Bill Roper (billroper) wrote,
Bill Roper

Filk Circles: Counting On Chaos

Following onto the previous discussion of filk circles, I want to look at a couple of issues that mostly impact chaos circles, but occasionally come up in a bardic circle as well.

A well-behaved chaos circle tends to function like a non-topological bardic circle; that is to say, all of the members of Group X in the circle, where Group X is the group of people who tend to sing approximately once per cycle, will tend to sing approximately the same number of songs in a given time period.

Damn near tautological, isn't it? :) On average, the people who sing once per cycle sing once per cycle.

The differences between chaos and a bardic circle are:

  • The order of singing is not imposed in chaos, so -- in theory -- flow can be improved.
  • In each case, the members of Group X are self-selected. In a bardic circle, a person may "pass"; in chaos, you just skip singing for a round or more.
  • In a bardic circle, you must (usually) affirmatively "pass", but in chaos, you may lose your turn by being insufficiently aggressive. So it turns out that Group X in chaos is only self-selected to the extent that you're willing to be as aggressive about getting to sing as the given circle requires.

    Ooh, there's the rub. There are a lot of us who aren't particularly anxious to be aggressive about breaking in with a song. In a chaos circle that is being particularly large and/or impolite, you may not get in edgewise, even if you want to be a member of Group X.

    Things in such a circle are even worse for members of Group Y, which I'll define as "wants to sing occasionally", or Group Z, which I'll define as "has one song to sing". Even in an aggressive chaos circle, there's likely to be someone watching for members of Group X who are getting stepped on. God help someone in Group Y or Group Z.

    A bardic circle is an inherently safer environment for performers who don't want to be aggressive. You are, modulo bathroom breaks and occasional complete breakdowns of logic, guaranteed to get a chance to sing eventually, assuming that you give the least indication of actually wanting to sing.

    (Once again, I'm differentiating the performers' circle bardic from Pick, Pass, or Play bardic and commenting on the former. PPP makes it very easy to guarantee that someone in Group Z will get to sing their song, but is hard on the case where -- well, let me quote from daisy_knotwise's song on the subject:

    My turn passed, I missed it, the bathroom was crowded.
    I have just one chance, although slim it may be:
    You can sing out of turn if somebody requests it,
    But I know just five songs and nobody knows me.

    The big disadvantage of PPP is that very popular, well-known filkers can find themselves selected into a Supergroup X which sings this song, then that song, then the other song, while the other potential members of Group X find themselves on the Group W bench, playing with their pencils and filling out the forms while waiting for their turn to come around on the guitar. Some folks will argue that this is a desirable result, as it reflects the collective will of the circle; while that's true, it is a circle where I will usually vote with my feet and leave for more congenial and less democratic surroundings.)

    In my opinion, the right not to sing when it's your turn in a bardic circle should be as closely guarded as the right to sing. If you don't have something that fits, if you're just not in the mood right now, or whatever, it's not the business of the rest of the circle to cajole you into singing. On the other hand, it's equally important to make sure that the person whose turn it is understands that it really is ok for them to sing. In most bardics, I see us err in the former direction more than the latter.

    So if you're a member of Group Y or especially Group Z, how the heck do you get to sing in a chaos circle? If the circle's not being especially aggressive, it's not too hard. There tend to be gaps between songs, which allow you to strum on your guitar or stand up with your songbook, should you be planning to perform a capella, and announce "I've got a song". This usually works.

    In more aggressive circles, it's more of a problem. If you're a member of Group Z, it's entirely possible that no one knows that you've got something that you want to sing. In that case, one useful tactic (which I've frequently been happy to facilitate) is finding someone who's busy being a member of Group X, quietly approaching him when he's not singing and letting him know that you've got something you'd like to sing -- can he help you get in? Most people in our self-selected Group X will be happy to help you out.

    Group Y is trickier, because that's a case where you could use the Group Z approach above, but you're more likely to be being watched by one or more of the folks in Group X, because there's one or more someones there who know you and know that you want to get in periodically. (It's also possible that there's a moderator, as vixyish pointed out in response to the previous post. That's less common in the Midwest, where we tend to self-moderate, but it'll get you to the same point.)

    An attentive member of Group X should notice that someone in Group Y (or someone else in Group X, for that matter) has paged through their songbook to a particular page, grabbed a capo, has their hand on the neck of their guitar -- all of those little signs that can be used to signal "I've got something to sing now". And if you want to be a good member of Group X, you'll be looking for these things and -- especially in that nasty, aggressive, impolite chaos circle that you find yourself in tonight -- you'll pipe up and say, "Hey, Filker F, have you got something up?"

    Of course, you probably can't see everyone in the circle, but there's probably two or three members of Group X who can see any given person and deduce that they might like to sing sometime soon. We just -- collectively! -- have to pay attention to what's going on around us.

    Now I admit to usually being a member of that self-selected Group X -- I'd like to sing about once every time that the circle goes around. And I don't want to be a filkhog. So I start mentally tagging other people in the circle who I think are also interested in being in Group X for tonight and I keep track of how often they're singing. And so I may discover that I've sung twice, and Filker A has sung twice, as have Filkers B-D, but Filker E has sung five times.

    If you're Filker E, you just might be a filkhog. :)

    In general, no one should be singing more often than anyone else in the circle who intends to sing once per cycle. This is why, on occasion, someone will ask me if I can sing a song and I'll respond that I've sung just recently, but I'll try to get to it later in the evening.

    There are exceptions to this rule though, and it turns out that we're looking at the same problem in a chaos circle as in a bardic circle. What actually constitutes a person-turn -- that is, one "person" taking one "turn" in the circle?

    There are three members of Urban Tapestry. Do they get three turns per cycle or one? I've noticed that they usually take one -- if we can get them to sing at all some nights. They're really, really polite. :)

    What about me and Gretchen? Usually, if Gretchen and I do a duet, I'll count that as my turn, not hers. Gretchen hasn't brought her guitar to a circle in a long time and tends not to perform her own material frequently, so it would feel wrong (in the filkhoggish sense) for me to say, "Well, that was Gretchen's turn -- now I'll sing this."

    In other cases, I just try to figure out what they've got in mind on any given night. Once I understand that, I can keep count. :)

    The rest of you who want to self-select yourselves into Group X should be counting too. And you should keep an eye on what's going on around you and listen to what everyone else is saying, because if you do that, you're less likely to step on someone else -- and the less that you step on someone else, the less likely you are to be stepped on in return. Politeness breeds politeness, but in order to be polite, it really helps to be paying attention.

    Here's an example: catalana and I occasionally perform a couple of songs in sequence from the musical that I've been working on sporadically. I play the guitar for her to sing Behind the Mask, then I follow up by playing and singing Illusions, where Erica sings the harmony line. If we're planning on doing this, I generally announce that Erica's going to sing a song and I'm going to follow it. If someone tries to interpose between the two songs, I will step on them, because they've simply managed to not pay attention -- possibly by accident, but I said I was going to sing next for a very specific reason and I intend to do so.

    Look, I know that I'm quite capable of being impolite enough to get a song in at any time that I really want to. (I'm also pretty much capable of being louder than any unamplified instrument or performer in the room -- not everyone has this advantage. :) ) I normally choose to be polite, because life is just more pleasant that way for everyone.

    And if we all choose to be polite, well, then they may think it's a movement. And that's what it is, the Chaos Circle Anti-Massacre Movement. And all you've got to do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar here...
  • Tags: filk, filk circles, musings

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