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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.
Good Village Voice article about the various protests staged around New York on 9/11. The one at the World Trade Center--vocally endorsing the "Controlled Demolition" theory, which says that the towers shouldn't have pancaked the way they did just from burning jet fuel--pissed a lot of Ground Zero visitors off, who are still in the Al Qaeda Worked Alone and Bush Is Our Savior mode, including some firemen, who yelled back at the protesters. I happened to be walking by the site and saw the protesters in their black T shirts before they assembled with signs, etc,. and knew something was up. Really wanted to stop and talk with them, ask a few questions, but had to go to work. The 9/11 commission report sits in my throat like a half-digested wad of gristle--of course it's a whitewash, there are too many unexplained mysteries about that day, like where were the damned fighter planes? and why did Tower 7 fall, where no plane hit? At the very least 9/11 represented massive government negligence, just as we saw with Katrina, and yet Bush fired no one. A guy named George left a comment here once saying "There will always be conspiracy theories." Yeah, well, whatever helps you sleep at night.
Richard Roeper's list of pull quotes from the Katrina humanitarian disaster is here; definitely worth a read. I see from my pro-Bush Comcast mail page that the President is taking responsibility again. Didn't he do that once before, take full responsibility, and then not do anything?
Better pictures of Stefan Eberstadt's Rucksack Haus (backpack house), discussed previously here. Thanks to Chihcheng Peng at Eyebeam for reBlogging the post, and Regine at We Make Money Not Art for re-reBlogging it, with additional details and commentary. (Update: my original post now has more pics, as well as an eyewitness report).
Burgertime 3 made this comment in response to the previous post about iTunes:
I like how the "artists' computer company" doesn't offer an mp3 player that's capable of recording at decent quality. The ipod linux project revealed that the hardware can actually record at better quality, it's only limited to a low bitrate because the ipod firmware is crippleware. can't help but think it's because they're in bed with the RIAA.Many hippie communes failed because capitalism provided what was for most people a better life, due to economies of scale, distributed workloads, etc. Communalism in the digital arena, in the form of open source principals, file sharing, and so forth, actually produces a viable alternative to capitalism. Products such as Firefox, Thunderbird, and LAME for mp3-ripping are just as good or better than the commercial alternatives. As I told a friend who is working with Linux, it's important even for those of us who don't use it to have some kind of ideal standard in mind--to know it exists and that it functions in a superior way. Something like the voluntary licensing scheme for online music sales Downhill Battle proposes would work, just like Firefox works, and culture would be richer for it. iTunes, on the other hand, is a compromise scheme; it is a shame that people are embracing it, and that it seems to be on the way to becoming the standard, the way Windows is the standard, just because the record companies are so litigious and have attempted to shut down everything else that threatens their "old" (entrenched, top heavy, corrrupt) way of doing things.
I've been avoiding iTunes as a consumer and a producer with only the vaguest thought for why it rubbed me the wrong way, other than (i) the evil record companies haven't shut it down so it must be bad, (ii) $1.00 a song seems way too high for a compressed file when more good ones than you could ever listen to can be found free on the web, (iii) fads suck and Apple, after being the cool company for so many years, is starting to suck, and (iv) headphones for recreational listening are bad for your long-term hearing.
Thanks to Francis Hwang for linking to the musicians' rights organization Downhill Battle, which has this page up explaining exactly what's wrong with iTunes and proposing a much more wholesome scheme called "voluntary collective licensing." One good reason for avoiding the iTunes empire is
Despite huge new efficiencies created by internet distribution--no CDs to make, no distributors to store and ship them, no CD stores to build and run--artists receive the same pathetic cut [as they do from their exploitative record contracts]. That is the disaster of iTunes. Instead of using this new medium to empower musicians and their fans, it helps the record industry cartel perpetuate the exploitation. Apple might say it's not their fault: after all, they didn't write the unfair record contracts. But when Apple supports and profits from an obviously unfair system, while telling customers that it's "fair to the artists," they are just as guilty. [Per Downhill Battle, Apple recently removed the claim that iTunes is "fair to the artists" from their website.]Hwang recently had a run-in with the not-so-benevolent Apple when he put a parody iPod up for sale on eBay. Referencing the infamous early copyright debacle where rich rockers U2 went after indies Negativland and bled them dry from legal fees for no apparent reason other than because they could, Hwang sold an actual, functioning, repackaged-but-not-otherwise-altered iPod loaded with eight Negativland albums, "to get you started in your subversive listening habits." This was clearly an art project, prank, legitimate act of protest, or what have you; proceeds were to go the the aforementioned Downhill Battle.
The humorless Apple predictably stopped the eBay sale. Hwang received an email from the online auctioneer telling him "We would like to let you know that we removed your listing: 2290680118 Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition because an intellectual property rights owner notified us, under penalty of perjury, that your listing infringes the rights owner's copyright, trademark, or other rights." (Perjury means lying under oath. I assume this means Apple had to swear the infringement claim was valid. It could be clearer.)
Hwang's project is further explained in Rhizome's Net Art News, which perhaps goes a tad light on the heavies ("Apple contributed to the poetry of the object" by stopping the sale?), and on this page of Hwang's. His first iPod is no longer for sale, but a second version is included in Negativland's current show, which I haven't seen, at Gigantic Art Space in NYC.