Music News - Criticism: September 2008 Archives
I love it when artists do something that, merely by an accident of fate, suddenly brings to focus a contemporary issue hanging in the ether but that thus far has not been dealt with.
That’s the case with a “musician” named DJ Girl Talk.
He’s covered in the New York Times a while back, because of his allegiance with the “pay what you want” movement and because of his recent coup, as a headliner of a big music festival in New Jersey last month.
He’s also a lightening rod in the raging copyright debate.
You see, Girl Talk (his real name is Gregg Gillis) doesn’t write his own songs. He doesn’t even play an instrument (as far as I can tell). He merely stitches together bits and pieces of other people’s music.
His craft follows the tradition of pastiche artists of the mid-20th century and the early pioneers of hip-hop. But his aren’t deep cuts, nor are they rearrangements of popular songs. He finds likenesses among them, syncing beats with melodies. The result is some pretty killer tracks that he’s asking fans to pay for.
His new CD is called Feed the Animals. It was released on a label called, um, illegalart.net.
Some say what he’s doing is illegal, but Gillis claims protection under the “fair use” clause of U.S. copyright law, which allows snippets of intellectual property to be reproduced without penalty.
“Fair use,” according to the Times piece, articulating the position of progressive legal scholars, “has become important to the thinking of [what is sometimes called] the “copyleft,” who argue that copyright law has grown so restrictive that it impedes creativity [italics mine].
What the article doesn’t address (not that it should have) is something beyond law. It’s an issue raised back in the early 1990s by a composer named John Oswald (see this profile from Wired).
Oswald is the creator of series of aural experiments generally called Plunderphonics. They are in the same spirit as Gillis Feed the Animals, but on a higher level of art and intellectual rigor.
Best-known in this series is probably 1993’s Plexure. It squeezes and mashes together thousands — yes, thousands — of artists from 1982-1992, the beginning of the digital era, into an 18-minute disc that was the musical equivalent of compressing a lump of coal for millennia until you have a rough diamond.
Oswald, in an essay titled “Plunderstanding Ecophonomics: Strategies for the Transformation of Existing Music,” appearing in the 2000 book Arcana: Musicians on Music, edited John Zorn, makes the following case.
Most of pop music unoriginal and lacking in value that to even cite each and every source in Plexure, and Oswald’s other works, would be giving more credence than the original works are due. (Oswald is keen on creating visual reflections of his music, as you can see to the left with “Jackoscan,” the subject of the Wired profile linked above)
The end, he said, resulted in something wholly original, “a radical transformation of familiar music,” while making a political and artistic comment on the “original” sources — that they weren’t all that important, more of the same really, derivatives of each other.
You may as well mix and match all their names. They’re that distinct from each other.
(In fact, Oswald does that here. Some examples: “Marianne Faith No Morrisey,” “Blondie Sabbath,” “Ozzie Osmond,” “Cheap Pixie Peppers,” “Beastie Shop Beach,” “Lynyrd Lovett,” “Cream Styx,” “Jello Bellafonte,” “Milli Fudge,” and “Ozzy Loaf”).
I tend to feel that most pop music is indeed just filler. With the ascent of single-song downloading, we are certainly more conscious of the fact that most albums, historically speaking, have been samey. Crap, even.
Even with good songs, there are only small portions within that provide that pop of emotion, that snap to hook you. That’s why they’re hooks.
I listened to DJ Girl Talk’s new “music” and I discovered he was doing something similar to what Oswald does, using all the good stuff of very popular songs, everything from R&B to rock to thrash metal to hip-hop.
Eventually, I had to wonder: Perhaps this is better than the originals.
Gillis is taking the best and leaving the rest. Perhaps that’s illegal, but it’s far more interesting.
Amid this slow death of monoculture, you’d think there wouldn’t be any one song that everybody — I mean, everybody — would be blasting out the back of their furiously pimped-out rides. No, in the age of iTunes, Rhapsody, and BitTorrent, the long hot summer is no longer overshadowed by that one, catchy, sunny pop song.
Here’s a test: Go ahead and name one song this summer that’s as powerful, invectious, and disposable as “Macarena.” Even last summer had a ubiquitous hook (Rihanna’s “Umbrella”) that everyone was humming, even if they didn’t know what it was or where it came from. The summer before that was accompanied by the cool soul of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”
The New York Times sent critic Andrew Kuo to find 2008’s Song of Summer, but didn’t find what you’d expect. Of the eight tunes he heard most frequently blaring out of apartment windows, car stereos, and iPods (among them Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” and Young Jeezy and Kanye West’s “Put On”), the best one is a doing-the-dozens-like trash-talker from HotStylz, a Chicago hip-hop collective. The tune “Lookin’ Boy” is, Kuo writes, “Good enough to hop out of bed and jam out to when a car drives by booming this at 4 a.m.!”
So here it is, the 2008 Song of the Summer.
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog