expected from you writing about a Universe-controlling God, but maybe it plays to the demise?" That's observant, but his conjecture is incorrect. That choice actually wasn't made to serve the STORY, but rather to serve my INTENTIONS for the song ITSELF...

I knew that this song would challenge a lot of people -- possibly in multiple ways -- and I did not want people "getting ahead" of this song. So first of all, I made sure that the song didn't rhyme. (I've already written before of how rhymes allow/encourage listeners to think "ahead" of the lyric and anticipate what's coming next. Didn't want that.)

Now, even though there are no rhymes, my song DOES have a more rigid musical structure at the beginning. However, this gets jettisoned too -- and for the same reason -- once the meme launches into its reverie. The listener, having already become acclimated to the lack of rhyme, is now also facing a more "free-form" musical structure, forcing him/her to rely upon and follow the lyric even MORE closely than even before.

Edric Haleen said...

(Sorry -- this comment section only allows 4,096 characters at a time. Back to the action...)

All of this leads to the fact that, while writing this song, I made a choice. A conscious, deliberate choice. I intentionally sacrificed the chance to get my SONG stuck in people's heads. I wrote the song in such a way that made it virtually impossible to sing the melody or the lyric from memory without repeated listenings. But that's because it was more important to me to make sure that my listeners would PAY ATTENTION -- to the story, to the lyrics -- so that I could confront my listeners with the thought that...


Even if someone cannot hum the melody or remember the lyric of my song after a single listening, they cannot "unhear" or "unthink" the central thought of this song. They can disagree with it, they can rail against it, they can condemn all those who believe such a blasphemous thing -- but they cannot go back to a time when they had never before even considered the thought. And THAT is what I wanted to accomplish with this song.

And that is ALSO is why I disagree with Mark's assessment that the song is weaker because I invoked the word "meme" in my song and in its title. Mark's assertion that "... not a single other thing about Edric's song would have needed changing" had I left "meme" behind misses the fact that "Edric's song" would have become a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THING had I done what Mark suggests. True, it might have "accomplished something very much akin to the XTC song" -- but that's not what I set out to do. I set out to write THIS song -- not THAT song.

Now, let it be said -- I both like and respect Mark a lot. He's very intelligent and quite insightful. It's simply that THIS time, as Mark and Dave discussed my song, Dave had a much better "handle" on my song than did Mark. Now, that's not to say that I believe Dave understood my INTENTIONS -- I'm sure that much that I've written here in this comment will come as revelations to him -- he simply described the song that RESULTED from my intentions from a more accurate viewpoint, whereas Mark described the results from a place further afield. But because I do respect Mark and his intelligence, I'm going to let HIM reexamine one of his final assertions himself. I am confident that, now that I've provide him with this background information, Mark will be able to appreciate how -- while he may have been absolutely correct from ONE perspective -- he completely missed the mark from mine. (Groan. I just reread "missed the mark" -- no pun intended there. Sorry...)

Mark averred that [had Edric not used the word "meme" in his song], "Everything worthwhile would have been kept, none of which is made better be the presence of the word meme, but all of which is undermined by it."




Mark S. Meritt said...

Edric, thanks so much for sharing all these thoughts.

(Incidentally, I think Quinn himself referred back to Dawkins when introducing the notion of memes in his own writings, and I've also read Dawkins myself. It's clearly that overall set of common interests you and I share that has us both go reading those sorts of things.)

On the work thing, let's just say we're at a stalemate. The anthropomorphic cup doesn't convince me, but I don't think anything I could say in response would convince you, and I'm not sure either of us should be trying to convince each other about this anyway. I think the difference of opinion is just that, not about right and wrong, but really based on a difference in aesthetic. So, stalemate.

I'd believed that the rest would likely come down to exactly what your intention was, your purpose in writing the song, and that this probably had something to do with the intellectual aspect rather than the emotional. I wasn't sure because the one crucial intellectual detail is wrapped up so thickly in the rest, to the extent that I would think that, hearing the song, most listeners would be unable to discover your intention. But if your intention was actually Trojan-Horse-like and meant not to be discovered consciously, if it was meant to be measured by a certain impact even if listeners themselves wouldn't know this particular impact on them was in fact your intention, from that angle, everything you did makes perfect sense and would neutralize any notion about the song maybe being better without the word meme involved. Just hope that nobody comes over here to read this conversation and have the Trojan Horse's contents sullied :)

Not that appeasing or convincing me was anything important you had to do, but I'm really glad you took the time to share all this. Knowing the artist's intention can make all the difference.

Dave Leigh said...

Actually, Mark, you've made some statements that have convinced me beyond any reasonable doubt that it's NOT stalemate.

Case in point: when you state that you're "not convinced" by an anthropomorphic cup in a song, then you positively identify yourself in such an exceedingly minuscule minority that I think it's completely safe to say that the advice you have to say on this particular subject is safely ignored. Many many millions of people have no problems whatsoever with anthropomorphic *anything*, be it Mrs. Teapot from "Beauty and the Beast" or any of the centuries-old traditions of storytellers such as Hans Christian Andersen. It is a perfectly commonplace convention, understood and used to the entertainment and edification of even the smallest child. You absolutely astound me by drawing it into the argument.

