Initially serving as an outlet for the IDM scene and its offspring, the label has since undergone a series of radical overhauls, consistently wrong-footing its detractors and cementing its position at the forefront of all things electronic. In the mid-2000s the label served as an essential platform for dubstepâs launch into the mainstream; in recent years it has become renowned for championing Chicago footwork, helping to plant a previously obscure music firmly in the global musical consciousness.
With footwork for example, how did you discover that? Was it something you stumbled across?
MP: âYeah. I think Wayneandwax posted something on his blog, maybe, and I clicked a link. Then I just followed all the YouTube links from there, and there was shitloads of stuff, and it was all completely amazing in its own way. Although we got a lot of criticism from certain corners of Chicago for releasing DJ Nate. So then I suppose we had to redress the balance slightly.â
Noncommital attribution or not, I do appreciate the nod. (Thanks, Mike, if you still read on occasion.) Can’t help but be delighted by even the faintest possibility that this here blog had something to do with oddball Chicago bedroom / rec-room music crossing over into the global bass mainstream (for better and worse). I started blogging about juke back when I lived to Chicago and discovered imeem (at the same damn time). Sudden juke goldmine even if everything was pretty much streaming at horribly compressed levels. And I was a certified Nate booster, so that might explain some things too. If this really was the chain of events, sure was a roundabout way to finally score some Nate 320s!
Speaking of betterdom or worsement, allow me to share a bit more:
In general do the Chicago scene approve of what youâve done with footwork?
MP: âI think they just want to make money. I mean I think they care whether theyâve been represented, individually, correctly or not, obviously. And that the scene has been represented OK. And thatâs why they didnât like what had happened about DJ Nate â self-appointed scene members were upset by it. But above that, I suppose everyone wants to be successful. I think artistically we were successful [with Footwork], but it hasnât been the best-selling thing. Some of the artists made advances from us, and thatâs been good for them. And Rashad and Spinn have been playing out a lot. Iâve always wanted Hyperdub to release some [footwork]. Because I felt like people were looking at Mu as if it was mental, releasing all this Chicago footwork. I wanted not to be alone. Though there are a lot of labels releasing pseudo-footwork â even us, even Planet Mu.â
What sort of things are you referring to?
MP: âPeople like Machinedrum. FaltyDL has been doing a bit of it, though I donât think itâs been released. I think Machinedrumâs has been successful in that it wasnât emulating footwork â he was taking a deeper sort of response to it. But there has been a lot of other things â like Krampfhaft â itâs all a bit pyrotechnic-ey. I donât think the European and white American response, unless youâre in the [Chicago] scene, has been that successful. Itâs not very grassroots is it, itâs just part of the post-dubstep scene, and so thereâs not really a big reason for it to exist other than, âOh Iâve been listening to a bit of this, Iâm going to put it in my musicâ. Some of itâs more successful than others. I think the first successful track for me â apart from Machinedrum â was Mark Pritchard as Africa Hi-Tech, âOut In The Streetsâ. But then Markâs a fucking great producer.â
My first reaction was: don’t blame me for future-juke! Just kidding, my actual first reaction was: gotta appreciate the candor. Paradinas appears to come by his love for and opinions about the music honestly. Gotta appreciate as well that he’s put some Chicago-based producers, established and emergent, into circulation for entirely new publics — and into little more posterity than the socialmedia “platform” du jour.
The Young Smoke album Planet Mu put out last year was one of my favorite things of 2012 and still resides on my smartphone many months later (which is something, trust me). To think that I might have had some passing influence on the processes that led to this music finding me 6 years later puts a little smile on my face, no lie.
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 âmusical borrowing,â 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 Ăthiopiques 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 PicĂł 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:
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
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.
Here is the syllabus for a new course I’m teaching this spring at the Big H. It’s the culmination of a few years of piqued curiosity about “public” as term and concept, noun and adjective. As happy as teaching technomusicology made me, this sort of course — an intense, focused series of readings on a subject I find fascinating — has few parallels as far as intellectual pleasures go. Here’s hoping I have a good team of co-readers glad to read along. (I’ll note that, aptly, a great number of these readings are available, ahem, publicly.)
Without further ado…
Music 208r: Musical Publics
In the age of technological reproducibility and mass media, and especially since the advent of the Internet, the Web, and social media, the notion of the public is an ever shifting but paramount concern. Thanks to its special affordances and remarkable ubiquity, music offers a powerful lens into questions of publicness and public spheres. How do musicians and musical textsânever mind musicologistsâaddress particular publics, and how has this changed over time?
To better understand musicâs role in public culture, this course examines the idea of the public sphere in historical and theoretical perspective. From philosophy to the social sciences to more recent theoretical propositions and ethnographic work, we will consider a variety of publics, the (musical) media that bring them into being, and the implications for acknowledging music as part and parcel of collective experience. Our study will span the rise of print culture, the broadcast era, and the more recent development of what have been dubbed networked publics.
Week 2 / Feb 5 — Foundational Texts Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. (p. 1-78)
Habermas, Jurgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991 . (browse all, but esp: 1-56, 159-243)
Week 3 / Feb 12 — Critique & Elaboration Calhoun, âIntroduction.â In Habermas and the Public Sphere, 1-42. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992.
Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56-80.
Hansen, Miriam. âUnstable Mixtures, Dilated Spheres: Negt and Klugeâs The Public Sphere and Experience, Twenty Years Later.â Public Culture Vol. 5, No. 2 (1993): 179-212.
Week 4 / Feb 19 — Print Cultures & Imagined Communities Anderson, Benedict. âImagined Communities.â In Nations and Nationalism, a Reader, eds. Philip Spencer & Howard Wollman, 48-59. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.
Bohlman, Philip V. âComposing the Cantorate: Westernizing Europeâs Other Within.â In Western Music and Its Others, eds. Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, 187-212.
Kay Kaufman Shelemay. âMusical Communities: Rethinking the Collective in Music.â Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Summer 2011): 349- 390.
Week 5 / Feb 26 — Mass Cultureâs New Musical Publics Middleton, Richard. ââRoll Over Beethovenâ: Sites and Soundings on the Music-Historical Map.â In Studying Popular Music, 3-33 (esp 3-16). Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990.
Suisman, David. âPrologue,â âWhen Songs Became a Business,â and âThe Musical Soundscape of Modernity.â In Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music, 1-54, 240-72. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Gitelman, “The Phonograph’s New Media Publics.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 283-303. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Hilmes, “Radio and the Imagined Community” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 351-62. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Week 6 / March 5 — Aural Public Spheres Hirshkind, Charles. “Cassette Sermons, Aural Modernities, and the Islamic Revival in Cairo.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 54-69. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Ochoa Gautier, Ana MarĂa. “Social Transculturation, Epistemologies of Purification and the Aural Public Sphere in Latin America.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 388-404. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Week 7 / March 12 — Racial Authenticity as Public Form Radano, Ronald. “Music, Race, and the Fields of Public Culture.” In The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, eds. Clayton, Herbert, and Middleton, 308-316. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Gilroy, Paul. ââAfter the Love Has Goneâ: Bio-Politics and Etho-Politics in the Black Public Sphere.â In The Black Public Sphere, ed. The Black Public Sphere Collective, 53-80. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995.
Diawara, Manthia. âHomeboy Cosmopolitan.â In In Search of Africa, 237-78. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Novak, David. âCosmopolitanism, Remediation, and the Ghost World of Bollywood.â Cultural Anthropology 25:1 (2010): 40-72.
Week 8 / March 19 (No class â Spring Recess)
Week 9 / March 26 — Counterpublics Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2002. (p. 1-188)
Bickford, Tyler. âThe New âTweenâ Music Industry: The Disney Channel, Kidz Bop and an Emerging Childhood Counterpublic.â Popular Music 31/3 (October 2012): 417â36.
Week 10 / April 2 — Networked Publics (part 1) Castells, Manuel. âCommunication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society.â International Journal of Communication 1 (2007): 238-266.
Ito, Mizuko. âIntroduction.â In Networked Publics, ed. Varnelis, 1-14. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.
Week 11 / April 9 — Networked Publics (part 2) Benkler, Yochai. âEmergence of the Networked Public Sphere.â In The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, 212-72. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
boyd, danah, “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In A Networked Self, ed. Papacharissi, 39-58. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Week 12 / April 16 — Publics & Social Media Baym, Nancy & danah boyd. âSocially Mediated Publicness.â Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56:3(2012): 320-329.
Marwick, Alice and danah boyd. âI Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.â New Media & Society, 7 July 2010: 1-20.
Crawford, Kate. âFollowing You: Disciplines of Listening in Social Media.â In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 79-90. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Sterne, Jonathan. âThe MP3 as Cultural Artifact.â New Media & Society 8:5 (2006): 825â842.
Week 13 / April 23 — Precarious Publics & Platform Politricks Dean, Jodi. “Why the Net is not a Public Sphere.” Constellations Vol. 10, No. 1 (2003): 95-112.
Gillespie, Tarleton. âThe Politics of âPlatforms.ââ New Media & Society Vol. 12, No. 3 (2010): 347-64.
I’ll be in NYC this weekend participating in the annual EMP pop conference, always a lively gathering of people who not only care about music but care about finding the right words to talk about music. I’m pleased to be involved in two promising panels — a roundtable with the likes of Eddie Stats, DJ Rekha, Chief Boima, and Venus X on Friday; and a panel with some Cluster Mag family on Sunday.
The explosion of international sounds in the pop sphereâassociated with Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and M.I.A, among others–has been paralleled and driven by a mirror-underground usually simply called global bass, ghetto bass or tropical bass for lack of a better umbrella. Ghetto bass in particular implies the convergence of urban centers around the worldâNew York, Johannesburg, Rio, Bombay, Kingston, Luanda and othersâinto a single urban space–a ghetto archipelago–connected by youtube, DJ blogs, filesharing and software sequencers.
We propose a roundtable to explore the politics of this convergence, in particular tracing: 1) the connections of specific, localizable urban styles; rap, Bollywood, kwaito, Baltimore club, dancehall, baile funk, bhangra, cumbia villera, etc.âwhere they merge into this new melting pot/marketplace 2) the power dynamics of cultural appropriation, tastemaking and music discovery within this digital space–and how technology has altered (or reproduced) the dynamics of previous iterations (world music, âraceâ music, ethnomusicology, etc.) 3) the model of âpost-racialityâ as it collides uncomfortably with the realities of music production.
We believe the best way to engage these issues is not through the presentation of papers but in a dialogue between critical voices and the creative producers behind the actual events and recordings under discussion. Drawing on NYCâs status as a global metropolis par excellence (and home to flagship nights like Basement Bhangra, Que Bajo, NY Tropical, Made in Africa, Ghe20 Gothik, etc.) members of the roundtable will include (but not necessarily be limited to): Edwin STATS Houghton, Rekha Malhotra, Wayne Marshall and Venus X Iceberg.
“Music as Social Life in an Age of Platform Politricks”
The advent of socially networked media sharing sites such as YouTube and SoundCloud have facilitated an unprecedented democratization and deprofessionalization of popular music. Thanks to the relative ease and affordability of pro-grade production software and global publishing capacity, today we bear witness to an interminable flurry of new and endlessly reworked musical texts. Local and translocal scenes alike have sprung up around shared musical signifiers, software presets, and hashtags. In the wake of such striking industriousness, the conglomerate formerly known as “the music industry” is increasingly overshadowed but hardly out of the picture. For today’s cultural vitality coexists with a state of precarity as video and audio uploads routinely disappear or become muted, victims of an outmoded copyright regime and clunky audio-detection algorithms. Despite a sea change in how music is made and circulated, emerging from broadcast culture into a more decentralized, peer-to-peer process, twentieth-century business models and interests continue to shape popular music, often in subtle and insidious ways. Public culture is being remade in the age of social media (and music’s outsize role in it), but these popular “platforms” for our individual and collective creativity are far from the public resources we imagine them to be.
Before I offer an embed, allow me to cut-n-paste their poignant, soulful framing of the project and its settings & subjects –
Colony Collapse is filmed at sites of ecological friction, the fault lines of conflict between humanity and (the rest of) nature. For examples we used….
Lapindo (Sidoarjo) Mud Disaster is an eruption of scalding mud and flammable vapors triggered by a gas drilling gone awry. It has buried more than a dozen villages and blocked a major highway, and is expected to keep expanding for the next 25 years. Lapindo is located close to the home town of the the director (Tooliq) and singer (Nova).
Below a freshly shattered dam on the shoulder of Merapi mountain. This required a meeting with an important Islamic mountain shaman, who wanted to know we weren’t up to anything frivolous or disrespectful. After the vetting he sent his crew to guide and protect us, some men went upriver a few kilometers to warn us by mobile phone if a new flood was coming down.
Bantar Gebang is a landscape of trash. Garbage stretches farther than the eye can see. Mountains, rivers, and even villages where the trash-pickers live. Not something easy to summarize in words.
A supermarket nested in a mega-mall within a skyscraper. Air conditioning, shopping carts, muzak, just like any posh supermarket. But right outside is a the permanent traffic jam of Jakarta, a sprawling mega-city of at least 10 million.
Thanks to the many who graciously tolerated us filming in the midst of their disasters: be it a sea of toxic mud or just the daily commute. Extra thanks to those who hosted, drove, filmed or loaned gear. And of course it wouldn’t have been possible to complete without all of you who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign.
It’s a vivid, stunning piece of work. If you have the luxury, take Filastine’s advice and watch it in HD with some headphones or through speakers with a good subwoofer. If you don’t, no doubt there remains plenty to see and hear here –
I’ve got a piece in this week’s Boston Phoenix discussing the spectacular shuttering of Megaupload and the collateral damage produced by an increasingly aggressive copyright regime in tandem with a remarkable nonchalance about preserving the digital libraries we build. Some will recognize this as but the latest instance of platform politricks, just another rug yanked out from under folks tryna dance with each other. (Though it looks like another series of SoundClowns may be on its way!)
