Sunday, July 19, 2009

Yo!! James Howard Raps!! (or, Why James Howard is Never Allowed to Rap Again)

Uptown Magazine! For fast, effective pain relief!

This column is a couple of weeks old by now, and as such I've my next column coming out this coming Thursday, but allow me to include it in my catchup posts nonetheless because its issues remain as timely and as topical as ever.

I neglected to include it in the column, but David Harper -- the aforementioned Chief who took the initiative and bought the sanitizer himself rather than wait for Health Canada to get its act together -- also busted out the line of the campaign about the story. "They know that there's hand sanitizer wipes that are available, which are alcohol based," he noted; "what are you saying? We're going to start chewing on them?" Ah, sarcasm from public figures! Nothing better. I like the cut of this man's jib.

Also left out of the column, more for space purposes than anything else, is the internal reasoning I followed in order to decide on making the hypothetical ban city-wide. The spraypaint ban in the city has failed miserably and hilariously, as I will be the first to remind anyone within earshot at any given moment, but honestly that plan had more holes in it than John Dillinger after a night at the movies. Limiting the mouthwash ban to downtown would not only draw some political gerrimandering and squabbling about the boundaries of 'downtown' but would also be completely useless, because either the abusers would move to where the mouthwash is being sold or unscrupulous car owners would buy up stocks elsewhere and sell them downtown. And a ban on selling it to anybody who 'looks Native', as was suggested earlier this year for yeast (seriously), is just asking to be shot down in flames by the judiciary within days. (And it was the reserve councils pushing for that profiling ban, no less. Manitoba is a complicated place sometimes.)

Owing to the dualistic nature of this blog, of course, my Winnipeg content is once again offset by my accompanying London content -- so get a load of this action! A follow-up assignment to the audio song I'd posted here, my next work in that class was to create an audio file with embedded images suitable for distribution as an iTunes podcast. It runs fine as a standalone audio file, but opening it in iTunes (or in VLC, or a similar player) gives you the full experience and also probably goes a long way towards demystifying the lyrics.

With that disclamatory preamble out of the way, feast your eyes and ears upon:

James Howard - LCCR 100.1 (Main Author feat. Dewey DC - Let's Go to the Library!)

This is how I'm making my way through library school! Assuming I don't fail out for this!

"But James," you're no doubt asking aloud as you read this, "what in the hell is this, and why on earth did you do it?" Good questions! Let me give you a bit of background on the various factors that combined to cause this.

Last September or October, in the program's mandatory management course, the professor brought in as guest speakers the team of IT workers that redesigned the Western Libraries website. They talked briefly about the importance of buy-in and bringing higher management on board, then regaled us with this promotional video they had created to lobby for (and ultimately secure!) the necessary funding. The repeated refrain of "Let's go to the library!" struck a chord with all who attended that day, and I know this for certain because many of us still turn to each other at random intervals and blurt out "Guys! Let's go to the library!"

It's pretty funny. I guess maybe you have to be there.

With that said! Another, and an otherwise unrelated, source of inspiration came when I first touched down in Calgary for my Reading Week vacation. Renting a car from the airport and following the driving directions I had scrawled on the boarding pass, I was rotating through the available radio stations (and it turns out Alberta isn't too bad for radio variety) when I encountered this song for the first time and nearly had to pull over from laughing so hard.

Is this a real thing? Yes it is a real thing, and it is supposed to be taken seriously. Jay-Z releasing Death of Auto-Tune within three months of its release says probably everything that you need to know about it, but just the idea that A) somebody genuinely recorded this and B) it made it to #1 on the hip-hop charts is both awful and awesome. Awful because, Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you people -- but awesome in a bizarrely uplifting way, because I came to realize that nothing that I might ever record in my life could possibly be worse than this.

Then! Then came another assignment for my class in Internet Broadcasting for the Public Sector, and as I was contemplating my next move I happened to stumble upon a YouTube video of some random British guy demonstrating how to create an autotune filter in Garageband. Then it all kind of snowballed from there, like a perfect storm of really bad ideas, to the audio-with-images file you see and hear before you.

"Yes, that's all well and good," you again ask out loud, "but what in the name of Doug Flutie made you decide to rap the verses? Not only are you notoriously untalented, but you're whiter than a marshmallow in a snowstorm!"

That's... a little hurtful, but a reasonable question. You see, the first thing I did playing around with the autotune was come up with the chorus, which I then wrote the accompanying music for (and the beats! That's right, no canned tracks in this composition -- all programmed by hand, baby!). From there I fleshed out the background music to accomodate the minimum length requirement of the assignment, spacing in verses and a bridge and pretty much charting out the layout of the song from there -- but that's when I hit the obvious and ensuing problem of what to actually put in those verses. Regular singing? Considering how out of tune I was for the last assignment, that probably wouldn't work too well -- and it would probably sound even worse against the choruses, which of course are in tune as a complete side effect of the autotune process. (The whole point is to get the goofy robot effect; using it specifically to save your tuning is not only discouraged but actively shameful. In other news, I'm a complete music nerd.) And doing the entire song from within the autotune filter would get old real fast, as I'm sure we've all encountered in one form or another by now. So from a production standpoint, stylistically, the only answer was to have rap verses -- but I don't know any rappers in London, assuming there are any, and by this point the assignment was due the next day so I just caved in and did it myself. I'll grant that it could have been a lot worse! Which doesn't actually mean that it's any good, but for a white dude I guess it went okay. For the first rap verse I channeled some weird combination of Chuck D. and the yelling guy from the Teddybears, and then for the second I shrugged and went with a Snoop Dogg caricature because A) sonically it sounded convincingly different enough from the first verse that a casual listener could believe it was two different people, and B) Snoop is pretty much a caricature these days anyway. (Oh, come on, he is. Let's not kid ourselves here.)

I'm rambling, aren't I? Beg your pardon. To conclude, I think the assignment file you see above is somehow entirely entertaining despite itself; I'll own up to having got my own chorus stuck in my head several times on this one, and the song actually hits its stride in its own strange way about halfway through the 'Snoop' verse, so all in all I think it was a pretty decent showing. Don't expect an underground rap career out of me any time soon, however; I think it's pretty obvious I'm more suited for the production side. The accompanying images were selected by going straight down the lyrics and Google Image Searching for a direct literal correlation, but they really do make the piece that much better; the part at the end with the close-up on the Nietzsche pic gets me every time, even though I wrote it and should really know when it's coming.

Let's go to the library!

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