Archive of posts tagged with "blogging"

October 20th, 2010

Shapes, Colours, African Kidz

I’m really gonna give this subject a rest soon, but let me attempt a slightly more oblique approach.

One dimension of the underlying critique in Grant’s comments seeks to draw lines of value and authenticity between what he wants to position as a kind of first-order cultural production (doing/making stuff) and second-order skimming (talking about stuff that got done/made). In this way, like many others, he positions bloggers, journalists, academics, critics, et al., as essentially parasitical. Of course, this is an especially ironic assertion given the degree to which we’re enlisted into the PR machine. But it’s also a misleading distinction since all these activities are inevitably interwoven and circuitous — not to mention that so many of us are engaged in several overlapping domains of cultural production at once (working as DJs, producers, writers, teachers, etc.).

It’s a rather derisive, defensive sneer, rearing its head now and again (occasionally making my ears burn):

It's intellectuals and people at colleges that are writing diatribes about race and ethics.

I find this snark pretty specious, especially since it posits a false dichotomy, or three. The main one for me is: who says you can’t grapple with race and ethics in musical terms? Why cede such matters to prose? (Moreover, why leave it to institutions of higher learning to ask hard questions?) This seeming disjuncture between musical communication, as such, and communication about music is precisely what has motivated my ongoing efforts in musically-expressed ideas about music.

So, enough (real)talk for a moment, let’s listen to something along these lines:

AFRICAN KIDS! by Old Money

When Canyon brought this track to my attention last week, I was thrilled. It was as if my blog had developed AI and was secretly secreting tracks. How could it sit on SoundCloud for four months without finding its way to my ears? While I dug the production, I was especially tickled by the lyrics, which seemed to be quoting MIA’s imagistic gloss of Kala for the Guardian — ‘Shapes, colours, Africa, street, power, bitch, nu world, brave’ — which, as noted way back when, proved crucial in pulling me down the “brave” “nu world” rabbit-hole.

Some readers out there might be familiar with the Old Money crew, who Canyon tweetily described as “NY funky/subtle soca via West India & East Euro,” from their appearances in such trusted hot spots of the hype machine as The Fader or my inbox. Since I had their email address handy, I hit reply on their latest bit of e-promo and asked about this months-old song that I’d never heard, including whether they were actually alluding to MIA.

The following is from Scheme’s generous and articulate response — like the track itself, it speaks volumes about where we’re at in this brave nu world:

I think what motivated us to make that song isn’t too dissimilar from what may have motivated you to write your most recent series of posts. Identifying troubling aspects in the nuplanetarywotchumacallit and going from there..

There was basically a stretch of time leading up to that song where I feel like not a week would pass where I wouldn’t see a video of some sort with the elements mentioned in the track – found footage, shapes, colors, (((African kids!)!)!). Some of these videos/songs (and I’m referring to jawns from the west inspired by various global riddims) conveyed a faithful, genuine interest in the music, culture and people involved. Some of them, however, did not. How does one draw that distinction exactly? And, well, does it matter? As I think you well know, that’s where it gets murky. … And it felt like no one was talking about it. Or too shook to.

Then not long afterward, an artist by the name of Leif – I doubt he knows this, or us for that matter – but he also helped push things over the edge from theory to record. I don’t have the patience to go all the way back through his timeline – but he more or less expressed some discomfort along the same lines. Helped affirm in our heads at the time (by now I think this is spring summer maybe earlier – the thought process, not making the actual song) that it aint just us and we aint crazy.

That was the baseline…my boy Dre took it further, riffing off of the Sandra Bullock People mag cover, (“Wheeerrrrrre di baby dem deh, huh?!?? Me haffi get me one! two! tree! four! five! six! / Adopt a tribe, and try, fix!) – which in my most biased opinion is brilliant – cuz it’s still related. Ha!

Also – this song was partially composed/fully recorded in the comfort of an apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. Double Ha! For other reasons – that’s another conversation.

Back on track – I sent “AFRICAN KIDS!” to a few select blogs after we made it. No response. My boy felt like I should have sent it to everyone who usually fux with our music. I didn’t really feel like this was for them. Felt like they wouldn’t get “it.” But it turns out, no one “got it”, or liked it. Or maybe just offering it as a stream and not a download hampered it being picked up? Or…something else? Iono. But I thought it was interesting that less critical/confrontational/threatening material of ours got light and this didn’t.

…Oh and was that an M.I.A. quote? If so – unintentional. Sardonic tone wasn’t aimed her way. Actually a really big fan of hers.

Count me a really big fan of Old Money for this one. #confetti

ps — by request, Old Money have enabled the track for download now (as an aif to boot!), so go ahead and grab it & add a little bitters to your nuplanetary cocktail

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October 20th, 2010

Realtalk & Sockpuppets, Little People & Worldly Worlds

makin confetti
darts not pictured

Against my own best intentions, the saga continues.

While some interesting but sprawling discussion continues to happen on the cumbia worlds post, my more recent entry, detailing an exchange with Barbès’ Olivier Conan, was derailed late Friday evening by a classic bit of trolling:

just goes to show that a musicologist, journalist, bedroom blogger, cultural critic can never really understand what someone as brave and ballsy like olivier, not to mention inspired and inevitably broke, is living. mec’s in peru following up on his passion that inevitably is positive for music while wayne constructs opinions from the interwebs and industry press releases. at least give him a minute to respond before writing.

zziiinng! jace jizzed his pants from all the internet hating and bating, now he applauds. cant wait to see his followup from the musical enterprises of soot/duttyartz.

And even though I know I’m not supposed to feed the trolls, they’re so relatively (and mercifully) rare here, that I couldn’t resist responding to what, even without knowing who the poster was, clearly was discordant with the tenor of the conversation and, in many ways, rather wrong in its assessments:

I dunno, “tom,” you seem pretty out of tune with the whole discussion to me, but maybe that’s just a result of your falsetto.

My sympathy and appreciation for what Olivier does, now that I better understand all that he does, has grown, but I still stand by my critique of the PR. & I don’t try to pretend, as you seem to want to do, that any of what we do can be extricated from internet & industry. I also find it ironic that in your own glee over what you smear as baseless snark, you present a really uncharitable and unfair profile of yours truly. I’ve got balls too, buddy, unlike an anonymous troll/sockpuppet like you. & I’ve done a lot more than push words around in my life, including a lot of things you praise Olivier for — traveling to foreign lands, meeting musicians and collaborating with them, going totally broke in the process, trying to do positive things. so check your own ignant self.

also, i blog from my living room.

