Rock, Paper, Cynic and the Musical Mad Science of Borken Telephone

Remember Broken Telephone? It’s that game you played back in grade school. The whole class would sit in a circle and pass a sentence around in whispers, except you’d keep getting the words wrong so it would turn “I think geometry is cool” into “I’m attracted to boiled rutabagas” or some such nonsense?

Borken Telephone is sort of like that, but a whole lot nerdier.

More specifically, Borken Tekephone is the first studio album from Peter Chiykowski, a nerd-core musician and the creator of the web comic Rock, Paper, Cynic. He’s currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the album, which will include twelve original songs and one musical mad science experiment.

The twelve songs represent some of Chiykowski’s best cuts after six years of performing as Rock, Paper, Cynic. The tunes are primarily humorous explorations of geeky hypotheticals, and three of the demos are currently available for free if you’d like to listen before you buy. The album, which will be produced by Tico Souza, is Chiykowski’s first opportunity to record in a professional studio with professional equipment and musicians, so Borken Telephone will have a higher level of polish than his previous efforts.

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The second (non-physical) disc, however, is the one that’s genuinely intriguing. Chiykowski is organizing a massive game of musical broken telephone, and he’s enlisted a who’s who of sonic nerdom to help him in his quest.

“I love mistakes. I love miscommunication,” said Chiykowski. “I wanted to shape some kind of project where things could go gleefully haywire, and where I could work with a lot of the artists who have inspired me musically.”

The rules of Borken Telephone are simple. Chiykowski has written a 50-second song called ‘Borken Telephone.’ He sends the demo to Professor Shyguy, the second artist in the chain. Professor Shyguy listens to the song once and only once before attempting to recreate it from memory. He records his version and sends it back to Chiykowski, who then sends the new version onto the third artist in the chain. The game continues until it gets back to Chiykowski, who will abide by the same rules and bookend the project with a second recording based on the previous version of the song. So far, Professor Shyguy is the only participant to go through the entire process and send a finished recording back to Chiykowski.

“I was actually impressed at how closely he managed to stick to the melody and lyrics while amping up a sparser acoustic number with some amazing chiptune energy,” said Chiykowski. “I love his take, and I’m having a hard time not sharing the file until the project is finished.”

“My guess is that we’re going to see certain hooks preserved, and definitely certain key words that stick in the memory harder than others. But how those words are syntactically connected I think is going to mutate quickly.”

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The full roster of 12 performers includes The Doubleclicks, Kirby Krackle, and Nerds with Guitars, and more names – such as Zach Sherwin of Epic Rap Battles – are being added as the Kickstarter campaign reaches its stretch goals. The artists hail from genres as diverse as rap, chiptunes, folk, and rock, ensuring that each version of the song will have a different sound beyond the expected misinterpretations. ‘Borken Telephone’ has both a melody and lyrics, so the participants will have plenty of opportunities to get something wrong.

“I approached collaborators with a mixture of giddiness and terror,” said Chiykowski. “These are people whose creative work and judgment I trust more than my own and I didn’t know what they’d think. But everyone was really supportive. I think the project is just supposed to be a hell of a lot of fun, and people got that.”

So what is Chiykowski hoping to accomplish with Borken Telephone?

“For me, the musical broken telephone is going to give us a compressed time-lapse kind of vision of the evolution of a song,” he said. “Normally you have to wait centuries to see how memory and cultural transmission morph a piece of music.”

“I think the core of the album is also a chance for me to step up my game and say, ‘Yeah, I’m making music, and it’s not just a hobby anymore.’”

The Kickstarter has already reached its funding goal, but every stretch goal adds more songs to the playlist so the project stands to benefit from a little extra cash. It’s a cool (and very geeky) concept, so if you want to get in on the ground floor there are still two days to contribute.

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