Eye Candy (48)

By: Peggy Nelson
August 3, 2021

Didn’t it seem that Ken Burns said “jazz” like 3 billion times in that documentary? Which was a great doc, sure, but it’s one of those things where you notice him saying the word, then you listen for him saying the word, then all you hear is him saying the word, and by then the word has lost all meaning and the whole thing’s just become a blur of anticipation and sound. “Semantic satiation” is the technical term for when a word, said too many times, loses all its meaning and devolves to a sound. It can just happen; it can be invoked.

And it can be provoked.

Musician and multi-experimentalist Bill Baird decided to provoke. Provoked himself by Ken Burns saying “jazz” like 3 billion times in that documentary, Baird decided to see what would happen if Burns literally said “jazz” 3 billion (actually 2.97 bn) times, and sped it up so it would all occur in a window of 3.5 minutes.

Ken Burns Says “Jazz” 3 Billion Times (actually 2.97 bn) in Under 3.5 Minutes, by Bill Baird:

As all the Kens, and all the “jazz”s, accumulate, the surging, emergent drones intrigue the palette, with notes of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape as well as Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room coming through towards the finish. But this piece is not just “about” the technology – it is composed and sculpted from Baird’s well-tempered musical sensibilities, the rhythms and volumes interacting with and bouncing off each other over the course of the arrangement, all sensitive to the least flicker of his conductor’s wand. Baird applies this compositional sensitivity to the video component as well as to the audio, oscillating between blizzards and grids as the windows grow tinier and more numerous, changing from “individual notes” to the shaping of a mob or a swarm.

“3 Billion times in under 3 and a half minutes. Actually 2.97 billion. I calculated it. I am a weirdo, yes. I get a kick out of these things. Honestly, it gets really interesting about halfway through. Intense scaling. Strange fractal noise.

“If you think it’s growing and growing, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. The frame stays the same (HD size, 720p, etc). What’s happening is exponential *shrinkage.* Not enlargement. Ken Burns is exponentially shrinking into a sea of himself.” – Bill Baird

Give a listen – it may exponentially grow on you.


Ken Burns Says “Jazz” 3 Billion Times…: YouTube
Bill Baird: website, YouTube channel, bandcamp, Wikipedia page
Travel Stationary: podcast