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Music / Vienna Teng

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Blue, blue caravan,
Winding down to the valley of lights,
My true love is a man
Who would hold me for ten thousand nights.
In the wild, wild wailing of wind,
He's a house 'neath a soft, yellow moon.
So, blue, blue caravan,
Won't you carry me down to him soon?
Vienna Teng, "Blue Caravan"

Vienna Teng (born Cynthia Yih Shih, October 3, 1978) is a San Francisco Bay Area singer/songwriter who works in a style she likes to call chamber-folk. A classically trained pianist, she left a job at Cisco Systems to write and record music full-time. She has taken to touring in the past few years, often accompanied by professional percussionist Alex Wong, who co-produced Inland Territory with her.

  • 2002 - Waking Hour
  • 2004 - Warm Strangers
  • 2006 - Dreaming Through the Noise
  • 2009 - Inland Territory
  • 2010 - The Moment Always Vanishing (live album)
  • 2013 - Aims

She and her work provide examples of:

  • After the End: Enough to Go By, according to Word of God.
  • All Drummers Are Animals: When introducing Antebellum on the live album, Vienna mentions Alex drooling over the arrangement, which Alex notes is a very clichéd thing for a drummer to do.
  • Alternate Universe: No Gringo, where-in Americans are trying to get across the border into Mexico because America's economy collapsed. Oh, wait.
  • Album Title Drop: "Recessional" provides the title to Dreaming Through the Noise:
    And she dreams through the noise, her weight against me
    • The live album The Moment Always Vanishing gets its title from Antebellum, which originally appeared in Inland Territory:
    In the fall we circle through the leaves
    And talk about the little ones
    And we smile, but never say too much
    The moment always vanishing
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: The penultimate line of Recessional is "oh words like rain, how sweet the sound," sung almost exactly to the familiar tune.
  • Anachronic Order: Recessional is backwards.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Alludes to model minority stereotypes in Grandmother Song ("All the good boys, baby, they're in grad school.") Teng herself attended Stanford as an undergrad and worked for Cisco as a software engineer before seriously pursuing music.
    • Since going back to grad school and being inspired by an album full of songs about things like climate change and fluctuating urban populations, she's straight-up admitted to being "dorky" when explaining her song inspirations in concert.
  • Audience Participation Song:
    • Enough to Go By was supposed to be one, before Vienna realized that audiences do not have eidetic memories. Soon Love Soon is a more successful attempt, where the audience is given the repeated title chant and chorus to sing.
    • Grandmother Song is her most recent example—Vienna lets the audience clap the beat for her, and invites them to also hoot, holler, and make other raucous interjections.
    • The Breaking Light has become a subtler example of this, with the audience joining in on the background vocal part at the climax of the song.
  • Bawdy Song: Subverted in 1BR/1BA, in that the narrator is none too happy singing about their neighbours' bawdiness.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Whatever You Want is built entirely around this trope, telling the story of a Corrupt Corporate Executive's obedient, unappreciated secretary and wife who ultimately join forces to turn him in.
    I am the last one you'd ever suspect
    of setting the fire, of setting the fire
    But as you switch on your TV tomorrow morning,
    you'll hear me saying quietly:
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Watershed paints Nature as an omnipotent being who doesn't seem to care what the insignificant humans do with her world.
  • Breather Episode: InvertedPassage, one of Vienna's eeriest and saddest songs, is placed between the heartwarming lullaby Anna Rose and the soft, pleasant Atheist Christmas Carol (which, despite what its title might suggest, is not an Author Tract).
  • Call-Back: in Landsailor, "But there’s a storm outside your door / And I’m a child no more" might remind people of Lullaby for a Stormy Night.
  • Ceiling Banger / Right Through the Wall: 1BR/1BA.
    My upstairs neighbors are making sounds that I never want to hear
    I hope they're just moving furniture around and really liking their ideas.
    • Hilariously, one of the string players does an instrumental impression of The Immodest Orgasm right between those two lines.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The man described in Whatever You Want is implied to be one of these.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alex has his moments on the live album.
  • Dead Sparks: Between and Antebellum could definitely interpreted as this.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Vienna actually built an entire song (I Don't Feel So Well) out of the well / good grammatical nitpick.
  • Education Grandmama: The titular narrator of Grandmother Song, as every 2nd-gen Asian immigrant kid can relate, although the song goes into detail exploring her very real reasons for putting such importance on a proper education for her children and grandchildren.
  • Emotionless Girl: The narrator of above-mentioned I Don't Feel So Well.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Shasta into Homecoming on Warm Strangers.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Averted in Watershed. It's not that Nature hates humanity — it's just that she doesn't care.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played with ambiguously in Shasta, which focuses on the narrator's personal struggle with the choice amidat pressure and the threat of ostracization from those around her, rather than on her ultimate decision.
  • Green Aesop: "Landsailor", "Copenhagen", and "Never Look Away". And that's just from Aims.
  • Intercourse with You: Momentum. Vienna noted this at a concert once after sharing with the audience that a publication reviewing her first album had described it as "Music to get you into a woman's pants."
  • Isn't It Ironic?: Narrowly Averted when Vienna convinced a friend not to use Between as the first dance at a wedding.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Shasta. It sounds like such a cheerful, upbeat, fun song, until you realize it's about an abortion.
    • Also see Between. Beautiful waltz that a friend of Vienna's was planning to use at her wedding until Vienna pointed out the song's meaning.
