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Still Alive on theremin, toy guitar and voice
November 22, 2011 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Relevant to my interests (YT). Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara) sings "Still Alive", accompanied by Jonathan Coulton and Dorit Chrysler, in what could perhaps be called a tweefecta.

Chrysler is an accomplished thereminist, and was Moog's choice to deliver the April Fool's Day announcement of the polyphonic theremin with a glorious cover of "Stairway to Heaven". In reality, she rocks a customized Moog Etherwave Pro. Founder of the New York Theremin Society, she is credited with (or responsible for, if you prefer) creating the first Theremin orchestra of the 21st century and bringing it, with the help of Steve Martin, to LA's Disney Comcert Hall.

Tegan and Sara have their own history with the theremin - they can be seen here performing "Living Room" accompanied by a bass pedal and Etherwave Plus, a combo that resembles little so much as a mime trying to get up.
posted by running order squabble fest (62 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
You left out the most important part: Directed by John Flansburgh.
posted by DU at 11:14 AM on November 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


With Marty Beller (of TMBG) on drums!

My son has recently latched on to this song, after becoming obsessed with Portal (without actually playing it) due to talk at recess. So together we've been learning the song (me on uke or guitar, him singing), which has caused my non-video-game-playing, non-internet-rock-star-knowing, meme-clueless (yet somehow still awesome) wife to discover the song as well. So we've been having family sing alongs in our attempt to get it down cold. As always, we're about three years late to the bandwagon.

Sez my wife: "It's actually a really good song. Really pretty melody. Very pleasant. I just... wish it were about something else."
posted by bondcliff at 11:20 AM on November 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry, because I love "Still Alive" more than almost anything on earth, but there's something about Sara Quin singing it that, for me, robs it of every single ounce of joy. Theramin is cool, though.
posted by The Bellman at 11:20 AM on November 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


You left out the most important part: Directed by John Flansburgh.

Also, Joe McGinty on keyboards, Flansburgh's bandmate Marty Beller on drums and Chris Anderson (of TMBG opening act The Last Car?)on bass. Sorry, chaps! I kind of wanted to go for the "tweefecta" gag too much, clearly...
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:22 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tweefecta, indeed. :D I'm glad to see the theremin making a comeback. I mean, Jimmy Page damn near killed the thing, but now it looks like people are picking it up again without fear of mockery.
posted by zomg at 11:23 AM on November 22, 2011


Wait. Is the Polyphonic Theramin video an April Fool joke?
posted by zomg at 11:26 AM on November 22, 2011


Needs more theremin. (or as I call it, Musical Vitamin T!)
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:26 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sez my wife: "It's actually a really good song. Really pretty melody. Very pleasant. I just... wish it were about something else."

The fact that it's about a sentient A.I. that's out for your blood is what makes it the best thing in the Universe ever! C'mon!
posted by kbanas at 11:30 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a silly, squeeing T&S fan, I hearted this, and thanks a bunch for that "Living Room" link, great version.
posted by mikoroshi at 11:30 AM on November 22, 2011


I find it heartening and remarkable that such a silly sweet song is verging on the status of "generational anthem."
posted by bicyclefish at 11:31 AM on November 22, 2011


love this!

to me, it's strange to call tegan or sara twee, because as i see it, they are the next step from tori amos and ani difranco - two girls never called twee. makes me wonder if it's tegan&sara's stature and cuteness more than their music that gets them the label.
posted by nadawi at 11:33 AM on November 22, 2011


> Is the Polyphonic Theramin video an April Fool joke?

It uses special "I.D.I.O.T." technology, you decide.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:35 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wadsworth misses it by just a hair.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:35 AM on November 22, 2011


I have never played Portal, but this song hits some zeitgeisty sweet spot so perfectly that it makes me purr, and as a human, I am not technically capable of purring.
posted by everichon at 11:36 AM on November 22, 2011


The fact that it's about a sentient A.I. that's out for your blood is what makes it the best thing in the Universe ever! C'mon!

I know that, and you know that, and The Internet knows that, but remember the part where I said she was my "non-video-game-playing, non-internet-rock-star-knowing, meme-clueless (yet somehow still awesome) wife"?

She don't know from A.I.
posted by bondcliff at 11:37 AM on November 22, 2011


I like everybody involved in this a LOT. And I find this version awesome and adorable. And Still Alive is fucking fantastic, which everybody knows.

