Music and the Post-Parenthetical Era

There have been several times in my life where I had an idea. Perhaps it was an invention, the beginning of a song, a movie plot. I can distinctly remembering moments thinking something along the lines of, “well, there’s so many people in the world, and so many of them smarter than me that it’s probably already been created by someone else.” And I never carried out the idea after that initial thought.

In the digital age that we find ourselves in, we see content every day, and for me it can be discouraging. To see so many other people innovating, succeeding, I start to think that every niche is filled, and that there is no place for me to create something new because of the millions of others doing the same thing.

Here comes in the remix–in our day, with our technology, ideas and motifs can be taken from previously created and previously popular material without much effort. Before the invention of the Gutenberg Press, the phonograph, and the television, media could not be easily recorded or re-created. Now that nearly all media created since the 1930’s is available in print, audio, and video form, we can take the work of earlier generations, combine it with our own ideas, and create something new.

Thomas Pettitt’s Gutenberg Parenthesis contains this idea in what he calls the Post-Parenthetical Era. We see his philosophy in music as many popular songs share the same form and chords, or even sample straight from songs other songs of the last 100 years or so. We see this in TV shows like “Stranger Things” that are made to model after the TV shows of the 80’s, or movies such as “The Artist” that are made as a re-vitalization of the silent films of the early 20th century. We see it in memes whose content primarily comes from shows and songs from decades past, like “The Simpsons” and Rick Astley’s hit, “Never Gonna Give You up.”

This idea of post-parenthetical re-mixing is evident in the music video of “Careless Whisper,” as performed by the group Postmodern Jukebox.

“Careless Whisper” – Cover by Postmodern Jukebox featuring Robyn Adele Anderson and Dave Koz

In this YouTube video, Postmodern Jukebox takes a song released in the 1980’s, plays it in the vintage jazz style of the 1930’s and reaches nearly 27 million views after posting in in 2014.

As a fun snippet, not only does this video display the convergence of music from 3 different decades, but Scott Bradlee and his band throw in a sample from the infamous “Take Five” as recorded by the Dave Brubeck quartet in the late 1950’s (seen at 2:13 in the video).

It’s not difficult to see that this video was created and reached success by taking previously popular material, re-contextualizing it and posting as a new creation for our society to enjoy. And it worked!

Scott Bradlee, creator of Postmodern Jukebox, framed his remixing in this way, “As a musician living in New York City, I formed Postmodern Jukebox as way to bring the classic sounds I loved back into the mainstream,” (postmodernjukebox.com). How does he bring “class sounds…back into the mainstream” in this video?

First, he picked a well-recognized and loved song. For reasons unknown to me, the saxophone line in “Careless Whisper” is well-known to people of seemingly all generations. Then, he set the popular tune to the classic sounds of the 1930’s that Bradlee grew to love himself. He combined these in an entertaining way, even including humorous visuals, like the bass player being surprised at 0:49 in the video.

As I viewed this video in the context of the Gutenberg Parenthesis, it reaffirmed my view that we truly are in the post-parenthetical era described by Thomas Pettitt. But it also proved to me that that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Although we are in a digitally-driven era, we are still in an era of creativity, and high culture media creation. It might be harder to find it, but it is there. Today, we have the technological ability to readily use remixing, borrowing, appropriating, sampling to create new and beautiful content that simply couldn’t be made before the inventions that overcame time and space. And that means that although there are millions of others coming up with thoughts and ideas every day, I can use the creativity and talents of others before and combine it with my own personality to create something that has never been seen, heard, or experienced before.

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