Yo, Yo, I'm a Cowboy Now

I have been trying for some time to track down a recording from the mid-1990s. A couple of Russian-born conceptual artists had determined, via a poll of listeners, what the most unappealing kinds of music were -- then created a piece embodying all of them. For example, people hate songs about holidays, choirs, and kids singing. So there was a passage where a children's chorus singing about Labor Day.

My efforts to Google it kept failing, and it started to seem like something I might have imagined. And now, out of the blue, here comes Phil Ford to prove that it was no hallucination.

He quotes an account of how the sonic parameters were selected:

The most unwanted music is over 25 minutes long, veers wildly between loud and quiet sections, between fast and slow tempos, and features timbres of extremely high and low pitch, with each dichotomy presented in abrupt transition. The most unwanted orchestra was determined to be large, and features the accordion and bagpipe (which tie at 13% as the most unwanted instrument), banjo, flute, tuba, harp, organ, synthesizer (the only instrument that appears in both the most wanted and most unwanted ensembles). An operatic soprano raps and sings atonal music, advertising jingles, political slogans, and "elevator" music, and a children's choir sings jingles and holiday songs. The most unwanted subjects for lyrics are cowboys and holidays, and the most unwanted listening circumstances are involuntary exposure to commercials and elevator music. Therefore, it can be shown that if there is no covariance--someone who dislikes bagpipes is as likely to hate elevator music as someone who despises the organ, for example--fewer than 200 individuals of the world's total population would enjoy this piece.
Well damn....it turns out I'm one of them.

Hiphop tuba plus a soprano rapping about the Old West -- what's not to like? You can listen to it here.

As I recall, they also recorded a song combining all the qualities that people said they particularly enjoyed in music. If anyone has a link for it, I'll post that, too.

UPDATE: More on the project at Design Observer.

I've only recently discovered DO and added it to the blogroll -- an adventurous site, not to be missed.
April 5, 2008 4:49 PM | | Comments (39)



Thanks very much, John. I like their self-portrait as Stalinist Boy Scouts.

You're very welcome. "The Birth of Socialist Realism" is pretty fine, too.

I, too, count myself part of that tiny minority (as in so many other things).
Very Frank Zappa. Webern said: "Someday they'll be whistling my music in the street."
-- this is not yet that day.
Bill Shea

Postscript: just heard the most wanted one. How Idol-worthy, how elevator-ready, how awful.

Agreed -- in fact, I couldn't bring myself to sit through all of it.

By contrast, I've listened to "The Most Unwanted Song" twice so far. There's a lot to take in, including a section about Wittgenstein and that political rant into the megaphone near the end.

Ahh, it feels great to be one of the vaunted 200- I loved the unwanted.
Especially the childrens chorus singing praises to Wal-Mart- kinda reminded me of Yo Lo Tengo's version of Sun Ra's song Nuclear War.

it's like an intentionally bad version of the Fiery Furnaces.

Wow, I really like this song! Honestly, you could tell someone that this is the new Van Dyke Parks / Brian Wilson collaboration and it clean house on Pitchfork. Amazing!

Haha.. the problem with his assumptions is that there is a LOT of covariance. Specifically, people who otherwise have normative good taste also thoroughly enjoy things which are completely awful, because they're awful. So the more awful things you put in there, the more likely you will engage that audience, which clearly is happening. :-)

so by my count, there are 196 slots left on the 200 club..after I take my slot, that is.

You might also check out http://pitchformula.com/, which is similar in approach, perhaps more rigorous.

These people have obviously never heard Billy the Mountain. It will clear a party 10 times faster than this pathetic attempt at bad music.

This has been around for a while... I still have it burned on CD and listen to it every now and then.

It was packaged with "The Most Wanted Music", which is the antithesis to this project... and it's one of the most banal, boring and irritating pieces of pop drivel I've ever heard.

I actually wrote and performed the music and survey, and should be credited, and Nina Mankin wrote the lyrics.

best, Dave Soldier

I actually bloody love this song!!

