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Filk Music

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Filk is a musical culture, genre, and community tied to science fiction/fantasy fandom. The genre has been active since the early 1950s, and played primarily since the mid-1970s.

Definitions of filk

As Debbie Ridpath Ohi's compilation What Is Filk? and the Interfilk What Is Filk page each demonstrate, there is no consensus definition of filk, though one could divide the different proposed definitions by their focus on the content and style of filk music or the cultural aspects of filking as an activity.

One definition is based on filk as a genre: filk is folk music, usually with a science fiction or fantasy theme. But this definition is not exact. Filkers have been known to write filk songs about a variety of topics, including but not limited to tangentially-related topics such as computers and cats. The other common definition is anthropological (and recursive): Filk is what is sung or performed by the network of people who originally gathered to sing at science fiction/fantasy conventions. Yet another definition focuses on filking as a community of those interested in filk music and who form part of the social network self-identified with filking. As described later in this article, the origins of filk in science fiction conventions and its current organization emphasizes the social-network aspect of filking.

Whichever definition one chooses, filk is a form of music created from within science fiction & fantasy fandom, often performed late at night at science fiction conventions, though there are now dedicated filk conventions in Canada, England, Germany, and the USA. And whichever definition one chooses, the boundaries of filking are muddy. For example, filking overlaps with the singing and music performed by participants in the Society for Creative Anachronism or at LARPs.

 

Styles and subjects

In keeping with the folk-culture roots of filk, the musical styles and topics of filk music are eclectic. While a plurality of filk is rooted firmly in acoustic-instrument folk music, other pieces and artists draw inspiration from rock, a cappella vocal groups, or other styles. The hobbyist and itinerant nature of filk events (especially filk circles) gives some advantages to acoustic-vocal soloists and small groups, who need only carry a lightweight instrument or two and whose rehearsals do not need to balance scheduling logistics against regular work and other obligations. One of the few rock-style groups in filk has been Ookla the Mok, whose studio recordings use techniques common in modern rock.

The range of topics in filk songs stems from its cultural roots in fandom. Many songs honor specific works in science fiction, fantasy, or speculative fiction. Other songs are about science, fantasy, computers, technology in general, or values related to technological change.

 Yet others are about the culture of fandom, including filk itself (both as a phenomenon within fandom, and as a sub-culture). Many filk songs (such as Leslie Fish's "Carmen Miranda's Ghost Is Haunting Space Station 3") are humorous while others treat their subjects seriously (like Steve Macdonald's "Journey's Done").

However, some common themes do not fall neatly into filk's science fiction origins. Such topics include songs about cats, popular culture, and politics. These are perhaps best explained as an outgrowth of filk as a folk culture, open in some respects to expansion by individual artists.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com


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