But I couldn’t stop there. You see, I’m not nearly as thick-skinned as I’d like to be, despite knowingly projecting my voice (and hence inviting all manner of responses). Anonymous swipes can still sting, even when off-key and off-base. (I don’t want you to get me wrong any more than I want to be wrong in actuality.) So I did what I always do when I encounter such a comment, I clicked on the IP address to see where in the world it was coming from. To my surprise, WordPress revealed that I had received another comment from the same IP just the day before:

just goes to show

If Grant Dull, aka El G, of ZZK was actually behind this sockpuppetry, I told myself, I’m going to be pretty disappointed. This is the same guy, after all, who I had just hosted at Beat Research and at my home (where we dined on homecooked Boston Baked Beans & consumed a couple bottles of our homemade wine) — a guy that I picked up at the airport (after removing our two carseats), drove around Boston, spent social & cultural capital on to get him & his label local press coverage, & spent actual, out-of-pocket capital on to offer up a little more cash than our modest Monday stipend from the club (which was still less than we would have liked to give — to their credit, the ZZK guys knew Boston would be a loss for them and still came thru; then again, they did say we turned out maybe the vibiest, dancingest crowd all tour).

It was galling to think my generosity would be so repaid. I couldn’t resist, so I confronted him over email. As I think my last post demonstrated, I prefer to be civil and sensitive in my interactions with people — and that’s something I prize about the conversations on this blog (which gives me pause as I write this, knowing I’m fanning a flame war) — but treat me like this, and I won’t mince words. I’ll tell you exactly what I think of you. The exchange went like this

can you explain the coincidence in IP address on these two comments? (see attached)

plz tell me you wouldn’t pose as an asshole sockpuppet on my blog. i thought i did you (& knew you) better than that.

To which Grant responded, apparently with no sense of irony:

you got me! get tired of all the hating in the music circles, dudes need more support.

At this point, my so-called lack of support became a lot realer:

that’s really wack, man. i’m disappointed. i think i’ve offered you & zzk lots of support, if occasionally in the context of some criticism; same goes for barbes. that’s just what i do — that’s me trying to be honest. (no “hating” involved.) in the future, it’s gonna be a lot harder for me to support you, knowing you could pull some shit like this. the whole point of the last few posts is that we need more honesty in this biz.

i’m gonna sleep on this for now. but i’m sorely tempted to keep the call for transparency going by outing your lame ass.

Grant’s immediate reply went like this, once again brimming with irony:

youre right, i know, i shouldnt have hit send. i wasnt attacking you but internet/journalism culture in general. this kind of post opens it up for haters, and those who love to criticize via the internet. we’ve been criticized plenty by people who have had minimal contact ie rupture with what we’re doing. and in major news publications! that’s whack.

i shouldnt have sent it but nobody stands up for anybody in these circumstances, and hiding behind anonymity keeps me directly out of the argument, where id prefer not to be. if u wanna call me out you have every right.

Twelve hours later, when I still had not replied (and though no longer “sleeping” on it was still thinking about it quite a bit), Grant sent a follow-up:

wayne im very regretful about what i did. im sorry, it was foolish of me. please dont out me, i posted under a psydenum for a reason. i know, it was dumb. i feel ashamed. i respect you and your friendship however briefly it was and feel like a big asshole for goating a situation i obvioulsy know little about. i live in my own world and should stay there. again my apologies for being such a douche. i respect rupture too, obviously. shouldnt have thought that my stirring up the pot/defending the little guy would do any good for this whole scene.

Plainly, I’ve decided not to respect Grant’s request to keep this under wraps. It does little in the way of sympathy that he can’t resist, even when appearing contrite, to position himself as a “little guy” beset by “haters” (ah, post-Diddy parlance). Having weighed it for several days, I’ve decided — against the take-the-high-road advice of my bean-baking better-half — that a proper airing-out is what is best. I hope the ensuing conversation ends up more productive than, say, like this. I sure don’t want to keep stirring the pot if all we’ve got cooking is crabs in a barrel. (And I will not necessarily be indulging sockpuppets and other trolls below.)

I’m not sure who the “little guy” is in all of this — or who’s littler than whom. Whether or not Grant’s a little guy, though, he did show himself to be somewhat small (and a bit of an internet amateur).

My decision to make all this public is not primarily vindictive. Rather, I want to take the opportunity to respond to what I think may be an underlying (incoherent but emergent) theme in Grant’s two comments: namely, that all of this music hype biz is a series of hustles, including what he does, what PR folks do, & what bloggers and journalists and academics do. In that sense, I’m part of this networked hustle too, grabbing page views by producing stuff about other people producing stuff.

I agree that we’re all imbricated. That’s why, when I began exploring the nu whirled world, my initial focus was on bloggers. (And indeed, the post preceding the cumbia critique once again scrutinized the role that blogs play in all of this.) But I have to admit I bristle a bit in calling this blog a hustle. As playful and pomo and sometimes cynical as I can get in this space, it strikes me as far too disingenuous to think of what I do here in that way. Perhaps I’m still too grounded in certain norms of academic exchange, but generally I like to think of the discourse on this blog — by myself and from commenters — as conforming to Paul Gilroy’s wonderfully succinct description, in Postcolonial Melancholia, of what makes the academy a special place insofar as

contentious and heterodox arguments will be politely heard with patience and in good faith before being refuted in a public culture for which we all assume responsibility. (9)

I try to assume that very responsibility as keeper of this blog, and I think of my posts as attempting something similar across the various, wider public spheres in which this relatively small corner of music chatter circulates. This makes my blog different from the average enthusiast “music blog,” and I can only assume — and hope — that whoever puts me on a promo list would understand all of this before pushing their wares my way.

But I am as often an enthusiast as a critic. And one of the things that makes me throw a lot more confetti than darts these days is what I’ve been conceiving as the turn to “music industry 2.0,” a world in which, thanks especially to the advent of professional-grade digital tools, bringing the costs of production and circulation down close to zero, ordinary people engage more than ever before in everyday acts of media creation and curation, assuming a certain responsibility for co-producing our public, participatory culture. (The “2.0” part, which I know is horribly trendy, not to mention creepy, is intended on the one hand to bear witness to the — often insidious and unstable — role that so-called web 2.0 platforms are playing in all of this, and on the other, to signal a new regime in the mode of production of popular music.)

