Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Let us get started. Fraulein Bookworm, bitte?
Bookworm Hienrichs: Welcome, one and all, to this month’s AEther Salon, as we continue the tradition started here in New Babbage back in October 2008.
Just a few housekeeping items: If you’re not standing on the patterned area, please step forward to ensure you can hear the speaker. Please hold your questions (and, given the topic, possible arguments) until the end. If you need a chair, please inquire of myself, Ms. Garnet Psaltery, or Baron Wulfenbach. And please remove all lag-feeding HUDs, scripts, AOs, and other items. Weekends are bad enough as is!
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: This is not the Poetry Slam, no temp-rez ammunition needed.
Edited and unedited transcripts will be posted on aethersalon.blogspot.com when I get to it. Pictures will also be posted on my Flickr account (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bookworm1225/).
We have signs around to help you join the AEther Salon group (free of charge), and to donate to the upkeep of this establishment. Your support is welcome! Do please also support our speaker. The proceeds from the tip jar on the stage will go to Ms. Orr.
And now, to introduce our speaker, Baron Wulfenbach.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Fraulein Orr has been a resident of the Steamlands for a very long time, and has been writing about it, and music, for almost as long.
Emilly Orr: Scary, that.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: She has had an eclectic career and developed her interesting and thoughtful viewpoints from these varied experiences. Do welcome her and her thoughts on Steamwave!
Emilly Orr: Very…politic way you put that, Baron. Hello, everyone!
First, I should note, Des gave me some terrible advice, which some part of me seemed perversely intent on taking. So I have notes…but yes, there will be portions of “winging it”.
However, this being the forty-fifth Salon is also interesting. I wrote my first article–at least, the first that I consider “official”, with the “steampunk music” tag and everything–in 2007.
And when doing research for this, I found the band I kept returning to, over and over again, actually began only one year later. I’ve mentioned on the blog, and in a few other places, about Steam Powered Giraffe. While I think they’re exceptional in many ways, for this, I think they also perfectly typify the search for steamwave. When they didn’t have the instruments they wanted, they made their own, or modded existing ones. Their entire history is invented within an invented medium. And when reading through their bios again, I found it fascinating that all three of the bots were warriors before they were musicians. Turbulent histories bring many things, but overall, excellent music is one of them.
However, in six-plus years of searching, I still don’t have a basic, understandable, easy answer to the question: what IS steamwave music? I can tell you some of what I think the underpinnings are. And I think a lot of them fit in with the inventorship of Steam Powered Giraffe, and other bands.
The drive to make art–writing, sculpting, playing an instrument, pick your medium–is a strong one. But steamwave seems to want to make art that is fiercely individual, while in a framework that, historically, wasn’t about the individual, but the society at large. I think the conflict between those two states is part of what keeps new bands coming forward, and old ones staying around.
And while I still feel more comfortable calling it steampunk music, I think steamwave definitely expands the perceptions–because it’s NOT just one type of music at this point. We have chamber orchestras, we have performing pirates, we have performing robots. We have at least two, and possibly four *rappers*.
Jimmy Branagh: We do?
Emilly Orr: We do.: Elemental being one. I might have to link that video at least, he was pretty much one of the first to combine steampunk and rap. Elemental’s Cup of Brown Joy for later persual: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eELH0ivexKA
Chap-hop History by Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer (while we’re here): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t28COxEp2k
And the new lass on the block, so to speak–Desert Rose Theatre’s presentation of “Lady Has Bustle”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1EtgVtUSKs
Now, then. Where was I? I think I was being pedantic about style.
Solace Fairlady: No you were explaining why steamwave and not steampunk, more inculsive
Emilly Orr: You know, while I’m not sure I’m going to do more than touch on it today, I really think if steampunk-then-steamwave hadn’t proved so popular, we wouldn’t have dieselpunk, because it’s a definite offshoot. But I also think that’s one of the points that confuses me, being unfortunately American. While I *do* grasp there is a historical distance between the 1890s and the 1920s, it’s still VERY easy for me to hear music written from the 1910s to the early 1950s and lump it in with steamwave. I used to think this was simply a flaw in my education, which it might still be, but I also reconsidered the bands performing music from that era–the two I’m thinking of, chiefly, are the Puppini Sisters and The Real Tuesday Weld–and they still strike me as kin if not kind.
The Real Tuesday Weld in particular had at one point on their website downloadable podcasts, which are pretty much just the lead singer telling stories, late at night, as if he has the midnight-to-dawn show at some forgotten radio station. There are songs for some of them, but mostly it’s just him, talking. About whatever crosses his mind. Telling takes of turn-of-the-century London, or reinterpreting classic myths, or simply discussing rain.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Would you say storytelling is as important a component as invention?
Emilly Orr: Absolutely, and yet again, I’d point to Steam Powered Giraffe. Looked at one way, they were a set of siblings who met friends at mime school and decided to see how they’d perform together. And that’s a valid way to look at the band. Looked at another way, though, it’s the chaotic, occasionally frightening, always surreal tale of a military captain fighting desperately to save what he loved, and in so doing, managed to create a series of warbots that grew to consciousness, abhorred at their actions, and swore a mutual mechanical vow of peace. That’s weighty material for a backstory.
Emilly Orr moves back to YouTube briefly, to pull one of their better-known works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDRHx4cPgbE “Brass Goggles” by the original three members of the band. (The John has since been replaced by Hatchworth, an Art-Deco influenced mustachioed drummer.) And, can she find it quickly enough….yes! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yhL1amt3w8 Their performance of “Mack the Knife”, only, well, not so much…
Emilly Orr looks at her notes. Ah. Well. So much for guidelines. You’d think I wasn’t given time for this, it’s tragic. I was given LOTS of time. The thing is, while I have definite opinions–and let’s be fair, at times I have spawned argument on my own blog about them–steamwave, as a whole, can be summed up better by what it’s not than by what it is, because what it IS, at this point, is so widely varied as to nearly defy definition.
Merry Chase: Would you credit any one element of steampunk culture for the bulk of the popularity of steam – fashion, fiction, music…? Or think all contributed equally?
Emilly Orr: I’d honestly say fictional influences are highest on the list. Fashion can influence music, to a great extent–New Wave, after all, was nearly entirely predicated on hairstyle and creeping feelings of doom–but the fiction is what drives us. With steamwave, if we don’t like the fiction that’s out there, we can invent our own, as many bands do.
And while steampunk as a fashion seems to be hitting that ‘been there, done that’ stage, I think steamwave as a musical style isn’t going to vanish any time soon. I think there’s more possibilities out there, things we haven’t thought of, just waiting to be brought to life by someone who needs that particular aspect to be real–even if it’s just for them.
Emilly Orr peers at the Baron’s watch. I’d say now’s a good time to take more questions, especially as the Pub Crawl’s concurrent. Assuming there are any. 🙂
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: How does Abney Park work into your thoughts on this music.
Emilly Orr: Abney Park is so odd…They were one of the first bands to step forward and say YES, we are this thing, we are STEAMPUNK….Save, up until the past two years or so, they really weren’t.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: How so?
Emilly Orr: They started out as worldbeat/industrial goth/darkwave, and–barring “Airship Pirates”, and I think one other song–they were still doing that until they took some time off and figured out where they wanted the band to go.
Garnet Psaltery: I think I understand all those except worldbeat
Emilly Orr: Brief definition of worldbeat, because that’s also varied–but as applied strictly to AP, they formerly had a bellydancer (and seamstress) in their entourage. Frequently, because of that, Middle-Eastern rhythms would creep into the instrumentation.
Garnet Psaltery: Ah I see.
Merry Chase: I admire a band that’s willing to experiment and evolve and I think some bands, that’s what they’re all about. That process.
Emilly Orr: We can even dovetail this back into Steam Powered Giraffe, because they’re now running the 2-Cent tour with the bots. And it’s a good process.
Garnet Psaltery: May I be honest and say I don’t really like much Abney Park music?
Emilly Orr: Feel free. There’s nothing that says you HAVE to fully embrace every artist. That would be like stating you’re an avid reader, and people saying that you must then like EVERY book ever written. Some fans can’t stand the thought of ‘chap-hop’, though to be fair, that is SUCH a quirky regional thing to begin with. I think part of it, too, is that–like the music or not–Abney Park did everything they could for a while to be THE steampunk band. If there was a news article, they contacted the writer. If there was a photo opportunity they showed up. They maintained a Twitter presence almost from the moment they formed the band.
Merry Chase: Worldbeat into steam – Lots of Celtic influence floating around but that’s like saying lots of literature quotes Shakespeare – it’s everywhere, yes?
Emilly Orr: It is, but if you think about why Celtic music is so distinctive, it fits in. Many steamwave singers and bands are reinterpreting history, both so they can present it better, and so they can understand it better themselves. That’s been something Celtic music has had down for literally thousands of years.
Garnet Psaltery: Does it include tribal fusion?
Emilly Orr: It can. Beats Antique is primarily a tribal fusion band, but they also drift in and out of steamwave, depending on who they’re working with.
Bookworm Hienrichs: Do you see Steampunk/Steamwave music as having true staying power? Do you think we’ll still be talking about it 10 years from now, or even later?
Emilly Orr: I honestly hope so. Not the least of which is that it will give me time to get a proper amount of fabric to make a bustle dress, but that’s beside the point.
Solace Fairlady: It’ll be calling itself Nu Steam by then
Gabrielle Riel: Indeed
Garnet Psaltery: Well, the Victorian era and associated literature are fact, so they’ll still be there as inspiration
Emilly Orr: If you consider any musical genre to persist fifty years past its ‘expiration’ date, so to speak, steamwave is already dust and ashes. The fact that we’re still finding fresh concepts to listen to, create with, record with, is pretty astounding now. So yes, I do think it won’t disappear any time soon.
Bookworm Hienrichs: Any more questions?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Fraulein Orr, care to share your journal’s address, for those curious?
Emilly Orr: Ah! Of course; http://razorblade-cookies.blogspot.com Ignore the occasional patches of drama, they pass.
Bookworm Hienrichs: Thank you, everyone, for coming! Transcripts will be up in the next day or two.
Garnet Psaltery: Same place same time a month ahead?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Our next Salon shall be on writing.
Merry Chase: Writing what?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: The art and craft.
Bookworm Hienrichs: Given by Mr. Emerson Lighthouse.
Merry Chase: Oh, so it’s like a salon on breathing.
Garnet Psaltery: He writes beautifully
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach chuckles
Merry Chase: ㋡
Emilly Orr: Well, remember, writing is easy–just stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
Beryl Strifeclaw: I’ll have to come heckle him.