Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bar Mitzvah or human rationality?

I've been looking forward to analyzing the Weather of the famous double episode of Welcome To Night Vale.  In the "Sandstorm," a storm engulfs both Night Vale and Desert Bluffs.  The double episode gives us the perspective from both towns' radio hosts, who end up trading places briefly through a portal.  Both episodes use the same music, "Eliezar's Waltz," composed by Larry Cardozo and Ron Fink, who is likely related to the podcast creator Joseph Fink.  However, the Weather is performed by two different groups.  The Night Vale weather is by the Ventura Klezmer Band, a traditional klezmer band in the Los Angeles area.  It is a very traditional sounding waltz, one that would fit in very well at a Jewish wedding or Bar Mitzvah.  There are no lyrics, though a female vocalist does sing the Yiddish syllables "Lie lie lie."  This could be taken as nonsense, or a play on the similarity to the English word "lie."  The other version is by the New Age band Disparition, which also provides the theme song and background music for all the episodes of WtNV.  While the melody is recognizable, it is no longer a waltz.  Electronic instruments, with heavy distortion, reverb, and other effects, play in a standard 4/4 meter, though with a lot of hemiola and other syncopation.  Many of the sounds are atmospheric, while others are more percussive, like a standard drum machine and the melody on a sort-of-vibraphone.  The harmony is also much more confusing, unlike the clear minor key of the klezmer version. 

In the second episode, Cecil discovers that the Desert Bluffs radio station is covered in blood, a strange distortion of the gentle happiness suggested by the Desert Bluffs announcer, Kevin.  In the first episode it seems like Desert Bluffs is the nicer version of Night Vale, but by the end of the second episode it is very unclear which town is "good."  Which one is the distortion of the other, which one is the "normal" one?  The klezmer sound is Night Vale's, and the old fashioned music fits with Kevin's observation that the NV radio station seems very old and out of date, much like the town founders, who are still alive after hundreds of years.  If that is the case, then Desert Bluffs is the strange distorted version, murky in its electronic modernism.  It is heavily capitalistic, which fits with the modernist music performed by colder electronic instruments rather than humanly imperfect acoustic instruments of a klezmer band. 

Eliezer is the first name of an artificial intelligence theorist, Abraham's steward, Moses' second son, and a prophet of Israel.  The name translates as "Help of my God" from Hebrew.  The connection to klezmer music makes sense, but it is intriguing to think that the Night Vale folks might have been alluding to the theorist.  Besides artificial intelligence, Eliezer Yudkowsky works on human rationality.  What does it mean to be sane?  He also writes about the Singularity.  The question of whether Night Vale or Desert Bluffs is rational makes for an interesting waltz.

1 comment:

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Note, Jon Bernstein prefers the description "electronic music" rather than New Age. And I am just plain wrong to call him a "band" as he is a solo artist. Sorry, Jon!