Thanks again to my eloquent interlocutors, all of whom had colorful stories & trenchant perspectives to share, and to the Together panel people — especially Sara Skolnik and Ethan Kiermaier — for making it happen. And thx to everyone who attended the panel, tuned in, and/or wish to help continue the convo.
Archive of posts tagged with "internet"
Remember when I asked — rhetorically and remixically — whether there were limits to your love for Soundcloud? Well, it took a little over two years, but the super smart sample-sniffers over at Audible Magic have apparently finally decided that one of the two mashups I made by way of commentary / limit-testing should be removed for possible copyright infringement. Here’s the notice I received today:
When one clicks through to options, note that there is no recourse for anyone who does not own the copyright or have permission. In other words, there is NO FAIR USE in this world. Soundcloud does not want to be in the business of adjudicating the lines of transformative use; it wants to be in the business of datamining and other forms of monetizing all the activity on the part of users which makes the site what it is: yet another popular privately-owned public space.
I won’t go into all the lurid details yet again. I’ve said enough about Soundcloud’s practices & policies, as have others. But I promised “to keep you posted” on this little experiment, so I had to share this development here.
I can protest all I want. I can include lines like the following in my description: “I contend, especially for the purposes of critical commentary and educational applications, that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of all materials.” But the bots won’t care, and I doubt the humans will either. Best I can do, if I really care about this audio residing on Soundcloud (which I don’t), is to upload again, perhaps with a little more sonic camouflage.
No need to bother with that. The limit has been reached. That said, I’ll be curious to see when/whether the “content protection system” (a rather Orwellian ring to it, no?) figures out that the removed mashup’s mirror-image twin, the “Feisty version” — the better/weirder, and the more popular of the two, as it happens — is still just sitting there, brazenly violating copyright–
Plus, I’m happy to note that the Blakey version is still available, with helpful visual tracking, c/o Vimeo:
Finally, my commitment to never paying Soundcloud for their “service” remains strong as ever. We’ll see how long my account lasts over there. Considering that I neither hold the copyright nor have permission for ANY of my uploads (which I suspect is the case for the majority of users), despite all of them bearing rather audible marks of my creative labors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them disappear one by one. Get em while they’re there, and when they’re not, come get them here.
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 texts‚ÄĒnever mind musicologists‚ÄĒaddress particular publics, and how has this changed over time?
To better understand music‚Äôs 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 . (browse all, but esp: 1-56, 159-243)
Week 3 / Feb 12 — Critique & Elaboration
Calhoun, ‚ÄúIntroduction.‚ÄĚ 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. ‚ÄúUnstable Mixtures, Dilated Spheres: Negt and Kluge‚Äôs The Public Sphere and Experience, Twenty Years Later.‚ÄĚ Public Culture Vol. 5, No. 2 (1993): 179-212.
Week 4 / Feb 19 — Print Cultures & Imagined Communities
Anderson, Benedict. ‚ÄúImagined Communities.‚ÄĚ In Nations and Nationalism, a Reader, eds. Philip Spencer & Howard Wollman, 48-59. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.
Bohlman, Philip V. ‚ÄúComposing the Cantorate: Westernizing Europe‚Äôs Other Within.‚ÄĚ In Western Music and Its Others, eds. Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, 187-212.
Kay Kaufman Shelemay. ‚ÄúMusical Communities: Rethinking the Collective in Music.‚ÄĚ Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Summer 2011): 349- 390.
Week 5 / Feb 26 — Mass Culture‚Äôs New Musical Publics
Middleton, Richard. ‚Äú‚ÄėRoll Over Beethoven‚Äô: Sites and Soundings on the Music-Historical Map.‚ÄĚ In Studying Popular Music, 3-33 (esp 3-16). Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990.
Suisman, David. ‚ÄúPrologue,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúWhen Songs Became a Business,‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúThe Musical Soundscape of Modernity.‚ÄĚ 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 Mar√≠a. “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 M√©tis 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. ‚Äú‚ÄėAfter the Love Has Gone‚Äô: Bio-Politics and Etho-Politics in the Black Public Sphere.‚ÄĚ In The Black Public Sphere, ed. The Black Public Sphere Collective, 53-80. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995.
