In Focus: The Jamaican Influence

Jamaican music in the early nineteenth century was categorised as the ‘slave song’ – music about working and being displaced. This African work sound founded the Calypso style which was accompanied by the uptake of western instruments to draw in audiences. The key aspect of which was the series of Jamaican owners of sound systems, sound selectors (our equivalent to a DJ) and DJs (to rap over the tracks) that would provide cheap and easy entertainment of African drum beats and melodies that would travel far for dance parties on the beaches. The influence of which would provide world class changes that would become the basis of contemporary music and effects.

  • Ska (1940s/1950s) : A fast, happy and upbeat movement with a walking bass line, accented jazz rhythms that draws on the influence of Calypso.

  • Rock Steady (1960s) : The beat slowed down as poverty set in, and DJs began to rap over the top of the beat.

  • Reggae (1970s) : The beat slowed down even further.

  • Dance Hall (Late 1970s/1980s) : The Jamaican influence became paired with a disco beat influenced by dub.

Jamaica is a music hub, with a particular sound that evolved, became tighter and more intricate, and did not forget about its past. The techniques to come out of Jamaica that are evident in each of movements (above) – such as reverberation and echo – became effects in audio editing programs and guitar pedals, that were originally the result of rusted and over-repaired sound systems.

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Free Culture and Creative Commons

Society is locked into “…a period of intensifying belief in private ownership, to the detriment of the public good” – a time of copyright legislation and the criminalisation of remix culture. Free culture, however, is an ideology and social movement put forward by academic and political activist Lawrence Lessig that promotes the supplement, sharing, modification and remixing of published creative artworks as free content. Lessig’s movement is a belief that culture is inherently free, and not owned or “permission based” as is imposed with the enforcement of copyright laws.

A further movement by Lessig, is Creative Commons, wherein licenses are issued to creators (the process of which is completely free and online) who wish to permit the “sharing” of their work under various conditions. Lessig’s creative commons justifies the ideology of free culture, providing and promoting the means for innovators to distribute their work online and allow it to be appropriated, whilst still retaining an extent of control over their ‘original’ piece. It is the idea that creativity belongs BETWEEN people, rather than being possessed by an individual copyright holder, or society as a whole

In Focus: Video Art

Remixing videos can be done in a multitude of ways, and the aesthetic which is produced is dependent on the individual artist.

Israeli Musician Ophir Kutiel (known as Kutiman) experimented with YouTube videos in his project Thru You to create a raw album of seven tracks that showcase the musical passions of individuals who uploaded their recordings to the site.

Kutiman sourced segments of music from covers, instructional videos, and original music and artistically pieced it together to create a comprehensive track (see Mother of All Funk Chords above). He easily transformed a familiar medium, working with the original loops as they were uploaded, to create an album of easy listening tracks.

Singer/Songwriter Kawehi covers and records a capella style songs by expertly layering her voice from her home.

As with Kutiman, Kawehi utilises the methodology of building music. Both artists, similarly, begin with a beat – a drum loop – that allows for the layering of other sounds, and then for the spoken voice.

Australian producer and remix artist Pogo (Nick Bertke) samples his content and reproduces it with a real and distinct beat behind it.

The example of the video Pogo Does Dexter (above), really makes evident the artist’s style of remix. He breaks up vocal samples so it becomes sound as opposed to spoken words, and layers it with chords and sound effects from (in this case) the television show Dexter to create commercial content that provides for successful promotion. Pogo’s work showcases the narrative being expressed.

Each of the featured artists explored, furthermore, possess some extent of integrity to where their remixes have come from. Kutiman provided credits with links to each YouTube video he sourced, Kawehi acknowledges when her uploads are covers, and Pogo works with the licensees of the content he is using.

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy – Lawrence Lessig (2008)

From this reading, the comment, or rather, Lessig’s ideology in regards to remix culture, is one that I too have found myself believing:

We need “to craft a copyright system that nurtures the full range of creativity and collaboration the internet enables: one that builds upon the economic and creative opportunity of hybrids [commercial and sharing economies] and remix creativity; one that decriminalises the offence of being a teen” [a part of this generation embodied in technological advances].

To put it simply, the world needs to reform copyright legislation to adapt to and decriminalise the common behaviour of our contemporary society. We need to allow for the incentives copyright provides for creators to produce new works that would otherwise not have been published, whilst encouraging (as technology and the internet do) amateurs and recreational users to create and spread art differently to how it was created and spread beforehand.

D.I.Y: Remixing and Sampling

In my previous posts about remix culture, I have been exploring the implications of using already published artwork to create something new. Now, I have attempted to sample and remix music, sound effects and films to completely understand the process of reusing material.

Utilising Audacity, I attempted to create a sound piece that (in the very least) was bearable to listen with each feature of the track complimenting one another. I began with downloading a synthesised drum and bass guitar loop from Looperman, and repeated it until the duration reached just over the minute mark. I then reduced its tempo by -12% and used the studio fade-out effect to end the track altogether. I then sourced an electric guitar loop that resembled a dance track, and repeated it until it also lasted in duration for just over a minute.

The screenshot (above) illustrates the sound waves of each music loop, sound effect and spoken voice from film that I used to create my track.
The screenshot (above) illustrates the sound waves of each music loop, sound effect and spoken voice from film that I used to create my track.