Anyway, check it out and tell me what you think. Shouts to Carly Carioli for reaching out about the piece and, along with Sara Rosenbaum, helping to whittle it down into something pretty darn sharp, if I say so.
As for this space, allow me to share a few linked-up grafs below that ended up on the cutting room floor, as well as some germane and entertaining media:
As with its predecessors, the sudden shuttering of Megaupload leaves a whole lot of holes in the e-ther. Among other random disappearances to tick across my timeline: the only copy of a personal video a friendâs father had recently stored there; and the sole upload of Nehru Jackets, the acclaimed new mixtape from Himanshu Suri of Das Racist (at least until a few hours later, as Suriâs supporters quickly re-upped the zipfile to similar sites). No doubt thousands of other innocent files were disappeared on January 19, but none are likely to get their day in court.
Of course, itâs hard to sympathize with anyone whoâs thinking is so clouded that they would entrust their only copy of something to a service that explicitly warned, in both its ToS and FAQ, of the possibility of complete data loss (with no liability on their part). And itâs even harder to sympathize with Kim Dotcom, the cartoonish founder of Megaupload. So apparently full of money, food, and hubris is Dotcom that Hollywood could hardly hope to cast a better villain. Indeed, few embody the foreign rogue in the crosshairs of SOPA and PIPA as well as Dotcom with his extravagant nose-thumbing at the MPAA and RIAA â never mind prior convictions for computer fraud, insider trading, and embezzlement.
But if Dotcom comes across as an odious parasite, itâs telling that many seem to prefer him as their middleman over more established gatekeepers. In the weeks before it was shut down, Megaupload had been getting under the skin of the recording industry not simply because of piracy; rather, the site was becoming a special thorn in the side because some of the industryâs marquee artists were publicly endorsing it. A promotional song and video (see below) featuring testimonials from the likes of Kanye West, will.i.am, Lil Jon, and Sean Combs began to make the rounds, as did rumors that producer Swizz Beatz had become CEO of the company. In the wake of the raid, Busta Rhymes took to Twitter to defend Swizz Beatz and Megaupload alike, arguing that the site offered a more promising and direct revenue stream to artists than Spotify.
Even if Megaupload was an obvious target, that doesnât make it easier to hear the pathetic giant paper-crumpling sound of thousands of non-infringing files disappearing behind a JPG of an eagle carrying a bad pun in its talons. As the chilling effects spread to similar sites, one has to wonder whether Megauploadâs demise heralds the beginning of the end of yet another functional but far too ad-hoc system for sharing media with each other.
And just in case you can’t appreciate the logo on the right up there, here it is a little more up close, deconstructing its own silly self and making a mockery of our supposedly noble National Bird –
Actually, as the title of my piece implies, the real National Bird looks more like this –
This was supposed to be a last minute entreaty to recruit a few more backers for Filastine’s attempt to kickstart the making of two rad music videos. But I just looked over at the page again, and it turns out it’s totally funded. Woo-hoo! Go go crowd-sourced critical culture! (That said, it’s still a great way to get his next album.)
As with most things Filastine involves himself in, I couldn’t endorse this project enough, and I’m thrilled to see it going forward. A singular artist-activist, Filastine gets creative when it comes to making stuff — and distributing it — recently offering up project-related mixtapes, appearing on occupy-themed compilations, and releasing tracks on his own label alongside a baker’s dozen remixes. And here’s an “artist statement” of sorts, via an email sent around about the project, to die for rise up with:
In case you you haven’t noticed, there is a worldwide uprising for social justice and against the supremacy of finance. From Cairo to Madrid, NYC to Oakland, it’s an exciting time to be alive. This dispersed movement against power and corporatism has re-inspired me, and given some hope that my art might resonate with a new public and reinforce the insurrectionary meme.
While I’m here, then, let me give a nod to another active kickstarter project worthy of some support. A longtime collaborator with Filastine, Maga Bo has recently finished his next album and is looking to help round out the release. Go over there and see what Bo’s offering in exchange for a little backative.
Also, while I’m here, I may as well send out a BIG big-up to Kickstarter itself. I’ve been roundly delighted with the projects I’ve supported there this year — the Loog Guitar, Beyond Digital, Music from Saharan Cellphones, and others — and in addition to the satisfaction of having helped these projects come to fruition, I’ve got some great stuff to show & play with & listen to as a result.
All that said, there may be a day in the near future when your favorite bloggers’ favorite bloggers ask you to do a little something for a little something we’ve got stewing. Watch out 2012!
For this week’s “Back Talk” — the Q&A that runs on the back page of the Phoenix — I had the pleasure to pose a few questions to Nancy Baym, a scholar who’s work (& Twitter feed) I’ve been following for a few, especially as my own research turns more to questions of music “industry” in an age of “social” media.
Nancy is coming (back) to town next week to take part in Rethink Music, “a solutions-focused conference” being staged by Berklee and MIDEM “in association with” the Berkman Center & Harvard Business School. I was also supposed to join a panel there, but I withdrew from the program a couple weeks ago based on contractual language that seemed, in short, out of step with any meaningful “rethinking” or reform of the way business gets done in “the” “industry.” (I was surprised and disappointed that the “association” with the Berkman Center failed to produce better boilerplate.)
I confess that I was lukewarm to the prospect anyway: the last thing I want to do, really, is to forestall the crash-and-burn of the current regime by sharing ideas about creativity and grassroots practice with them. (Though I’m still wondering who the audience will be for this event, given the hefty pricetag.)
At any rate, I’m happy to contribute in my own little way to any rethinking that might happen here in the next week by amplifying some of what Nancy has been thinking and writing about recently. You can read the full interview online here (the physical paper features an abridged version), but allow me to share a pull quote or two –
Does the question of “social exchange” (as opposed to economic) become more important in an age of “social media,” or just more noticeable? Where does something like (unpaid) “fan labor” fit into the equation?
Social exchange is both more noticeable and more important. It’s always been there. When I talk to musicians about what they find most rewarding in their engagements with audiences, they never talk about the fan who paid them $100 for a CD when they were only asking for $10. They talk about hearing that their music helped someone deal with a loved one’s death, they talk about realizing people had traveled far just to see them perform, they talk about receiving art that fans had been inspired to create because of their music, they talk about getting to travel and meet people in different cultures. These are all social rewards and none of them rely on social media, though they often arrive through those means.
Fans engage in unpaid labor for social reasons rather than economic ones. In fact, they often view monetary compensation as devaluing what they do, which is common in fan communities. They do what they do for one another because they want to share the pleasure they take in the music. They also do it to build their own status in fan communities. They do it because it brings more music into their inbox. They do it because it’s a way to form social relationships with the artists they love. Sometimes they do it to build a base for a career in music themselves, and some do move on from running a fan site to working for the label, but it’s rarely intended from the get-go as a way to make money. Just as people in the music industries need to recognize the social values that matter in the music ecosystem, people who think about the work fans do as exploitation need to recognize and respect the social rewards that these fans receive and value in exchange for their labors. That said, the potential for exploitation is always there and is something everyone involved should be sensitive to.
Your current research has brought you into conversation with rock stars, singer-songwriters, and globetrotting DJs. Are there ways in which certain genres lend themselves better to this moment of transition/disruption?
It’s been hard to get a pulse on this, because even within genres people are having such different experiences. Genres that are already heavily technological (like electronica) or highly personal (like singer-songwriters) lend themselves better to this era, the former because they are already game for experimenting with technology and playing with technological mediation as a means of creating connection, the latter because there is already a sense of intimacy and personal connection between musician and listener. But it’s really more about the attitude of the individual musicians and the team of people they’re working with than about the kind of music they’re making. This moment serves people who like to socialize with strangers and acquaintances, it doesn’t serve people who prefer to be private and just make music. Those differences exist within as well as across genres.
In this week’s Chicago Reader, Miles Raymer offers an informative and interesting account of SoundCloud’s recent policy shifts, as chronicled and critiqued here (and here and here) at W&W. I’m happy to note that I make an appearance in the article, alongside the one and only Catchdubs, providing some familiar points (if you’ve been reading here) in far less concise language than I typically try to use (ah, real time!).
SoundCloud’s decision to use Audible Magic points to a larger question: How big can a music-hosting service get while still supporting DJs and remixers? Is it possible for a site large enough to show up on the radar of the major labels to avoid accepting the majors’ strict-constructionist views of copyright?
“Deejaying is essentially playing other people’s music,” says Catchdubs. “Most people kind of realize that it’s 2011 and we know what the deal is with a DJ mix, especially when you’re not putting it up for sale. You know, I think there is a bit of a disconnect between the socially accepted uses of copyright and sort of what is legally down there on paper and, you know, the decision-making process of major-label legal departments and the RIAA and shit like that.”
SoundCloud is at a crossroads here. Right now its practices appear to defer to rights holders, allowing labels and publishing companies to determine almost unilaterally what counts as infringementâa stance that puts an undue burden on uploaders whose employment of copyrighted material might meet the criteria for fair use. Were SoundCloud to take the nobler and more difficult path, it would devise a policy that could differentiate between DJs and remixers on one hand and pirates on the other. Of course, it’s easier and cheaper for SoundCloud to just keep serving DMCA notices to its most passionate usersâthough taking that route could drive off enough of them to make it very expensive indeed.
“If it becomes too annoying,” Marshall says, “people are going to pick up and move to the next thing. That’s what I’ve been observing in all of these things. Either the platform completely disappears, or something easier with less hassle pops up.”
Cherry on top, someone over at the Reader shopped up the SoundCloud logo to make it rain on a DJ — and not in a good way — finally filling a request I made over two months ago!
In related news, I think James Blake might be baiting me. Mr. Next Big Thing recently told Spin that
Remixing is like musical prostitution. I think it’s really cynical and vacuous; I’m batting offers away like flies. It never used to be like that. Ray Charles didn’t need five remixes. The song speaks for itself.
As I’ve pointed out, taking the position of the haughty auteur who loathes remixes is especially ironic given how Blake built his own name by remixing the music of others, from Lil Wayne to D Child to Untold to — if we think of sample-based tracks as remixes of sorts, which they surely are — Brandy, R. Kelly, Kelis, and Aaliyah. All to overwhelming acclaim.
But I guess that act got tired once Blake found his “real” voice. Or once the whole business got sullied by money. There’s a big difference between pimping yourself out and just fucking around. Maybe Blake should take a cue from his legion fans and try just doing it for fun again?
Anyway, I can’t help but pick out another soundbite he offered the magazine–
Once I’ve made my music, where it goes is not my problem.
Following up on recentposts, I decided to do a little looking into how many remixes of James Blake’s “Limit to Your Love” currently reside on SoundCloud. I confess that I stopped after combing through 20 pages of returns for my (somewhat sweeping) search, though SoundCloud indicated that there were another 30 pages or so! With something like 10 tracks per page, that’s a helluva lotta James Blake on SoundCloud (of course, I have no sense of how that compares to other artists — who’s down to crunch some numbers with/for me? I need coders! Holler.)
I’ve decided to be pretty inclusive about sharing some of these with you here. On the one hand, I want to demonstrate a certain stunning diversity and fecundity (which a mere glance at the waveforms suggests). On the other, I want to do a little experiment and see how long these various sample-based tracks remain up on SoundCloud. Check back later to count the tombstones, absent their metadata like so many scratched-out epitaphs.
Of the 25 remixes below, some are far more accomplished or interesting than others; some are radically transformative, others more faithful. Irrespective of questions of quality, there’s an impressive array of stylistic transpositions to behold. From boom-bap hip-hop to glitched-out ambience, hopped-up breakcore to global bass tropicalia, by-the-numbers drum’n'bass to brutalist brostep, Blake’s track — perhaps particularly inviting in its minimalism and spaciousness — clearly serves as fertile ground for a variety of “interlocutors” and co-producers.
I’m not recommending that anyone listen to all these, though there are certainly some gems (especially if you like the song). But I think they make a wonderful illustration of the vibrancy of (unauthorized) activity on SoundCloud, and though such productions may not be so easily quantifiable or directly “monetized,” as they say, I’d contend that they offer quite a measure of the enthusiasm for Blake’s music — and if he / Universal can’t manage to work with that, they’re no doubt missing out.
Without further ado, let’s take it to the “Limit,” one more time…
This isn’t a version, per se, but it’s an interesting thing that came up in my search: answering-machine-inspired audio music-criticism — a different sort of sonic engagement with the song on SoundCloud:
Before I call it a post, permit me two final, germane embeds; rather than remixes of “Limit to Your Love,” they remind us how young Mr.Blake himself made his name by working in (unauthorized) “remix culture”:
How many times do we need to be SoundClowned before we get wise?
Back in late December, tellingly/suspiciously right in the midst of the holiday vacation lull, SoundCloud started sending out the same sort of automated take-down notices to its users that YouTube has been using for years. Mix-style DJs and remix producers found certain of their uploads suddenly removed from circulation. According to an innocuously named audio detection algorithm, the tracks in question were allegedly guilty of infringing copyrights in their unauthorized uses of particular recordings. (Let’s not get distracted, I suppose, by the already stretchy notion that any of these things are substitutable “copies.”)
As Larisa “Ripley” Mann noted in the immediate aftermath, it seemed especially ironic that a site that so clearly courted users from across various DJ/remix communities — and, in turn, benefited immensely from said users’ (promotional) use of the service — would turn around and attack one of its core constituencies.
It’s ironic, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Because SoundCloud, like any other for-profit venture, is first and foremost looking after its bottom-line, of course it doesn’t assume the burden of contesting any of these assertions. Rather, per the DMCA, in order to remain in “safe harbor” territory, it complies with the data-analysis and auto-serves takedown notices. (And to its credit, again following YouTube, the company at least alerts people to the possibilities of submitting a “counter notice.”) This is, of course, reasonable behavior by a commercial company seeking legal cover against a content industry that has been known to drive similar platforms into the ground. But it’s not the sort of stance that is going to make SoundCloud the people’s champion (and ubiquitous audio app) it would like to be.