Diawara, Manthia. ‚ÄúHomeboy Cosmopolitan.‚ÄĚ In In Search of Africa, 237-78. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Novak, David. ‚ÄúCosmopolitanism, Remediation, and the Ghost World of Bollywood.‚ÄĚ Cultural Anthropology 25:1 (2010): 40-72.
Week 8 / March 19 (No class ‚Äď Spring Recess)
Week 9 / March 26 — Counterpublics
Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2002. (p. 1-188)
Bickford, Tyler. ‚ÄúThe New ‚ÄėTween‚Äô Music Industry: The Disney Channel, Kidz Bop and an Emerging Childhood Counterpublic.‚ÄĚ Popular Music 31/3 (October 2012): 417‚Äď36.
Week 10 / April 2 — Networked Publics (part 1)
Castells, Manuel. ‚ÄúCommunication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society.‚ÄĚ International Journal of Communication 1 (2007): 238-266.
Ito, Mizuko. ‚ÄúIntroduction.‚ÄĚ In Networked Publics, ed. Varnelis, 1-14. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.
Varnelis, Kazys. ‚ÄúThe Meaning of Network Culture.‚ÄĚ In Networked Publics, ed. Varnelis, 145-64. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.
Week 11 / April 9 — Networked Publics (part 2)
Benkler, Yochai. ‚ÄúEmergence of the Networked Public Sphere.‚ÄĚ 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. ‚ÄúSocially Mediated Publicness.‚ÄĚ Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56:3(2012): 320-329.
Marwick, Alice and danah boyd. ‚ÄúI Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.‚ÄĚ New Media & Society, 7 July 2010: 1-20.
Crawford, Kate. ‚ÄúFollowing You: Disciplines of Listening in Social Media.‚ÄĚ In The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, 79-90. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Sterne, Jonathan. ‚ÄúThe MP3 as Cultural Artifact.‚ÄĚ New Media & Society 8:5 (2006): 825‚Äď842.
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. ‚ÄúThe Politics of ‚ÄėPlatforms.‚Äô‚ÄĚ New Media & Society Vol. 12, No. 3 (2010): 347-64.
Kelty, Christopher. ‚ÄúPreface: Crowds and Clouds.‚ÄĚ LIMN 2 (March 2012).
Gillespie, Tarleton. ‚ÄúCan an Algorithm be Wrong?‚ÄĚ LIMN 2 (March 2012).
Droitcour, Brian. “Public Spaces.” The New Inquiry, October 29, 2012.
Week 14 / April 30 — Class presentations
Last week the students in my technomusicology class submitted their video √©tudes. The assignment was relatively straightforward: make a montage of YouTube-sourced videos interlinked by some (musical) subject, theme, or tune. One additional challenge, if made far easier by Ableton’s video capacity, was to attempt to bring the various performances into a kind of musical coherence via tempo-warping and key-modulation, with the ultimate goal of producing a video that follows a specific thread in order to give an audible and visible sense of the vast world of musicking on YouTube — spanning professional and amateur domains, innumerable contexts, and a wide variety of genres, including some that are downright YouTube-specific — and, importantly, is also engaging to watch.
Longtime W&W readers will no doubt hear echoes of my own experiments in this regard — namely, Gasodoble & Bump con Choque — and perhaps a little bit of YouTube collage master, Kutiman, as well. Despite that I have not found many other examples along these lines, I think there’s great potential for this sort of form, or method even, to demonstrate and delve into the wide, weird world of YouTube — which is to say, the wide, weird world, period — despite that the site is also an incomplete, ephemeral, willy-nilly archive hosted on corporate servers.
As you’ll see in selected submissions below, students embraced the assignment with panache, producing wonderful little documents of the varied social and cultural lives of such things as recent pop hits, well-worn war-horses, video game themes, public domain experiments, and Elvis impersonators.
First, a veritable YouTube chorus performing the 2012 pop hit, “Call Me Maybe,” showing how quickly a popular song can enter into myriad genres of performance, presentation, and play (including some YouTube-specific ones, like stitching together political speeches to make presidents stutter along too):
Or this one, combining a handful of home versions of the Halo theme, seeking specifically to document the “resurgence” (or at least newfound visibility) of “amateur” musical practice and appreciating how even people’s mistakes “actually add some character” to the performances –
Another student sought to plumb the YouTube depths for impersonations of Elvis, uncovering in the process not simply the expected plethora of examples but an interesting recent wrinkle: most of these would-be Kings are lip-synching not to an original Elvis recording but to Junkie XL’s popular 2002 remix of Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation.” My student found it notable that so many of the Elvises he encountered on YouTube “aren’t so orthodox in their impersonation”; I do too!
Several students went beyond the American pop repertory (which provides no end of subjects thanks to its imperial ubiquity) in order to explore YouTube instantiations of tunes that originated and enjoy rich social lives elsewhere.
Take, for example, this beat-matched collection of performances of “Asa Branca,” which my student describes as “a classic Brazilian bai√£o composed by accordionist Luiz Gonzaga and lyricist Humberto Teixeira in 1947.” He continues –
This song has become so emblematic of so many things — Northeastern Brazilian regionalism, Brazilian diasporic identity, environmentalist movements, Brooklyn world music hipness — that I wanted to juxtapose as wide a variety of interpretations as I could, while choosing versions that retained the pulse of the original. From Korean fusion to muscle-metal play-along to small-town talent shows to arena Tropic√°lia, with Gonzag√£o himself making the occasional approving cameo as a backup singer.
Or this one, documenting the variegated “going public” of a recent lullaby from Taiwan. (Notably, the student has only made the video semi-public — requiring a direct link — given concerns about unauthorized use of children’s performances, which she’s seeking explicit permission to include. Such ethical questions have been a recurring theme of the course, and I always encourage students to think about them as they record, copy, and manipulate the sounds and images of others.)
Finally, here’s a montage of a tune popular in both Turkey and Greece (and in both Turkish and Greek): “Kalenin Bedenleri” / “Siko Horepse Koukli Mou.” One curious thing that emerges here is how songs outside of the (Western) pop canon tend to be characterized on YouTube less by remixxy, YouTubey confections and more by familiar stagings of home, community, and local TV contexts. That said, a few clips of webcam-style pedagogy — a popular YouTube genre to be sure — make it into the mix too.
Here’s hoping that our experiments might lead to others in this vein and beyond. No doubt there is material aplenty to work with: YouTube reports (currently anyway; these figures keep changing) that 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. What a willy-nilly, wonderful world!
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 –
h/t Ferrari Shepherd, aka @stopbeingfamous–
When I tried, I saw this –
What do you see? (It changes all the time, and then again, it doesn’t.)
For more Google Glances, see here.
Tomorrow / today / whenever it is as you’re reading this — Tuesday Feb 28 marks both the release of Munchi’s Moombahtonista EP and as mentioned last week, his first appearance here in Boston, at none other than Beat Research! According to the opaque metrics at Zuckerborg, as I’m writing this some 56 registered users are “Going” to come thru, which is cool. I’m sure the place will pack up. It’s gonna be a special one, no doubt.
As I also mentioned, I gladly penned the notes accompanying the release of Munchi’s EP. It’s an odd job juggling promotion with what I think is also valued as my ability to be a critical observer, but I stand behind the text. (And I appreciate the affirmative nods.) Of course, I’m happy Munchi likes it — and that he thought of me to write it. I should give him some real credit too: he had lots of ideas, as always, and his own ability to articulate where he’s coming from is, I think, one of his greatest strengths as an internet-era artist. Anyway, you can judge for yourself (I added some links for fun):
Soon as the first moombahton edits hit the net, Munchi was ready. Slowing down Dutch house tracks to make mutant reggaeton made a lot of sense to a resident of Rotterdam with roots in the Dominican Republic. Munchi knew as well as anyone (and better than most) that Dutch house and reggaeton were kindred genres, each a skip and a jump away from dancehall reggae. He began cooking up his own moombahton that night, emerging with much more than another set of edits. Arguably the first originals of the genre, Munchi’s tracks were built from scratch, imbued with touches of baile funk, cumbia, kuduro, bmore, samba, breakcore and more. Unlike Dave Nada’s seminal edits or influential remixes by A-Mac, Uncle Jesse, and Melo making the rounds, Munchi could put his name on his tracks front and center. Blowing up the blogs, he proved himself prolific and popular almost immediately, releasing acclaimed promo packs by the pound and building a devoted audience.
By pursuing his own singular vision of what the genre could be, Munchi pointed the way — lots of ways actually — to move moombahton beyond surprisingly serviceable novelty remixes in order to make it a genuine genre. His cross-breeding fusions even birthed a substyle he dubbed moombahcore, a steroidal take on the sound that now boasts hundreds of its own adherents. After Munchi’s wildly successful experiments, moombahton became a lot more kitchen-sink. This EP collects the classics, marking the moment that Munchi blew the frame open. Club wreckers that set the stage for a wave of producers learning to love the space between the kicks, the place to wind your hips. You’ll find it all here: evocative samples, epic build-ups and drops, thick-ass drums, sudden jokes and, of course, that trademark jingle. It also features new twists on old bangers, like lacing “La Brasile√Īa Ta Montao” with brand new vocals from Angel Doze, Munchi’s favorite reggaetonero, making it the first real meeting between moombahton and its Puerto Rican cousin.
Come hear the man live if you can. I’ve seen him in action. You gotta be ready.
Oh & nice EP art! Props for the totally understated use of boobs –
Ok, one last time, here’s the deets for tonight / tmrw night (TUESDAY!):
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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs hard to sympathize with anyone who‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď never mind prior convictions for computer fraud, insider trading, and embezzlement.
But if Dotcom comes across as an odious parasite, it‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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 –
The first time one of my daughters said “internet,” I was deeply curious about what she might understand it to be. So I asked. Here’s how it went down:
“Did you get it on the internet?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m just saying ‘internet.’ … Internet.”
It was an awesome bit of backpedaling, but it’s not like Nico didn’t know what she was talking about. Surely I had told her many times before that I was getting some video or other “on the internet” (although this time I was just searching for an mp4 on our harddrive).
Of course, defining “the internet” in plain terms is no simple task, even/especially for experts — never mind elected officials (for whom even the proposal of a relatively reasonable metaphor, say a “series of tubes,” can lead to eternal ridicule).
Anyway, as tweeted, we had occasion yesterday to revisit the exchange. This time both Nico and Charlie offered up awesome answers — with no evasions — and I even got it all on video!
As we were getting back in our car after lunch at a local diner, Charlie asked me if I wanted to buy a newspaper. I told her I didn’t and then said something to the effect that I could read the same stories on my phone — that is, on the internet. At which point I had to ask, in a somewhat strange and serious and playful voice, “What. Is. The. Internet?”
To which Nico replied, rather reasonably, if in her own strange voice (a “boy’s voice,” she tells us)–
I thought that was great, so I took out my
internet phone and asked her if we could re-run the Q&A for the camera. The kids love seeing themselves on video, so Nico agreed, and that’s what you see up there (with my question inadvertently truncated).
After which, natch, Charlie needed a turn. At first it seemed like she was just going to rehearse the same exchange herself (complete with funny voice), but instead, operator-style, she threw a curveball. A hilarious curveball, especially after my follow-up —
The funniest thing is, they’re both kinda right.
Ah, digital nativity.
Today I’ve got a Q&A with Jared Demick at his site The Jivin’ Ladybug, a “Skewered Journal of the Arts” or in slightly plainer terms, “an online arts journal devoted to word-whittlers, picture-pizzazzers, & sound-slingers, all over this here globe!” Though the latter most obviously describes me, and the middle option may seem more dubious, I like to consider myself all three. (I mean, look at that picture of a ladybug drawn in sidewalk chalk — full of pizzazz!)
At any rate, Jared asked a bunch of questions about the stuff that I do and think about, and because I think it offers a good glimpse at my current thoughts about blogging and DJing and meaningful mixes, world music 2.0 and appropriation, and platform politricks, to name a few, I’m cross-posting the convo here too. Without further ado–
How does your DJing & academic work connect with each other?
I discover a lot of music in my research, and DJing allows me to “activate” these tracks in a new social setting, to sit with them and hear and feel them in new ways, and to share them with other people. As someone who studies DJ culture, and as something of an old-school participant-observer, I think it’s pretty crucial to put my intellectual work into practice in this way. Another way to look at it, though, is that my abiding love for music propels all that I do, and I’ve managed — or attempted — to chart a course where sharing music is central to my life and work.
What got you blogging so extensively?
I started blogging back in 2003 when I moved to Jamaica to do research for my dissertation, which largely consisted of visiting dancehall events and recording studios and turning my own apartment into a collaborative space for making and talking about music. (One result of which, apart from the disseration, was my self-released album, Boston Jerk.) Initially I figured the blog would only be read by academic peers and family and friends, but I was happily surprised when it turned out that a wider readership of people who were interested in taking hip-hop and reggae (and their interplay) seriously had also found their way to my research-in-progress and thinking-aloud. More than anything, the deeply encouraging feedback loop of a community of co-readers (for I think of myself as engaged in a collective process of interpretation) is what turned the blog from a research experiment into the most important and fulfilling part of my work.
Does this ‚Äúworld music 2.0‚ÄĚ (or as you cheekily dub it ‚Äúglobal ghettotech‚ÄĚ) phenomenon, this global mix n‚Äô match of genres, leading to greater musical variation or homogenization? In other words, is it a scenario of capitalism doing cultural colonization or is it reflective of increased diasporic movements?
As much as I’m suspicious of how capitalism shapes and circulates culture, I don’t buy the “cultural grey-out” anxiety that haunted so much globalization theory in the 1990s. Examining hip-hop or reggae as a global phenomenon (which is to say, a trans-local thing) gives the lie to any sense that local transformations of these forms are simply imitative. It has been well observed, of course, that capitalism thrives in the production of novelty, so one could argue that the lack of homogenization is, in a sense, just as useful for selling things. At any rate, I think it would be hard to make a case for anything other than greater variety in terms of the music to which we have access today, and whereas “world music” used to be a fairly exotic product, I find some optimism in the newly quotidian qualities of “the world out there” in an age when media travels so instantly and rapidly, especially when coupled with an increasing recognition that our own neighborhoods (at least in fairly cosmopolitan cities) are amazing and rich repositories of world culture. To the extent that exposure to new sounds — rather than simply the products of the media capitals of the US — might engender a more mutual regard for each other, a respect and tolerance for difference, is about as good as it could get. That, and radical wealth redistribution. (But I wouldn’t wait on “world music” to deliver that.)
Are these emerging musical trends sticking around or do they rapidly rise and fade? Who are the primary producers and consumers?
The whole “world music 2.0″ scene is still pretty small and definitely marked by a hype-cycle dynamic. This is perhaps reflective of the “Western hipster” base for a lot of this stuff — at least once it’s been remediated by DJs and bloggers. But for every bandwagoneer, there are people whose interest in new sounds serves to drive their curiosity about other places, about other histories and narratives, and even about other people in their own local communities. Of course, we shouldn’t let out of sight that lots of these exciting sounds from around the world are emerging from rich local scenes which could care less about a few downstream DJs and bloggers (although, on the other hand, there are clearly some opportunities to be had, lest only the middlemen make the metropolitan money). But the production of the music that circulates on blogs and Soundcloud as a sort of “WM2.0″ is no longer entirely “outsourced,” if you will. Rather, instead of simply “digging” for far-flung sounds and scenes (a la funk carioca, kuduro, cumbia), as the case of moombahton shows, new genres have emerged that partake of the templates and circuits for “global ghettotech” while being almost completely unmoored or grounded in any particular place, hence inviting a broader sort of participation (especially from more privileged corners) and perhaps entailing a different approach toward exoticism.
Why do economically disadvantaged urban areas (the ghetto, favela, barrio, shantytown, and its many other manifestations) play such a prominent role in the circulation of this material?
For all their actual impoverishment (or one might say because of it), ghettos are also immense sites of creativity — and, part and parcel of that, powerful repositories of authenticity. I would alter your question to note that while these places play a prominent role in the production of this material, they are less involved in its circulation. Increasingly, grassroots producers from around the world are using “social media” to share their productions with their peers and wider audiences, but a lot of the wider circulation of these genres is being initiated by web-trawling bloggers and DJs who are enthralled by the stuff they’re hearing. Sometimes the grounds for that fascination and/or empathy are spurious, sometimes sincere.
Do you see any political ramifications to this increased cultural dialogue?
It’s not always clear to me that this phenomenon entails a “dialogue” except in a rather vague (and one-sided) sense. I do think that playing music for local audiences (say, here in the US) which is not what they typically encounter can do a sort of political-cultural work insofar as it reforms ideas about us/them. I tend to reserve my greatest hope for the locally transformative power of these engagements — that is, we can work in Boston or New York to reshape our own sense of our soundscapes and our neighbors, and ourselves.
What makes the contemporary musical practice of appropriating and recontextualizing sounds so prominent and attractive?
The relatively novel ease of cut-and-paste is what accounts for the prominence of these methods. As for their attractiveness, I think that recontextualization, reframing, and remaking culture is simply an elemental way that we make sense of the world and share that sense with others. Of course, the advent of the global internet also means that distant appropriations are easier and more commonplace than ever.
You‚Äôve talked about how this emerging global musical culture is precariously archived within corporate platforms. How could we create a public, non-privatized space on the internet?
This is a serious problem for posterity, and even for present practice. It reflects both a corporate capture of “public” spaces as well as a new prioritization on the part of music-makers and -sharers toward immersion and participation. Toward remedying that — to the extent that people care to — I think we really need to develop (and invest in) new platforms that allow people to personally host (or better, collectively distribute) the media that we make or care to share. I wish there were a will to do this at a municipal or even federal level — to really do it with public funds, as an investment in infrastructure — but there are too many conflicts, I suspect, to make this possible now. So, this has to start with a collective but individual move toward our own servers, and with insisting that we keep copies of everything we post to the corporate platforms whose only value — beyond the user-interface they provide — is entirely generated by our presence and participation there. An open-source alternative to Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud / YouTube that allows people to maintain more control over their digital culture would be a killer app to be sure.
In both your essays and your mixes, you chart out the routes of particular sounds such as the dembow riddim or the ‚Äúzunguzung meme‚ÄĚ as they get reappropriated in a variety of different contexts. What kinds of insights about contemporary musical culture does such a method provide?
Since — as I think such mixes make audible — it’s not so easy to generalize about “appropriation” when a tune or drumbreak can clearly take so many forms and support such a diversity of messages, the most consistent insight has more to do with the fundamental flexibility and reconfigurability of musical forms (and cultural forms more generally). Although I think this phenomenon far predates the age of technological reproducibility — and results from the essentially mimetic basis of culture — I do think that, with regard to the contemporary, these mixes show not only that it’s easy and commonplace to appropriate or allude to or otherwise invoke and rework previous performances, but that a great deal of creativity, and localization of the power to affect an audience, is very audibly a part of the process.
Which of your currents projects are you most excited about?
I’ve got an ongoing project about the Boston soundscape that I’ve just extended recently with the publication of “Love That Muddy Ether” / Boston Pirate Party — a brief reflection on the rise of Caribbean low-power / pirate radio here in Boston and an audio collage that tries to encapsulate, and take some poetic liberties with, this city’s segregated soundscape. I’m also embarking, after a couple trips to Rotterdam last fall, on a book project about bubbling, the Dutch-Caribbean hyperactive twin of reggaeton, which seems, like kindred genres such as jungle and bhangra, to speak volumes about the musical mediation of a changing sense of place.