Archive for March, 2010

March 31st, 2010

My Brief Response to Blogger

Blogger sux

Despite that my blogspot blog is long defunct, I have, largely out of protest, republished the post which some idiot (or some idiotic bot, more likely) thinks infringes copyright. Here is a link to the post, and below is the note that I have appended to it:

Update (31 March 2010): This post, originally published in June of 2006, was “reset” to “draft” status on 29 March 2010 because of a spurious DMCA takedown notification. I am republishing it now, having removed what I believe to be the offending material: namely, a couple links to DJ mixes which may or may not contain infringements of copyrighted materials — not that anyone made it clear to me what that might be. (Blogger’s email was very vague, and the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse to which I was directed is suffering from such a heavy backlog that it may be weeks or days before I get a chance to see the actual DMCA complaint, which will likely still tell me little or nothing about what someone thinks constitutes infringement below.)

I want to note that the mixes to which I linked have long been unavailable, and so the automated takedown notice I received is essentially saying that I am infringing copyright by directing people to a 404 error. Beyond that simple fact, however, I want to register some protest over the burden of proof falling on me: I did not make the mixes in question but am simply linking to them; moreover, it is a rather gray area to claim that a fragment of a track recontextualized in a mix — and one with critical commentary guiding its aesthetic — is an infringement of copyright. My belief is that this use — on the part of the DJ, never mind a blogger like me simply linking to it — is firmly protected by “fair use.”

I am sorry that Blogger/blogspot and the DMCA make it so easy for spurious takedowns to happen as opposed to facilitating the important re-accounting of the balance that copyright is supposed to strike. It’s amazing to me that two defunct links to mixes, which may or may not infringe copyrights, are enough to remove and potentially delete a post with a great deal of other content in it. This vulnerability to bad law is one reason that I moved my blog from Blogger to a private server years ago. Incidentally, in case this post again becomes “reset,” I have republished it, in full, here: http://wayneandwax.com/?p=3186

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March 29th, 2010

My Very Own Blogger DMCA Takedown Notification

Joining the ranks of many great blogs and other innocents caught in the crosshairs of copyright fuckery, I received my very own Blogger DMCA takedown notification today!

I learned this evening via email from Blogger that the following post, originally published to my wayneandwax blogspot blog back in June 06 (defunct since October of that year, when I moved ops over here), was “reset” to “draft” status because someone is claiming that something therein infringes on their copyright. Far be it from them to tell me what might possibly be getting in the way of an otherwise fairly unremarkable post about how my electronic music class had panned out, if of sentimental and, perhaps for some, curious value.

My best guess is that some track or other in one of the two mixes (made by a student) that I link to in the end (and for which, my likely achilles heel, I also provide tracklists) set off someone’s auto-trigger-whatever. Ironically, I never hosted any of that material directly, and the links to the mixes originally embedded have long gone dead.

I’m reposting the supposedly infringing post in its entirety here because I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let Blogger delete it and because I’d like to see a copy of this notification myself — and be persuaded that I’m doing anything that really makes me liable for damages — before censoring this thing that I wrote many years ago that is no way in hell infringing on anything. (Bonus: we get to revisit Keith Fullerton Whitman’s awesome tour of Harvard’s analog synths!) But I’m also reposting to solicit ideas about what might have been the infringing content in question. Any ideas? Get at me, copyright holders.

Here goes…

(btw, yes, I saved a full backup of the blogspot years ago)


harvard’s sunlit serge

it’s now been about a month since the electro class wound up. an ambitious, breakneck survey of the wide world of “electronic music” (broadly defined), it was a delight to teach once again, especially with students joining from as far as edinburgh and omaha. i won’t be offering this particular course again, but the endeavor – and two years experience working through the materials – has deeply informed my perspective on “electronic music” and i look forward to digging into various areas, themes, and histories in new ways in other courses in future years.

i suppose the biggest thing i’ll take from the experience is similar to what i hope most students come away with: an enriched sense of how these various genres and styles relate to each other, sonically and socio-culturally, and how we can hear histories of social movements and cultural politics in contemporary sonic structures (especially in the way they draw musical genealogies – often in a rather audible, immediate manner).

