Two perspectives, both alike in dignity,
In fair YouTube-iverse, where we lay our scene…

Some time ago – no, that’s a lazy cop out – in December 2015, just hours removed from the brutal enervation of a depressive episode and minutes past whatever exculpatory threshold I had just transcended, I came across an excerpt from the classic Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator (“came across” being a euphemism for “stumbled upon during a manic descent [ascent?] into a YouTube black hole) – specifically his climactic, anti-fascist quasi-satirical indubitably double-ententreic monologue championing freedom and free will.

Yes, that was a hell of a sentence; if you consider it worthy of an apology, consider said apology now delivered so long as you avouch genuine appreciation for my adhering to PEDMAS and reserve your forgiveness for your Dear Aunt Sally.  I guess it would also be appreciated from my end if you don’t think too hard about my requiring my apology be conditional, nor that it was delivered tongue firmly in cheek, nor that I actually just invoked a retrograde and unfunny allusion to the order of operations.

chaplindictator

Anyways – December 2015, where we lay our minutes-new minutially-nuanced scene…

In this particular autobiographical stanza, yours truly (and though it’s tangential, I’d like to here briefly emphasize the mortal and fatal sincerity with which I include the possible-to-interpret-as-sarcastic notion of possession of myself to you; I mention, offer and commit to this with empyreal gravity) was but arcseconds evolved from a gun-to-the-temple depression.

I’ve found, not without a fair and fairly taxing quantity and frequency of statistical analyses and methodology, that relinquishing control of the remote to my post-nihilistic id (translation: letting YouTube and/or the internet take me where it may after feeling suicidal) more often than not results in the unexpected discovery of magnificently meaningful information.

In this particular case I was fortunate to have a working knowledge of music, musical theory, and sound engineering.  In fact, if you’ll allow a final tangent, I once took music production seriously enough (which is not to say “seriously”) to sell an alternative hip-hop beat for $100 (in the interests of transparency I have to admit the gentleman MC was Canadian and, after agreeing on the price, paid me in Canadian dollars; being the better part of a decade behind us, it was around $98 US, which is ultimately agreeable considering contemporary exchange rates would have made it around $75 US).

Holy digressions, Batman!

No, the preceding information is relevant in that it provides concise and clear support for the assertion that I am not pulling the following true anecdote out of my ass:

Again, I am descending/ascending down/up a YouTube black hole and chance upon the YouTube user-asserted “Greatest Speech Ever.”  I’m far from an erudite scholar when it comes to Chaplin, what with my knowledge being limited to hazy high school film class memories of Modern Times and equally degraded recollections of the Robert Downey, Jr. biopic Chaplin.  What I do have in spades is Level 9000 Autist synesthesia and a rare (unearned, natal) natural automated aural reductionist modus operandi.

If you feel so inclined, take a quick break (don’t skip ahead!) and check out the first few seconds of the linked video and see if you notice what I noticed – I’ll stick an image below this paragraph so you’re not tempted to cheat (but if you don’t want to take a hack at it and/or don’t care, by all means continue).

Charlie Chaplin dressed as his iconic
Charlie Chaplin dressed as his iconic “Tramp” persona slash character slash true personality when the public facade was stopped away.

Did you catch it? Chaplin’s monologue is delivered in its entirety at exactly 128 beats per minute, or BPM. If you’re a music person you might not be terribly weirded out that I picked up on this, but that number seems a bit random to the uninitiated, so gift me a moment to explain why 128 BPM is significant and I’m neither freakishly skilled nor pathetically rigorous to have noticed it.

Though there are plenty of internet articles in which authors and subsequent commenters marvel over the prevalence of 128 BPM (especially in EDM), it’s hardly some arcane alchemist voodoo magic. 128 BPM is a natural tempo (again, especially for EDM) because of how it meshes with our standard metric of time.  If you were paying close attention earlier in this article, you might have noticed I already mentioned it – arcseconds, or what we now call seconds.  If you didn’t know, we derive our units of time (minutes, seconds) from astronomical measurements of distance; if you managed to evade soul-ravaging boredom in high school geography, you may remember minutes and seconds as subunits of degrees (latitude and longitude) on a map.  An arcminute is 1/60th of a degree, and an arcsecond is 1/60th of an arcminute – so, skipping the math if you haven’t already done it, an arcsecond is 1/3600th of a degree.

