2013: Searching for the music video of the year

Something slightly off-topic for the end of the year: this is a translation of a post originally published in German at Perlen der Popgeschichte on December 18.

The historical scholarly disciplines often shy away from judging the immediate past. In contrast to journalism: usually already in December, a lot of magazines publish year-end reviews, e.g. the current issue of Musikexpress (cover-dated January 2014, published on December 12, 2013: “Das war 2013” [“this was 2013”]). Apart from a 29-page chronology and a 12-page list of the “50 records of the year”, it also contains, albeit only on one page, “the songs of the year”.

Which one was the song of the year, actually? In comparison to the previous year, which brought us two all-time hits with “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “Call Me Maybe” (both of which already came out in 2011, but didn’t achieve worldwide fame until 2012), 2013 gives a less clear picture. Possible candidates are, among others, “Thrift Shop” by a rapper named Macklemore (single of the year according to Billboard), “Blurred Lines” by a Robin Thicke (“bestselling single of the year” according to Musikexpress) and “Do I Wanna Know?” by the apparently still existing Arctic Monkeys (ranked 1st in the aforementioned Musikexpress charts).

A lot could be said about those songs and their reception, but there is another song that is maybe still a little bit more entitled to the title “song of the year 2013”: “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk feat. Pharell Williams. “There is no question that Daft Punk have penned the summer hit of the year 2013” (my translation), says Musikexpress and ranks “Get Lucky” 2nd in its year-end charts, after all. For some, that song is timeless, for others (i.e. me) it’s quite an old-fashioned disco funk tune, which nevertheless has somehow proven to be catchy. Perhaps that’s a sign of the times in which errors in taste from the 70s and 80s have almost become acceptable again.

More interesting than the song itself appears to be the accompanying music video. Or is there an official “Get Lucky” video at all? A legitimate question in times of alternative distribution methods. On the one hand, there’s the advertisement clip shown at the Coachella festival for the album Random Access Memories, in which we see, among other things, the two Daft Punk musicians with guest guitarist Nile Rodgers and guest vocalist Pharell Williams, seemingly performing “Get Lucky”. However, this clip only covers 1:40 of the 4 minutes of the song. On the other hand, a 47-second preview for the video of the official remix was published on the YouTube channel of the record label. It shows a crowd dancing in the moonlight and, again, the Daft Punk robots. This means there were several video shootings in the context of “Get Lucky”, although they weren’t used for a regular video clip.

I think such a video clip exists indeed, albeit not always recognised as such and instead referred to as “pseudo video” or even only as “Audio”. Even though this video is a stroke of genius. Similar to a record cover (indeed similar to the cover of the “Get Lucky” single), the silhouettes of the four musicians are set against the evening sun in this video, motionless. (Whether that is actually a reference to George Lucas’s directing debut THX 1138 or not, the similarity can’t be denied.) Only in the second half of the song, at the beginning of the vocoder break, subtle movement is brought into the image, by means of which it can now be clearly identified as a video and not as a still image. Then the figures freeze again, and with this static image (which now exactly matches the single cover) the clip ends.

The ingenuity of this video clip is that it imitates other timely manners of visual accompaniment of music through the appearance of a still image: the displaying of record covers in MP3 player software or streaming services, as well as the usage of static images with audio files illegally uploaded on YouTube. Furthermore, the video runs counter to the notoriously short average attention span of the internet audience, as nothing “happens” in it for two minutes. Thus the “Get Lucky” video plays wittily with the recipients’ expectations – and may well be the music video of the year. At the same time, the question arises how valid the traditional 1:1 relation between single and video clip still is these days.

Stencil graffiti website goes semantic

Screenshot from http://graffiti.freiburg.bplaced.net/As a first step towards releasing the information on my stencil graffiti website as Linked Open Data, I have now created XHTML+RDFa files for all graffiti. They can be found in the directory http://graffiti.freiburg.bplaced.net/lod/, or by clicking on the RDFa icon in each entry. These files contain only two pieces of information so far (not counting ID and licence): place and date. Now that they have been normalised (to the W3C Basic Geo and Dublin Core vocabulary, respectively) and cast in standard RDFa syntax, it should be easy to query and analyse this data, and to re-use it in mashups.

I did a short presentation on this conversion recently, the slides of which can be found on SlideShare (in German). The next steps are obvious: there is still a lot of information on the website that could be normalised, expressed in RDFa, and added to the XHTML files. Once I’ve got round to that I’ll post about it. As a good resource for getting started with Linked Open Data, I recommend Ed Summers’s recent paper “Linking Things on the Web: A Pragmatic Examination of Linked Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums”.

Using a daily art calendar for age determination exercises

Harenberg's motif for October 20/21

Harenberg’s motif for October 20/21, 2012

As the year draws to a close, you might think of getting a calendar for 2013. While there are other ways of keeping track of what day it is nowadays (computers, watches, mobile phones), a calendar with a sheet for each day is useful for age determination (dating) exercises.

In her book Das Studium der Kunstgeschichte, Renate Prochno says an art historian should be able to determine the age of any work of art with an accuracy of +- 20 years. To practice this, she recommends using books like Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, or a postcard collection. However, even more useful for this purpose is an art calendar, because each day it shows a work that is likely to be new to you.

There are drawbacks, of course: all images are printed in the same size, they are cropped in different ways, there’s usually only one view of three-dimensional works, and the selection of motifs is always biased and must not be mistaken for a scholarly sample that is representative of anything.

That being said, I’ve been using Harenberg Kunst calendars (other brands are probably just as good) for years, and I use them like this: when I turn the sheet, I cover the lower part of the new sheet where the artist and title are given (sometimes they’re on the left hand side instead), plus maybe the lower part of the image where the picture is sometimes signed and dated. Then I try to guess the exact year in which the reproduced work was made, and write my guess down on the sheet. On the next day, when I tear the old sheet off, I turn it and compare my guess to the actual date given on the back of the sheet.

This is my success rate for the first ~100 days of 2012 (if a date range was given, I simply took the year that was closest to my guess):

  • exact matches: 4 (I guessed the precise year of production of four paintings, all from the classical modern period which I feel most comfortable with.)
  • within +- 20 years: 66
  • missed by more than 20 years: 31
  • missed by more than 100 years: 3 (All of them are Dutch landscapes from around 1665, and each time I mistook them for early 19th century paintings. This is clearly an area I still need to become more familiar with.)