Monday, 30 May 2011

Lunacy | Introduction | Moon Myth & Madness



“Madness is rare in individuals, but in groups, parties, nations and ages is it the rule.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

The waxing and waning of the moon was once believed to affect all living things. A waxing moon was thought to radiate energy which stimulated growth; as it waned, the energy diminished. Superstitious gardeners and farmers planned their sowing so that the young plants could grow with the moon, and the plants were best picked, or trees felled, when a moon on the wane was weakening their resistance. The flesh of animals killed under a waning moon was likely to shrink in the pot, and business deals and marriages had the best chance of success if they were timed to take effect as he moon began to wax.

The moon was also widely thought to influence human beings, and until about 100 years ago it was officially recognized as the prime cause of madness. A lunatic, as the word suggests and as the Lunacy Act of 1842 clearly stated, was a person ‘afflicted with a period of fatuity in the period following after the full moon’.


JH

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wind | Fiction | Wind In The Willows Reboot To Tackle The Financial Crisis?


An interesting announcement in the Guardian today; the estate of Kenneth Grahame has made it clear that they intend to release a sequel to The Wind In The Willows, tentatively titled, The Wind In Willows: Wealth Always Wakes, written by none other than famed thriller-writer James Patterson. It’s not as bizarre a choice as you might think – Patterson has written about ambiguously animal creatures dwelling in a land of humans before, in his sensically-titled Maximum Ride series about avian hybrids, and he’s even ventured into children’s fiction once or twice, in his collaboration with Neil McMahon, Toys, a charming novel about sentient toys, and a couple of Alex Cross adventures for younger readers, Pop Goes The Weasel and Four Blind Mice (which also reminds us of his skill at taking on the reins of an existing franchise).

Patterson actually mentioned the project on his personal website, saying how proud he was to take the series on. He also explained that this will be an ‘updated version of the classic tale’ that brings Toad, the greedy and charming capitalist pig, ‘kicking and screaming into the twentieth-century’ by exposing the darker side of his actions.

‘It’s going to be a wild ride…we’re actually going to take it further than the originals ever did. So in my story, Toad doesn’t just stop at motor-cars. He buys a limousine, then a helicopter, then a plane, and ends up destabilising the world economy. I mean, this guy is a selfish dick, and I wanted to show that side to him. The wealthy, chauvinist, materialist rogue no longer has a place in our fiction, even as an anti-hero. He’s a banker, and that word itself has now taken on a whole pejorative vocabulary of its own.”

Patterson did assure fans of the original that his book would be suitable for young children (the scene in which Toad, high on cocaine smuggled in to his minimum-security prison, garrottes a washerwoman before fondling her small, child-like breasts will only be available as part of a special omnibus), with the satirical subtext visible to adult readers without being crass.


“It’s a wonderful story, and I think it can be relatable to today’s children with the minimum of tinkering. The kids may not understand that Mr. Badger’s intense misanthropy is a result of his psychologically-scarring experiences murdering women and children in the second Gulf War, and they probably won’t pick up on the exact nature of the close relationship between Mole and Ratty either. But they’ll love to see these colourful, clearly-defined personalities engaging in plenty of action without too much plot, nuance or character development slowing things down.”

This won’t be the first Willows sequel, of course (William Horwood wrote several books in the series) or even the first one to try and feel like a big man by stamping all over the proverbial sandcastle of a beloved seventy-year-old children’s book and proving how it’s appalling when considered as an adult’s social manifesto. Jan Needle’s 1981 Wild Wood recast the predatory stoats, ferrets and weasels as hard-working, oppressed members of the rural proletariat, struggling against the lazy aristocratic Toad, the petty bourgeois Ratty, and Mole, who by his wide-eyed enthusiasm for the comforts of Toad’s lifestyle, is clearly a class traitor. I’m sure we can all agree that such a book definitely needed to be written.