But I just can't help thinking, man, how sick of this song must Jonathan Coulton be by now.
posted by penduluum at 11:37 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lovely! I wish they'd autotunned Sara Quin though, make her sound slightly more like GlaDOS. Just fyi, Mirror's Edge has a respectable theme song by the same name too.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:41 AM on November 22, 2011


This is great.
posted by brundlefly at 11:42 AM on November 22, 2011


My favorite performance of "Still Alive" is still that one with Felicia Day from PAX.

But I just can't help thinking, man, how sick of this song must Jonathan Coulton be by now.

Yeah, maybe, but it's a great song.
posted by zomg at 11:45 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I just can't help thinking, man, how sick of this song must Jonathan Coulton be by now.


I dunno - if someone bought me a house, it would take a lot to make me sick of that person.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:50 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not properly twee unless it has the Litten siblings (aka Trixie's Big Red Motorbike) in it. Sorry.
posted by scruss at 11:51 AM on November 22, 2011


But I just can't help thinking, man, how sick of this song must Jonathan Coulton be by now.

John "Cougar" Mellencamp, to pick a random pop star, has been singing "Jack and Diane" live for 20 years. I think Coulton has a long ways to go before he starts getting much sympathy for having to sing his hugely popular single a lot.
posted by straight at 11:51 AM on November 22, 2011


Sara Quin ruins it by talk-singing it like a disney character. At least Felicia Day hits a few notes and sings in a higher range. The song loses so much when not being sung soprano.
posted by idiopath at 11:53 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


uh, and that "toy guitar" is what most folks call a ukulele. Just sayin'.
posted by scruss at 11:57 AM on November 22, 2011


Yeah, no, I'm not crying for the guy. It's a perennial thing for artists, I get that. But the ... zealousness of Coulton fans probably add something to the equation that doesn't happen to John Cougar, I'm guessing.

Bill Cosby performed at my college homecoming one year. I was a massive fan of Bill Cosby as a kid, and couldn't have been more excited to see him. He did an hour off the cuff, still very sharp and funny, just doing new material. I thought it was great, but response was middling. After he was done he sighed, settled into his chair, and raced through the dentist bit from Bill Cosby Himself literally as fast as he could without muddling the words. It killed, and it's still a great piece of comedy, but how do you get excited about doing a bit that you've done a million times and that the whole audience has already heard a million times too?

I guess by doing stuff like this: new performers, new instrumentation. I love Still Alive, and I'm proud of and happy for Coulton, not sorry for him that he has to keep singing it. But I think it's kind of an interesting place to be in, philosophically.
posted by penduluum at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2011


I really ought to be sick of this song by now, but I'll be damned if I don't find myself bopping along happily every time I hear it.

I'm not entirely sold on the vocals on this one though.
posted by DuchessProzac at 12:00 PM on November 22, 2011


John Cougar has been singing J&D for 30 years now, not 20.

Thirty long, neverending years.
posted by item at 12:04 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sold on the vocals, or on the whole idea of adding theremin to a song whose wonderful joke is the opposition of the folk-rock instrumentation backing the inhuman Auto-Tuned AI singing the inhumane lyrics.

But look, it's Joe McGinty! I love Loser's Lounge.
posted by nicwolff at 12:06 PM on November 22, 2011


Perhaps John Cougar could sing "Still Alive" instead?

Because that might be interesting.
posted by everichon at 12:06 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason I thought of him is that I remember John Mellencamp talking in an interview about how the song itself was totally dead to him but the reaction of other people obviously enjoying it made him able to still enjoy singing it.

(And yeah, I'm still in denial about the '80s being 30 years ago instead of 20.)

posted by straight at 12:09 PM on November 22, 2011


Perhaps John Cougar could sing "Still Alive" instead?

Little ditty, 'bout Chell and GladDOS...
posted by bondcliff at 12:09 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't care what the haterz say, this performance gave me chills. The sort of flat but twee aspect to the voice is what makes it.

And Jack and Diane can't be thirty years old already. Nothing from the eighties can be that old, surely?
posted by MartinWisse at 12:10 PM on November 22, 2011


But the ... zealousness of Coulton fans probably add something to the equation that doesn't happen to John Cougar, I'm guessing.

you've obviously never been in a group of middle aged women who love john cougar before. coulton at least hasn't had to learn how to dodge granny panties being slingshot up to the stage.
posted by nadawi at 12:12 PM on November 22, 2011


uh, and that "toy guitar" is what most folks call a ukulele. Just sayin'.

I think you're right - for some reason I thought it was a Portuguese cavaquinho (toy guitar), tuned to G-C-E-A... huh.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:15 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


She's got a great voice, but I can feel the psychopathy in the original, not so much in this one.
posted by demiurge at 12:15 PM on November 22, 2011


I'm surprised very little of the Still Alive omni-coverage has moved on to Want You Gone. I think it's a better song.
posted by emmtee at 12:18 PM on November 22, 2011


Agreed - Still Alive is awesome (and maybe it's slightly more general in topic?) but Want You Gone is as good if not better.

(Really what I want is an entire Coulton-written GlaDOS album.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


coulton at least hasn't had to learn how to dodge granny panties being slingshot up to the stage.

No, that would be his Opening Band.
posted by bondcliff at 12:28 PM on November 22, 2011


I still prefer Ellen McLain singing this one; she has the voice and the menace.

Tegan and Sara fans may be interested in the recent CBC Radio 3 Session with them (also available as MP3); recorded live in an intimate space here in their hometown of Calgary. Their stage banter is just fantastic.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:36 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love Tegan and Sara so much and yet... this falls flat, to me. "Nemeses", co-sung with John Roderick of The Long Winters is great though.

As a thing from the 80s who is 30+ years old, trust me, it was in fact that long ago. Alternatively, let me make you feel super old by reminding you that infants from the early 80s are now Thirysomethings.
posted by maryr at 12:39 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread got me curious about whether you can hear Ellen McLain singing the song without the voice modulation, and I found this delightful performance.

McLain doesn't seem to have done as well as Coulton at leveraging "Still Alive" into a more successful music career. And it's too bad. Based on the in-game commentary track, she seems pretty funny. Some hip composer should write an opera for her.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:48 PM on November 22, 2011


i misread that as nemesis and thought tegan&sara or coulton had covered this song and i nearly squee'd right out of my chair! ah well. that's good too, i guess.
posted by nadawi at 12:49 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a game I like to play where I intersperse lines from this song into everyday conversations with my coworkers. Sadly, no one ever seems to notice.

"Hey Bill, fantastic work on that presentation. I was really impressed. It's hard to overstate my satisfaction..."

"Thanks. I think it went well."

"Really good stuff. I know it was a lot of work, but we do what we must because we can, right?"

"You know it. Want to get some lunch?"

"Yeah, I hear they have cake downstairs..."

I secretly hope that one day they discover the song and realize that I've been fucking with them for years. But at this point, I'm guessing I'm the only one who will be in on this one.

Also: I hadn't seen that clip before, but it's good to know that Felicia Day continues to be awesome!
posted by quin at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2011


"Nemeses" , co-sung with John Roderick of The Long Winters is great though.

Oh God that's great.
posted by penduluum at 1:24 PM on November 22, 2011


Oh, God. "Stay Alive" is now firmly lodged in my brain. Thanks a lot, people!
posted by brundlefly at 1:55 PM on November 22, 2011


The intro was so cool and the rest of it was so meh....
posted by azarbayejani at 2:08 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I *would* be here talking more, but I really do have science to do. Frakkin' work.
posted by maryr at 2:19 PM on November 22, 2011


So...this has something to do with some video game?
posted by fightoplankton at 2:45 PM on November 22, 2011


Can we just quit it with the ukulele everything now?

Please.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:56 PM on November 22, 2011


no! sorry.
posted by nadawi at 3:02 PM on November 22, 2011


Want You Gone is as good if not better.

The tune might be better, but the lyrics of "Still Alive" are 30x wittier, funnier, and more quotable:

I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS. I'm being so sincere right now. It's hard to overstate my satisfaction. Look at me still talking when there's Science to do. We do what we must because we can. For the good of all of us. Except the ones who are dead. I'm going to be quoting the entire song if I don't stop here.

There's not a single line in "Want You Gone" that's as good as almost every line in "Still Alive". And the overall flow of the song, the organization of the verses is much better and tighter in "Still Alive." "Want You Gone" just kind of meanders.

I didn't expect Coulton to come up with something as good as "Still Alive" for Portal 2, but I don't think "Want You Gone" is even in the top quartile of his output. I'd say that "Better," "Big Bad World," "Blue Sunny Day," "Chiron Beta Prime," "I Crush Everything," "Re: Your Brains," "The Future Soon," "Curl," "I'm Your Moon," "Skull Crusher Mountain," "Soft Rocked," and "Code Monkey" are all better songs.
posted by straight at 3:34 PM on November 22, 2011


I like "Want you Gone" a lot, but I think it's what "Still Alive" could have been but wasn't - a song about the events of the game. "Still Alive" works on that level, of course - but it also works as a song about a horrible, destructive relationship, sung from the point of view of a self-pitying control freak who is unglued from reality. There's no reference in there that you need to have played Portal to have any idea about (like "she was a lot like you/ maybe not quite as heavy/ now little Caroline is in here too") and all the actions in "Still Alive" work metaphorically as well as literally - "tore me to pieces/ and threw every piece into a fire". GLaDOS is describing what's happened to her, but the emotional language she's using tracks with what physically happened.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:02 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think that's really why it hasn't taken off - Still Alive is just much more general (and the "we're out of beta/we're releasing on time" probably won over every software developer ever, even without any game context.) Want You Gone has a certain emotional resonance that Still Alive doesn't, but only if you played the game and were paying attention to the story.

Both great songs though.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:54 PM on November 22, 2011


The reason I thought of him is that I remember John Mellencamp talking in an interview about how the song itself was totally dead to him

Yeah, song goes on... long after the thrill of singing is gone.
posted by geckoinpdx at 5:37 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn it, MetaFilter. I did not need any more celebrity crushes, and Sara Quin is absolutely adorable.

I was a little disappointed when I Googled her and found out she's gay. Not because there's anything wrong with that, obviously, but because a tiny irrational part of my brain--the dorky crush-processing part that was imagining the two of us meeting for coffee and geeking out for hours about science fiction and music and stuff and then maybe having some PG-rated makeouts--just had its "THIS COULD REALLY HAPPEN SOMEDAY IT COULD TOO SHUT UP SHUT UP YOU GUYS" percentage revised from 0.0002% to 0.0001%.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:47 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


On a completely different adorable note, here's a cover of "Want You Gone" by the talented Jimmy Wong (who posted the best ever response to a racist YouTube video).
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:59 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mr. Bad Example - you realize she's a twin, right? It's just a shame Justin Bieber stole her haircut.
posted by maryr at 7:39 PM on November 22, 2011


So I read the post, and thought "tweetfecta? Dunno what that is, but I like this song, so I'll watch" and then I started watching and was like god this is so twee it's killing me and then I realized, "oh, tweefecta. Right."

Seriously everything about that video was too goddamn precious.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:51 PM on November 22, 2011


a tiny irrational part of my brain--the dorky crush-processing part

In my dream universe, Jonathan Coulton is living with Proud To Be Awesome Emily and they do the Code Monkey dance together every day. This is probably not true but I don't care.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:03 PM on November 22, 2011


Actually, when I got "Artificial Heart" I did not know about "Want You Gone" being from Portal 2, and I found it very easy to parse as a destructive-relationship song. To me, "Still Alive" seems more specific. The cake thing doesn't really make much sense as a stand-alone. "Still Alive" is more quotable and I suppose more zeitgeisty, but they're both really good songs. (And I am not involved with tech stuff at all, but I am *wildly* in love with the lines "Now these points of data make a beautiful line/And we're out of beta, we're releasing on time". Because they are perfect.)

I doubt Mr. Coulton is nearly as sick of "Still Alive" as he is of "Code Monkey" and "Re:Your Brains". He's had to play those for longer now. And if he is sick of doing any of his songs, it didn't show at the two shows I saw a couple of weeks ago where he opened for TMBG. (Who still have to do "Particle Man" but manage to pull it off just fine. Consider how much worse that must be. 21 years now...)
posted by Because at 12:42 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


After reading Because's comment, I listened to the song again, trying to imagine it outside of the context of the game. And yeah, it works pretty well; only a couple lines the second verse would be a little confusing. I'm glad they didn't do the Disney thing and release a radio version with different lyrics.

For me, Carra Mia has more emotional punch in the context of the game than Want You Gone does.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:08 AM on November 23, 2011


For me, Carra Mia has more emotional punch in the context of the game than Want You Gone does.

Well, that's because it's unutterably brilliant in almost every possible way. It's really in a different class - it's the perfect melding of design sensibility, personnel, and commitment to game depth. Unlike the other two songs, it's the sort of thing that could only work as well as it does in a video game - I just adore it.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:14 AM on November 23, 2011


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