Wookiee Bellydance + Klingon Band

Wookiee-Bellydance

Deserae dancing to “Muaarga” original song in Shyriiwook with music and lyrics by Jon Silpayamanant and performed by the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project

UPDATES:

  • (Oct. 8, 2012) Word of the Nerd Podcast interview with me about the Wookiee Bellydance video!
  • (Oct. 22, 2012) Just signed a release for the usage of the video on Objective Scotland‘s “50 Funniest Moments of 2012″ programme to appear on Channel 4 in the UK.

Several months ago Deserae, a wonderful bellydancer dancer I’ve known for years and who I’ve finally had the pleasure to play for about a year ago, decided she wanted to do a performance as a Wookiee bellydancer.  Back in March I recorded an excerpt of what such a Wookiee bellydance tune would sound like.  I pulled some phrases and words from the Star Wars Galactic Phrase Book and Travel Guide and created a sample audio with drums, cello, cow horn and vocals.  I titled it “Muaarga” (the Shyriiwook word for “Peace”) and posted it to my Soundcloud account:

http://soundcloud.com/jon-silpyamanant/muaarga-excerpt

A couple months ago Deserae asked if my band, the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project, could come to Chicago to play for her at an event called “Raks Geek” which took place at the Viaduct Theatre.  Basically billed as a Geek Bellydance event–probably the first “official” type of event dedicated solely to bellydancers and movement artists who happen to be big Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans.  Most of the event on Friday Night (the Saturday Night show was not filmed as far as I know) was filmed by Bob Nicholas.  We ended up playing two tunes for Deserae (as well as short sets before the show and during the intermission) including the Wookiee bellydance tune and a Klingon Opera-Ballet tune (“be’ joy’ luqaSa”) I had written for another dancer a couple of years ago.  Here is the Wookiee performance:

And here is the Klingon Bellydance performance:

Apparently the video has since gone viral.  While the video above, which I’ve posted to my personal youtube account only has some 8,000 hits (earlier yesterday it had roughly 2,500 views) the original video, which was posted here, currently has 130,000+ views (up 15,000 views from yesterday afternoon).

I got an inkling something was afoot on Tuesday when a student I had known from the High School I do cello sectionals and teaching at told me that a video of il Troubadore was on the front page of Reddit, the self titled “Front Page of the Internet.”  Doing a quick search didn’t turn up any videos of il Troubadore mainly due to the fact that it was the Raks Geek video (linked in the previous paragraph) rather than the one on my personal youtube site.

Yesterday morning the Geeks Are Sexy website had posted the video which I found through its facebook page (which has close to 400,000 followers).  Within a couple of hours it was shared over 200 times by various facebook users.  As I was doing searches around the net, I did finally find the Reddit link as well as several other sites, forums/bulletin boards, and blogs which had been posting various links to the video within the past day.  Some of those include sites which report on viral videos (such as Viral Viral Videos; Metatube; Break.com; Viral Kings), news sites (G4TV’s Attack of the Show & Around the Net; MSN Now; Right This Minute; New York Magazine’s Vulture), and other popular internet meme sites (Cheezburger; Know Your Meme; Dlisted).

I’ve had people tell me they’ve seen me on tv as some of the news sights (listed in the previous paragraph) have syndicated their short segments or are associated with more traditional networks.  Someone in Alabama mentioned seeing the Right This Minute clip and Fox 2 news in St. Louis apparently aired an excerpt as part of a segment of Tim’s Take.  ThinkGeek has tweeted it (roughly 600,000 followers) and Jeri Ryan posted it at her Google + page (whether this is the actual Jeri Ryan is unknown to me).

When I conceived of this piece, I wasn’t thinking it would lead to some that could potentially become viral–but I think that’s half of the point I try to make at this blog.  We just don’t have as much control over potential audiences as we would like and more often than not it’s easier to pull from a pre-existing one than to create one anew.  With 140,000 + hits to the video(s)–not including how many folks saw the actual news segments, it will be interesting to see how far the original video goes over the next few days!

