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Menings | Opinion > Rubrieke | Columns > English > Mike Rands: Dr Pelikan Reports

Dr Pelikan Reports: Mozart and pop music

Mike Rands - 2007-03-01

A few evenings ago I listened to a Mozart piano concerto in the City Hall. Later that night I saw an advert for a Paris Hilton CD. It got me thinking about definitions. The sounds I’d been listening to earlier were defined as music. But then, the Paris Hilton CD I’d seen advertised was for sale in music stores. Surely we’re beginning to stretch the definition a little too far here. If I throw a stone through a window and fart while my friend bangs his head on a saucepan, is that music? And what if a horse grinds its teeth on a metal bar while a fat man belches? Would that be music?
I’m worried about the future of communication if our language is unable to make these sorts of distinctions. 
If we call both Mozart and Paris Hilton music, then are we really justified in correcting a young child who points at a knife and says "fork"? Perhaps we’re on the verge of some postmodern language breakdown crisis. If we start selling Paris Hilton CDs in music stores, what’s stopping us from selling pants in car dealerships? People are going to start getting confused. You’ll have men driving around town in their new pair of jeans. Women will be sitting in coffee shops trying to drink their magazines and read their coffee mugs.
Mozart, of course, was not the only person to write great music. Many people throughout the ages have done justice to the art form. Musicians have devoted their life to understanding the science which lies behind the beautiful sounds that we hear. But recently, pop song writers have found a new and quicker way of composing. For a while now you’ve been able to download cell phone ring tones adapted from popular songs. But people like Paris Hilton and Beyoncé (ex-lead singer of Destiny’s Child) have switched it around and started basing their songs on standard ring tones. They don’t even go to great lengths to hide it. Beyoncé can be sitting having coffee, when her friend’s phone begins to ring in her bag. Beyoncé will say something like, "Wait a minute, girl friend! I hear a number one hit right there!"
"Do you have lyrics, Beyoncé?" her friend might ask.
"Oh. I’ll just say something like dah dah dah doo doo. It’s always sold in the past."
Then they’ll spend millions of dollars on a music video with fast cars and motorbikes and explosions. They’ll dress Beyoncé in a silver bikini and surround her with fifteen other semi-naked women. There’ll be lots of flashing lights and fast cuts and in the end no one will really notice that all she’s doing is lip-synching to a Nokia ring tone.
South Africa, too, is beginning to spawn these types, most notably something called Danny K. Where did this guy come from? How did we allow him to happen to us? I turn on the TV and there’s Danny K. He’s on every chat show. On every street lamp I see a picture of his face. He’s launching a new CD! Yes, a new one. Which means that he’s already had an old one. And it must have sold. Who is buying it? Where are these people? Danny K is even launching – if you are standing, now would be a good time to sit down – a range of shoes! They’re called DK. I would sooner have Idi Amin’s face tattooed over my own than wear a pair of Danny K shoes.
I don’t expect Danny K to be able to write good songs or have a decent singing voice. I’m not that naïve. But at least he should have something. He isn’t even good-looking. He can’t dance, he can’t sing, he has no personality or stage presence. He has difficulty answering questions.
After having studied him closely, I am forced to conclude that Danny K is not actually a human being. A teen magazine, as an experiment, made a computer-generated image of a young man and used it as the centrefold in one of their issues. A music producer found this image, photocopied it and blew it up to life size. He then cut it out, stuck it on to a piece of cardboard, made small holes around the edges and fed nylon through them.  
So if you ever go to a Danny K concert, it will be interesting to think about what’s really going on behind the scenes. Above the stage a puppet master is pulling the various nylon strings and making the cardboard cut-out move across the stage. That’s the reason he’s so bad at dancing, because the cut-out doesn’t have the normal human articulations. A cell phone has been plugged into a loud speaker and one of the producers phones it for five minutes, then changes the ring tone and phones it again. This continues for about an hour, at which point the curtains close and the cut-out is packed away until the next time it’s needed. If "Danny K" has to appear on a chat show, a stick is put behind the cut-out to prop it into place. A dictaphone is taped to the cut-out’s back and has a loop of one of the producers saying, "Ha ha yeah. Ha ha" in the stupidest possible voice. 
Young children in our country are going to Danny K concerts and being told that they’re listening to music. To get back to my earlier point about the breakdown of definitions: if kids are brought up to believe that that falls under the term music, no one can be angry with them when they think cocaine is ice cream. Danny K is therefore a threat to the safety of South African children. He needs to put back into his box and placed in the darkest corner of a dark warehouse before he causes any further trouble.
Dr Pelikan