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The online forum Wired New York has found my 2003 post on Lord Norman Foster's "finished" Hearst Tower design. That sucker is almost complete now, standing proud and ludicrous among the parapets of the lower Columbus Circle area. Much as I like the top, "modern" part of the project, it looks as incongruous in real life sitting on that Deco pedestal as it did in the plans--exemplifying what Herbert Muschamp called "parabuildings" and Bill Schwarz more accurately calls "spaceships on rooftops."
John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness was on the Sci Fi channel in the wee hours last night. Carpenter is one my favorite movie directors but not without flaws. Found this commentary on IMDb and present it intact:
You gotta love liquid Satan!, 11 June 2005
Author: greg Humphrey (greg(at)gbhumphrey(dot)com) from United States
OK what's more scary, liquid Satan or 1987 fashion? Jameson Parker's mustache is impossible to tear your eyes away from- YES!! And the form fitting Izod! Oh my god! John Carpenter's production values have a definite sameness between his films. If you aren't paying attention you wouldn't know if you were watching "Assualt on Precint 13", "The Thing" or "Halloween". The look, the music, the acting... not much range. However it's a comfortable spot. You don't have to think or be involved too much, Carpenter is taking care of the action. The characters are not too deep, the Chinese teacher spends the first 5 minutes of the movie reciting fortune cookie philosophy, for example. Donald Pleaseeance is a scary guy... period! Alice Cooper ( welcome to MY nightmare) even with his pancake makeup isn't as scary as Pleaseance. The cast of students are typical. Geek, Jock, Brainy chick, Vulnerable chick, but no super hot chick. Interesting, I guess the studio left him alone on this one. The tension is a slow build, way too slow for today's audience. I mean, it's a BOTTLE OF LIQUID Satan! He's probably going to get out and break things! We know that! Get on with it!
"Riveter" [mp3 removed].
This piece is constructed from overlayed (licensed) midi demos from a couple of different genres; the samples are from an 80s style drum machine but the most interesting, sculpted notes come from Native Instruments' "Machine Kit," sound design by Smyglyssna.* Layering rhythmically incompatible midi files together initially sounds confusing and not too enjoyable, so the "art" is separating the files by pitch and spreading them around over several minutes' playing time in a proportioned Steve Reichian sort of way, giving each sound the maximum space and "surprise value" as it is introduced.
This is part art, part (hackless) game modding, but also a kind of reporting: many of the licensed sounds used are state of the art electronic noises, elaborately manufactured and processed as described in the NI product notes and meant to be used in every kind of music production from TV soundtracks to basement-made dance music. They aren't that interesting when you just hit "note on," though--someone has to write tunes for them, or put the art frame around them so you can hear them with greater delectation.
*According to his notes, he made the Machine Kit excusively with the sounds of the Elektron MachineDrum: "some of them have been re-sampled after being treated with BATTERY, others have been pampered with external filters, distortion and EQ."
Belatedly came across an on-again, off-again feature on Slate called "Mixing Desk"--the latest installment is a tribute to the wacky Moog synthesizer. Mingled in with critical writing you find little clickable speaker icons that say, for example, "Listen to Stereolab's 'Eternal Life of the Proletariat.'" You think, "Hmmm, Slate's getting on the mp3 blog bandwagon, well, cool, at least the music's getting out there."
What a bunch of crap, though. When it says "listen to..." it means "listen to a 29 second excerpt in Windows streaming format." They're so beholden to commercial interests they can't even give you one song to connect the criticism to--just a little taste so you'll go buy the goddam thing. Wondering how electronic dance music critic Philip Sherburne, who did an earlier installment on German techno, agreed to participate in this garbage. He has a blog, for cryin' out loud.
"Gridbug Variation" [mp3 removed]. Minimal dub techno. All beats. Kind of warm and fuzzy for the genre, and not totally humorless. A volume bump or pair of headphones is recommended--to keep the echo-spikes from clipping I had to lower the overall decibels, and that was with compression. I need a professional to mix these things now. Update: Forget what I said about the volume. It's fine--it would help if I remembered to turn up the bass on my mixer.
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.