Siddown kids, it’s time for some bad news.
Volumes 6 and 7 are lost, probably for good. I have scoured my old home, my old room, my old desk, and my old files. I found many old discs, none of which contain so much as the playlists of these volumes (which of course is really all I need). This gives me great despair, given the strong showing of Volume 5, but despair is not my offering in their stead.
By the process of elimination, I can only be sure of a handful of songs from this lost pair of volumes, and together they constitute a most unique subcategory in Brick’s Picks: the songs of Animutation.
Animutation is a subject with which I am very familiar, and for its influence at the time, it has every right to be counted in the census of my decadent youth. I’ll leave it to the songs (and the videos) to explain.
For the sake of posterity, each video entry includes a Youtube link, but for those techno-historical purists reading from Flash-supporting devices, I’ve also included links to the original Flashes (which I recommend over the Youtubes) courtesy of our old friends at Albino Blacksheep.
Now, I don’t how old you are, even though I did just call you “kids,” but listen up. Back in my day, when we wanted to avoid our responsibilities, we didn’t have Youtube. Our tubes couldn’t handle that kind of power. We had a different medium for video entertainment: Macromedia Flash.
It’s become a pariah of the modern web due to security holes you could chuck a Death Star through, but in the early 00’s it was widely used in web design to incorporate multimedia assets into the markup. Hell, you could build a whole site in Flash if you wanted.
It was also the preferred tool of amateur animators. While Cartoon Network was just beginning to explore alternative cartoon programming through its newly minted Adult Swim block, portal sites like Newgrounds and Albino Blacksheep were thriving hubs for independent, original content served daily by the heap. Any old ding-dong with a cracked copy of Flash and some time on his hands could whip up a stick figure kung fu series, a thirty-minute epic of nonsense, any number of soundboards, a glib analysis of international relations, an actual professional caliber all-ages show, or, well, this.
One such ding-dong was a Massachusetts teenager by the name of Neil Cicierega. Neil was homeschooled and, burdened with an excess of free time (MUST HAVE BEEN NICE), sought creative satisfaction in the internet. After a few trial runs with Flash, he debuted a genre of internet video which would become the foundation of his legacy: the animutation.
The Japanese Pokerap
Music: Suzukisan – “Pokemon Ieru ka na?”
Defining the animutation is simple enough: an absurdist animated collage of random pop culture artifacts set to foreign music. (The modern equivalent of Terry Gilliam’s illustrious animated work with Monty Python.) To look at it today, one might not see the big deal. There are only, what, 22 unique images in this thing? Of which the vast majority was ripped off the internet. The animation itself is pretty tame. Just side-to-side bobs, rotations, flying onscreen, flying offscreen, and the classic nutcracker mouth. On a white background. So what?
This was Web 1.0! You had to BUDGET your use of images! 56k beware! Your precious memes didn’t just flow freely along one of the tens of thousands of too many channels available today. There were no AJAX strings supporting a continuous feed of insensible chuckles as fast as your fat finger could scroll! The tubes were small and few, and content mobility depended on ingenuity and, of course, a little bit of luck.
Flash provided the ingenuity, working around the issue of filesize by frontloading all the assets. For a minute or so of patience, the viewer was treated to a full multimedia display that might otherwise take several minutes to load on a regular page through a 56k machine. Not at all a tall order for kids used to loading screens on their PlayStations.
Nowadays if your entertainment takes more than 5 seconds to load, you might as well go crawl in a ditch and sob into your server, because no one’s sticking around to see what you made. Simpler times are dead forever. And simpler though they were, Neil was just warming up.
Music: Professor Orchid – “Hyakugojyuuichi”
Hyakugojyuuichi!! was the sophomore smash that put Neil (and animutations) on the map. Now established and comfortable in the form, he rose the bar with an all new cast of characters, non-sequitur cuts like the pacemaker, a loose attempt at a plot, and overall just a higher level of polish. As much as one can justly apply polish to what is still, let’s be real, a dumb thing. That’s why we loved it.
Kung Fu Phil and the Death Cookie
Music: Pokemon Kids – “Natsuyatsumi Fan Club”
There is a foul aftertaste in the mouth of the internet that follows the word “random.” Crusty old forum people, in between spoon feedings from the nurse, may still recite from memory copypasta paragraphs originally written by self-styled *~*^o^ RANDOM ^o^*~* anime tweens, usually spouting drivel about sporks, penguins, Pocky, and doom.
This event horizon of intolerable vapidness was a grim lesson in the importance of cultural evolution, but before things got that bad, the people of the internet were having a good time trying to outdo one another with, yes, random, left-field humor. Sometimes, the best way to win this game is not to outsmart but to outstupid. Is it any wonder, then, that animutations were so infectious?
Irrational Exuberance (by Veloso)
Music: HappaTai – Yatta!
Infectious and easy to produce. The copycats descended all at once, and for a time the Flash community was positively soaked in the essence of mutilated culture. It’s especially easy to animutate if you remember some of the key tropes:
– foreign music
– Colin Mochrie
– “misinterpreted” English lyrics
– one frame with more text than can possibly be read in the moment
– twisted photoshops of celebrities and/or friends
– nutcracker mouth
In Albino Blacksheep’s animutation section, Neil’s videos are severely outnumbered by the so-called “fanimutations,” and while many are forgettable, a handful, including Irrational Exuberance, are celebrated on the same level of Neil’s work.
I never personally did much Flashing (I was a PowerPoint kid), but I could see the appeal. Doing your own animutation means getting to cast your own cross-section of pop culture. What better way to show off your immaculate taste?
Music: Wizo – “Raum Der Zeit”
I have avoided discussing the actual songs so far, because they’re mostly just a bunch of Pokemon anime sing-alongs. Neil chose them to be the background of his mad prophecy, and to that end they do serve well. Not exactly my cup of joe, though, and the only justification I can present for burning them to CDs in high school is Stockholm syndrome. And they are rather catchy.
Uniquely, Untitled and its sister Wizard Power, the last two animutations made by Neil, are not set to Pokemon music. Indeed, only Wizard Power is Japanese, while Untitled sources German punk band Wizo for its soundtrack. Both are high-energy, relentless shows featuring an onslaught of images, twisting and flying and bouncing and bursting everywhere. They’re on a high tier of craftsmanship, and it is apparent that Neil made them with the intent to finish his legacy strong.
Wizard Power may be the true superior of the pair for its animation, but it is the sharp, sharp teeth of “Raum Der Zeit” (look up the translated lyrics, pretty please) which tip my scale in favor of Untitled.
It is apparent that pop culture, now fully symbiotic with internet culture, is more than happy to be inbred, self-referencing, and repetitive. While I hesitate to pass judgment, I cannot help but recall the words of Frank Zappa:
It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia. Eventually within the next quarter of a century, the nostalgia cycles will be so close together that people will not be able to take a step without being nostalgic for the one they just took. At that point, everything stops. Death by Nostalgia.
But nostalgia is exactly the premise of this blog series, so I’d better step off the soapbox before I fall and break my neck.
Love it or hate it, this is the soul of our internet, the land we love. Bow your head and take a knee for Neil C. and the other original gangstas of mad science who paved the way for the Youtube yarfs you revere today. And for the love of memes, homeschool your kids.
Neil Cicierega has remained prolific over the years, authoring a number of diverse, unusual projects that make him a household name, provided your house doesn’t get out that much. I’m especially fond of Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence, myself.