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See Simon and Garfunkle CDs ...






Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits

(Includes Sound of Silence)
For voice, piano and guitar chords. With vocal melody, piano accompaniment, lyrics, chord names and guitar chord diagrams. 64 pages. 9x12 inches.
See more info...

Strange New Worlds Issue 9 - Sep/Oct 1993

Move Over, MTV

Here Come the Song Vids!
Fan Music Videos

by Tashery Shannon

During the last decade, a new media form came into the world: the song video, otherwise known as fan music videos, or song vids.

For those who have missed song video showings at conventions, or have never had a tape foisted on you by a friend obsessed with making vids, let me attempt to explain this creative form of fan art. Imagine clips from a favorite television show or movie edited to a song. As an example, here is a brief description of a Star Trek song video using Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sounds of Silence. This song vid was made several years ago by Mary Van Deusen, a maker of many early song vids now considered classics. The song opens with a few quiet guitar notes. We hear:

" Hello, darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again"*

while we are shown Kirk sitting alone in his apartment with his book and broken spectacles (footage from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). During the next lines of the song, the vid maker presents us with a "flashback" to years before — Kirk, exhausted and grief-stricken and Spock giving him the healing mind-meld touch. We do not hear Spock whispering the single word of dialogue, "Forget." Instead we hear Simon and Garfunkel's lyrics

"Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping."

But because this is a memorable moment in the series, most fans know what Spock is saying to Kirk. It is this knowledge of the significance of the image that conveys an additional meaning to Star Trek fans, though the message would be lost to those unfamiliar with the series.

This image is then juxtaposed with clips from Spock’s heroic demise. Combined with the earlier images and with the haunting lyrics, these images now hold a significance not displayed in the original. The vid becomes more than the sum of its parts. Spock's mental command to "Forget" is eerily mirrored when just before his death he implants his consciousness in McCoy’s mind while uttering the single word, "Remember."

By joining images in new ways, a song vid can often strike chords of new meaning.

On the next line, "And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains," we see a still image of Spock and Kirk against an alien sky, a typical portrait of them facing the unknown together. The vid continues in this way, using familiar Trek images to refer in different ways to "silence" . . . the lonely silence of Spock’s absence. The vid ends with Kirk alone. It paints a portrait of sadness, with no hints of the happy ending that will be encountered in Kirk's future. Vids often do this, choosing to explore at more depth some single moment in the sequence of a larger story.

Since song video makers must work with already existing body of video material, they face the challenges posed by these limited images. One of the most enjoyable aspects of "vidding" is creatively solving these problems. This use of derivative material limits its effectiveness for viewers unfamiliar with the source. But for those who know the source, the result can be fascinating and often quite startling. A new angle can be created by choosing images to tell the story from a supporting character’s, or even a villain’s, viewpoint. Or, a combination of images and lyrics might bring out previously untapped humor, as in, say, images of Han Solo set to a song about a conceited macho cowboy. Conversely, the visuals can make a serious song funny, as when Blake’s 7 villain Travis tracks down Blake to the tune of the romantic song Follow Me.

How to Make Fan Music Videos

Professional editing equipment is not needed to make song videos. Anyone can do it as long as they have video tapes of a television series or movie to use as a source, a stereo system, a VCR for recording a song onto videotape, and a second VCR with video dubbing capability. After the soundtrack is recorded, the first VCR plays the source tapes and the other (the one with video dubbing capability) copies the images onto the videotape with the soundtrack. Only a few years ago, VHS or Beta machines with video dub capacity were expensive and difficult to find. Now a large selection of VHS machines with video dubbing is available. Prices have lowered dramatically; the least expensive models sell for around $400 at discount electronics stores. The significance of video dub is that the regular recording mode automatically erases all old images and sound from the tape as it records the new images and sound. Video dub mode allows visual images to be recorded without erasing the song that the vid maker previously laid down as a soundtrack.