After sourcing a memorable film quote from Forrest Gump (1994): “My Mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get'”, I used an online converter to change the audio from the webpage into an MP3 file. I initially left the spoken audio as a whole quote early on in the track, but then layered it in sections later on. I then copied the section of: “…you never know what you’re gonna get” and deepened the reverberation of it before giving it an echo and repeating this technique at the very end of the track.

Sampling

The practice of cutting beats and looping them to the duration of a music track has been long established as a case of “pop music always ripping off” its predecessors. Sampling, however, hasn’t prevented music from owning its own identity, whether it be out of simplicity – wherein the track is clever in that it is catchy and of dance quality – or a self-awareness that is found in the aesthetic of the music itself.

Most notably, the drum breaks from James Brown and the JBs’ Funky Drummer (1970) and The Winstons’ Amen Brother (1969) are the most sampled in popular and hip-hop music to date. Whether it becomes apparent to a listener from the beginning, after a few listens, or not at all, the tracks inclusive of: Salt-N-Pepa’s Let the Rhythm Run (1988) and Dr. Dre’s Let Me Ride (1992) feature the drum break from Funky Drummer, whilst Oasis’ D’You Know What I Mean (1997) and N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton (1988) sample Amen Brother.

Perhaps one of the most recent examples of music sampling is found in Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP’s track Sugar Man (2014) which, in almost its entirety, samples Sixto Rodriguez’s 1970 release of Sugar Man. Further, the looped beat or dance track heard as a layer beneath the voice samples Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP’s earlier release We Speak No Americano (2010), which itself features Renato Carsone’s Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano (1956).

The familiarity of sampled rhythms or lyrics, paired with an electronica dance or hip-hop beat offers a broad mainstream appeal without detracting from a track’s individual identity.  It is what consumers like to hear, or as The KLF less subtly put it: it is what the consumers want shoved down their throats – they don’t want good or original music. Whether the sampled tracks make for bad music is debatable to a personal preference, but nevertheless, does not make what The KLF have stated any less substantiated.

Perceptions: Vector, Bitmap, and Collage

The majority of the images we consume online are bitmaps, rather than vector graphics. Even a Google Images search for vector graphics will display bitmap images. A bitmap is  a horizontal and vertical orientation of coloured pixels, whereas a vector graphic is a path, defined by start and end points. It is in this way that a vector graphic does not lose its image quality when it is resized – it is not made up of a specific number of dots, which when stretched become pixelated.

This exercise required us to remix bitmap and vector images that we were able to find on the internet. Once I had obtained a bitmap image (in this case the face of a celebrity), I opened it in Adobe Photoshop and selected one half of the face. After horizontally flipping the selection, the portraits were given the effect of being symmetrical. It is the belief of artist Alex John Beck in his work Both Sides Of (2013), that “a perfectly symmetrical face is the most beautiful.” Whilst Beck’s artwork has proven his theory, and further, has identified, for him, the character the face embodies, viewing an individual with a perfectly symmetrical face can be unsettling. Once I had created perfectly symmetrical faces in my celebrity portraits, I significantly increased the contrast of the images and slightly altered the brightness to give my collages the effect of being a vector image themselves. The vector graphic I opted to work with is an image of a bee. Appropriately entitled Queen Bee, I aimed to create a small series of vector styled bitmap collages which reflected the way in which the media portrays remix culture to consumers, and in turn how that depiction ultimately affects our perceptions of these individual celebrities.
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My first collage piece depicts Taylor Swift with the bee graphic covering her mouth and leading the word: reformed. The acclaimed singer/songwriter has always be the subject of criticism in the media for her good girl image, paired with music that “calls out” the negative instances in her love life. The release of Swift’s latest album 1989 (which is entirely composed of pop tracks, rather than country), and more specifically the music video to Bad Blood, however, have seen the media paint the artist in a more positive light – as reformed. This media portrayal of Taylor Swift has allowed for consumers to perceived her as a positive figurehead of and advocate for the music industry, and further, has allowed for her to be viewed as a strong and successful female and not as someone with a “long list of ex-lovers”. A perception is easily changed with a music video that is a remix of common sci-fi and action film tropes itself.

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I chose the portrait of Lady Gaga as my next collage, pairing it with the bee graphic on her forehead and the word: original. Lady Gaga has maintained a certain and incredibly outstanding individuality about her music and fashion statements throughout her career. Consumers, whilst undeniably aware and in awe of the artist’s persona, are frequently swayed by the media to hold the perception that she is not as original as we would like to believe. When Lady Gaga’s song Born This Way was released in 2011, after praising the inspirational qualities of the song, the media quickly encouraged consumers to become interested in the feud Madonna wanted to broadcast over the similarities it shared with her 1990’s hit Vogue. A perception is easily changed when two songs are seemingly familiar to one another. 
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My final collage piece depicts Nicki Minaj with the same bee graphic and the word: angry. Minaj’s track Anaconda from her album The Pink Print, heavily samples Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 song Baby Got Back and is a clear example of remix culture. In my depiction of the artist, however, I have included the word angry because the media quickly turned Nicki Minaj’s commentary as to the state of her record – and other artists falling within the similar genre as her – not being nominated for awards into a Twitter war. The celebrities involved in this wrongly conceived Twitter war did not intend for any comments to be made as they were – it was a misunderstanding but this did not stop consumers from readily defending and aggressively attacking each respective artist involved. A perception is easily changed when the media is able to manipulate the context of the artwork and comments made on the internet.