Mass Migration

Mass Migration
Collage Painting by Colin Hoisington

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Collage of Ideas about Collage and Culture

#1 of the Series:  Ignorance is Bliss (Prueba de Artista) by Colin Hoisington

Collage as Culture: the foundation and vehicle for cultural evolution and how intellectual property rights constrain it. This article is a collage itself, made up of pre-existing ideas about how it shapes society and its artistic practices. 

As an artist myself that uses collage as a method for developing ideas, I have found freedom and an increased confidence thanks to articles and literature that support fair-use. Art itself is an investigation, where building upon preexisting knowledge should be as hailed and supported as much as it is in scientific research.

We start with a comprehensive article by Jonathan Lethem that lays-out the current state of the question. Through interviews with revolutionary hip-hop music artists Chuck-D and Shocklee we will see examples of how collage gives birth to new creations. Then, an example based argument by Rob Storr illustrating that copying, stealing, borrowing, or appropriating has always been integral to the essence of creation. Finally, a short video from 1997 predicting the future of communications which highlights some ideas by, the author of Free Culture(PDF download link), Lawrence Lessig.

The article, The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism, By Jonathan Lethem, starts off by raising questions about originality within the artistic canon. Was Lolita first thought of by Vladimir Nabakov, or far before? Was Bob dylan borrowing or stealing his lyrics from Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald? The article goes on to question whether culture should be treated as a market where everything of value is owned. Lethem speaks about " source hypocrisy" where corporations such as Disney appropriate fables such as Snow White, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, but threaten to sue Pop-Artists who would then dare to use its imagery. Should art be viewed as Commons, such as roads, the beach or sky, which is used by everyone and owned by no one. What happens when pre-existing knowledge from one field of study is applied in a different field or context.
(I originally found this article in the blog

In one of my favorite excerpts from Lethems article he speaks about the existence of collage in the evolution of art in music.

"Blues and jazz musicians have long been enabled by a kind of “open source” culture, in which pre-existing melodic fragments and larger musical frameworks are freely reworked."

The Origins of Sampling (Music)

Wikipedia defines Sampling: In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.........

A link between sampling and "open source" culture is made in the podcast (embedded below) featuring Hank Shocklee of the rap group Public Enemy, a pioneer in musical collage and hip-hop, and Professor KEMBREW McLEOD (Professor, Department of Communication, University of Iowa).  
FLATOW: Hank, let's start with you. As producer for Public Enemy, you really treated sampling as collage, putting pieces together. How did you come up with this technique?
Mr. SHOCKLEE: Actually, it just came from my DJ and radio, you know, experience. And it was it was actually another DJ that came and he mixed - he was mixing like four records together and it sounded like -to me - it sounds like a mess to everybody else.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SHOCKLEE: But to me, I heard something that was unique in it. And because all the different, you know, textures just playing off of each other gave another rhythm. It created another sense of harmony. It created another sense of timing and different things. So it kind of like - that aspect of it kind of like propelled me into wanting to do more of those things on a commercial level, as you put it.
FLATOW: Right, right. And it became a more complex with the technique as you moved along.
Mr. SHOCKLEE: Correct.
FLATOW: Yeah. Kembrew, how important is sampling in pop culture today?
Prof. McLEOD: Well, I think it's basically the central part of popular culture if you think about social networking and the way that people interact with each other across great distances. And they get to collaborate with each other, you think about open-source software, the way that people collaboratively create stuff, they're essentially taking samples of computer code and remixing them.
And the same is true with music. I mean, I know a 12-year-old who make mash-up videos on YouTube and upload them. It's just - it's almost part of the DNA of - not just youth culture but just popular culture more generally.

Written excerpt from the podcast: Digital-Music-Sampling-Creativity-Or-Criminality
LICHTMAN: introduce us to the concept of sampling, which is basically taking a snippet of a song and repurposing it. And for the purpose of this segment, we thought we'd do a little demonstration. So what we first have is this song, which is by James Brown, "Funky Drummer." It's one of the most sampled songs in history.
(Soundbite of song, "Funky Drummer")
LICHTMAN: That drum beat...
LICHTMAN: ...that you hear is sampled all over the place. And so, a musician would take that drum beat and pick it out of the thing. And so, let's hear then the sample from that song.
(Soundbite of song, "Funky Drummer")
LICHTMAN: That's it.
FLATOW: Just took it out.
LICHTMAN: Just - exactly.
FLATOW: And now he's going to take that and make something new with it.
LICHTMAN: So the next step is taking the drum beat and then looping it. So here's a loop.
(Soundbite of song, "Funky Drummer")
FLATOW: Over and over, it keeps playing.
LICHTMAN: Oh, repeat, repeat, repeat.
LICHTMAN: And then that becomes the basis of a new piece of - a new song. 

The next interview features Chuck D, a colleague of Shocklee who also played a crucial part in the birth of sampling.                         
Stay Free!: What are the origins of sampling in hip-hop?
Chuck D: Sampling basically comes from the fact that rap music is not music. It's rap over music. So vocals were used over records in the very beginning stages of hip-hop in the 70s to the early '80s. In the late 1980s, rappers were recording over live bands who were basically emulating the sounds off of the records. Eventually, you had synthesizers and samplers, which would take sounds that would then get arranged or looped, so rappers can still do their thing over it. The arrangement of sounds taken from recordings came around 1984 to 1989.

Justification for sampling, absurdity of intellectual property in art, and stealing vs citing.  

I found this webcast at  Rob Storr details how the origins of art was based on pupils copying the work of there masters, and that the idea of originality in art is a relatively new phenomenon.  He goes on to explain how masters such as Picasso were infamous for "stealing" others ideas or styles, that outright stealing ideas can lead to fame whereas giving homage leaves the artist with little or no recognition.

The Case for Appropriation: Rob Storr (Joy Garnett, Rob Storr, SVA ) / CC BY 3.0

The future of communications and copyrights final days.

His book, Free Culture(PDF download link), is fundamental to the movement of open-source software and net-neutrality. The following video is from 1997 and predicts the future of communications. The accuracy of the predictions up to today are astonishing. The video also mentions Lessig and his concept of "free culture". 

The video points out an interesting idea that, as technology increases, the ability to determine what is real and what is a digital representation will become increasing blurred and complicated.  Just look at what 3D imagery is doing today in 2012.  Hologram technology is now picking up steam and may soon make 3D imaging a relic of the past. 

It appears that copyright and intellectual property have had little to no place in history and nor will it have any in the near future.  

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