Anthem of Dystopian America
April 30, 2014 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Following in the footsteps of other songs switching up minor keys and major keys, Chase Holfelder's Star-Spangled Banner in minor key is particularly haunting.
posted by divabat (75 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
This feels like the new version of sped up punk and covers, but I always enjoyed those, so I'm okay with it.
posted by NoraReed at 12:16 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Damn, that's a national anthem for post-Sept-11th America.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:28 AM on May 1, 2014 [14 favorites]


I am sure, in that itchy back-of-the-mind way, that I've heard the first eight bars or so of an instrumental minor-key Star-Spangled Banner used to extro a political pop song. Ugh, this is going to bug me until I remember where.
posted by gingerest at 12:28 AM on May 1, 2014


I recall once hearing a fantastic minor-key reworking of either the SSB or America the Beautiful (I think it was the latter) by jazz pianist/composer/arranger Carla Bley, but a quick net search turned up nothing. I heard it literally once, and that was about 30 years ago, I think…

Meanwhile, this guy's minor version is for me more appealing than the original, that's for sure. I can't stand that clunky piece of music, never liked it.

I actually wrote, and posted here at Metafilter Music, my very own candidate for replacing that dog of a song, and I'm rather surprised, to tell the truth, that there hasn't been a major groundswell of support for making it the new one. What's it called? Why, The US National Anthem, of course.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:42 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Someone will probably set the next Call of Duty trailer to this, a la Gears of War.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:13 AM on May 1, 2014


Is minor/sad major/happy a cultural phenomena specific to western music?

Has anyone surveyed people that were born deaf and then recieved cochlear implants as to whether minor/sad major/happy obtains?

I know there are issues surrounding cochlear implants and I don't mean to be insensitive and I know as well that the technology is limited - but I'm curious and my searching has yielded only studies that address either neurological or linguistic issues.
posted by vapidave at 1:19 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is minor/sad major/happy a cultural phenomena specific to western music?

There is a relevant Reddit ELI5 on that issue.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:24 AM on May 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Does anyone know if he is using any effects on his voice?

During the parts where he harmonises with himself, it sounds artificial to my ears ?

Interesting rendition of the tune though.
posted by Faintdreams at 3:24 AM on May 1, 2014


Does anyone know if he is using any effects on his voice?

An ocean of reverb, yes. Otherwise, I don't hear anything noticeable. I'd guess he's using compression as well, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:26 AM on May 1, 2014


Yeah, that version turns it from a mediocre song into a very nice, hymn-like tune. Reminds me of the gravitas of the German Reformation chorales.
posted by drlith at 3:36 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Carla Bley did this thirty years ago.
posted by spitbull at 3:43 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


but it's not on the Internet so I guess it didn't really happen.
posted by spitbull at 3:46 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


It must be the day America lost its innocence again.
posted by colie at 3:52 AM on May 1, 2014


As I write this, the first 15 YouTube comments on the video are positive or constructive, which has to be some kind of record. Very cool track, I would have preferred it without so much reverb.
posted by StephenF at 3:53 AM on May 1, 2014


the cynic in me is looking to place a bet that this turns up in the marketing to The Purge movie coming out this summer.
posted by dogwalker at 4:03 AM on May 1, 2014


but it's not on the Internet so I guess it didn't really happen.

As it happens, it is on the internet. Or a clip of it, least. America the Beautiful by the Charile Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, featuring Carla Bley on piano.

It's 17 minutes long.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:04 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


His style took away some of the somberness for me on this. I love the idea, but kept waiting for the bass drop to kick in.

A-AND THE HO-OOO-OME......of the BRAVVVVE .......

OONCET OONCET OONCET!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:35 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Stravinsky's version of the anthem is fascinating.
posted by Bromius at 4:54 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Having watched the second link now about uhm, five times, I can honestly say that I would definitely like to hear full renditions of the following snippets they provided:

Happy - Pharrell (start, and very end)
New York - Alicia keys (1 min 42 sec)
Elanor Rigdy - The Beatles (3.52)
Let it Go From Disney's Frozen (2min 52 in)

The Let it go one in particular is a starkly different song with a key change.

Fascinating.