But, of course, another outdated but much-admired British archetype is currently being given the modern-day dust-off, in the form of James Bond; it’s probably fitting that the reins of his rotten funereal carriage are being handed to an American writer, Jeffrey Deaver. We know that Deaver is a dedicated researcher (while beginning work on his first thriller about quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme, he has confessed that he spent an entire forty minutes lying very still on his bed one Tuesday morning, only moving to scratch his nose), so thankfully we can be sure that the re-booted Bond of Carte Blanche, an Afghanistan veteran, won’t just be a vague pastiche of well-known English traditions; we know, for example, that he enjoys Radio Four.


Long before we get to see any of that, however, we will enjoy the BBC’s modern-day Sherlock Holmes reboot, Sherlock, returning to our television screens, including a version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which this editor is especially intrigued to see considering that the plot would make absolutely no sense in a modern-day context. But then again, neither did The Blind Banker, although it did manage to get in a few pointless swipes at bankers for being greedy, which is obviously how you make a classic appear relevant and urgent in a modern reboot.

Jon Ware
Fiction Editor

Monday, 23 May 2011

Wind | Introduction | As kingfishers catch fire


It is said that when the sea is calm, it is because the kingfishers are sitting on their nests. Halcyon is another name for the bird, which in Greek means ‘conceiving on the sea’, and before it was known that the birds nest in burrows, the belief was widespread that they laid their eggs at sea in floating nests of fishbone.

According to Greek legend, Halcyone, daughter of the god of the winds, married Ceyx, son of the day star. Ceyx drowned in a storm at sea, and the gods, taking pity on his wife, restored him to life, but turned them both into kingfishers. For 14 days of each year, while Haycyone is on her nest, her father holds back the wind – hence the expression, ‘halcyon days’. This legend may also make sense of the traditional country belief that dead kingfishers make good weather-vanes – their bodies are said to turn in the direction of the wind.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Sitcom | Television | Roseanne: No Holds Barred


Roseanne
is America's greatest sitcom. There, I've said it.

At least in its early years, the show was a perfectly formed, and perfectly performed, slice of working-class America. It was consistently intelligent and emotionally mature. And (as if this matters) it gave Joss Whedon and Judd Apatow their first writing jobs.

I didn't even watch the show when it aired in the '90s but discovering it on DVD has been a revelation. I was reminded of its subtleties this week when I read Roseanne's fascinating account of the behind-the-scenes ructions, posted on New York Magazine's site. Take a few minutes to go and read it too.

And if you need any convincing, here are a few choice extracts:

'The idea that your ego is not ego at all but submission to the will of the Lord starts to dawn on you as you recognize that only by God’s grace did you make it through the raging attack of idea pirates and woman haters, to ascend to the top of Bigshit Showbiz Mountain.'

'I walked into this woman’s office, held the scissors up to show her I meant business, and said, “Bitch, do you want me to cut you?” We stood there for a second or two, just so I could make sure she was receptive to my POV.'

'Imitation is the sincerest form of show business.'

'Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows about labor worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Roseanne anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.'

All done? Good, wasn't it! Now, for balance, I recommend this rather po-faced response from The Guardian.

Although the network's worries over Roseanne are legendary, what's amazing is that very little of this tension shows up onscreen. In fact, watching seasons back to back on DVD, it's striking that the show has a coherence that's very rare for this era of TV. (Again, I am choosing not to address the last few seasons, when the show was chasing ratings and its star was struggling with mental illness.)

Look at the way each episode begins. I think we learn a lot about television's preoccupations from studying title sequences (that's how I justify the time I spend on Youtube, anyway). Roseanne's one-shot opening is exemplary in the way that it prepares us not just for the show's thematic concerns, but also for its political challenge.



Sorry about the quality of the video, but hopefully you'll have grasped the boisterous to-and-fro of the family unit, the deft sketching of interpersonal relationships and, most importantly, the way the kitchen table is a locus around which discourse occurs. It's a conversation to which we do not have access, true, but the rasping bluesy harmonica conveys its earthiness and its wit. Offsetting the liveliness of the group, the smooth 360° camera movement speaks to their emotional connection.

