25 minute composition: "The Most Unwanted Song"

After a long search, Scott McLemee finally found a recording by a pair of Russian conceptual artists who created a song that most people will despise, as determined by a survey they conducted.
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.

[Phil Ford] 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.

I guess I'm one of the 200 people who likes it, too. Link | Song (via Coop)

75

  1. Reminds me of TMBG, and I like it for all the reasons I like them, and dislike it for all the reasons I dislike them.

  2. This could easily be a lost Nina Hagen / Malcom Maclarren colaboration from 1982. At least the first 2:42 or so. Bagpipes are way rad.

  3. I also liked this song immediately when I bought the CD. Didn’t like the “Most Wanted” song as much. But oddly enough, I don’t listen to either very often. Although I have since acquired a few of the “Most Unwanted” instruments…

  4. I usually tell people I have an eclectic taste in music, but the truth is I just can’t tell what good and bad are supposed to sound like. The only thing that turns me off a song is gratuitous vulgar lyrics.

  5. actually this great collective called Nortec was using tuba banda style and electronica in cool way … okay, not hip-hop and tuba, but …

  6. There was a This American Life about this and they went into the methodology for how they arrived at this wonderful monstrosity. I hope someone else here can remember the name of that episode

    The survey produced a companion piece “The most wanted song”. It was 2 and odd minutes long, guy/girl duet about love and god, sounded almost exactly like everything on R&B pop adult contemporary radio, except more so. I tried listening to it a couple of times, it was like aural camo in that I could not pay attention to it because it was so common and bland. Oddly enough, Vernon Reid from Living Color is credited as the session guitarist.

  7. Well, that was an epic fail. They neglected to note that many people like innovative and unusual music, which makes their “most unwanted song” an exemplar for something that people actually *want*. Oops.

  8. I like it, quite a bit actually. Reminds me of novelty/movie soundtrack music from the forties-fifties…well, at least until the ‘rap’ portion starts, then it reminds me of the musically experimental and interesting eighties.

  9. Does the massive amount of Xmas music we are pelted with each year indicate that this is not the case… or that businesses and advertisers just believe that hearing these songs endlessly will brainwash us into buying buying buying in the spirit of the holidays?

    Also odd; frequently I have noted when entering song contests that winners will be people who have written a new Xmas-themed song.

  10. Good grief! This song is great! It’s like they took all the insane off the wall bands I listen to and mashed them together!

  11. i confess — i have never made it all the way through this song. but, i DO love it nonetheless. the concept is brilliant, and the first half is mouth-open magic.

  12. I once made a list of instruments that I seem to like more than other people. Bagpipes, accordeons, banjos and tubas were among them. I’m not going to download this song until someone tells me it also contains steel drums, harpsichords, bassoons, sitars, and electric fiddles.

  13. The NME reviewed this and its partner “The Most Wanted Song” when they were released. The reviewer pointed out that it says quite a bit about music that the former was far more interesting than the latter.

  14. Truly brilliant… I had to take a break halfway through, my stomach was aching from laughing.

    Each moment you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

  15. The most and least wanted paintings are fascinating. Notice that Holland is the only country that prefers abstract art!

  16. Does anyone else see any parallels between this and ‘Only a Northern Song’ by The Beatles? Or between this and *anything* by Polyphonic Spree? Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the music…

  17. I’ve been searching for this far and wide since I first heard about it years ago. Thank you!

    It should be worth noting that this was done in collaboration with David Soldier, an accomplished modern composer.

  18. I saw an onstage interview with Komar and Melamid years ago, after seeing a short doc about the most wanted/unwanted paintings project. They are hilarious. They also pointed out that there’s a big difference between “most hated” and “least wanted”.

    Anytime anyone mentions labor day I get the Most Unwanted Children’s Choir as an earworm.

    Laaaabor day! Laaabor daaaayyy!!

  19. It’s bad, but as it lacks any formal structure, I don’t process it as a song. I find the whole output of, say, Nelly Furtado to be far worse than this.

  20. What’s wrong with accordion, tuba, harp and banjo?

    Or cowboy songs? What a joyless world it would be without cheesy old cowboy songs on scratchy old 78s!

    Actually, for me, you could just cut most everything they listed and leave the “atonal rap” (it seems redundant to put it that way). At that point I would utterly despise the composition without reservation and their experiment would be a success! But then, I find 99% of rap and hiphop like fingernails across a blackboard… actually, I like the sound of fingernails across the blackboard better. This is just one man’s opinion.

    I for one would love to go shopping without piped-in music, with the exception of the Piggly Wiggly I used to frequent in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The manager had a Hammond organ built into the manager’s station and would regale us over the PA while we shopped! I think it was every Wednesday evening.

  21. I like the idea, and execution is pretty good, but I got my hopes up before listening to it.

    I must say, I was really hoping for more of a “Satan’s Ice Cream Truck” + “Irony is a Dead Scene” mash-up, but with more bagpipes and cowboy.

    I think it was this part of the description: “The most unwanted music … 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.” This is a rather accurate description of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s “Irony is a Dead Scene” EP, and having listened to that particular twenty minutes of chaos, “The Most Unwanted Song” just doesn’t live up to the “veers wildly” and “abrupt transition” description. I would call it positively relaxed in this regard.

    Still, nice. The “At Walmart” chorus gets funnier each time.

  22. I thought it was hysterical. Not nearly horrible enough to be the worst song in the world. My mom on an accordion would beat this song easily in a contest of bad songs.

  23. ..seriously, each time it comes around to a holiday verse, and the beat and bass kick in with the kids singing, I immediately grin and bob my head (read: manically jig my whole body) in time to the tune. It’s so (Sesame Street) + (copious amounts of acid).

  24. I only made it about 5 minutes before quitting. I might try again later but I doubt it. Horrible….but still better than Britney.

  25. Boy, was their math wrong.

    That’s a great song. It’s pretty similar to a lot of Weird Al’s “polka” parody mash-ups, or kitsch bands like They Might Be Giants and Negativland.

    Long doses of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”, or Einstürzende Neubauten (both of which I love) seem to do almost physical damage to some people, but this won’t do more than annoy the most sensitive person.

  26. Boy, was their math wrong.

    That’s a great song. It’s pretty similar to a lot of Weird Al’s “polka” parody mash-ups, or kitsch bands like They Might Be Giants and Negativland.

    Long doses of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”, or Einstürzende Neubauten (both of which I love) seem to do almost physical damage to some people, but this won’t do more than annoy the most sensitive person.

  27. Damn – I’d thought of composing a piece for accordion, bagpipes, and tuba, but these guys beat me to it. This is hilarious. I burst out laughing when the soprano started rapping and kept giggling throughout.

  28. Ok, that song is indeed unfortunate, but it is hardly the most unwanted song. The most unwanted song is the Porcupine Overture by H. Miller. here’s an MP3 of it but I WARN YOU, this is so bad as to cause pain. It is unbelievably atonal and disjointed and jarring and damn antagonistc. I used this as my alarm clock for a month because I’m that deep of a sleeper and I’m permanently scarred from the ordeal. It is the most soul-crushing, mind-debilitating, face-rearrangingly bad piece of music ever composed. Here is a page all about the porcupine scale system. Mind-boggling. Fiercely atonal.

  29. Stravinsky, Varese? Once again, this is hardly the most unlistenable, at least its in tune.

  30. @Phil Dokas, I love it – it sounds a scary clown on meth playing the Haunted Mansion theme music.

  31. Oooh! I remember hearing about this song on the radio years ago, and I’ve always wanted to hear it. Thank you for linking it.

    As I recall the same artists also made a “most wanted music” piece: woman’s voice, pop jazz, and about 5 minutes long.

  32. “School is closed and pools are open!”

    This is an amazing composition.

    Oh, and Phil Dokas: I actually enjoyed that song. Quite a bit.. Man, I’m a sick bastard.

  33. @kamimark #42: I think stuff like Einstuerzende Neubauten (who I also love) probably doesn’t register to enough people to show up in the poll.

    Also, they might very well have overlooked adding some of the more extreme forms of music into the poll–so overlooking Neubauten and their ilk would have been a built-in bias.

    Then again, this might have been intentional. Since it registers as completely unlistenable to most people (and pain to some), it would have dominated their numbers, and thus the piece.

  34. As someone who has only dabbled in Piano and Guitar, I think it immediately becomes clear that certain sequences of notes don’t go well together (maybe that’s what people are calling “atonal”.)

    If I were going to play the most unwanted song, I’d just play all those notes that don’t work together.

    Of course, the best music will also break the rules and still sound good.

    This song seems to still follow the basic rules of “good” music, and merely tries to be bad by clashing different styles.

    That just makes it eclectic, not unwanted.

  35. There is an excellent article written by Dave Soldier on this project. I quote the best part below:

    The classic performance of these two works was for a production of a VH1 television show, Rock Candy, at Shine, a dance club off Canal Street in New York City. Doug Stone brought in a camera crew who filmed the unsuspecting club goers dancing to disco until they became used to the camera. Then, the DJ slipped in the Most Wanted Music. Although for all of the previous dances couples danced separately, they started to hold each other & nuzzle. When the song was finished, the audience broke into applause, something that hadn’t occurred following any of the other songs the DJ played.

    This was followed by a return to about 20 minutes of typical club dancing music, lulling the crowd into a sense of normalcy. Then, the DJ slipped in the Most Unwanted Music. About 5 seconds into the piece, the dancing stopped. Forty seconds after that, someone screamed to the DJ booth: “Turn it OFF!” Turn it OFF!” Brilliantly conducted by Maestro Stone, who took no bow, and it plays on reruns.

  36. Thanks Evil Jim – great quote.
    And a grateful shout out to Technoprayer for the TAL link; the interview with the creators of the piece is great, and Ira takes it over the top telling them why they REALLY like the unwanted song!!!

  37. No way. It’s so bad it’s good, or at least “interesting.” I’ve lived long enough to know that plenty of people get off on weird stuff like this.

    Nah, what I find people detest the most, especially females – at least in Western culture – is stuff stuff without guitars and vocals, and then music that doesn’t stay in tune or have a narrative. Most people hate Noise music, for instance.

    I nominate Chicago’s Kevin Drumm for worst music.

  38. Three words to settle the matter: Metal Machine Music.

    From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal_Machine_Music): “As a radical departure from the rest of Reed’s catalog, Metal Machine Music is generally considered to be either a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music.”

  39. #53: Aarrrrghhhhhh! The “most wanted song” is almost certainly up there on my 20 least-favorite songs of all times. As the music starts up, my skin suddently starts to crawl, and it goes down-hill from there.

    I don’t think this was unexpected, however. I think the idea is that you can pull together all the parts of music that people hate and still make a fun song, while pulling together all the parts that people love will make a sickeningly sweet yuck-fest.

    If they had actually wanted to make the worst song in the world, probably pulling just one or two elements and really, really (ab)using them, repeating them continuously, would have felled even the post experimental music lover.

  40. I created the music and survey, and Nina Mankin wrote the lyrics. The concept is by me with Komar & Melamid. You should look at the CD cover or read the liner notes and alter the credits appropriately.

    best, Dave Soldier

  41. I do have to wonder, however, about the lack of calliopes in the ensemble. Don’t people hate calliopes?

  42. I would contend that The Shaggs created some of the most unlistenable music out there. Championed as glorious “outsider music” heroes, Frank Zappa even named their only album one of his favorite records. I dare anyone to listen to the whole thing….

    http://www.shaggs.com

  43. Okay I did it. Yup it’s awful. There’s something to hate for everybody. (But the tuba & banjo jig rocks!)

    #49: Thanks for sharing the Porcupine Overture link. I listened to it five times over now, and honestly, the more I listen to it the more I like it. While at first it sounds terrible, I think it’s just a matter of getting used to an unaccustomed hearing pattern. Maybe it’s easier for some people than for others. When you “expect” the wrong note you “hear” a wrong note. There’s definitely an inherent beauty to those harmonies. Certainly expanded my horizon.

    #69: Calliopes, thanks, there’s another one for my list!

  44. #53: That song was so… grotesque. Fucking grotesque, it lasted about 25 seconds.

    #61: If your quote is in reference to the music linked in #53, then damn: that’s a room of really, really boring people. Let me never be in a situation like that.

  45. Ramadan Ramadan. Pray a whole lot, don’t eat breakfast. Ramadan. Lots of fun. Do all your shopping at WalMart.
    (banjo solo)

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