Archive for November, 2013
November 27th, 2013
There’s been a lot of news in the past week about the legal kerfuffle between the Beastie Boys and a company called GoldieBlox, which markets science/engineering toys aimed at girls (and their parents) seeking something beyond the standard pink princess fare.
Apparently, GoldieBlox has successfully leveraged the “viral” qualities of the net to project their “disruptive” brand, and the latest example does so spectacularly well, via a parody of the Beastie Boys’ well-worn, decades-old, silly misogynist ditty, “Girls.”
In fact, my first encounter with GoldieBlox’s version of “Girls” arrived via word of mouth (i.e., Gchat), just the way viral videos are supposed to. My wife shared the link with me, as we ourselves are constantly struggling with the balance between giving our daughters lots of options for growth and play, on the one hand, and indulging their seemingly irrepressible desire to parade around as princesses on the other. As that type of dad, I couldn’t help but myself be smitten by the ad —
So, I was as surprised as anyone to learn about the legal battle currently underway over this parody of a parody (if, in the initial instance, an ambiguous one). Obviously, GoldieBlox’s “Girls” is derived from the Beasties’ “Girls,” but it’s a complete re-recording, marshaling certain familiar elements — the riff, the refrain, and certain text/melodic lines — not all unlike the ways the Beasties themselves cribbed and borrowed and reassembled their own song out of prior performances.
Redolent of a schlocky musical and cultural past — and perhaps helping to give the song some of its parodic edge — the Beasties’ “Girls” makes audible nods to both the Isley Brothers and Bo Diddley. Beginning around 0:40 in the following video, you’ll hear Diddley play on guitar the very same riff the Boys coax out of their wonky synth:
And this mashup underscores pretty convincingly how much “Girls” is inspired by the Isley’s “Shout,” with parellels in terms of song syntax, repeated refrain, and even a few striking melodic parallels (e.g., “say that you love me…” == “to do the dishes…”):
What should we make of the Beastie Boys taking two songs deeply inspired by African-American religious ritual — the ring-shout in the case of the Isleys, and Diddley’s hand-clapping & foot-stomping “communion service” — in order to make a rearguard, if possibly parodic, song about women? On what grounds should the Beasties be allowed the privilege of doing something so derivative/transformative, while GoldieBlox should not?
For many, it would seem, the crucial point turns not on questions of musical borrowing and re-signification but rather, on the Beastie Boys’ stated wishes to keep their music out of advertisements, as articulated in their open letter —
make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads.
This is especially poignant given that Adam Yauch (aka MCA) made this same wish explicit in his will.
But then, GoldieBlox isn’t actually using the Beasties’ music. Or are they? It’s a question — and not an easy one to resolve. (For any of us, or for a judge or jury for that matter.) They’re certainly not using the Beasties’ recording, or even a sample from it. Why should we determine that the Beasties’ should be able to stop others from re-assembling the same pieces that they themselves assembled without licensing/permission in the first place? Should GoldieBlox respect the Beasties’ wishes?
What about, say, James Newton’s wishes? An avant-jazz flutist, Newton famously insisted that the Beasties’ use of a sample of his flute performance on “Choir” for the Beasties’ “Pass the Mic” constituted copyright infringement, but a court ruled that the snippet was too short to constitute a part of his composition, and since the Boys had licensed the recording from Newton’s record label (for a paltry $1000), they were allowed to go ahead and use it despite lacking Newton’s permission.
Generally speaking, as readers of W&W will know, I support that sort of relatively unbridled approach to transformative re-use. Songs are shared things, and if you don’t want someone to play or sing along, hold them close and sing them quietly in the corner. Once something is out in the open, in public, via commercial or even non-commercial circulation, it becomes available for sharing and reinterpretation. Courts and lawyers and some artists like to draw hard and fast lines between folk culture and commercial culture, but these are usually little more than language games having to do with claiming ownership, not stable definitions of cultural domains. (Sometimes, they’re struggles over power and money, which are not to be diminished, though they are hardly at play in this case between some rich musicians and a successful start-up.)
When did “Girls” escape the Beasties’ creative control? Perhaps as soon as it was commercially released and massively distributed. In its own way, the Beastie’s “Girls” was, in the first instance, itself an advertisement — an ad for an album, an ad for concerts, an ad for a sophomoric act that the Beastie Boys took to the world and to the bank.
All that said, it’s still a little odd for the likes of the EFF to step into the fray, and to argue for fair use simply because they agree with Glodieblox’s putative politics. Clearly, commercial instances of parodic fair use have been upheld before — s/o Luther Campbell & Henry Louis Gates — but it’s always a matter of convincing some judge/jury about the lines people want to draw around musical ownership. Toward that end, I think considering the big musical picture here helps.
I mean, just imagine the chilling effect on other renditions of “Girls”! In a world of personal branding, where do we draw the line between commercial and non? Between advertisement and not?
Tell this guy Bro Chuy he’d better not “go viral” —
Or this girl for that matter —
And someone should really warn these squirrels not to attempt to monetize their questionable “parody” —
For my part, as a dad, I’ll be sure to teach my daughters how to reverse engineer our favorite Beastie songs as soon as the girls are ready for some serious digital music trickery.
November 25th, 2013
I’ve been following @emancan (aka, Emanuel Vinson, more recently recrowned as +) on Twitter for a few years now. In his early 20s, Emanuel is about as #based as it gets: persistently positive, open and encouraging, and utterly frank, especially when it comes to sources of inspiration or bullshit he needs to speak to from his rather centered place in the world (also, Chicago).
He’s an inspiration in his own right, especially the ways he models good personhood and self-propelled, generous, utterly independent artistry. Changing the game, indeed — at least a boy can dream.
