Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Remix the remix of the remix of the remix

Right now I'm working on a remix for Remixin.com. It is an iterative remix project with three original 'parents' and three corresponding 'remix trees.' Now we're in the middle of Round 4. The original three works [including two of John Arroyo's tracks and Charles Dodge's "Canons for Larry (123)"] have generated 36 remixes so far, and the current round will presumably create an even larger number of new tracks than the previous ones. The rounds' numbers of remixes are as follows:

(Originals: 3)
Round 1: 7
Round 2: 12
Round 3: 17

In an interview with Dartmouth's paper, the project's creator, Arroyo, cites a kind of musical Darwinism, in which unpopular remixes will get left in the dust while the better ones will continue to birth new mixes. So far, every track has yielded at least one remix, but with the 17 mixes from Round 3, the current round may begin to reveal the beginnings of musical selection. Some remixers may hear a track they don't like and in fact remix it because they could make it better; in this case, the Darwinism theory doesn't hold up. For now, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Borrowing/stealing/quoting/reorchestrating/sampling/remixing/etc. are all nothing new in music. Unfortunately, laws that restrict this type of thing have become stricter and stricter in recent years. In remixin's case, we can enjoy the liberties of Creative Commons' NonCommercial Sampling Plus 1.o license, but when it comes time to release an album, things could get tricky.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Taste and Post-Genre

Many folks are talking about the most unwanted song: the 25-minute, schizophrenic work that only about 200 people on Earth are supposed to enjoy. I thought it was pretty cool and cackled to myself quite a bit. But the Zogby Music and Politics Poll (which I found via Avant Music News) on conservative, moderate, and liberal taste in entertainment was a lot more interesting to me. Apparently, conservatives, who favor action films, Fox News, and football video games, hate world music (under 5% would enjoy it), and like, more than any other musical genre, classical music (60% said it was their favorite). While polls are inherently reductionist, we still take them seriously, and the media wouldn't survive without them.

Stats like these make me appreciate even more somebody like Swedish multimedia artist Eric Bünger. In 2002, he put together a fascinating piece called variations on a theme by casey & finch, which I discovered while checking out Icebreaker's myspace page. In this piece for nonet, he emulates a CD skipping on the chorus to KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way I Like It." In picking a disco tune and using a techonological impetus, he's turned on the 'art music' world; to me the piece seems to throw away genre completely, and simply present something that's, well, really cool. Plenty of composers use technology to determine elements of their acoustic music, but I think this fairly simple, direct example is one of the best. Bünger makes all kinds of art, including this neat internet project Let them sing it for you. Here he is (on bass) with his band in action:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Neo-Dada at its best

Disclaimer: I don't support public pie-throwing. But I do support passionate, educated reactions to important issues, especially by 18-22-year-olds. If you want to know why, read the discussion in comments, below.

I was energized today to read that Brown University students launched two green, Cool Whip-topped pies at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who had just begun an Earth Day speech in one of Brown's largest halls last night. The first pie was right on target, while the second was just shy of its mark. Friedman's talk (called "Hot, Flat and Crowded," after his recent book, The World is Flat) dealt with green technology's economic and foreign policy implications, part of the spring speaker series entitled, “Going Green, Globally: Scientific, Economic and Political Perspectives," sponsored by the school's Environmental Change Initiative. Friedman didn't let the colored whipped cream deter him; after cleaning himself off, he did give the speech. The man isn't too popular with a large contingent at Brown, probably because of his advocacy for questionable petrol alternatives like E85 and his support of the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Believe it or not, YES: there is a video.

The two culprits, calling themselves "Greenwash Guerrillas" (those who oppose greenwashing through action) threw pamphlets at audience members before their attempted escape. The pamphlets read:

Thomas Friedman deserves a pie in the face…

* because of his sickeningly cheery applaud for free market capitalism’s conquest of the planet

* for telling the world that the free market and techno fixes can save us from climate change. From carbon trading to biofuels, these distractions are dangerous in and of themselves, while encouraging inaction with respect to the true problems at hand.

* for helping turn environmentalism into a fake plastic consumer product for the privileged

* for his pure arrogance.

* as the only way to compensate for the ridiculousness of having this fool speak on Earth Day.

On behalf of the earth and all true environmentalists — we, the Greenwash Guerrillas, declare Thomas Friedman’s “Green” as fake and toxic to human and planetary health as the cool-whip covering his face.

The pamphlet also contained an excerpt from Raymond Lotta's critical review of Friedman's book.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mozart's prophecy

While feeding my sci-fi addiction, I came across this internal monologue in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

...he wondered if Mozart had had any intuition that the future did not exist, that he had already used up his little time...This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name "Mozart" will vanish, the dust will have won.

Dick (1968), through bounty hunter Rick Deckard (2021), may underestimate recording technology's productivity, and surely the internet's storage potential (though I'm sure he predicted the internet); still, one has to agree with the prophecy in the end. I wonder when it will prove true, and if the process of destruction has already begun.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Politicians' Open Mic!

I posted not too long ago on John Ashcroft's beautiful patriotic crooning, so I decided to put together a U.S. politicians' virtual concert and review! Recently, the conservatives seem to have the edge on the music scene, though my knowledge of performing politicians is about as extensive as my knowledge of molecular biology. Perhaps this is a decent metaphor, though, because right-wingers tend to have more cash, as do the most visible musicians.

Up first is Governor Mike Huckabee. While campaigning over the past year, he's played with lots of rock and blues bands, and a surprising number of high school bands. I only wish he's had his now best bud Chuck Norris choreograph some of his stage acts. He's got a taste for the classic rock hits and the down home blues. In this clip, he exposes his chops by playing some blues basslines in one of those many stores that line the walls and floors with electric guitars and amps, and nothing else. His rhythm's a little vague at times, and his fingering's a little sloppy, but he's not bad on the whole.

Unfortunately, I can't find much footage of Condaleezza Rice playing piano. Apparently, she's kind of a bad ass. She played a Mozart piano concerto with the Denver Symphony when she was 15. (She graduated from college at age 19 Phi Beta Kappa - some people just get shit done early, I guess.) Now she plays with a chamber group in D.C. It's probably easy to guess she's more partial to Schubert and Brahms than Sciarrino or Rakowski. In fact, here are her picks for the "Ten Best Musical Works" of all time. If you're patient enough, you can watch/hear her rehearse with her quintet in the middle of this video, below.

Everybody's heard of Bill Clinton's sax chops. Let's see him in action.

He's pretty rusty, with a pretty loose embouchure and an old school style, but you can tell that if he wasn't running the country, he might have been pretty decent.
Now, check out this version. He seems to span two totally different styles in almost identical settings!

We can thank Zamzar Bob for this wonderful overdub; perhaps he's a Santeri Ojala fan? The Clapton video on that panopticist post is hilarious. This one, also from Zamzar, is too great not to post. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony:

Check out this Jimmy Kimmell show, in which the Finnish prankster Ojala interviews and then plays live over a Slash video. (Alternatively, see Slash's 1993 fan site. I think that was the year I first went online, where I used Altavista and Webcrawler.) The real live Slash then joins him on stage.

With Obama's margin against McCain slimming down to 0.2% in the last couple weeks, he should probably start thinking about pulling out a middle school band instrument or something. "B-Rock" has some good stuff to say about current hip hop (below). Despite his criticism of much of hip hop's content, he's definitely well-liked among major hip hop artists. Hilary Clinton also scored some support from Timbaland last year, when the star hosted a controversial fundraiser at his Miami home, netting 800 grand for the candidate.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Performance and the Alphabet of the Brain

I recently posted on newmusicbox on music's slow, idealogical shift away from virtuosic performance. I believe we're in the middle of a long transition away from affirmed virtuosity; part of this shift is caused by a parallel shift in compositional ideals: the 'layman-as-artist,' repetition, computer software, etc. Another angle from which to examine future virtuosity is that of human-machine interaction. Perhaps this interaction will result in 'the return of the virtuosic.'

