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On Mon, 4 Aug 1997, Michael Pycraft Hughes, PhD wrote:

> The Man attracted The Controversy:
> >> But the whole idea of (re)contextualising comes from how the sample 
>is used
> >> in another piece of music. Sure 5 guitarists will play "Black Dog" 
> >> differently, and 5 techno artists will use the sample from "Black 
>Dog" in
> >> different ways in wildly varying styles, but the guitarist is still 
> >> playing "Black Dog". 
> >And the DJ is still "just" sampling it!

Recontextualization isn't limited to sampling.  Hell, I've been
recontextualizing a Zeppelin tune myself lately... my solo acoustic
version of "No Quarter" (DADGAD tuning).  If I can find a good,
reliable percussionist, I want to form a band doing nothing but
acoustic covers of rock tunes.  That's a whole band concept formed
around recontextualization, without a hint of electronics.  And
recontextualization isn't just "musical"... it can work on entirely
different levels.  I like playing "I Touch Myself" by the Divinyls.
Songs about masturbation take on a whole new meaning when sung by a
man rather than a woman!  (The next step... making it a medley with
Joan Osborne's "Right Hand Man".  Think about it).  

Recontextualization is the basis of virtually all postmodern art, in
any media or genre.  Traditional rock is itself a recontextualization
of the blues.  Recontextualization plays with the audience's
expectations, takes advantage of their preconceived notions.  This can
be a crude abuse of familiarity (like Vanilla Ice using a well-known
Queen riff), or an all-out assault on the source (Jimi Hendrix at
Montery, playing Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night", the #1 song
in the country at the time, while setting fire to his guitar, with the
rhythm section pounding out "Wild Thing").  

So, getting back to a point... I don't think the guitarist vs DJ
comparison is a useful one here.  Recontextualization isn't a function
of performance, but rather of intent.  If the average guitarist can't
play Black Dog exactly like Jimmy Page, it usually isn't for a lack of
trying!  Heck, NOBODY can repeat a riff perfectly.  However, a
guitarist is just as capable of recontextualizing Black Dog as a
DJ... just play in an unexpected context.  

> >> So in a way, just as the guitarists sensibilities
> >> affect how he plays the guitar riff, a DJ's sensibilities affect how 
> >> uses the sample in a song or dropped into his set.
> >But again, the "sensibilities" that are at work with a guitarist are an
> >intangible, organic, built-in thing, and they're there from the crack of
> >the cosmic DNA.  
> Woah, I think there may be a touch of overemphasis on that point. 
> Guitarists are no nearer the cosmic source than anyone else ('cept maybe
> Jerry Garcia), we're just hittin' bits of wire an' wood in a way that
> pleases us.  I _do_ understand where you're coming from, in that I find
> synths etc sort of "isolating" instruments where I don't have enough
> control over the sound, like I do with guitar.  But that has nothing to 
> with the quality of music produced.

Again, there are two things at work here... aesthetics, and
technique.  Don't mix them up.  Playing a riff differently because of
limited technique isn't the same as playing a riff differently for
artistic intent.  Now, there is a middle ground here... taking
advantage of our own limitations to personalize someone else's music.
And to be absolutely clear, I don't consider lack of technique a
disadvantage.  For that matter, I don't consider the limitations of an
instrument to be a disadvantage.  I currently play only unplugged
acoustic guitar, IN ORDER to limit my instrument.  Then I play around
with extended technique in order to extract more or different sounds
from the instrument.  And yes, I consider myself an acoustic loopist.
Most of my music these days is "loops" of ambient and percussive
sounds generated by hand on an acoustic guitar.  

> >This is all very true.  I think for me the bottom line is that if you're
> >working with samples, even if you're tweaking and recontextualizing the
> >thing to the nth degree, you're still working with blocks of other
> >people's material, in a way that's far more overt and undiluted than if
> >you're translating that material through your own performance.  

I disagree completely with this statement.  To me, a creative sampler
like DJ Spooky, who twists samples into unrecognizable shapes, is far
LESS "overt and undiluted" than the typical guitarist, who is merely
aping his heroes.  Who is more creative and original... DJ Spooky, or
the kid playing Nirvana tunes down at the guitar store?

Simply put - recontextualization is primarily a function of
aesthetics, not technique.  Let us not confuse the technical
limitations of the instrument and the player with lofty artistic
goals.  More importantly, let us not hold accident over intent when
judging aesthetic value.  Even accident can be used intentionally.


By "beauty," I mean that which seems complete.
Obversely, that the incomplete, or the mutilated, is the ugly. 
Venus De Milo.
To a child she is ugly.       /* dstagner@icarus.net */
   -Charles Fort