His latest album, dove, has been a while in the making, and it’s really great. Pretty much a distillation of everything I just said and more, executed to heart-on-sleeve rugged-edged perfection.
Very rare, please listen —
November 20th, 2013
We recently enjoyed the fruits — or fruiting bodies, to be precise — of what has to be the yummiest and funkiest Kickstarter I’ve supported to date: loGROcal’s Sustainable Mushroom Farm in Austin, TX.
The “Gourmet Oyster Mushroom Kit” I got for my $25 pledge arrived in the mail about a month ago. After following the simple instructions — mostly, misting a few times a day — tiny mushrooms began to emerge after just a couple days. In less than a week, they grew to full size, and we savored them sauteed with garlic and broccoli rabe, tossed with a little linguine. Check the progression–
Growing mushrooms at home is something we’d love to be able to do with more frequency. Since we happen to generate a good amount of spent beer grains and coffee grinds, all we really need to do is master the inoculation process. Oysters are easy because they aggressively colonize the medium, preventing less desirable organisms from taking over. Apparently, there are other good contenders too (like shiitakes), and we look forward to giving it a go on our own this winter.
The other cool thing about growing some oyster mushrooms in our own kitchen is that I recognized them readily the next time we went for a walk in the woods!
Thanks to the loGROcal dudes for getting us started, and congrats on successfully kickstarting their venture down in Austin!
November 14th, 2013
You know me, total sucker for musical visualization, so I was delighted to see Dan Cohen’s Animated Sheet Music come across my radar (h/t @samim).
Whether or not you read Western notation, it’s easy to follow along with the animation (indeed, it makes a good score-reading exercise just to watch the bouncing notes). And there’s something simply amazing about seeing, as you’re hearing, the music unfold in all its vertical and horizontal glory.
The one for “So What” is definitely the winner for me, perhaps because it includes most of the ensemble. It’s so engaging to watch the different, deeply familiar parts unfold on the page —
Cohen adds apologies to Jimmy Cobb, the drummer and the one member of the ensemble left out, but he couldn’t source notation for the drum part. (Classic Eurocentric lacuna there, no fault of Cohen’s.) It would be nice if some drum geek were to draw one up for it! Imagine eventually mapping thousands of jazz recordings this way, perhaps even automatically, a la Melodyne. It would be a stunning archive, at any rate, and an incredible resource for entertaining edification.
Western notation appears nice and precise, but I don’t find it all that beguiling to look at. As such, Cohen’s animations may not not achieve the game-console dazzle & quirk of the Rites of Spring graphical score I linked to last spring, but there’s dazzle enough in the musical performances to justify watching them through.
“Confirmation” and “Giant Steps” are more minimal than “So What,” but awesome in their own right —
More like these, please!
November 13th, 2013
Once again it’s that time! I’ll be guesting at Boston’s Best Dance Night™, Picó Picante, this Friday–
Picó is always the ideal occasion to break out treacly dancehall pop covers, classic reggaeton, salsa remixes, and azonto jams, among others, so, yeah, pretty much always ready for that.
And readers of W&W need no intro to headliner DJ Ripley — Riddim Methodist, PhD, & Dutty Artizt extraordinaire. But maybe you haven’t heard her latest?
A preview, perhaps, of what might be in store Friday night, given Picante proclivities and all, but Ripley reliably keeps her sets unpredictable. So it’s bound to be a fun one, twists and turns galore.
November 8th, 2013
Here’s something primarily for longtime readers of W&W, or for random devotees to Yellowman’s timeless tune. As you all know, the melody from “Zunguzungunguzunguzeng” — aka “the Zigzagging Zunguzung meme” — has traveled widely. And I’ve been on the case ever since I first began hearing its echoes everywhere (which really started for me back in 2003).
This summer I was invited to join a songwriting group in which all participants would compose one song each month according to that month’s “prompt” — some set of aesthetic criteria, broadly defined (i.e., pertaining to specific musical or textual cues or tending toward the impressionistic). The crew was assembled under the odd banner of Underwear Everywhere (I still don’t know why), and it mostly included pop/rock-leaning musicians, if with a wide range of influences and styles.
I have to confess that I only myself managed to generate a single song during the 6 months that the experiment lasted. In the first month, I rose to the challenge of producing some “Novel Sounds” — or, according to the prompt:
Pick a favorite book and use the title as the title of the song as well as inspiration. … Use 3/4 time for part or all of the song.
In my case, I decided to take flight from the opening pages of one of my favorite books of the last decade, Michael Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum. For curiosity’s sake — and boy is my version curious! — I share here with you my strange shanty:
Anyway, back to the point of the post: I was myself given the privilege of providing the prompt in June, and I just couldn’t resist asking the group to contribute ditties somehow incorporating my favorite little melody. Or as I put it to them —
This month’s songwriting conceit is that everyone should use a little melody that I’ve been chasing around the world for many years now. As you’ll hear in this mega-mix I made, the “Zunguzung” tune turns up in dozens and dozens of songs — sometimes to support the chorus, sometimes as a one-off allusion, and with varying degrees of fidelity to the Yellowman original(s). Here’s the mix —
Even (especially?) as it plays a little Heisenbergian game with my research, it’s really fun to hear the results. I’m especially charmed by how that familiar strain sounds on accordion, or ethereal and circus-y synths, or sung in a New Wavey style. These sorts of transpositions are not typical for a tune that mainly travels via reggae, hip-hop, and their offspring, but they speak just as strongly to the catchiness and flexibility of Yellowman’s lilting phrase. Hope you enjoy the subtle and not-so-subtle appearances of an old friend across these varied versions. I sure did!