Duke University professor Miguel Nicolelis placed electrodes in a monkey's brain and represented the electric currents produced from its thoughts in computer code - the 'alphabet of the brain.' He later programmed a computer to use this code to control a robotic arm that moved just like the monkey's real arm. Then, he mapped the monkey's real-time thoughts onto the robotic arm's motion, so a live organism was controlling a machine.

Now here's the craziest part: the monkey realized that it didn't have to move its own arm in order to move the robotic arm. It continued to move the mechanical arm with its brain while keeping its own arm stationary. The monkey had essentially become a computer, motionlessly controlling a machine's movements by means of self-produced code. [The monkey had actually been trained to use a joystick to play a video game, so at this stage, the monkey was playing a video game with its mind only.]

Scientists have also approached the organism-machine connection the other way around. One example is the 'roborat,' a rat similarly wired but controlled remotely by a scientist.

What would improved human-machine interfacing mean for music? It would certainly cause a reevaluation of virtuosity. If we could power machines to play instruments with our brains in ways our physical bodies couldn't, why not? If machines could power our bodies to play what our own minds could not initiate, why not? Ensemble Robot at MIT has been programming robots to play acoustic instruments for a few years now, which is really cool, but as far as I know, they haven't done anything with human brain impulses. Of course acoustic music produced by machines goes back to player pianos/pianolas, maybe even further. But maybe future advancements in electro-brain technology will start a trend back to the virtuosic ideal.

Check out this article on how a brain in a petri dish controlled a flight simulator.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

NonPop with Scott Unrein

What does nonpop mean? Is it some kind of value judgment, like the term 'high art'? Wikipedia's tiny entry calls it a meta-genre, whose classification originated in 2001.

Its originators, Dennis Bathory-Kitsz and David Gunn, likened the term to the fiction/nonfiction duality. In doing so, they're calling nonpop everything that is not pop, in the same way that nonfiction is everything that is not fiction. In thinking about it, it seems to make sense to classify text the other way around, giving 'the real' one term, and the fictitious its negative. Regardless of which way you frame it, this brings up all kinds of questions as to what is real, to which Baudrillard, Hal Foster, and many others would have compelling theories. Most grade school English classes don't get too deep into these types of questions, when they probably should. The nonpop term is problematic because of its enforced binary between pop and everything else; in affirming this duality, it undermines its original intent to describe a meta-genre that may or may not find influence in popular music. In the end, I don't think nonpop constitutes a value judgment but is a transitional term meant to describe the utter genre synthesis happening today. Perhaps in the future a better term will come about, an earlier term will be reawakened (fusion), or (in the best case, I think) the need for such a term will dissolve.

Scott Unrein hosts a great podcast/blog called NonPop. Its name is thought provoking, as is its music, and is thus appropriate.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

50 Cent and the National Symphony

Apparently, this brilliant Vitamin Water commercial aired last year, but I saw it for the first time tonight while watching UNC's painfull loss in the semifinals of the NCAA basketball tourney. I don't watch too much TV outside of March Madness. 50 Cent 'conducts' the 'National Symphony' in a mashup of Beethoven's 9th and his 'In Da Club.' A great way to impose their useless product on the young scene also proved a great way to comment on the esoteric, aged, and anachronistic orchestral tradition. It's pretty awesome. Rappers like 50 Cent are today's Beethovens, because performance/spectacle/bling took over compositional prowess long ago. This commercial hit the blogs a while back, so there are posts like this one, from an offended classical devotee. While seeming to favor the preservation of the orchestra as it stands today, which I am opposed to, he makes great points about the numerous racial stereotypes within the ad, and about 50's image. In particular: "...50 Cent, in the commercial, is only understood, only becomes truly himself, when he upends the great symphonic tradition, and inserts his voice." Much like graffiti, which is often associated with hip hop, it's an abrasive interruption, or superimposition, of one voice on top of another. I think part of the commercial's success is showing this process - how current pop music is entirely more powerful than even one of the most lauded classical composers in history. But at the same time, even these god-like pop figures are subject to major stereotypes and racism.