considering that we began with stockhausen and the beatles and proceeded to trace “experimental” and “popular” movements (and their interplay) in “electronic” music from the 50s to today, it seemed appropriate to end with a twin tutorial on oldschool analog synthesis and newschool max/msp from local versatile virtuoso, keith fullerton whitman (who, i should note, performs with matmos on the latest podcast from the dublab).

keith gave an excellent introduction to both systems of synthesis, including showing us his max setups for both kfw and hrvatski mode – the latter requiring that one could operate it well drunk, which is, to paraphrase keith, how breakcore is supposed to be played.

that there (decent but terse) wikipedia article on breakcore – see also, e.g., kid kameleon’s xlr8r article – provides as good an opportunity as any to discuss the final project for the course, which required each student to create or make a substantial edit (or series of edits) to a wikipedia entry on some aspect of “electronic music” – defined as broadly as the course defined it (which is to say, broadly).

the guiding idea was to attempt to enrich as we engaged with public discourse on electronic music and to marshal our collective efforts toward something that might go further than term-papers that might not receive a second glance or final exams that definitely wouldn’t receive a second glance. (not to mention to teach students how an increasingly ubiquitous research-tool – that is, wikipedia – actually works, and thus to discourage, among other things, the practice of citing it as an “authority,” rather than as a particular expression of, or “consensus” around, an idea – which is, of course, how one should approach any text.)

my main concerns were: 1) that a wikipedia entry (or even series of entries/edits) might not quite be substantial enough for a final project; and 2) that the “neutral” POV standard of wikipedia might make it difficult for students to engage at the critical level that i would like them to, dealing not just with description and synthesis of information in their posts but also looking at how their subjects are enmeshed in certain discourses, etc., and to explore somewhat self-reflexively how their endeavors fit into the larger public conversation about electronic music. for concern #1, we adopted a slightly fuzzy “substance” standard – judged relatively across the class – to be sure that people were doing an adequate amount of independent research and original work. (it turned out to be rather helpful that one can track another wikipedian’s contributions quite precisely.) for concern #2, we enforced an explicit policy of discussing the endeavor itself on our class blog and on the appropriate “talk” pages at wikipedia.

here are three standout contributions:

1) an entry on the orb’s seminal adventures beyond the underworld
2) an entry on the ambient side of psytrance, aka psybient
3) and an impressively complete entry on video-musikers, hexstatic

///

finally, i’ll to point people to a couple mixes that our edinburgh-based classmate put together. the first is an orientalist-tinged dubstep mix, the second a romp across various african popular genres. descriptions and tracklists follow..

melonhands, i need dub(step)

“dubstep mix i did in ableton – LOTS of ‘eastern’ influence/appropriation present here!”

tracklist:

nettle – unknown halfstep (!)
pinch and p dutty – war dub
pinch – qawwali VIP
tinariwen – amassakoul n tenere
i-wiz – habibi
digital mystikz – ancient memories (skream remix)
caspa – for the kids
distance – taipan
aphex twin – on
black ham – necron
toasty – angel
filastine – dreams from wounded mouth
mutamassik – high alert aala teta
amadou and mariam – toubala kono

and

melonhands, fatmix

“a mix of african tracks (from all over africa) for my dad’s birthday – the end kind of lets it down but it’s still very listenable ;) starts off with 20 minutes of soukous/ndombola etc style stuff then a bit more of a mixture”

tracklist:

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March 25th, 2010

¿Sueños de Jerkbow?

Sometimes it really does feel like I’m in Oz, some Wizard behind a curtain producing lifelike YouTubes of my swirling musical obsessions — or like that cartoon kid Simon for whom the things he drew came true

¡ via via via con dios !

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March 15th, 2010

Music Discovery (at SXSW)

No, this post is not principally asking about things I should go see at SXSW next week, though I am eager to know about promising parties and awesome acts to catch. Holler if you’re gonna be in town or have a tip. (I can safely predict I’ll be unable to avoid the Tormenta Tropical tractor beam.)

Mainly, I’m posting to seek a little crowdsourced feedback. I’ve been invited to SXSW to speak on a panel about the history of music recommendation, or to put it another way: music “discovery” in (and before) an age of algorithmic “recommendation systems” and socially-networked music apps. Or: how do people find music today — or how does it find them — and how does that compare to times past?