I like it. It's very Nina Hagen.

Did someone swap The Most Unwanted Music mp3 with an unreleased cut from the latest Fiery Furnaces album? I HATE THEM.

Love it! That probably says a lot about my taste in music.

Quite a few of the segments sound very much Ween; bit of Mr. Bungle in there too.

People keep saying that "Most Unwanted" resembles Nina Hagen, but the resemblance is so superficial as to be almost nonexistent. It's akin to saying that Andres Segovia and Jimi Hendrix were kind of alike.

Just because this features an opera singer and Nina Hagen sang opera doesn't amount to similarity. Hagen's use of her voice is about as different from this soprano's as it can be.

I find it really enjoyable.

If they wanted to make it truly horrible they should have used out of tune instruments and randomly varying tempo sources...

As it is the production quality and musicianship are too good to be "bad".

I sat through the Most-Unwanted with a huge grin on my face! For anyone else who enjoyed it, I imagine you'll love DJ Typsy Gypsy's Balkan Hot Step Soundsystem mixes. Enjoy!

Apparently, most of the 200 have accessed and commented on this posting, because I love it, too.

Not so sure, however, about the 'Most Wanted'.

Not even gonna try n pretend to like it to try n be really falsely cool, it's total crap so I really dont want a spot on any 200 club, but I hasten to add the most wanted song is even craper than the most unwanted. For other unwated music google Kenny G or anything linked to Simon Cowell.

This peice is funny but thats as much as i can say about it!

I guess I'm another of the 200, because I absolutely love this track. Thanks for sharing it!

Both were terrible, but if I had to choose between the two of them, it would be the most unwanted.

It's sad, no, it's depressing that generic, dentist friendly rhythm and blues is the most wanted.

Around 8:35 and on is my favorite.

Im going to make this song my screen saver sound

That cowboy song was incredibly funny...
... for about 30 seconds. Then it was just
Interestingly, to me at least, the "most wanted
music" song was at least as irritating.
Neither of them is as bad as "Mulligan's Tyre"
by Wings. That one is far more dreadful than
even the cringe-making "Grandma".
"Billy the Mountain" sounds like fun. I must try
to get a download of it someday.
Thank you all for broadening my musical horizon.

Scott, these pieces were composed by me, and I wrote the poll, the lyrics are by Nina Mankin, and concept by me with Komar & Melamid. The CD is available through www.mulatta.org. Please adjust the credits accordingly.

best, Dave Soldier

I have listened to this song twice already today and I love it. It is utterly brilliant. I played the first five minutes for my class today, and most didn't know what to make of it, but a few were howling with laughter. I teach 10th grade honors chem.

Okay, I admit it: The idea of a 10th grade honors chemistry class listening to some music because of this blog really makes my day.

Damn dentist music. It's like a donut wrapped in a satin pillow wrapped in a teddy bear wrapped in a placenta wrapped in a garbage truck.

I'm one of the few, and one of the proud 200 who loves this song.

At least they clear up a point: in order to be heard, you have to upset people.

These guys got the job done, definitely!
The most wanted song is so cheesy it could get a pass in any elevator-music specialized radio station, or as background music for soap operas. I had a real hard time listening past 1 minute of it, and I know this is what "wanted" music is all about. Congrats!
OTOH, the most unwanted cut is unlistenable for almost all people. At least I could laugh a lot! But, if trimmed, could be sold as a hidden song from Sgt. Peppers.
BTW, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 manage to do unlistenable songs very well, and I don't think they use scientific research. "Nothing Solid" sounds less wanted than this one. I found nowhere to listen to it on the web, what kinda proves my point.
Great job!
Grilo D

Loved the entire unwanted song. But then, I enjoy twisted wierd music. Count me in for the 200.

I'm definitely one of the 200! Been listening to it constantly since I discovered it. Totally epic.

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This page contains a single entry by Quick Study published on April 5, 2008 4:49 PM.

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