Meredith Liu dissects the art of OK Go
Through intricate analysis of the score and choreogaphy of OK Go's breakout hit, DFOM student Meredith Liu offers new insights about why audiences are so drawn to the video.
To people outside the music community, the study of music theory and history may sound like awfully dry subjects, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The academics who study these areas have uncovered secrets, expounded on the influence of social movements on music, find surprising patterns in music, and have helped to lay bare the psychology and neurology behind why we enjoy or hate the music we do.
With music ingrained in so much of our lives, it is incredibly important to understand how various pieces of music were shaped, and how they, in turn, have helped to shape the way we interact with the world.
In order to dissect and highlight the power of music, students need a solid academic foundation, one which they receive, in spades in the Desautels Faculty of Music.
Music and Movement
For Professor Rebecca Simpson-Litke, the relationships between music and movement are a key interest, and she frequently finds innovative, hands-on, and entertaining ways in which to illustrate to students the relationship between the two subjects.
This past year, she organized a midday workshop for music students which brought leaders of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to campus. The workshop, led by Johanne Gingras (Teacher Training Program Director and Professional Division Faculty member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School) and Donna Laube (Principal Pianist for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School) provided education on how music influences the ways in which dancers move.
Students at the midday were guided through movement exercises that ballet dancers do, and then shown how altering the time signature, key, or phrasing of a piece of music can entirely change the way a ballet dancer moves. While being taught to do a plié (a bending of the knees that lowers a dancer gracefully towards the floor), some students also learned how loudly their knees can pop, or how much work they have to do regarding their flexibility!
In her music theory topics course “Analytical Approaches to Rhythm, Metre, and Dance” (MUSC 3830), Simpson-Litke teaches students methods by which they can study and evaluate the relationship between movement and music.
“I had my students do projects on a movement-based art form of their choice,” says Simpson-Litke of her student’s work this year.
“Part of their project was to create a poster that would represent their analysis and transcription of that art form in a way that could be displayed for passersby to see,” she adds.
Her students spent winter term studying, designing, and then presenting their own music research, which culminated in a verbal presentation.
However, due to the early end of the year to the closure of physical spaces due to COVID-19, the students’ meticulously-research poster projects were not able to be viewed by those in the faculty.
For Meredith Liu, the project gave her the opportunity to research and expound on the meteoric rise of a band that has become famous for the video choreography that accompanies their songs: OK Go.
Meredith Liu: OK Go’s “Here it Goes Again” Music Video Movement and Music Analysis
Liu is heading into her second year in the DFOM’s Master of Music Program in oboe performance, studying under Robin MacMillan. In addition to oboe, she also plays English horn and piano.
Liu, who is originally from Toronto, Ontario, performs with the University of Manitoba Symphony Orchestra (UMSO), and also with the Desautels Chamber Opera. In her first year in Winnipeg, alone, she has also performed with both the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir!
For her theory project, Liu chose to study OK Go’s song and music video “Here It Goes Again,” which propelled the group into the public eye. Bands don’t often produce music videos that match the popularity of their songs, but OK Go has made a name for themselves by doing just that.
“Ok Go rose to fame when their music video for the song “Here it Goes Again” became popular, winning them a Grammy Award for Best Music Video Award in 2006,” Liu says.
The band puts as much art and effort into its videos and it does its songs. The incredible artistry and intricate choreography of their videos has made them stars. The treadmill-heavy video now has over 52 million views on YouTube.
“At first glance, the music video can be seen as solely entertainment,” says Liu.
“However, after analyzing the relationship between the music and its choreography, it becomes apparent that there is much more to discover,” she adds.
Creating a system of notation
For her research project “Ok Go’s ‘Here It Goes Again’ Music Video Movement and Music Analysis, Liu “aims to show a relationship between the choreography and music that subtly influences the audience’s perception of the music itself,” as she says in her poster introduction.
To do that, Liu designed a system of notation that overlays the choreography in the video over the musical score itself, which she transcribed herself.
“In finding a system of notating the dance movements, two of the four band members, Andy [Ross, OK Go’s guitarist] and Tim [Nordwind, OK Go’s bassist], were notated,” says Liu.
“This was due to the choreography being either completely synchronized between all four members or the members being paired in twos, with each pair doing the same routine. Andy’s movements are notated using the colour purple and Tim’s movements are notated using the colour blue,” she says.
Liu then notated the four treadmills used by each band member in the video, the tracks and sides of which, she points out, make up the same configuration as a music staff when viewed from above.
This observation helped her to come up with a visually simple way of comparing the music with the band’s choreography.
“So, the spaces of the staff represent the treadmills’ moving parts and the lines of the staff represent the treadmills’ sides,” she says of the notation method she chose to use for her research.
Liu then came up with a complex system to notate the movements of the various band members’ feet and head movements, as well as their directionality, which she depicted visually with a series of notes, X’s, and arrows denoting the direction in which each band member’s head and feet were moving at any given time in the song. This movement notation was then transposed over the score.
She examined the choreography as it compared the music, finding that the band members repeat each other’s movements at different intervals, and shake things up by using small bits of altered choreography at key moments in the video and song.
“An interesting relationship between the music and the band’s movement in this section is that the musical phrasing is seemingly uneven, but is hidden because of a displaced dance sequence between Tim and Andy,” Liu says.
Through using the same choreography at different times, and including small changes during times in which the song’s score is un-even, the music and video are able to stay fresh from both a visual and auditory perspective.
“By not completely the four-bar dance sequence [at one point in the video], Andy ultimately hides the unevenness of the music,” Liu explains.
Later in the song, when the choreography repeats in its entirety, the band still manages to make the moves seem brand new.
“This second excerpt from the video is visually interesting, as Tim (blue) and Andy (purple) have not only switched treadmill rows, but Andy is in front and Tim is now in the back,” Liu notes.
“Although the movements are quite synchronized and articulate a half-note pulse layer, there are rhythmic differences between Andy and Tim’s movements that aren’t synchronized,” says Liu of the reason the movements look new.
Adding to the song and video’s appeal is a time signature dichotomy produced between the choreography and the score.
The movement in the video also plays with the time signature in which the music is written, making the viewer/listener interpret the song as being in a 2/2 time signature, instead of a 4/4 signature. The band members include movements that are entirely different, but are synchronous in the 2/2 intervals at which they change.
“This synchronization among desynchronized movements gives a certain attention to the third beat, which furthers the visual perception of the music being in two [as opposed to four] and aligns the group when they slide off of the treadmill together,” Liu says.
Ultimately, Liu found that the combination of the music and the movements in “Here IT Goes Again” provides many moments in which the viewer’s perception of the music could be altered, based on what they were seeing versus what they were hearing.
For Liu, Simpson-Litke’s course provided her with a new way of thinking about music, for which she is grateful.
“What I liked most about Professor Simpson-Litke’s course was being introduced to the relationship between music and movement within different genres,” she says.
“It allows listeners to understand a completely different layer of all types of music and the relationship with movement.”