I haven't seen Negativland's NY show. Their work was perhaps better before they got radicalized by their U2 lawsuit--when sampling was the tool rather than the content. I listened to a couple of recent pieces which were all about stealing and the reaction was "enough already." Partly touched off by their coming to NY, a few of us had a rough and tumble discussion a couple of posts back about sampling and copyright. G.K. Wicker, a great musician and no fan of sampling, takes the position that musicians should be compensated for their efforts, recommending that we sampling proponents first master an instrument to understand its value: "after many years of frustration and endless boring practice of scales and etudes, you'll start to understand just how priceless those juicy little phrases everyone's so eager to load into their samplers really are." On the flip side, he says, as long as you don't try to sell what you sample, you don't run afoul of copyright law. He has more to say and I'm grossly paraphrasing here, so please follow the link and read it. But since it's my bully pulpit, let me be a bastard and quote some of my own responses here, edited for continuity and syntax with a couple of new points thrown in:
1. It's not true that corporations leave you alone as long as you don't sell. An example from the video front: Eric Fensler's hilarious remixes of old GI Joe public service announcements, totally free downloads enjoyed by many on the Net, led to a cease and desist letter from Hasbro's lawyers. Fensler had to move them off his own site, presumably to a server that could take the heat from the Man. Copyright is becoming an egregiously overused weapon to stifle anything a company doesn't like.
2. I wouldn't use the word stealing in relation to samples. The Beasties' Paul's Boutique is a great album, especially the first ten minutes or so. It's a completely new creation, relying on quick hits of recognition of others' work meshed with new content. Is it stealing when a live drummer throws in a couple of bars of Gene Krupa? Usually audiences are delighted by that kind of quotation. That's all it is, quotation--record company lawyers and the word "stealing" brought an end to a beautiful, creative period in music
3. Courts don't know squat about music and don't--won't--discriminate, use-of-sampling wise, between the hook in Ice Ice Baby and two seconds of an unidentifiable Chuck Mangione lick in some chillout track. To the company lawyers it's all stealing, and thus we have bad, un-nuanced precedents in the law books.
4. Just because the legal issue has been decided--in favor of the folks with cash, what a surprise--doesn't mean it's been decided morally. I try to look at it not just as a "collage artist" but as a maker of whole-cloth works who frankly wouldn't mind seeing or hearing a chunk of them here or there in another context. Fragmentation and recontextualization changes the art--the amount of sweat you put into a piece only means something in the context of that piece. The chunk sampled could be great because you worked or great because of some studio accident that had nothing to do with how hard you worked. As for the relative offensiveness or inoffensiveness of the size and usage of the sampled "chunk," that should be a matter of degree and intent, but that's not the law, thanks to the Turtles, U2, et al.
5. The sampling suits aren't silly [compared to other forms of corporate malfeasance], especially not to anyone who's on the receiving end of them. Litigation drains you emotionally and financially.
6. Lots of people who look in on this page have mastered a craft--whether it be playing an instrument, painting a photorealistic picture, or inventing an art form that hasn't even been recognized yet. For everyone who thinks he's entitled to every nickel he can wring out of the expertise, there are others who know it can never be copped or diminished by sampling; that imitation is flattery whether or not it puts money in the cash drawer--that they are The Maestro.
7. I'm not too persuaded by cults of expertise. Segovia mastered his craft but we still value the Troggs (at least some of us do). As for somebody who mashes up Segovia and the Troggs...well, that's doomed to be an underground phenomenon and we'll never know its wider value, thanks to the courts and the inflexibility of the "get paid for everything" viewpoint.
I really liked their new album. I think their message has kind of a reborn relevance with recent internet-spawned copyright ordeals. Even if some of the ideas are a little obvious, it's sonicly interesting and funny. And it's nice to hear good sample based music again that doesn't sound like it's all about the pluginz. "piece of pie" is amazing.
Hey Tom, great discussion by everyone and thanks for the compliment. I'm not against sampling by any means, and I still use samples, I just try to avoid identifiable, copyrighted ones. If you nick a bit of old Chuck Mangione and mangle it sufficiently that it isn't recognizable, although it's technically against the law, you are unlikely to get caught or face any penalty as long as you don't tell anyone and it is REALLY unrecognizable. It's sort of like speeding here on the freeways in Southern California; everyone does it and the "man" simply looks the other way. What really draws the man's ire are blatant ripoffs like "Ice Ice Baby" and the Negativland U2 record (which got us into this whole discussion). It's interesting that everyone agrees that Vanilla Ice should have to pay for using two seconds of Queen but no one seems to think that Negativland and SST should have to pay for using 35 seconds of U2 and copying their logo. Could it be that simply that Vanilla is "uncool" and Negativland is "cool"? It seems that way to me, but what do I know?
Not to belabor this more than we have, but the difference between Vanilla Ice and Negativland is that one is in the business of making monster hit records and the other is art. It is "appropriation art" a la Sherrie Levine rephotographing Walker Evans or neo-Dada like Robert Rauschenberg buying and erasing a drawing by de Kooning, which may not be types of art one likes or has any respect for but as a society we theoretically give artists a break to raise difficult questions and even get paid a relative pittance for it without throwing the book at them. The Negativland U2 business seems to deeply offend you but I'm equally irked that the U2 couldn't be generous enough to say hey this is art, just like we're doing with that satellite footage only with our music and image as the butt of the joke, these guys aren't really competing for the same market share, and ask for a token slap on the wrist settlement, or hell maybe throw them a little money by way of patronage. Whenever you talk about Negativland's stunt it's kind of with a sneer, like of course we can all see they're just hustlers and con men. I really, truly don't agree.
As someone who actually has been through litigation over a film I directed (which was then illegally sold after the fact) and won, I don't get the fuss over copyright law.
Some might say the world is richer for multiple retellings of the same story, old jewels in new settings, and various acts of creative misreading, but I understand the need for absolute originality burns strong in some fanatics, I mean, artists.
looks like this thread will be a magnet for the opposition. commenter grumpo sounds like the pressure of paying off an nyu film school loan has clouded the thinking of his/her inner artist. because thats what we are talking about here, art. the type of artful thinking that brought us the short film "classical gas" (think of all those artists ripped off by the filmaker!) and the artistic genius of say dickie goodman (mentioned in this steinski interview - links lead to mp3 downloads).
From the Classical Gas page: "Due to copyright issues, we cannot distribute the piece." Hundreds of microsecond views of famous artworks (Mona Lisa, etc) all originally meant to be contemplated at length, reduced to a stroboscopic blur. Millions saw it on TV in the 60s and enjoyed it, were influenced by it. Copyright fascists, man, you can't live with them, you can't kill them.
Ho Ho, NYU. Loans are paid, you godawful hippies. And it sure wasn't NYU.
Thanks for your wisdom, Newt. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
you better get back to work before you get fired.
Yes, as the "resident artisan" over here at the RNC, it is hard to juggle my role as image manipulator, my imperitive to defend traditional culture, and my fascist desire to undermine hotbeds of subversive cultural thought like this temple of the avant over here (sample topic: sampling: good or bad? Wow!)
Excellent post. I have Negativland's latest album and it's great. Funny, engaging and creative. Their Creative Commons license (the Sampling one) is the only one that was created to fit a particular artist's vision; the others, however good they are, are created more to fit a percieved need than a personal need.
You always know you've lost when you resort to attacking the originality of an idea rather than its truth.
good post, Tom. I think its a good idea, right now, to iterate the benefits of sharing art. Seems like the future could tip either way.