Among other effects, the global diffusion of such technologies and practices, and the networking of it all, may also be producing something akin to “world music 2.0,” a peer-leveled planet of musical interplay which finally lives up to the name — even as it undermines any coherence such a term could have. This is a world in which neither Chicago nor Paris nor Luanda nor Lima are more obviously (or unmarkedly) central or peripheral than anywhere else. A world where difference need not disappear, so much as appear a little more mundane. A worldly world! A world in which, to quote Gilroy again, one

finds civic and ethical value in the process of exposure to otherness … in the ordinary virtues and ironies — listening, looking, discretion, friendship — that can be cultivated when mundane encounters with difference become rewarding. (67)

Notably, as we consider this brave new world of music industry with so many possibilities and so little money, the one thing that’s not nearly as cost-free as production and distribution, and thus not yet so democratized, is promotion — guaranteed placement in the hype machine. Access to promo dough is, hence, what still separates the (relative) big wigs from the little people.

Is it really any surprise, then, that I would turn my attention to PR? Especially to PR which seems to address itself to, if not issue from, a world — in other words, a public culture — so different from the one in which I would like to live?

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September 30th, 2010

Nu Planetary Wot-U-Call-It 2.5.5

first page of returns for “world music” on google images —
world music 1

first page of returns for “global ghettotech” on google images —
global ghettotech 1

The release of Lamin’s EP leads me to think about all sorts of things, stubbornly but slipperily inserting itself into ongoing dialogues in my head and in the worlds of music discourse in which I find myself.

Is this African music? I dunno.

Is it world music? Gavinsays, fuckityesitis.

Is it global ghettotech? Shut yo mouth.

What it makes me think about in the context of all these questions is: to what extent do individuals like Lamin or collectives like Dutty Artz actively direct discussions about music today and boldly navigate the brave new worlds of post-scarcity music industry, and to what extent are their efforts inevitably shaped by, or folded into, those same discourses and forces?

This brings us back to the crux of the question about world music, or global ghettotech, or transnational bass, or wot-ever-u-call-it. What is the nature of the mediation of the encounter with difference that these terms tend to entail? Are we talking about translation, filtration, curation, collaboration, production, or some odd admixture of them all?

When I first started thinking aloud about open-eared music-blogging as a kind of translation for a new world/whirled music, I pointed to what seemed like some interesting, promising efforts in that arena: among them, the work of blogs like Masalacism, Ghetto Bassquake, Mad Decent, MuddUp!, et al.

These blogs seemed to be doing some interesting cultural work: playing off an emergent, inclusive interest in global hip-hop, dancehall, and international party/club culture, they sought out music with familiar-but-foreign signposts and in the process cultivated — for themselves and their readers/audiences — an open-eared orientation to a wide world of music that hadn’t really been on the metropolitan radar. These blogs differed widely in terms of the context or tone or clarity of what they were doing, but aside from some small but significant ideological differences, they seemed to be doing fairly similar things.

global ghettotech 2

I’m talking about championing genres like reggaeton, funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia, etc. And, for the record, I wasn’t the only one proposing that we might understand these activities as akin to — even as they diverged from and seemed to critique — what previously fell under the awkward umbrella of “world music.” XLR8R, for instance, ran a piece called “The New World Music” in August 2007, beginning, understandably so, with the acknowledgment that “World music” is a horrible idea and hailing such figures as Diplo and Maga Bo, who seemed to function both as curators of a certain sort, seeking out and sharing the latest greatest sounds on the planet, and as producers in their own right, making new music out of their digs and collabos.

Perhaps more than anyone, Diplo has been celebrated — as well as hit with the culture vulture tag, skewered as a newfangled Paul Simon, a privileged “First World” middleman/tourist/colonialist exploiting raw materials from the so-called periphery. But that sort of critique lacks nuance to say the least. While we no doubt need to be vigilant about asymmetrical power relations and questionable representational regimes, we also need translators and filters, especially good ones (and I actually think Diplo, generally, is a good one) — the sorts of thoughtful xenophiles that Ethan Zuckerman calls bridge figures (even if, um, Ethan’s prime example is Paul Simon).

world music 2

For the most part, these artists and blogs/collectives have grown over the years: increasing their number of collaborators and contributors (and encouraging kindred blogs to pop up — word to Generation Bass and Dave Quam), consistently broadening musical horizons (and, often, sustaining interest in former flavors-of-the-month), and expanding their range of operations to go well beyond “writing” a blog. Having effectively created markets and nurtured scenes around a particularly weighted (get low), open-eared approach to electronic dance music — heavily Afro/diasporic in style & militantly, but rarely smoothly, hybridized — many of the long-running blogs in this vein have launched their own record labels over the last year or so, largely specializing in digital releases.

Moving beyond simply posting mp3s found on 4shared, or YouTube embeds, or rips from “pirate” CDrs — all of these valuable activities, of course, which continue apace — and into actually “releasing” (& sometimes selling) music from the people and places they find themselves drawn to, or from a network of producers inspired to make something new out of these distinctive but overlapping styles from around the world, is an interesting development, to say the least, for whatever we want to call this scene.

global ghettotech 5

Some of the releases by these global bass blogs come from expected (as well as unexpected) bassy hotspots of the Global South, some are fashioned in the multiculti metropoles, and a lot of it blurs these lines so much it frustrates categorization. While the output has varied quite a bit across these labels’ efforts, in general the releases seem, significantly, to emphasizes whirledliness over worldliness — the latter is in there too, but generally as ordinary if not intimate cosmopolitan experience, not fanciful, distanced exoticism.

Take the following cross-section: from Dutty Artz, CIAfrica‘s decidedly rough textures or Lamin‘s disarming synths; from Mad Decent, the 3Ball MTY kids, who source their materials via random YouTube walks and (already!) remix commissions; or Botswana’s Ruff Riddims crew releasing reggaeton-inflected kwasa-house (which can’t get play on the radio in Botswana, ironically, because it’s not hip-hop or reggae enough) through Berlin’s Faluma; or Masalacism putting out Haitian-Canadian kreole-rap over dubstep-dripped beats; or Dave Quam initiating Free Bass with some footwork-inspired, hermetic jukery c/o a Washington-based teenager; or Ghetto Bassquake making all kinds of Hackney high life (including stellar remixes by Chief Boima and Uproot Andy, no strangers to the scene).

world music 4

What’s great is how these blogs, having initially demonstrated their openearedness and got tagged (or self tagged) as cued into the world / whirled / global / ghetto / tropical / bass thing, are now participating in it at another level entirely. It’s a moment full of possibilities and risks. And, yes, a time for #realtalk, as Tally put it, tossing the bloggy guantlet just the other day —

But I want to make sure our extended family understands what moves we are making, and why. This isnt abo’ut selling more albums then mad decent, or having hyper raves parties then trouble and bass. We are creating a sustainable business model that allows for our work to reach the world AND provide us with the resources to continue pushing beyond ourselves. Major changes are in order- and I dont want any of you- our extended DA family – to be left behind. One of the most important tenants we follow is transparency. WE ARNT TRYING TO HIDE BEHIND BIZ3RRE MARKETING AND EXPENSIVE GRAPHIC DESIGN. WE JUST DO THIS FOR OUR PEOPLE SO YOU KNOW Y’ALL CAN HAVE IT.

