April 15: My memory of the day is fading. I want to get my thoughts down because I didn't take notes and at this point my memories will either get put down here or disappear for ever. So here's what happened: We went to a panel called "Rhythm Science: Sampling in a Global Context: Music, Art, Technology, and Copyright" at the Interactive Media Culture Expo, which was held at the Chelsea Art Museum. The panel was hosted (and curated) by Paul D. Miller, also known as DJ Spooky. Paul began by saying that he thought of his panel as a mixtape and that he put the people he had brought together in the hopes of making a better world. With that, he and Daniel Bernard Roumain did a beautiful duet on violin and turntables. I don't remember the order of things, but here are some highlights:
- Daniel Bernard Roumain played violin and talked about the disjunction between his lessons in classical music on violin and the hip-hop he listened to growing up. He then played a piece that blended styles to account for what he was listening to.
- Colin Mutchler talked about his Free Culture tour, creativecommons.org, and his interest in liscencing work in such a way as to allow other artists to use and alter your works.
- Christoph Cox talked about Western ideas about music, focusing on the idea of music as a constant flow versus something that is "authored" and the implications of this history for our current discourse on copyright.
- Siva Vaidhyanathan talked about analog culture -- the reproduction of tapes of all sorts around the world. He asked us to think about what the ability to dub tapes has meant in a number of different situations. The ones I remember most are the widespread viewing of Indian films in Northern Nigeria and the proliferation of hip-hop in India.
- Catherine Corman showed the collage film Rose Hobart by Joseph Cornell and talked about the different meanings between that film and the one from which it was lifted -- East of Borneo.
- Kodwo Eshun & Anjalika Sagar talked about their collective, The Otolith Group, and their interest in making use of the archive to tell stories that are overlooked. I was particularly interested in their idea that each "present" is shaped by our relation not only to the past, but also to the past visions of the future. They showed excerpts from their film. The title was something like "Memoir of a Space Woman" and it was told from the perspective of an imagined descendant of Anjalika's thinking back on her history. Part of this history includes images of an ancestor of Anjalika's who went with a group of Indian feminists to Russia to meet with Russian women, including an astronaut. It's all very involved and I'm not sure I can do justice with the description. Trust that it was beautiful and "lyrical", as Paul said. It made my mind stretch.
- I think many people expected Hank Shocklee to talk about sampling or noise or copyright issues, but he directed our attention to content. We could talk about creative choices all day long, he said, but what are we trying to say? Maybe the way I'm writing about this makes it sound like he was confrontational. He wasn't. In fact, he was very open and spoke about feeling the vibrations from Eshun and Sagar's film. But he used his time to talk about the political goals of his work with Public Enemy and said that he thought music should move you to do something. If the song is sad, he said, I think you should cry at the end. He said music changed his life and so he knew it was powerful and he wanted to use it powerfully.
Hybrid Forms Are Always Subject to Becoming Binary Poles
When he talked about sampling, Shocklee talked about wanting to tap into the emotions connected to other musics and to respond to everything he was hearing. As a matter of fact, he said "Genre is dead." I took this as a response to some comments by DBR and Paul, because both had talked about wanting to mix cultural influences in a way that sounded like hip-hop was black in such a way as to be untouched by non-black influences. I don't necessarily think they meant to say this, but I do think (1) some audience members could get that sense and (2) the fact that hip-hop in the vein of Shocklee is quite consciously responding to a range of cultural influences is often lost because (3) hybrid forms are always subject to becoming binary poles once they are recognized as forms. What I kept thinking was: What will it look like when the hybrid work that Roumain and Miller are doing gets reduced? Or will the fact that they are self-consciously hybrid outsmart the process?
Music May Be a Constant Flow to The Attentive Listener but Not Necessarily for the Musician
It's hard for me to remember the things that Christoph Cox talked about, but I remember feeling conflicted about the idea that music is always already there. On the one hand, I understand and appreciate what Cage is saying about "music" being a way that we attend to sound rather than a set of critera. I love 4'33" because it makes us listen to the sound in a given room at a given time. I like thinking about questioning the idea of authorship and even the idea of craft. BUT as a musician, making something necessarily requires the mark of my hand (or voice or influence). I learn this, in fact, from Cage, who, in trying to escape choice, is somewhat obsessive about choice. The only difference between what he perhaps used to think music was about and what he ended up thinking music was about was about what the musician's choice was. If not the traditional instrument, if not the (beautiful) sound, then the length or the gesture. In learning to be a better listener, then, I have learned to hear music in many more things, but in learning to be a better musician, I have to learn how to make better choices. I'm not sure what this says about copyright.
Let's Keep Content Goals in Sight
I'm all about exploring form and I don't think that thinking about media means we aren't thinking about content. Yet when we think about multimedia art or new media art or simply the use and function of media, we're often not talking about our goals with the work outside of the form. I learned so much from Shocklee's ability to think with lucidity about the political and emotional goals for his work and the way that sampling enabled Public Enemy to access sounds that could activate memories for their audience. We need more thinking like this.
I'll write more as I think about it . . .