Friday, February 20, 2004

OK, so before the fascists (see posts from earlier today below) slithered out from under their rocks, I was thinking about Danger Mouse and sampling ...

First the weather report:
Beautiful! Springlike. Happy me! I'm not cold right now, and in fact, when I went out during lunch I had to take my jacket off because it got too warm. A day like today is what it's all about.

Now a ramble about music:
Listening to Danger Mouse's Grey Album (the topic of yesterday's post) has made me kick around the whole debate about the legal/ethical/musical/artistic merits (or lack thereof, in some opinions) of sampling. Actually, I've been party to an e-mail list discussion about the matter (a list of djs), so that's probably what's got me thinking about it. And since I'm thinking about it, I'm writing about it--just because it's hard to write about something other than what you're thinking about.

First off let me state that I'm all for it (sampling), and I think The Grey Album is pretty damn brilliant (especially "Dirt off Your Shoulders"). I think the whole notion that music is all about "writing your own parts and playing your own instruments" (to quote one participant in the e-mail discussion) may have been a valid point of view way back when the big question was "Are The Monkees legit?" but it just doesn't apply anymore. The whole concept of a musical "instrument" has really changed, for one thing. I was listening to NPR yesterday on the way home from work, and they had a bit about a music professor who's teaching a "turntablism" class. It's a sign that the turntable and mixing board are becoming recognized (and rightfully so in my opinion) as legitiate musical "instruments." (By the way, if you want to argue the "it's not art" or "it's not original" thing, don't use MC Hammer as your example of why it sucks, OK? Because the only answer to that is an eye roll ...) (Oh also, I should add that I'm not the kind of dj who produces art ... I just play songs on the radio and then talk in between them).

There is also the (knee-jerk, in my opinion) argument that "sampling is stealing." Legally, according to copyright law, sampling without permission and or remuneration is "stealing." But even though I am (or like to consider myself) an artist (albeit not a musical one), I think copyright law, so well intentioned, is just off the mark. I do believe in some form of copyright protection--for example I don't think someone should be allowed to grab one of my photos and use it un altered without my permission. But what if they take a piece of one of my photos and use that piece in a new pattern of their own design? That would be cool (although it would be nice if they gave me credit, of course). Well, that's pretty much what sampling is. And it shouldn't be a breach of copyright.

Written work sort of has this covered in the "fair use" provisions of copyright law--you can quote someone else without their permission as long as you give them credit (fair use also covers parody and satire). So I can take a chunk of text from the Illegal Art website and slap it here to help illustrate a point, for example:

"The laws governing 'intellectual property' have grown so expansive in recent years that artists need legal experts to sort them all out. Borrowing from another artwork--as jazz musicians did in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators did in 1940s--will now land you in court. If the current copyright laws had been in effect back in the day, whole genres such as collage, hiphop, and Pop Art might have never have existed.

"The irony here couldn't be more stark. Rooted in the U.S. Constitution, copyright was originally intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas but is now being used to stifle it."

Oh yeah, and another thing about written work: If I take a quote from someone else and rearrange the words, it becomes my original work. So listen to the Danger Mouse stuff and then decide if he didn't just quote and rearrange the Beatles (into completely new music)? (Jay Z implicitly gave permission for the Black Album to be remixed by "leaking" the vocal tracks--Danger Mouse is just one of several DJs to use them.)

Anyway, here's a link to Illegal Art's page of copyright articles if you want to read on...

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