Here’s how the convener of the panel, Michael Papish of Media Unbound*, only slightly cheekily frames the conversation:

Mention “music recommendations” and talk of algorithms, genomes, visualizations and widgets ensues. But, the concept of making music recommendations is far older than the tech industry can imagine. Beginning with traveling minstrels of the middle ages … to legendary freeform DJs of the 60s, we present a history of the music recommendation.

1. How did people ever learn about music without the Internet? Is this even possible?
2. What was the role of music performer in introducing audiences to new music?
3. How can songwriters teach listeners about music?
4. What is the place of the “cover version” in song discovery?
5. Was there a time when terrestrial radio helped people discover music? What different radio formats worked best for music discovery?
6. What is the current state of music discovery via radio (terrestrial, satellite, internet, interactive, etc.)?
7. Can record labels and music publishers create trusted relationships with listeners that allow them to find new and interesting music? Has this worked in the past? Are there groups doing this successfully today?
8. What about movie soundtracks?
9. Do people actually read music criticism?
10. What is the history of listener-to-listener music sharing?

I’m especially interested in the final question Michael poses, wondering about the ongoing history of listener-to-listener sharing (as opposed to artist-(industry/label)-listener models). I know that, for my part, I still tend to find most of the music I come across through directly interpersonal means. These days, that can be both in person (especially at gigs), but also, increasingly, via email or Twitter. And of course, in terms of seeking things out (which I do less and less, so much being pushed at me), I still find music blogs the best place to go to — as opposed to “music journalism,” which I seek out less and less — and reading other people’s blogs also feels like a listener-to-listener model.

I’m definitely curious to hear any anecdotes that readers would like to share. Given the open-eared, active connoisseurship which animates a lot of friends of W&W, I suspect that most of you still have plenty of traditional, interpersonal, offline/nonalgorithmic ways of finding new music. But I’ll be just as eager to hear from you if you happen to think that Pandora is the bees’ knees.

Of course, I’ve been thinking about songs as shared things for a little while now. And I’d love to be able to put that into broader historical context (and that’s largely gonna be my job at SXSW). I think that volumes like My Music as well as Tom Turino’s new Music as Social Life help to offer useful perspectives, and I love when little gems like the following leap out at me from music books otherwise concerned with other matters:

[Moses] Asch arrived at school [in Germany] in 1922 and discovered that the students, who came from all over the world, liked to swap songs from their countries. (86)

This sort of socially-guided music discovery is, essentially, one of the main things that DJs do (whether on the radio or in the club). And there are lots of continuities we could draw between music discovery in pre- and post-Internet time.

But I’m particularly curious to know what has changed, if anything, about our patterns of music discovery, and which recommendation “engines” we find most useful / awesome. Among other changes, musicologist Mark Katz suggests that the advent of unparalleled accessibility of music online has engendered (or at least strengthened) what he calls a “divergent approach to discovering music”:

Instead of seeking out particular pieces (a convergent approach), one initiates an intentionally general search in hope of broad and unfamiliar results. A search until the term “cello” yielded not only the expected (Bach’s cello suites), it introduced me to Nick Drake’s haunting “Cello Song,” the works of Apocalyptica, the Danish cello quartet known for its Metallica covers, as well as to the riches of Annette Funicello. What by all rights should be condemned as a poor search engine served as my trusted guide into the musical unknown. (167)

Adding to the pile of data & interpretation, a recent sociological study by Steven Tepper and Eszter Hargittai uses a sampling of college students (from 2003-05, unfortunately — given how much has changed in the YouTube era) to investigate “pathways to music exploration in an environment that offers numerous choices for discovery.” Considering the roles of cultural capital and social status as well as massive technological change, their findings suggest that,

While students certainly get some recommendations about new music through digital media, traditionally important factors such as recommendations from one’s social circles and mainstream media continue to be the most important means through which students learn about new music. (245)

Allow me to quote them at somewhat greater length, as the authors attempt to place their critical questions into historical context:

Prior to the digital revolution, discovering new music required an array of resources. Two decades ago, the expense and time required to discover new artists, especially for young people, was considerable. Music ‘‘mavens’’ often had to own their own cars and had to travel regularly to inner-city neighborhoods to patronize record stores that were off the beaten path. They invested significant sums buying dozens of albums every year in search of new unfamiliar artists. These ‘‘opinion leaders’’ and discoverers had to rely on broad social networks – family and friends living in other cities and countries, who would regularly send them music that was not available locally. They would have also spent time and money listening to new local bands in music clubs in the city. And, they would have subscribed to high-priced magazines like The Wire, where they searched for reviews of non-mainstream, cutting edge artists. In part because of issues of access and expense, past music mavens and opinion leaders have tended to come from the ranks of the elite.

In theory, the digital revolution and the arrival of new technologies should democratize the discovery of new music and the capacity for individuals to become opinion leaders in culture. More people have access to a greater variety of culture than ever before. The digital divide creates new inequalities, but as this divide closes, as some commentators contend that it will, more citizens will be able to discover new music through a variety of online services. If discovery and opinion leadership are sources of status, then new technology might serve to flatten hierarchies and cultural advantage. It is beyond the scope of this paper to sort out the relationship among technology, discovery, opinion leadership and status. But, we can answer the following more descriptive and more limited questions: First, does new technology facilitate discovery of new music for college students? Second, is everybody using new technology to discover new music or just some students? If there are variations in this activity, are there identifiable status differences between users and non-users? Additionally, are users more likely to be opinion leaders? If so, what are the distinguishing characteristics of opinion leaders in the realm of music exploration? Are such opinion leaders more omnivorous in their tastes? Are they pre-disposed toward experimentation? (230-1)

While I find Tepper’s & Hargittai’s narrative framework above to correspond to my own intuitive sense of how — if you will — things done changed, I also find it somewhat wanting in grain of detail. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to go back and survey “music mavens” and “opinion leaders” in the 80s or 90s. And this is where you come in.

In other words, I ask you, dear reader, to please help us out. Leave a comment indicating what, if anything, has changed in your own processes/practices of musical discovery/recommendation over the last several years. If you have a particularly illuminating bit of historical context to offer, as always, I’m all ears!

* Full disclosure: I worked as a lowly data-processor for Media Unbound, a modest but awesome music meta-data company (which was very recently acquired by a larger one), between 2003-4, grooming info fields for reggaeton artists and British boybands alike. It was a trip, and it helped pay the bills while I was writing my dissertation.

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March 12th, 2010

Frenchie Rhymes

This Monday, the French section of Foreign Languages & Literatures (my home at MIT) is presenting Hamé, a rapper and filmmaker from France. Some of you might know him from his work with La Rumeur. Here’s what is in store for Monday evening –

In addition to a sample performance of his rap artistry and a short talk on “Youth in France’s Outer Cities” (les banlieues), Hamé will screen ten short films that are part of his collaborative compilation work on police brutality, Outrage and Rebellion, including shorts by directors Chaab Mahmoud, Peter Whitehead, Marylene Negro, and Jean-Marie Straub.

Date: Monday March 15, 2010
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: 32-155 (Stata Center)

I’m also happy to report that I got in touch with Hamé and asked him whether we could get him over to Beat Research after his presentation at MIT. As it happens, we also have two guests from France that night — PARAL-LEL and Nth Synthesis — so it should be a rather Francophone evening. I most appreciate Hamé’s response:

Sounds good to me, I’d be glad to go with you at the club and kick some of my frenchie rhymes.

Sounds good to me too — and maybe you? Jusque-là!

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March 10th, 2010

Watagataparatext (EL QUÉ?!)

In my recent post on “Watagatapitusberry” I wondered aloud, in so many words, where “the text” in question might reside, given that most people have been exposed to an intermediary “fan”/peer-produced text (a video) more popular than the original “text” (a recording), tho perhaps soon eclipsed by a new “official” video with potentially greater reach (I’m sayin: Pitbull is second only to Miley Cyrus for most viewed music video, all time on YouTube). That said/wondered, I was happy to stumble across Henry Jenkins’s recent interview with Jonathan Gray in which they discuss the notion of the “paratext.” As Gray explains:

I draw the word from a book of that title by Gerard Genette, a French literary theorist. He was interested in all those things that surround a book that aren’t quite the “thing” (or “the text”) itself. Things like the cover, prefaces, typeface, and afterwords, but also reviews. His subtitle to that book – “Thresholds of Interpretation” – is the intriguing part, since it suggests that meaning might be constructed and might begin at these textual outposts, not just at the site of “the thing itself.” And that in turn offers a pretty radical proposition, namely that the item that we’re studying, whether it be a film, television show, book, or whatever, becomes meaningful and is interpreted in many sites, some arguably even more important than the site of thing itself. The purpose of the book, quite simply, then, was to examine those sites.

