Recently I uploaded a MIDI mockup of my next piece, String Quartet No.9, or what will probably end up being better known as the “Angry Birds String Quartet Arrangement”. Just one movement of it so far — I know that the synthesized sounds of the generic patch I used isn’t nowhere near “professional” quality but I uploaded it to test for people’s reactions to what I have so far. (My Minimum Viable Product, so to speak.)
Normally I tend to believe in certain pieces so much that I’d go all the way to get it performed, but I’ve been trying to stay disciplined with the whole “Lean Startup” thing by testing for audience reactions before proceeding any further. I think I’m using the right approach for this particular piece, but so far the results have been, say, a little disturbing, so I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet.
To start the story from the beginning, I made this Angry Birds Remix track a few months ago, mostly as a joke:
Last I checked, it’s at 600 hits and growing — I know it isn’t much compared to YouTube stars like Justin Bieber, but it’s more than I’ve ever gotten with any of my other videos so far. I got comments saying that it’s “the best remix ever”, and a few that said that it sucked-ass, both which are good signs for an entrepreneurial venture. When I uploaded it onto iTunes, some people actually downloaded it and paid actual money, even though the production quality was just as bad as this one. (Wow.) And this was all with no promotional efforts whatsoever — in fact, I made a conscious effort avoiding its promotion because it was probably one of my least favorite tracks.
Honestly speaking, there’s a side of me — let’s call it the “ivory tower elitist” side — that really, really, wants to destroy this piece. It reeks of commercialism, pandering to an audience, and all and all “selling out” at the expense of some greater truth that I’m supposedly obliged to as a Ph.D candidate. I’ve even gone so far as to agree with the negative comments and feedback I’ve been getting, helping them clarify the reasons for their discontent. (Most people seem to get confused and then I never hear from them again, oh well.)
As an entrepreneurial idea, however, I’m obliged to see value in people’s reactions, so I’ve managed to avoid hitting the delete button during the last few months. (If this was a few years ago I probably would’ve done it without even thinking about it.) But for a while I was pretty resistant to taking things any further, mostly because I didn’t even like the game that much to begin with since I played the demo only once. And the last thing I wanted to do with my time was to make another cheesy remix or arrangement of something I don’t love. I’ve gotten some pretty strong responses from my string quartets as well, so I figured, why not just focus on that?
But later I had an idea to combine the two things by writing a string quartet using the theme fairly liberally — I mean, if you’ve played the game before, you’d be able hear it pretty clearly, but it’s placed in a completely different context. In essence, it was a compromise between the two leads that I’ve had so far.
As I dug deeper, I found out that Angry Birds is actually not a very cute game at all. It’s about class warfare (pig monarchs), pigs stealing the birds’ futures (eggs), destroying the system (buildings), and self-sacrifice (slinging yourself). And well, regardless if you win or lose the game all of the birds you use dies in one way or another. If you suck your birds die in vain…if you’re good your birds die anyway but at least the pigs are dead as well. It’s a pretty violent game, and its widespread success should really disturb more people than it has been so far. (But it’s cute, so it’s OK I guess.)
But anyway, these themes explains the game’s widespread success, because it’s a reflection of what people are feeling in their own lives after the economic downturn. There’s been lots of slingshot games in the past, but none have been as successful as the Angry Birds franchise. Why? The story explains everything. Pigs beware — particularly if you’re living in glass houses…the birds are everywhere now!
So using the ideas above, it gave me enough of a reason to believe that I could write a “serious” work that might strike at the heart of many of these issues. I even have all the movement titles laid out — one for each color of the bird: Red, Blue (Multiplying/Counterpoint), Yellow (Speed/Rhythmic), Black (Explosive/Dramatic), White (Pooping/Pooping [tbd. not sure]), and so on. I don’t think the original theme really was meant to represent these ideas but here’s a chance to bring out the essence of what the game is really about.
The results so far has been pretty disturbing from a musicological point of view, but my guess is that most people won’t really notice these things unless clarified to them directly. (They never do.) It’ll definitely be something that’s never been done before, but is this something people really want to hear? Let me know if you have any feedback or comments — entrepreneurs, musicians, classical music fans, artists — anyone?