by carl wilson

Double-0 What? Baltar Budd, Beyonce
and Other New-Year Babies


Hi, and welcome to 2007, a year that I currently can't help regarding as a work of science fiction. This perception may be disproportionately affected by having spent too much of the turn of the calendar watching almost the entire series run of Battlestar Galactica, which feels in my current dvd-marathon haze like the best serialized novel since Dickens - a claim that might more plausibly be made about The Wire, but the latter is too indebted to documentary film and too polyphonic really to stand compare with any pre-21st-century model. But Battlestar Galactica, while it partakes sparingly of some of the same techniques, is at heart a seafaring epic, albeit one with political, moral and mythological layering that I don't think any naval saga ever essayed, though I'm far from fluent in that genre. I mean, are there any seafaring novels that take place after the annihilation of the home country in a genocidal attack? It changes up the game. (Not to underestimate novels of the sea - you could bring up Moby Dick, but Galactica, despite its play with scrolls and prophesy, is much more worldly in its concerns, not remotely transcendental; Billy Budd might be closer, with its mix of sex, tyranny, betrayal and could-be saviours.)

I won't go on, except to make a musical observation: While the score for the show is nice, with its Asian-overtoned ancient-future styling, I can't help wishing for music that would be more forward-looking in the same posthuman-humanist way that all the human-cylon sexuality of the series is. (Speaking of which, is there any precedent for a long-format narrative in which one of the primary romances takes place mostly by having each of the lovers hallucinate the other? There's a bit of Laura in it, as well as a dash of Antony & Cleopatra... mainly the Gaius-Caprica relationship is everything that the Buffy-Spike relationship never was, though the short-lived "chip in the brain" theory probably was meant to acknowledge a debt.) So it'd be nice to hear the voice of artificial intelligence dueting with the poundy drums and Celtic choruses in the music; it would run the risk of being too obtrusive, dooming the series to an even smaller audience, and dating in syndication (though that'll happen anyway), but I'd love it if there were a bit more, say, dancehall riddim in the Galactica soundscape - or to be patently obvious, just a dash of Timbaland.

Well, that was the tangent that ate the entry. Coming up, some belated songs-of-'06 ruminations from Zoilus aide-de-camp Chris Randle, some belated rumination from me on Canadian lefty-nostalgia flick Monkey Warfare, which I saw over the holidays, and a return to yer regularly scheduled bloggery. Meanwhile, I recommend above all other year-end music surveys I've seen so far Jane Dark's thoughts on singles and albums and the ought-six pop zeitgeist. His mini-monograph "On Melodic Range in Popular Music" nails a theme I'd been half-thinking about myself:

"One might argue that the structures of tune in American pop float between forms where affect is largely conveyed by speech, and where it's indexed to variations of melody keyed to the Western scale. .... Shifts, of course, never happen all at once: uneven development, three-steps-forward and two-steps-back, little gestures here and there, these turn out to have been key junctures in a story that the market is trying to tell. And this is the story that Irreplaceable begins to narrate. It's a good song, not a great one; nobody thinks its within seven rungs of Crazy in Love on the ladder of the Ideal Pop Song. That song had decent range as well, but it also had other things on its mind, and returned relentlessly to the three-note theme. Irreplaceable seems to have as its main purpose the restoration of melodic range to pop."

Which is exactly why that single has been running through my head for the past six weeks, the way Ne-Yo's So Sick did early in the year, while other songs I admire as much or more don't take up residence that way. Joshua didn't go on to interrelate that to the "generationality" theme, but surely he could - melodic preference is, I think, one of the matrices of taste that get fixed early, and so it makes a difference whether your peak taste-forming years coincide with a more range-oriented period or a more speech-emulating period in pop melody. One of the few points in his two posts with which I disagree is his dismissal of the notion that anything was happening in teenmo (my new coinage for what's been misleadingly called emo for the past five years but is really a branch of teen pop) in 2006: My Chemical Romance's pompera has much more melodic range than you'd hear in its teenmo predecessors, which is part of why all the 30-something crrritics glommed onto MCR while continuing to ignore other bands listened to by MCR fans. (And yes, I know it's not a new band, but this was its breakthrough year). Not that MCR pulls any of the deft generational distancing moves Joshua was pointing out in country and rap artists, but this melodic difference does seem like a marker - in particular, MCR has no discernible tie to hardcore, a genre as extreme as hip-hop in its disavowal of melodic range, and one whose echo was distantly audible in the genetics of most chart teen punk in the double-0's until MCR decided to replace it with Bowie and Queen.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 02 at 3:39 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)