Despite the bloggy/tweety fallout, however — again, see Ripley’s round-up — SoundCloud has hardly seen its image tarnished in the wider world: last month, just a week or so after the first SoundClownings came to light, it was announced that the company had raised $10M in venture capital, and just yesterday I saw reported that the site has grown by 50% in just the last three months, now exceeding 3 million users. Far as I know, none of the users who allegedly gathered “in 517 cities around the world” for a âGlobal Meetup Dayâ earlier this week voiced any sort of discontent.
And so we bear witness again to platform politricks at work — once more with chilling implications for everyday musical practice, global popular culture, “fair use,” and the public domain.
So what are those of us who want a better platform to do?
I’d say there are two main options, which we might think in terms of tactics vs. strategy: 1) continue to support and invest in SoundCloud while pushing for a more robust defense of fair use there; or 2) build something else, something more able to resist the corporate enclosure produced by overzealous, automatic, and often erroneous copyright litigation.
Here, I’m going to propose a little bit of both.
Amidst all the SoundClowning last month screenshots like the one above hardly seemed to present a reasonable set of choices for people who’d like to defend ordinary DJ/remix practice. All the assumptions are clearly running in the wrong direction. (“Recognized as”? “By mistake”? “Explicit permission”?)
Honestly, how is one supposed to respond? And how is one supposed to respond honestly? It’s not that the detection of the Blake track is a “mistake” exactly, but the assertion that the Blake track is tantamount to the whole of the upload is wrong. Moreover, implying that one must have “explicit permission” to use the Blake track presents a false and dangerous picture of the scope of fair use, radically restricting the realm of the legally permissible. Because this is how things are structured — as captured in the form above — there exist few practical alternatives for someone like gregb. He could file a counter notice and fight it, perhaps all the way to a costly and potentially bankrupting trial. (Is this really a practical alternative?) Or he can sit by and watch his mixes disappear one by one. C’est la net.
These issues aside, the screenshot invites us to reflect on how SoundCloud, and mixes like gregb’s, contributed to the rise of James Blake. (Is it just me, or is it extra ironic that Blake’s aesthetic push toward conventionality accompanies a rejection of experimentation at the level of music industry?) Or we might think about how SoundCloud served as a launching pad for someone like Munchi, who really did exploit the site as a kind of launching pad, now garnering thousands of hits on his uploads. I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before astounding efforts like Munchi’s breakout year in 2010 — aided and abetted by a great many samples used without permission — become an impossibility on SoundCloud, as the company is brought to heel under 20th-century copyright law while attempting to host 21st-century audio culture.
Of additional worry, as highlighted in this TechDirt post, is the question of whether we should assent to automated processes adjudicating the various downstream uses that our constitution protects by granting a “limited monopoly” to copyright holders. The author of the post, Mike Masnick, calls this the “Automated Diminishment Of Fair Use,” and I hope that sounds as scary to you as it does to me. Despite that the audio-detection algorithms have already proven error-prone and predictably grabby, we’re letting bots decide what is fair — or more to the point, what is not.
Should we really cede that ground? Is that a good trade-off for the network effects of a massive socially-networked media-sharing site? Plenty seem to think so, and act accordingly, even if their concession is implicit.
Ah, sample-based music in the age of algorithmic detection! Won’t this be fun. We can play it like the 1990s all over again, when torch-bearing “underground” sample-based hip-hop producers like Primo, in the wake of chilling litigation, managed to stay one step ahead of the system, taunting catalog companies with dusty samples that weren’t easily recognizable even by hired-gun sample-sniffing snitches. Here’s an open letter from 1998’s Moment of Truth that still resonates:
In that vein, I present to you a remix (or two) of the very James Blake track responsible for some recent disappearances on SoundCloud, as mashed-up with its source of inspiration, Feist’s original, in a couple different ways. (As it happens, I opened a SoundCloud account two years ago this month, but this is the first time I’m uploading something.)
In a gesture of fairness, if you will, I decided to make two versions of the Blake-Feist mashup, one that keeps intact the cover and bends the original toward it, and another that performs the opposite procedure. I like the idea of “honoring” both versions in this way. (They get to have their integrity and we get to eat them too!) I myself have a preference for slowed-down female voices over sped-up males, but I’ll be curious to hear if anyone prefers the Feisty, chipmunky Blake version.
