Monday, May 24, 2010

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

I just watched Copyright Criminals, an interesting documentary about sampling in music that does a good job of letting interviewees speak for themselves. Some observations:

1. Men interviewed: so many I didn’t count. Women interviewed: 3, 1 artist (her music was not played); total time on screen maybe 1 minute of 54 (plus extra interview footage of 3 guys).

2. Someday I should try to write a piece on How to suppress women's remix.

3. I liked best Siva Vaidhyanathan’s statement about the early cases on sampling: the courts were uninterested in hearing young black men speak about their creative processes.

4. A recording engineer, who to his credit doesn’t think the law should prohibit sampling, advanced the anti-sampling aesthetic ideology that participation is bad. He argued that sampling makes making music too easy: one should be ashamed of sampling, he stated, much as one should be ashamed of dancing badly.

What seems easy to me, of course, are the responses: Assuming you value good dancing, where do you think good dancers come from? (Hint: bad dancers play a role, sometimes even the role of Young Good Dancer.) Is shame a good motivator to improve one’s creative output, or is it more likely to suppress the creative impulse entirely? Do I get to decide what I think good dancing is, even if I don’t like the ballet (or hip-hop)? Once you’re out of adolescence, are you ashamed when your family members dance badly? Look, I get the idea that there is One True Standard of aesthetic goodness. What I don’t get is the further conclusion that if we only got rid of the dreck we’d have more of the good stuff. I guess it’s yet another expression of the romantic idea that Art comes out of nowhere, rather than in reaction to the creator’s surroundings.


Siva Vaidhyanathan said...



Hugh Hansen said...

Many of our leading authors early works are rated higher than their later works, e.g. Tenessee Williams. If exposure to less good works leads to better or greater works, shouldn't the reverse be true?

RT said...

Hugh: No, I don't think so. An individual life cycle is not a culture's. Moreover, the great works of any culture are at the far end of a bell curve. If you want the great works, you can't get them by telling everyone who's not great to shut up. You can, however, get them by encouraging creativity generally. I have yet to encounter a field in which Sturgeon's Law--90% of science fiction is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap--does not hold.

Hugh Hansen said...

Rebecca, I agree that no one should tell other creators to "shut up", but for the same reason that Holmes did not want judges to make artistic determinations in Bleistein. Because individuals are the ones who create, however, their creative life cycle is certainly useful and relevant to question of what causes better works to be created. None of what I said, however, is meant to address sampling which I think raises other issues. The recording engineer's references to shame and bad dancing were non-sequiturs to his point of being against sampling for reasons of "laziness," which btw I don't agree with. Thanks for the post.

RT said...

I agree that creative life cycles are important, but disagree that an arc--which may start in the middle, in that an artist's first big hits/critical successes are often, though certainly not always, not that artist's first works--indicates anything about the costs or benefits of being surrounded by works of varying qualities. Mathematicians, for example, show much stronger arcs in terms of when their best work is usually done. I'm not sure we can conclude anything about the effects of exposure to other people's math, bad or good, from that.