Friday, June 19, 2009

The Singularity of Funk (Part II)

So, The Singularity is the moment where human biology and technology become indistinguishable. It's our "if you can't beat 'em, than join 'em" moment. But does that mean we give up our minds? Our souls? God forbid, our Funk?

Roger Troutman is interesting because he was not only a funk pioneer, but he also made some damn sexy music by synthesizing his sound. And if you take a jam like "Computer Love," an all time favorite, and look at the lyrics, you see that he was already ahead of his time in terms of dealing with this Singularity issue:
You know I’ve been searching for someone
Who can share that special love with me
And your eyes have that glow
Could it be your face I see on my computer screen?

Need a special girl (Ooh, yeah)
To share in my computer world
I no longer need a strategy
Thanks to modern technology
The groove is so smooth that it's easy to overlook the subtext of what the speaker is saying here. He's been looking for someone who can "share that special love" with him. He finally finds a mate, but only recognizes her when he sees her eyes glowing on a computer screen. His exclamation about not needing a "strategy" because of "modern technology," sounds like something out of a late night infomercial, not a love song. Here we have a Funk jam that's giving us a lesson in dehumanization of intimacy brought on by technology. Although the speaker gets "Computer Love," you can't shake the feeling that he ain't done nothing but click his own mouse, so to speak.

Although Roger Troutman was known mostly for his sexy slow jams, it's significant that he started out with Funkadelic (most notably with The Electric Spanking of War Babies album) because beneath all of the funny costumes, wigs, and set pieces, they were deep into exploring how technology was affecting our understanding of philosophy, creativity, sexuality, and humanity itself.

One of the best examples of this is George Clinton's Computer Games, where he says:
I fidget with the digit dots and cry an anxious tear
As the XU-1 connects the spot
But the matrix grid don't care
Get a message to my mother
What number would she be?
There's a million angry citizens
Looking down their tubes at me
Clinton is talking about a world where computers alter our fundamental relationships (Get a message to my mother/what number would she be?) and where techno-voyuerism is mistaken for actual human connection (There's a million angry citizens/Looking down their tubes at me). Sound familiar? Although the speaker in "Computer Love" is a lot less aware of the implications of what's going on, both songs wrestle with how technology affects our human identity.

Outkast, who best represent the modern-day melding of funk and hip-hop, featured Clinton on the song "Synthesizer," from their brilliant Aquemini album, and took a similar tact.

Like almost every Outkast song, Big Boi spits (raw) lyrics that have nothing to do with the subject of the song, but both Andre and Clinton take the issue head-on.
George Clinton:

Conceived under the influence of toxic-wasted doctors
Computer buggin debuggin device-a and vice versa
and various viruses
Performing with laser light precision and verbal incision
For a lingustic ballistic lobotomy
Mind-fuckin you, a psycho-sodomy
of the medula oblongata
Accept your mind down your spine and out your behind

Andre Benjamin:
Synthesizer, microwave me
Give me a drug so I can make seven babies
Pump my breasts up, can you suck the fat up
Please make my life appear
like ain't no such thing as bad luck
I don't know how what to add to that except: yup.

Although the cautionary tone of these Funk explorations get us to think about how we're affected by technology, it's also significant to recognize that the song utilizes quite a bit of technology to create its sound. And although Funk is as ambitious as Gospel music in its goal of taking the listener's consciousness "higher," the address of your destination and the means of getting you there (whether pharmacological or technological) are quite different. Whatever it takes to make you shake your ass, Funk employs. However, The One is an introspective rhythm, so Funk also has the potential to free your mind as well.

These explorations of the creative and philosophical implications of technology are part of the reason Funk endures. Although I am just about over all of the "Computer Love" knock-offs, I'm hesitant to cast too many stones against Auto-Tune and the like. Music will survive. Neither Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk, or his compatriots at Microsoft will ever put Funk completely out of business.

Besides, the true culprit isn't the computers. Auto-Tune might give us the ability to change the sounds of our voices at our whim, does it really matter if we're not saying anything?

Can you get to that?


Jackson Brown said...

Great post!

This idea reminds me of the cover of that Nintendo strategy guide from back in the day, Mastering Nintendo Video Games--playing video games, I guess, was to make us one with the computer.

But a close analogy for me to this encroachment of technology upon music is the increasing use of CGI in films. Assigning movie reviews in Basic Composition classes, back in grad school, a lot of students would gush in their essays over how such-n-such movie was so great because it had awesome special effects or how this-n-that remake was so better than the original version because of the updated "graphics" and slick (computer generated) camerawork.

But then what movie became the cult classic for everyone twenty-years-old and younger? Simple ol', understated Napoleon Dynamite.

And I'm sure the "funky" dance scene at the end had a lot to do with the film's popularity.

Pursey Tuttweiler said...

You, Misstra, are a mystery. Your writing and your weaving of music and world views are almost over my head. I will have to read this more closely.

Vanessa said...

Have you heard about this movie? Soul Power?

Abdel Shakur said...

@ jackson: Ahh! That cover freaks me out. Is that a scan or did you find it on the web? I'm feeling you on the whole graphics issue. That's why I'm tempted to see Transformers, but I have a feeling that its going to be less than meets the eyes.

@ pursey: No matter what, it's got to be funky.

@ vanessa: Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will be seeing this (of course!) It brings to mind this piece I read about this concert and how much of a jackass (with all due respect) the Godfather of soul was at the time. Apparently he almost crashed the tour plane by insisting on carrying thousands of pounds of his own stage equipment despite the fact there was equipment waiting for them in Africa. He also told Bill Withers he couldn't sing, which is just asinine. But then again, you can do that when you're the Godfather.

Jackson Brown said...

Found it on the web.

Yeah, the reviews have scared me off from Transformers, even though I loved the first one.