I love it when they show DJ Whoo Kid make the first viola take a hike. Whoo is the self-proclaimed 'Mixtape King', DJ of the group G-Unit (myspace), and host of his own radio show at Hot 97 in New York City. Whoo's myspace page features songs such as "Fucked Your Girl."

Check out some great outtakes:

Also in the world of hip hop media, watch this alternate take of Kanye West's new single, "Can't Tell Me Nothin," featuring bearded comedian Zach Galifianakis on lipsinc and Will Oldham on, well, being bald and in the background. Galilfianakis is from Wilkesboro, NC, and one of his two homes sits on the 60-acre farm where they filmed this video. The song is about money and motherfuckers and stuff like that. I'm not even gonna start analyzing this one right now. You can watch the original 'Can't Tell Me Nothin' video here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Let the Mighty Eagle Soar...from rocky coast to golden shore.

I had to bring it back. It's just too good. It seemed an appropriate contrast to the current plummet of America's coveted eagle. I think I'm going to apply for a Javits grant to study composition with Mr. John Ashcroft.

"Let the mighty eagle soar, soar with healing in her wings, as the land beneath her sings. Only god, no other kings. Let the mighty eagle soar."

And a wonderful 'fast' rendition:

Oh, and why not backwards?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Exploitation or Empowerment?

In my former home of Providence, RI, this recent ad for restaurant Chinese Laundry appeared in the Providence Monthly magazine. One of my first thoughts was why would a Chinese restaurant, presumably staffed and managed by Chinese people, use Western, patriarchal hyper-sexualization of East Asian women to bring in business? Then I looked up its owners, who form the Chow Fun Food Group. They own five restaurants in the city. My presumption of ownership was wrong: Chow Fun's three owners are John Elkhay, Teddy Newcomer, and Nicholas Raber. These names don't sound Asian American, and they're not. Mr. Elkhay claims this ad, like the numerous scandalous photos on the restaurant's walls, is a celebration of the female figure. More like exploitation.

A nude, headless representation of an East Asian woman is quite appropriate in terms of the Chinese Laundry restaurant - it sits on the site of an actual, long-time laundry business owned by Chinese Americans and forced out about six years ago because of urban gentrification and the resulting rent increases. Much like the powerful, white businesses that smothered the laundry, this powerful, white, objectifying and fetishistic image of an Asian woman covers up any remnant of her own voice.

Click here to sign the petition against these racists!

Elkhay has recently proceeded to release a new version of the original add. He obviously just doesn't get it, or is happy with his racist/male chauvinist public image.

But let's get back to my initial thought, that an Asian American was using the mute, sexualized stereotype to promote his/her business. In classical music, perhaps something along these lines is happening. As a white male myself, I can't begin to analyze things with any kind of accuracy; I can only present possibilities. But our visual culture has always congratulated those who embody the day's constructed qualities of physical beauty. Let's take a look at Tina Guo, a 22-year-old cellist who performs Romantic-era concertos and in a metal band.

Is she succumbing to the Western white male fetishization of East Asian women in order to gain acclaim? Is she recasting this fetish and using it as a kind of reverse-exploitation? Is she just free with her body? Or are her band mates exploiting her? They are, like the Chow Fun Food Group, three men. Different waves of feminist theory would have different interpretations; some would accept her empowerment, and others would negate this empowerment because it only functions within the patriarchal discourse from which it originated. Some are advocates of the cyborg as the empowered woman (Donna Harroway), and others support androgyny as the prime method to subvert the socially constructed gender binaries. Here are Guo's words:

"When I play my cello, I am completely pure, naked, and open. I long for the moments when my outer shell no longer matters. I hunger for every genuine tear of sorrow, joy, or understanding shared. When you can hear me for who I am, and see me in a way that doesn't involve looking at me, but rather looking through me, only then can I be satisfied."

It's touching, but hmm...it might be a bit easier to look through her, as opposed to at her, if she tried to look just a little less sexy, and less naked. Her photo on the first page of her site kinda reminds me of Christina Aguilera's 2002 Rolling Stone cover: