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Thursday, May 31, 2007

the accordion crossover

Recently, pop culture has heard, whether they've known it or not, a major up swing in the usage of the accordion.

Take the simpsons clip, featured above. This clip comes from this past season, one in which many milestones were crossed. They aired their 400th episode. In that episode, Homer broke the 4th wall, looking right into the camera, a gesture never consciously acknowledged in the past. They announced The Simpsons Movie.

They also proved that even when episodes were somewhat written, animated, and completed months in advance of their air date, they were consistent with the social conventions of today.

The most subtle, and yet overused already, is the accordion. You'll notice that the real reason I posted that clip was to show the Dark Stanley narration, an homage to French animation today, and much of the multimedia world. One oscar nominated short comes to mind for me, a personal favorite called The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. If you've never heard of this, don't feel badly. Just take time to check it out. You can visit the movie's offical page here.

Anyway, the writers and producers of the simpsons are no fools. Obviously this allusion derived from something. And to take it back even further, this isn't the first time that epic accordion track has been used to score visual media. Many of you may remember it as the theme to the film 12 Monkeys.

And to take it even further back than that, it wasn't just some song Philip Glass wrote on a passing whim for some director. In fact, Astor Piazzola wrote this song many years ago as part of one of the seminal Argentenian works ever recorded. The album, entitled Suite Punta del Este, is still regarded as one of his most influential works. And its easy to see why. Granted, it came late in his career, considering the man was born in 1920, but really when you think about it, 1982 (the year it was recorded live) was a long time ago.

Hell, I was born in 1982. Sheesh.

Many other cross over artists of today have also employed the use of the accordion. A few of my personal favorites come to mind, like Gotan Project. This group came into my world after their 2003 release La Ravancha Del Tango. The first time I heard this record, I was still immersed in Phish and The Grateful Dead. They were all I was listening too, and my sights were narrowed because of it. I didn't realize at the time that you don't just have to listen to one genre of music. Nobody's going to call you a poser, and in reality- nobody's going to call you anything. Music is to be listened to, appreciated, and studied. And the beauty of it- all forms and genres lend themselves to others, much as we're citing here. But this record was very progressive for me at the time, employing some loose elements of electronica or lounge music, a scene that has veritably exploded since 2000 thanks to OM, Guidance Records, etc. But when I heard it, I just couldn't stop moving. And there was an epic sort of element to it as well, something that made it feel signifigant. Something that gave it a place and time. Something that cemented my love of world music, and syncopated rhythms at large.

Years later, after moving to Los Angeles, I found this band (through the lovely folks at Pitchfork) called The Decemberists. While the first record I heard of their's was Her Majesty, The Decemberists, the album pictured above has to be the one that employs the most fluid elements of accordion music. And you can already tell, if you're not a fan, that they love the theme of the sea. Indeed, a lot of their titular notation, instrumentation, and even merchandise centers around the sea. Thus, their use of the accordion feels even more natural when we look at history, especially in a sociological sense.

In the days of intercontinental sea travel, sailors had to do whatever they could to pass the time. Music was often the muse of these men, as they spent much of their time liquored up, and singing in rounds. I assume. Anyway, that's probably where Row Row Row Your Boat turned into a song sung in rounds. They were just so drunk, everyone started at different times. The point, though, was that it was hard to travel with a piano. Guitars and other stringed instruments were troublesome as they strings could break very easily. So the natual progression was an instrument that could play both melody and harmony, bass and trebble. The accordion fit the bill perfectly. And today, virtually any shantey we think of conjurs images of drunkards sitting around, watching the waves roll by on their galleons, accompanied always by the accordion.

These are just a few of the examples that traverse history and the modern age as we know it. Funny how even a little clip on the simpsons can trace us all the way back to Pirates getting scurvy on the high seas.

And for the record, no I haven't seen Pirates 3 yet. I just thought this was a neat topic. Yar!

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