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Mark Suszko
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:31:13 pm

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Scott Roberts
Re: remixes
on Feb 3, 2011 at 8:24:44 pm

That was pretty interesting, I'll have to check out the other parts when I have some more time later.

I know some people have problems with the way Tarantino "borrows" from other movies, but I actually enjoy the level to which he does it. If he just stole a scene here and there, or blatantly lifted 4 or 5 shots from other works for one of his movies, but didn't fess up to it, then there would be reason to call him a cinematic thief. But the fact that he is directly influenced by so many films, in basically every scene of most of his movies, and he's honest about it (in fact proud of it) I can't help but love what he's doing. You could technically call it unoriginal, but at the very least he knows where to fit the puzzle pieces in the correct places, and for that, he's something of a genius.

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Mark Suszko
Re: remixes
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:32:37 pm

I think it was Picasso who said: "Weak artists copy, great artists steal".

A lot of jazz music is based on quoting or riffing off of a previous work. And that idea goes back at least as far as Baroque music.

In our cut-and-paste internet meme world, people often appropriate a still or video file that emphasizes something they want to say, and "quote" it. I don't know that stitching together a critical mass of such clips constitutes "creativity"... But then again, do you think Fatboy Slim or P-Diddy are creating or just copying? In Diddy's case, I'm not sure it's very creative.... :-)

Then there are the documentaries put togetehr completely out of "found footage". What about that? WHen Weird Al does a spot-on parody, is he copying or doing a jazz riff?

Some say we live in a remix culture and this trend will only accellerate with time. When is it theft, and when is it artistic, creative expression?

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Tim Wilson
Re: remixes
on Feb 4, 2011 at 1:17:52 am

[Mark Suszko] "A lot of jazz music is based on quoting or riffing off of a previous work."

I'd go as far as to say that using previous work is one of the foundations of jazz, even at its most progressive. Miles and Coltrane both did versions of A Few of My Favorite Things that dramatically expanded the reach of the day's visions of what jazz could be, and neither version was all that much like the other.

It was true of early rock and roll as well of course. The Beatles didn't add all that much to the original Twist & Shout. In fact, I'd say it's more a copy than a cover...except that John Lennon's shredded yowl at the end made it his own, if not in as dramatic a way as Miles and Trane did. That's not even counting the ways that snippets of tunes are appropriated, quoted, purposely misquoted, and generally used in ways that suit the whims and leaps of the performer rather than the fixed purpose of the author.

So that's the one and only question for me - have the new artists done something with the older work that makes it now uniquely their own? Can you still think of the older piece without now flashing straight to the newer artist?

[Mark Suszko] "I don't know that stitching together a critical mass of such clips constitutes "creativity"... But then again, do you think Fatboy Slim or P-Diddy are creating or just copying? In Diddy's case, I'm not sure it's very creative.... :-)"

I'm not sure that Diddy really aspired to greatness in this respect. His genius has been finding people who were better at it than he was, and helping them reach their potential. A better GM than a player, if you will.

I'd go further back into hip-hop's origins, where two turntables were manipulated to repeat a few seconds of a song as a music bed. I watched a guy do it with 5 turntables for an hour, with a live sampler for some added flavor. I'd not only call it creative - I'd call it athletic. He was a madman.

The first time I heard a really popular example was Tone Loc's Wild Thing, a joke at his own expense that's still quite funny and even a little sweet. Turntables spun the drumbeat at the start of Van Halen's "Jamie's Cryin'" - barely two measures - with a tiny snippet of guitar, and laid it as the foundation. The video had another hilarious appropriation - the girls from the Robert Palmer "Addicted to Love" videoe, with a guy in the back playing a turntable like a guitar. Creative.

I have a lot of respect for Jaz-Z, both an impresario and a genuinely creative guy. Talking about his difficult life as a young man on the street, and the lengths he has gone to overcome it, after "y'all know it's h*** I been through," then spins into the chorus of "It's A Hard Knock Life from Annie. It takes the air out of the boast, then turns it up and turns it on its head, then follows it with "I don't know how to sleep," not as a boast but as a confession. Amazing.

Now, this is a subject for another day, but I originally heard this on MTV, appropriately edited, and can only find the explicit version online. I hate that I ONLY hear the bad words now. The first 30 seconds will give you an inkling of the creativity (which peaks later in the song), and an earful of the language. I don't want to get into this at all, but I'm saying, seek out a sample at your own risk. No endorsement offered or implied for anything but the riffs.

That's "a" favorite, but a fairly simple one. THE favorite? Public Enemy. (Chuck D and I were born on the same day, not that far away from each other. It makes me not one bit more cool, alas, and him not one less, of course.) Check the Wikipedia entry for a list of samples used - over a dozen songs, plus lyrical quotes from several more. These guys are the masters of this, and I think it's insanely creative.

Right behind them are The Beastie Boys, whose album Paul's Boutique was at the time the densest sampling most people had ever heard. For example, the song Egg Man samples Elvis Costello, The Commodores, "Superfly," Cheech & Chong, the soundtracks for Aliens and Psycho, and not one but TWO songs guessed it...Public Enemy.

I think of this as more collage than anything else, and "theft" ain't anywhere on the list.

That said, maybe my favorite Bob Dylan album is 2001's Love & Theft, which includes quite a bit of, well, outright lifting lines from other folks, including a dozen or more cited references to a specific book (look it up), a piece of The Great Gatsby, and, throughout his career, lifting from the Bible, Greek poetry and much more.

And Beck, whose song "Where It's At" includes the indelible verbal hook "two turntables and microphone" - his grandfather was one of the 20th century's most important visual collage artists. So there you go.

It's not just that pros steal. It's that they steal really, really well. And apparently often.

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Tim Wilson
Re: remixes
on Feb 4, 2011 at 2:24:28 am

And not that any of this thread is about hip-hop per se, but sampling is something of an obsession of mine. Check this list from PE's Night of the Living Baseheads, courtesy Wikipedia.

* Excerpt of speech by Khalid Abdul Muhammad (intro)
* "UFO" by ESG (sirens)
* "Fame" by David Bowie
* "The Grunt" by The J.B.'s (horn glissando)
* "Scorpio" by Dennis Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band (drums)
* "Son of Shaft" by Bar-Kays
* "Funky Man" by Kool & The Gang
* "Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy (Vocals: "Bass! How low can you go?")
* "Christmas Rappin'" by Kurtis Blow (Vocals: "Twas the night"/"Hold it now")
* "Do the Funky Penguin" by Rufus Thomas (drums)
* "Rock Steady" by Aretha Franklin (Vocals: "Rock!")
* "I Can't Get Next to You" by The Temptations (Piano hook/Vocals: "Everybody hold it, listen")
* "Pick Up the Pieces" by Average White Band
* "You Can Make It If You Try" by Sly & the Family Stone (drums)
* "I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To" by Soul Children (Vocals: "Brothers and sisters")
* "Here We Go" (Live at the Funhouse) by Run-DMC
* "Sucker M.C.'s (Krush-Groove 1)" by Run-DMC (Drums/Vocals: "Years ago","First come, first serve basis")
* "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" by James Brown
* "Soul Power Pt. I" by James Brown
* "Rappin' Ain't No Thang" by The Boogie Boys featuring Kool Ski, Kid Delight & Disco Dave (Vocals: "We are willing")

There's interesting and lame hip-hop, and interesting and lame criticism of it, but it's not like these guys are finding songs laying around and stealing them.

Of course, I'm also a fan of Thievery Corporation, who did an album called Abductions and Reconstructions, so there you go.

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Scott Roberts
Re: remixes
on Feb 4, 2011 at 4:28:24 pm

Tim, do you ever listen to Girl Talk? I think his stuff is incredible. Here's an excerpt from an interview with him where he explains how stealing elements of songs is perfectly legit (which could also easily be read as the same kind of argument for stealing shots in films):

Girl Talk as a project is kind of a lawsuit waiting to happen, not least because of New York Times headlines like "Steal This Hook? D.J. Skirts Copyright Law." Is it a miracle you haven't been sued yet?

No. I think the New York Times, they obviously don't need any help upping their readership or anything like that, but I do think a lot of mainstream media outlets want to create controversy where it doesn't really exist. There's an idea in United States copyright law called Fair Use. It basically states that you can sample previously existing works without asking for permission if the new work falls under a certain criteria. It looks at the nature of the new work; it looks at if it's transformative, how it impacts the source materials, the original sales, things like that. The doctrine basically analyzes how you're using the source material. And people have cited this and won. 2 Live Crew sampled Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and Roy Orbison sued 2 Live Crew and 2 Live Crew won because they said the new work was not creating competition for Roy Orbison's song. There was some level of social commentary because the track was kind of poking fun at the original song a little bit.

I'm on my fourth album now, and with an album like Feed the Animals, there's 300 samples on it. I believe it should fall under 'fair use,' especially in 2008. There's a big push from kids to the legal world to the academic world for a more open exchange of culture and media. I think people are getting used to that. People don't really consume media anymore: they interact with it. Everyone downloads pictures and manipulates them and collages them and puts them up as their MySpace picture. When a new song comes out people make music videos and remix the song and put it on YouTube. It's just kind of the way the world exists right now. I think something like my new album falls right in line with a lot of that in that it's a new transformative work that's not creating competition. If I wanted to actually clear all the samples, it would first of all be impossible, and then if [the other artists] went for it, it would take forever. And if we could clear all the samples, we would probably have to sell each CD for a couple thousand dollars each just to pay back the individual artists.

Here's the full interview:

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Tim Wilson
Re: remixes
on Feb 7, 2011 at 4:40:40 am

Love Girl Talk.

Do you know Steinski? He's the progenitor of this mash-up style. Born Steve Stein, a NY advertising exec who dropped out in his mid-30s to do this stuff, starting in early 80s. He just dropped a "best of" that you should consider mandatory, "What Does It All Mean?" He was the first major sticking of the landing of mixing not just music, but sermons, instructional films, Tweety Bird, The Three Stooges, James Brown shouting - I'm sure that there's an actual kitchen sink in there somewhere.

In 2002, he celebrated the 20th anniversary of that first mix, "The Lesson," with a live re-creation featuring a couple of kids he influenced, DJ Shadow(LOVE his stuff) and Cut Chemist. It looks and sounds primitive now, but, as you may recall from me being a geezer, I was around then, and I assure you that it was even more jaw-dropping than you can imagine. The story about it at Amazon in the Editor's review is a pretty good one, and hearing the mix will fill in some of the gaps. Watching them re-create it live


(Veering ever further off topic, I LOVE live performances by turntablists.)

re: DJ Shadow, "Endtroducing..." is rightly considered his masterpiece (out of 221 reviews at Amazon, 198 are 5 star, and 13 are 4 star), but I'm even fonder of "Psyence Fiction," which he and James Lavelle - more straightforward dance music, and also the head of the Mo' Wax label that signed Shadow to begin with -- recorded under the name UNKLE.

As a team player here, Shadow's breaks aren't quite so staggering, but Lavelle does a very interesting job tying together hip-hop, trip-hop (a phrase first seen in a review of Endtroducing), dance, and alternative rock in EXACTLY the way I was listening to it at the time. It included guest spots by the Beastie's Mike D, Richard Ashcroft from The Verve, Badly Drawn Boy, and somewhat prophetically, Thom Yorke.

I can't help but believe that Thom watching Shadow and Lavelle work their magic with cut-up beats and more conventional (hahahaha) songcraft sprinkled breadcrumbs helping Kid A to find his way 4 years later.

Almost back on topic: Lavelle composed the score for Sexy Beast!

Uhm, not much back on topic at all as it turns out.

FWIW, I created the Now Playing forum to talk about listening to music - the forum was in fact first named Desert Island Disks...right before the first iPod was released. (D'oh!) I also had the notion that we could talk about movies (hence Now Playing), tv shows and the like, which of course has gravitated here, which is very cool.

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Scott Roberts
Re: remixes
on Feb 8, 2011 at 5:12:31 pm

I've never heard of these guys, but the way you passionately describe it makes me want to hear more of it! I'll be downloading these mentioned albums once I get home. Some of the coolest shows I've been to have been DJs spinning records/working computers, but not in a club setting, but where the crowd is listening to them as if they were a regular live band (like at Lollapalooza for example).

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Tim Wilson
Re: remixes
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:59:25 pm

I just noticed that there's not a downloadable version of UNKLE's Psyence Fiction at Amazon. Get it at iTunes.

The All Music Guide review at iTunes is a little more of a downer than my own take, but I can get on board with the conclusion:

These moments might not add up to an overpowering record, but in some ways Psyence Fiction is something better -- a superstar project that doesn't play it safe and actually has its share of rich, rewarding music.

Just to keep my enthusiasm for that particular disk in perspective...and knowing how much you like Girls Talk, I would definitely put it third on this list for you behind Steinski and Shadow.

Note for the must-have Steinski, the first two listings under "Customers who like this also bought" are for Girls Talk records, and the "buy both of them" deal is with Endtroducing...., so pretty much on the right track I think...

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