Archive of posts tagged with "aesthetics"

March 15th, 2013

Grande Jamaica

I’m thrilled to report that tomorrow morning I’m headed back to Jamaica for the first time in a couple years. It’ll also be the first time in a decade for Rebecca, and the very first time for Nico and Charlie. I can’t describe how excited I am to see their faces upon having a cold jelly, a sun-ripened banana, some ackee & saltfish, and other likkle wonders of the place. We’re very lucky to have the opportunity for a multigenerational vacation (Charlie 1.0 and Fern will be there too), to have dear friends in Kingston to receive us (bigup Sara & Marvin), and to have a lovely time ahead of us, both in town and up in Portland, arguably the most beautiful corner of a beautiful country.

Our vacation will no doubt stand in some contrast to the all-inclusive tourist-traps many college students and other folk are looking forward to this Spring Break. And so it seems as fitting a time as ever to re-run an excerpt from an ol’ “Jamaica Blog” post about our experience of an all-inclusive in Ocho Rios some 10 years back. (This was first published on 25 Feb 2003, so, yeah, still lagging a bit. Soon Come ;) I don’t feel like quite as strident a critic of other people’s experience of Jamiaca as I did 10 years ago, but I think it’s useful to register (and re-register) my experiences, aesthetics, and prejudices all the same. And I have to admit that the questions i raise at the end remain trenchant and recurring ones for me. We’ll see whether I have anything to say about all of that when I return next weekend.


L to R: sour sop, naseberry, naseberry tree, at our friend kush’s place, just outside ochi

after four weeks of living in jamaica, becca and i finally got a chance to spend a few days outside of kingston. becca was asked to speak at an internet forum being held in ocho rios by the ministry of utilities. for her part, she was provided accommodations at the hotel where the conference was to take place, the renaissance jamaica grande, a subsidiary of marriott, the largest and most prominent all-inclusive resort in the attractive coastal town. (ocho rios stands third to montego bay and negril as a tourist spot in jamaica.) despite the pre-packaged feel we suspected the hotel would have, we were both looking forward to spending some time on a beach and taking a little holiday. moreover, we were curious about the hotel, wanting to compare our experience in jamaica so far with the jamaica that most tourists are shown. we were glad to have a complimentary chance to check it out.

since i was conducting workshops at the american school on thursday, i decided to meet becca in ocho rios later in the day (she left at five am). i had planned to take a bus from kingston, which seemed to be an inexpensive and interesting prospect. it turned out, however, that one of the companies at the conference was offering a cruise departing at 5:30 that evening, so i chartered a taxi to get me there quickly (the ride can take well under two hours, depending on traffic and the driver’s desire to tempt fate). driving in jamaica is quite an experience. never mind the wrong side of the road problem, which, for the passenger (being a driver, i assume, requires more adjustment) quickly loses its jarring effect. taking corners and passing cars in kingston is often enough of an adventure. taking corners and passing cars (sometimes several at once) as one winds through the mountains, pedal to the floor, is a more grueling experience.

my driver was an excellent driver, which did a little to assuage my frequent fear of hurtling to my death. i don’t think he ever let up on the gas so long as he could accelerate, which meant down-shifting — not breaking — and speeding up around tight corners, getting as close as possible to the rapidly traveling (though never rapidly enough) car ahead, and passing caravans of slower cars if possible. that said, my driver did an impressive job. he was easily the fastest car on the road (no one passed us anyway), partly because he knew the winding road so well that he traced it incredibly efficiently. i asked him how many times he had driven this route. “how many times? nuff times, mon. sunday, tuesday, and wednesday of this week.” i got the point. he had been driving twenty-years, probably with this kind of weekly frequency through the mountains. he got me to ocho rios in the time he said he would (two hours), which was rather fast considering the thursday afternoon traffic.

having, towards the end, grown a bit nauseated by the twisting, turning, and lurching, i was not looking forward to a cruise. but it was refreshing and reinvigorating to pass through fern gully (a cool, damp stretch of road, surrounded by ferns on both sides, and covered overhead by a thick canopy of trees) and then into town, sun still shining. i shouldn’t skip over the beautiful ride by focusing on the dangerous driving. the roads through the mountains have granted me some of the most gorgeous glimpses of grand jamaica i have ever beheld. from kingston, you pass through spanish town (with its central-but-abandoned colonial-era courtyards) then you ascend into the hills, where before long, the vegetation grows denser and the air cooler. soon enough, you are driving along high mountain roads through bamboo forests. here and there people sell fresh fruit, mostly mangoes and otaheite apples. then the vegetation recedes a bit, villages spring up, and the descent begins. fern gully makes for a fitting cool down in the final stretch before the coast. once through fern gully, ocho rios springs up fairly quickly. dancehall reggae fills the air from several directions as soundsystems (advertising that night’s dance or a particular record store), cars, and vendor’s carts take part in an informal soundclash (the dancehall term for a competition between soundsystems). the jamaica grande is located right on the beach and right off the main road. i paid my driver JA$3000 (US$60), which is the standard fare for the journey in a taxi (the prices dive for buses: JA$125 – 250, or US$3-5), and not a bad price considering that my stay at the hotel would cost me nothing.

i met becca at the aptly titled “fantasy pool,” which, i noticed, was cleaned every morning by a shirtless dread, the stella-got-her-groove-back type. the cruise left from the hotel dock. (you really never have to leave the hotel.) it was not worth the breakneck pace of the drive through the mountains, but it was a good introduction to the culture of the jamaica grande (not, mind you, the culture of jamaica. oh, no. this was an entirely different animal). we shoved off with twin speakers blaring lovers rock at us, a little heavy on the treble, and set off down the coast to dunn’s river falls, a famous waterfall nearby. it was a nice enough view from the boat, but not quite worth the trip. still, the sunset was lovely, and then the stars. and the rum punch (white overproof rum mixed with water and syrup) hit the spot. the water got very choppy and we had to head in early because some people, myself not included (remarkably enough), were feeling ill. we cruised back into the hotel bay and camped out in the calm waters while a man entertained us all by eating fire, ripping apart a coconut with his teeth, and lifting up women by the belt with his teeth. then there was a limbo and a beer-drinking contest. i kid you not. participation was lackluster (we’re talking about internet service providers here), especially since the prizes were promotional company-logo polo-shirts. “hey, that would look sharp on the golf course! or on casual friday!” thoreau says beware any enterprise that requires new clothes, especially promotional polo-shirts.

the rest of the jamaica grande was less impressive than the boat ride. for an expensive resort, the lack of quality was astounding. the all-you-can-eat buffet was practically inedible, though becca and i knew quite well (and confirmed on friday night) that there was absolutely astounding food to be had around town. they couldn’t even put out fresh, local fruit or juice, never mind fish, bammie, and calalloo. (world of fish on james avenue, a short walk from the hotel, is not to be missed. even so, one is lucky to see another white face in the vicinity, especially after sundown.). it seemed as if, in truly contemporary jamaican fashion, everything was imported. the beach was a flimsy, artificial-looking strip along a stale bay. white girls aged 10-18 walked around with their hair in complimentary braids. a high percentage of guests — over half were american, and there seemed to be an inordinate number of italians this weekend — could best be described as resembling whales or lobsters, and there were plenty of lobsterish whales. the music and “culture” were completely canned. consider, for example, the dinner-time serenade of a smooth-jazz-ish reggae band doing lionel richie covers or the friday night faux-naughtiness of doing the limbo and conga-line-dancing to the lascivious sounds of trinidadian soca (“turn it around and push it back in” [repeat ad nauseum]). compare this music with the dancehall and roots reggae pounding away, day and night, in the center of town — just a stone’s throw away. to the detriment of their own experience, and certainly their cultural horizons, the all-included set miss out on the vibrant local music scene as much as they miss out on ochi’s culinary delights.

