Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Man Machine Music
October 15, 2012 3:12 PM   Subscribe

A brief history of cyborgs, superhumans and robots in pop music
posted by Artw (45 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Styx's "Mr. Roboto" is not mentioned.

This is surely a grave error of some kind.
posted by Egg Shen at 3:19 PM on October 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Do not forget Rockit.
posted by hanoixan at 3:20 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


/has performed karaoke duet of said song with fellow Mefite.
posted by Artw at 3:20 PM on October 15, 2012


No Flaming Lips, either. I call shenanigans.
posted by KGMoney at 3:20 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Styx's "Mr. Roboto" is not mentioned.

This is surely a grave error of some kind.


Or as I heard it said back in the day, if someone could quantify how bad this song is, the Apocalypse would happen, Satan would be vanquished, the Lord's dominion would be established on earth.
posted by philip-random at 3:28 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where's Janelle Monae? She wrote a damn album trilogy (OK, two EPs with an album in between, but still) inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

And he mentions industrial and industrial metal, but no mention of either Front Line Assembly or Fear Factory, both bands heavily influenced and inspired by the ideas of robots turning against their masters (they're like musical versions of the "future" scenes in the Terminator films).

In other words, it's a nice essay BUT HE LEFT OUT SOME OF MY FAVORITES.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


I KNEW IT I KNEW THEY WOULD OVERLOOK JANELLE MONAE

now i am grumpy
posted by elizardbits at 3:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


hissssss
posted by elizardbits at 3:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


No Max Headroom?
posted by yellowcandy at 3:38 PM on October 15, 2012


Uncanny valley? Lou Reed's got your uncanny valley right here.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:38 PM on October 15, 2012


What about the whole damn soundtrack that Giorgio Moroder wrote for Metropolis, featuring (among others) Billy Squier. Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, Adam Ant, and Queen?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:48 PM on October 15, 2012


Where's Janelle Monae?

I came in here to shout this.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nice to see Gary Numan on there! Living Ornaments '81 [full album on youtube!] is still one of robotkind's greatest achievements.
posted by vorfeed at 3:53 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


01010000 01110010 01100101 01110110 01101001 01101111 01110101 01110011 01101100 01111001
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:56 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I came in here to shout this.

If you get some synthesizers and a drum machine and all shout rhythmically at different times, you could record a single! Then will come the sunglasses and haircuts!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


here, put on this boiler suit.
posted by elizardbits at 4:08 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I immediate Ctrl-F'd for Gary Numan and, like vorfeed, was not disappointed.

The rest of you youngsters may take your leave of my tended plot of grass.
posted by scody at 4:12 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's meant more for robots, in the future when robots have killed all humans. That's a market we're trying to break into.
posted by maxwelton at 4:16 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is the distant future: the year TWO THOUSAND...
posted by ShutterBun at 4:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, hey, thank you for reminding me of O Superman, a song that has scared the crap out of me every time I hear it since I first heard it on USA's Night Flight when I was 12.

(I do love the song to bits but yeeesh does it hit all the right buttons for a truly unsettling piece.)
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:45 PM on October 15, 2012


So you think I'm alone

But being alone's the only way to be
posted by Sokka shot first at 4:48 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


While we're talking about Janelle Monaé, can I get a ruling on whether she got the opening vocal riff for Many Moons from Sesame Street?

Because if so: Yes.
posted by Sokka shot first at 4:53 PM on October 15, 2012


Yay, Kraftwerk!

I always have wondered if the thing about robots for KW didn't evolve from a somewhat insulting review they got once in '73, where this UK reviewer who saw them live pre-Autobahn said they were like "showroom dummies" on stage.

It wouldn't take much for clever uni-educated guys like them to make the intellectual leap to "robots" a few years and a bunch of club visits later, especially since they were already primarily using synths in their music.

