Archive for August, 2009

August 31st, 2009

Late Summer Adventures


August 31st, 2009

Bo Bo Bo!

Readers of this blog need no introduction to the mighty Maga Bo, our guest at Beat Reseach TONIGHT (!), but this blurb from his website sums it up pretty nicely without using the words “ghetto” OR “global” —

Maga Bo is a producer/DJ based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His work spans the breadth of international urban bass music from hip hop and kwaito to baile funk and jungle ragga to dub, grime and dubstep with flares of samba, rai, bhangra, cumbia, skewed electronic beats and loudspeaker jitter.

His live performances are a hybrid mix of DJ set and live PA where he mixes diverse sounds culled from pirate cassettes bought on the street in various parts of the world, MP3s from the internet, obscure vinyl found in underground shops, original beats, unreleased remixes and exclusive tracks. Divergent sources are combined and mixed live in a dubwise fashion with a DJ’s feel for the dance floor and the hip hop mentality of creating by re-contextualizing. Projected video and photo images from his travels and recording sessions bring an extra visual dimension to the music.

Come on out and feel the noise. Bo never disappoints.


August 28th, 2009

Dark Side of the MUM

Tomorrow night — come party under the stars highway with me, a few of my favorite DJs, and a whole host of spacey Somervillains!

Project MUM
Space: the Final Frontier
An intergalactic outdoor dance party
Under McGrath Highway in Union Square, Somerville
Saturday, August 29th, 9pm-1am (rain or shine)
$10 Suggested Donation

MC: Dr. Dooriddle
DJs: Flack, Wayne & Wax, Axel Foley, Pace
Cosmic Video Mashup: VJ Dziga
Space Odyssey Lighting & Effects: Todd Sargent
Alienettes: Carey Foster, Jude Heichelbech, Penney Pinette, Amy Strong, Terra Weaver
Costume Design: Penney Pinette
Video Documentation: Charles Daniels

SPACE COSTUME CONTEST! Winner gets a one-year supply of TANG!, the drink of astronauts

An ArtsUnion Event presented by The Somerville Arts Council and ARTSomerville

I’ve been digging through my digital staxx of tasty spacelectro, so be ready for cantina-band jams from the future(past)!


August 18th, 2009

Re-Meet the Beatles, *Really* This Time

Last night at Beat Research the employees of Cambridge-based video game makers Harmonix swarmed the E Room with their friends, their gadgets, and their various musical side projects. They put on quite a show, and to a packed house! Video killed the radio star, but Rock Band might make some rock stars yet.

Harmonix is in the news right now as they gear up to release the newest edition of Rock Band. Devoted to the Beatles, the game has been generating a lot anticipation and a lot of commentary. The Fab Four — by which I mean Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and Apple Corp. — are remarkably and, in some cases, notoriously strict controllers of their music and brand. Case in point: their recordings are still unavailable via iTunes. So the fact that they signed on with Harmonix speaks significantly to their belief in the potential of the game — and, it goes without saying, their ability to maintain close control.

This emerges, alongside countless other fascinating bits, in a recent NYT magazine article, in which Harmonix founder and CEO Alex Rigopulos claims no less than to be on the brink — and at the helm — of a new era in THE music industry:

… last month Harmonix announced that it will license software tools and provide training for anyone to create and distribute interactive versions of their own songs on a new Rock Band Network, which will drastically expand the amount and variety of interactive music available. Already the Sub Pop label, which released the first Nirvana album, has said it plans to put parts of its catalog and future releases into game format. The Rock Band Network is so potentially consequential that Harmonix went to great lengths to keep its development secret, including giving it the unofficial in-house code name Rock Band: Nickelback, on the theory that the name of the quintessentially generic modern rock group would be enough to deflect all curiosity. After a polite gesture in the direction of modesty, Rigopulos predicted, “We’re really going to explode this thing to be the new music industry.”

The possibility of opening up the Rock Band platform for all manner of artists and labels (not that they’re offering to do that exactly) is definitely an exciting one, and the release of the Beatles game will no doubt prove a major marketshare expansion for Harmonix. What struck me throughout the article, however, was not so much the implications for (the?) music industry, but rather, the bizarre contradictions that emerged around questions of control (of the Beatles’ “property”) and, simultaneously, an acknowledgment that the Beatles are inherently (and increasingly) a fan-produced phenomenon.