Yeah, he was a classical pianist who also seemed to be a composer of Glass-esque minimalist piano pieces. One of my fave revelations about Starbuck in the whole series is when they go to her old apartment on Caprica and listen to that recording - and Helo also finds out that the fleet's toughest fighter pilot used to do quite good abstract paintings in her off-duty time. In fact it turns out her non-military identity is very downtown-boho, which is great. I'd love to see her artistic side come back into the plot at some point.

Posted by zoilus on January 5, 2007 1:46 PM



I do not recall either romances hallucinated, nations annihilated, or novels serialized into television, done as well as BSG. Nice review/analysis, Zoilus. As much as I'd like to hear anything - ANYTHING - but vaguely Celtic music used in the show, they seem to have come up with a sonic aesthetic tied to the culture [I guess it would mainly be Caprican]. I'll forgo armchair art-directing as long as they keep up the good work. The music composer for the television series has a website where he blogs about some of the pieces he composes. The main Caprica Six/Cylon suspense piece with the ringing bell tones is in 9/8.

Starbuck's dad was also a classical pianist.

Posted by andrew on January 5, 2007 1:30 PM



Keep reading the thread...But why don't other songs on that same cd have that range or try for such an ideal? And do you believe that by not mentioning other songs in recent years that have exhibited a similar range, he strengthened his argument? This Josh/Jane quote "Irreplaceable" seems to have as its main purpose the restoration of melodic range to pop" seems to me to encourage questions like: what is the main purpose of other songs in recent years that have had that much melodic range, and why is this one so much more significant?

Posted by corny rocker on January 4, 2007 2:38 AM



The ILM sandbox thread seems to have discarded the actual "melodic range" argument in favour of talking about "ballads," cornyrocker, which is a related subject but not the same thing. That said, it's silly to take Joshua's point as being that Irreplaceable *alone* is restoring melodic range. He's saying that's what the song focuses on, not saying it's the only song that does.

Posted by zoilus on January 3, 2007 7:52 PM



Interesting that melodic range is associated with girlishness (teenpop) or queerness (Queen, '70s Bowie), and that a narrow range is associated with seriousness, "authority," and, by process of elimination, masculinity. This comports with traditional fears that music itself effeminizes people -- the myth that Orpheus was gay after the death of Eurydice; the jazz-crit association of "sweet" music (smooth timbres & foregrounded tunefulness) with "sentimentality," with a barely submerged machismo implied.

Music ravishes me.

Posted by john on January 3, 2007 11:14 AM



I don't buy Josh/Jane Dark's argument that "Irreplaceable" is restoring melodic range to pop. There have been others who have gotten ballad-like melodic pop on the radio in recent years (Mary J. Blige for instance). Josh/Jane also doesn't make clear whom he is giving credit to--Beyonce for her singing or Beyonce and the other 5 co-songwriters including Ne-yo? I also am not sure I agree with his teenpop theory in there either. There's an ILX sandbox thread on this...

Posted by cornyrocker on January 3, 2007 10:47 AM



A quick note - China Mieville's The Scar is a "weird fiction" naval epic set on Armada, a DIY floating city made up of ships lashed together. It too is pretty worldly in its concerns, the main conflict being between the seedy pirate society (piracracy?) and the expansionist city-state, a world power, that seeks to annihilate it. Sex and betrayal loom large in The Scar as well: one of my favourite scenes, touching in its tender awkwardness, involves a kid losing his virginity to a woman who's been grotesquely mechanized, which is a standard brutal punishment in Mieville's world. There's more esoteric stuff about chance and probability, plus the book drags in the middle and has a highly unlikeable protagonist, but I think it's still very much worth reading.

Posted by Chris R. on January 2, 2007 8:29 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson