Anal C*nt and the Power of Microsong

We are not here to comment on the ludicrous manner of a musician’s mortal defenestration.

However, I will note that after Anal C-nt guitarist Josh Martin died while horsing around on an escalator, I spent a lot of time thinking about this ridiculous, obscene, beer fart in a car crash of a band. Like President James Buchanan or The Danny Thomas Show, Anal C-nt is a lot more important than they might first appear.

Perhaps I am here to ask this question: Will Grindcore take over the world?

Or rather, when will the idea at the heart of Grindcore – that is, the notion that a hyper-efficient instant blast of an idea can replace a traditionally formatted, drawn out musical composition – soon be utilized by artists all across the musical spectrum? So far, the brevity employed by Grindcore has only been used as a condensation of rage (or as a corporate identifier, as we shall soon discuss); but nearly anything about music that affects us — a riff, a melody, a plea, a tone, and a mood – can be similarly condensed.

Anal C-nt did not understand quite how pioneering and important they were, because they could not see past the next joke (band founder, vocalist, and frontman Seth Putnam passed in 2011, so Anal C-nt are very much in the past tense). To paraphrase Michael Stipe, they were lost in the pun. It was like Anal C-nt invented fire, but then only used it to chase their little sister around the cave. “Hey, we can cook with that! Put that down and leave her alone! We can bring light to our cold, dark caves with that! Stop that right now! We can use your invention to forge iron, bake clay pots, warm our frozen lives, build tools that will lead to agriculture, mining, modern warcraft!” “But, but, but, I can take this hot stick and make my sister scream!”

See, that was Anal C-nt. They could change the world but it was enough for them just to piss some people off and make others laugh.

But this doesn’t obfuscate their genius: Anal C-nt’s blurt of words and grinding, thrashing, hoarse, horse neighing-sound reduced music to it’s absolute skeletal form: an idea and a noise. And imagine what we can make, what mountains we can move, what hearts we can shape and break, with just an idea and a noise!

Music must adapt to the Emoji era. Today, every mundane and monumental aspect of life — romance, tragedy, enlightenment, and so on — can be entirely played out in just a few letters and some tiny logograms. It is only logical that music will follow, and adapt itself to the Emoji era.

Now, this doesn’t mean Microsong must be superficial, childish, or grotesque: As I will note shortly, the most beautiful sounds, the most volcanic creativity, and the most earnest thoughts can be expressed in only seconds. Just because Microsong is largely associated with bands like, well, Anal C-nt, that doesn’t mean the Microsong movement can’t find it’s Satie, it’s Picasso, it’s Dylan, it’s Moondog, it’s Brian Wilson, it’s Elliott Smith.

I would be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that Anal C-nt could be deeply offensive. They were created to offend, and this mission statement was very near every note they ever recorded. Their lyrics and song titles (actually, with Anal C-nt these two concepts were mostly identical) constantly demeaned women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, the handicapped, other musical acts, and Harvey Korman. They even recorded a song where they used the “N” word to describe a great friend of mine, Darius Rucker. I am by no means going to celebrate this aspect of Anal C-nt, but I will say this: no one, not one single human person on our planet, is going to wear a Klan costume to a Hootie & the Blowfish show just because Anal C-nt wrote a song suggesting it. Clearly, horrific song titles like “I Snuck a Retard into a Sperm Bank” and “Laughing When Leonard Peltier Gets Raped in Prison” are meant to shock, not raise an army. The fact is, Anal C-nt were huge pioneers in realizing the potential in Microsongs, and their offensive, childish sense of humor isn’t going to change that.

But back to our story.

As surely as any reasonably astute cultural/musical observer could have predicted the rise of punk, rap, and grunge (and many people adamantly, even precisely, predicted all three), it is clear (or should I say, rather, that I am hereby announcing?) that the next revolution in music will be emoji-sized pop (or punk, or metal, or ambient, or folk, and so on). That is, I am predicting the rise of multiple spectrums of music that utilize the Microsong format: complete songs, entirely satisfying aural expressions of angst or love or lust or social frustration, stated in forty seconds or less – ideally, in 15 seconds or less.

