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Re: Basic intro

On Mon, 13 Aug 2001 23:44:10 -0400, Tim Nelson <tcn62@ici.net> wrote:

>Not to open that whole "Are DJs *real* musicians" can o' worms again 
>you can find in the archives if you're interested), 

Gee, no thanks. I've had that argument FAR too many times. ;)

>but when you talk about
>lifting entire verses wholesale from other artists' music, to what extent
>can you really say it's your *own* work?  

My opinion? To the extent that the whole is greater than the sum of its
parts. I'll go into more detail on that later.

>On the other hand, most of what I find creative about the use of sampled
>music comes from the way the artist puts an obscure sample into a new
>context that is not dependent on the sample's "former identity" or its
>connotations, or so completely mutates a familiar source that it's no
>longer recognisable, but assumes a new and compelling character of its 

Can't context do the same thing? If I were to take a few samples of
Darth Vader from "Star Wars" and add some samples from Beavis and
Butt-head, I could construct a positively hilarious conversation with
the two morons taunting Vader and generally pissing him off. (That's
actually a pretty cool idea. Maybe I'll go do that later. I have this
mental image of Butt-head trying to convince Vader to pull his finger.)
The same conversation wouldn't be anywhere near as effective if you
couldn't picture it in your head and "see" just how ridiculous it is, so
just saying the words wouldn't be an effective substitute. 

>If you stick the chorus of "Copacabana" on top of a Prodigy beat, it may 
>disturbing or funny or pathetic, and it'll probably be at least 
>but it's still, um, Barry Manilow's song. 

Yeah, if it still means the same thing. But when it starts to mean
SOMETHING ELSE, that much of it is original. 

>Juxtaposition of disparate elements is cool, but your example strikes me 
>a little blatant; I may be dating myself, but I've heard "Sweet Home
>Alabama" WAY too many times. 

If you'd lived in the inner city when "Colors" was released, you would
have heard *that* WAY too many times, too. ;)

>It's not lost on me that that's your intent,
>to take a work that everyone knows if not likes and with which they have
>strong associations and to jar the listener's sensibilities by contrasting
>it with something that just doesn't fit, but it's not something I'd want 
>listen to very often. 

It's not just about "jarring the listener's sensibilities", which is
what bands like Nine Inch Nails are often about. (Trent Reznor has often
been quoted to the effect that he wants his music to hurt the audience.)
It's about *manipulating* the listener's sensibilities. Anyone can smack
the listener in the face; just yell BANANAS really loud into a
microphone and stick it into the mix in the middle of a verse so you
can't hear the singer -- your entire audience will go "what the hell was
that?!", guaranteed. But they're not exactly likely to hail you as a
musical genius for it.

Ice-T over Lynyrd Skynyrd is much more than just rap with guitar. It's
urban with rural, black with white, rebellion with loyalty, two
different flavors of anger over two different flavors of politics. The
south will rise again, the blacks will rise again. Two opposing sides
laying their battle lines. That's when I bring in Ice Cube's "Enemy"
with the verse that ends "bust a clock, bust a Glock, devils get shot"
and top that off with a sampled gunshot and a background sample from
Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Then I play Beavis and Butt-head
laughing while the Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz"
screams about melting, and switch to the bassline from the Bee Gees'
"Stayin' Alive" with James Brown's "Funky Drummer" underneath it to back
up a clip from Marilyn Manson's "Rock and Roll Nigger". 

If all you get out of that is "these things don't fit", fine; maybe
you'll just like the noise. Hey, it's gangster rappers and heavy metal
and classic funk and southern rock and a cartoon and a family movie,
wow, that's a lot of weird stuff. This guy's messed up. I like messed up
people, what else has he done?

But if you begin to get the image of a race war in your head, *now*
you're starting to get it. This isn't just a random collection of crap I
had on my hard drive, it's a statement. And that statement is not what
these samples originally said; with the exception of the Ice Cube
sample, none of them had anything whatsoever to do with racism. And
that's where I draw my line on creativity: does the new recording say
something the original recordings didn't? The answer here is clearly

Now, whether that makes it "art" is something we could argue about for
months. Whether it's a viable strategy on which to found an entire
musical career is another long argument. But as a tool in the toolbox, I
think it's certainly something worth carrying around.

> Remember "Stairway to Gilligan's Island"?

No, but I remember "House of Amazing Grace". Once upon a time, I was in
a punk/metal band called NME in Virginia. We would play "House of the
Rising Sun" and sing "Amazing Grace" to that tune. I suspect you're
mentioning something similar.

Oddly enough, we also did one kick-ass heavy metal cover of
"Copacabana"... get some growl in the voice and some chunk in the
guitar, it sounds pretty damn cool. We tried to do a similar version of
"Magic", but the chorus just plain didn't work. 

Then we graduated high school, went off in all directions, and never saw
each other again.

>If you'll check out the archives you may find a thread from, oh, a year 
>a half to two years ago (rough estimate) where the topic included
>discussions of just how long a sample may be before it crosses the line
>from creativity to theft (there's no *real* authoritative answer, but the
>opinions and legalistic views presented were interesting). 

Man, how many times have I been *there*? My take: it doesn't matter how
long the sample is. It matters what you DID with it. If you didn't do
anything, it's theft. If you did something interesting and unusual, it's
creative. Then you get into what exactly the definition of "interesting
and unusual" is, to which there's also no real authoritative answer --
but at least it's become obvious that there's no such answer. ;)

>Please don't take my post as a personal attack. I've never heard your 
>and can't legitimately comment on it, but I got the impression from your
>intro that you'd enjoy having your opinions challenged!

Oh, yeah, I *love* to stir up trouble. It's one of my favorite pastimes.