Thursday, October 31, 2013

WEEK TEN : Music & Sampling: our musical commons


We spent this week mostly *listening*, from Count Basie to Public Enemy and many stops in between as we considered the creative cultural commons of music over the decades, and the relationship between the evolutioin of recording technology and of copyright protection. Some examples we listened to and discussed were:
-the infamous plaigarism case between George Harrison (My Sweet Lord 1971) and Bright Tunes Corporation (He's So Fine, recorded by The Chiffons 1962)
-Douglas Kahn's 1980 tape collage of Ronald Reagan and Bill Moyers, distributed via flexi-disc in Raw Magazine, Reagan Speaks for Himself
-Afrika Bambatta's breakthrough track Planet Rock (1982), and the relationship of his sampling to his collecting, see Bambatta's amazing archive of  records , just recently sent to the Cornell University Hip Hop Colleciton  for posterity.
-DAvid Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) and Bruce Conners film made for one of those tracks America is Waiting (1982)
We also talked about the 2004 project Jay-Z's Construction set which is a huge zip file full of everything you need to remix his album, in the hopes that it will inspire new artists to add their voices to the cacophony. "Make as much music as possible" he says. A DJ named Dangermouse did just that, when he released The Grey Album which combined Jay Z's vocals from The Black Album with instrumentals from The Beatles  White Album. A lawsuit ensued and music  and free culture lovers protested by picking one day to post The Grey Album for anyone to download--this day will forever be known as GREY TUESDAY .
Lastly we watched the entire film of COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS, shown on PBS Independent Lens and produced by Kembrew McLeod, who also organized a collage practice conference and edited a book of those participants called Cutting Across Media: Appropriation Art, Interventionist collage, and Copyright Law. The first chapter is by Marcus Boon and is called Digital Mana: On the Source of the Infinite Proliferation of Mutant Copies in Contemporary Culture. 
Et voila! 


Judd said...

"Digital Mana is open source-a widely disseminated power that is more than an echo of the society of the spectacle and its laws." -Marcel Mauss

We cannot argue that human beings have shaped the landscape and society. Just as the caveman saw antelope and painted them on the cave walls, musicians and artists interpret what is around them and "recompute" it. It just so happens that instead of looking at antelope, contemporary artists and musicians are looking at each other.

The comment by one of the producers in COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS that sampling is lazy or takes less creativity than playing a traditional instrument is absurd. What the founders of hip-hop did was totally innovative and changed music forever. The story of hip-hop proves that in order to be contemporary, one NEEDS to look at and reinterpret the past in their creative work. The words Digital Mana reflect the inherent freedom in sampling, collaging, and reinterpreting what the people before us have made.

Lex Mobley said...

"The fetishized object attains its power by being one of an infinite series and contains within it the trace of this infinity-which is what is desired and which fascinates, rather than the thingness…commodification attempts to objectify this infinite."
It's tragic and glorious and inspiring and disheartening all at the same time to live in a society in which anything can be commodified and utilized to lure the masses into its appeal as part of the infinity of things. The act of filming something can automatically turn it into an image to be looked at, sold, or reconceptualized as something other than it is. Intimate relationships with things are mediated and added to the vast web of the increasingly-attainable infinite open culture. The act of filming both desensitizes these things and their aura and creates communities and understanding between like- and unlike-minded people. By being filmed and framed, the thing has meaning fabricated unto itself.
The infinity of things (rather, access to it) is a fascinating and nearly infinite pool of resources for humanity's artistic inclinations, but what does it mean for the purity of any one thing or relationship? Is everything encompassed into the "infinite series?" Is it all to be consumed?
I like Boon's description of industrial folk cultures, or those subcultures that "persist in mutated forms in the margins of industrial societies" and how they "repeatedly tell the story of the appropriation of the infinite by capitalism." I wonder if the infinite were to be re-appropriated by some other ideology, what that might look like and who would be at the margins then. What if there were no profit involved?

Michael Davis said...

"The act of naming is also a key part in cultures that celebrate appropriation."