Paul seemed to voice this recognition most clearly when he says that a Beatles edition of Rock Band “reflects where the Beatles are at,” since, as he puts it —

We are halfway between reality and mythology.

I suppose I’d agree with that (and/or this). But this recognition of the Beatles’ mythologization seems pretty ironic alongside the band’s cautious and occasionally litigious actions with regard to “unauthorized” uses of their music. The article describes the deep degrees of tricknological secrecy and protectiveness applied to the project c/o Giles Martin, the audio engineer son of fifth-Beatle and legendary producer George Martin and Harmonix’s point of contact with the Beatles’ master recordings.

Mainly Martin worked in the less-iconic Room 52 down the hall, next to the men’s room. Apple’s preoccupation with security meant that the high-quality audio “stems” he created never left Abbey Road. If the separated parts leaked out, every amateur D.J. would start lacing mixes with unauthorized Beatles samples. Instead, Martin created low-fidelity copies imprinted with static for the Harmonix team to take back to the States — in their carry-on luggage. They were just good enough to work with until the game coding could be brought back to Abbey Road and attached to the actual songs.

I found the references to “amateur D.J.”s and “unauthorized samples” — even though it’s unclear whether these are Martin’s or the author’s words — pretty interesting to read against McCartney’s quote above. In other words, THX 4 THE MYTHOLOGY BUT DONT DO ANYTHING UNAUTHORIZED K? Or, you’re welcome to re-meet the Beatles, but don’t try to re-mix them.

One wonders what would be the harm of “amateur” DJs “lacing” mixes (now there’s a verb) with “unauthorized” Beatles samples. I mean, as “amateur” products such mixes would not circulate in the same market at the Beatles, or any market for that matter. Moreover, however craptastic their new contextualizations, they could never lessen the power of the original songs. And what harm would fantastic remixes be? Could such critically-acclaimed and popularly shared projects as the cease-and-desisted (but only kinda) Grey Album, or DJ BC’s The Beastles, actually degrade or dilute the Beatles brand? Detract from their mythology?

How is one supposed to participate in the Beatles’ mythology anyway — a mythology which, like all myth, can only be collectively produced and maintained — if one needs “authorization”? This paradox brings us to one of the oddest, and perhaps most disturbing and incoherent, quotations in the piece:

McCartney sees the game as “a natural, modern extension” of what the Beatles did in the ’60s, only now people can feel as if “they possess or own the song, that they’ve been in it.”

Only now? You mean that when I bought those CDs and sang-along with friends and family and learned to play your songs on guitar and tried my hand at remixing a few tracks … you mean that all that time I’ve yet to inhabit or possess your songs. Shucks. I guess I’ll have to get the game.

This is all a little maddening for those of us who insist on our rights to work with and riff on public culture — especially public culture we hold dear. (And I do hold the Beatles’ oeuvre quite dear, in case you didn’t know.) Few things could be more public than the Beatles’ repertory, which, to paraphrase John, might be more popular than Bible hymns. In the face of all of this, I have to stand by a bit of insight I came by some years ago: if Michael Jackson can own the Beatles’ music, so can I.

McCartney is either disingenuously hyping this product with a quote like that or, I just don’t know — maybe the author distorted the sentiment somehow. I can’t swallow that Paul actually believes playing Beatles Rock Band is truly the first or only way to “possess” or “own” or “be in” his & his bandmates’ songs. I think we either do all of these things anytime we engage seriously with a song, in the many ways that may happen (listening, singing, playing, tweaking), or we never do, even those of us who write songs.

Musician and writer Ethan Hein, who himself recently posted about Rock Band and inhabiting songs, also seemed a little irked by McCartney’s comment. His retort? “You know what really makes me feel like I possess a song? If you let me remix it.” The last few words of that sentence link to a meditation on sampling which includes a pretty resonant paragraph with regard to the ownership of songs; allow me to quote Ethan at a little length —

When I was an angry, confused teenager, I let myself be convinced that ideas are property, that it’s possible to steal them and thereby harm their owner. I listened to strongly opinionated musicians and critics hold up originality as the main criterion of artistic worth. Then I got out into the world and did a lot of playing and interpreting and composing of my own, and at the end of the day I’ve come to feel that to assert ownership of a song is like trying to assert ownership over a person or an animal or a place. You can have a close relationship with a song, you can be present at its birth and you can give it nurture, but once it grows up, you can’t control it. Why would you want to?