I’m gonna run a follow-up post, of sorts, in a day or two, trying to keep the #realtalk flowing by discussing a few other approaches in this weird “world” world. This is where the rubber meets the iPhone, seen.

But speaking of #realtalk, just yesterday erstwhile reggae scribe extraordinaire Dave Stelfox tweeted this:

"global ghetto"

A few minutes later, this infelicitous phrasing turned up in my inbox:

"Pan-Ghetto diaspora"

Like Dave and many others, I can find pretty irksome this use of “ghetto,” especially as sensational / salacious imagery or vague thematic gloss, in the circulation and marketing of so much of this stuff. That’s what I was trying to get at with “global ghettotech” in the first place. It’s a term that’s been surprisingly embraced in certain quarters. It was, however, as David Dacks noted way back, a sardonic term from jump, at least for me. I never meant it to be taken as at all “literal,” as Steve Goodman (aka Kode 9) suggests in Sonic Warfare. Rather, the term was supposed to finger a suspect ideological tinge to the representational practices around a set of global dance genres — a familiar litany which Goodman also rehearses while offering an ante-ideological affective-level theory of the dreadful, bass-materialist ontologies of international, urban soundsystem practice. (Or was that, “making sense of the new war economy attention and acceleration hype of hybridized mutant youth digital sonic shared p2p capital2.0 today“?)

The same thing that animates Goodman’s conjuring of a “Planet of Drums,” nodding to Mike Davis, is precisely what might be termed a “pan-Ghetto” condition. (But don’t get me started on “pan-Ghetto diaspora” — I have no idea what that means.) And the power inequalities Goodman emphasizes, not least the control over increasingly targeted and militarized urban soundscapes — ironically, according to Goodman, a contest fostering, with wicked feedback, all manner of resonant and recombinant electronic dance musics — are also the animating forces propelling the “global bass” scene, or wot-ever-u-call-it. (Don’t ask me.)

So before we too quickly condemn (all politically-correct-like) the invocation of the ghetto as a certain global locus, we should remember that an address to and across the world’s ghettos is often quite explicit in a lot of this music. I was reminded of this yesterday morning via Twitter as well, this time by Samim (another interesting node in the circulation of these sounds — in his case, as a cumbia smuggler), thanks to the following video produced by Maga Bo, but as his collaborator Teba says in the intro, “for all the ghetto youth dem all over the world” —

I’ll leave you with Bo’s video description at the YouTube page, which puts plenty of blogposts to shame. Note the amount of context and credit he provides. At once, translation and production:

After many visits to South Africa, connecting with the African Dope Records crew – Fletcher, Teba, Sibot, and Max Normal in particular, DJing all over SA from Cape Town to Joburg, producing and recording music, here is the third video clip to accompany my record, “Archipelagoes,” released recently on Soot Records. “Nqayi feat. Teba.” was also chosen to represent the sound of Cape Town on the latest African Dope Records compilation, “Cape of Good Dope 2.”

The video was shot over 2 days in Guguletu, probably Cape Town’s most notorious township and Teba’s home turf – with all borrowed equipment – borrowed camera, boom box, the car on loan, people leting us into their houses to film. Back in the day, Teba was a member of the super successful kwaito group Skeem, which put out several albums before he left to do more socially conscious work. He now leads workshops in lyric writing and gumboot dancing (!), is part of the African Dope Sound System, has his own live band and has collaborated with the likes of Stereotyp and SiBot.

A slow hybrid baile funk/macumba/ragga beat sung in Xhosa and English, the lyrics talk about the difficulties faced by youth in townships today and how society tries to force them to drink and take drugs. Nqayi means baldhead and refers to fake rastas posturing themselves, but then bending over to the pressures of society and shaving their locks. An interesting element of the lyrics to this track are in the chorus where he uses the Xhosa ‘q’ sound, a click made with the tongue and the roof of the mouth, as a percussive element. Check the end of the video for a quick lesson…..

Please post this to your blog, mybook, facespace, twittering twit, your neighbor’s refrigerator, the local cafe bulletin board as well as your good natured local DVD pirate or where ever you want!

Actually, I think I’ll leave the final word, for now, to Dutty Tally, writing from Rio:

#globalghetto

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May 14th, 2010

¡Postopolis DF!

Readers of this blog should know my love for Mexico City by now, so it’s with great pleasure that I announce my participation in Postopolis DF! A 5-day conference-conversation on urbanism in one of the world’s most amazing cities… In other words, if you were thinking of coming to DF this summer, now’s a great time… And don’t worry gringos, vamos a tener realtime Spanish-English translation for y’all. It’s going down the second week of June, June 8-12, at El Eco…

Oh wait, I didn’t write that (though I share the sentiment). DJ Rupture did. Which is yet another reason that I’m totally thrilled to be a part of

I didn’t write this either:

From 8-12 June 2010, Storefront for Art and Architecture, in partnership with Museo
Experimental El Eco
, Tomo and Domus Magazine, will host the third edition of Postopolis!, a
public five-day session of near-continuous conversation curated by some of the world?s most
prominent bloggers from the fields of architecture, art, urbanism, landscape, music and design.
10 world-renowned bloggers from Los Angeles, New York, Turin, Barcelona, London and
elsewhere will convene in one location in Mexico City to host a series of discussions, interviews,
slideshows, presentations, films and panels fusing the informal and interdisciplinary approach of
the architecture blogosphere with rare face-to-face interaction.

Each day, the 10 participating bloggers will meet in the magnificent courtyard of Museo
Experimental El Eco, designed by Matthias Goeritz, to conduct back-to-back interviews of some
of Mexico City?s most influential thinkers and practitioners – including architects, city planners,
artists and urban theorists but also military historians, filmmakers, photographers, activists and
musicians. The talks will be conducted in either Spanish or English, and translations will be
available. Each day of talks will end with an after-party hosted by some of Mexico City?s most
influential music blogs.