it would be incorrect to call the hotel’s bizarre mix of cultural signs a representation of jamaicanness, for the mix was too messy and the focus too vague. to be more precise, we might talk about the hotel’s “projection of caribbeanness,” which struck somewhere between exoticism and familiar fun. one wonders how much the presentation is fueled by the guests’ actual desire or by an assumption on the part of the proprietors (who are american) that such is the experience people desire. i am sure it is more of a push-and-pull than any supply/demand model could attempt to explain. still, i can’t help but feel cynical about the phenomenon. don’t get me wrong: i hold no delusion that there is some “authentic” jamaica to be found and presented, oyster-like, to fat, ignorant american tourists or to naive anthropologists or to reggae lovers. the real jamaica is, of course, all of the jamaicas anyone imagines. the projection of the idyllic and carefree jamaica creates some serious tension when compared with, say, the reputation of jamaica as the country with the highest murder rate. (the tension jumps out of the little pink booklet of dos-and-don’ts that the hotels distribute to guests.) for all of the fantasy, one always bumps up against the stark reality of poverty, of desperation, of hunger. but perhaps not if one never leaves the hotel.

i am deeply interested in the concept of authenticity, at least partly because i recognize that it operates on my own perception, my “reception,” or interpretation, of various texts, cultural and literal. i also see the way it plays into other people’s ideas about life and art, essence and appearance, soul and race. it is good to confront oneself about what one deems to be real and why. what is involved in such a value judgment? what kind of assumptions undergird the determinations we make, the reactions we have, especially to cultural materials (e.g., music, film, advertisements, language, social practices)? examining the way that i react to music that i deem to be authentic or not, and asking myself why and how i confer authenticity to something, is usually an edifying experience. the conversation about hip-hop, including and far-exceeding the lyrics themselves, is pervaded by the question of what, or more often, who, is real. i am curious about how authenticity is communicated in sonic terms — what are the musical signs which convey the real? i wonder how it works as a psychological process — is it a kind of elicited empathy? i wonder about the negative ideas that often travel with things deemed authentic — how are one’s ideas about race, about the inherent differences and aptitudes of groups of people, informed, reinforced, or challenged by the experience of the “real” in music? i wonder whether by making the machinery of authenticity more visible, i can challenge people’s complacency about their received knowledge. i wonder whether happy italian tourists give a damn. i doubt it.


me & naseberry tree, in a quieter and prettier (if less “grande”) part of ochi

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February 6th, 2013

Rockuduro

Speaking of Africa Remix

That’s “Ewe” — the latest from Throes + The Shine, a project out of Portugal which, as the + implies, is essentially a merger between two groups: (migrant) Angolan kuduro duo The Shine and, as my tipster Ana Patrícia Silva puts it, Portuguese “post-hardcore/noise band” Throes. (The b-boy formidably rocking out between bowls of TV-addled oatmeal is, I’m told, a national champ of sorts.)

Ana first told me about The Sine + Throes last May. (I know, I’ve been sleeping, but you should see my drafts folder: 62 and counting!) At the time, Ana reported that the group had “pretty much been taking everyone by surprise here in Portugal.” She continued —

They have a growing cult due to their live shows, which are absolutely explosive and make everyone – from headbangers to hipsters to hip-shakers – go absolutely nuts! It’s really interesting how they are able to unite such different crowds under one roof and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

A brief profile here helps to make sense of what might seem at first like an implausible fusion:

as far as we know, kuduro and rock is a novel idea, yet it makes perfect sense. Both are full-on, high-bpm styles that demand full bodily commitment for maximum enjoyment, especially live. Still, no one thought to bring the two worlds together until kuduro duo The Shine (André Do Poster and Diron Shine) teamed up with Portuguese rockers Throes (Marco Castro and Igor Domingues). The result is exhilarating.

It’s hard to disagree, especially when seeing the whole crew in action. Here’s a less ventriloquized video, for instance, their first single, “Batida” —

Describing a concert she attended, Ana was deeply impressed by the wide net the band’s performance cast and vibe they created, despite the harsh edges and insistent sensuality —

I saw them live last summer in the middle of the afternoon at an all-ages outdoor festival. During their show I remember seeing old people clapping hands, little kids jumping around, parents nodding their heads and teenagers and young adults pretty much losing their shit. It is impressive how something so aggressive and so sexual in its essence is capable of connecting with so many different people from different age groups, races and social status. It’s the beauty of music, I guess. How it manages to unite such different people in the same space and time. For that whole hour, the world did seem like a great place to be living in.

And just as the perhaps irreducibly jarring juxtapositions of the group are what make their shows so compelling, apparently there are subtler, but perhaps no less affecting, modes of mixture at work in the making of their sound:

There’s another interesting detail that I forgot to add. Their entire album was recorded, mixed and mastered in analogue tape. It was made at Estúdios Sá da Bandeira, a music studio in Porto that specializes in analog recording and vintage equipment (which is very rare in Portugal).

I don’t think I had ever heard kuduro recorded in 100% analog format! That’s part of the reason why their sound is so warm and with a bit more emphasis on the rockier side. Every single instrument they used (guitar, drums, bass, synths, marimba, xylophone, etc.) is fully analog, no computer was used in those sessions. And that’s also part of their appeal, I guess: it’s a completely different experience (especially live) to listen to something as effusive as kuduro music backed by the raw power of a drum kit, the melodies of a guitar and the groove of an actual bass.

A touch of rockist romanticism perhaps — and perversely enough, I might like my kuduro best in 128k gritty wifi realism — but I have to admit the group’s sound is awfully warm and punchy.

That said, Throes + The Shine are (obviously) hardly purist, and I was delighted to find that such friends and colleagues as Daniel Haaksman & Emynd have recently done remixes for them. Emynd’s is particularly amazing, departing from the band’s primary genre references to explore kindred vibes. Shuffling between breakbeat techno / protojungle and that ol bmore bounce, with a little trappist jam to stick things together, dude really takes it there, then somewhere else again (compare to the original):

You can sink your teeth into a lot more if you like, including their full first album, Rockuduro (streaming below) — & given such a strong start, I expect we’ll all have a chance to hear plenty more.

update (2/7): All of the above is worth considering against and alongside Alexis Stephens’s probing investigation into Os Kuduristas and the slick PR machine that represents Angola through kuduro.

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February 5th, 2013

Africa Remix

This Friday, February 8, Harvard’s “African Musics Abroad” seminar will stage a one day conference called “Africa Remix” with an aim to

probe the global circulation of African musics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, featuring presentations by major producers of African sound recordings, discussions with presenters of African musical performances live and mediated, and insights from and a performance by musicians who are themselves engaged in the process of remixing African music worldwide.