It is a camera movement that begins and ends with Roseanne, capped off (wonderfully) with her laughter: raucous, unself-conscious, enjoying her family and herself. And this is the nature of that political statement - the show dares to suggest that matriarchy, working-class life, irritation and happiness are all compatible. It's simple enough but I'm struggling to think of anything quite so progressive on our screens today.

Nicolas Pillai
Film Editor

Sitcom | Chapbook | Vol LII, Keyways: Unlocking Owen Sheers' Skirrid Hill by Phil Brown



Vol LII, Keyways: Unlocking Owen Sheers' Skirrid Hill

Phil Brown (18.5.11)


A commentary on every poem in Owen Sheers’ Skirrid Hill written with revision for A-Level exams in mind and geared towards students of A-Level English Literature. This commentary is meant to enhance the reader’s understanding of some of the ideas in Sheers’ poetry. It is also entirely free.



APPENDICES TO THE COMMENTARY


Appendix I - Lyrics to Susan’s House by Eels

Going over to Susan's House, wandering south down Baxter Street
Nothing hiding behind this picket fence
There's a crazy old woman smashing bottles on the sidewalk where her house burned down two years ago
People say that back then, she really wasn't that crazy

Going over to Susan's House
Going over to Susan's House, I can't be alone tonight

Down by the Doughnut Prince, a 15-year-old boy lies on the sidewalk with a bullet in his forehead
In a final act of indignity, the paramedics take off all his clothes for the whole world to see while they put him in the bag
Meanwhile, an old couple argues inside the 'Queen Bee', the sick fluorescent light shimmering on their skin

Going over to Susan's House
Going over to Susan's House, she's gonna make it right

Take a left down Echo Park
A kid asks do I want some crack
TV sets are spewing Baywatch
Through the windows into black

Here comes a girl with long brown hair, who can't be more than seventeen
She sucks on a red popsicle as she pushes a baby girl in a pink carriage
And I'm thinking, 'That must be her sister. That must be her sister, right?'
They go into the seven-eleven and I keep walking, and I keep walking

Going over to Susan's House
Going over to Susan's House, I can't be alone tonight
Going over to Susan's House


Appendix II – To Speak of Woe That is Marriage by Robert Lowell

"It is the future generation that presses into being by means of
these exuberant feelings and supersensible soap bubbles of ours."
—Schopenhauer

"The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms.  Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor's edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust. . .
It's the injustice . . . he is so unjust—
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick?  Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh. . . .
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant."


Appendix III - Some Notes from AQA

Skirrid Hill by Owen Sheers

Skirrid Hill continues to attract an enthusiastic if still surprisingly small following with Sheers vigorous style clearly able to engage and challenge. His anthology presents a reflective, careful reader with many themes that align with the struggle for identity in ways that can be visceral as well as delicate, broad as well as extremely personal. It is important to a successful study of the anthology that centre’s do not pigeon-hole Sheers as simply a nationalistic poet who looks inwards to issues of Welsh identity but one is looking outwards too, taking in those moments in life which can seem paradoxical and bizarre, addressing moments where there is a complex interfacing of life, death and relationships.

Despite his growing published work across all the genres, Sheers remains a relatively enigmatic, restless poet clearly embarked upon a journey of discovery and about whom, significantly fewer biographical studies have yet been made. This works to candidates’ advantage because their focus more clearly rests on the language, form and structure of his verse rather than on the man himself. That said, candidates this time were keener to explore the question that invited a measured, argued response to a general theme rather than the one that began with a focus on a specific poem and invited validation and repudiation of its centrality. A little disappointingly, in response to either poem, some candidates offered little by the way of balanced debate and saw the question as a way of simply explaining the content of two or three poems, broadly linked to a theme.

Question 6

This was by far the more popular of the questions on Scarred Hill, offering candidates the opportunity to explore their own choice of poems from this broadly diverse collection. Whilst there were many strong responses, one examiner wrote that some candidates who had been offered ‘a gift of a question’ then ‘proceeded with ingratitude and uncertainty, attempting to explore different themes in a perfunctory, generalised counter-argument’ or they ‘wallowed in a morass of loss’ without ever really explaining what had been lost and with what consequences.