Today, the SI temporal unit second is defined as “…the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.”[SOURCE] Well la-dee-da and hooray for the ratifying board members (or whoever makes those kinds of decisions) of Système International.  What was lost when we transitioned our culture from imperfect metrics relative to our imperfect environment (e.g. an arbitrary distance covered by the Earth’s rotation in a day until we learned the length of days varies) to absolute, perfect, standardized metrics derived from meaningless drivel (e.g. a quantum transition in the only stable isotope of caesium) was the inherent self-relative geo/anthropocentric musicality therein.

This isn’t to say we should have stuck with a Sumerian sexagesimal system or any nonsense like that – just a quick aside. Though if you’ve ever wondered why circles have 360 degrees, sexagesimal and superior highly composite numbers are a good place to start.  I know all this internally-relative equally-divisible mumbo jumbo is probably getting tedious, so I’ll leave at that and segue within the same context to Chaplin’s speech and 128 BPM.

128 BPM is a pleasing “sweet spot” tempo stumbled upon over and over entirely a priori by various artists and musicians.  Tempo is Italian for “time,” and refers to the pace or speed of a piece of music.  I’m thinking you can probably understand that the more beats per minute (BPM), the faster the tempo.  Interestingly, though frankly it seems quite obvious, you have to dig a little to find a lucid and accurate explanation for why 128 BPM is significant.  To be fair, in stating it seems obvious I am glossing over a major cultural advantage – being brought up on Western music, which in its most common form is written in a 4/4 time signature (so common it is sometimes referred to as common time); the majority of rock, hip-hop, blues, country, funk, and pop (it seems like nearly every pop single, honestly) uses a 4/4 time signature.

4/4 – and feel free to skip this if you already know it or have figured out where I’m going (we’re almost there) – is a quadruple meter characterized by a primary division of four beats per bar (also called a measure), the latter being defined simply by an arbitrary number of beats – so in 4/4 a bar is 4 beats because we just decided it would be so.  Now, if you factor in a 128 BPM tempo with a 4/4 time signature, something interesting happens that brings us full sexagesimal circle, all the way back to those quantum transitions of stable caesium isotopes – you know, seconds.

Time yourself playing (or just set a metronome) at 128 BPM in 4/4 and you’ll find it takes exactly 60 seconds to play 128 beats (if you really want to verify this, you might have to use a DAW – but it does, I promise).  You can also think of this as 2 sets of 64, 4 sets of 32, 8 sets of 16… you get the idea.  You can also mix and match 8, 12, and 16 bar phrases with minimal effort.  The two simple points to take away from 128 BPM is that when applied to 4/4 you get a remarkably versatile, combinatorial musical structure, and it’s something that nearly every musician knows intuitively, and many beyond the technical details I’ve provided here.

So – fuller circle, back to (or finally to) Chaplin’s monologue.  I picked up on the existence of a cadence first – a sort of prosody – and once I knew it I quickly deduced it was 128 BPM.  In being of a creative and at times musical disposition, and having just dodged a potential suicide, I was emotionally ripe for an oddball music/monologue mashup.  As Chaplin’s words started to hit home, I started to craft a track; then, for reasons still unknown to me (maybe because it was already on my computer) I felt it appropriate to slice in some clips from The Sandlot (Benny pickling the Beast).  The final touch was the pirating of a line from Emerson’s Self-Reliance (which is also the title of this article).

It’s rough – the video/cuts/etc. are extraordinary in their sloppiness.  But every once in a while when I’m feeling down or lacking a purpose, I like to take a trip back over to YouTube and remind myself that life is Free and Beautiful.

 

 

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