Month: May 2012

Tough decision

Peter wasn’t the most eclectic person, especially when the subject was musical styles. So it was a surprise for him when the alien that had landed in his livingroom (over all other places on Earth) started telling him that they were going to erase from the minds of all people, any memory of the best songs of every band that has performed on Earth.

This was an odd domination plan, to be honest, it looked more like some intergalactic prank, but hey, they’re aliens, right? You can never predict what aliens will do to your planet until they finally arrive and do, well, whatever they do when they arrive on new planets. And this was no exception.

According to the little alien, that was the first time that anyone from his species had landed on Earth and it was his duty to initiate Earthlings into the galactic customs. Peter tried to argue that Earth was on this very galaxy and that is not part of our customs, but the little alien did not reconsider. After all, it’s not like Earth is a central planet or anything.

The more Peter tried to argue, the more he was convinced that the alien was not fooling around. He was actually quite serious, stating that this is the norm for the initiation of any planet into the galactic fellowship, something that all other planets had done, too. There was no escape. The little guy got into his spaceship (or whatever that was, it didn’t look like it could fly in space but Peter was no rocket scientist), and disappear in mid-air, just as quickly and mysteriously as he had shown up.

There was one last thought that Peter should consider until the next morning (GMT), and it was that a single human could stop the initiation ceremony by killing himself. It was like an escape clause in the galactic contract. Either one being sacrifices himself (not killed by others) in the name of the fellowship, or all humans would have the best songs of all bands erased from memory. Forever.

Peter put the kettle on and sat on the dirty sofa of his small London flat. Was that a dream? Nope, he was well awaken, as proved by watching Rupert Murdoch on the telly. He was not drunk or intoxicated, so that shouldn’t be it, either. The kettle popped. He got up to get the tea bag and saw a business card laying on the kitchen sink, written: “You have until midnight of today, Peter. To kill yourself in the name of the Fellowship, tear this card in half.” Ok, now that was the confirmation he was waiting for. It was definitely not a dream.

But what is the problem with it? They’re not erasing all songs, just a few. The best ones, yes, but according to which criteria? For him, Bohemian Rhapsody, Lazy and War Pigs were the greatest songs ever, but there were people that liked Abba, and Beatles and, even those that did like Queen, could prefer Under Pressure instead. How is that even possible to choose? Peter put the tea bag in the cup and poured water in it. The vapour lifted the bitter smell of green tea, that would have to brew for a few more minutes until perfect.

Ok, so they can get the average of all favourite songs, or maybe a top500 list and remove duplicate songs per band. But that still doesn’t have all songs of all bands. They must have a way to traverse all songs in history, including those that were never recorded by humans. But how can they judge quality on them if no one knows they exist? So, they must have a different way to measure quality, an algorithm to judge by rhythm and choice of instruments and scales. Something that can be applied to virtually any audio signal to analyse the quality to a given set of standards, human standards. They must also understand perfectly the auditory system in humans, and human emotions, to know precisely what is good and what is just ok.

In that case, it doesn’t matter what he did like, but it was songs that were practically and theoretically good, no, the best! Wow, that changed things to a whole new level. All the songs he liked were just a handful, but all good songs, ever? That’s a different story. Erasing all good songs is much worse than erasing a single band from history, now matter how good this band is. It’s erasing everything that is good, and keeping a mediocre culture, it’s reducing the cultural richness of humanity to what shows on television or youtube. It’s making a sad world even sadder!

That is something he could not allow to happen! In his own mind, he was now beginning to believe of himself the same he though about the greatest band in the world. It’s better to lose the best band, than the best song of all bands, and him, well, it was better to lose him, even for himself, than to plunger humanity to even lower standards than today!

Peter looked at the tea cup, it was ready. The last green tea he’d ever have. He threw the bag in the sink and gave it a good sip. Burnt his tongue a bit, but no worries, that tongue wouldn’t care in a few minutes anyway. Got the card, and sat at the sofa, with the tea cup in one hand and the card in another. One more sip. This one was perfect, no burning. He put the cup away, held the card with his two hands and started ripping it apart, very slowly. Hearing the sound if it was making his hart stop, or at least beat slower. Much slower.

When suddenly it hit him. No, not death, Lady Gaga.

With the quality TV is these days, Murdoch and Lady Gaga is pretty much all you see without cable, and she was in all her glory (or whatever that is) on the screen. Peter had a revelation. Since the only way to precisely define what is good music is through a set of experiments outside the human mind, based on auditory and emotional systems, as well as the components that music is built from, it was, therefore, impossible to find a good song from Lady Gaga. QED.

Not just Lady Gada, mind you, a lot of what has been produced lately, pushed by the media companies including television. There was so much rubbish in the arts that it’d be impossible to find good music in more than half of what was produced in the last 3 decades! And, to not ignore alternative science, if they consider opinions, there would be a lot of songs that people wouldn’t even know exist.

The card was half-ripped, his tea was still warm. He put the card back where he got it from, sat on the sofa and finished his tea with the knowledge that, whatever that was, dream or bad trip, it was over. When he finished his tea it was Paris Hilton on the telly, doing something stupid, as usual. Peter felt somehow good watching that, knowing that those girls have saved humanity’s art history!