Anal C-nt isn’t the only reason I started thinking about all this. There was something else, too, a moment that occurs in an extraordinary television show called Joe Pera Talks You To Sleep. During this amazing show (which is a near-elegiac ode to the beauty of the ordinary), Pera pontificates, with warmth and awe, on the vastness of the universe. While he does so, an exquisite five-note melody accompanies the animated twinkling of the stars in the heavens (this happens at roughly 2 minutes and 15 seconds into the show, if you’re keeping score at home). It happens just once, but the impact is enormous. These five evocative chimes wrap around the soul with empathy and charm, an entire story of joy and discovery and an evening at the planetarium wrapped into a song no longer than the length of a single out-breath. Although the entire melody lasts about four seconds, it is an utterly complete, memorable and moving composition.

What if there was a whole album, a whole genre, which was made up of nothing but these complete and satisfying Microsongs?

Anal C-nt, in an eight second song like “Harvey Korman is Gay,” had invented fire but merely used it to irritate their little sister. Soon, someone will take this same fire and make way Revolver. Consider this: In a certain way, wouldn’t “All of the Day and All of the Night” have even more impact if it had been just a three-second single made up solely of that famous five chord riff? Who is to say brilliant artists couldn’t release singles that were three seconds long!

Colin Newman of Wire, a band who pioneered Microsong on their legendary Pink Flag album (six songs on Pink Flag are less than a minute long), once described the early Wire compositional process this way: “The tune would end where the words ran out.” What if a tune ended when the beautiful and sweet nut of the idea – be it a riff or a tone or a hiss of white noise or a line of important or moving text – ran out? Hasn’t the emoji era proven that this technique is valid, and that length and repetition is not necessary for impact?

I say again: Music must adapt to the emoji era. Music will adapt to the emoji era.

In this sense, the advertising and media industry were far, far ahead of the game. Sound Trademarks are all around us; they are an amazing and constant part of our lives. I am referring to the extremely brief, attention grabbing, often artful and beautiful “themes” that accompany products, networks, the turning on and off of all sorts of electronic equipment. Think Showtime or HBO, and what do you hear in your mind? You hear their distinctive Sound Trademarks, don’t you? Sometimes these sound objects are second-long sighs or clicks, other times intricate, four or five note mini-songs. These Sound Trademarks are, of course, nothing new: you probably are familiar with the three-chime identification for the NBC network (one of the most famous songs of the Twentieth Century, and just four seconds long!); Brian Eno’s six-second Microsoft sound ID (which instantly transports you to any office during the 1990s); the Screen Gems over-driven organ riff that was their aural trademark during the 1960s; and let me direct you to one of my favorites, the utterly exquisite, ghostly chimes of the DDR’s Radio Berlin International, which had the evocative detail of a novel, and speaks volumes about a vanished country.

This list goes on and on, and underlines – heck, proves – that Microsongs can be as memorable and emotionally powerfully as any “long form” composition.

Now, of course I am not saying that music will become exclusively a micro medium: After all, GIF’s have not replaced long-form TV shows, and the ubiquity of texting and tweets doesn’t mean people aren’t still writing long emails or reading books. But Microsong is not only a logical direction for music to pursue; it can also be a powerful medium for every range of artist, and no longer just a medium for advertisers and barking Grindcore bands.

True, much of Grindcore (a genre truly worth exploring, on every level, even if I have painted it somewhat superficially) is incoherent, often childish, and occasionally politically very suspect; but the Grindcore bands generally only investigate one relatively slim avenue of the Microsong genre. Like an inventor who could not possibly imagine the future uses of their discovery, the Grindcore bands (especially Anal C-nt, who, for all their silliness, deeply understood the power of a strong message, said in the most compact manner conceivable) pointed us towards a vastly fertile future for music. I mean, not all pioneers are going to be very likable; Werner Von Braun put men on the moon, and he also killed thousands of English men, women, and children on behalf of the Nazis.

So I ask myself, how can I express a Turner painting in 12 seconds?

And I listen to something as beautiful as the Radio Berlin sound logo, and I know it’s already been done.

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Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYO DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He is the author of Only Wanna Be with You: The Inside Story of Hootie & the Blowfish and has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Learn more at Tim Sommer Writing.

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