linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


have a ball

ah, college

if you are in the cambridge area this weekend (and can tear yourself away from NESN), you might consider spending some of your sunday at harvard square's oktoberfest. the weather is supposed to be absolutely fine, and the folks planning the fest this year are trying to make it more of a draw by bringing in a bunch of musical acts and expanding the biergarten areas. (really though, they're more like beer-pens, nein?)

me and my riddim-methodist colleague, dj c, will be providing some trinkenmuzik from 3 to 4. i plan to remix a bunch of oktoberfest favorites, while c will no doubt mashitup in his own impeccable way. should be a ball, or two.

for a bit of a preview, allow me to share with you a couple deutschland-inspired ditties i cooked up several years ago when i was studying german and fancying a dissertation on hip-hop in germany (before hip-hop in jamaica suddenly seemed like a much better idea). these don't feature samples of actual oktoberfest muzik, but they do feature samples from a learn-to-speak-german casette i picked up back when i was trying to learn how to sprechen that dastardly difficult tongue.

the first, "ich in munich," employs samples of a guy saying that he doesn't know how to speak german, completely in german of course. progressing through the phrases the tape supplies for struggling speakers, it gets more and more ridiculous as it goes, descending into utter incomprehension despite all the textbook german:

wayne&wax, "ich in munich"

the second, "german drinking song," is more appropriate for the season. i chopped up a bunch of phrases--somewhat archaic ones, i'm told--used for ordering drinks, toasting, and the like, and i pasted them into a downright binge of a track. for backing, i created a woozy little analog romp, complete with the underlying strains of "how dry i am"--a tune forever enshrined in my memory by cartoon depictions of drunkenness. hope you enjoy. (best when taken with a steinful of augustiner--good great bier, if you can get it. unfortunately, i don't think it's easy to come by outside of muenchen.)

wayne&wax, "german drinking song"



just lookin', thanks

ah, chlorophyl

  • check professor charlie on jahcure's latest recording: a song penned by a cop, which prof hears as expressing both the cure's and the cop's feelings about incarceration and redemption. don't be fooled by the corporate-looking site, prof's got radical ideas about helping jamaica help itself (no poco), with implications for the wider world. (but most of y'all prolly just want to know when babylon a go free the cure, don't?)

  • in other news back a yard, a jamaican expat returns and blogs all about it. so far, it's been interesting to watch the workings of reverse-reverse-culture shock (or something like that). mr.francis/wade brings an interesting mix of insider/outsider perspectives to bear on his experiences. and despite not sharing anything that could approximate the peculiar emotional resonances of being a return migrant after 20 years living abroad, having experienced moving to (and settling into life in) jamaica, i can definitely relate to some of his trials and tribulations, especially with regards to navigating the distinctive jamaican strain of bureaucracy. those of you who haven't read me and wifey's '03 'jamaica blog' should definitely check out our tale of bureaucratic hell inna JA style. (those who have should go again just to look at becca's ridiculously funny, and accurate, illustration of our labyrinthine journey around a small square room.)

  • jace doesn't write too much. but he does write a lot, and quite well. (i think he also makes music.) don't miss the man's ethnographically-inscribed take on musical feedback loops, the state of "world music" (and reverse exoticism), and inter-cultural contact today. better'n that, though: check the pseudo-anthropological, oldschool- ethnomusicological, hackerese-infused so-so-slippery critique (but y'all know who you are, right?) he levels on bloglandia, academia, archivistan, and associated territories.

  • dj food's raiding the 20th century mix is entertaining, educational, and expertly executed. what's more, it includes a mash from boston's own DJ BC! (link via mr.893)

  • the making of illmatic video-promo makes me excited about the album all over again, though i've never really lost any love--even after those tone'n'poke missteps--for nas's ill lil masterpiece. few other hip-hop albums come close to illmatic in terms of consistency, economy, and straight-up poetry (that's a part of me, retardedly, bop). never mind beats! watching the excitement of so many veteran producers reaffirms to all of us who have grown weary of god's son's wandering and pandering--what happened to the pondering?--that it ain't hard to tell when you hear greatness. (link via emynd)

  • finally, props to the dig for running a cover photo this week of two big bears engaging in the love that dare not speak its name ('round these parts anyway). nope, i'm not talking about man-on-man love, i'm talking about sox-on-yankees love. disgusting. (can't wait to read next week's letters to the editor.)

  • go sox!


how yu mean?!