While African musics have been traveling (and transformed) for centuries, not least via the slave trade, the conference will focus on more recent musical movements and mixtures — namely those that have followed in the wake of the era of African independence beginning around 1960. According to the organizers:

The increased physical mobility of many African musicians has been amplified by an active recording industry. The global circulation of African musics has opened a space that accommodates both dialogue and dispute, one that has both reshaped musics from the continent and transformed musical creativity and performance internationally. Issues include questions of who is representing African music, the ethics of “musical borrowing,” and the economic dimensions of remixing practices for African musicians who are the sources of circulated musical materials.

The bulk of the day will be devoted to three panel sessions bringing together producers, practitioners, and scholars — “Producing Global Sounds,” “Shaping Local Reception,” and “Collaboration or Appropriation?” — and I’m happy to report that I’ll be chairing the third one, a conversation around a well-worn debate but, hopefully, offering some fresh angles thanks to the rich ethnographic and interpretive work the panelists will draw on in their presentations (which will range from roots reggae in Israel to Malian dance in diaspora to, possibly, Die Antwoord, though I have yet to confirm that last one).

The keynote speaker is Francis Falceto of Buda Musique in Paris, who will explore the conference theme through a discussion of his renowned Éthiopiques series, which to date has issued twenty-seven albums from the century-long history of Ethiopian sound recordings.

Rounding things out at the end of the day, there will be a free concert by Boston’s breakout Ethio-jazz group, Debo Band, following a conversation between bandleader (and erstwhile ethno student here) Danny Mekonnen and Prof. Kay Shelemay.

Actually, for those who are interested in really rounding things out, the perfect nightcap will involve following me & Chief Boima over to the Good Life, where he’ll join King Louie from Texas’s Peligrosa crew, Boston’s/Austin’s own Swelta (#FEELINGS), and resident DJs Riobamba & Oxycontinental for a very special edition of Picó Picante. After a long day of thinking and talking, actually embodying some “Africa Remix” vibes will be a welcome culmination & break, and these are the DJs to take you there —

Should be quite a day (& night). Here’s the full program:

Africa Remix:
Producing and Presenting African Musics Abroad


Friday, February 8, 2013
Thompson Room, Barker Center / Lowell Hall

Mahindra Humanities Center Seminar Conference
Organized by “African Musics Abroad”

CONFERENCE

8:30 am, Thompson Room, Barker Center

Welcome, 8:30 am
Homi K. Bhabha, Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard

Producing Global Sounds, 9:00 am
Chief Boima, “Africa is a Country”
José da Silva, LUSAFRICA
Ben Herson, Nomadic Wax
Chair: Patricia J. Tang, MIT

Shaping Local Reception, 11:00 am
Maure Aronson, World Music/CRASHarts
Jacob Edgar, Cumbancha
Banning Eyre, Afropop Worldwide
Russ Gershon, Either/Orchestra
Chair: Carla D. Martin, Harvard University

Collaboration or Appropriation?: Issues in Remixing African Styles, 2:00 pm
Sarah Hankins, Harvard University
Sharon Kivenko, Harvard University
Warrick Moses, Harvard University
Chair: Wayne Marshall, Harvard University

Keynote Address, 4:00 pm
Francis Falceto, Freelance editor and author
“éthiopiques vs. ethioSonic: Sense and Nonsense in Musical Globalization”
Chair: Kay K. Shelemay, Harvard University

CONCERT AND DISCUSSION
8:00 pm, Lowell Hall

Discussion: Remixing Ethiopian Music
Danny Mekonnen, Debo Band
Chair: Kay K. Shelemay, Harvard University

Concert by Debo Band

Concert is free, but tickets are required. Free tickets available at Harvard Box Office (617-496-2222).

Cosponsored with the Department of Music, Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities, Department of African and African American Studies, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and the Office for the Arts at Harvard.

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January 30th, 2013

Music Ontology Mixtape

Ok, it’s more of a playlist, but now that I’ve got your attention…

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Today in my other class, Music 97c (Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective), I threw a few limit cases at my students, inviting them to think about where people draw lines between music and non-music and why it’s worthwhile to acknowledge these as we seek to develop a deeper understanding of the diversity — but also the unity — of world musical practice.

One of our readings for this week takes on this project with full steam and inspiring empathy. John Blacking’s “Humanly Organized Sound,” a classic of the literature and the opening salvo in a profound larger work, How Musical Is Man?, seeks to understand what exactly constitutes musical capacity. Concise and provocative, the title of the chapter has become a useful shorthand definition of “music” for me and many others, if while drawing a possibly unnecessary and unfounded species-specific line around the phenomenon — but that’s a central part of the question.

“Humanly organized sound” is a very flat and encompassing way of defining music and its value to people. Among other trenchant points, Blacking wonders why the broadly distributed learned abilities to take part in musical happenings he observes in, say, Venda culture are oddly denied even as they’re exploited in the so-called West: in the US and UK, he notes, one hears on the one hand of exceptional musical geniuses and virtuosi and, on the other, of folks who learn to describe themselves as tone-deaf or left-footed. But at the same time, the near total suffusion of public and private spaces with music in these societies takes for granted — indeed targets — a baseline capacity for perceiving sonic order and interpreting it as music with meaning or message.

Against this background, having endured a little too much talk about who’s “primitive” and who’s made the most “progress,” Blacking minces no words, and his anti-elitist (indeed, anti-elite) politics ring clear:

Does cultural development represent a real advance in human sensitivity and technical ability, or is it chiefly a diversion for elites and a weapon of class exploitation? Must the majority be made “unmusical” so that a few may become more “musical”?

Recalibrating our sense of musicality in this manner demands, Blacking continues, that as good ethnomusicologists (aka, the scholars formerly known as comparative musicologists),

We need to know what sounds and what kinds of behavior different societies have chosen to call “musical”; and until we know more about this we cannot begin to answer the question, “How musical is man?”

Well, we now know a lot more about such matters, though to what extent that knowledge has redirected or reformed the prevailing ideologies of musical talent and value here in the US is another question. The fact that “Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective” remains a requirement of music majors at my present institution is itself a testament to the beachhead ethnomusicology has made and to the work that remains to be done.

At any rate, though this doesn’t directly speak to Blacking’s concerns as outlined above, here’s the first ontologically unstable sound object I played in class —

The description of the video reads as follows:

David Cope used his Experiments in Musical Intelligence program to compose Zodiac, twelve short works for string orchestra in the style of Vivaldi. This is Taurus. The video is also algorithmically created.

One might not fancy the rendition above all that much, if begrudgingly accepting that it resembles Vivaldi. Some might find it too computery to sound “human” — unnatural violin attacks like glimmers in a replicant’s eyes. But few would deny that it was in some sense a piece of music.

Arguably, Cope’s software’s opus is “humanly organized sound” in at least a couple ways: 1) a human organized the thing that organized the sound; and 2) human listeners perform acts of pattern recognition. In another way, of course — ie, having been generated by some lines of code — it is not. There is a degree of non-human input/output that unsettles. But should we care if we can’t pass a musical Turing Test? If human listeners — not to be confused with dolphins — organize the patterns of sound that reach our ears, why not call it music?

Well, by that reasoning, this would be music too:

But since we can’t really ask a hermit thrush or a line of code whether what they’re doing is “music” (at least not without being suspicious of the answer), we would do well to consider examples of patterned “non-musical” sound directly produced by humans.

For instance, this ol’ gem of the ethnomusicological canon:

If you’re not familiar, that’s James Koetting’s 1975 recording of postal workers cancelling stamps at the University of Ghana post office. The important gloss here is that although the workers were obviously whistling tunes (in this case a hymn by a Ghanaian composer) and banging out rhythms, the idea that they were making “music” instead of simply doing their job would have, according to Koetting, seemed quite strange to them and their co-workers. “It sounds like music and, of course it is,” writes Koetting,

but the men performing it do not quite think of it that way. These men are working, not putting on a musical show; people pass by the workplace paying little attention to the “music.”

Another example along these lines —

For certain devout Muslims, Koranic recitation (as well as call to prayer) is not to be confused with music. Indeed, for some (though Islam is a wide, wide world), “music” is haram, prohibited, an indulgence that distracts from virtuous worship. That said, a strong investment in sounding practices is more than audible here; it is practically crucial. To refit the Koetting prose above: This man is reciting, not putting on a musical show. But yeah, for many, to quote Koetting directly: “it sounds like music.”

This example led to a brief digression into a sound object about sound objects: a Radiolab segment which takes as its subject the tonal dimensions of spoken languages. The first 4.5 minutes result in host Jad Abumrad entertaining more or less the same question as our class: “What exactly is music, really?”

When speech — or anything else not performed as music per se — somehow, as a suddenly dialectical sound object, becomes music, has it also in some sense, then, passed beyond understanding? Beyond a certain degree of communication? From one metaphorical register to another, more ambiguous one? Is this implication of irreducible multivalence what makes “music” so odious, so haram, to some?

I raise the question of musical communication because it animates the other piece we read today, which will lead me to my final set of examples (though these aren’t about the same sort of ontology exactly). Steven Feld’s “Music, Communication, and Speech about Music” is a dazzling and humbling examination of how rich, complex, and slippery — or in Feld’s words “changeable” and “emergent” — the listening experience almost always is (not to mention the processes of communication it entails).

To illustrate the various, simultaneous, non-hierarchical “interpretive moves” we make as we listen, Feld offers the admittedly charged but usefully provocative “Spangled Banner Minor” by Carla Bley & her band. I’ve been working with this article and this piece for a while now, and let me tell you: it works every time.

Spangled Banner Minor And Other Patriotic Songs by The Carla Bley Band on Grooveshark

Of course, I couldn’t resist pairing Bley’s recording with a more recent example, which you might say inverts the effect, rendering Michael Stipe’s über-emo anthem far more shiny-happy than the wildly (and suprisingly?) popular original. I’m talking about “Recovering My Religion” of course, the Melodyne-assisted remix of REM’s 1991 hit which has raised hackles among the hey-kids-get-off-my-CD-tower crowd, but which is, especially for those of us who had the original tune brutally committed to memory by remarkably repeated exposure, a really striking twist of tone and, accordingly, message and meaning.

Major Scaled #2 : REM – “Recovering My Religion” from major scaled on Vimeo.

As fun and interesting as I think these philosophical/ontological questions about music(ness) can be — and as much as I subscribe to Blacking’s and Feld’s commitment to radical, relativist-universalist studies of music as social life — when it comes down to it, I think maybe humanly re-organized sound is what really pushes my buttons. But we’ll save that distinction for another date.

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November 14th, 2012

Selected Student Essays, Transduced

I’m happy to report that the semester has been going swimmingly. Sorry for the dearth of posts here, but I’ve been rather engaged with reading, for one course, across a vast and dense literature on music, race, & nation while exploring, in another, the history and potential of music’s (and sound’s) deep entanglement with technologies of transduction & reproduction.

As we barrel almost unbelievably toward the end of the term, we’ve managed to produce a pretty striking set of technomusicological etudes. While two big assignments remain (a video montage and a DJ mix), the students have produced soundscapes, radio collages, sample-based beats, and mashups. Impressed and entertained by them all, I want to share a few exemplary pieces to give people a (musique) concrete sense of what we’ve been up to. We recommend listening with headphones.

First, a couple entries from the soundscape assignment (including requisite if brief prose descriptions):

Sunday afternoon shopping [for soy sauce!] at the Boston Chinese Supermarket (C-mart).

In this tasty space, life takes many different forms: the entrance music that occupies its own territory 0:00-0:20; 2:36-end); people conversing on their wants and needs in Cantonese (0:21 – 0:40; 2:10-2:22); living lobsters/crabs breathing in tank [with running water] waiting to be picked, killed and consumed (0:45-1:15; 2:23-2:35); frozen dumplings resting in ice cases (1:22-1:26), listening to the check-out machine busy reading barcodes (starting 1:27 through 1:53, transposed); butchers cleaning, peeling and chopping off fish head using their fine/scary collection of life-taking tools (1:46 – 2:09).

All is intertwined and yet at the same time irrelevant. One eats to live, others live to be eaten. Together we breathe.

This recording encompasses the tragedy I face in procrastination – enjoyment of the meaningless which ends as soon as it metamorphoses into the meaningful. This tragedy is composed of five chapters. At first, the frustration with the ominous “paper” becomes not only overwhelming, but overwhelming to the point that I must abandon work with a very definitive “fuck this paper.” I venture outside into Harvard Square where meaningless interaction forms a melody. “Hey” defines the relationship I have with the grand majority of my acquaintances – an acknowledgement of each other’s existence is all we share. However, “hey” leaves me craving for real social interaction, and I do summon a friend upon stumbling on a musical gem in the Harvard Square “pit.” However, reality freezes the real pressure I have found in The Square. I am reminded that the ominous paper is still, in fact, in need of being submitted, and I am forced to retract into my study lair. “Why, why, why” is procrastination always halted when it gets good? The answer: it’s procrastination, it’s temporary. Oh, the tragedy that is procrastination.

The second pair of examples comes from the week we devoted to (Boston) radio collages, and each offers a rather interesting portrait of a particular slice of the local airwaves:

This soundscape/radioscape takes all of its material from a cheap radio clock in a bedroom in Cambridge, MA. The sounds were collected at about 2:00 PM on a weekday afternoon.

The goal in creating a weekday afternoon radioscape of Boston is to represent Boston radio at a time that I’ve always considered to be the least interesting time of day for radio. Because it lacks the audience that rush hour in the morning and evening (and to some extent lunch hour as well) draw, radio in the afternoon does not cater to a specific audience other than those who happen to be driving, are listening to radio as they work, or have nothing better to do for one reason or another. The music tends to be generic and fairly random, the talk shows discuss mundane topics in order to save more important thoughts for the busier hours, and there is no concerted effort to create a certain ambience, as in evening radio.

Strangely enough, though, this all serves to loosen radio to a certain extent, encouraging hosts to let their hair down a bit, and allowing each station to be a little less authoritarian in their choices of music. While listening to the radio for easy entertainment or interesting concepts may be difficult in the afternoon, listening with a critical ear at this times can become immensely entertaining. It is that strange combination of humor, flair, mediocrity, and commercialism that I am trying to convey in this piece, representing most of the material I found while striving to keep the pace entertaining for the listener, who doesn’t have the comfort of being at the control. I used a lot of layering, blending, and automation to splice events together convincingly, as well as some other effects like looping, delay, reverb, and mixing in cleaner recordings of songs in order to give a little surrealism and extra realism to the sound, which was limited by the reception of the radio.

The piece starts out with quick flipping through a few channels, then settles in with a couple of announcements about the time and place. The first section mainly moves back and forth between songs on different channels, but as we go on, new characters are and themes are introduced, such as talk radio, advertisements, a discussion about receipts, a sportscast and the ever-present (in New England) Dunkin Donuts. Finally, we close with a “goodbye” and a contrast between upbeat folk-classic music that evokes a kind of “simple gifts” feel characteristic of old-time New England and some inspirational words in Spanish. And maybe one last quip about Dunkin Donuts and their great coffee.

The voice is often used as a symbol of personal interaction. In early descriptions of radio, the feeling of such interaction and indeed of intimacy through the radio was often dependent on speech and the voice. In this exercise, I have edited short clips of radio recordings taken on October 14 and 15 in Allston, MA. The resulting mix produces a simulated radio world that is all talk, all voices speaking in different registers, different levels of excitement, and different languages. The listener’s relationship to the various voices depends on many markers of identity – religious, political, linguistic, sports, etc. This collage is thus a reflection on the limits of radio voices to convey intimacy.

Our third assignment required students to get into the aesthetics of sample-based hip-hop, combining samples of their choice with two classic breakbeats I provided (the Funky Drummer and Apache). Here’s a few fun standouts (including one dubsteppy excursion):

On the surface, this piece is a hip hop beat that goes on for a couple of minutes, and this is probably all that’s really apparent when listening. In some ways, it’s all that really needs to be apparent; when putting this together I was trying to make a new piece out of the materials that I sampled from a few other songs, but there is some thought that went into the choices of material. The beat takes sounds from the Funky Drummer and Apache breakbeats, cut up and made into new rhythms: pretty standard. The harmonic and melodic material, though, all comes from a couple of songs by Billy Joel and Elton John. For some reason, maybe because they’re both rock/pop pianists, I’ve always considered Billy and Elton to be two sides of the same coin, so I wanted, at least intellectually, to put them together in one piece. I don’t really feel like the interaction is audible, mostly because I limited myself to just one or two samples each from two songs by Elton and one by Billy, cut down to the point where they are really just a note or two in most cases and often edited until they don’t resemble the original at all (for instance, slowed and deepened until a medium-high synth sounds almost like dubstep) but I still like the idea of them both being in there.

Turkey is sometimes known as the crossroads of the world, and here, the shape (Dilli Düdük) and electronic sounds (Çakk?d?) of Turkish popular music mix with the rhythms (Funky Drummer) and jazzy lines (Apache) of Western samples. Their interaction makes a dense sonic fabric, and there is some tension scattered throughout, but ultimately, the two pairs of samples serve to reinforce and advance each other.

I decided to be quite liberal with the Funky Drummer sample provided to us, and chopped it down to individual sounds. I then put this on a new drum rack and treated it with a filter delay, reverb, and a couple other elements to create a dub-like effect. The tempo and syncopation is reminiscent of most dubstep tracks, with a BPM of 140 and the snare falling on the third beat. The melody and vocals of the track come from chopped samples of the 1970’s Angolan protest song Valódia by Santocas. Samples are treated with various filters and reverb as well as sidechained to the kick drum via a compressor. We hear a looped verse, “Bem longe/ Ouví aquele nome/ Inesquecível/ dos filhos de Angola” (Far away/ I heard that name/ Unforgettable/ to Angola’s children).

And one last example, a rather esoteric mashup from one of the grad students in the course:

Here’s a mash-up of a Brazilian maracatú (“Será” by Siba e a Fuloresta) and an unaccompanied Cretan rizitiko song performed by Vasilis Stavrakakis. Instead of mashing two pieces of similar tempo, I decided, inspired by the a capella intro to “Será,” to liberally chop up the unmetered Cretan song and manipulate it in various ways (pitch changes, overlapping punches, the creation of drones) to frame and comment on various musical events in the Brazilian song. Aside from a small gap inserted near the beginning, “Será” is basically intact; the challenge was to isolate and reconfigure phrases, both short and extended, from Stavrakakis’ performance to give the impression of a melodic, harmonic, and phrasal dialogue with Siba, the chorus, and the brass band. I especially like how, though the melodic trajectories of the two songs are similar, they often treat the second and sixth degrees of the scale in opposite ways (minor second and major sixth from Crete, major second and minor sixth from Brazil). This adds a nice pinch of tension without spoiling the soup (at least to my modally biased ears), and points to the manufactured nature of the operation.

It’s been a real thrill to hear what these talented students have cooked up this term. The best of these productions really speak for themselves. And that’s the point: how can we make audible stories about audition in the age of technological reproducibility? Toward that end, I was delighted to stumble across these thoughts just yesterday:

I think of the Marshall’s taxicab soundscape, how it captures not only the sonic communications of Jamaican cab drivers, and the broader dancehall soundscape in which they live, but also something of the musicologist himself. It’s just an essay transduced. What if students and academics were to pursue the craft of phrasing and editing sound, photographs, and film with the same doggedness with which we pursue the written word, aiming for the same sophistication that we do in our written texts? What would anthropology sound, look, feel like then?

“It’s just an essay transduced”! I like that. Gonna run with it — or take it for a ride? On that note, let me leave you with an intentionally schizophonic video mashup of my “Taximan” piece (as discussed here) set to soundtrack a trip down the Palisadoes to Norman Manley International Airport, where I chat a bit (in my own odd wavering accent) about Sunday radio in Jamaica (an old fave topic) with the driver:

Jamaican Taxiscape from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

Before the end of the semester, I hope to have some amazing videos and mixes to share with you too. Thanks for listening along!

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March 13th, 2012

On RETV the Girls Dem See Me

Bigups to my man Marvin Hall, aka @hallsoflearning, aka the guy we’ll be thanking someday for the Jamaican turn in robotics — or something equally astounding — for uploading an old reel from RETV (Reggae Television) dating back to 2003. That’s the year I was living in Kingston with my better-half, doing dissertation research alongside digital music workshops, from South Camp to Camperdown. Not at all coincidentally, it’s also the year I started blogging.

Marvin’s the guy responsible for bringing me into Jamaican schools back then, including to Camperdown, where he formerly taught and where the segment below was shot. He also provided the link to RETV, which was an especially exciting institution in Jamaica in the pre-YouTube days, finally offering a platform for local videos in an MTV and BET dominated media landscape.

The video catches me toward the end of our 6-month sojourn on Hope Road, one product of which was my dissertation (which I’m planning to finally post here soon), another was Boston Jerk, and another was, as you’ll see, a rather skinny me — a downright mawga man in local parlance. Quite a trip, e?

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February 28th, 2012

It’s Munchi Time!

Beat Research presents...

Tomorrow / today / whenever it is as you’re reading this — Tuesday Feb 28 marks both the release of Munchi’s Moombahtonista EP and as mentioned last week, his first appearance here in Boston, at none other than Beat Research! According to the opaque metrics at Zuckerborg, as I’m writing this some 56 registered users are “Going” to come thru, which is cool. I’m sure the place will pack up. It’s gonna be a special one, no doubt.

As I also mentioned, I gladly penned the notes accompanying the release of Munchi’s EP. It’s an odd job juggling promotion with what I think is also valued as my ability to be a critical observer, but I stand behind the text. (And I appreciate the affirmative nods.) Of course, I’m happy Munchi likes it — and that he thought of me to write it. I should give him some real credit too: he had lots of ideas, as always, and his own ability to articulate where he’s coming from is, I think, one of his greatest strengths as an internet-era artist. Anyway, you can judge for yourself (I added some links for fun):

Soon as the first moombahton edits hit the net, Munchi was ready. Slowing down Dutch house tracks to make mutant reggaeton made a lot of sense to a resident of Rotterdam with roots in the Dominican Republic. Munchi knew as well as anyone (and better than most) that Dutch house and reggaeton were kindred genres, each a skip and a jump away from dancehall reggae. He began cooking up his own moombahton that night, emerging with much more than another set of edits. Arguably the first originals of the genre, Munchi’s tracks were built from scratch, imbued with touches of baile funk, cumbia, kuduro, bmore, samba, breakcore and more. Unlike Dave Nada’s seminal edits or influential remixes by A-Mac, Uncle Jesse, and Melo making the rounds, Munchi could put his name on his tracks front and center. Blowing up the blogs, he proved himself prolific and popular almost immediately, releasing acclaimed promo packs by the pound and building a devoted audience.

By pursuing his own singular vision of what the genre could be, Munchi pointed the way — lots of ways actually — to move moombahton beyond surprisingly serviceable novelty remixes in order to make it a genuine genre. His cross-breeding fusions even birthed a substyle he dubbed moombahcore, a steroidal take on the sound that now boasts hundreds of its own adherents. After Munchi’s wildly successful experiments, moombahton became a lot more kitchen-sink. This EP collects the classics, marking the moment that Munchi blew the frame open. Club wreckers that set the stage for a wave of producers learning to love the space between the kicks, the place to wind your hips. You’ll find it all here: evocative samples, epic build-ups and drops, thick-ass drums, sudden jokes and, of course, that trademark jingle. It also features new twists on old bangers, like lacing “La Brasileña Ta Montao” with brand new vocals from Angel Doze, Munchi’s favorite reggaetonero, making it the first real meeting between moombahton and its Puerto Rican cousin.

I can’t seem to find a buy link for the dang thing yet [ok here it is], but for now, here’s a mini-mix preview, which has racked up 9000 plays in just 3 days —

Come hear the man live if you can. I’ve seen him in action. You gotta be ready.

Oh & nice EP art! Props for the totally understated use of boobs

Ok, one last time, here’s the deets for tonight / tmrw night (TUESDAY!):


TUESDAY – 2/28
BEAT RESEARCH
W/ SPECIAL GUESTS: MUNCHI & OXYCONTINENTAL
GOODLIFE
BOSTON
9-1
FREE

MUNCHI @ BEAT RESEARCH

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February 6th, 2012

Old Electrical Boxes & Other Rituals

We’ve got another promising Boston premiere this week (that’s Tuesday 2/7) at Beat Research.

Ekip Ritual is an ongoing collaboration between “nordestino” electro-percussion wiz, Kiddid, and Brazilian reggae/alt-pop vocalist Massarock. Drawing on soundsystem culture, Afro-Brazilian rhythms, and pop music sensibilities, the duo ride the “global bass” wave with aplomb.

Listen, say, to “Caixas Elétrica Antigas” (that’s “Electrical Boxes Old” according to Google), an apt title given the vintage gleam on the percussion that propels it:

Another strong offering, “Arroxa na Ecuridão,” shows that the vintage-contempo combo goes well beyond gimmickry —

Indeed, Kiddid has been going pretty deep into some of these sounds recently. Much of what you hear in the tracks above — despite an uncanny resemblance to time-honored beat-boxes — are sounds and (virtual) instruments he made himself. A longstanding passion and more recently a vocation, Kidid has been working for Puremagnetik for the past year, designing instruments for Live, Logic, and Kontakt, including his first big project, released last month: modeled after the Yamaha DX7, the DeeEx offers access to some classic-sounding 80s-esque synthesis. Apparently, he’s also just finished a project using the Operator and Analog synths and his designs are being considered for inclusion in Ableton Live 9.

As someone who’s been using Kiddid’s killer tracks as secret weapons for years now, none of that last paragraph comes as a surprise. But it sure whets my appetite for tomorrow’s show! Yours too? If so, you know where to find us —

Good Life Bar
28 Kingston St.
Boston
9pm-1am
FREE

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October 14th, 2011

Ghe20 G0th1k Meets Hatsune Miku Uptown in Cambridge

A little more about this Monday’s special edition of Beat Research

I’m thrilled to report that Venus’s partner-in-rave, $hayne (pic’d above), will be joining her on the trip. That means we’re gonna be treated to a tag-team/4-handed Ghe20 Goth1k performance the likes of which Greater Boston has not yet been party to. So get ready, and get to the club by 11, knamean.

(When I told Venus she wouldn’t be playing in the middle of the night, as she’s used to, she sounded happily surprised! Oh yeah, and just in case you’re on autopilot, this is happening at the Middlesex, not the Enormous Room [RIP].)

If you want a taste of what you might expect, look no further than the live mixtape (and, yes, it’s worth noting that it’s live — see next paragraph) they just cooked up for Opening Ceremony

OC Mixtape Series #3: GHE20 G0TH1K – The Cruelest Intentions Live Mixtape by OpeningCeremony

Ok, look a little further — you’ll hardly be disappointed — and do yourself a favor by starting with Venus’s appearance this past Monday on DJ /Rupture’s radio show, Mudd Up!. (Kudos to Sñr Clayton, btw, on that Wire cover!) I was emailing with Jace today, as it happens, and he offered some off-the-cuff thoughts on Venus’s DJing that really encapsulate what’s so special, and daring, about her approach —

seeing Venus reminded me of how so many DJs just surf the wave of ‘new jams’ and dont really fuck with the form itself. Whereas its so fresh and refreshing to experience Venus going for it, really working the CD-js in a percussive way, pulling and pushing sound around to create a thing in and of itself

Also, apparently Ghe20 G0th1k are gonna drop an “Official Mixtape” via Jim Jones & co on Monday?!! Dipset revolution indeed.

Now don’t get me wrong, as those in the know will know, this won’t be the first time Ghe20 G0th1k graces a Cambridge club. Indeed, it was at Rizzla & co’s Nu Life party where I first met Venus, having been tasked with sourcing a couple CDJs for the occasion. Of course, these days, Venus is tweet-lobbying Pioneer to donate 20 pairs for a next wave of rad gal DJs. But big-up Rizzla for balance-beaming across the bleeding edge, no small achievement in this little town that, better or worse, I’ll always call home.

As Hatsune Miku’s team thinks of ways to translate the incredible phenomenon she represents for US audiences/co-producers, I could hardly think of a better partner for the virtual idol. Venus seems to think folks here are ready for the kind of plastic pop culture we can mold and form into our own shapes, and, as it happens, so does Ian Condry, the cultural anthropologist in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program who is responsible for bringing Miku’s team to Cambridge next week (as part of the Cool Japan project). Ian, who wrote his first book about hip-hop in Japan, has recently completed a second book, this time about anime and collaborative creativity.

As he wrote in response to seeing a Hatsune Miku concert this past summer, Ian’s study of anime has led him “to see virtual characters as platforms of generative creativity in their own right.” Taking this a step further into the realm of invitational and reconfigurable culture, Hatsune Miku “demonstrates that there are likely to be many more kinds of platforms out there, waiting to created, built upon, shared, distributed, remixed and extended.”

Allow me to quote Ian’s blogpost for MIT’s Center for Civic Media in some length, especially since, among other things, it offers such a fine summary of what makes the Miku phenomenon so phenomenal–

Everyone was cheering, but at what? There was no one there, on stage, at the center of our attention, just a virtual avatar. And of what? Of whom? Of us.

Miku shows that pop culture, like politics, often appears premised on a leader on stage (or projected on a screen), but impact, and often creativity itself, whatever that means, emerges from broader, distributed collective actions. Miku hints at a world of untapped possibility, a model of crowd-sourced mobilization, and an instructive instance of a media platform that is part software technology (Vocaloid) part cultural idea (the character Miku).

Miku began as a voice on a music synthesizer software package called Vocaloid, created and sold by Yamaha starting in 2004. Vocaloid lets you make music by specifying instruments to play, like Garage Band, but with the added feature that you can write lyrics with melody as well. A separate company, Crypton Future Entertainment, released the Miku voice add-on in 2007, along with a cartoon image and biographical features (16 years old, height, weight, etc.).

Importantly, Crypton decided not to assert copyright control over the image, thus freeing up the character to have a life of her own, or rather, lives of our own. It’s as if we could all write songs for Lady Gaga, and she would perform them for us. Does it matter that Miku’s not real? How “real” is Lady Gaga anyway?

Fans responded by posting hundreds of thousands of music videos online, with a variety of shared costumes and images (e.g., a green onion / leek). In the years since, Miku’s star rose thanks to the energy of the fans amplified through uploading and commenting on the Japanese video-sharing site Nico Nico Dôga. So-called “Nicodo” is like YouTube except user comments scroll by as you watch a video, thus adding an additional layer of participatory viewing.

Nowadays, top MikuP (“producers”) sell their work online, and karaoke spots in Japan let you download and sing along with favorite Miku songs. Crypton has a site online for facilitating collaboration and licensing through a system, Piapro, which they say mimics Creative Commons. Fan work sells through other channels as well. In November 2010, I was one of 7000 attendees at a sold-out fan convention in Ikebukuro, Tokyo shopping from 500 fan groups who gathered to sell Vocaloid-related music, posters, DVDs, illustration books, video games, jewelry and more (see http://ketto.com/tvm/).

Given such fan excitement, it is small wonder that big business wanted in on the act. From 2009, Sega created video games for Miku under the Project Diva title, both for handheld devices and for arcades. Toyota is now using Miku for a series of ads as well, and they even showed a commercial prior to Miku’s Los Angeles debut (drawing some boos, but probably more good will). Ultimately, however, Miku is animated by the energy of fans, and that’s why watching Miku’s steps into commercialization will be interesting.

Miku reinforces some of the lessons for civic media that we’ve heard before: people need to feel a genuine openness to participate; sharing and dialogue are key to building a community; free culture is more generative than controlled-IP systems; cooptation and commercialization are always risks, especially as popularity increases.

But Miku offers a particular schema of distributed creativity, different than both Wikipedia and human celebrities. Miku lacks a back-story. She has no pre-defined personality. She doesn’t exist in a singular made-up fantasy world. This Wikicelebrity makes old-fashioned human celebs look like appliances, when the future is platforms.

Might this provide alternative ways of thinking about democracy and participation as well? If the social realities outside leaders themselves are what generate action and popularity, then questions of media should turn less on representational content, and more on the nature of platforms, how open they are, what forms of creativity they allow.

I’m getting a good feeling about this. Do help us make next Monday the first of many incredible meetings between Venus and Miku. Glowsticks optional.

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September 26th, 2011

Brinksmanship

2nite at Beat Research!

Somerville DJ Brinkley Sound makes his club debut after a long tenure spinning both punk and disco shows on left of the dial radio station WHRB, and making noise with local bands including The Sinister Turns and Hedge Fund.

In homage to his namesake, John R. Brinkley, founder of the nation’s most audaciously powerful “border blaster” radio stations, Brinkley Sound will bring a mixed and re-mixed bag of pan-American party-starting beats, with a nod to the sample-heavy sounds of New Jersey club music. Somewhere between hardcore punk and ‘ardkore rave, this is music for all-night dancing and all-night whosampled.com checking alike.


For a taste of the sui generis sound DJ Brinkley Sound has been developing, check his soundcloud for tracks that draw on juke, dancehall, clubb music, punk, and other forms of #blackswag, e.g. —

Rise Above (WBPLZ #blackswag rmx) by Brinkley Sound

Overboard Riddim (props to Messr. Crâne) by Brinkley Sound

Ooh Baby by Brinkley Sound

As it happens, Mr. Brinkley (aka Dan Thorn) took a class with me last spring and wrote a really great paper on the “Aural History of Jersey Club Music,” including trenchant observations on SoundCloud ecologies and the remarkable social life of the “bedspring” sample (which you might hear turn up in a track or two of his own). I’ve been pushing Dan to make a mini-mega-mix of the bedspring thing, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a brief bit from his term paper, which I’ve been encouraging him to publish somewhere officialish (editors, holler):

From Atlanta to Baltimore to Newark (with detours into the Caribbean), the “Some Cut” sample is a prime example of Jersey club’s status as a unique subcultural genre that nonetheless transcends regional sonic signifiers. While the sample itself is heard as a unique feature of Jersey club, it also points to the music’s place in musical dialogue with many other localized dance music genres. By reusing “Some Cut” in novel ways, as a rhythmic element or as a subtle thematic comment, Jersey club producers have localized the song to a new context of use while adding value for future producers (who can now use the sample in the same or different ways), fulfilling Henry Jenkins’ requirements for “spreadable” media. Like Jenkins argues about this type of participatory media, Jersey club’s use of sampling emphasizes the agency of actors typically recognized as simply ‘consumers’ of music (in this case, high school students releasing music noncommercially) to change the meaning of media without overruling its previous definitions.

Despite the relatively linear timeline behind “Some Cut”’s deployment as a staple of Jersey club remixes, the genre as a whole can be only poorly understood by such a genealogical model, which requires distinction to be made between singular, original “texts” and subsequent adaptations. Rather, Jersey club remixes are what Jonathan Gray has called “paratexts”—materials that exist “outside of, alongside, and intrinsically part of the text.” Jersey club DJs rarely if ever remix existing club tracks; rather, they go back to the source material and create their own iteration, often within the same time frame as the first remix. It is therefore impossible to authoritatively say that any one Jersey remix of, say, Lloyd’s “Lay Down” is the exemplary text against which all others are adulterated versions—a fact that club blogs have admitted when simultaneously posting several remixes of the same source material by different DJs. If, as Devereaux has argued, Baltimore club music is an expression of an inclusive urban identity, Jersey club might be understood as an expression of an inclusive digital identity, an example of music as social life where the online production, reception and discussion of club tracks is inseparable from their production and reception in New Jersey and elsewhere. The social aspect of Jersey club must be understood as thoroughly as its musical features, in what Georgina Born has theorized 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.”

Jersey club producers turn the most ubiquitous of the pop songs forced upon listeners worldwide into raw material for remixes that present those songs for what they ultimately are—bursts of possibly interesting sounds competing for one’s attention among a multitude of others. Their remixing practice can therefore be understood as a decommodification of music acting alongside and against music’s commodification in the form of CDs, MP3s and other formats. The music increasingly takes the form of noncommercial, Creative Commons-licensed tracks for free download on SoundCloud, which demonstrate not only their young producers’ skill with media production technology (one form of ‘media literacy’) but also their canny ability to approach pop music as a means for acts of individual creativity, without being intimidated by the professional aura that rearguard critics like Andrew Keen mistake for a sign of a work’s quality.

