Archive of posts tagged with "industry"

October 4th, 2013

To Make an Unforgivably Short Story Longer…

Thanks to all for passing around the raggamuffin hip-hop articles & mix. As it happens, the cosmos smiled on our cross-platform publication by arranging for a rather resonant listicle to appear at the bredrin-blog LargeUp just the next day: a Toppa Top 10 devoted to “Raggamuffin Gangster Rap“!

West Coast examples of raggamuffin rap only appear briefly toward the end of our mix, so it’s great to have the picture fleshed out a little more. Here’s the hook —

Back when Shabba and Super Cat were killing the game in the early ’90s, the influence of dancehall could be felt throughout hip-hop. While East Coast rappers with Caribbean backgrounds like KRS-One and Heavy D collaborated with dancehall’s heavyweights themselves, artists from the West Coast—where the connections to Jamaica were less apparent—had to get a little more creative. Hence, the faux raggamuffin deejay styles on records by NWA, DJ Quik and other gangster rap acts of the day.

Read the rest.

While I’ve got you here, I thought I should share something of an author’s cut of the Cluster Mag article, which had to be about half the length that I wanted it to be. At one point in the article, there appears a rather brief history of Jamaican soundsystem culture, accompanied by the disclaimer, “To make the very long story unforgivably short…”

Well, what else are blogs for? Here’s the longer version for any of you who care to read. For me, the little leaps of logic involved in the beginnings of reggae and rap really do deserve explication and emphasis –

Playing records to people, interactively, sounds totally commonplace today, because it is. But at the time that “soundsystems” in Kingston started holding dances backed not by bands but by savvy selectors with hot and hit records and powerful speakers, that sort of thing was hardly seen outside of sock hops or the first French discothèques. As they later did with the recording studio itself, Jamaicans were in the process of making the jukebox a live instrument, which required some little leaps of logic and a lot of ingenuity.

When Clement “Coxsone” Dodd was working as a migrant laborer in Florida in the 1950s, he attended lots of parties. And while picking oranges, he was also picking up plenty of the 45s running the local jukeboxes. Back then, there were two main sources for the soundtrack of the party: canned jukebox or live band. Returning home to Kingston, Coxsone decided to combine the two: to play records as live performance. He started with a PA at his parents’ pharmacy, bringing in customers with the slick sounds of Southern R&B. Before long Coxsone’s Downbeat soundsystems were operating across Western Kingston and beyond, vying with Duke Reid’s Trojan as keeper of the best downtown dancehall sessions. Soon after, he opened up Studio One, where the feedback loop between what dancers liked and selectors played could be made even tighter. Eventually, through the magic of dubplates and multitracks, selectors could rinse instrumental versions of popular tunes while, inspired by African-American radio disc jockeys, jive-slanging “deejays” such as King Stitt and U-Roy toasted in a local, cosmopolitan tongue. It didn’t take much longer, if another little leap of logic, for these masters of ceremony to become recording stars in their own right: in 1970, U-Roy’s first “talkover” singles—a trio of rocksteady-repurposing novelties—held the top spots on Jamaican radio for months.

This interactive approach to playing commercial dance records is, of course, essentially the same insight that would engender disco right around the same time, and which carries forward via house, techno, and their EDM ilk as perhaps the dominant paradigm of modern musical experience. It is also the same insight that sparked hip-hop—quite directly, in fact.

As the story goes, hip-hop was born on a summer night in 1973 in a rec-room on the ground floor of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, an apartment building in the West Bronx, when Clive Campbell, better known as Kool Herc, hosted a party with his older sister Cindy. Born and raised in Kingston, Campbell was well familiar with the importance of a customized—and loud and clear—sonic experience. For the party, Herc borrowed a powerful PA from his father, a soundman for local R&B acts, and played the role of selector, hand-picking and cueing up records, as well as MC, using a mic to praise partygoers with rhyming routines, and to hype the musical selections, make announcements, and encourage dancing.

Like any good DJ, Herc sought to respond to the demands of his audience. Given the context, this entailed embracing certain soundsystem techniques—especially the license to manipulate a recording in realtime—while departing from what one might have heard at a dance in Jamaica. Despite borrowing liberally from soundsystem culture, Herc didn’t play reggae at the party. Among his peers, Jamaican music and style had yet to undergo the cool recuperation that eventually followed Bob Marley’s success and, more important in New York, the violent dominance of the drug trade by Jamaican gangs, or “posses,” in the mid-80s. Just as Herc made an effort to swap his Jamaican accent for a Bronx brogue, he played soul, funk, and driving disco tracks—especially records with stripped-down, percussion-led breaks—in place of reggae anthems.

Herc and Cindy began throwing parties regularly, and the audience steadily grew—as did Herc’s crew, including dedicated MCs like Coke La Rock and a coterie of flashy dancers. Running out of room at 1520 Sedgwick, Herc relocated to nearby Cedar Park where, repurposing what little civic infrastructure remained in a place haunted by the politics of neglect, electricity from a utility pole powered the soundsystem. In contrast to clubs, where cover charges and age restrictions kept teenagers out, the “park jams” were active incubators, stylistically and socially, of a new kind of public youth culture. In this way, Herc’s burgeoning audience, some driven West by gang violence in the South Bronx, helped essentially to co-produce a remarkable phenomenon: a vibrant party scene where local culture thrived as DJs, MCs, and dancers wrested new forms out of the resources at hand.

Hip-hop was so tied to realtime social gatherings in its early years that the idea of committing such performances to tape and selling them as commodities required some imagination. Recordings of parties were made, of course, and tapes circulated informally and even quasi-commercially, but it was not until a seasoned and savvy record executive, Silvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records, saw potential in the form that the rap song emerged as such, six years after Herc’s back-to-school jam on Sedgwick Ave. Most of hip-hop’s biggest names at that time were not easily convinced, or drawn away from the relatively lucrative party circuit, so Robinson’s first attempt was more a studio simulation than a faithful rendering of contemporary party practice. Assembling a ragtag crew of aspiring rappers as the Sugar Hill Gang, Robinson released a 15-minute single called “Rapper’s Delight” stitching together popular routines drawn from such prominent MCs as Grandmaster Caz over a replayed loop from Chic’s “Good Times,” then a current favorite among hip-hop DJs. Despite its unusual length for a pop single, as a passably genuine artifact of hip-hop’s sprawling party style, “Rapper’s Delight” became a massive hit on urban radio, selling millions of copies and offering the wider world its first exposure to hip-hop. (Multiple Jamaican acts recorded reggae-fied versions of the song before the year was out.)

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March 14th, 2013

Blogs and Works

A little late to report this here, but two weeks ago FACT Mag ran an interview with Mike Paradinas, aka µ-ziq, perhaps better known these days as the head of Planet Mu Records. FACT describes the label so –

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 dubstep’s 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.

When the interview finally turns to footwork, Paradinas’s answer is, well, kinda awesome, maybe –

With footwork for example, how did you discover that? Was it something you stumbled across?

MP: “Yeah. 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.”

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 you’ve done with footwork?

MP: “I think they just want to make money. I mean I think they care whether they’ve been represented, individually, correctly or not, obviously. And that the scene has been represented OK. And that’s why they didn’t like what had happened about DJ Nate – 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 hasn’t been the best-selling thing. Some of the artists made advances from us, and that’s been good for them. And Rashad and Spinn have been playing out a lot. I’ve 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 – even us, even Planet Mu.”

What sort of things are you referring to?

MP: “People like Machinedrum. FaltyDL has been doing a bit of it, though I don’t think it’s been released. I think Machinedrum’s has been successful in that it wasn’t emulating footwork – he was taking a deeper sort of response to it. But there has been a lot of other things – like Krampfhaft – it’s all a bit pyrotechnic-ey. I don’t think the European and white American response, unless you’re in the [Chicago] scene, has been that successful. It’s not very grassroots is it, it’s just part of the post-dubstep scene, and so there’s not really a big reason for it to exist other than, ‘Oh I’ve been listening to a bit of this, I’m going to put it in my music’. Some of it’s more successful than others. I think the first successful track for me – apart from Machinedrum – was Mark Pritchard as Africa Hi-Tech, ‘Out In The Streets’. But then Mark’s a fucking great producer.”

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.

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February 5th, 2013

Africa Remix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa Remix:
Producing and Presenting African Musics Abroad


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

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

CONFERENCE

8:30 am, Thompson Room, Barker Center

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

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

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

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

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

CONCERT AND DISCUSSION
8:00 pm, Lowell Hall

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

Concert by Debo Band

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

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

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January 29th, 2013

Musical Publics

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

me, a phone, a receiver, a bike ride

Spring 2013
Tues 4-6pm
Davison Room

INTRODUCTION

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 texts—never mind musicologists—address particular publics, and how has this changed over time?

To better understand music’s 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.

WEEKLY TOPICS & READINGS

Week 1 / Jan 29 — Introduction
Syllabus review, preliminary discussion

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 [1962]. (browse all, but esp: 1-56, 159-243)

Week 3 / Feb 12 — Critique & Elaboration
Calhoun, “Introduction.” 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. “Unstable Mixtures, Dilated Spheres: Negt and Kluge’s The Public Sphere and Experience, Twenty Years Later.” Public Culture Vol. 5, No. 2 (1993): 179-212.

Week 4 / Feb 19 — Print Cultures & Imagined Communities
Anderson, Benedict. “Imagined Communities.” In Nations and Nationalism, a Reader, eds. Philip Spencer & Howard Wollman, 48-59. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.

Bohlman, Philip V. “Composing the Cantorate: Westernizing Europe’s Other Within.” In Western Music and Its Others, eds. Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, 187-212.

Kay Kaufman Shelemay. “Musical Communities: Rethinking the Collective in Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Summer 2011): 349- 390.

Week 5 / Feb 26 — Mass Culture’s New Musical Publics
Middleton, Richard. “‘Roll Over Beethoven’: Sites and Soundings on the Music-Historical Map.” In Studying Popular Music, 3-33 (esp 3-16). Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990.

Suisman, David. “Prologue,” “When Songs Became a Business,” and “The Musical Soundscape of Modernity.” 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 María. “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.

Byron Dueck. “Public and Intimate Sociability in First Nations and Métis Fiddling.” Ethnomusicology Vol. 51, No. 1 (Winter 2007): 30-63.

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. “‘After the Love Has Gone’: Bio-Politics and Etho-Politics in the Black Public Sphere.” In The Black Public Sphere, ed. The Black Public Sphere Collective, 53-80. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995.

Diawara, Manthia. “Homeboy Cosmopolitan.” In In Search of Africa, 237-78. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Novak, David. “Cosmopolitanism, Remediation, and the Ghost World of Bollywood.” Cultural Anthropology 25:1 (2010): 40-72.

Week 8 / March 19 (No class – Spring Recess)

Week 9 / March 26 — Counterpublics
Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2002. (p. 1-188)

Bickford, Tyler. “The New ‘Tween’ Music Industry: The Disney Channel, Kidz Bop and an Emerging Childhood Counterpublic.” Popular Music 31/3 (October 2012): 417–36.

Week 10 / April 2 — Networked Publics (part 1)
Castells, Manuel. “Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society.” International Journal of Communication 1 (2007): 238-266.

Ito, Mizuko. “Introduction.” In Networked Publics, ed. Varnelis, 1-14. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.

Varnelis, Kazys. “The Meaning of Network Culture.” In Networked Publics, ed. Varnelis, 145-64. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.

Week 11 / April 9 — Networked Publics (part 2)
Benkler, Yochai. “Emergence of the Networked Public Sphere.” 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. “Socially Mediated Publicness.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56:3(2012): 320-329.

Marwick, Alice and danah boyd. “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.” New Media & Society, 7 July 2010: 1-20.

Crawford, Kate. “Following You: Disciplines of Listening in Social Media.” In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 79-90. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Sterne, Jonathan. “The MP3 as Cultural Artifact.” New Media & Society 8:5 (2006): 825–842.

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. “The Politics of ‘Platforms.’” New Media & Society Vol. 12, No. 3 (2010): 347-64.

Kelty, Christopher. “Preface: Crowds and Clouds.” LIMN 2 (March 2012).

Gillespie, Tarleton. “Can an Algorithm be Wrong?LIMN 2 (March 2012).

Droitcour, Brian. “Public Spaces.” The New Inquiry, October 29, 2012.

Week 14 / April 30 — Class presentations

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March 22nd, 2012

Me @ EMP

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.

Here’s the deets (more here):

Roundtable: Tropical Music, Appropriation and Music “Discovery” in the Global Metropolis
Friday, March 23, 2012, 2:15 – 3:45

The explosion of international sounds in the pop sphere—associated 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 world—New York, Johannesburg, Rio, Bombay, Kingston, Luanda and others—into 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.—where 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, “race” music, ethnomusicology, etc.) 3) the model of “post-raciality” 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 NYC’s 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.

Utopian Spaces in an Accelerated Age
Sunday, March 25, 2012, 11:15 – 12:45

“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.