Say word. At that, I’ll leave you with perhaps my favorite Beatles mashup. Good luck removing this from the world! Or figuring out who “owns” it —

Oh, and props to Harmonix and the Beatles. I bet the game is gonna be great. SRSLY!


August 12th, 2009

Reggaeton Roundup

pa que tu lo sepa / pero lo sabía

If you haven’t heard it yet, I want to recommend that you check out Afropop’s recent show re: reggaeton, Reggaeton Roundup: New Moves in Latin Youth Music. Here’s their blurb —

When Daddy Yankee released his hit single “Gasolina” in 2005, nobody suspected what was about to happen. Reggaeton, that rollicking Caribbean dance-rap, traveled like an uncontained blaze around the world – crossing over from the Latin charts to pop and hip-hop from the U.S to Australia, thrilling and/or shocking those that came in its path. Reggaeton was the sound and swagger of a new generation of urban Latin Americans, and a whirl around Latin America in 2009 will show you that the genre is here to stay. We travel to Puerto Rico, the birthplace of reggaeton, and talk to players from the music’s history and take the pulse of today’s scene. We’ll follow that omnipresent bass-heavy beat that wove its way from coastal Panama in the 1980s to freestyle sessions in San Juan in the 90s, and talk to Puerto Ricans who are taking the music to new places today. Interviews with Omar Garcia, Calle 13, and more, plus side trips to Brazil and Chicago to get a taste of Baile Funk and Latin House.

I spoke with Marlon Bishop, the producer of the program, prior to his trip to PR, where he picked up some great quotes and infos (including, that Playeros #1-36, about which I’ve long been wondering, were apparently mixtapes of contemporary hip-hop and reggae; wasn’t until the infamous #37 that Playero featured local PR artists). Be sure to hit up the site’s extended reggaeton feature for additional background. I’m happy to report that, at least from my perspective, Marlon enriches as he affirms the (meta)narrative set forth in our book (and my capítulo in partic).

One note of detraction: I think the attempt to rope in wider sounds (freestyle, funk carioca, latin house) is a bit unnecessary, and leads to the program not only losing some coherence but also some perspective / authority. The dig at latin freestyle, as if it were unlistenable, smacks of elitism; and the idea that Miami bass found its only future home in Rio seems to overlook some crucial crunk continuities. But other than those questionable decisions, I think the program is really quite solid and enjoyable. Probably the best extant aural accompaniment to my chapter, sin duda. (Though this page will def get better over time.)

Props to Marlon & Afropop for keeping the story going — y pa’ apoyando reggaeton (o qualquier se llama).


August 12th, 2009

Midsummer Adventures, pt. 2


August 11th, 2009

one plus one equals three

This spring, after Nettle’s Boston visit, an ol’ fan of /Rupture and the Toneburst Collective told me that she still had a copy of a vintage /Rupture mixtape. On cassette! You know, from back when “mixtapes” were actually tapes.

I borrowed it and digitized it and emailed it to Jace. I also asked if I could share some of it here and whether I might throw him assorted odd questions about it. It turns out, according to the DJ himself, that 1 + 1 = 3 was his very first mixtape (!), produced sometime in the late 90s —

i actually cant remember the year i did this. that Saul Williams
track i use had just come out. i was living in central sq…

it was 2 decks, str8 to cassette, all live one-take business.

it was def my 1st mixtape. i sold it at Toneburst shows.

i did the artwork

I was enthused to hear some Toneburst-era /Rupture. Although I attended a few Toneburst parties back in the day, and picked up their comp at Newbury Comics way back when, I don’t actually remember seeing /Rupture play at any of em (or Jake or Flack for that matter). I do remember seeing We, a great favorite of mine, when they came up for a big bash at MassArt.

One cool thing about this vintage /Rupture mix (for me), as featured in the excerpt that I’m sharing here, is that — even if I wouldn’t put 1+1 together (to make 3?), and realize who he was, until much later — the one time I did see /Rupture DJ back then, he was playing Saul Williams’s “Twice the First Time” (which pegs this mix right around ’97/98). The track really caught my ear and made me stand there for a minute, wondering, among other things, who was this dude playing radical music through a decent soundsystem on the lawn in front of the the Science Center. And why wasn’t there more of that?