Perhaps these candidates were truly ‘spoilt for choice’ and could not arrive at satisfactory evaluative comments because of this. The poems that lent themselves most readily to the argument were Border Country, Mametz Wood, Y Gaer, The Hill Fort, Marking Time and Amazon although the poem that received most attention from candidates, interestingly, was Keyways. Counter-arguments usually cited examples of more celebratory poems such as The Equation, inheritance or Stitch in Time with better responses developing insightful comment or challenging the idea of loss at all.

Certain confident candidates were able to convince that Sheers depiction of loss really to revealed what was gained in terms of experience, understanding of self, others and the world. There was evidence that some candidates were trying to shape responses to past papers to fit the requirements of this year’s question with inevitable loss of focus. To this effect some candidates offered plenty of examples of Sheers’ treatment of separations suggesting either directly or by inference that separation equated to loss. Those who were able to suggest in their extension or counter-arguments that Sheers also dealt with moments of elision, repair and coming-together, were to be commended, especially where these moments were expertly pinpointed, analyzed and evaluated.

Successful candidates:

•         Chose highly appropriate poems for the exploration of Sheers’ treatment of loss and its effects or chose equally appropriate poems to validate their counter-argument
•         Analysed Sheers’ choices of form, structure and language
•         Explored a wealth of Sheers’ poetic techniques and articulated his intent in order to create interesting lines of argument and counter-argument

Less successful candidates:

•         Simply offered broad agreement with the statement and struggled to even illustrate loss effectively
•         Ignored the question’s key words
•         Made broad generalisations about the effects produced by Sheers’ choice of form, structure and language often asserting rather than illustrating their points

Question 7

This question had relatively few takers despite the comparatively comforting prospect of exploring a superficially straightforward poem. Interestingly too, there were some responses that neglected the punning title, missing an obvious way into Sheers’ musings on relationships between father and son and their relationship with their environment. Most problematic, however, was the interpretation of the phrase ‘key to this collection’.

The metaphor of the key should suggest an unlocking of something or a focus on some feature so fundamental as to be indispensible to a clear understanding of the anthology. Few such insightful readings were apparent with candidates, instead, suggesting typicality of theme, technique, intent or features. In some respects the named poem is a testament to the permanence of life despite its frailty and smallness, set against a backdrop of the awesome grandeur of natural world.

To validate the idea of ‘key’, links needed to be made to the rest of the collection and here it was obvious that some candidates had a very hazy knowledge of the structure and content of the collection as a whole. The named poems’ central themes of identity, contrasts, endurance, loss and the natural world should have been fundamental to a balanced argument and counter-argument, where the choice of at least one suitable substitute ‘key’ poem should have been possible.

Successful candidates:



•         Produced a balanced debate which considered, developed and agreed or refuted the idea that the named poem is the key to this collection in a thoughtful, engaged, incisive manner
•         Linked Farther to a range of other relevant poems and/or made an arresting case for another poem being the key
•         Explored Sheers’ form, structure and language choice with confidence always citing examples relevantly and with analytical significance.

Less successful candidates:

•         Simply dismissed the idea that Farther could be the key to the collection
•         Wrote basic accounts of the poem and/or others in the collection, with little relevant or developed reference to form, structure and language choice
•         Were unable to move beyond generalisations and assertions.


Appendix IV - Past Questions

Themes:

Separation between men and women
Striking and unusual imagery
Loss
Difficult Issues

Key Poems:

Y Gaer and The Hill
Border Country
Farther
Skirrid Fawr (fitting conclusion)


Appendix V - Possible Themes and Patterns:

Man against nature -Domestication
Masculinity
Death
Generation gaps
Modernisation and Americanisation
Playing roles (psychology?)
Spines?
Relationships
Everything is like writing
Magic
The use of titles to challenge or refute the content - sometimes as part of the poem
Titles often include puns; the duality of meaning at the heart of the ideas
Tercets - not sure really why. Long enough to develop a thread of thought without over-inflating it!
The rhythms of natural speech
Use of real people, places and his family
Natural imagery 
Enjambed lines that create a conversational and fluid movement. Ideas organically develop and weave together to form larger patterns.
Contrasts between beauty and cruelty - a necessary balance and stability, particularly in rural life
Demonstratives to guide the reader to see
Metaphors of theatricality
Images that have surfaces and depths - the darker elements of human life can not always be seen
Incise, probing language
Use of epigraphs or introductory notes
Archetypal characters and rural cast
Gentle rhyme and alliteration to add weight to ideas, moods and feelings
Imagery of cuts and breaks
Poems that begin en media res 
The repeated metaphor of marks to pinpoint moments of transition, growth or change
Poems in clusters or at periodic moments to develop an overarching idea
Use of the first person, though not always the poet speaking
Reclaiming of symbols for use in a different context e.g. the flags
Poetry in dialogue with other art forms e.g. sculpture, photography, song

 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

In Memory of Steve Stone

Steve Stone (1954-2011)

On Saturday 23rd April, my colleague and lifelong family friend, Steve Stone, died on his 57th Birthday. As well as being a wonderful friend, an excellent fisherman and pretty handy on a pair of skis, Steve was also one of the finest teachers to have ever stood in a classroom. Around 700 people were in attendance at his memorial service last Friday, an astounding mix of family, fishing buddies, colleagues and pupils, from the past thirty five years, many having travelled across the globe to be there.

Because of the amount of requests that I have had from attendees, asking for a copy of my poem in memory of Steve, I thought that this might be an appropriate place where it is available to anybody who wants a copy. For anybody reading this who did not know Steve, I would suggest that the comments left on his Just Giving Page or his Facebook Group will give you an indication of why he was the sort of person that every teacher aspires to be.



At the Chalkface

‘Where cliffs are of resistant rock, wave action attacks any line of weakness such as a joint or a fault.’
- David Waugh

By a decade he was the last man standing
at the blackboard, delicately nuancing the shading
on a headland or the shy curvature of a tributary
holding the minds of tired teens trained on the tips
of his dusty thumbs.

He was at home with thighs stood strong
against the rush of the Usk
taking muddy measurements of the bed’s depth
or controlling the clustering of kids with clipboards
across Monmouth High Street.

He’d stand over the eroding arch of Durdle Door
explaining the land’s battle
with abrasion and attrition
extolling our fortune at seeing it in arch
before its fall to stack or stump.

Versed in men’s war with the waves
he’d lament the thwarted intentions of groynes
placed to slow the sand’s spread along the coast
our best efforts swallowed by swash
pulled under the plunge line.

His arms raised and spread
dancing the drama of convection currents
or his fingers would clamp as teeth
to give a visual for a cow hoof
compacting the soil about the gate.

He’d mastered the art of the tack
was at one with a topper sailing solo
in circles around us as we faltered with jibs
and slack sheets flapping;
he was always the wind’s favourite.

He was my mother’s finest example of friendship
a welcome addition to Christmas dinner
always careful
not to exhaust
a welcome that could never be outworn.

He’d skin a fish with the best of them
and took pride in sharing
everything
all he caught in the water
and raised from the ground.

He took comfort in the reliability of the familiar
yet never stopped exploring
and when discovering some new gem
he was never satisfied
until it was passed on to his friends.

More than funding hikes, renovations, cohorts, school status,
training drives, intakes or canteen food,
he was so much of what makes a home of a place,
he wrote all his words in chalk
but they will never be erased.



Phil Brown
Poetry Editor


Saturday, 7 May 2011

Alien | Fiction | Watch The Skies! Also, The Twilight Zone.


"The trigger gave, I felt the underside of the polished butt and it was there, in that sharp but deafening noise, that it all started. I shook off the sweat and sun. I realised that I'd destroyed the balance of the day and the perfect silence of this beach where I'd been happy. And I fired four more times at a lifeless body and the bullets sank in without leaving a mark. And it was like giving four sharp knocks at the door of unhappiness."
L'Etranger


"And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass."
The Prophet Ezekiel, describing with extraordinary accuracy the featureless lozenge-shape of a flying saucer.


*

In Albert Camus' L'Etranger, the protagonist Meursault shoots dead an Arabic man. It may be in retaliation for an earlier act of violence. It may also be a longer-term build-up of racial tension relating to Meursault's aiding and abetting a friend of his, Raymond, beating an Arabic girl and being allowed to get away with it, largely thanks to Meursault's public support of his buddy. But, more likely, the murder has less to do with any righteous emotion of Meursault's and more to do with his sense of detachment from other people around him and his absolute lack of concern about whether or not the world sees him as a criminal.


All right - so if Meursault is America and the nameless Arab is Osama Bin Laden, and Raymond is Israel, and the girl is Palestine...then who is Meursault's mother? Answers on a postcard to http://www.hypastliteratureshouldnotbereappropriatedtoreferencemoderndayeventsnonotevenshakespeareiknoweverybodydoesitbutitsstillprettyshitty.com/.

In other news, Thor came out this week, directed by a man who understands the problems of making one's own mark on a piece of adaptive art while maintaining the original piece's integrity and the author's meaning (I'm thinking in particular of Henry V, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Sleuth, and Wild Wild Wild West). Thor is of course itself an adaptation from the much-beloved source piece, Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul, in which the Norse God Thor, a hearty, roaring, slightly stupid fellow with mighty abs and a propensity for violence, comes to earth from another dimension and romances an attractive American woman, having lost his hammer Mjolnir.


The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul, much like aforementioned brazen rip-off Thor and very much like Adams' equally bizarre original Dirk Gently novel, which saw an alien inspire Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner' with the first moments of evolution - "slimy things did crawl with legs upon the slimy sea!", deal with the notion of ancient astronauts; the suggestion that the mythology of the supernatural - and in particular mankind's creation of sky-based deities - in fact refer to alien life-forms who chose to nurture certain of our civilisations. This theory found itself popularised by convicted fraudster Erich 'those pyramids with a flat bit on top were landing pads! Ezekiel didn't see God - he saw aliens!' von Daniken. It can also be found in the movie Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, which is itself a rip-off of the disquieting Tintin adventure Flight 714.

More intriguingly, von Daniken's ideas were spread across the US by Rod Serling - whose classic series The Twilight Zone is apparently out in a new DVD boxed set. I plan to pick mine up as soon as I can. I'm also intrigued by the existence of a Dirk Gently radio series, which apparently starred Harry Enfield. I plan to stay as far away from the BBC4 adaptation as possible, which sounds dreadful (you can hear the brainstorming session now. 'Pudgy and short? Unfashionably dressed, with thick spectacles? Why can't we just get Stephen Mangan in instead? He's floppy-haired, awkward and he's good-looking. He's basically Hugh Grant, only he's been in Green Wing which gives him an edgy points.'). Anyone heard it?



Friday, 6 May 2011

Alien | Music | Let there be leitmotifs!


‘It seems they’re trying to teach us a basic tonal vocabulary,’ notes one of the wisecracking line of scienticians during the scene from CE3K that James chose to kick off this week’s festivities with. Indeed they are: John Williams’ famous five-note phrase is the sound of a vastly superior species of space invaders talking down to a planet full of backwards retards – the sound of the sentiment, dissonance or a minor key or even more than five notes would probably be too much for them. The precise musical sentiment, in other words, that also seems to be behind Mumford and Sons’ lusty, publicschool singalongishness, The Vaccines turgid, literally nonsensical publicschool laziness, and a whole bunch of the other elitist, patronisingly half-arsed bullhickey currently selling by the bucketload.

But anyway. John Williams’ Close Encounters score is ridiculously brilliant, hugely significant because of its relationship with Stockhausen-esque aleatoric experimentation and non-tonal modernism, because of its ultimate decision to draw upon oboes and tubas instead of synthesisers (SF’s very own Peter and the Wolf), because Hans Zimmer said it was ‘as good as anything Stravinsky wrote’ and so on.

What I’m much more interested in, though, is the way that it has come to define the simple, arpeggio-like, easily-remembered one- or two-bar phrase as a symbol of, or even a metaphor for the alien, the otherworldly, the unexplained. Just as one hears a two-note ascent up a chromatic scale and thinks of sharks, and a couple bars of high pitched, monotone, mid-pace martell√© and thinks of knives and shower curtains, whether they’re listening to the Jaws and Psycho soundtracks specifically or not, so the cultural residue orbiting the CE3K theme means one makes extraterrestrial assumptions about certain related phrases of notes regardless of their context. An observation that has, I think, the potential to radically redefine the meaning of a whole range of compositions, if one re-listens to them in a slightly different (by which I guess I mean more orange – see the image I opened with) light.

First though, a couple fragments of proof. What was it about the X Files theme that made it so uniquely evocative, so immediately recognisable as a precursor to strangeness? Could it maybe, just maybe have been the two six-note arpeggio-like self-contained phrases at its heart?




And why is it that so many people responded to the 800% slower version of Rebecca Black’s Friday with the words, ‘it sounds kinda…spacey…’ (or something along those lines)? Might it be that slowing it down makes it even more apparent that the song literally never deviates from the same five notes, which when broken down into measured, ambient phrases, come laden with trippily SF connotations?





Let us consider, then, a variety of other manifestations of CE3K-esque phrasing, and what they might therefore mean.

One, Dmitri Shostakovich…was an alien

Eleventh, on my list entitled ‘my twenty nine favourite things about Shostakovich’, is the fact that he inserted a musical signature, comprising his first initial and the first three letters of his surname (DSCH – or D, E Flat, C, B in German nomenclature) into various of his pieces. Two particularly striking examples are his String Quartets Nos. 5 and 8 – here’s the first movement of the latter, and the signature is the first little melody you’ll hear…





That’s right, Shostakovich actually defined himself in precisely the same way, even using some of the same notes (E Flat and C) as Spielberg’s aliens. No wonder Stalin wanted to keep him on side.

Two, Richard Wagner…wrote SF operas

Wagner’s Ring cycle is, famously, structured around little repeated melodies called leitmotifs, which both characterise and, in a way, recognise significant characters in amongst the big, throbbing mass of the most grandiose composition ever conceived. Here is a nice little video about leitmotifs which also serves as an introduction to Siegfried’s theme, probably the most well-known leitmotif of all…





You will not be surprised to discover that Wagner was clearly attempting to infer, with this, that Siegfried was an alien. Wagner wrote SF. Deeply, deeply anti-Semitic SF. (Incidentally, the fact that the CE3K leitmotif was intended as a symbol of sophisticated patronisation, rather than mere simplicity, offers a compelling rebuttal to Adorno’s infamous critique of Wagner: ‘The degeneration of the leitmotiv is implicit in this [the reduction of emotional complexity into a mechanised, crudely characterising shorthand] it leads directly to cinema music where the sole function of the leitmotiv is to announce heroes or situations so as to allow the audience to orient itself more easily.’)

Three, The late-nineties Balearic trance phenomenon…was an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrials

But then you probably knew that already. Here’s the most prominent example of all, ATB’s 9PM (Till I Come), which should really have been called 9PM (Till They Come, They Being Aliens, As A Response To This Track’s Utter Dependence Upon Close Encounters-ish Phraseology)…



See also the various trance ‘remixes’ of the X Files theme and, indeed, the CE3K theme itself. And thus, we come full circle.

To summarise, aliens and their messages are everywhere, deeply embedded within our highest, and lowest, cultures – and I can say that without even resorting to posting wonderful videos proving Barack Obama is, in actuality, a reptilian impostor. As my fellow Chitauri-spotters are prone to doing, bless them, bless them all. Shit, I think you'll agree, just got real.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor