The dissertation. The most feared piece of work, aside from surviving the company of a loud and drunken housemate, that a degree student can face. This is a brief summary of what I got up to.
20,953 words over 99 pages later, ‘Weird Alien Criminals…’ was complete and went on to receive a First-level grade.
The abstract read:
“…Acts the outcome of which are unknown.” – John Cage
1997 saw the release of Radiohead’s monumental third album OK Computer, frequently cited as one of the greatest albums ever recorded. After the barrage of praise, and a dream, headlining slot of Glastonbury Festival, an ecstatic public awaited the release of album number four. What they eventually received in 2000 was Kid A, which isolated and confused listeners world wide with its cryptic, sometimes unintelligible lyrics, and abandonment of guitars. Radiohead’s anthems had become a thing of the past.
Amidst the accusations of it being an ‘over-analysed mistake’, ‘dull’, ‘frustrating’ or just plain ‘shit’, there was a recurring buzzword – ‘experimental’.
‘Weird Alien Criminals: The Experimentation of Radiohead’ explores the truth in the statement, attempting to find a definitive split between normality and experimentation, and whether a term carelessly used for a weird and wonderful artwork is appropriate in the case of the ever-enigmatic Radiohead.
Chapter 1: Defining ‘experimental’ demonstrated my knowledge of music commonly referred to as experimental, directly studying composition (‘Oblique Strategies’ by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt), recording (‘I am sitting in a room’ by Alvin Lucier) and performance (‘4’33” by John Cage), in an effort to create a definition of ‘experimental music’ that would be used for comparison to Radiohead’s works.
Here, as primary research, I recorded my own version of ‘I am sitting in a room’.
Chapter 2: Radiohead and Experimentation in Theory applied these theories to the writing, production and live performance techniques of Kid A directly, comparing the album to typical rock conventions. Here, I coined terms and concepts (‘accumulative experimentation’ and ‘blank-canvas experimentation’) to demonstrate my theories.
Chapter 3: The life and times of Radiohead 2.0, 1997-2000 introduced more of the context of the records, such as Radiohead’s inspirations and frame of mind, before deciding whether my chosen definition of ‘experimental music’ survived.
Hard work, but the lecturers weren’t lying when they said that the process would be fulfilling.