"kool herc" (spraypaint on canvas) by mikeyfreedombaby

the good people at the institute for studies in american music, brooklyn college (CUNY), recently uploaded a piece of mine that was printed in their fall 2005 newsletter. the piece, "hearing hip-hop's jamaican accent" is based on a talk i gave at last spring's NYU-hosted conference, music, performance, and racial imaginations.

as some readers might remember, i thought the talk went well. the resistance i encountered to my own performance of race and nation served to confirm the underlying tensions i was hoping to tease out.

the gist of my argument in the paper is this: by listening to the shifting connotations of jamaican-ness in hip-hop from the 70s to today, we can hear how the meanings and definitions of race have changed in NY over the last few decades.

or, as the opening paragraph lays it out:
Although hip-hop's dominant narrative typically begins with the introduction of Jamaican sound-system techniques and technologies into the South Bronx, the Caribbean presence in hip-hop tends to recede into absence after this originary moment. Despite an increasing infusion of reggae into hip-hop over the last three decades, a hybridization reflecting New York's increasingly foreign-born black population, hip-hop histories routinely downplay such "outside" influence. Narrative strategies that seek to validate African American aesthetics against the denigration of mass media representations have thus obscured a more nuanced account of hip-hop's social character, with far-reaching implications for our understanding of such notions as race, ethnicity, and nation. The failure to acknowledge Jamaica's place in the hip-hop imagination overlooks the context-specific identification practices through which many performers have expressed the predicament of being both West Indian and black in New York. Such an oversight, in effect, maintains a discursive complicity with traditional, essentialized notions of race.

at any rate, i point you to the piece in case you want to read it for yourself. bear in mind that its scope is necessarily limited by the fact that it was prepared originally as a 20 minute talk. bear in mind also that the language in this paper, as you can see from the paragraph above, is more "academic" than the voice you find here on the blog (and, look ma: capital letters!). even so, i think it raises a lot of good questions as it gestures at some of the issues i'm digging into in the intertwined history of hip-hop and reggae which i'm slowly but surely banging into the all-too-linear shape of a dissertation.

anyhow, you can find it here: "hearing hip-hop's jamaican accent"


the same issue contains a review of beat-making books, including that excellent ethnography by mista twist (which deserves, and has received, better recognition for its contributions--and its stated focus--than the reviewer offers). and you might notice that ISAM has recently published an essay collection proposing "new approaches to hip-hop studies" called critical minded. i have to admit that i haven't read it, but it is definitely a good title for a book of this sort. i have read their other publication, island sounds in the global city, which presents a wide-lens view of the various ways that caribbean music weaves through the texture of new york life. if you're interested in this sort of thing (which you should be), i urge you to check it out. finally, if you're going to read any other articles on the ISAM site, i highly recommend ken bilby's "calypso as a world music" (fall 2004).


flicks and vids, tones and tomes

cottoncandyhammer: tonguing the taste of america's waste, among other things

much media worth checking these days, so find some time this weekend for the following:

  • cottoncandyhammer has an absolutely amazing collection of flicks and finds here. i recommend setting the slideshow to about 4 secs (though you might find yourself with your mouse 'pon pause--some wild details in there). slowly but surely an overall aesthetic emerges: critical and comedic, with love of animals, nudes, everyday resistance, absurdity, and tony danza.

  • in other flickr finds, jace points to some beguiling b&w views of osaka, and random explorations repeatedly yield shots of interest and beauty, not to mention mischief.

  • for some serious shots, though, you've got to see jessica dimmock's heroin den portraits. arresting and sympathetic images of intimacy amid the utterly ordinary, if unnerving, travails of addiction.

  • you've heard the song, now see the video videos(!): c/o marquise lee and franklin lopez. i have to admit i prefer the former, as the latter is a little too over-the-top with the captions and doctored footage. this story speaks so powerfully already, it doesn't need such stunts. (though i do dig lopez's "bumping" effect.)

  • are you a music or math nerd? then you might like this: stephen wolfram, known for self-publishing heavy tomes on "new kinds" of computational science presents the latest interactive implementation of his work: wolfram's tones--an algorithmic music generator that claims to create unique pieces of music in various styles, including hip-hop! (bonus: you can have it as your ringtone.) i wouldn't know myself, as i seem unable to get it to play on my computer. but my friend nick, who pointed me to it, calls it: "annoying algorithmic music as promotional tool for dude's book..." be warned.

  • finally, if you're in the cambridge area this weekend (or next) you MUST MUST MUST go see the collision collective's latest exhibit, "ocho," at art interactive. among other oddities and inventions, jackbackrack unveils an incredible new "sketchy" video effect you can try on yourself in realtime, a light bulb hangs suspended in the air by the same electromagnetic field that illuminates it, a solar-powered dragonfly buckles around in attempts to free itself, and a miracle toaster serves up slices with the unmistakable likeness of jeebus. the exhibit is open and free to the public, sat and sun, 12-6pm, this weekend and next. don't miss it.


don't believe me? hear the evidence.

the future of music folks have added audio and video links for many of the panels from last week's summit. this means that you now can hear (or watch) for yourself the wonderful conversation between hank shocklee and george clinton (as described here), or the fine panel that followed, or any other discussions that might seem interesting to you.

here are direct links to the shocklee/clinton audio and video.

you can find a full list of panels here.


think about it

this is not new orleans

what with rita bearing down on the gulf coast, the last thing i want to seem is unsympathetic. but today, as i attended the first meeting of a class on caribbean societies (for which i'm TAing again), i was struck by something the professor said, the import of which, purposely provocative (but not so off-mark), really seemed to ripple across the lecture-hall:

"Think of New Orleans after Katrina as a permanent condition, and you're thinking of Haiti."

how's that for perspective?


pimpin' all over the net

more from me on music, ownership, transformative use, and mashpolitik at the riddim method.

check it out, habibi.


transformative uses

as i mentioned in my last post, to open up the panel on "transformative use" at the future of music summit i presented conference goers with a list of transformative uses in music. in order to put sample-based approaches into perspective, i attempted to offer up a fairly comprehensive list so as to demonstrate the truly widespread and enduring practices that transformative techniques constitute. indeed, i would argue that "transformative use"--if a strategic and provisional notion--is essentially a meaningless category, given that nearly all musical practice involves one sort of transformative use or another. thus, rather than naming some special, and specially regulated, method of music-making, "transformative use" should instead, as it does for most musicians, disappear into ubiquity--into commonsense, commonplace notions of performance and (common) property.

in making my list, i tried to think about all the various ways that music is transformed, beginning with the somewhat stretchy (but important) point that we transform music in the very act of listening to it or engaging with it, never mind through the subtle but often profound differences produced by different playback technologies. at any rate, allow me to present my list, along with my opening statement, for your perusal.

here goes:
    If we think of "transformative use" in a broader sense--indeed as a ubiquitous and fundamental process of musical creation, production, and performance--we should reconsider the ways that we currently tax, regulate, and restrict certain types of "transformative use" while protecting others.

    Consider the following array of "transformative uses":

  • Sphere of reception (imagination, stereo systems [EQ, etc.], home DJ practices, homemade mixes [for personal consumption, small-scale distribution], playlists)

  • "Karaoke" (singing, whistling, humming, banging)

  • Live performance (clubs [e.g. go-go bands, cover bands, repertory bands/groups (salsa, jazz, chamber music, etc.), DJs], school cafeteria renditions, freestyle ciphers, jump-rope versions, folk song, the birthday song [and the like], campfire songs, etc.)

  • Use of stock chord progressions in composition/improvisation (e.g., jazz, rock, blues, classical, etc.)

  • Use of allusion--such as quotations of melodies--in composition/improvisation (classical, jazz, rock, reggae, hip-hop, etc.)

  • [note: composition/improvisation seems increasingly to me to be a specious distinction, a false dichotomy, tending to privilege--if we indeed deem them different--the less common process and, in my opinion, the lesser art]

  • Mixtapes (commercially-produced [officially licensed and "not"])

  • Sample-based music production (hip-hop, electronic, pop, classical, etc.), with a range of transformations (from screws and mashups to chop-and-stab/glitch/etc., from recognizable to unrecognizable) and including entire genres based around particular samples (such as the Amen break for jungle/d'n'b or the Showboys' "Drag Rap (Triggerman)" for NOLA bounce)

  • Advertising, (political) sloganeering, muzak (elevators, malls, hold music, etc.)

  • Soundtracks for film, TV, radio, theater, school/church/community events, etc.

  • Studio-engineering practices (tape/multitracking, effects processing, mixing/EQ, etc.)

  • Use of pre-sets/samples from drum machines, software, synthesizers, etc.

  • Educational uses: parody, commentary, criticism, classroom use, mnemonic devices

surely i'm overlooking some (which, feel free to add in a comment below), but i think this still gives a sense, and perhaps provokes some reconsideration, of the commonplace and crucial role that transformation plays in the creation/performance/reception of music.

and although my primary sympathies lie with sample-based producers who are saddled by what amount to discriminatory regulations, my concerns extend to all of these "transformative uses" and to the paramount importance of preserving--indeed, encouraging--all such approaches for the good of society and culture. in particular, i am increasingly dismayed by the ridiculous limits placed on "parody" or "fair use" as valid justifications for the transformation, duplication, and circulation of other media, other ideas, other expressions. (my panelmate lawrence ferrara noted that, despite the compulsory licensing scheme governing cover songs, the-artist-formerly-and-now-again-known-as prince was effective in preventing another artist from covering an entire album of his. that sort of project--covering an entire album--is, however, precisely the sort of thing that screams parody, whether or not it wears its irreverence or critical nature on its sleeve.) we need to expand our notion of parody/fair-use in order to enable the fluid, nuanced forms of commentary and critique that no doubt enrich our cultural field, provoke discussion and debate, and, moreover, serve to inspire new works.

the present narrowness of status quo definitions of parody/fair-use for artists, cultural critics, and educators is not only insulting, it is downright dangerous. by so severely limiting public expression, critique, and debate, we run the risk of valuing property over freedom, of stifling the open exchange of ideas on which our democracy (uneasily) rests--but on which it should stand firm. most chillingly of all, in times of political crisis and dissent, we run the risk of outlawing the most effective, compelling, and expressive artworks--works which, precisely because of their transformation of recognized materials, speak to the moment in a way that nothing else can.

one such work that currently justifies its existence above and beyond any copyright complaints is the widely circulated--give thanks--remix of kanye west's "gold-digger" by k-otix, "george bush doesn't care about black people"--a song which so trenchantly taps into the zeitgeist that one would either be a fool or a duplicitous jerk to try to stop it.

i think we can all rest assured that 'ye gives it his blessing. but does mr.west own all the rights to said materials? i suspect that, among others, the ray charles estate and island records could go after k-otix if they wanted to. (let's hope they don't.) at any rate, i think this example brings the current shortcomings of the law/policy/practice of copyright into sharp focus: do we really want to live in a world where this kind of expression is illegal? (the answer's obvious, no?)

and although the k-otix example makes the argument for an expanded definition of parody/fair-use far more compellingly than my blog, i'd like to note that, despite what educational, critical, and/or artistic merits it might have, much of my blog is, technically, illegal. never mind about the long history of collage and its relation to critical cultural commentary: according to the law, i "shouldn't" be lifting digital pics from here or there and dumping them on blogger's servers; i "shouldn't" be linking to and mashing-up audio files; i "shouldn't" be quoting from other publications--or even from song lyrics--without permission. or should i?

i love the blogosphere--and the internet more generally--precisely because of its facilitation of civil disobedience around these issues. for a bit of contrast, consider this: i recently submitted an article for publication in one of my field's major journals; i was advised by a colleague with some experience on these matters, and with regards to this particular publication, not to submit quotations of lyrics or transcriptions of musical figures (except for the most cursory, schematic sketches) because the publication shies away from the huge, scary mess of licensing issues that besets the publishing industry. that's right: i can't quote lyrics or transcribe music (never mind include actual audio files) in an article that attempts to make sense of lyrics and music in the context of society and culture--and let's not even get into the irony that some of the issues explored in the article deal with "transformative use" in music and its relationship to copyright law. far as i'm concerned, this constitutes a major compromise in my ability to say what i want to say and to illustrate my argument and make it mean something. if that doesn't in itself illustrate one dangerous and disastrous effect of copyright strictures, i don't know what does. it seems absolutely absurd to me that scholars--never mind artists and critics more generally--aren't allowed to do their jobs because some fatcats want to milk all the money they can off the rights they (probably) illicitly acquired from some poor creator somewhere. gimme a break. (and lay it over some corporate-owned jazz, perhaps.)

because of such strictures in other areas of my life/work, i have embraced the blog as a medium and method for expressing my ideas--and, moreover, in a more multimedia, more intertextual (hyperlinks beat footnotes anyday), and ultimately richer--and thus, i hope, more compelling--way than i can anywhere else (except maybe in performance). i enjoy a freedom here that i do not enjoy in the more orthodox, sheepish world of academia and the publishing industry, and i hope to keep pushing the envelope in order to make space for creative, critical work that, like the k-otix track, compellingly justifies its own existence. i am grateful to all those out there who hold the cybertorch aloft with me. can't stop won't stop.


shocklee is a prophet and i think you oughta listen to

what he can play for you

if we think of noise in the attalian sense--as a new organization of sound which serves as a harbinger for a new social order--and we recognize that hank shocklee truly brought the noise back in the mid- to late-80s (and surely continues to), then we can indeed consider shocklee to be a prophet of sorts. and though he speaks volumes through his music, and perhaps communicates more powerfully and directly with beats than with words, shocklee is an eloquent spokesman for sample-based music-making even when he's not behind the boards.

monday afternoon, at the future of music summit, i had the pleasure of listening to hank shocklee have a candid conversation about sampling practices and copyright with none other than george clinton, hip-hop's samplee par excellence (alongside james brown, of course--or perhaps, more precisely, the funky drummers themselves).

clinton offered a humorous, self-deprecating theory for why his music appealed to producers such as shocklee: "we made cheap sounding records; not a lot of EQ on it, so it left room for hip-hop."

shocklee made sure to counter any such humility on clinton's part. "there are three, i think, most important figures in black music," he said, "1) jimi hendrix, 2) james brown, 3) george clinton." shocklee elaborated on clinton's contribution in particular: "you fathered alternative rock'n'roll," he told the flattered parliamentarian, "your whole approach is rock oriented; you also are the developing godfather of hip-hop--[your music] had an edge and a feeling to it that is reminiscent of hip-hop."