Without further ago, here are a couple of those trademark orange waveform widgets:
A few technical notes, as always, about what I’ve done here:
1) the two versions are several semitones apart, but more or less the same tempo, so all it took was some pitching up of the Blake to meet the Feist, on the one hand, and some pitching down of the Feist to meet the Blake, on the other
2) as you can see in their Vimeo instantiations (Blakey | Feisty), I have, in each instance, left one of the tracks completely whole while applying as few cuts as possible to the other; this required relatively minimal surgery, as the only real difference, time-wise, was Blake’s inclination to stretch things out, as in the intro
3) the Feist track actually has a long-ish intro that I, following Blake, completely bypass on each mashup; I saw no reason to begin the Feisty version with a Blake-free minute of music, though I did, in a departure from my generally hands-off approach here, suture some of the Feist intro to the long, almost silent section of the Blake version (as you’ll see/hear)
I hope both mashups do the job of drawing the listener into the questions of form, interpretation, and affect raised by these subtly divergent but simultaneously-sounding renditions. Let me be clear: I’m not pretending that these remixes are necessarily aesthetic triumphs; indeed, I think they both get a little muddy half-way through, especially once Blake starts getting freaky with the bass — but that sort of disjuncture is precisely the sort of thing that mashups like these are so good at highlighting. As I’ve argued elsewhere, mashups can offer poignant, useful resources for classroom discussions of form and content, not to mention re-use and fair use, self and other, etc., and it is in the twin spirit of education and critical commentary that I defend these tracks if they happen to be sniffed out by some clumsy algorithmic audio-sleuth.
I’ll be curious to see whether my remixes can weather the sample-sniffing. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Feel free to join me in a little bit of digital civil disobedience / remixxy fun!
Pro-tip: parodies are almost always a safe bet –
If I still have your attention, please allow me to briefly discuss plan B: i.e., rather than working from within SoundCloud — tactically, if you will — to resist spurious copyright policing, we instead seek a new way forward, a strategy for ensuring a certain sustainability and resilience for collective, interactive musical practice, for our peer-to-peer industry. Given the direction the White House appears to be heading with regard to “IP” and the increasingly pernicious and vicious legal tactics of the content industry, there is a clear and present need for better platforms on which to stage our shared culture.
Decentralization seems key. And it’s telling that much of the discussion in the wake of December’s SoundClownings came around to the obvious limits (despite the advantages) of massive corporate media-sharing sites. Channeling hip-hop in his own way, Timeblind reminded that “only toys buy their paint” and, hence, “pirates need to keep it on the D/L.” I hear him on that, but at the same time, I’m not comfortable ceding the high ground to the vested interests who have decided what is “piracy” and what is not.
what are other ways of having platforms of these kinds, which place their control in the hands of the folks who use them? and, more importantly, perhaps, what are ways of propagandizing these autonomous platforms, and of spreading the analysis that works against the continued use of the current corporate ones?
I’m wondering what it would require, technically, to start building decentralized control of our resources/platforms/online communities. What was the best, more successful aspects of an Imeem or Soundcloud + how can we start assembling + using alternatives?
In the week or two following the SoundClowned episode, a few of us were chatting about the different pieces necessary to the puzzle. Tim “Tones” Jones proposed some ideas over here, and we chatted a bit in the comments, but I’m sorry to say that, once again, the conversation has since tapered off.
I wonder, is it already too late to move from this moment? Has the iron cooled too much? That would be disappointing. As Rozele put it in a follow-up, “before some other corporate pseudo-solution starts lying to our friends,” we really need to answer some concrete questions, e.g.:
how many folks whoâre being evicted from SoundCloud will put up some cash to kick things off? and, more importantly, how many music-makers will commit to making this new space the only place to find their work online (or at least the primary one)?
There are, of course, major tradeoffs between scale and resiliency, and these same questions we’re asking of each other open into broader, current, critical debates about resiliency on the net. In this regard, we might see something like Wikileaks suggest some options for music culture in the embrace of an “alternative control structure.”
The comparison is not so far-fetched. See, for example, a recent piece by Clay Shirky, who trots it out:
Like the music industry, the government is witnessing the million-fold expansion of edge points capable of acting on their own, without needing to ask anyone for help or permission, and, like the music industry, they are looking at various strategies for adding control at intermediary points that were previously left alone, under the old model.
With dovetailing interests like these, maybe Somali pirate servers are our best bet after all.
Seriously, though, who’s gonna step up and build something? Are 4shared or Hulkshare the best we can do for scaling our (free) distro? Are pop-up ads and malware a necessary reality for the sort of peer-level music industry that seeks to evade capture? Do we really want to operate in a world where our own ideals, and values, and best practices must be compromised if we wish to continue making and sharing art on a global scale, in a public way? Must we be forced (back) underground, and coerced back into adopting practices that cut against our ethics, our desires to acknowledge as we build on the work of other musicians and artists and producers?
To return to Ripley (in a great follow-up post), there are deep implications for this sort of retreat-by-design:
Nameless reuse can erase the reality of difference, turning everything into a consumerist fantasy, where you don’t have to deal with the lived realities of different worlds and different lives.
Again, the big question is: will we rise to the occasion, and finally find a way to give the drummers some (and protect their legion interpreters), or will we continue to get clowned, and pawned, and toyed with?