The axeman cometh: Pachelbel makeover makes a web superstar
Thursday 31 August 2006
What do you get if you throw together a classical baroque composition, Jimi Hendrix, awesome manual dexterity and musical ability, a world of computer geekery and Web-based rumour-mongering at its most powerful?
You get Asia's new axeman extraordinaire, a Korean guitarist who calls himself Funtwo, a video on the YouTube website (YouTube.com+Funtwo) that has been watched 7.8 million times and the fame record companies spend millions trying to buy.
In classic geek style, Funtwo does his best work in his bedroom. But the young man plays like a dream. All you see of the guitarist's face is his jawline and a set expression, the rest masked by a beige baseball cap as he concentrates on the complicated arpeggios of a rock version of Johann Pachelbel's 18th-century baroque masterpiece, "Canon".
Sun streams through the window behind him, giving a dreamlike quality to the performance. The lack of facial emotion starkly contrasts the nimble fingerwork, which has earned him comparison to the most dextrous guitarists, including the late, great Jimi Hendrix and Swedish axe overlord, Yngwie J Malmsteen.
The five-minute, 20-second clip has attracted the kind of online curiosity of the Paris Hilton sex tape or the YouTube clip of the angry Hong Kong commuter, "Boss Uncle". This week, Funtwo has been revealed by The New York Times as Korean student Jeong-hyun Lim, a 23-year-old self-taught musician in Seoul.
On his myspace site, Funtwo says he uses an ESP Alfee Custom SEC-280TC guitar, with ZOOM GFX-8 effects and he also features earlier attempts at "Canon", with a few mistakes. His site also has a Korean flag, the message "I am Korean!!" and a picture of the heavy metal band Metallica.
The story of Funtwo demonstrates how technology is changing music, and how classical and pop music is performed and distributed. It involves versions of a piece of complicated baroque music flying around Korea, Taiwan, the US and New Zealand. The piece is one you have probably never heard of but you have heard many times. It is hugely popular at weddings and advertisements, been used in several films and can also be heard in the occasional lift or when you are on hold.
Pachelbel, who lived from 1653-1707, was one of the great composers and friendly with the Bach family. He was music teacher to Johann Sebastian Bach's brother and godfather to his sister, but is now mostly remembered for "Canon", much to the disappointment of the purists.
Originally, the piece would have been played on three violins, a harpsichord and a cello. It has been interpreted in different ways before; Brian Eno did three "Canon" variations in his Discreet Music album. Last year, a 25-year-old Taiwanese guitarist, Jerry Chang, did a rock arrangement. Naturally, he performed in his bedroom and posted it on his band website.
Soon, fellow music geeks came to pay court, begging for advice and annotation, including a Bach and Vivaldi fan called Funtwo. He is reportedly a student at Auckland University in New Zealand and plans to return there in March, although other posts say he is due to do his military service in Korea.
On 23 October last year, Funtwo uploaded his video to a Korean music site, and it was posted on YouTube by an admirer called "guitar90" who simply said: "This guy iz great!!!" The rest, as they say, is history.
The comments posted on YouTube range from the adulatory for his "sweeps and pinch harms" to the hostile. Some believe he is faking it, others say he is Jimmy Page in disguise. But the most representative posting is the one which says "Rock on bro! :) awesome playin".
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