I prefer the word paratext precisely because it has a pretty academic background, and from within textual studies at that, and thus isn’t encumbered by a lot of the connotations that surround many of the other words that we usually use. Your readers may be more familiar with “hype,” “synergy,” “promos,” “peripherals,” “extratextuals,” and so forth. But hype and synergy frame paratexts too definitively as wholly industrial entities. Certainly, paratexts are absolutely integral in terms of marketing, and in terms of grabbing an audience to watch the thing in the first place. But we’ve often stalled in our discussion of them by not moving beyond the banal observation that hype creates profits. What I wanted to look at is how they create meaning, how our idea of what a television show “is” and how we relate to it is often prefigured by its opening credit sequence, its posters, its ads, reviews, etc. Meanwhile, “peripherals” belittles their importance, since they’re not at all peripheral, at least in potential. “Promos” is fairly innocuous, and yet I’m interested not just in how the things that surround a film or show create an image of it before we get there, but also in how reviews, DVD bonus materials, fan creations, and other after-the-fact paratexts might change our understanding later on, so that too seemed inadequate. And though I like “extratextuals” (the title of my blog!), “extra” means “outside of,” whereas “para” suggests a more complicated relationship to the film or show, outside of, alongside, and intrinsically part of all at the same time. Hence my fondness for that word in particular.

Interesting stuff, though I’m not sure — thinking through several musical examples I’ve had on my mind lately — that the notion of the paratext can be so easily ported over to the messy, p2p musical culture we witness on the web. Rather, it seems a better fit when we’re talking about mass media broadcast models (TV shows, films, books), where it is relatively easy to posit a central text and peripheral (if also crucial) ones.

Let’s take “Watagatapitusberry” yet again as our object of analysis: what’s the text and what’s the paratext? Can we really say so clearly that the pseudo-”Official Video” made by a group of NYC teens is simply a paratext when it’s the version that most people have engaged as “Watagatapitusberry”? When we behold that so many other “Watagata” videos — including, notably, the slick new production ft. Pitbull and Lil Jon — seem to take their cues from those dudes dancing in their kitchen, their high school, their backyard and bathroom, who will make the argument that it is nevertheless a paratext? Does the concept of paratext prove useful in this instance, or does it in fact — for all the useful intellectual/cultural work it might do around TV or Hollywood — prevent us from apprehending something even more radical about the ways that texts are co-produced and circulate, with value added, in today’s media ecologies.

(Perhaps it goes without saying, since this is common for any popular song these days, that “Watagata” has also been remixed widely, e.g. by Toy Selectah, Allen Cruz, A.C.T., and no doubt many more. These are perhaps more easily subsumed under the notion of the paratext — so long as they don’t end up more important to people’s interpretation and engagement with “Watagatapitusberry” than “the text” itself, whatever that is.)

We could add to “Watagata” the example of “You’re a Jerk” (as my previous post also suggested), a song which, as the New Boyz have recounted, jumped from MySpace to YouTube and inspired dozens of people to dance along in their own videos (many of which are now muted/missing), all of which positioned the New Boyz to sign a deal for major production/promo/distro, which produced, eventually, an “official” text of its own (which includes a glossy video but should maybe also entail the audio-ID fingerprint which Warner Bros adds to its takedown-DB). Indeed, as far as Warner is concerned, the audio-ID fingerprint may as well be the text (which they can monetize), and everything else just a paratext — some more parasitical/piratical than others.

Of course, the template for “You’re a Jerk” is “Crank Dat,” which perhaps best illustrates the problem with trying to apply a theory of para/texts to music culture in the age of YouTube. Really, re: “Crank Dat,” which is the text and which are the paratexts? Is the text itself the song that Soulja Boy recorded (relying heavily on Fruity presets)? Or is it the easily-mastered set of dance steps so crucial to its spread? Is it the initial video that made the rounds featuring SB’s friends doing the dance in their living room? Is it the white-out-on-my-sunglasses tutorial-in-a-pool that SB put out there to help people learn to do the dance (and spread the song)? Or is it the official video / release? What about the dozens, if not hundreds, of other versions of people dancing to or mashing up the song? What about the dozens of “Crank Dat” spinoffs? I realize that as I go down this list, things can get more and more para/meta, but the first few questions, to my mind, show how hard it is to locate “Crank Dat” in any singular instantiation.

Or, take, “Super Freak” & “U Can’t Touch This” (which I discussed a ways back) — whose text has merged with whose? Which is now primary and which is para? It’s not simply a matter of which came first. And who can ever say when it’s all been settled? Don’t count a good paratext out. Ever.

Against this backdrop, I find more persuasive the idea that a musical text is less defined by a textual object per se and more by a set of relations, ever reconstituting themselves. Along these lines, I’m eager to hear more from Georgina Born, presenting at a symposium in which I’ll take part at Princeton next month. Born seems to be arguing — in proposing what she calls the “provisional work” — that the notion of the “assemblage” might better describe how musical culture works, at least in certain realms of creativity and collaboration. From her abstract

it is possible to discern an alternative ontology of music to that historically enshrined in intellectual property law … the ‘provisional work’ … To grasp the alternative ontology requires us in turn to engage analytically with music in the expanded sense of the assemblage: that is, as a constellation of mediations – sonic, but also social, material and technological, discursive, corporeal and temporal – that together constitute what ‘music’ and musical experience are held to be.

If this is like the Death of the Author all over again, maybe it’ll go down easier this time?

We can reify all we want. In the end, it’s all music as social life. And that’s irreducible.

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March 8th, 2010

Wata Gwaan?

watagatapitusBERRY

Mil gracias a Marisol LeBron, who not only first brought to my attn the wonderful nueva-media phenom of “Watagatapitusberry,” but who has offered some interesting thoughts on its homosocial joi de vivre (check her initial round-up of home videos) and has kept up on the latest developments around the song. Most recently, the launch of a slick new video/remix featuring Pitbull and Lil Jon –

What i find most fascinating about the Watagatapitusberry phenomenon — though I still need to tease a lot of this out, and I wish YouTube would make it easier to do so — is that the most popular instantiation is neither the “original” video by Del Patio & Blackpoint (a static image w/ audio, uploaded in early summer 09 — plz correct me if I’m wrong), which has, nonetheless, had over 1M views, nor (at least not yet) the new remix w/ Pitbull & Lil Jon, but the loopy, casual, creative theatrics of a handful of young DominicanYorks which has racked up over 3.5M views since it was posted in early August. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out; get cultured–

I love that the dudes who made the video above had the cojones to label it the “Official Video.” It may as well be, for it has arguably done more to popularize the song — to make it what it is — than anything else.

I confess, though, that I have been able to glean relatively little about how all these productions are related. Does anyone know if there’s any (formal) connection between these Wash Heights kids and Sensato del Patio & Blackpoint? Whether or not, it sure offers a fine example of how legions of YouTubers can add value to something by making it their own.

Let’s hope that the new, Big Music-funded version doesn’t produce the kind of collateral damage on the YouTubosphere that, say, the signing of the New Boyz seemingly caused to many of the videos that helped make “You’re a Jerk” the career-breaking single that it became — the majority of which either suddenly disappeared once the song’s audio became Major Label property, became unfortunately muted, or even more oddly, took the option of “swapping” the song for something “legal.” Of the latter camp, this is my favorite, surreal example (click thru for some sad/hilarious comments about the “African” music now soundtracking the Action Figures’ moves):

Sounds more like Avatar than Africa to me, but whatevs…

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March 5th, 2010

Mi Brain Nuh Need Visa Fi Fly


The latest Woofah — a UK-based magazine covering the latest and greatest in bass culture — is finally out, and it’s a big, glossy whopper of an issue. What’s more, yours truly has a thinky-piece in it exploring the fraught relationship between Afrofuturist reggae musicians and the Rastas-in-Space projected by Hollywood films and sci-fi authors (big thanks to everyone who helped me catalog the myriad instances of this trope).

The article/magazine is not available digitally, just as good ol’ print-on-paper. And all the back issues of Woofah have sold out, so if you want to snatch up a copy head over to the Woofah site. Meantime, here’s a juicy quote to whet the appetite:

“It’s amazing how we never die.” – Sizzla

The impossible survivalism expressed in a line like Sizzla’s refers of course to the contemporary, to the postmillennial perseverance of the perennially persecuted, a dubiously “chosen” people. “4000 years,” he intones, “yet no one cares,” projecting a legacy of slavery well into the past by yoking the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the plight of the ancient Israelites.