Even as 1 + 1 = 3 gives a sense of how much he has grown and morphed as a DJ, it still offers some recognizably rupturey maneuvers and seems to prefigure the strange melange of Gold Teeth Thief. Trad middle-eastern sounds meet modern beat science, from slurred boom-bap to minimal dancehall, rollicking jungle to proto-breakcore noise. You won’t hear all of that in these 9 minutes, but you’ll hear a lot.

/Rupture sez he may re-release the mixtape in some form soon; hopefully, this 9-minute clip whets yr appetite. After the mix link/stream-button, you’ll find a brief interview wherein W&W asks /R some funny questions about mojos and noise and math and he replies in generous, off-the-cuff fashion.

dj /rupture, one plus one equals three (side b) [excerpt]

note: this interview was conducted over email back in early April

W&W:     When’s the last time you played a jungle record? Did dubstep take jungle’s mojo?

/R:    Caracas, 3 or 4 weeks ago… But before playing that old 12″ out, I hadn’t dropped a jungle or breakcore tune in ages, like maybe 3 years. Dubstep didn’t take jungle’s mojo, which is part of its problem. although drum&bass is now a genre, its dead in New York, but many cities, especially in Europe, will have a substantial drum&bass scene that’s going strong, usually organized around a weekly or monthly party. Drum&bass is essentially institutionalized, like house or techno, it’s no longer nonstop innovation and surprises, but its still solid food for ravers.

W&W:    There’s a lot of dancehall in here. Is reggae the ultimate sonic glue? Or does the breakbeat, skittering in and out throughout at several tempos, deserve equal standing?

/R:    the exciting parts about reggae aren’t strictly sonic, so it’s not quite sonic glue — BUT reggae culture does have some powerful music values: there’s a constant emphasis on populist experimental/novelty, the incredible importance of the performativity of prerecorded music (whether dub versions or enlivened by deejays or DJs, etc), a long history of close links between audio engineer-musician-soundsystem, and lots more. All these things combine to make reggae culture central to what I do, much moreso than breakbeat (think of all the great new music w/ programmed beats instead of sampled breakbeats). Of courses, jungle’s appeal stemmed from the exuberance and shock of it, but also b/c it had all sorts of dancehall references folded up inside it.
    when i think of sonic glue, i think the the Technics 1200s themselves, the fact that since the 70s we became used to performing records themselves — its not a sonic component that drives my mix style, the sounds are always changing. for me its more of a “well, you’ve got these records made by other people. how do you combine them into something that bears your style?” and that search for a voice or style or narrative line is basically the creation of sonic glue. and i was never interested in the easiest route– just playing one style and letting it end there.

W&W:     One classic component of your mixes is a healthy dose of noise, whether as unintelligible masses of sound per se, or as when jungle tips into breakcore. Without those latter genres in the mix so much these days, how do you still manage to bring the noise?

/R:    the ‘noise’ on Uproot was the ambient stretch in the middle — noise is so flexible, so contextual. the noise on Minesweeper Suite was breakcore mixed with Borbetomagus. but listen to enough Borbetomagus records and the saxophone assault stops sounding like noise. same for breakcore. So i’m more into noise as something textural that challenges the notion of music (or beats). pulling out the beats into floating melody was more of a risky or radical gesture, for me, then slamming into breakcore — the noise that folks had come to expect. I think of noise as a moment almost outside the logic of the sound, so ambient in a beatfilled world works now as well as more traditional noise worked a few years ago.
   that said, come see me live*, i always have a few full-on turntable noise moments. I love playing w/ soundsystem dynamics and saturating the mixer and pushing records into that almost physical space where its all just noise and vibration. with the right records and the FX i use and whatnot, i push for that. sometimes it’ll just be at the end of the concert. i think its really cool to have played dance music for awhile then end with something totally other, using the decks in a completely different way, working with feedback and delay, using vinyl as percussion instrument, that sort of thing.
   playing with Andy in Orleans once we had terrible problems w/ bass feedback from the turntables — finally at the end of the concert i decided to work with it, and managed to get (and partially control) an amazing bass drone from the turntable — you can hear it in one of the tracks on Patches.

