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Filk Music: Odd Voices for a Digital Generation

What has 30 legs, five laptops, four kazoos and one Yoda? A filk singing circle. Filk is a little-known genre of folk music composed and performed by science-fiction fans, usually revolving around sci-fi and fantasy themes.

These so-called "filkers" share a lively online culture online -- and in the real world, some entertaining and slightly bizarre get-togethers.

Some songs riff on stories and characters from popular movies, TV shows, or games -- Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Dungeons and Dragons are popular launch pads. Other tunes come from deeply weird depths of the songwriter's psyche.

Filk has been around for decades, but the genre is gaining new popularity, in part because of digital music downloads and free Internet radio. At the 19th annual Con-Chord, one of about eight yearly "filkfests" in the United States, a group gathered at a Los Angeles-area hotel to share their newest tunes.

"It's like a hootenanny on another planet," Jardin says. "Audience members sometimes cheer topically -- a song featuring bioengineered chickens is met with clucking. Another featuring pigs in space, with oinks. Another about the physics of farting is met with -- well, you get the idea."

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Xeni Jardin
Xeni Jardin can be heard on NPR’s Day to Day, offering technology insights for listeners nationwide. Jardin is also a contributing writer for Wired Magazine, as well as a tech culture journalist and co-editor of the collaborative weblog BoingBoing.net, the award-winning "Directory of Wonderful Things."