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Empty Orchestra: Karaoke’s Plastic, Parasitical Echoes

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Abstract:

The 1980s is the Plasticine era. We hear plastic in its synthesized pop melodies with longer shelf-lives than we ever could have imagined. After all, this was the infamous “Teflon president,” Ronald Reagan’s reign, when we became accustomed to the material and speculative excesses plastic of the pocket-sized variety afforded in an ever-increasing debt economy. From Duran Duran, windblown and dashing in Antony Price suits carousing on catamarans in the azure waters of Belize (no resemblance to the Rio Grande and its murky border crossings), to the meteoric rise of a material girl manufactured for a material world, to Cyndi Lauper’s bedazzled yawp reminding us that, yes, “Money Changes Everything,” the music from that moment when we got money for nothing and our chicks for free on our MTV, offered instructional moments about avarice, envy and the many other deadly sins with which we now have to reckon—what comes after you want it all and get it all, and grabbing hands grabbed all they could. As Rob Sheffield writes in Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, “There is something inherently karaoke-like about the 80s musical style—the overproduced drums, the beer-commercial sax solos, the keytars, the leather-lung vocal melodrama. Eighties songs do not belong to the singer…. They don’t sound like a person expressing a feeling—they sound like a gigantic sound machine blowing up this feeling to self-parodic heights…. Eighties songs sound like they’re karaoke ready.”

This paper revisits the global phenomenon of karaoke in order to reevaluate prevailing paradigms of originality, imitation, and “indebtedness” in aesthetics, critical theory, and media economies. Though the conceptual origins of karaoke are largely apocryphal, and have been linked by journalists, enthusiasts and scholars to folk forms of group-singing and sing-along entertainments across a wide historical span from medieval Europe, to Anglo-American Vaudeville, to post-World-War-II Japan (from which the name of the activity is derived), the precise origins of the first karaoke machine came to be known in 1996, when a Singaporean television station tracked down its inventor, an unassuming Japanese philanthropist and former lounge musician, Daisuke Inoue. The project will begin with a brief account of the form’s “machinic” invention through Inoue and subsequent innovators, before considering how an aesthetic and social practice built upon a debt that cannot possibly be repaid—built on “copying,” or rehearsing the same set of forms and repertoires over and over again—might actually teach us something new about how we make and understand art, and inflate the value of “originality” in a speculative, post-digital world.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657028_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Tongson, Karen. "Empty Orchestra: Karaoke’s Plastic, Parasitical Echoes" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657028_index.html>

APA Citation:

Tongson, K. "Empty Orchestra: Karaoke’s Plastic, Parasitical Echoes" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657028_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: The 1980s is the Plasticine era. We hear plastic in its synthesized pop melodies with longer shelf-lives than we ever could have imagined. After all, this was the infamous “Teflon president,” Ronald Reagan’s reign, when we became accustomed to the material and speculative excesses plastic of the pocket-sized variety afforded in an ever-increasing debt economy. From Duran Duran, windblown and dashing in Antony Price suits carousing on catamarans in the azure waters of Belize (no resemblance to the Rio Grande and its murky border crossings), to the meteoric rise of a material girl manufactured for a material world, to Cyndi Lauper’s bedazzled yawp reminding us that, yes, “Money Changes Everything,” the music from that moment when we got money for nothing and our chicks for free on our MTV, offered instructional moments about avarice, envy and the many other deadly sins with which we now have to reckon—what comes after you want it all and get it all, and grabbing hands grabbed all they could. As Rob Sheffield writes in Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, “There is something inherently karaoke-like about the 80s musical style—the overproduced drums, the beer-commercial sax solos, the keytars, the leather-lung vocal melodrama. Eighties songs do not belong to the singer…. They don’t sound like a person expressing a feeling—they sound like a gigantic sound machine blowing up this feeling to self-parodic heights…. Eighties songs sound like they’re karaoke ready.”

This paper revisits the global phenomenon of karaoke in order to reevaluate prevailing paradigms of originality, imitation, and “indebtedness” in aesthetics, critical theory, and media economies. Though the conceptual origins of karaoke are largely apocryphal, and have been linked by journalists, enthusiasts and scholars to folk forms of group-singing and sing-along entertainments across a wide historical span from medieval Europe, to Anglo-American Vaudeville, to post-World-War-II Japan (from which the name of the activity is derived), the precise origins of the first karaoke machine came to be known in 1996, when a Singaporean television station tracked down its inventor, an unassuming Japanese philanthropist and former lounge musician, Daisuke Inoue. The project will begin with a brief account of the form’s “machinic” invention through Inoue and subsequent innovators, before considering how an aesthetic and social practice built upon a debt that cannot possibly be repaid—built on “copying,” or rehearsing the same set of forms and repertoires over and over again—might actually teach us something new about how we make and understand art, and inflate the value of “originality” in a speculative, post-digital world.


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