But I’ll be writing a lot while there, no doubt. (They’re turbo-charging the internettings at El Eco for the occasion.) And I’m really excited about how my slate of invites is coming along.

Not surprising to readers here, I’ll be staging a conversation (or two) around hip-hop in DF. Minding that the conference is concerned, in a rather capacious way, with questions of space and design, I’m aiming to focus on what we might consider hip-hop’s institutional embeddedness in Mexico City. Mil gracias to my man on the ground, Camilo Smith, a former writer for the Source and the LA Times (and smokingsection!), who’s been grinding in DF for the past year, looking hard into the local hip-hop scene(s). Check out this post on transnational “cholo rap” for a taste (or see the comments here).

With Camilo’s help, I’m plotting to bring in an assortment of MCs, DJs, and other practitioners as well as people who are directly involved in manufacturing, distributing, and, in a variety of ways, producing hip-hop there (in the form of shows, CDs, magazines, etc.). I’d like to ask questions about what it entails to run an independent label in DF, how the spaces where shows are held and music is exchanged fit into the larger music/media topography of the city, what’s the character of the interplay between locally and foreign produced stuff, not to mention, at the more symbolic level, how questions of race and place come into this. We’ll see how much of that we can jam in / tease out over a couple 15 minute blocks!

Camilo also turned me on to some striking visual artists working in the city and making stuff that really resonates with other longstanding curiosities of mine. One such, who I’m thrilled to announce is confirmed for Postopolis, is Said Dokins, whose work is very much in the vein of contemporary subversive street art which finds deep inspiration in graffiti style and practice. Take for example the recent piece, “Avionazo en la Plazuela,” a project pasting paper planes in the Plaza del Aguilita in Mexico City which the artist describes as “a satirical reflection on the mechanisms of threat and power in which we are engaged, the political farces and scenarios created at the expense of the suffering and disruption of others”:


click through for more images

…whereas “Re-Birth” a work of video art produced w/ Mauricio Rodriguez takes flight from graffiti culture in a totally different way —

Another artist who Camilo pointed me to, and who I’ve confirmed for Postopolis, Trinidadian ex-pat Wendell McShine, also works in mixed media, including video, like this evocative short:

EL PEQUEÑO LIBRO NEGRO from wendell mc shine on Vimeo.

The video above is apparently a sketch of some sort for an ongoing series called “La Puerta Abierta.” It’s clearly inspired by a lot of classic Mexican iconography, and yet it takes some wonderful departures too, drawing on some shared cosmological ground between Mexico and the Caribbean. McShine recently had a showing of another part of the series, “Behind the Blue Door,” at Gallery FIFTY24MX | Upper Playground in Mexico City. The following video account of the opening drew me in with the Slum Village intro; the evidently enthusiastic response his art is getting in Mexico City is impressive —

OPENING NIGHT- BEHIND THE BLUE DOOR from wendell mc shine on Vimeo.

This article about McShine’s work led me to an interview with the folks who run Upper Playground Mexico. Some of their comments at the end of that interview, where McShine’s art is described as combining “animation, illustration and fine art with a mixed Caribbean-Mexican feeling” made me really wonder about how we can talk (concretely?) about making contemporary art inspired by national folklore (whether it’s one’s “own” nation or not) without, as the Upper Playground people put it with regard to another artist, “falling to cliché.”

But let me back up a bit, the artist in question is Saner (glossed as a “graffiti artist” in the video above) and what they specifically say about him is that he’s “one of the few Mexican artists that explore our countries [sic] folklore without falling to cliché.” I couldn’t resist looking into Saner’s work of course, and it’s hot like fire (sometimes literally).



So I’m psyched to round out my invited speakers with the trio of Wendell McShine, Saner, and Lili Carpinteyro, one of the head honchos at Upper Playground Mexico. I haven’t quite figured out, as with the hip-hop invites, how best to parse all of these fascinating intersections, but I’m looking forward to the challenge — and to the privilege of enjoying such (humbling) power of invitation!

Finally, it should go without saying that I can hardly contain myself in anticipation of the other 50 or so fascinating folks who’ll be coming through and sharing some aspect of what they do. Click through my esteemed blogger colleagues’ sites for their own announcements in the coming days and weeks —

Urban Omnibus (Cassim Shepard) www.urbanomnibus.net/
Intersections (Daniel Hernandez) www.danielhernandez.typepad.com/
DPR Barcelona (Ethel Barona Pohl) www.dpr-barcelona.com
Toxico Cultura (Gabriella Gomez-Mont): www.toxicocultura.com/
Tomo (Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa) www.tomo.com.mx
Mudd Up! (Jace Clayton aka DJ /rupture) www.negrophonic.com/
Edible Geography (Nicola Twilley) www.ediblegeography.com/
We Make Money Not Art (Regine Debatty) http://we-make-money-not-art.com/
Strangeharvest (Sam Jacob) www.strangeharvest.com

Oh and did I mention there’ll be evening events organized by local music bloggers, Blog Non Stop, and that I’ll be playing some 3-5 parties alongside DJ /Rupture and N-RON? (More on those later.)

Suffice to say, if you’re in Mexico City, or have some way to get there, you should definitely join us for this. Seems like it might even rise to the level of amazingness that makes DF one of my favorite places in the world. This’ll be my third time there in three years. ¡Que suerte!

Ok, back to that odd mezcla of rusty Spanish brain and Google Translate as we continue making plans…

Postopolis! DF is organised by Storefront for Art and Architecture, and presented in partnership with El Eco, Tomo, and Domus. Additional sponsors include Mexicana, the British Embassy, Urbi VidaResidencial, UNAM, Difusión Cultural UNAM, Cityexpress, and XXLager. Special thanks to the organizers: Joseph Grima, Daniel Perlin, César Cotta, José Esparza, and Blog Non Stop.

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April 26th, 2010

This Totally Made My (Vampire) Week

Ezra Koenig, the brainy singer from the brainy band Vampire Weekend, did me the awesome service of bigging up this here brainy blog in the latest issue of Rolling Stone (Issue 1103, 29 April 2010). One upshot is that I actually went out and bought something with Black Eyed Peas on the cover.

It’s also the first time I’ve purchased an issue of Rolling Stone since Kurt Cobain bodied himself. (I actually had a subscription back in the grunge days.) Rolling Stone ain’t exactly what it used to be (exhibit BEP), and I suppose it’s always been pretty MOR (even when selling counterculture), but it also runs some occasionally classic music criticism and longform exposés. Plus, as our Vice President might say, it’s still a pretty BFD.

I also get my name on the same page as ?uestlove and Russell Brand, so yeah, pretty cool. Here’s a scan of the bottom righthand of p.91:

I’d like to return the favor in some way — not that VW needs my help or anything, having had the best selling album in the country when Contra came out earlier this year.

I have to admit I’ve been struggling to say something about Ezra & co’s music — in part because I haven’t really had enough of a chance to sit with it, & in part because, despite the obvious resonance with stuff I’m interested in, I tend not to listen so much to “rock.” But bands like Vampire Weekend or Tanlines (who’ve been ringing in my ears since seeing them slay at SXSW) are slowly drawing me back into music-with-guitars precisely because of the way they’re engaging with the world beyond indie whiteness. Also, how could a band with a song called “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (two of my favorite things), or who make “reggaeton homages” not endear themselves to me?

In the continuing absence of an adquately brainy analysis of Vampire Weekend of my own (which is trickier to perform, I must confess, now that @arzE and I are Twitterquaintances), I will instead point W&W readers — including any newcomers via RS/VW — to some of the smartest responses to Contra I’ve had the pleasure to read:

Most of these address the obvious if unavoidable issue of appropriation (and the privilege it seems to index). This is something I’ve obviously thought a lot about on this blog, if more often with regard to other spheres of nu-world music. I have to say that I found Bob Christgau’s question-of-an-answer to the question of whether VW should borrow from classic African pop, or not, pretty persuasive: “There’s no way any American pop band could equal it. But try to emulate it? Really, why the hell not?”

Plus, this old Columbia student paper piece, pre-big-break, is pretty charming and convincing re: VW’s self-knowingness (“African preppy”), their genuineness about Afrobeat, and, well, tbh, some serious similarities to me, a dude who also taught public school and performed “witty rap riffs” (sometimes at the same time) right after attending an Ivy League college, all while geeking out on all the music I could get my ears around, Afrobeat included, and increasingly “sampling” it — in my case, literally — and making my own things from it, and refashioning myself in the process.

Along these lines, I recommend this interview with Afropop.org in which the band go further into the backstory of their encounter with & embrace of African music. Hearing that those Orchestra Baobab reissues, which I myself picked up and jammed on a few years back, influenced the band, I’m tempted to become an annoying, facile critic and call this post-worldmusic, but let’s not go there. I’m so post post by this point, aren’t you? Still, you knomesayin.

Finally, if, like me, you come from a place (regardless of your grungy past) suspicious of “rock” “bands” and “guit” “ars” you couldn’t find a better way into VW than Toy Selecta’s demented Contra Melts.

Oh, and here’s a recent video, starring the RZA ~

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April 16th, 2010

big gyptian (riddim meth0d repost)

[Ok, here’s another oldie-but-goodie from the Riddim Meth0d vaults. Plenty of readers are no doubt familiar with this post/mashup, especially since I’ve revisited the issue. In the time since I wrote it (almost 5 years ago!), I’ve also had the strange fortune of submitting a brief report — about the significance of “Big Pimpin” to Jay’s and Timbo’s respective oeuvres — to the lawyers working for the heirs to Baligh Hamdi’s copyrights. (For the record, while I don’t want to contribute to bad legal precedent, I’m generally ok with taking some of the money that explodes outward as rich people sue rich people, as long as I get to tell the truth as I see/hear it. Also, this likely won’t go to trial.) This example also finds its way into a chapter I’m contributing to a forthcoming book on Pop-Culture Tools for the Music Classroom. Finally, I want to thank the lovely humanitarians at archive.org for preserving the post and — more importantly — the comments on it. I’m happy & relieved to recover the comment thread from the initial RM post, which I will paste in at the bottom of this re-post. It’s hard to lose conversations to the e-ther, even little ones. For the record, this was initially published on 19 September 2005.]

riffing off pace’s east-meets-west blend and continuing my experiments with mashes of musically-related songs, i offer up an orientalist oddity: jay z’s “big pimpin’,” as produced by timbaland, mixed with abdel-halim hafez’s “khosara,” the song that provided timbo with the inspiration for the slinky, flute-propelled loop that undergirds j-hova’s jam.

wayne&wax, “big gyptian” (j-hova v. abdel-halim hafez)

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although there was some controversy about the similarity between “pimpin'” and “khosara” (including talk of a lawsuit), timbaland apparently escaped penalty, at least at present, because in this case he replayed – i.e., re-recorded – the two-bar section (rather than digitally sampling it), and the sense appears to be that the underlying composition was not original and/or substantial enough to be infringed in this case. you will hear in the four-bars that begin my mashup that timbaland’s beat bears a very strong resemblance to the original. [note from 2010: i have since changed my opinion on the question of whether this features a sample or not, based on irrefutable evidence.]

this is not an unambiguous case. because the music in question is a short loop and it is re-recorded rather than sampled, it seems reasonable for timbo to get off the hook. of course, not only is the musical reference a clearly recognizable one, the two-bar phrase in question is an important part of the original, serving as an intro and as a recurring riff (notably, returning after the vocal section). at the same time, the fact that, according to this article, label owner magdi el-amroussi would have denied timbo the ability to use this fragment – “Because he’s changed the composition” – also seems to argue for timbaland’s right to do it. despite that timbo and jay used the flute loop to craft a somewhat crass (if catchy) song about pimpin’, the world would be worse off with such arbitrary, authoritarian restrictions on derivative works, whether the so-called owner of the copyright is disney or a seemingly stodgy label owner.

what i like about this mash, as with the “code of the beats” experiment, is that one gets to hear more of the original, which is great in its own right, and thus one understands the sonic inspiration at work here. at the same time, hearing the source alongside the “derivative” track offers new ways of hearing the originals. in this case, one gets to hear how timbo’s interpretation changes the original: rather than a recurring motif, the flute loop now undergirds the entire composition, moving its emphasis toward rhythmic repetition and bass frequencies. similarly, rather than supporting some southern-fried, slap-a-bitch rap, timbaland’s breezy beat, enhanced by additional winds and strings, instead accompanies the mournful, melismatic singing of abdel-halim hafez, the “king of arabic music.”

although timbo’s beat has always had me open, i gotta admit that jay’s lyrics (and those of his cohorts) tend to put me off. frankly, they make me cringe. as much as i can see the attraction of expanding the pimp-metaphor (as with the hustler, badman, etc.) and of playing the role – at bottom, it is a position of power, par excellence perhaps – i just can’t get with the misogyny when it comes down to it. similar to oliver, i have a hard time recuperating exploitation. so, rather than playing any of the verses, or even the chorus, what i have done here is to “dub in” a few of the phrases in jay’s verse that seemed more “positive” or at least could be interpreted that way. “love ’em” (without the “leave ’em”) seems about as good as it gets, though i found some others, too.

after putting the phrases together, i was struck that the line “take ’em out the hood, keep ’em lookin’ good” suggests quite another set of meanings when heard in the context of egyptian music: one can either hear jay-z critiquing conservative islam’s call for women to wear veils – recalling vybz kartel’s “you nuh haffi hide your face like bin laden gal” – or one can hear him assailing the american-style torture interrogation techniques so symbolized by hooded abu ghraib prisoners.

and despite its appearance before 9/11, “big pimpin'” does tap into our historical moment nonetheless, sitting alongside a host of other orientalist beats in hip-hop, dancehall, and various electronic genres. the resonance of middle eastern music in the world’s (urban, popular) musics has been building for some time, reflecting centuries of history of interaction, not to mention a contemporary and increasingly visible and audible cultural presence in the US.

even so, representations of middle-easterners and islam in the US (and, say, UK) remain as stereotyped and distorted as the “eastern” musical figures in contemporary popular music. the article in al-ahram notes that the hip-hop press completely conflated various asian/orientalist signifiers when trying to describe the egyptian sound of “big pimpin'”:

The identity of the composer of the song, though, has been lost within the crazy machinations of the hip-hop world. A review of the song on MTV describes it as “Bollywood-wigged NOLA bounce stutter-stepping,” ignoring its Egyptian roots. Another review describes the beat as featuring “Z droppin big willie rhymes over a swaying, South-Seas flavoured groove that’s a happy musical marriage of Brooklyn and Bali.”

so it is also my hope that a mashup of this sort can serve to bring a little more awareness to the actual music whose ghosts and caricatures today haunt mainstream radio and the global underground alike. the hafez original could serve as a window into a wonderful world of truly amazing music, which, really, should only further justify the existence of timbaland’s homage. (let’s face it: they’re not exactly competing in the same market; one’s existence does not diminish the other – on the contrary, they enrich each other’s resonance.)

i recommend tracking down the original recording of “khosara” – never mind various live versions – and giving the song a listen. it certainly holds up on its own. (i’m sayin’, how do you think it came into timbaland’s hands?) in fact, given that the infringement suit seems like a non-issue, and considering that so many of us really dig the same sounds that inspired timbo and jay-z, it would be dandy if hafez found new listeners by virtue of timbo “putting him on.” you can find one version of “khosara” on CD here (and listen to a real-audio file of the whole thing), and you can hear much, much more from him here. enchanting stuff, no doubt. listen to this alongside some um kulthum, and you’ll get a good sense of mid-20th century egyptian popular music.

a word on technique: i have pitched the hafez recording up slightly in order to match the timbo version (since the latter had the more compelling, bumping center, which i would rather not distort). when the hafez makes harmonic changes, however, i shift the timbaland up in pitch to match it (which, yeah, sometimes sounds a little weird – but this is all kind of weird to begin with, no?). i have simply replayed the first vocal section of the hafez after the jay-z-quoting dubby section in order to give the track’s form a kind of roundness. because the hafez original is substantially longer than i imagine most people’s attention spans are, i decided to excise the rest of it. (when i tried out an earlier mix of these at a boston-based college-bar, it was clear that heads were not ready. it nearly caused a riot on dance floor, and not in a good way. but i insisted on making it through at least one round of hafez’s singing before bringing back the jay-z. the manager thought i had lost it. i quit that gig shortly thereafter. when i played the same sequence at beat research, where there also happened to be some egyptians in the house, people went bananas for it.)

one final note: i’ve added some additional, locally-inflected percussion here. having added this mash into my set at the boston bounce party a couple weeks ago, i already had the two tracks arranged with some bounce-y beats underneath (i.e., all the percussion that enters after the first eight bars). i decided to leave the beats in because they give the track some nice extra drive (if obscuring some of the halftime feel of the jay-z) and because i’ve been enjoying this odd beantown groove lately. “big pimpin'” and “khosara,” both with tempos in the mid-130s, were well suited to a boston bounce refix. it’s kind of a funny tempo, i think – unsettling with its constant question, “too fast or too slow?” – but between grime, garage, b-more, techno, soca, electro, and the occasional uptempo hip-hop or dancehall oddity, among others, beats in the 130-140 bpm range seem all the rage of late. at any rate, what’s another node in the network? shit’s messy enough to begin with. i think that’s why it sounds so good.

in case you missed it at the top:
wayne&wax, “big gyptian” (j-hova v. abdel-halim hafez)

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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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February 24th, 2010

Reanimating the Castles

Pacey Foster has a great post over at his blog detailing a recent discovery of — and creative engagement with — a 1914 book published by Vernon and Irene Castle, perhaps the premiere dancing couple in the pre-jazz age and crucial players in the formation of the “society” dance scene in NYC during the 1910s.

Go read the whole thing and feast your eyes in particular on the animated gifs Pace has constructed from the book’s plates, e.g.



I love the way Pace’s gifs bring these dances (back) to life, esp if admired alongside some of the music provided by the Castles’ in-house band, led by the great James Reese Europe.

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I also like how Pace uses this (re)discovery and (re)animation to reflect on contemporary conversations about global flows of music and dance and (our?) cosmopolitan attachments to them:

From the Cortez, to the beautiful Tango to the Brazilian Maxixe, the Castles certainly seemed hip to the latest global dance trends. They even provide some historical guideposts. “The Tango is not, as commonly believed, of South American origin. It is an old gipsy dance which came to Argentina by way of Spain, where in all probability it became invested with certain features of the old Moorish dances”. What’s more, the first recording made by Europe’s Society Orchestra was the tune Maxixe (though it’s rarely included on Europe comps). I don’t know the story behind the selection of this Brazilian themed tune for the first song recorded by an African American band on a major label, but I’d love to hear it. In any event, with my pals tracking more recent/rapid diffusions of global dance/music trends, I love finding antique examples that seem so similar (if kind of slow mo) in their features.

But don’t just take it from me, go over to Pace’s & check the technique & leave a comment if so inspired. And while you’re at it, don’t miss his similar-but-ska gif (& raggahouse mix!).