But he could as easily be projecting into the future, joining a contrapuntal chorus of writers, producers, and artists who have imagined “techgnostic” Rastafarians in any number of possible futures and alternate universes. Reggae musicians and Rastafarians themselves have, of course, contributed the lion’s share of such visions, bending to their own earthy, deconstructionist purposes the devilish tricknologies they view with a healthy skepticism, turning recordings inside-out and Bibles “upside-down,” as British-Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall once put it. Putting on “iron shirts” to chase Satan from earth. Meeting Space Invaders on their own turf. Dubbing culture into a parallel universe.

Taking their cue from this prophetic-dystopic tradition, right around the time that reggae and Rastafari were colonizing metropolitan spaces and media (“in reverse,” as Miss Louise Bennett once put it), white cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling performed their own dubbing of possible worlds, bringing remarkably colorful and unkempt futures to life through the ironic shock of dreads at the controls. If we read them generously, we might hear how, by amplifying the additive rhythms of resilient Rasta technicians, these authors remixed sci-fi’s supposedly “raceless” futures which, by default, nearly always looked white, clean, covered in chrome. In cyberpunk’s dread futures, rather, archipelagos of black self-sufficiency – colonies called Zion, islands in the net – take root on the margins of unevenly developed worlds. Today’s planet of slums prefigure tomorrow’s improvised cybershantytowns. Rastafari stands alone.

Alien and alienated, these Rastas in space – as imagined both by reggae visionaries and sci-fi writers – appear as key avatars in what some have dubbed Afrofuturism, a field of cultural production inspired by Afrodiasporic musicians, writers of black (science) fiction, and cyberpunk authors, among others. On both sides of the Black Atlantic, cultural theorists such as Mark Dery and Kodwo Eshun have outlined and elaborated what sci-fi scholar Lisa Yaszek describes, in an essay on Ralph Ellison, as “an intellectual aesthetic movement concerned with the relations of science, technology, and race [which] appropriates the narrative techniques of science fiction to put a black face on the future. In doing so, it combats those whitewashed visions of tomorrow generated by a global ‘futures industry’ that equates blackness with the failure of progress and technological catastrophe.”

And yet, the other side of the coin to this critical challenge offers a funhouse-mirror distortion of dread. Just as 1950s science fiction films gave us now quaint images of their own anxieties projected into future worlds and onto alien races, Hollywood’s increasingly dreadlocked aliens of the last two decades, a timeline tracing seismic shifts in Caribbean-US demographics, gives us the postcolonial American version of sci-fi’s classically temporal/present vision of the future. Dreadful images, no doubt. But in a very different way than one finds in reggae or even cyberpunk (which nevertheless shares some strategies with Hollywood), filmic representations mobilize Rastafarian symbols – especially ‘locks – primarily to conjure fear, danger, and militant difference.

This is a story, then, of an other-worldy Jamaican music industry exchanging images and ideas with Babylonian regimes of representation. Dealing with the devil. Trading in futures.

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March 3rd, 2010

Following the Musical Money

follow the music & money
awesome img grab via promo materials for a similarly titled music conf also this week

I’m honored to announce that I’ll be keynoting this Saturday’s Columbia Music Scholarship Conference. The conference theme is near and dear to my heart & work: “Music and Money: Examining Value in Music.” The relationship between money and value is a really fraught one, maybe more than ever, and all too often and easily collapsed.

Part of my current research project involves an attempt to sort out the ways that a great deal of musical practice on the web — in all its remixxy, “free culture” glory — suggests a rather strong disconnect between value and money. On the other hand, I’ve found myself increasingly occupied by the inescapability of the logic of money, especially in an age of corporate-owned social media “platforms.”

I’ve been working up a big blogpost on all of that, centered on the death of imeem, the rise of Facebook, and musicblogocide2010, among other recent developments. After I give my talk, I’ll finally find the time to get it together and share with y’all, as I’m really eager to gather some feedback from my dear (patient) readers.

Speaking of valued interlocutors, there will be several there on Saturday, including Gavin “Unfashionablylate” Mueller, who’ll be speaking on streaming services (abstract). The conference is free and open to the public, so any other NYC/Tri-staters who’d like to check it out should feel welcome.

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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