for his part, clinton pre-empted shocklee's praise by setting the record straight before the bomb squad member was even brought on stage. challenging the common complaint that sampling is a product of laziness, clinton emphasized that "hank shocklee is not lazy." and regarding the use of samples in music production, he continued: "it's probably twice as hard to make 'em blend, all those atones and different keys." (i love that term, atones, especially as intoned by dr.funkenstein.) moreover, clinton noted, he himself had been saddled by similar criticism, and from close quarters at that: "my mother called us lazy, too. she said we vamped." by recognizing the similarities between vamping--i.e., playing the same groove for an extended period--and sampling (both of which share an utter revelry in repetition), clinton sought to draw an important, and too often overlooked, lineage between his own music-making approach and shocklee's. "it's just a new way of making music," he said of sampling, matter-of-factly. and the more that the old guard huffs and puffs, the more the next generation will cut'n'paste, chop'n'stab, and mix'n'mash. or in clinton's words, "kids love it when you hate it."

of course, most people know that george clinton has been in favor of his music being sampled for some time. he himself admits that, referring to hip-hop's use of his catalog, "it was a way to get back on the radio." clinton released a set of three CDs back in the 90s precisely for the purpose of making samples of his music available, and at reasonable, sliding-scale rates ("if you sell, you pay, if you don't, you don't"), to those who wanted to sample it. he mentioned that "they're used more now than they were back then," since, interestingly, back then most sample-based producers thought that using such discs "was too easy," too "overt."

ironically, clinton was sued for issuing these discs by a company that claimed (claims?) to own his music--a company that, moreover, is now litigating hundreds of similar suits against sample-based artists, but NOT on behalf of the musicians being sampled.

moderator rick karr asked clinton, "how did you lose the rights?"

"they stole 'em," he said. fooled him into signing some pieces of paper. "if you don't have money," he explained, "you can't go to court." plus, he was often on the road, he admitted. at any rate, once he had the means and time to sue for his rights, "the judge heard my side of the story. ... and he told 'em, 'get out.' give me my songs back. it was that easy." (of course, if he did get his songs back, one wonders what the three-notes decision should mean at this point. then again, one wonders what it should mean at any rate.)

clinton has repeatedly made it clear that he does not support the litigation of sample-based artists supposedly on his behalf. when terminator x sampled from "body language," he was sued for $3M and clinton was fingered as the instigator of the suit. clinton told the audience that he went on CNN with chuck d to make clear that he wasn't suing PE. according to him, the case was subsequently dropped.

shocklee, who had just joined clinton on stage, asked "who makes the money?" in such cases.

clinton replied, "that guy suing for $3M. he's got 400 cases in tennessee right now."

(i love that term, that guy.)

shocklee added: "we [PE] paid a lot of money to bridgeport. and we're still paying."

for all his gripes, though, shocklee had some pretty straightforward suggestions about how to improve the system. one of his repeated requests--a compulsory licensing system of sorts, or at least a more navigable, transparent, and consistent system of pricing--was an oft echoed call throughout the conference. even as shocklee urged the creation of such a thing, though, he acknowledged the inherent difficulties of setting it up.

"is there some sort of menu list?" the veteran producer asked, semi-rhetorically. but then he wondered aloud, "do i pay the same amount for 40 seconds as for 1 second?" and while noting that "there obviously needs to be a line that needs to be further developed," shocklee complained that a system with "no parameters, no rules" puts sample-based artists at an unfair disadvantage.

the copyright industry (and, yeah, industry seems like the best way to think of it in this context--it's not really about paying musicians here, izzit?) needs to recognize sampling as a commonplace and equally valid approach to music making and needs to stop asking for exorbitant, extortionary licensing fees from artists who must, let's remember, seek out this information themselves, often from multiple sources (which are not easy to track down), and cut a deal with each and every one of them (including the owners' of the publishing rights for the underlying composition and the owners' of the mechanical rights to the master recording). how's that for bargaining power?

as shocklee put it, "it's very irresponsible to say someone has to pay for something without telling them how much it will cost."

the days when the bomb squad was crafting such sample-heavy masterpieces as nation of millions and fear of a black planet were a time when, shocklee argued, "it wasn't really clear" what the rules were with regard to sample-based music, especially for beats comprising dozens of small, often unrecognizable samples. hence, shocklee wonders: "should you be allowed to go backwards and sue people retroactively?"

during the early years of the "golden age," before a series of debilitating lawsuits sent a chill through many a hip-hop producer, PE's music brimmed with samples enabled by new technologies and fostered by new traditions (which were, in part, rather old traditions in new contexts). the bomb squad produced and released a lot of music in those days that would, at least according to hank shocklee's sense of it, never get made in today's litigious world. thus, we have to weigh the social and cultural costs of this situation. ask yourself the frank capra question: would the world be better off without nation of millions? (the answer is obvious, no?)

how one prices different types of samples--from the smallest fragments to longer loops, from hooks to intros to incidental passages, from recognizable forms to essentially unheard shapes--is a tough question but, for shocklee, one that demands an answer: "i think that there's different pricing" for different uses, he argued, "and the publishing" should reflect that. "you're only allowed 100% of publishing," he explained, seemingly stating the obvious. but with three people suing him for 40% of publishing on a single track (and let's remember that PE tracks often contained dozens of different samples), that adds up to an impossible 120%, with nothing left for his own efforts.

"if the sample only constitutes 1/8th of the song," he offered by way of example, "then how does that justify 50% of the publishing?"

arguing for the sampler-as-instrument, shocklee wanted to stress that a particular performance--the presumably 'original' materials for which one might hold a copyright--is not always what sample-based producers are looking for: "sometimes we sample because we just want the sound." he offered an example to clinton: "you've done some incredible things with the moog synthesizer in terms of filters, effects [etc.] ... in order for us to get those sounds today [is impossible]."

this is what i have tried to argue as well: that producers don't sample a breakbeat, for instance, because they want the particular rhythm so much as the timbre--the distinctive quality of the sound that is found only on that particular recording (and usually has more to do with the recording equipment, the room, the instruments, and the engineers than the songwriters or musicians--who really does own a phil collins snare hit?). for shocklee, sampling opens up an irresistable and unique sonic palette, and one that hip-hop could no more easily abandon than rock'n'roll its fender or gibson guitars. if, as shocklee says, "everything [in music] has been done," what does it matter whether one plays a particular musical figure with a guitar sound or with a processed sample?

"sound is about character," said shocklee, "and the character of the sound is more important than the sound itself." and though this means that, to some extent, sampling is "about capturing that vibration that [clinton and others] developed"--and extending it--"there's a difference between sampling the performance and sampling a sound."

"when we sample a sound," shocklee contended, "we're going for the actual frequency." sampling today, at least for him, is "not taking the entire sound, it's more like taking a piece of it." to demonstrate his point, shocklee chopped up the intro to parliament's "flashlight," taking a drumroll with some guitar in it and repeating it a few times with some rhythmic stabs.

"how much should i pay for that?" he asked.

clinton laughed.


in a subsequent session on sampling, where shocklee was joined by jeff chang, siva v, shannon emamali, and bob kohn (who wrote a book on music licensing but admits an utter lack of familiarity with the music of PE or jimi hendrix), jeff chang noted that sampling laws have "created two classes" of sample-based producers: the "super-sampler class" (i.e., diddy, kanye) and the "outlaws." part of the "outlaw" class is made up of mid-level artists, "a real small and shrinking middle class," who, "more and more constrained by what the laws are," have the sales to get noticed by sample-sniffers but not the $$$ for licensing fees or "transaction costs" (which siva unmasked as "fancy words for lawyers"). but there are also, by jeff's count, "a lot of folks [sampling] on the indie level."

and just as the vast majority of copyright holders are not, as the RIAA would have you believe, signed to major labels, the vast majority of sample-based music is unlicensed and thus--as some would have you believe--illegal. for jeff, this has more to do with hip-hop's essentially oppositional aesthetics: "hip-hop is not asking for any kind of OK to do something," he noted. and i think there's a lot to that. i think, indeed, that hip-hop's aesthetics and ethics vis-a-vis sampling have traveled beyond hip-hop's socio-cultural and musical boundaries and have found adherents worldwide and in the darnedest places. we live in a sample-based musical world at this point. all genres employ samples and some rather explicitly (jungle, b-more breaks, NOLA bounce, funk carioca, etc.). and the mashup is here to stay. it is but a matter of time before the law reflects popular practice on this point, i would say. (other longstanding legalization attempts notwithstanding.)

i attempted to allude to this inevitable sea-change during the panel on "transformative use" that i sat on alongside kembrew macleod, the guy who trademarked the phrase freedom of expression, and lawrence ferrara, the guy who defended the beasties against james newton. i'll share a version of my opening remarks in my next post, but the gist of my argument was that transformative use constitutes a fundamental and ubiquitous approach for making music. within this broader understanding of the way music is made, sampling should be considered--at least as far as the law is concerned--simply another transformative technique along a spectrum of transformative uses. to treat it otherwise and to penalize, restrict, and repress such an essential method amounts to a grave misunderstanding about the way music works. new technologies enable new transformations. and culture understands this. hip-hop certainly understands this. but culture and hip-hop don't seem to matter much in court, so the law at this point remains out of step with popular practice. (and, i have to say it, probably racist, too, as the norms for what constitutes "original composition" remain as enmeshed in the values of western european art music as music departments in american universities remain committed to the very same [marginal] repertory.)

a lawyer in the audience took issue with my declaration of the law's out-of-step-ness. on the contrary, he noted, the law has very clear rules about what is allowed and what is not and it has, for instance, added mechanical rights to copyright claims in order to keep up with new technologies. moreover, the court system has often upheld a defendent's rights against a copyright owner's claim (as in newton v. diamond, where the issue revolved, however, around publishing rights rather than mechanical rights). sure, i guess so. but who makes these rules? (musicians?) and who benefits, on the main? and who does not? when we look at what's happening today, do we truly behold a system that works? a system that incentivizes creation and facilitates a robust cultural system where creators can proceed to make art as they always have (i.e., by transforming other art)? a system that is consistent with commonplace attitudes about ownership of media and information?

another audience member argued that so-called standards of compositional originality in these cases failed to recognize the improvisatory compositional methods of jazz. i added that the same is true, more or less, for hip-hop: that there is a basic lack of respect for the validity of the form, a lack of respect which reveals itself in establishmentarian strictures and discriminatory punishment. (this is why--at least one reason why--hank shocklee calls mechanical rights "a scam.") but at the same time, i added, that only goes for the establishment. at the level of popular practice, kids are mashing up the place. sampling is rampant. in fact, the level of unlicensed sampling and the egregiousness of the length and reconizability of the samples is at an unprecedented level. between indie hip-hop, indie everything else, mashups, mixes and mixtapes, cell phones--you name it--there's a whole lotta sampling going on. it's only a matter of time before law and policy adjust to the reality of the situation. (only, why don't they make it quick so we can stop paying all these lawyers?)

i'm not sure that i convinced everyone in the room, despite the preaching-to-the-choir vibe of much (but not all) of the conference. there were certainly lawyers and fogeys and others who didn't really nod along. but then, in the front, there were some young people. and they were smiling. and one of them gave me a CD full of sample-based beats that bristle and bang and defy attempts to pin them down. the music twists and turns, away from law and away from convention. which is wonderful--but i don't think all sample-based music should have to sound this way. referentiality can be a really rich, resonant experience in music. so much of what makes a track great is the way it refers to, evokes, grows out of, and inspires other tracks. intertextuality is at the heart of hip-hop, reggae, and, when we think about it, just about every style of music, to a lesser or greater, more implicit or explicit, extent. we can't afford to lose that. we can't lose that, really. but we can't tax people on it either, at least not according to the current system. (and let's face it: despite the allures of a fully transparent, sliding-scale structure for compulsory licensing of samples, such a project represents an organizational nightmare approaching the impossible.)


siva put it well, and brought things into focus, on monday afternoon when he said: "the creative work that copyright law should be concerned with is the work yet to be created."

and earlier that day, hank shocklee put it better when he sliced up an even smaller bit of parliamentary funk, looped it, discussed filtering it and transforming it into more of a "pad" sound, removing the digital glitches, and composing anew with it. he turned to george clinton again and asked him: "how much should i pay for that?"

clinton put it best of all, perhaps, when he replied: "it gets deep."

no doubt. but if we don't dig deep on this issue, i fear we'll be missing some real treasures.

who did that letter say were suckas?


once again back

finally back to the bridge after far too many hours spent on the road. look for some serious postage ASAP. meantime, i've got some unpacking to do.

a handful o' gripes:

1) 95 sucks. i can't imagine a worse road. (the jersey turnpike doesn't count, since that's still technically 95.) wholly shit--what an awful stretch of asphalt.

2) interstate rest stops demonstrate a clear conspiracy to fatten us up even further.

3) mu'fuckers don't know how to drive.

4) washington DC makes no sense. (except for go-go.)

5) it is WAY too early for the halloween decorations to come out, despite their charm.


on the road again

so much for ethical and economical misgivings, we hit the road tomorrow--gouged gas-prices and all--and head down to durham, NC for a few days to work on the house with leilaundsebastian. i have to confess that despite my sense that we americans consume far too much oil as it is and probably shouldn't subsidize it the way we do, i still can't help feeling bitter about the way that these companies seem to be manipulating gas prices. they rise meteorically in a matter of minutes, but they don't adjust the other way as easily? gimme a break. turns out, there's no immediate shortage to speak of (aside from the big one), which relieves my direct ethical concerns about interfering with the NOLA relief efforts. so we've decided to embark on this lil' roadtrip all the same. and my main motivation, not to downplay the value of visiting family, is our stop in DC on our way back north.

on monday and tuesday next week, i'll be attending and participating in this year's future of music policy summit, which promises an engaging conversation among musicians, industry types, lawyers, and academics. i'll be sitting on a panel about "transformative use"--a subject that i'm rather interested in. one of the best things about the future of music coalition is their attention to policy issues: for them, this is not an abstract, academic excercise--it is an opportunity to think seriously about the music industry as it is organized today and to think about, propose, and enact better models for musicians, audiences, and--i suppose, though i'm not sure they're necessary--investors. at any rate, i'm gassed just to get another chance to hang with such fine folks as jeff and siva--never mind getting to see legends like george clinton and hank shocklee.

although durham and DC are probably rather wired spots, i may be offline a bit, so please amuse yourselves in my absence by checking in on the very talented folks on the blogroll -->
(in partic, the poplicks dudes and leninologists have been really on point lately.)

in other blog news, if there's a silver lining to be found in the ominous back-to-school cloud now creeping over so many of us (aside from, y'know, the sheer joy of learning), it's the return of mr.babylon. i don't know about you, but i've been dying to know what p-yayo did on his summer vacation. (i've got some guesses.)

finally, i leave you with joe twist's submission, as inspired by the photo that begins the post below, for "strangest public signage in Arlington, MA." according to mr.twist, a one-time part-time ahlington resident, "This monument to an O.G. American badass is in that little park in the center of town." no doubt--public signs don't get much stranger, and O.G.s don't get much gangster (dude was on some rasputin shit), than this:


colombia is better with u in it

spotted in arlington, MA: oh yes they did.

  • you know bush-and-them done fucked up when a thomas friedman op-ed reads like this. just when i had relegated dude to the david-brooks never-read-again ghetto, friedman comes through with some scathing criticism. do i sense a ripple across these toxic waters?

  • and just when you thought the greyhound experience couldn't get any worse...seriously, though, do we really need to send all these folks to prison at this time? again, PRIORITIES people! jeez.

  • i was wondering whether the cash-money/no-limit folks found their cribs under water: according to his own IM admission, baby lost like 12 condos and eight houses. hope the master recordings were kept high and dry.

  • cocaineblunts representing for nawlins bounce and nawlins folks. get your download and donation on ASAP!

  • in other bounce-related news, i always thought it was something in the (dirty) water, but DJ C, via the phoenix, gives up the not-so-secret formula for boston bounce, the name of a new style (soon to be MIA) and a party we're playing tonight. that shit was supposed to be on the down-low, but down-load is close enough, i guess. should be a fun time at any rate (135 bpm or otherwise).

  • go bay state!: massachusetts to drop microsoft office.

  • mas yo!: i got a little more quotation love, albeit an odd fragment, in a well-informed piece on reggaeton in last week's journal news (but unless you live in westchester county--yonkers! mt.vernon! white plains! where ya at!?--you prolly missed it).

  • in other reggaeton news: emanuel mistakes my poetically-licensed title for bragging and says he has mucho mas snares que yo (plus backs it up with some plucky bangers).

  • meantime, a bunch of rockist assholes couldn't care less (or could they?). and i discover that my reggaeton post is what "Everyone links to ... when people ask them to justify listening to reggaeton!!!" (beware bloggers: there's power in this thing.) seriously, though, is there any good reason why people ever bother to validate the often unbelievably low level of discourse over at ilm with actual responses? (and, yes, i'm occasionally guilty, too, but usually just to clear my good name.) next thing we know they'll be posting doctored jpgs of each other.

  • speaking of doctored pics, found this at flickr:

  • finally, apparently houston's been spending so much time in new york, they're even reppin' uptown ivy-league schools in they videos now.

    boricua, morena, dominicana, columbiana...


maybe next year

this view will have to do

i am, of course, rather sad not to be able to make it down for brooklyn's west indian day parade today. i was there last year, and the sights and sounds were truly breathtaking. the sheer size of the thing makes for an incredibly powerful experience.

but in the face of fuel shortages and spiking prices, i've decided that it's both ethically and economically impossible for me to take a road trip, even if a short one. i hope that the people down in BK have some life-affirming experiences today, and i hope to see some pics and hear some stories before long.

meantime, in my own continuing reflections on new orleans in katrina's aftermath, i've posted a little music and some musings over at the riddim method. hope you dig.



thinking about new orleans

a refugee evacuee(?) arrives in houston - photo by slightclutter

hard to do much else today besides think about new orleans, hope for the best, and curse every last gov't official and self-serving asshole who let this (largely avoidable) tragedy get so terribly out of hand.

what a mess.

if the upshot, though, is that americans finally come to understand, appreciate, and rectify our serious energy problems and unethical consumption patterns, our lack of real priorities, our sickening history of abandoning poor folk and black folk, and the fact that our commander-in-chief and his cronies continue to lead us astray, that will truly be something.

crazy thing is, all evidence and clamour aside, i'm still skeptical.

at any rate, i have been encouraged by some eloquent attempts to make sense of the significance of all of this, and i can only hope that these dark days will spur a serious, national conversation about a major, and long overdue, reckoning that this country must have.

though there is so much out there to process, including the fascinatingly rich media and timely updates of the NOLA blogger and the unbelievably current and fluid wikinews, allow me to point you to two moving reflections on the trials and tribulations of the people of new orleans.

1) jeff chang once again articulates the politics of abandonment as a way of understanding the vast suffering going down, in new orleans and worldwide.

2) tobias van veen channels samuel delaney to offer some afro-futurist insight into the apocalyptic images and acts that have so many of us reeling.

finally, we're all glad to hear that the mighty fats domino is safe.


i'm not a method man, i'm a method, man

with nothing particularly pithy to say about the numerous tragedies unfolding the world over (i'm saying--you know shit's serious when riff raff seems sincere), i offer up some more musically expressed ideas about music.

let us hope that the suffering will be minimized, the recovery speedy, and the lesson--for us irresponsible americans most of all--a lasting one. time to get our priorities in line, people.