Deep Within the Dislike Vortex

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People's Microphony Camerata and Free Reed Conspiracy at the March 2013 workshop premiere of "Dislike" at Venice's Electric Lodge. Photo by Steve Burr.
People’s Microphony Camerata and Free Reed Conspiracy at the March 2013 workshop premiere of “Dislike” at Electric Lodge. Photo by Steve Burr.

YouTube’s most “disliked” video is the music video for Justin Bieber‘s “Baby.” For those who don’t know, there are little thumbs up and thumbs down buttons beneath every YouTube video, with which any viewer can cast a gladiatorial judgment upon the video’s merit. “Baby” happens to be the video that the most people have condemned with the thumbs down.

However, for the purposes of Dislike, currently in development at REDCAT, it could have been any other song, cat video, or Republican campaign ad. It wasn’t Justin Bieber who drew me into the Dislike vortex, but the vortex itself that fascinated me.

Daniel Corral at Joe's Pub at The Public. Photo by Philip Stearns.
Daniel Corral at Joe’s Pub at The Public. Photo by Philip Stearns.

Even more amazing than the video’s unprecedented torrent of dislikes is the comment section that trails it like a comet. Full of anger, naivete, homophobia, desperation, and mischief, these comments portray a Burroughsian narrative seemingly cut straight from the cloth of the collective unconscious. Here is where the historically meaningful art lies, rather than in the video above. In the wake of this textual slime trail, something powerful about the state of digitally globalized humanity is being poorly articulated with questionable grammar. Justin Bieber is but an unwitting catalyst.

The “libretto” for Dislike is taken straight from 24 hours worth of these comments. It is vocalized by members of the People’s Microphony Camerata, an experimental choir originally founded by Elana Mann and Juliana Snapper. The history, repertoire, and openness of the group made them a perfect ensemble to portray the spiritually wrought meta-narrative of Dislike.

The People’s Microphony Camerata singers are accompanied by experimental accordion orchestra Free Reed Conspiracy, who envelop the voices of the PMCs in a post-ambient sonic environment inspired by the video’s song. The spacious style of ensemble playing used in Dislike is extremely uncommon for traditional accordion orchestras like LA’s own Accordionaires. It re-imagines the aural capacity of the instrument to the same degree that it draws attention to the song’s structural gestalt through abstraction and re-contextualization.

The goal of Dislike is not to cast judgement upon Bieber’s video, or even upon the comments that comprise Dislike’s libretto (dark as they may be). Rather, the intention is to position a clearly pointing finger on them, loosely akin to Baldessari’s Commissioned Paintings. As of the day I’m writing this, YouTube shows 3,556,649 Dislikes on the video for Baby. However, it is the second most-watched video on the world’s most popular video site, and that number is a mere 0.4% of the video’s 876,775,682 total views. The most-watched video, Psy’s “Gangam Style,” has a mere 859,231 dislikes, while the third most-watched video, Jennifer Lopez’ s “On The Floor,” has 97,341. As for other contenders for the Dislike throne, Rebecca Black’s re-uploaded “Friday” has a total of 1,142,494 dislikes, which is 2% of its total views. Rick Perry’s 2012 “Strong” ad has 791,245 Dislikes, which is 9.1% of its total views.

Daniel Corral. Photo by Dana Ross.
Daniel Corral. Photo by Dana Ross.

These rubrics and modes of communication that make the existence of a most-disliked video possible dominate large portions of our cultural landscape. In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan states, ”I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties.” It is in the spirit of this quote that Dislike was conceived.

The diatonic tonalism of the accordion music may seem at odds with the litany of extreme speech that the PMC is depicting, and the pairing of the two may seem at odds with the digital pop-culture they are commenting on. These types of conceptual disparities are integral to the final shape of Dislike, and have long been an important aspect of my syncretic approach to music. If any emotion is invoked by the piece, I hope it is one that inhabits an uncharted space between defined points. These potentially-confusing spaces in between are where McLuhan’s “exact information” lives. Finding a path towards them is essential for maintaining some semblance of sanity in our rapidly evolving technological landscape and the transformative culture it fosters.

Dislike, New Original Works Festival, REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St. (corner of W. 2nd and Hope streets, inside Walt Disney Concert Hall complex), LA 90012. August 8-10, 8:30 pm.

Full REDCAT NOW schedule: Week 3 (Aug. 8-10): Daniel Corral; Morgan Thorson & Meg Wolfe; Paul Fraser, Genevieve Gearhart & Deena Selenow. Thu-Sat, 8:30 pm. Through Aug. 10. Tickets: $18; Festival Pass, $36. 213-237-2800.

Daniel Corral is a composer and multi-instrumentalist born and raised in Eagle River, Alaska. Currently living in Los Angeles, he performs in puppet operas, accordion orchestras, handmade music boxes, electronic collages, site-specific installations, chamber music, post-punk opera, and inter-disciplinary collaborations. Corral’s music has been commissioned and presented by venues such as REDCAT, Hammer Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, USC’s Thornton School of Music, CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, the Pianospheres Series, Automata, Machine Project, SASSAS, The Wulf, Pasadena All Saints Choir, and Santa Monica GLOW Festival. He writes, arranges, and performs with numerous music groups, including Timur & The Dime Museum, Free Reed Conspiracy, and Tears of the Moosechaser. Corral received his MFA in composition from CalArts, where he studied with James Tenney, Anne LeBaron, and Morton Subotnick.

Daniel Corral

Daniel Corral