TheSuperMarioBros2 – Bad Apple

Year :
Skrillex / The Advantage / Flying Lotus

In 2006, former teen idol and now reclusive artìst, Scott Walker released The Drift. Well received by critics, The Drift features, among other oddities, the song “Clara” in which Walker lays down percussion by repeatedly punching a side of meat a la Rocky. “Clara” is genuinely creepy and unsettling but I only know about the meat-beating because of this review. Meat-based percussion, as it turns out, sounds a lot like a really flat drum.

What Scott Walker is doing is here is obviously unusual. That makes it inherently interesting to some people. There are connections, I suppose, to be explored between the act of meat-punching and the subject of the song, Benito Mussolini. At the same time, though, Walker is committing the precise kind of artistic performance that sets off our collective bullshit detector. Music, after all, is not a visual medium. If I can’t identify the completely non-distinct sound of hand-on-meat, how am I supposed to derive any meaning from the act? Why go so far out of one’s way to add a layer of meaning to a piece of work that’s completely unknowable when experiencing the work alone? The use of what is, essentially, a narrative that’s entirely external to the experience of the song itself makes “Clara” catnip for music nerds and music writers (these paragraphs are practically writing themselves). But, should that narrative fail to live up to anything other than genius, the endeavor starts to look a little suspect.

There is a fine line between art and marketing gimmick.

I was reminded of this again when the internet suddenly discovered “Bad Apple” by the heretofore unknown digital artist known as TheSuperMarioBros2. Like “Clara,” “Bad Apple” is, on paper, defined by a totally weird idea: jamming more than 4 million single notes into a piece of music the length of a pop song. The result is a skronky, though surprisingly listenable, jam that sounds a bit like an 8-bit Nintendo game (an obvious influence) on crack. Though the supporting information on the song’s YouTube page makes it clear what’s happening, listening to the song alone makes the performance around it seem novel at best. What’s the difference between 4 million notes and 400 notes? It would be absurd to suggest that by simply using more notes (or even by doing something first) that the song is improved in any way. “Bad Apple” really doesn’t sound all that different than Skrillex (though it’s much more interesting to write about).

But, “Bad Apple” is not just a song. It is specifically and exclusively experienced as a YouTube video. This is what sets “Bad Apple” apart from a song like “Clara.” “Bad Apple” is good art. “Clara” is bad art. I would contend that, despite all the hoopla about millions of notes, “Bad Apple” is at least equal parts visual art, or perhaps more accurately a kind of digital art. It makes sense, then, that the genesis of the attention paid to “Bad Apple” seems to start with recognition from the esteemed media-arts organization Rhizome.

“Bad Apple” was created using the software Synthesia, a kind of Guitar Hero for piano. It’s as if TheSuperMarioBros2 saw that title and instantly thought of Synesthesia, the neurological condition that causes sufferers to experience sounds as colors. Watching millions of notes fly by in rapid succession as little blocks of patterned color in the video for “Bad Apple,” it becomes clear that the whole endeavor is a complete idea. It’s not just about the music, it’s about the whole experience and what can be accomplished in the multi-dimensional medium of the internet.

The key difference between “Bad Apple” and “Clara” is this: everything that makes “Bad Apple” great is available to the audience in the form itself. The key to appreciating it is simply recognizing what that proper form is. Scott Walker, on the other hand, tells us, externally, but does not show us, internally, that he’s interested in making capital-A art. The added layers of meaning in “Clara” are a nice topic for discussion but they are purely artificial. They add nothing to the core experience of “Clara” or The Drift and can be written off as arbitrary. It’s as if I proclaimed, in a bonus feature, that I wrote this piece with one foot submerged in boiling water and the other in ice cold water, and that it’s actually a meditation on the nature of ambition titled “Art Police.”

(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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