The Gregory Brothers do have the songs as heard in their video availble as a download to buy, but it's only the snippets, not the full songs unfortunately.

I am guessing that a full Disney cover would be expensive to license, and I think I once read somewhere that Beatles covers are simply impossible to get licensed, but I hope to be happily proven wrong on both counts!
posted by Faintdreams at 5:35 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Up front, I'll admit to not having good ears for this unless it's really, really obvious, but that version of Eleanor Rigby didn't sound all that different to me.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:54 AM on May 1, 2014


I am sure I have heard a similar reworking in some sort of dystopian movie. If not of the Star Spangled Banner, then a comparable patriotic song.

This will drive me crazy all day, trying to remember.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:56 AM on May 1, 2014


Somewhere in Gotham, a football field is collapsing.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:58 AM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


It was better as Anacreon in Heaven anyway.
posted by spaltavian at 6:16 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


The lesson learned today: Changing "The Star Spangled Banner" to a minor key and adding harmonies turns it into a Muse song.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:22 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


[This was good.]
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:27 AM on May 1, 2014


My son's been playing "Ode to Joy" in a minor key lately. It's weird.
posted by emmet at 6:38 AM on May 1, 2014


Does anyone know if he is using any effects on his voice?

If by "any" you mean "such a shitload of processing that the voice is barely recognizable as being his own" then then the answer is yes.
posted by slkinsey at 6:39 AM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


That was great! I loved the SSB in minor, although not being American (or a sports fan) I'm not intimately familiar with the original.

As an aside, is there a name for that pop-music vocal technique where they sort of gasp at the end of the line? He does it at the end of the very first line, but then not quite as much throughout the rest of the song. I loathe it and I want to know a name for it.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:46 AM on May 1, 2014




That sounds more like a Kansas song than any Kansas song ever did.
posted by cccorlew at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2014


I think it's a neat idea, but I couldn't make it more than a few bars in because of his Glee-style pop singing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:01 AM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


I recall once hearing a fantastic minor-key reworking of either the SSB or America the Beautiful (I think it was the latter) by jazz pianist/composer/arranger Carla Bley, but a quick net search turned up nothing. I heard it literally once, and that was about 30 years ago, I think…

As it happens, it is on the internet. Or a clip of it, least. America the Beautiful by the Charile Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, featuring Carla Bley on piano.

OK, I was totally wrong about this. So very wrong. But, I can fix it, I swear.

Here, for reals this time, is the Carla Bley Band doing The Star Spangled Banner Minor (and other patriotic songs)
. In 1977 - just like everyone above said.

It's 19 minutes long. Even longer than the other one!

I thought The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful were the same song. Mea culpa.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:05 AM on May 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


Here, for reals this time, is the Carla Bley Band doing The Star Spangled Banner Minor (and other patriotic songs). In 1977 - just like everyone above said.


Go home, America. You're drunk.

(Seriously, though... that's awesome. Thank you for that.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:07 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Goodness.
I was hoping to love this.
And in fact I did love the melody.
His vocal styling - now, that made it a challenge to get to the end.
posted by entropone at 7:07 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seriously, how does this kind of singing not make you want to smash something?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:09 AM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Having watched the second link now about uhm, five times, I can honestly say that I would definitely like to hear full renditions of the following snippets they provided:

Happy - Pharrell (start, and very end)

Can't help with that, but here's a full length minor remix of Happy, by a French artist, Woodkid.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:16 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


How long till some politically aware pop musician tries this at a sporting event, and would they make it out of the stadium alive? It's got to have some kind of effect on the great unwashed, too, only I bet they wouldn't like it.
posted by ackptui at 7:18 AM on May 1, 2014


On the opposite wavelength, here's a weirdly happy major-key remix of REM's "Losing My Religion".
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:19 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here, for reals this time, is the Carla Bley Band doing The Star Spangled Banner Minor (and other patriotic songs). In 1977 - just like everyone above said.

Now see, this is what's great about Mefi. I make a comment about hearing something 30 years ago, but can't find it on the net, and someone comes along and links to it. Others might make ill-advised and off-the-mark snark, and that might make 'em feel witty or whatever, but others actually find a link and add it to the thread, for the good of everyone. Big thanks to His thoughts were red thoughts. That's my kinda Mefi peoples, right there!

And the tune is as hilarious as I remember it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:28 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've always compared the major/happy:minor/sad (to a Western acclimated ear) to satisfaction:wanting.

For me, there is an internal expectation that a major key fills, as it goes where your ear thinks it should. With minor keys, during the identifying notes which delineate it as a minor key, the note almost makes it, but falls just a half step short (or over). There's an inherent, lacking of completion in it, that fits within the structure of the key perfectly, but not so much with the internal barometer of the ear, creating a mood of disharmony and disappointment.

This is also why I think progressions similar Pachabel's Canon are so prevalent (in completion and in variation). I think that, for many people, it is the "perfect" progression because it meets some weird hardwired aural expectation/satisfaction matrix.

Some people prefer Minor keys, though... but I like the Ramones. 1/4/5 anyone?
posted by Debaser626 at 7:45 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I like the Ramones. 1/4/5 anyone?

Hey come on there's the occasional 6-minor in there every coupla songs.
posted by entropone at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2014


The tonal history of the American National Anthem

1914: Major key ("The Star Spangled Banner")
2014: Minor key ("The, like, Star Spangled Banner, I guess")
2114: Locrian mode ("Th Sta Spangle Banne")
2214: Whole-tone scale ("The Sta rSp ang led Ban ner")
2314: 12-tone system ("t h e s t a r s p a n g l e d b a n n e r")
2414: Arabic maqam ("Al najmah al bandera")
2514: Partch's 43-tone scale ("tthheessttaarrssppaanngglleeddbbaannnneerr")
2614: Pentatonic scale ("Shamus O'Toole's Lucky Banner o' the Leprechauns")
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2014 [11 favorites]


the quidnunc kid , you left one out…

1933: Delta Blues/blues scale ("Woke up this mornin', my Star Spangled Banner was gone…")
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:03 AM on May 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


My name is Hal Carter and I've lived the last 75 years in Michigan . . .

As we stand here way ting
For the ball game to start
Let's give thaaaanks for our homes
And our two car ga radge ez.

Let's give thanks for tee vee . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 8:10 AM on May 1, 2014


My name is Hal Carter and I've lived the last 75 years in Michigan . . .

Hmmph. The version I've found on YouTube leaves that part out. Best part of the routine!
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2014


2015: The Emoji-Spangled Banner ROTFLOL
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Neat idea, bleh execution. Just sing like a normal human.
posted by codswallop at 8:45 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Damn, that's a national anthem for post-Sept-11th America.

How long till some politically aware pop musician tries this at a sporting event, and would they make it out of the stadium alive? It's got to have some kind of effect on the great unwashed, too, only I bet they wouldn't like it.


It's weird to see people who hear this as somehow subversive. To me it sounds way more jingoistic and "gosh isn't America noble?" than the major version. I'd guess most red-state patriots would get a tear in their eye and cheer if someone sang it this way at a sporting event. (Although I'm sure Fox News would complain, because that's how they make their money.)
posted by straight at 9:06 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Requires picadilly third at the end there to maximize awesomeness. Actually, if I were emperor, every minor song would end in a major chord, under threat of prison.
posted by joecacti at 9:10 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


When it comes to jazzified iconic American songs, I prefer Woody Herman's funked-up version of Fanfare for the Common Man.
posted by ericbop at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2014


I was hoping for a nice piano demo and got a cringeworthy X Factor audition.
posted by Flexagon at 9:53 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's weird to see people who hear this as somehow subversive. To me it sounds way more jingoistic and "gosh isn't America noble?" than the major version. I'd guess most red-state patriots would get a tear in their eye and cheer if someone sang it this way at a sporting event. (Although I'm sure Fox News would complain, because that's how they make their money.)

Red-staters would first shit a pill then try to Beatdown the offender. Because 'Murrica is the greatest, most ass-kicking, freest place on God's Earth, and switching to a minor key is like hanging your head in defeat. It's fucking UNAMERICAN because the national anthem is supposed to be like a power-up, a summons to greatness and victory that is America.

Minor-key songs are for when we need to be reminded that we're vulnerable and surrounded by enemies who want to kill us and destroy our way of life. Therefore, national security state.

Invulnerable, righteous, ass-kicking America, major key.

Seriously, to me the switch to the minor key doesn't in the least bit convey our nations nobility.

It says "Land of the free, home of the brave. These are the words we sing, but look around us, and across the Globe, and see what we have become."

The crux is not merely the key, but the switch from major to minor. By introducing the minor key into what once was major, it says
These lyrics are kind of ash in my mouth.

There was a time when the NAZIS wanted to surrender to us rather than the Soviets because surrendering to a US soldier meant you'd be treated well. There was a time when we built things, created a middle class, and actually aspired to nobility.

Today, surrendering to a US soldier means water boarding and Abu Ghraib, if not getting outright shot. The middle class has taken a boot to the soft-bits, all we seem to make today are video games and guns, our infrastructure is collapsing, the Banksters and the Finance Class seem to be raking it in like it's the 80s again, and how many people do you personally know who are out of work/a home?
It's the context of changing the key that is the subversive act that will have Fox-News-watchers looking to tear the singer a new one for talking shit about the greatest, bestest, Ted Nugent of a country that ever spread freedom and blue jeans to the World.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:58 AM on May 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


I was hoping for something more Laibach-y.
posted by sourwookie at 10:08 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


(and now this is extra sad for me because the Diversity Lottery status check opened this morning and I didn't get through and waaah)
posted by divabat at 10:19 AM on May 1, 2014


2714: Tyrantulic Counter-Chromatic Scale ("All Glory To Emperor Tchk'Trr Arr of Tyrantulis IX", formerly "The Star Spangled Banner").
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:06 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


the greatest, bestest, Ted Nugent of a country that ever spread freedom and blue jeans to the World.


Yeah, you want the Madison Rising version (in 4/4 time for some reason).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:10 AM on May 1, 2014


Requires picadilly third at the end there to maximize awesomeness. Actually, if I were emperor, every minor song would end in a major chord, under threat of prison.

Heh, "Picadilly Third" has a nice ring to it, but I believe you're thinking of the Picardy Third ("Tierce de Picardie" for extra pretentiousness.)

Does anyone know if he is using any effects on his voice?

During the parts where he harmonises with himself, it sounds artificial to my ears ?


There's some reverb, which is very noticeable because the track is a cappella (and also because you're watching him sing in a small room which obviously doesn't match the space that the reverb suggests).

It also sounds like there's a subtle delay that you can hear on some of the more prominent consonants. There's definitely compression to make all the notes even in volume and probably some some EQ to bring out a little sheen in the vocal. He probably should've used a pop filter or cut some more of the lows, since you can hear some plosives sticking out.

When the harmonies come in, there's a reverse echo as they enter, i.e. a reverb tail that precedes the first note instead of following it, which is a classic "ghostly" effect. The backing vocals sound heavily filtered with EQ to keep them out of the way of the lead vocal and give them an airy, haunting sound. On "still there" there's a different, even heavier EQ effect where the high frequencies are cut, combined with a volume swell.

And while I didn't hear any really obvious artifacts, the whole thing sounds pitch-corrected to me. But maybe he's just got really great pitch.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:16 AM on May 1, 2014


That was surprisingly beautiful, and had me laughing through the goosebumps; I can't wait to share it with my partner who, when I was poohpoohing the whole idea of minor key versions of upbeat songs some years ago, promptly unshipped her old Martin and treated me to a minor key rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song" I haven't been able to get out of my head since.
posted by jamjam at 12:43 PM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It says "Land of the free, home of the brave. These are the words we sing, but look around us, and across the Globe, and see what we have become."

My point is that those connotations you have regarding major and minor keys are by no means universal, not even within the USA.

It probably depends more on who does it than how it sounds. If Cheryl Crow or the Dixie Chicks sang it this way, it would probably be more likely to be received with the kind of irony you're hearing. (But then some conservatives would claim to hear disrespect no matter how straightforward and triumphantly they sang it.) But you get Taylor Swift to sing it this way over a slide show of American soldiers and you'll get all the conservatives to nod their heads and mutter about how freedom isn't free.
posted by straight at 1:47 PM on May 1, 2014


One of my favorite major --> minor shifts is Bruce Cockburn's version of the Christmas carol "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".
posted by straight at 1:54 PM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


[major pedantry alert:] I only sort-of listened once through, but he's not thorough in his conversion to minor mode: his sixth scale degrees are inconsistently altered, and that made it sound kind of Frankensteiny to me.

Also, FWIW, there is some research that indicates it is not that major 3rd = happy and minor third = sad*, but rather it's the upper third of a triad that more strongly communicates affect...so, when we hear a minor chord as "sad," it's because the upper third of the pair of thirds in the triad is bigger (major), rather than the constriction of the lower pair of thirds.

*-for the non-jargon speakers, a major third is four half-steps in pitch distance; a minor third is three.

posted by LooseFilter at 3:09 PM on May 1, 2014


Apropos cultural differences:
There is a joke on the classic Jan Johansson record "Jazz på Svenska" that Swedes can never decide wether they want to play in minor or major. But as the festivity grows to major, the songs turn to minor.
Case in point
posted by mumimor at 3:33 PM on May 1, 2014


Here is an actual track from "Jazz på Svenska"
posted by mumimor at 3:40 PM on May 1, 2014


These are always fun, and it really would be perfect in an overwrought ad or film.

I like doing this with kid's songs — "That Doggie in the Window" comes across as particularly arch.
posted by lucidium at 4:53 PM on May 1, 2014


So was Sheryl Crow's excellent version of Begin the Beguine from Delovely a minor shift, or has everybody from Artie Shaw on down been doing a major shift?
posted by ProxybyMunchausen at 6:34 PM on May 1, 2014


Serious question: I'm thinking of making a video to this song depicting current US events that make it look like the US is a dystopia. Some ideas include Cece McDonald and the various other trans women of colour killed or jailed for existing, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, various wars, drones, Occupy protests, Trayvon Martin and Stand Your Ground laws. I'm sure there's others I'm missing.

What else should be in there? 9/11 seems like an easy enough answer, but I'd like to highlight things the general public doesn't necessarily know about.
posted by divabat at 6:38 PM on May 1, 2014


What else should be in there? 9/11 seems like an easy enough answer, but I'd like to highlight things the general public doesn't necessarily know about.

Violence directed at abortion clinics and doctors?

Urban blight in Detroit?

Various unjustified police violence?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:04 PM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Insane mobs of shoppers fighting over toasters and blenders at Target and WalMart?

Oil pipeline ruptures turning whole neighborhoods into toxic sludge wastelands?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:09 PM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fracking making public water supplies flammable?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:35 PM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


An image of a Senator and Representative turning on taps to pipelines of unlimited money to the banks.

An image of the Supreme Court doing the same for politic/ians.

More concretely, images of The Patriot Act being passed and then signed into law, and Hurricane Katrina/N.O. ten years on.

If you make this video and the vox are warmerfolkiergrittier I dunno. I might cry.

Thanks for this post, layers of awesome!
posted by riverlife at 10:12 PM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Forgive please. O vanity!

Metafilter: I dunno. I might cry.
posted by riverlife at 10:14 PM on May 1, 2014




The Glee/American Idol-ness of his style really doesn't jibe with the sad/creepy minor effect he was going for. Although, granted, a future America in which everyone sings in that grating self-conscious pop way would be pretty dystopian.

That reminds me of a brilliant idea my friend and I had the other day- zombie boy bands. Mumble mumble commentary on America's lost innocence and commercialization something something. Also, zombie boy bands, come on! If it hasn't been done, it needs to be.
posted by quincunx at 8:08 AM on May 2, 2014


a future America in which everyone sings in that grating self-conscious pop way would be pretty dystopian.

I think enough young people sing in that grating self-conscious pop way to say that we've reached dystopia.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:05 AM on May 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Serious question: I'm thinking of making a video to this song depicting current US events that make it look like the US is a dystopia. Some ideas include Cece McDonald and the various other trans women of colour killed or jailed for existing, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, various wars, drones, Occupy protests, Trayvon Martin and Stand Your Ground laws. I'm sure there's others I'm missing.

Cecily McMillan.
posted by homunculus at 5:53 PM on May 5, 2014


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