The earliest vids were simple affairs. A single, consecutive sequence from a TV episode or movie played straight through, without editing, to the accompaniment of a song. The lyrics gave new nuances of meaning to favorite scenes, but the relationship between the picture and sound was hit-and-miss. Experiments with editing began to juxtapose shorter clips from a variety of different scenes in new ways, giving the video maker better control over meaning and emotional content. An edit per line or two became standard. An early Blake’s 7 vid by Patricia Lamb, set to Willie Nelson’s Angel Flyin’ Too Close to the Ground, utilizes a simple editing technique to change scenes. A clip is edited in from a different scene, showing the ship's crew around the campfire sharing the news of a crewmate's death; this edit is deliberately timed so that a cut already in the episode to a close-up of the fire falls within the sequence -- the symbolism of the dying fire adding to the emotional effect. For several years, nearly all song videos used this simple kind of editing. It remains a common method, appropriate especially for slow songs where the lyrics are more striking than the rhythms.

Vid makers explore many themes, both comic and tragic, usually to pop, rock, folk, country, or satiric recordings by a well-known band. But other kinds of recordings, including filk, have also been used. [Filk is a media-inspired musical performance. See "In a Fine Filk," Issue #8 of Strange New Worlds for a detailed discussion of this form of fan music.] There is one humorous vid set to the vid maker’s reading of the story Peter Rabbit with only a piano accompaniment. Some vids also mix spoken words and songs, like Gayle Feyrer’s ingenious Universe Song. In this vid, Blake’s 7 characters encounters Monty Python's organ bank bounty hunters and seem to have dialogue with each other. "Can I have your liver, then?" This is a unique, creative twist on the originals. But the humor only fully works if the audience is familiar with both the Monty Python liver donor sketch and the Blake’s 7 episode.

The most popular sources for song vids have been Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Blake’s 7, Beauty and the Beast, and films such as Star Wars. Other favorites include newcomers like Quantum Leap and non-science fiction shows like Starsky and Hutch, Sherlock Holmes, and the English adventure show, The Professionals. The use of images from more than one source is also growing popular.

The most recent trend has been toward greater control and refinement in editing. As improved equipment allows more precise, cleaner, and easier editing, some vid makers are using quicker cuts falling on more exact musical points. They use not only the lyrics, but the music, with sophistication to create an increasingly complex interplay between the rhythms of the song and the cutting and motions of the cameras and actors.

If song vids are so compelling, why are they only now, after a decade, beginning to catch on among fans? At the beginning of their existence, few people owned VCRs. Also, the popularity of specific song videos is limited to narrow fan groups. Since the images are reduced to short, out-of-context clips, all but the most slapstick are incomprehensible to viewers unfamiliar with the source. They become a mere collage of abstract images. The nuances of meaning are lost and non-viewers of the particular shows cannot understand the unique way song vids interact with the source media.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to their spread among fans is that song videos cannot legally be sold. The music and footage, no matter how it has been edited, is still someone else’s creative property. It does not belong to the song vid maker. Anyone considering selling song tapes should be aware that there is a danger of prosecution under the same laws governing pirating of music or movie tapes. Giving away your song tapes or trading them, however, is perfectly legal. To be ethical, the vid should be your own work or you should have the permission of the vid maker to distribute it. This circulation among friends is being sped up through a new channel of communication, a recently started newsletter for song vid makers and viewers, Rainbow Noise.

For many science fiction fans, a song video giving new insights into favorite characters has special meaning that no original camcorder footage possibly could. Though some song video makers have set their own camcorder footage to songs, it is significant that the media-related song vids have remained overwhelmingly the most popular with fans. They are not quite like having new episodes of your favorite series, but it is startling how habit-forming song videos can become. They can refresh, transform, and deepen an appreciation for a known and loved series or film.

Again, yes, song vids are a derivative art form. But since vids are mainly a fan-to-fan form of communication, who cares? Song vids represent a special, private communication between fans and friends.

*The Sounds of Silence, words and music by Paul Simon, copyright 1966

STAR TREK TM & ã Paramount Pictures. Star Trek is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures.

Want sheet music, songbooks or guitar tabs? Try Sheet Music Plus. They have over 366,000 titles to choose from, and you can order online.


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