Plus, that guy really should've posted this. Dieses Lied ist so viel besser in der deutschen.
posted by droplet at 4:59 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like some kind of mechanized device built for copulation with the ladies!
posted by sendai sleep master at 5:09 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


No mention of GLC's "Half Man Half Machine"? Bullshit.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:15 PM on October 15, 2012


Apparently, the author's research--a YouTube search for 'cyborg'--didn't catch the variant 'Sy Borg' and thusly failed to include a tantalizing tune featuring the XQJ-37 Nuclear Powered Pan-Sexual Roto-Plooker.
posted by prinado at 5:22 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Alan Parsnips Project's 'I, Robot' was teased by Creem Magazine as "having the profundity of Issac Asimov", but I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You has a rather nice snappy disco beat.
posted by ovvl at 5:31 PM on October 15, 2012


Yeah, young person writing for other young people who expect a litany of names that show up in every writeup like this: Kraftwerk, Devo, Gary Numan, and… Laurie Anderson? "O, Superman" isn't about robots at all.

Maybe he's never heard I Love You, Miss Robot by the Buggles, because "Video Killed the Radio Star" was their only song ever.
posted by Nomyte at 5:40 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's hoping they mention They Might Be Giants Become a Robot

(Clang, Clang) Whoops, too late!
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:49 PM on October 15, 2012


The last line of the article: "Perhaps if you can think of anyone essential I have missed, you could add a comment below."

boy howdy
posted by moorooka at 6:03 PM on October 15, 2012


seriously, I was so excited when I saw this post because JANELLE MONAE!!!1!11

then
This world should have an honourable mention here with artists such as Sun Ra, Funkadelic/Parliament and Antipop Consortium among others considered to be Afrofuturists, making unique and compelling work. The common theme running through these artists is an assumption of an alien persona, or music with a sci-fi/ futuristic bent. Rammellzee, however, is one of the only artists referred to under this banner who explicitly weaves in a robotic aesthetic, at least in such a complex and dense way.
AARRGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! was this written five years ago or something? how do you write a paragraph like that and just overlook the exact damn very living pinnacle of the genre?
posted by moorooka at 6:16 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


No Alan Parson's? I call bunk on this!
posted by sourwookie at 6:16 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, no Styx?

Domo arigato for nuthin'.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:17 PM on October 15, 2012


Weebl, Sexy Robots.
posted by Nomyte at 6:55 PM on October 15, 2012


I can forgive him for missing Fear Factory (who basically write songs about the Terminator) and the Berzerker, since he did specify pop music. However, it does seem kind of weird to skip entire genres of music about robots (industrial et al). I recommend Author and Punisher for serious man/machine music.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:13 PM on October 15, 2012


I've got some news for you - Fembots have feelings too.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 7:31 PM on October 15, 2012


...OK Computer?
...The Sophtware Slump?
No?
posted by not_on_display at 9:09 PM on October 15, 2012


Foetus Uber Frisco: Finely Honed Machine
posted by the bricabrac man at 1:34 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


MSTPT: if you think O Superman is bad, I suggest avoiding "From The Air", also from the same time period.
posted by mephron at 3:40 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once again, metafilter is tuned into my psychedelic brain channel, as I've been in a deep blue funk of late and turned to Janelle Monáe in the way I once turned to The B-52's when I was coming out, when hearing someone sing "If you're in outer space, don't feel out of place, because there are thousands of others like you [others like you]" was a magnificent bulwark against the desolation of loneliness. When Ms. Monae sings "I'm trying to find my peace - I was made to believe there's something wrong with me," it is like divine brain chemistry, with the right molecules on the right receptors at the right moment to make it all right that things are not all right, and may not be so for some time.

I was a robot as a child.

I was meant to be a team player, and my guidance counselor would sit me down and look at me with a grave, thoughtful look, and say "Look, Joe—maybe you should think of school, or life, even, as a game. There are rules you can play by that will make things easier and you can set goals and accomplishments as a part of the play."

I thought this was stupid, largely because I have always thought sports metaphors are as stupid as a gym teacher's most shambling, hackneyed wisdom, but primarily because accepting the sports metaphor meant accepting the possibility that life, too, picked me last, and only then because I was the lone gangly kid standing in the line of humiliation to the bitter end.

"Well, I'll give you guys a bonus point 'cause you're stuck with Wall," said beloved gym teacher Kevin Kelly of Hammond Middle School, not to be specific or anything, and that was that.

As for me, I was not going to think of life as a game. I'd read far too much glorious alienating golden age science fiction by then, and I had an even better idea.

I am not like you. I am an adventurous robot, sent by unseen forces to observe.

It didn't improve my grades, or my academic outlook. I was still the last one picked for any team. I was still bullied, often with particular brutality and cruelty, but being a robot has advantages.

You cannot hurt me. I do not feel. I cannot be shamed.

Sticks and stones merely clang against my duralumin substructure.

One day, everyone like you will be moldering in the earth, and I will abide
.

Asimov taught me well.

I had a Craig model 2603 cassette recorder with a stickshift control and a genuine leatherette carrying case, and I cultivated my love of the cold and the robotic. I transcribed Wendy Carlos and Kraftwerk from my sister's record collection, holding the recorder to a big Advent speaker to make primitive mix tapes, and added in tweedly space music from Klaus Schulze and the repeating mathematics of Glass. Oddly, I also lurched into the territory of funk in this way, too, listening to WOOK FM - Your OKAY 100 and finding science fiction wonderlands almost incomprehensible to a small town white kid in the trippy blowouts of Parliament/Funkadelic. Synthesizers were the future, and were the music of well-informed robots, and guitars were the tools of the laughably old fashioned.

I'd tune into the future on my Craig, with a little white cord tied into the little white nipple of a malaise-era earphone. Around this time, the world of the original Hitchhiker's Guide opened up around me like a gateway twisted out of nothingness by my radio, and as much as I thought maybe I was Arthur Dent, or styled myself as Ford Prefect (to the point of telling my classmates that my name was Ford, not Joe, in my first day in high school, but that's a whole other tale), I felt like Marvin—colossally sad, put-upon, and hopeless.

As luck would have it, I had one of the few surviving flying buildings in Ringworld at my disposal, too. I'd sling my Craig over my shoulder with its accessory leatherette strap, tuck a Bradbury in my back pocket, climb onto the railing of the back porch, then scrabble onto the low roof over the utility room, climb on top of the cast iron pipe for the sewer vent, then carefully sling myself up into the V where gables met. The real world would fade, and the jumble of gables and angles would become a floating refuge, watched over by the sentries of chimneys topped with swiveling galvanized helmets that kept the rain out of the Franklin stove and furnace and directed the smoke into the easy flow of the wind.

The ground around me would recede, the troubles would drift off, and I would be there, alone—a robot perched in the rooftops over a strange, old world, with the tinny soundtrack of my tapes and all that Bradbury could accomplish with his lurid and sensual use of adjectives.

I may be the last of my kind, or maybe one day a spaceship will bring another lowercase n.

Everything is so far away. I need nothing more than what I am, my music, and my stories.

My mission is to watch, to learn, and to keep notes. This is my program. I do it well.


In the same way superheroes live, with a twinkle in the eye, unnoticed by all, that sums up their otherness, being a robot was my secret identity. I knew, on one level, that it was not real, and that it was just a game to keep the mind sharp whilst one is imprisoned in the same way that I survived church by staring into the overhead lights until a blue afterimage was seared into my retinas, then guiding it around the sanctuary to touch every head and jab at the groin of the choir director.

It's just—well, the sports metaphor doesn't work for me because sports metaphors are as stupid as a gym teacher's most shambling, hackneyed wisdom, but making my life into a B-movie with rockets dangling from strings, with exhaust going up despite our being in space, and screeching rubber Japanese monsters terrorizing space stations and the cool wonderland of our lost moon starring Catherine Schell as me seemed to fill the void. In the future, I can be as calm and flat as the acting of Barbara Bain. I can be a robot. Robots don't hurt and robots don't cry. Robots outlive their tormentors with patience.

"Now look, Joebie—your books are on the floor! Aren't you gonna pick 'em up?"

OBSERVE: SUBJECT IS USING SIMULATED CONCERN TO PROVOKE THIS UNIT
ACTION: GATHER BOOKS

OBSERVE: SUBJECT IS KICKING BOOKS AWAY

"Oh, you can't pick 'em up? Why can't you pick 'em up?"

OBSERVE: SUBJECT HAS KICKED SOCIAL STUDIES BOOK TO END OF CORRIDOR
ACTION: SHUT DOWN. NO ACTION POSSIBLE

I stood there, still as a statue, with eyes as dead and empty as the eyes of a porcelain doll. Joey Decker pranced around me, looking for a larger audience, and kicked my books around the corridor. He sneered and laughed at his dimestore grand guignol, casting out his net.

"You're not funny, Joey Decker," said Tracy Day, my usual savior in these moments. She was my best classmate in Special Education, and the lone one who seemed to get me. Not that I was fond, or anything, because robots don't have feelings. We don't have time for your human emotions.

"Look, Joebie, your retarded girlfriend is here to save you! Nice job, 'tard."

OBSERVE: SUBJECT HAS LOST INTEREST. SHUT DOWN SUCCESSFUL
ACTION: RETURN TO ACTION. GATHER BOOKS. WALK WITH TRACY DAY

"That boy's 'flicted," Tracy said, handing me the last book.

On days like those, once the school bus had lumbered back to Scaggsville, I would climb onto the roof with my talisman in my pocket, an R5-D4 action figure with a sticker worn away until he looked like a trash can with a robot head, put my best robot music into my Craig, and dance wildly on the roof to "Jocko Homo" until my father's silver and purple Suburban would turn into our driveway.

Back on Earth, familiar conversations would unfold.

"The boy's on the roof again, Jane."

"Oh, I know. He must have had a good day—he's been thumping around up there for hours. I wish his batteries would run down, though. Jenny's nowhere to be found and I need him to go check on the nest boxes."

"Your kid's a piece of work."

"He's my kid now? Should I get him down from there before he falls off?"

"Let him work it out. He's like a damn mountain goat up there."

This, of course, was not true. I was a robot. Robots are naturally dextrous.

As it happened, just when robot music was getting really, really good, my sister brought home a new album, and my days as an observational automaton were pretty much over, because all I was ever looking for was another open door.

I did get to live in the future, though, and here I am.
posted by sonascope at 5:45 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Very original concept for an exhibition ... a thread of pop that's rarely explored.

At the other pole, music for the untermensch, this recent article on Clockwork Orange is apropos.

On Metropolis, here's a fine page on Gottfried Huppertz, composer of the original score. Robots are usually dated to Capek's 1920s RUR, but I've a hunch pop has more than one something else earlier out there somewhere.
posted by Twang at 7:01 AM on October 16, 2012


I think sonascope is MeFi's official hug capacitor.
posted by Nomyte at 9:25 AM on October 16, 2012


You'd think a simple Google search might have brought this one up: the original Ultravox. Accept no Midge Ure imitations.
posted by Prince Lazy I at 11:18 AM on October 16, 2012


Never trust robots.

Or the mad-scientists who create and arm them.

I am starting to wonder if I'm honestly, real-world robophobic or just kinda ha-ha about it.

Because I watch those "mobs executing the robots in the street" scenes in the Animatrix and there's a little voice in the back of my head
"Well, duh. Of course that's what happens. If my choice is monkey vs robot, I vote monkey and I vote with a hooligan bar".
The Prototype? Hunt that thing the fuck down and start pissing on some spark-plugs. And while you're at it, slap some heavy, drag-the-bottom-of-the-lake magnets on its noggin for good measure while transporting it to the closest industrial robot-and/or-cyborg-crushing press.

I'm honestly starting to wonder.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:54 PM on October 16, 2012


No mention of Simon & Garfunkel? What the frack?
posted by homunculus at 5:53 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older Jay Mark Johnson takes two dimensional photographs...  |  You can accurately judge a per... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments