this page is under construction
♫something something sooomething♫ opened with the loud and untrained voices of a karaoke party.
I had organized several Karaoke events amongst her friends prior to my thesis work, (some of which can be found documented here), and saw within the genre similarities to my own body of work.
My installation featured a series of videos inspired by the aesthetic of Youtube karaoke videos: the cheesy and hyper-dramatic fonts, the vague (empty) gradient backgrounds, the lyrics paired with comical stock imagery, etc.
The video includes:
Bird of prey - Jim Morrison
El Condor Pasa (If I Could) - Simon & Garfunkel
Guantanamera (cover) - Joan Baez
La Isla Bonita - Madonna
I Don't Want to Live on the Moon - Sesame Street
La Danza Del Petrolero - Los Wembler's de Iquitos
The piece moves from song to song, like the incongruous pace of a karaoke night.
The (empty) gradient especially interested me as my installation was heavily influenced by Hito Steyerl's piece "In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective". The first video, featuring Jim Morrison's Bird of Prey, pays homage to this text as the viewer is thrust up in a skybox where a Sun.obj is stationed and a FlyingBird.obj is circling. The viewer starts below like a classic predator - prey scenario, but then is able to soar above not only the FlyingBird.obj, but even the Sun. After spending some time here, the viewer begins to rapidly fall until the Sun, and then the bird, disappear from view. This feeling of falling can only be perceived so long as there are reference objects we can determine our relation to in order to infer our own motion. But after some time (as this skybox does not have any floor plane) the viewer seems almost stationary. Trapped in a state of Free-Fall, much like Steyerl's text outlines.
El Condor Pasa (If I Could), as performed by Simon and Garfunkel, borrowed it's melody from the group Los Incas while in France, who were covering the Peruvian classic composed by Daniel Alomía Robles, who studied traditional music of the Andes when writing his pieces. However, it is Simon and Garfunkel's version that has made this tune one of the few known Andean melodies in the United States today.
It is at the latter end of this lineage where I was first introduced to this tune and to the pan-flutes that comprise so much of traditional Peruvian music.
Like this meme that has been seen making rounds on the Internet, each cover / each performance / each usage may distance the melody further and further from its origins, but it is also this re-performance of it that keeps even a small part of it alive. For many displaced individuals, first - second - third generation, it is the displaced tune they hear first, not the original.
I'm not justifying Simon and Garfunkel's use of the song, especially with as many English metaphors they include describing hierarchies (many of which are predator - prey related...The group was actually sued by Robles' son because S&G never included the composers name in the credits when they first released it- Robles won the case). But it is an important indication of how many of us access these parts of our history through copies, consumer goods, etc.
Madonna's La Isla Bonita comes on next against a utopic-like gradient with a stock image beach scene. Madonna has always been known as an artist of controversy, and her interest in Latin music and culture has been no different. In this track, San Pedro is a vague tropical island getaway that Madonna has admitted herself is not based on any real destination- just the dream of paradise ignoring the vampiric tourist industries actual relationship with the people living in these places. A similar predicament is seen through Helio Oiticica's work, namely his installation Tropicalia illustrating the flattened image of Brazil as a tropical utopia.
The idea of Brazil is partitioned into sections, divided by brightly colored walls. Each element is curated- the sound of parrots, the array of plants, the bright colors of the Caribbean- and all come together to stage authenticity for visiting foreigners.
Though Peru doesn't exactly fit the criteria of a tropical getaway (but does any place really?), tourism has also played a decisive role in the country's cultural identity and economy- which often go hand in hand.
Aside from the pan-flutes in Simon and Garfunkel's track, when one first thinks of what defines Peruvian identity, it is almost always the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu that come to mind first. But Machu Picchu was not always the cultural icon that it is today. It's importance was elevated as it became seen as a potential tourist attraction.
For more on this subject, read Simulation as Survival as part of my thesis.
Madonna is just one of many artists from the United States who have developed an interest in Latin music and culture, capitalizing on it for the sake of their own careers.
In more recent history, there's Justin Bieber forgetting the words to Despacito while performing live and then replacing the words with stereotypes of Latin culture as if they were interchangeable. The remix spent 16 weeks as Billboard's #1 song, but even reaching that level of fame was not enough for Bieber to commit to learning what got the song there in the first place. But then again, it might've been this devaluation of the song that is what made it so big in the United States. This would explain how it became so popular amongst kids- anyone who worked with children during the summer of 2019 knows exactly how obsessed children were with the song. Kids are to thank for it becoming one of the most viewed music videos on YouTube ever, and are also the reason it eventually got topped by Baby Shark.
Artists like these have no problem capitalizing off of Latin culture while doing the bare minimum, yet my pursuit of my own culture feels foreign and invasive. The lullabies my mother sung over my crib feel out of place coming from my mouth, even though I can feel them nested within my core.
Like Bieber's own personal remix of his recorded remix of the original Luis Fonsi song, I replaced some of the words I did not know in La Isla Bonita with filler words.
A brief intermission...
At this point in the video, we are formally introduced to a butterfly who shares with us their ability to time-travel inter-dimensionally- they use their friendship with a dog solidified by compacted Pompeii ash as well as with Spyro the Dragon as evidence of their adventures. The butterfly can even be seen carelessly gliding through some of the karaoke videos, affirming the karaoke landscapes as locations- not just empty spaces.
Aside from appearing in this video series, the butterfly could also be found with
The Gazebo as part of the show here we are in all our colors which was shown simultaneously with ♫something something sooomething♫.
Passing from location to location, the butterfly ends up at an imagined ruins site. Joan Baez's cover of Guantanamera (did I spell that right?) plays softly- slightly distorted. It's almost as if her voice is being heard over the loud speakers of a mall- seemingly so far away- or in the background right before you fall asleep. The lyrics, like La Isla Bonita, are spelled based on guesses.
Despite being of Cuban origin and acting as their informal national anthem, Guantanamera is well known by the conglomerate of Latin Americans- I have many early memories where it is playing. It has always been one of those songs where I can't quite figure out where one word ends and another begins.