W&W:    How about the title? It reminds me on the one hand of SFJ’s great article about mashups “1+1+1=1,” perhaps expressing a sense of the greater-than-the-sum logic of DJing. But perhaps the more obvious parallel is 2+2=5, which could either represent, as for Orwell, the fascist project of manufacturing truth, or, as for Dostoevsky’s protagonist in Notes from Underground, a desire to reject cold rationality for human messiness. By asking this, have I already overdetermined the mix too much? Have you invited that? Are you now or have you ever been a Stalinist?

/R:    haha, you’re reading too much (into it)! to me 1+1=3 is the DJ’s axiom. plain as that. the work of the DJ lies in taking one record, blending another, and getting that magic moment where the sum is greater than the parts, when the ‘third’ record emerges and you can hear the two tracks individually, superimposed (if you know what to listen for) and also can hear the new thing they make when they play in unison. so yeah, rather than some call for the irrational or illogical, to me it was a simple statement of turntablist logic. it also worked with the xerox ziney stuff i was doing then, like the cover for the mixtape. with a quick cut and paste, a lot can be created.

* attn, Boston headz: DJ /Rupture (and Dutty labelmate, Matt Shadetek) will be playing this Friday evening at the ICA


August 5th, 2009

Gwada Blondinettes Have More Fun

White people can’t dance, you know — to be more precise, not if they’ve been raised in a place or community or family where they’re not socialized and enculturated into dancing, or don’t later make great efforts to correct such an impoverished upbringing. (& of course, that goes for ppl of any color.)

This video of Elvyna, “la petite blondinette,” getting her groove on to some coupé décalé definitely gives the lie to racialist bs about skin color and shake-ability. Nuff culture, and yes, some natural talent no doubt, on display here —

The song is by Jessy Matador, who is apparently from the DRC but whose MySpace has him repping “Paris/Dakar/Miami/Kinshasa.” He’s clearly plugged into the Francophone world, and if I’m not mistaken this track is somehow connected to Guadeloupe (Gwada). But Google doesn’t translate most of the (French?) lyrics. I do like what it gives me for the first verse, tho —

It is there to do the show
Did you want to heat
One meter is for the ambience
Did you want to dance

You can compare her choreography to the original here. Notably the top comment on the YouTube video leads with this:

mdr elle a eté adopté par des noir ??

another one includes this —

Superbe!! une futur chorégraphe d’enfer!!? WHITE PEOPLE DO DANSE merci petite blonde!!

Merci from me too! (& to kiddid for sending the link)


August 4th, 2009

Bearing Witness, or Not – Part 3

As many of you may have heard, the trial concluded on Friday with the absurd award of $675k in statutory damages to the RIAA — in other words, Joel Tenenbaum, a 25 year old physics grad student, was found liable, at the whopping cost of $22,500 each, for the willful infringement of the copyrights to 30 songs he downloaded and shared on p2p networks during college.

That’s a pretty odd figure, $22,500, the result of some weird math, for sure. It appears the jurors were divided and so “compromised” on a number that lands between the statutory minimum of $750-per (which would make for a total of $22.5k) and the maximum of $150k-per (for a total of $4.5M). So maybe the jury did something like this: let’s take the minimum total and apply that to EVERY act of infringement instead of all of them together. Or maybe they just hit X30 on the calculator twice. Or filled out the form incorrectly. I dunno. But I still find it hard to believe that a jury would find $675k a “just” amount to fine an individual being sued by a group of corporations. That just seems ridiculously unfair and outsize. But so it goes. To put it bluntly, Rasta, the shitstem muddup.

Although, as I mentioned, I didn’t get to testify as an expert witness, I did eventually take the stand as a “fact” witness. The facts that I demonstrated were rather simple: that one could buy an mp3 of any of Joel’s 30 songs via Amazon as well as find them streaming on YouTube. Had he his druthers, Charlie’d have wanted me to be able to demonstrate more than that, I’m sure, and to talk more about the cultural context of filesharing, but that was not to be. The plaintiffs’ lawyers objected strenuously to any questions that strayed from this simple demonstration, including the seemingly innocuous “What is an ethnomusicologist?”