_____________________________

Credits for the video:

“Muaarga” (“Peace” in Shyriiwook)
Composed/written by Jon Silpayamanant
Performed by the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project and Deserae
Video by Bob Nicholas
Raks Geek organized by Dawn Xiana Moon

Viaduct Theatre in Chicago, IL

August 3, 2012

Updates and more updates

Splash image for the website

If some of you hadn’t noticed, I’ve changed the look of the blog. This template is a bit cleaner and less distracting than the previous one, I think. I also spent most of last night completely overhauling my website. Though most of the content is previously existing content from the old website, the structure is newer and I think a bit more streamlined than the old one. I’ll be spending a lot of time over the next week or so re-doing content (especially the bio) but also making it easier for folks to know what services I offer for various function (both performative and educational).

What I’m especially looking forward to is highlighting my compositional activities more, as I am now getting much more work in that area.  I’m also looking forward to showcasing some of my more academic and scholarly work – especially the slow development of a Klingon Music Theory which will be the basis for some of the new music I’ve been writing for various projects.

The side-column (where the current facebook like page is located) will eventually be used for more content rather than just the like page, but I have to sort out how to import/display content there. Any tips, suggestions, and/or complaints are very welcome!

To teach, or not to teach: that is the question

Jon Silpayamanant teaching an "Alien Music workshop for Kids" at Cyphan Science-Fiction Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

So this past week was the first week of school and I’ve been coaching two periods of cellos since Tuesday. Earlier this week I read a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that talks about some research regarding the correlation between teaching and research.  Most studies of this type looked at the connection between research activities and teaching, with mostly equivocal results though perhaps leaning in the direction that there may be a positive correlation.  Few studies looked at the connection from the opposite end of seeing how teaching experience can enhance research.  And fewer still (if this article is correct) have looked at it quantitatively, rather than through qualitative and often subjective surveys.

It was timely that the article was published just as my teaching load has increased (as it always does this time of the year) as I often question the function of teaching and education and how this can be changed and whether or not things like this should be changed.  But I’d rarely looked at it from the standpoint of how teaching music could possibly enhance, say, musical ability.  In many ways, I can agree–in others I can just as easily disagree.  In the end, it really depends on the teacher/musician.

For example, being able to show someone how to do something on a musical instrument would seem to demonstrate that you know the instrument well enough to be able to teach how to do it.  On the other hand, if your ability to do it on the instrument isn’t necessarily the most efficient or useful or, just downright idiosyncratic, then what you may be teaching would be how you would do it–not necessarily how it can or should be done.  Whether that idiosyncratic way of playing an instrument is the result of previous ‘bad teaching’ or just willful ignore-ance of former instructors (or combination of both) doesn’t necessarily matter.  And in some ways, I imagine it can simply be the result of a tradition of performance practice such as the holding-books-under-the-arm technique of bowing that used to be relatively commonplace in cello pedagogy.

The thing is, we can’t necessarily predict what might be a more efficient and useful way of doing things in the future.  In hindsight, as the saying goes, we’ll see it as inevitable but that doesn’t help our abilities to know future ‘good performance practice’–much less future enhancement of musical ability due to the ability to teach music.  Really, in many ways we’re just walking blindly into a future with only our personal histories or institutional histories (e.g. teaching traditions) as a guide.

I guess one of the questions is, if you can’t teach someone else how to do something, how much does that affect your ability to teach yourself something?  Another thorny question.  Some folks just have an intuitive sense of how to play a kind of music and can easily learn something within those boundaries.  Which says next to nothing about their ability to learn something in a different musical style or genre (or on another instrument, for that matter).  It’s an almost autistic way of relating to a broader musical culture or, rather, a broader culture of music.

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on Klingon weddings and playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit

Jon Silpayamanant as a Klingon performing before a production of The Pirates of Penzance (in Outer Space)

Jon Silpayamanant as a Klingon performing before a production of The Pirates of Penzance (in Outer Space) in New Albany, Indiana.

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, there is an embarrassment of riches as far as performing options are concerned, if you’re willing to think outside the box.  The past few years I’ve been playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit.  I hesitate to call it the “Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention circuit” if only because some of the best paying gigs I’ve gotten recently happen to be at organizations outside of the Convention circuit proper.

And some of that has started to creep into the so-called ‘high arts’ realm with organizations such as Symphony Orchestras playing themed shows dedicated to particular Sci-Fi or Fantasy franchises (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) as part of their pops seasons.

On the whole, however, there’s always been music at conventions–even if it only consisted of filk music.  Part of the Klingon schtick is as much act as play and the idea came to me as a whim after il Troubadore started playing Sci-Fi conventions at the request of some bellydancers.  We decided we needed our own act and schtick, thus was born the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project.