This isn't "Mark vs. Edric", it's "Mark vs. the rest of Humanity". Early on I state that it's OK to choose to discard wildly divergent viewpoints. This is precisely the occasion for that. They don't get more wildly divergent than this one of yours.

If Edric is wanting to communicate to a broad audience (and it seems he does), then focusing on conventions AS UNDERSTOOD BY THAT AUDIENCE is vastly more important than any technical correctness of esoteric minutiae detectable only by the members of the microscopic community of those who have made an academic study of those minutiae. Rationalize it all you like, there is no way on God's green Earth you can successfully draw an equivalency here.

I should point out (speaking only for myself), that this is never been an attempt to convince you of anything. *stares at fourth wall*

Mark S. Meritt said...

I have no problem at all with the idea of an anthropomorphic cup, and what I do have a problem with I don't think is worth going into here, because (well, because I don't think it's welcome:) and...) I don't think either side is going to change their mind, regardless of whether either side is trying to get anyone to change their mind... and that's all I meant by stalemate.

Dave Leigh said...

I think I can guess, and to the extent that perception = reality, I understand. I can be a blunt and insensitive bastard, no argument there.

But keep in mind that in saying it's safe to discard an opinion I not saying anything about your opinion that I didn't already say about my own, and for the same reason., Zoe's review.

I also hope I'm not insulting your intelligence by pointing out that children understand anthropomorphism. It's true, they do, and I'm not saying you don't. Indeed, I think you're underestimating the entire audience. That's the point of that remark.

Don't think that your opinion doesn't matter. Indeed, if you read again you'll see I took great care to qualify my statements with "on this particular subject" and "this one of yours". It is ideas that are discussed here. With the help of a great many adjectives I tried to drill home as concisely yet forcefully as my short coffee break would allow that you are defending with great effort a point that is of great indifference to most listeners. Just because you understand a thing doesn't mean it must be important. It's like discussing whether it detracts or enhances Christmas to know the number of toys Santa Claus could possibly carry in his pack.

(BTW, I have similar nits to pick about science fiction, where I'm known to rail on about "magic gravity". But when my railing is done I recognize that picking my nits would not enhance the story for most people. In most cases the needs of fiction outweigh the needs of the science.)

In my very first reply to you I stated that judges opinions are final and not wrong. (However, "not being wrong" doesn't mean that they shouldn't sometimes be ignored. And though it is sometimes inconvenient to me, I don't change my opinions just because I'm talking directly to you instead of in your absence.) In that same reply I explained that you were not the target audience. Every so often I have tossed reminders in that direction.

And definitely, I'll take a thumbs-down for lack o' tact.

Mark S. Meritt said...

I really appreciate this response, Dave. I didn't want to beat any dead horses, still don't, so I'll keep from any more analysis and just try to clarify enough about how we communicated to hopefully leave us in a good place.

I'm very clear that -- and it's something you and I agreed about earlier -- you were not singling me out as having opinions that should be discarded.

As for my opinions, I was unclear about an important thing, and you also lost sight of some important things I'd said earlier that balance out the picture, just like earlier I'd temporarily lost sight of something you said to balance out another thing you said (about writing for oneself vs. listening to others).

Fundamentally, all along, and I'd said this, I never thought Edric's metaphor invalid. I'd said that, given a challenge about work, the metaphor wasn't quite as strong as I'd have liked it to be, and that this might affect the song's impact on listeners. Now, given Edric's real intention, it's possible that none of this is relevant, even if you and he were to agree with me about the work issue. But relevant or not, and agree or not, everything I said throughout has to be taken in the larger context that I was just talking about degrees rather than anything black or white about Edric's song.

Then, when I said the anthropomorphic cup doesn't convince me, that was the big miscommunication on my part. I can easily see how you'd have thought that meant that I reject the idea of anthropomorphic cups. But I don't, not in the slightest. You'd forgotten that I'd earlier said I was totally fine with anthropomorphism, just as maybe you'd forgotten that I was never out to somehow prove Edric's metaphor out-and-out invalid. So everything you said after that about anthropomorphism is pretty much moot, because you're preaching to the choir. What I'd actually meant by that horrifically unclear statement was simply that what Edric had just said about the cup didn't address the reasons that I saw some potential/partial weakness in his metaphor.

The typed word, especially in exchanges of long "speeches," is a terrible way to communicate. These kinds of misunderstandings are all too easy to happen and then get blown out of proportion. Hopefully you'd see now that I haven't been expressing anything quite as fringe as you'd thought. If I were to really make clear why "the anthropomorphic cup didn't convince me," I think you and Edric might still disagree but even then it'd hopefully just underscore that my thinking about all of this isn't as off the wall as it might have seemed. But I really have no need to go there if you want to consider whatever horses to already be dead, especially in light of Edric's real purpose in writing the song. I'm happy to let this be a bow on the conversation.

And no sweat on any lack of tact. It happens to the best of us ;)

Jase said...

I'm very amused: Twenty-seven LONG comments ago, this post was titled "Last Notes on Round 1, I Swear".

Thanks for the full review. Yeah, the judges did give very different ratings, but I'm not bothered. I'll take whatever little advice that applies to me.

You've hit the nail on the head for our song "Crowning Glory", but I do wish we applied more musical symbolism. It had potential for more, but time and attention was limiting.

JoAnn in VA said...

Skyen, is that you? *grin* *waves*
I wanted to put my .02 cents into the mix here- mostly about our song and a little about Edric's.
"The Architect" as he was named by, I think, >you< Dave was originally conceived to just be a talented craftsman, an artist, painting the walls of the pyramid- all the tiers and the drying paint as he watched to setting of the cap were the clues to his profession. Calling him the architect worked just as well though, so I won't challenge you on it.
Mark, the slight variations of how each of us sang the verse was partially intentional/part happy accident. The end result was that each character had a unique voice in the story. Not just our actual voices, which are quite different from each other, but as characters reacting to the end of a life's work.
If we were to have a party and I asked each of you to bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you would all be able to do so without much difficultly. How we each MADE those sandwiches though could be quite different- different brands of bread, of jelly vs jam, crunchy vs smooth peanut butter; each would show our particular tastes. So with the slight variations of the chorus while keeping them all recognizably within the melody of the song.
I wish we had had more time to "decorate" our song, but I am REALLY very glad we got in what we did when we did, even though my higher vocals weren't added as I hoped. Having such a good "safety" version of the song submitted came in very handy in the face of that bloody awful derrecho storm that wiped out the electric and communications here for most of Saturday. Imagine if we had waited to submit!
And Skyen- we can always submit a different, more "decorated" version, with my newer vocals to Spin and have him swap it out for the album...
Upon reflection, I think I will hold off on any public comments about Edric's song. I try to keep a personal policy of praise in public, correct in private (Unless you are being bloody stupid on my Facebook page, and even then I give people a lot of chances...). I don't want to risk saying something that might cause a divide, so I'll wait till he and I chat in private- if he wants to post what I have to say, he can.

Mark S. Meritt said...

JoAnn, I hope you're clear just how much I really loved your song. And as Dave and I have been coming back to, there's no real right or wrong, only artist's intention and execution, and certain listeners will be however much on board with any element of all that.

Your basic melody is one of strength and integrity, crafted around very particular phrasing patterns. The song, musically and lyrically, has real drama, demanding above average attention and seeming to want to thrust the listener into a revelation of deep connections that are often ignored. The song's very essence is the interplay between difference and sameness, people with their own era and actions nevertheless sharing profound parallels which give the song it's very reason for existing.

Everything in your song will affect both the difference and the sameness, either positively or negatively. You have to choose your battles, finding elements that contribute solid benefits on one side while doing as little as possible harm to the other.

Inconsistent melodic phrasing is one of the easiest ways to compromise craft. Far easier to not make the effort to find a phrase that matches the last time a given melodic bit came around, and all too easy to rationalize away, especially in a situation where you yourself say you didn't have as much time to do everything you wanted with the song.

You have these extra little notes or rests here and there. Differences. A positive contribution to difference, negative to sameness. The question is where's the biggest net gain. When the three verse stories are each inherently different, and each sung by a different vocalist, these phrasings have a negligible impact on painting each unique character -- small benefit if there, small loss if not. On the other side, looking at the song's overall musical integrity and drama and thematic paralleling, the varied phrasings create a larger loss if there and a larger benefit if not. Biggest net benefit would come from consistent melodic phrasing.

Imagine a break where all three vocalists sing their verses together, maybe even in harmony. Would be really dramatic, but I'm not saying you should actually add it, just illustrating a point, about what would happen with the melody. Everyone singing together, strong, except for all those inconsistencies, each of which would physically weaken things even aside from any issues of drama and theme. There'd be all these moments when not everyone would be singing together. It would seem really random and be harder to listen to. We wouldn't notice any clearer distinctions among their unique characters. We'd only notice how erratic their connection was.

I think consistent phrasing would move your great song toward Great with a capital G. Food for thought anyway :)

Dave Leigh said...

JoAnn, I also said that it didn't matter if he was the Architect or a worker. ;) You didn't say, so I assumed status for him befitting his intellect.

JoAnn in VA said...

I especially liked what Ted and skyen crafted with the harmonies at the end- I felt it was like a musical version of three sets of different incense burning, the smoke curling up together, intertwining and complimenting the others...

Mark S. Meritt said...

That was really cool, indeed!

When we do improvised songs in the improv theater group I accompany, one thing we do is trios, where each person takes a solo verse with their own unique melody over the same accompaniment, then a fourth verse has all three repeat themselves, singing simultaneously in counterpoint. Works great. The harmonies at the end of your song had a similar effect.

(That could have been an approach for the verses of your song, too, a genuinely different melody for each singer, then possibly weave them together. I actually prefer, for your song, the same melody for each verse. But counterpoint, in comparison to inconsistent melodic phrasing, is a great way in which melodic variation can serve really well.)

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