Given that Charlie had been ruffling the plaintiffs’ and judge’s feathers for months — including during the trial itself — I actually had to take the stand twice: once without the jury present, to make sure that Charlie “behaved himself” and didn’t introduce any “prejudicial” / “immaterial” / non-“fact”-astic testimony, and a second time with the jury back in the room. I don’t know how unusual that is, but a couple of funny things emerged from the process.

First, a little background on why Charlie might want to call me as a fact witness to demonstrate something so straightforward. I’m sure he had plenty of reasons, actually, including putting my sympathetic face and voice on the stand (I kid you not). Mainly, though, Charlie wanted to show how easy it is, today (as opposed to when Joel was first filesharing), to legally purchase any of the mp3s in question, DRM-free to boot. (We used Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” as the example.) He also wanted to show how easy it remains to acquire an mp3 for free.

not the official, unembedable instantiation obv

The funniest moment came during an attempted demo of the latter (during the voir dire portion of the proceeedings, i.e., before the jury joined us). After showing the judge, plaintiffs, and observers how easy it is to find “Come As You Are” on Amazon and purchase an mp3 (with just 1-Click®!), Charlie asked me to find the song on YouTube. Notably, the top return for “Come As You Are” is the official instantiation of the (non-embeddable) video c/o universalmusicgroup. Further making his point about the current state of the legal mp3 biz, right away an ad popped up at the bottom of the video offering links to Amazon or iTunes to purchase the song as an mp3.

Charlie asked me, however, to go a step further and show how one might extract the video or audio from the YouTube page. So I quickly navigated to and pasted the URL into the input field. At this point, lead plaintiff lawyer for the RIAA, Matt Oppenheim practically leaped out of his seat. He would not allow his client’s copyright to be infringed right there and then! Charlie said that this was a clear case of fair use, as we were in a courtroom of the US government, but that wasn’t good enough for the judge or Oppenheim, so he relented. But, really, the utter silliness of the seriousness! These guys are jokers and don’t even know it.

The second funny thing was that I was actually asked to log-in to my Amazon account in order to click-thru the purchase of the “Come As You Are” mp3. In a rare moment of levity, Oppenheim said he was more than happy to let his clients benefit from my $0.99 purchase. I registered a slight objection at this, noting that I had bought Nevermind on CD back in the 90s and shouldn’t really have to buy this song twice. But it turns out, I eventually had to buy the song thrice, for I was asked to click through again with the jury present! Don’t ask me what I’m going to do with two mp3 copies of “Come As You Are.” Actually, feel free to suggest possibilities! I was thinking about some sort of absurd duplicate-file art-project. A redundant mashup perhaps? Would that be a fair use? Even if an inaudible transformation? (Certainly as parody and critique, no?)

Given that the chips were strongly stacked against them — that, among other things, they couldn’t argue fair use or encourage jury nullification — I give Charlie and Joel credit for going all-in anyway. Their only real defense, after Joel admitted “liability,” was that they had no defense but that Joel did nothing wrong and that the truly un-fair dimension of this lawsuit is the application of corporate pressure and commercial law to Joel’s life and the arbitrary choice to bankrupt him as a lesson to his millions of peers. All things considered, I thought Charlie’s closing argument was really quite eloquent; he danced around the issue of nullification gracefully as he attempted to tell the jury that it was fully in their power — and instructions — to reach a “just” verdict. I’m sorry that you can’t hear & see it for yourself, but that’s another issue.

I have yet further thoughts about witnessing in this case, and others like it. But I’m going to have to save those for a separate post (part 4?). I’d like to round these thoughts out, however, with a brief reflection on the question of musical value in our day & age.

Let me begin with one of the more notorious and obviously “unexpert” opinions offered by economist Stan Liebowitz (one of the plaintiffs’ witnesses). John Palfrey reported it thusly,

This starts to get us toward some notion of musical value, if — for me and many others — a rather specious and ignorant idea of what constitutes the “good.” In dismissing this bizarre opinion, which really should not have been uttered in that courtroom, we need go no further than this lovely rejoinder I received when I retweeted Palfrey’s quotation —

Can we really place the value of a song at $22.5k? I guess in some abstract sense we might contend that Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” is worth that much; Incubus’s “New Skin,” on the other hand, I’m not so sure about. I jest, of course, kinda. The truth is that these songs can’t really be assigned any sort of rational value, but rather than that making them worth nothing, that actually makes them priceless. As Cory Doctorow observed in a recent review of Chris Anderson’s Free, albeit with regard to so-called “amateur” culture rather than “professional” —

Though Anderson celebrates the best of non-commercial and anti-commercial net-culture, from amateur creativity to Freecycle, he also goes through a series of tortured … exercises to put a dollar value on this activity … But for the sizeable fraction of this material – and it is sizeable – that was created with no expectation of joining the monetary economy, with no expectation of winning some future benefit for its author, that was created for joy, or love, or compulsion, or conversation, it is just wrong to say that the “price” of the material is “free”. The material, is, instead, literally priceless. It represents a large and increasing segment of our public life that is conducted entirely for reasons outside the marketplace. Some of the supporting planks may be market-driven (YouTube’s free hosting), other parts are philanthropic (’s free hosting), or simply so cheap that creators don’t even notice the cost (any one of the many super-cheap hosting sites).

Public culture is free culture — not so much “free” in the monetary sense, though it is often that too, but “free” insofar as we the people have the freedom to access and remix and discuss it. If you put it out there, you’ve got to let it be out there and be prepared to watch it swim through the currents and cross-streams of culture. The academic “jury,” as we’d have it, is still “out” with regard to the impact of freely circulating mp3s on the livelihood of musicians, despite what the Stan Liebowitzes — shudder the thought, but he represents a plurality of sorts to be sure — of the world might assert as “expert” “fact.” See, e.g., this dissenting study.

Or take for example the recent case of a “viral” wedding video propelling sales of a year-old Chris Brown track. This calls our attention, quite clearly, I think, to the fact (if I may) that the value of a musical thing (if you must) does not so much inhere in that thing itself but accrues according to how people make use of it. Media scholar Henry Jenkins calls this spreadability, and his persuasive research is largely the reason I put “viral” in quotes back there. Referring to such phenomena as “memes” and “viruses” removes all the crucial agency involved in making something popular and meaningful and valued (and, I suppose, valuable). It misses out, as Siva said, on “how culture really works.”

If you’re a musician who disagrees with this and demands payment for every use of your “IP”-protected commodities, well, have fun playing your songs over in the corner. And don’t expect, if you’re hustling your wares out here in the open, that you won’t be treated with the disdain that so many salesmen can engender (never mind fatcat middlemen).

Thanks to the unprecedented access to powerful tools of production and connection, truly popular culture is now fully participatory culture. The kids are all right (myself included, if I may). We’re just sick&tired of mainstream monoculture and corporate enclosure. Despite attempts to insert their cultural products into every nook&cranny of social and personal life, the stuff of the RIAA and MPAA is but a narrow slice of global cultural production today. (Among other indicators, and this only at an industrial level, Hollywood recently fell to #3 in production behind Nollywood; it had long been eclipsed by Bombay’s industry.) I couldn’t tell you the last time I went to the movies or bought a CD. But I’m swimming in stuff to watch and listen to and comment on and rework as never before. What is happening is that THE culture industry — a fleeting institution really, if you take a long view — is being replaced by cultural industry writ large: namely, peer-oriented production and interaction. Observing all the activity on YouTube and imeem and MySpace, et al., disregard for copyright hardly seems to be removing “incentive” for making music and video and dance, etc.; on the contrary, we bear witness today to perhaps a greater degree of “amateur” production (i.e., people doing it mainly for the love) than ever before. Even if the amount of activity has remained a constant — though I suspect cultural production took something of a hit with the 20th century’s read-only culture (not that reading isn’t an incredibly rich and productive cultural domain of its own) — we are able to bear witness to it at an unprecedented level thanks to socially networked media, digital tools, and broadband access.

And a lot of this activity — much of which is the focus of this blog and its brethren&sistren blogs — is so unvarnishedly dope (despite what certain uninformed experts might proffer), that hi-fi industrial bling has been revealed to be but one aesthetic among many — not a question of “as good as” at all, just a way of hearing, all shiny-like, how certain sound objects embody a particular economic-ideological-historical mode of production.

Joel is not the best poster boy, by a long shot, for what I’m talking about here. But he found himself riding the wave of digital youth culture during a transitional period (in his life, the life of the net, of popular culture, & of music industry), and he should not have to pay such a price for surfing along.

Can I get a whatwhat?



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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