Ok, so I talk about the short series of events from bellydancer request to Sci-Fi convention to developing a full blown Klingon Band personae as if it’s an everyday thing.  But seriously, for me, it is.

That’s the specific issue at hand here.  Over the years I’ve heard all manner of musicians grouse about the lousy economy and the lack of work.  And here, I’m talking primarily about those musicians who do not hold full time or professional positions as musicians–this includes freelancers, but also just your normal everyday band musician.  I know I’ve brought up this issue plenty of times in the past, but don’t want to flood this post with a ton of links.

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Keep Louisville Weird with Thai-singing Klingon Cellists!

Jon Silpayamanant as j'onn, the Klingon Cellist, during a show at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis (Indianapolis), March 2011

So a couple days ago I was actually asked to play an upcoming event, the Terrabeat Showcase, that is going to “feature local ‘worldbeat’/cultural musicians from the city’s immigrant communities who are not yet fully integrated into Louisville’s mainstream music scene so that worldbeats influence in Louisville can be enhanced.”  Some of the other ethnic musicians to be featured will be Indian, Somali and Bhutanese immigrants.  I supposed I’ll be representing the Thai and, um, Klingon ethnic groups?

As I’ve been doing more solo cello as well as music/dance related duets lately, it’s only natural (I suppose) that I *ahem* boldly go where no cellist has gone before.  Not that this would necessarily be much of a stretch for me.  I already sing in Thai (and Klingon plus a few dozen other languages) while playing cello (and other instruments, such as dumbek).  I already have a huge untapped reservoir of material to use and styles to combine (though I’m not sure how I would incorporate beating amplified sheet metal through effects pedals into this show–though I could totally see Klingons doing this kind of thing).

Point is, it’s always nice to not have to rely on the schedules and limitations of others, especially when experimenting with new things.  I still have yet to fully develop Klingon Music theory given the existing canonic (and not so canonic) material, though that is still [yet] another work in progress.  And while I don’t often sing in Thai (just not that much opportunity for that yet, or rather not enough time to develop that) the first tunes I ever learned how to sing were Thai songs, and I still occasionally sing them when the need hits.

Jon Silpayamanant singing a Thai Classical Chant for Kristi Renee who is doing a fusion dance with Thai Fan Leb (fingernail dance) and Bellydance. Kira's Oasis (Dayton), January 2007.

But the idea of showcasing ethnic music (whether dressed as a Klingon or not) just appeals to me, and as my mother often tells me when she wants me to look for Thai movies and/or music or her, sometimes I just get tired of hearing the English language.  And more ethnics [sic] need to play out if only so that local communities don’t get a false sense of what’s actually out there in their [local] worlds.

And with a little luck, folks that perform can be what’s called in psychology, disinhibitory contagion.  This is a robust psychological phenomenon where folks who would generally follow the pack, because of whatever psychological rationalization they have made, do something that they really wanted to do after having experienced someone else going against the grain.

We sometimes see the negative side of this thing as when a high profiled (in the media) suicide coincides with a sharp spike in suicides by folks who somehow identified closely with the media personality.  But I think the positive side of this is to have more and more folks, who don’t normally play Western music (whether Classical or Pop) decide that it’s really OK for them to get out their sitars, koras, tablas, ouds, kavals, or whatever instrument from the homeland and get their funk on.

And from my own experience (which is considerable as I’m active playing in or working with 1) Balkan Band, 2) Klezmer Band, 3) World Music Ensemble, 4) Greek Musicians, 5) Central Asian dance/music project, 6) tabla/cello Indian/Middles Eastern Fusion project, etc.) Caucasian Americans are getting just as interested in this new music.

Jon Silpayamanant and Maja Radovanlija playing Balkan music in Kermes at the Runcible Spoon Gypsy Market (Bloomington), October 2010

Let’s face it, you can go anywhere to see a Symphony (though that might be getting rarer these days) Orchestra, or a cover band playing top 40 hits, or an original band singing in English and playing in an Anglo-American rock style, right?  And that’s the stuff that permeates the normal radio and other traditional media outlets.  How many Beatles cover bands do we need anyway?

Anyway, I’ll be developing a show for this and I suspect it will be something completely different than all the other things I do–or rather, it might be something that completely melds everything else I do!