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February 17th, 2010

odes to billie joe (riddim meth0d repost)

[Here’s another Riddim Method re-post, featuring a couple mashups which I made all by myself (with the help of Kazaa and Ableton). It attempts to embrace a “riddim method” approach to music blogging — to focus more on musical texts that say things about music than wordy texts. I liked the playfulness and directness, as well as obliqueness, of such an approach. As you’ll see, I nevertheless also like the sound of my voice. The exuberant verbosity below — in stark contrast to what you’re reading here — embarrasses me a bit at this point. But, for me, blogging has always been about putting stuff out there — projecting my voice, so to speak — and hearing how it changes. Feel free to skip the words and listen to the tracks. This was first posted on 30 August 2005, an age ago.]

riffing off kid k’s inaugural post, i’d like to offer a couple mashups of my own for my first entry here. in this space, my posts will generally take the form of musically expressed ideas about music. much as i love words, it is music which draws me in, which informs my ideas, and which, in the end, communicates differently – and sometimes more precisely – than words.

this approach – this riddim method, if you will – is something that i have been trying to carve out over at my own blog, and i’m eager to explore it with some real focus in this new forum. look for more music than words from me here, but i’m already spilling more ink than i would like to, so let’s move on to the music.

wayne&wax, “odes to billie joe”

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“odes” is an attempt, like unscrewed music, to execute a musical idea that i had. if mashups are so good at demonstrating the proximity and distance of two or more pieces of music, then the form would also lend itself to new reflections on the proximity and difference of multiple interpretations of the same song. and it would do so rather directly: laying one version on top of another reveals their differences immediately and almost constantly. it also reveals their similarities and their serendipitous (and intentional) signifying on each other. a unique interplay of consonance and dissonance arises from such combinations – a crazy counterpoint made all the more beguiling when one warps the songs to match each other in terms of tempo and key (broadly interpreted).

not that other examples haven’t already transcended the genre’s predisposition toward novelty and nostalgia, but there is something about mashing covers that also seems to take mashups beyond simple signification – dude, eminem sounds so gay over that britney beat! in this case, the mashup has the wonderful effect of making it sound like bobby gentry is being accompanied by a double-quartet comprising tommy mccook’s and lou donaldson’s late 60s groups. their juxtaposition transforms a sparse, spooky country lament into an otherworldly torch song. saxophones weave around the voice and each other, rocksteady pulls against soul jazz funk, while the singer lags behind and darts ahead of her able accompanists.

the central song here is an exceptional one: gentry’s haunting hit of 1967, “ode to billie joe.” but the covers are remarkable in their own right. donaldson’s version is, of course, a classic, providing one of the most cherished and frequently used breaks that hip-hop has ever had. mcook’s version, probably as influenced by donaldson’s version as by gentry’s, cooks in its own way – a rocksteady instrumental, the riddim section bubbles on while their jazz-steeped, ex-skatalite leader blows away the competition (which, since he recorded this cut for duke reid, would have been his erstwhile bandmates over at studio one). together, the three versions make a fourth that seems to stand on its own legs, if woozily.

a brief technical note: i’ve pitched down gentry’s voice so that she blends better with her bands. also, despite the constant presence of some great drumming in both “rhythm tracks,” i couldn’t resist imposing another layer consisting of the intro break from donaldson’s version – the same break that you’ve heard in countless hip-hop beats. i’ve also looped the mccook and donaldson versions after their second pass through the changes, largely because both groups, later in their performances, depart from the regular progression that gentry’s version follows. that’s all well and good for a jazz jam, but here i thought it better to keep them all together. finally, i settled on a tempo in between all three versions, though significantly slower in gentry’s case, which for me, only serves to draw out her dreamy drawl.

and while we’re on the subject of cover-mashups (quick: someone suggest a snappier name), allow me to point you to one more that i’ve done along these lines:

wayne&wax, “hawaiian wedding songs”

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this one i put together for my dear friends amy&ron who moved to honolulu a while back and may never move back to the mainland. (jah bless ’em.) here’s how i described the making of this mashed-up matrimony music:

for the wedding of my dear new-honoluligans, i was excited to have stumbled upon the existence – nay, proliferation – of the hawaiian wedding song, which has been recorded dozens of times. i went straight to kazaa and downloaded as many versions as i could find. i was lucky enough to locate renditions by jim reeves, elvis presley, andy williams, santo and johnny, and makaha sons of ni’ihau.

using the andy williams version as the tonal center, i pitched the other tracks around until i found relationships that sounded good to me, but not according to any “rules” of harmony. (you’ll hear that there is a good deal of “dissonance” between the tonal-centers i settled on.) i then “warped” each of the tracks – dig the incidental alias-tremelo effects – so that i could sync them in time at the somewhat arbitrary (but, i would add, stately and banging) tempo of 75 bpm (which happens to be 15 bpm faster than the original tempo of the andy williams “lead vocal”). in some cases, i applied filters and other effects to the tracks, especially since, as random, peer-to-peer mp3 files, they were not always of the highest quality. in the case of the fuzzed out slack-key track (the timbre of which i’ve come to like quite a bit), i used bit-reduction and white-noise to cover up the unlistenable digital belches of a shitty mp3. when pitched up to fit the andy williams tuning, the elvis sounded downright eerie and jim reeves hopped right on the kanye-wagon, so i decided to bring them in later in the song as “backup singers” of sorts. to round out the form, i use a couple classic breaks – the blackgrass and billiejoe – sometimes in combination, and thus give the crooning a bit more drive. (i like the way that the rolled snare gives the track an air of gravitas, if in an ironic kind of way.) finally, i cut and paste some parts here and there, such as the opening percussion loop, culled from the elvis cut.

so there you have it. interestingly enough, as you can see, the two mashups of covers (quick: someone suggest a snappier name) that i offer you here both employ the billiejoe break, which is a total coincidence but a nice bit of synchronicity all the same.

it is my hope that others will take this approach in foreseen (hendrix meets dylan along the watchtower anyone?) and unforeseen directions. i think it has a lot of potential, especially with some rich resources around. the tools are out there, too: live5 does mp3s, and its new-and-improved automatic beat-detection is scary good (except with reggae, which, with the strong offbeats and all, tends to come out upside down, or downbeat up).

the upshot of all this: get a concept. cute don’t cut it in a kitten factory.

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February 17th, 2010

Mr. Duty Head

Now, you know, dear reader, that I don’t want to work, I just want to bang on this blog all day —

mr.<s>potato</s>bongo-head

— but duty calls, whether as a dad, a teacher, a fellow, or a Boston beats booster.

At any rate, realizing it’s been two weeks since I last posted something here, I’m starting to feel duty call as a blogger. So stay tuned for some big posts and some fun rehashes. And thanks for checking in from time to time.

As always, if you’re wondering what I’m reading and thinking, there’s always this and that.

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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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