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March 1st, 2012

Ecological Frictionstep

I’m happy to report, as exhorted about back in December, that Filastine & his collaborators, Nova & Tooliq, have completed the first of the two videos they successfully kickstarted.

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.

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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 –

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February 3rd, 2012

Mega Uh-Oh

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 friend’s 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 Suri’s 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, it’s hard to sympathize with anyone who’s 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 it’s 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 – never mind prior convictions for computer fraud, insider trading, and embezzlement.

But if Dotcom comes across as an odious parasite, it’s 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 industry’s 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 doesn’t 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 Megaupload’s 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 –

Screen shot 2012-02-03 at 11.44.31 AM
Screen shot 2012-02-03 at 11.44.44 AM
Screen shot 2012-02-03 at 11.44.56 AM

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December 27th, 2011

Kickstart Kolony Kollapse & Other Worthy Projekts

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.

beyond digital returns!
music from saharan cellphones
september-2011-055

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!

bubbeling cover

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April 21st, 2011

Rethinking Music Industry w/ Nancy Baym

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.

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March 3rd, 2011

Orange Rainy Clouds & the Oldest Profession

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!).

Here’s a little excerpt, but do read the whole thing:

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 infringement—a 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 users—though 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.

Which leads me to wonder: if making a remix is akin to “prostitution,” then covering a Feist song is like… ?

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.

No, clearly, it’s Universal’s.

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February 25th, 2011

Limits to Your Love, Take Two (Thousand)


Following up on recent posts, 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…

james blake – limit to your love – kane44 rmx FREE DOWNLOAD!!! by kane44

James Blake – Limit To Your Love (System-D D&B remix) [CLIP] by DJ SYSTEM-D

Anonymity Vs James Blake – Limit to your love (D&B Remix) by DJ Anonymity

James Blake – Limit To Your Love (Lucid Rhythms Remix) by Lucid Rhythms

Limit To Your Love-James Blake (Pesticide bootleg) by pesticide

James Blake Limit To Your Love (Hall North’s Unconditional Dub) by hall north bootlegs

James Blake – Limit To Your Love(Bass fucker remix) by Bass fucker

James Blake – Limit to your love [Lokiboi RMX] by Lokiboi

James Blake – Limit to your Love (Dauwd remix) by Dauwd

james blake – limit to your love (tvyks remix) by iivnaiiv

JAMES BLAKE ‘Limit To Your Love’ (HaRtMaNbEaTs REMIX) by HARTMAN

James Blake – Limit To Your Love (Tanzlife edit) by Tanzlife

James Blake – Limit to your love (Normski Remix) UNFINISHED by djnormski

Limit to your love (James Blake cover) by KlopfSalat

James Blake – Limit To Your Love (Altrice Remix) by Altrice

James Blake – Glitch / Experimental Remix ‘Limit To Your Love’ by Pixie-Dust

James Blake & Ramadanman – Your Limit To Change Me by Decomeara

PESCI feat. JAMES BLAKE – LIMIT TO YOUR LOVE DUBSTEP REMIX [demo] by dj pesci

James Blake – Limit To Your Love (Freemun Remix) by Dubjects

LYNX V JAMES BLAKE Limit to Your Love Remix by djlynx

James blake-limit to your love remix by Good Idea

James Blake – Limit to Your Love (High Top Kicks Remix) by HighTopKicks

James Blake – Limit to Your Love (Headfaze Remix) by Headfaze

James Blake Message to your Love (Detour Remix) by deTOUR

Limit to your love by james blake re-up(limit to your care) by dear.earth

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:

Answering Machine Message: James Blake :: Limit To Your Love by HATEyourANSWERINGmachine

Finally, despite algorithmic “success” elsewhere, here’s the Blake album cut in its “original” form, as uploaded — get this — by a cat called “blatanti

James Blake, “Limit To Your Love” by blatanti

And here’s another, up for two months now:

Limit to your Love – James Blake by fresh_air

Here’s a tricky 9-month-old, attempting to evade sample-sniffers with a little introductory sound bombing:

James Blake – Limit to Your Love by sophiehirst

And here’s the official instantiation via Universal Music Publishing:

James Blake – Limit To Your Love by UniversalMusicPublishing

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”:

Lil Wayne – A Milli (James Blake Refix) by ListenBeforeYouBuy

Destiny’s Child – Bills, Bills, Bills (James Blake Harmonimix) by blogtracks

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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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