Yeah, kid got an A.

Also, he had this to say about Dubbel Dutch’s great Screw Jersey mix from a little while back —

Screwing (Jersey) club is a pretty clever idea, since many club tracks sample vocals from slower pop/hip-hop songs without changing the pitch – the end result is music at close to the same tempo as a fair amount of the sample material, but this time with all the vox in that distinctive screw range. It’s an interesting way to hear the songs again (I especially liked hearing “Obsessed” after this process) and I guess it couldn’t have worked so well if club music pitched its vocal samples to match the tempo.

Expect to hear all of this and more tonight at Enormous Room as Dan takes us to the Brink.

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August 30th, 2011

Incoming / Outgoing

Despite my relative silence here this summer — about which, more soon — big tings a gwaan, especially as the fall semester rolls around.

First up, I’m thrilled to report that I leave today for Rotterdam, my first visit to Holland / the Netherlands! I’m fortunate to have been invited to participate in a conference gathered around an exhibition on Bengali film at De Nieuwe Oogst

You might be wondering what I have to say about Bengali film, but you’ll have to ask me after the weekend is over for that. Happily, the conference organizers are using the event to stage some broader conversations about media and popular culture, and I’ve decided to take the opportunity to organize my thoughts around a topic that’s been bubbling up on my blog from time to time: Dutch club music — or more specifically, the contrasting media ecologies and aesthetic affinities between 90s bubbling and 00s dirty house / moombahton. In other words, Dutch club music from Moortje to Munchi, with a lil Afrojack along the way. Or in other words:

Look at Me Now: Dutch Club Music from Invisible Local Marginality to Invisible Global Ubiquity

Holland’s bubbling scene of the 1990s was so unremittingly anchored in local sites of realtime production and material circulation that in two decades, with few exceptions, the genre has hardly migrated beyond Rotterdam and the Hague. In marked contrast, contemporary Dutch house producer Afrojack, whose style audibly emerges from a national club music inspired by bubbling’s distinctive take on foreign but familiar forms, could credibly be counted among today’s top-tier producers of global dance-pop (if often overshadowed by US-based partners such as Diplo and Pitbull). Moreover, Afrojack’s remix of “Moombah,” slowed down several clicks by a Washington DC-based DJ named Dave Nada, has served as the basis for an emergent genre, moombahton, that enjoys a similar breadth of engagement and international circulation, but with relatively little attention to questions of Dutch origins — again, offering a striking departure from bubbling’s insistent locality and marginality. Although at a glance, then, the formal aesthetic qualities of mid-90s bubbling and today’s moombahton might have a lot in common — highly referential and resonant drum loops, Afro-diasporic signposts, a strong embrace of denatured synths and samples — a closer attention to their particular contexts and technologies of production and circulation can reveal striking shifts in the cultural politics of urban Holland, and the wider wired world, in an age of digital and so-called “social” media. Tracing the shapes and forms of Holland’s club music from bubbling’s Antillean counterpublics to the multicultural mix of participants addressed by Dutch “dirty” house and moombahton, this paper examines the distinct media ecologies that fostered the rise of such styles while considering the implications for understanding how musical media can facilitate forms of social collectivity and interaction, mobilization and disarticulation, audibility and illegibility.

See here for the full program. I’ll be giving my talk on Friday, Sept 1 at 11:45am as part of a panel addressing questions of “Urban Form.” Even more exciting (for me anyway), I’ll be DJing an afterparty on Friday night alongside Munchi himself! (not to mention State of Bengal and Nafer Loves You) It’s gonna be fun connecting all these dots! Sentello velocity indeed…

The second upcoming event I want to mention here is another DJ gig of sorts. On the evening of September 7, I’ll be performing at openLAB_03, a gathering at Harvard’s cool new experimental research unit, metaLAB, happening in conjunction with the Berkman Center’s iLaw conference.

The directors have been using the openLAB event series to present projects from Boston-area artists and share ongoing metaLAB experiments with the public. The theme of openLAB_03 is remix/curation of media archives (“broadly interpreted,” I’m told). Along these lines, they’ve asked me to reignite the Boston Mashacre/Smashacre stuff I worked up a few years ago, and I’ve decided that the next chapter in this series of sonic explorations of Boston’s sound(scape) will focus on radio transmissions.

Although I haven’t had a chance to write about the subject here yet, I’m deeply interested in how Boston’s radio landscape offers a uniquely audible picture of the city and the people who live here. The vivid, if often muted, presence of low-power and “pirate” radio stations — especially emanating from Caribbean communities — is something I’d like to explore, and accentuate, especially alongside the crushing amount of hi-fi, ClearChannel, middle-of-the-roaditude that saturates the airwaves here. In terms of aesthetic procedures, I plan on toying with degrees of distance and difference, signal and noise. To that end, I’ve been making my own “personal” (and/or public) archive of Boston radio scans, which I plan to cut up and loop and reassemble in the spirit of, e.g., my 2003 Jamaican radio edit.

Not sure yet about the title — think I’ve exhausted the (s)mashacre schtick, so maybe something like “Towers of Power” — but, at any rate, I hope something suggesting these power relations emerges in the performance. Will share in audio form here once I get a chance to bounce it all down, but please do come to openLAB_03 for the live mix if you’re in the area.

Association with the Berkman Center is always a felicitous thing, IMO, and I’m happy to report that, in addition to this latest bit of convergence, I’ve been selected to serve as one of the Berkman Center’s Faculty Associates for the 2011-2012 academic year (alongside a humbling list of luminaries).

Speaking of the academic year, the fall semester is soon to commence, and although I don’t have time (right now) to go into the long story of my academic employment situation, I’m excited to report that although my fellowship at MIT ended this spring, I’ll be continuing to teach here in the Boston area. I’m offering two courses this fall, one at Brandeis and another at UMass-Boston. I’m delighted to be teaching at both institutions, and very much looking forward to meeting the students. If you happen to know anyone at either place, please help spread the word. In brief the deets are:

1) On Monday evenings from 5:30-8:00 at UMass-Boston, I’ll be attempting to fill the very large shoes of Reebee Garofalo, who is retiring, teaching his perennial and popular course on the “Social History of Popular Music.” This is a great opportunity to dig into the question of the “popular” and how it opens into, emerges from, and informs social history. I’ll share the syllabus here as soon as I’ve got it into good enough shape. It’s being offered through the American Studies department (AMST 235).

2) On Tuesday nights from 6:30-9:20 at Brandeis I’ll be returning to the topic of “Reggae, Race, and Nation” for the department of African and African American Studies (AAAS 171a). The syllabus will not look too unlike my Global Reggae course for MIT (now on OpenCourseWare!), though I will be tweaking it a little, of course.

These topics are near and dear to my heart & work, and I feel fortunate (if a little undercompensated — twice the teaching for 20% the pay!) to be able to continue thinking and talking about music, popular culture, and social history & theory for a “living.” Nice work if you can get it. Do help me out by directing good students my way!

Hope to see some of y’all at some of these things. And I promise to fill you in on my Summer of Relative Silence very soon. Also, I’ve got some pieces of writing to share. Soon come, patient readers, soon come.

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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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