Finding Lyrics Everywhere

The Gregory Brothers have made a name for themselves by writing songs whose lyrics come from YouTube videos and then auto-tuning the original speakers to make them effectively sing the song. Their most watched one is undoubtedly the Bed Intruder song, featuring fellow Huntsville resident Antoine Dodson.

Their work is an example of using found lyrics — texts that weren’t originally written to be art and setting them to music. It’s a lot like what Marchel Duchamp did with urinals and bike wheels.

Sometimes the composers are highlighting the bathetic humor of combining high-art compositions with goofy texts, like how Gabriel Kahane set Craigslist ads to music in his song cycle Craigslistlieder. I highly recommend “For Trade Assless Chaps”, “You Looked Sexy”, and especially “Neurotic and Lonely”, all of which you can download for free.

(An aside: Kahane’s not the only one to be inspired by Craigslist. Sam Krahn also created a whole song cycle out of Craigslist Missed Connections.)

Sometimes the composer seeks to provoke or comment on the original text. Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads borrows the words of reporters, politicians, and survivors and is stunning, powerful, and harrowing. Phil Kline took three of Donald Rumsfeld’s responses to the pressset them to music, finding poetry in Rumsfeld’s answers. He’s not the only one, either; Bryant Kong did the same thing.

Not all musicians turn the text into lyrics. Sometimes they write music around the person’s actual speech.

I find this stuff fascinating because it blurs the line between art and not-art, because it illuminates and elevates the banal or bizarre, and because so much of the music written using found lyrics is so well done. Want to hear more songs using found lyrics? The October 2nd episode of New Sounds covered many of these and other examples.

And that should be enough to fill the void of your Friday.

5 thoughts on “Finding Lyrics Everywhere

  1. Would a good example of this be will-i-am’s setting of president obama’s speech to music during the campaign?

    I remember finding that video well-received.

  2. Yeah, that’s in the neighborhood of what I’m thinking of. I didn’t list it since speeches tend to be more designed text — closer to art — than off-the-cuff answers or Craigslist postings.

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