Folk Music

The word “Filk” is a combination of “fiction” and “folk. ” Filk music originated as songs composed by dedicated film or television fans, usually relating to science fiction and fantasy programming. The word originated in the ’50s in an article about the practice of science fiction fans singing self-created songs while meeting at conventions geared for the sci-fi and fantasy fan.

When the practice goes back to the fifties, it has developed a genre and following that continues to now on the Internet and at social gatherings attended by “filkers. ” By the late seventies there were weekend conventions focused solely on filkers and filking. Websites and events have formed around what has become a cultural phenomenon and while there may be no established stars working in the genre, there are award programs for “Excellence in Filking” and a Filk Hall of Fame.

Today the world of filking remains essentially true to its origins: science fiction and fantasy fans singing together at gatherings. They are drawn from the worlds of Star Trek, Battlestar Gallactica, Star Wars and games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Song topics can cover any aspect of the sci-fi world: computers, homesteads on Mars, space battles and time travel. Those gatherings may be completely devoted to filking today and may include an entire range of talent, from highly accomplished musicians to the amateur science fiction fan whoever only wishes to raise his or her voice.

Through email lists and websites, filkers have opened up lines of communications and organizations that reach into other countries and continents. The concept of the musical product had expanded somewhat, although not without debate. Songs of an anarchic or nonsensical bent dealing with familiar social phenomena have been referred to as filk tunes; there has been an ongoing discussion among purists as to whether or not Weird Al Yankovic qualifies as a filker. A good resource for Filk FAQs and other websites may be found at http://www. electricpenguin. com/filking/columns/filkfaq/.

Filking can also be identified as simply the social network that has evolved around the original practice. The electronic tools at hand for maintaining that network are part of the current definition of the filk community. The websites with songs, lyrics and musical tools posted are an important part of the community’s binding. It’s also fair to say that openness characterizes the filker movement, or community, or organization. It’s not your ability to sing that qualifies you, it’s your enthusiasm for the process and perhaps your appreciation of the disassociation with social norms that the songs represent.

Filking remains, for the most part, the folk music of the science fiction and fantasy fan set. Some songs are bawdy, many are parodies of original mainstream works, and nearly all are performed on acoustic instruments to the uniform applause of other gathered filkers. There are CDs out there these days and a plethora of MP3 files to be found on many Internet sites. There are perhaps eight gatherings a yr held around the nation that are dedicated exclusively to filking.

There is another form of purity to the art form, other than its unique music. It is far enough off center that no one has found a way to build a business model for it and filking remains the personal creations and sole property of filkers.