What I found interesting in Digital Mana was the examination of the "infinite" and how we mediate and control access through it either by legitimate means i.e. money or fringe methods of either illegality or appropriation. The above quote helped to bring this idea into focus, if one can only enjoy the infinite as spectacle (as window shopping as I believe is said early within the piece) then one can simply recreate/ rename a new "infinite" or more precisely a mode to access the infinite. The act of naming, either oneself or something else is a appropriation harking back to past names (how popes adopt new names upon their confirmation) or past movements/ historical movements. Naming shows ownership at both disassociates an object from its past and complexly remakes it within the past in the same breath.

zac rice said...

"Art has been confounded with the art object -- the stone, the canvas, the paint -- and has been valued because, like the mystic experience, it was supposed to be unique"
Before we were able to have the remix culture of art a shift occurred with the value of art. As graffiti expanded and became more than spray painting a wall into the variety of different possible types of street art. The idea of spray paint of a canvas that was outside and a building disabled graffiti culture from being art. While simultaneously the hip-hop culture was developing and were under a similar pressure from critiques, that the process they used was unable to create art. Both these art types were based on altering or reusing an other person's work. For the graffiti artist, its an architect's building, that is credited to him and not the construction crew that built it. Just like the samples rappers use are most often owned by someone other than the person who initially created the work.
Should artists expect their art works to remain unaltered when people no longer have to be in a place designated by the artist to experience their art work?

Jordan McDonald said...

"The mathematical framing of digital culture, apparently the source of its power, in fact hides a different kind of power, that of naming" (Boon, 34).

As children we are taught that addition, subtraction, division and multiplication are forms of mathematics. However, what is not immediately presented to us is that math also appears in the form of language. There are multiple levels of math in language, the basic being along the lines of contractions (I + am = I'm). Beyond this simplicity lies the complex: the addition, subtraction, etc. of language applies to more than just words, but also the infinite permutations excerised by rappers/producers appropriating myriad sources (theirs and others) into a fresh article.
- When Marcus Boon speaks of digital culture's hidden power, that of naming, my thoughts begin to hover around Sousa's notion of a "read/write culture." Musicians, especially those within the hip hop community, have fully embraced the stripping of their given (yet false) names for the adoption of names in line with their experiences (their true names).

What I am curious about is the relative cultural value of an artist (whether a YouTube username or a rapper) who redefines their image via pseudonyme as opposed to the artist that maintains their given name. Is one perceived as more artistic, and therefore more credible as a creator?

Lotem Sella said...

"But unlike the foregoing examples, which cite magical, spiritual, or cosmological sources for the true infinity, file sharers and other participants in digital culture remain inchoate in articulating the source of their own claim on the infinite."

This quote illustrates how people devoid of mass communications turned to the cosmos and magic in search of placing the confusing idea of existence. The concept of infinity in itself relies on people accepting they cannot fathom how large something is and throw it blankly into the realm of infinity. As such it seems fitting that this thing we do not truly understand, the internet, and it's mass holdings be categorized under infinity.

This ability to access an unimaginable amount of files that can lead to the most creative endeavors speaks on the limit of creativity. There might be a day when every single combination of images, color, timing, anything that can relate to art has been used in every combination possible, but that event is so unimaginable that we rather throw it out in favor of infinity. However wrong this notion might be it is incredibly useful to artists who might be able to use this tool to what they think might be infinite means.

Will we one day reach a limit of our creative abilities or will new works keep coming until the day the Earth quits spinning?

Eric Stewart said...

"the infinity sign is a mathematical, scientific, military symbol."

Throughout Digital Mana, Boon makes constant allusion to the infinite and infinity, these ideas form the heart of the writing. Infinity is described in both transcendental religious and mathematical/scientific terminology. Boon's use of the infinite is similar to other thinkers use of the idea of "the real", the infinite is inherently a concept that exist beyond perception as well as imagination, the infinite is therefor the bounty from which reality is forged through language and representation. It is through this infinity alchemy that power is made manifest. The idea of nature can be read similarly as "the real" and "the infinite" for nature is the source from which things come; it is derivative and precedes as well as follows our mortality. Industrialism and Capitalism exists as a facsimile of nature, their prowess at production and manipulation mimic infinity in an attempt to be confused with the divine. Appropriation is resistance to this confusion of divinity, finding empowerment in "theft" and resistance to mainstream language -- alternative communities refuse to participate in the domestication of nature by industrial production through a refusal to work and resist the domestication of "the real" through the refutation of mainstream language, fiat and conceptual projection.

-Eric S.