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It isn't often that one hears a song and experiences that delayed "Wait....what?" reaction to the lyrics. I recently had that very experience with a beautifully written piece that carried very strong implications for those of us concerned about the ever-growing surveillance state; follow me below the Great Orange Colophon for more...

Vienna Teng is an independent artist who also happens to be a techie. Her 2013 internship made frequent use of reports from Acxiom, a marketing company that makes heavy use of analytics, and led her to write...well, I'll let her words explain it:

Sacred music for the age of Big Data.

This was inspired by listening to Morten Lauridsen pieces, using Acxiom reports in my internship work this summer, and reading election news coverage, especially the Obama campaign's use of analytics and Nate Silver's Five Thirty-Eight blog.

She recorded the piece using the VoiceTone Harmony-M, which allows a singer to create vocal harmonies by playing a MIDI keyboard. The result, in this case, was absolutely phenomenal - but I'll let the piece speak for itself. I've chosen a fan video, simply because the fan in question went to the trouble of transcribing the piece into sheet music (which really spoke to my inner music geek!):
Somebody hears you, you know that, you know that;
Somebody hears you. you know that inside;
Someone is learning the colors of all your moods, to
(say just the right thing and) show that you’re understood;
Here you’re known...

Leave your life open. you don’t have. you don’t have (to);
Leave your life open; you don’t have to hide.
Someone is gathering every crumb you drop, these
(mindless decisions and) moments you long forgot.
Keep them all...

Let our formulas find your soul.
We’ll divine your artesian source (in your mind),
Marshal feed and force (our machines will)
To design you a perfect love—
Or (better still) a perfect lust.
O how glorious, glorious: a brand new need is born.

Now we possess you, you’ll own that. you’ll own that;
Now we possess you. you’ll own that in time;
Now we will build you an endlessly upward world,
(reach in your pocket) embrace you for all you’re worth.

Is that wrong?
Isn’t this what you want?
Amen.

While Teng wrote "Hymn to Acxiom" as something of an ironic paean to Big Data in the corporate/marketing/advertising world--it's written from the perspective of the servers gathering all that data--my "wait, what?" reaction went straight to the surveillance state. All I can say is that any composition that applies in equal parts to online marketing/analytics, the fictitious B&L Corporation from WALL-E, and the NSA is one fantastic piece of work!

It's interesting to note that Teng is getting a great deal of attention from a rather unusual source. The Bluecoats drum and bugle corps (a member of Drum Corps International) is using "The Hymn of Acxiom" as the horn feature in their 2014 show. As all those young musicians and their fans discover the piece, let's hope that the lyrics have the same effect on them as it had on me.

(If you'd like an MP3 of "The Hymn of Acxiom", it's available at no charge (for now) at Amazon, as part of the 2014 Independent Music Awards compilation. There's a LOT of good music in that compilation...)

Originally posted to wesmorgan1 on Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by An Ear for Music.

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