Someone's Screaming Outside revisits the rainy Florida night George Zimmerman met Trayvon Martin, using only 911 calls from that evening and musical samples from YouTube videos reacting to the tragedy.
Producer Mad Genius has stripped familiar media hyperbole from the story, inviting you to re-examine your own conclusions about the incident, without the usual excessive news analysis and talking heads getting in the way.
Find out more about Mad Genius's "2012: A Year In Your Ear" project, and read more mad musings about public radio's shortcomings, slipping detection, and... Hulk Hogan, Behind the Scenes.
Mad Genius is an anonymous collective of on-line musicians who construct pop songs mostly through found sounds. Using samples from our news and social media, the group hopes to tell the story of our pending apocalypse (alleged). Their sound and vibe is married to the news media cycle, pop culture and oddball humor but always with deep empathy for the people and things they sample. Best of all, anyone can join Mad Genius by hooking up with their Facebook page, recommending noises to the collective and stealing samples from their audio blog.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Mad Genius
Who is Mad Genius, and how/why did he/she/it come to life?
Mad Genius is an anonymous, web-based group of musicians who construct pop songs almost entirely through found sounds. This little cult sprung to life in 2004 over a shared worship of quirkly samples and social media culture (before it became known as such). Since then, the group has slowly been assembling an album inspired by this mindset and openly sharing their samples with others.
We understand this is your Official Bio, but who is Mad Genius, really? Radio heros/influences? Favorite season? Cats or dogs? Green or red salsa?
No heroes in radio. We were told it's a shallow money-less pit where the wicked roam free and good men die like dogs. We were also told there was a bad side. Audio heroes beyond radio? Def Leppard, Super Furry Animals and the KLF, just to name three. Favorite season? "Wabbit Season, Duck Season, Wabbit Season, Duck Season, Wabbit Season..." Cats or dogs? Did you know that swans make hideous noises? One of the first things we've ever sampled. So I guess we like swans. They snort like piglets. Green or red salsa? No comment. Don't want to upset our many fans in the salsa industry.
Why all of this anonymity, anyway? Is this distance/inaccessibility ever a liability in terms of your audience understanding what you're up to/taking you seriously? Does this matter?
The anonymity springs from several ideas. You could say it's an over-reaction to the very visual nature of music today and the widespread rejection of all things enigmatic. Thus our question: Do you need an image at all? You could say it's inspired by comic books, conspiracy theories and Unsolved Mysteries. Mild-mannered humans adopt alteregos (like that of our mascot - D.B. Cooper), pull off death-defying audio heists and escape in dramatic fashion. But most likely it's an attempt to slip detection, freeing our members to produce works with the samples that inspire them, post the work for social media addicts and disappear into the Facebook night. In other words, shooting first and avoiding questions later. Why did I just answer that question?? Does the audience take us seriously? We don't. Do you?
We take you seriously…enough. Might you ever reveal actual identity? C’mon, give us a hint, we'll keep it close. Also, thanks for introducing us to D.B. Cooper. Fascinating!
OK, you got us. We're Carl Kasell. And, coincidentally, Carl Kasell is D.B. Cooper. Ask him/us about it sometime, that ol' daredevil!
Is "Year in Your Ear" documentary? News? Art? Music? Activism? A hybrid of all five + more? None of the above?
"Year In Your Ear" is the Mad Genius multi-media wing. We figured why just make music when we can make audio art of all different sorts. So we decided to create our idea of public radio: This American Life on bath salts (all the kids are doing bath salts, you know.) You could call it a documentary, we are hoping to give listeners a colorful rendering of our cultural obsessions in 2012. You could call it music, as there are beats, chords and gestures to the pop gods. Wouldn't call it news or activism. We're more Terry Bollea than Terry Gross. But we do have stories. Good stories. Just not the ones Ira Glass would tell and in a way that uses (abuses?) sound to it's full, imaginative extent.
How does each song come together?
The words (or sampling victims) usually come first. We try to detect the memorable phrasing, words and rhythms and build the song, timbre and tempo around that. The body of the song (chords, keys, etc.) comes next when we see what noises and instruments are tied to the topic. Then comes an insane week or two of editing. The end result hopefully not only feels like a story verbally, but sonically as well. The sounds should help guide the unintentional lyricist to a climax that may not have been immediately apparent otherwise. The final steps of the process are the platinum records, Grammys and Peabodys that will inevitably come from our hard work. Put in a good word, Third Coast, put in a good word.
We'll see about that. In the meantime, what makes a news event perfect fodder for a Mad Genius song?
No one is safe from a Mad Genius song. Our freedom to satirize anyone is yet another reason for the anonymity. The story should live at the intersection of pop, politics, the personal and social. The raw sound must be arresting and referenced by many in different social media forms. Last month, we did a Trayvon Martin song, this week we're working with audio from the so-called zombie apocalypse. What next? Whatever makes you chuckle, cry and get pissed off, hopefully all at once.
Clearly, humor's an important ingredient in Mad Genius's toolbox, yet you're also "telling the story of our pending (alleged) apocalypse," which is a considerably dire speculation/mission. How do these different perspectives jive?
You're not seeing the humor in that mission! The only reason 2012 is our apocalypse is our own ridiculous obsessions: Tea Partiers, Tree Huggers, Religious Zealots, B-Movie Geeks and Social Crusaders of all stripes have predicted our premature demise this year. We're just using these passing fancies to build an audio time capsule that's hopefully entertaining and simultanously enlightening in some way. Oh, and it will, of course, write our final chapter for the advanced society that eventually rises up from our ashes.
We DO see the humor (just chuckled again, thinking about it) but still, there's a serious cultural critique (we think) at the heart of Mad Genius’s work, and wonder: how important it is to you that listeners come away from it with a clear sense of that critique?
It's fascinating (to us) that you're finding these messages. Sure, when you toy with the news cycle like we do, it will suggest lots of things: Our short attention span, our news media's odd coverage obsessions, the way infotainment dulls our empathy. You can find lots of things in our work if you hunt for it, but we'd be more happy if people thought, "Huh, who knew Rick Santorum's stump speeches were so darn catchy! It's like 'Call Me Maybe,' but about contraception!"
How does Mad Genius's work fit (or not) into the larger public radio landscape, and what are your plans for the near and distant-er future?
We just want to give the "radio" (do you guys even work on the "radio" anymore? The word still holds a certain charm for us, but...) a good, hard shake. We've been hearing stories for so long with a self-referencing narrator, some soundbites and a little noise here and there. Soundtracked by lots and lots of Sigur Ros. There has be a different way to tell stories. So we're removing the narrator and raising the importance of sound in determining the rhythm and climax of a good story. And with far more references to zombies, LFMAO, doggie suglasses, Linsanity and aspirin between the knees as a means for contraception. You're clearly missing all of those things in public radio. Have to fix that! Pronto!
The future? What future?
Has MG ever been tempted by (gasp) a more traditional approach to documentary work?
We’re curious what topics/stories you’d pursue IF you could stand the ho-hum-ness of it all.
But working with ho-hum-ness is precisely what we do! It's our idiom! We take ho-hum and make it hot-damn! It gives us perverse pleasure in turning a sweater vest superstar like Rick Santorum into a disco diva. Well, him and the "I want to die with honor in the coming zombie apocalypse" guy.
Must admit, we find talking about what you do delightfully (and perplexingly) tricky. Third Coast would prefer to discuss over beers, with a good set of speakers at the ready.
That can probably happen. But can we wear wigs and cheap sunglasses?
Deal. We’ll bring the vocoder.