Doot-doot! The internet's spookiest meme isn't really spooky at all. Start the video, and a disembodied skull holding a trumpet appears, hovering over a field of black. Without menace, it turns toward you, and the bell of its horn begins to throb. Doot-doot! Skull Trumpet's musical salvo lasts all of two notes, and it's over.
It's hard to say what's so compelling about Skull Trumpet, which has been percolating around YouTube, Tumblr, 4chan, and Reddit in various iterations since 2011 or 2012. I distinctly remember when I first saw it, dicking around on the internet with two coworkers at a previous job. We were transfixed, and when we'd wrung all available laughs from the second-long original clip, we moved on to the equally short, equally strange alternate versions: Skull Trumpet orchestral, Skull Trumpet - heavy Norwegian black metal cover, Skull Trumpet remix.
Two years after our initial encounter, Skull Trumpet endures. New versions are uploaded to YouTube with alarming regularity—in a personal favorite published this month, a tween in a Mega Man shirt and a Minnesota Twins hat gives a live Skull Trumpet performance on his clarinet, and in another, a kid in fingerless gloves does Skull Trumpet piano. There's an active community on Reddit that has spun the video into an entire aesthetic of goofy spookiness, complete with accompanying vocabulary, and according to Google Trends, Skull Trumpet had its second-highest search traffic ever this month.
Typically, the life cycle of a meme lasts months or weeks, not years. When an image macro or video stunt or joke construction "goes viral," it's partially because it has a recognizable formula and is easily to reproduce. The humor is necessarily one-note, and there are only so many variations on Bad Luck Brian or #truedetectiveseason2 a sane person can take before fatigue sets in. Sometimes co-option plays a role: In November of last year, the humble doge was celebrated as "an actually good internet meme" on these very pages; just one month later it was shoehorned into a Republican senatorial candidate's social media strategy. Now, there are terrible doge-themed Seamless ads on the New York City subway.
The hazy nature of Skull Trumpet's "joke," if you could even call it that, means that it may never reach the point of saturation that renders once-charming internet ephemera tiresome. More importantly, it hasn't gotten any less funny. Unlike the aforementioned hashtags and image macros, whose appeals lie in their easy specificity, Skull Trumpet works in vagueness. In its bizarreness and its brevity, it forces no meaning on its viewer, taking on whatever meaning the viewer would like. As one recent remix puts it: Skull Trumpet goes with everything.
Skull Trumpet goes with Friends:
Skull Trumpet goes with Hank Hill:
Skull Trumpet goes with "Niggas in Paris":
Skull Trumpet goes with Space Jam:
Skull Trumpet, inevitably, goes with Darude's "Sandstorm"...
...multiple times over.
And so on.
Name a recent pop song or internet cultural phenomenon and there's a decent chance it has been augmented with either Skull Trumpet's visuals, its trademark two-note lick, or both. There are spooky renditions of Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda," Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty," Linkin Park's "Crawling," and several different Skrillex songs. There's a Skull Trumpet Dark Knight Rises and a Skull Trumpet Sonic the Hedgehog.
Many of the best versions, however, riff not on pop culture but on the universe of Skull Trumpet itself: there are the requisites—Skull Trumpet stretched 10,000% and Skull Trumpet for 10 hours straight—but also Skull Trumpet ~*~*LIVE*~*~ 3D EXPERINNCE and the Skull Trumpet band rehearsing for its big concert. In [SFM] Skull Trumpet, Skull Trumpet gets a body to match its head, and in Skull Trumpet is Gay, Skull Trumpet is gay.
I asked the moderators of /r/LeDootGeneration, a surreal Reddit board devoted loosely to Skull Trumpet, to describe the meme's appeal. "All that sort of 90's/early 2000's computer aesthetics is pretty appealing to me personally so the skull trumpet is (at least visually speaking) a given," a moderator who wished to be referred to as Luxinveils, their Reddit name, said. "There's also its versatility. It feels as if doot doot fits on a variety of things. A number of ideas for the skull trumpet exist as well as its possible combinations with other concepts and content creators took notice of that.
"It's like having a nostalgia for something you never experience (or at least don't remember experiencing) as a younger person. I never had to deal with the sp00kiness of the haunting doot doot as a kid and I think most of us never even heard of it back then either."
The "sp00kiness of the haunting doot doot" to which Luxinveils is referring comes from Microsoft 3D Movie Maker, a kids computer graphics software that debuted in 1995. The consensus among Skull Trumpet cognoscenti is that their hero was initially lifted from a demo within the game. Connor Dennis, another LeDootGeneration moderator, told me Skull Trumpet "was definitely taken from that two-second 3DMM video."
Intrigued, I downloaded a copy. I couldn't actually run the software, so I browsed through its library of files, playing every video and audio clip I could find. The fidelity of the graphics definitely looked right, and there were graveyards, mummies, and mad scientists—one demo even featured a bumbling skeleton!—but I couldn't find Skull Trumpet itself.
The only other potential line to Skull Trumpet's origin I could find was through Wolf Pupy, a pseudonymous Twitter personality and webcomics artist. The original Skull Trumpet video, pulled down from YouTube sometime in 2012, was uploaded by piepuppy89, a since-deactivated account. Several other piepuppy89 videos have been reuploaded by fans, and many of them share Skull Trumpet's low-res visuals and left-field sense of humor.
Digging around for the account-holder's identity, I found several YouTube comments and Tumblr posts alleging that piepuppy89 was Wolf Pupy's YouTube account, and according to Know Your Meme, Skull Trumpet got its first viral push from a Wolf Pupy tweet. Is it possible that he or she created the video, or at least bestowed it on the internet?
I emailed Wolf Pupy looking for answers and promptly received an appropriately mysterious response: "The information you are looking for is best left unknown."