The internet is vastly more about culture than it is media, but the extent to which media IS culture these days has a way of blocking the cultural aspects. For people still grappling with the notion that the web is a place and not merely a set of pipes and content, this seems far too abstract to comprehend. Yet comprehend it we must (those of us in traditional media), for our future lies therein.
Witness the remarkable story — as published in today’s New York Times — of Korean guitarist Jeong-Hyun Lim, the creator of the “funtwo” version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D as viewed on youTube seven and a half million times. You need to see this video and read some of the comments to get a glimpse into the magnitude of what’s before us. You also need to read Virginia Heffernan’s wonderful account of how this came about and her insight into the why’s of posting something like this on youTube. The web, it turns out, is the gathering place of the hyper-niche, each being birthed at the bottom and using whatever tools the net provides to “be” what THEY want to be.
If you follow the leads, this Everest of electric-guitar virtuosity, like so many other online artifacts, turns out to be a portal into a worldwide microculture, this one involving hundreds of highly stylized solo guitar videos, of which funtwo’s is but the most famous. And though they seem esoteric, they have surprising implications: for YouTube, the dissemination of culture, online masquerade and even the future of classical music.
Online guitar performances seem to carry a modesty clause, in the same way that hip-hop comes with a boast…
…Even as they burst onto the scene as fully-formed guitar gods, they hang back from heavy self-promotion. Neither JerryC nor funtwo has a big recording contract.
At a moment in pop history when it seems to take a phalanx of staff — producers, stylists, promoters, handlers, agents — to make a music star, I asked Mr. Lim about the huge response to the video he had made in his bedroom. What did he make of the tens of thousands of YouTube commenters, most of whom treat him as though he’s the second coming of Jimi Hendrix?
Mr. Lim wrote back quickly. “Some said my vibrato is quite sloppy,” he replied. “And I agree that so these days I’m doing my best to improve my vibrato skill.”
People are endlessly inventive, and they know better than we do what they like. Granted, this story is heavily influenced by Asian culture, but look how far downstream they are in the uses and applications of the web and especially mobile technology.
Finally, this guitar world only scratches the surface of not only what’s to come but what’s already there. And isn’t it remarkable that nobody’s asking the permission of the mainstream to do any of this? The music industry, like so many other institutions, has wrapped itself in laws and rules, because it long ago stopped being about music. This internet niche is the opposite, and that’s a serious, serious threat to the status quo.
BONUS link: Cory Bergman writes at Lost Remote about the continued heavy-handed strategies of the music industry. Now they’re going after tablature writers, people who listen to music and write the notes and finger positions to enable others to play the tunes. The industry is claiming copyright infringement (what else?) and threatening the sites that post tabs. This is stupidity gone to seed. Talk about killing the goose that laid the golden egg!