    • Hymn of Acxiom - Vienna introduces this song by mentioning that a lot of high school color guards love using this song, making her wonder if anyone has actually listened to the lyrics.
  • Mood Whiplash: The last three songs of Warm Strangers go from heartwarming, to eerie and depressing, and back to heartwarming.
  • Morality Ballad: Whatever You Want, a song about an Enron-esque CEO.
  • Mother Earth: Narrates "Never Look Away". And apparently ''dies'' at the end of it.
  • Motor Mouth: The verses of In the 99 fly by so quickly, and are buried under so much instrumentation that they're difficult to make out without a lyric sheet.
  • My Beloved Smother: Present (maybe) in My Medea.
  • New Sound Album: from "chamber-folk" and "girl-with-piano" on her first two albums, Dreaming Through The Noise incorporated strong jazz influences. Inland Territory kept a few of them and mixed in some electronica as well. Aims is essentially a complete re-invention, with a much more studio sound and heavy pop influence.
  • Non-Appearing Title: About half of her songs.
  • One-Woman Wail: The end of Recessional.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Level Up". The music video just makes it even better.
  • Persecution Flip: No Gringo, which follows an Alternate Universe American family trying to cross the border into Mexico to find work.
  • Posthumous Narration: Passage, sung from the perspective of a car crash victim watching as life slowly goes on after their death.
  • Radio Song: "Radio" depicts the aftermath of a suicide bombing in a major American city through the perspective of a first responder. The speaker alludes to a time when such events were only a distant reality reported on the radio, at which she could easily "turn away to another station" to hear a love song.
  • Reincarnation Romance: In Another Life.
  • Rule of Three: Between is described as having been written in a very clever stage of her life, being a waltz in three verses with three vocal parts, the melody coming between the two harmony lines.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist:
    • Done via live looping during the Inland Territory era, most notably The Last Snowfall, which layers her backing vocals into a choir to form the song's signature hook.
    • Used to extremely creepy effect in The Hymn of Acxiom, an a cappella hymn that splits Vienna's voice into an entire computerized choir to sing from the perspective of a marketing database. She introduces it as her "Vienna Girls' Choir."
    • Also taken to extremes on Copenhagen (Let Me Go). By the end of the song, she's singing three different vocal parts in a round.
  • Self-Deprecation: Generally not evident in her songs, but in live shows, when talking about how she came up with the ideas for songs, she will quite frequently poke fun at herself for writing about dorky or pretentious subjects, or playfully suggest that she "ripped off" an artist she had been listening to at the time. This can cause a bit of Mood Whiplash if the song being introduced is a sad or serious one.
  • Shown Their Work: Radio. Aside from amassing what must be a very questionable search history looking up suicide bombings, Vienna includes real casualty totals from Israel and Palestine as whispered numbers along with the aforementioned triage codes.
  • Sleep Cute: Recessional:
    "In the terminal she sleeps on my shoulder, hair falling forward, mouth all askew..."
    • And again in Flyweight Love:
    "We fell asleep in our three-day clothes, one tilted head on the other..."
  • Sorry, I'm Gay: The back story of Unwritten Letter #1.
  • Spiritual Successor: Watershed explores Pontchartrain's theme from a much more inhuman perspective.
  • Spoken Word in Music: The intro to Flyweight Love fades in over recordings, solicited from fans, of people talking about their experiences with long-distance relationships.
  • Stage Names: "Vienna" after the city's illustrious musical history, and "Teng" to reflect her Chinese heritage.
  • Stalker with a Crush: On the live album, Vienna personifies The Tower as a finicky woman who will only agree to be part of the setlist when Alex is part of the gig, because "The Tower has a crush on Alex".
    Alex: "I don't know, she sounds kinda creepy to me. I've dated girls like The Tower before."
  • Stepford Smiler: "Whatever You Want".
  • Survival Mantra: Two in Radio: It's just the radio, darling, just the radio and We are not some Third World country... This is not some Third World country...
  • Tarot Motifs: The Tower
  • The Something Song: Grandmother Song.
  • Together in Death: Heavily implied by "The Breaking Light":
    • The third verse shows the narrator coming to terms with her brother's death, as she changes from saying "you will return" (to me) to "we will return" (to the afterlife). She describes her hope to see him again in life as a "hollow dream" that's fading.
    • The second chorus begins by repeating the first, with its promise that the brother's memories will "bring you back to me", but then it adds another section, including the line "listen to the murmurs, carry them inside you, 'til we're on the other side". They will reunite, but not on this earth.
  • Uncommon Time: Harbor, which she wrote for her boyfriend, a drummer who loves uneven time signatures, alternates between 5/8 in the verse, a mix of 6/8 and shorter measures in the chorus, and brief instrumental sections in 7/8.
    • Also notable in her devilishly difficult ''Signal Fire'', Vienna's attempt at a Prog Rock song, written in 5/8 with brief sections in 6/8 and the occasional measure of 7/8 thrown in at key moments.
    • The Last Snowfall's precise time signature is difficult to pin down due to its slow, meandering melody and very minimal instrumentation. It's actually written over a fairly quick 5/8 (which can be made out most easily by listening to Vienna's beatboxing in live performances).
    • St. Stephen's Cross has very lumpy time signatures, featuring 9-beat melodic phrases complicated by drums that plod along at their own steady 4 beats a measure and a dropped beat or two in key spots, and a relatively subtle shift to 6/8 in the instrumental sections.
    • Level Up applies this to upbeat, electronic dance music with a steady time signature of 7/4.
    • Close to Home toys with this as well, switching between 6/8, 7/8, and 8/8 on a measure-to-measure basis almost throughout.
  • Yandere: 'My Medea' is told from the perspective of one.
  • Yuri Genre: City Hall, especially as acted by Marika Hughes and Dina Maccabee.