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11 Oct

Week 22: “Dayvan Cowboy” by Boards Of Canada

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If you are Canadian, chances are you have seen the work of the National Film Board of Canada at some point in your life. Perhaps your 4th grade teacher had 20 minutes to kill on a Friday afternoon and popped in a VHS showing an aerial tour of the Rocky Mountains…or maybe the episode of “Sesame Street” that you were watching was interrupted by a pledge drive for public television featuring an animation of birds flying over a field to the music of Neil Young. There’s something about the atmosphere of an NFB film that is instantly recognizable.

How awesome is it, then, that a Scottish electronic duo known for its highly atmospheric sound decided to name itself in honour of that humble little Canadian institution? Very awesome is my answer. And the fact that this beautiful song, “Dayvan Cowboy” comes from an album called “Trans Canada Highway” (the Canadian equivalent to Route 66), is enough to make just about any Canadian burst with that wonderful pride we feel when someone from another country recognizes our existence.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Floating static noise. The song opens with classic Boards Of Canada audio-mush, which is to say, a melody buried deep beneath layers of static and distortion.

2. The tremolo guitar. The clarity of the guitar that hits at the 1.40 mark is the perfect contrast to the AM-radio-like static of the song’s first section.

3. The video. Saying that feels a bit like cheating…after all, I could have picked out a third thing about the music itself that makes this a beautiful song, but the video really is worth watching. It uses footage from American military officer Joseph Kittinger’s 1960 parachute jump from a record-setting 31 kilometres above the surface of the earth. To say that Kittinger had guts is an understatement: during the fall, his body reached speeds of up to 988 km/h, and due to a malfunction with his pressurized suit, his right hand swelled to twice its normal size. On a previous jump, a different malfunction made him lose consciousness, and his body went into a flat spin at 120 rpm. And you thought your job sucked.

Anyway, the video captures this amazing achievement and gives it the soundtrack it deserves: equal parts beauty and other-wordliness. When Kittinger cuts the parachute and plops into the ocean, the footage cuts to scenes of surfer Laird Hamilton riding peacefully on the waves, giving the illusion of a single man having fallen from space into the ocean and enjoying a nice afternoon’s surfing.

Recommended listening activity:

Lying in a hammock looking at the stars, and being grateful that you’re not falling towards the earth at 988 km/h.