Sunday, April 25, 2010

random notes: Madonna, music industry, intellectual property, and generation x

To be prepared for his everyday job, a sound engineer I know often plays Madonna's American Life. "I'm not a fan of Madonna, but this is very effectively mixed," he says. Nor am I, but...the beauty of this album is its economy. The instruments are cleanly articulated, like the skeleton without the flesh: even when the chorus or the strings appears it does not fill up the space, but gives no impression that it lacks something. Some may call it thin, but I feel the density especially the bass and the guitar are blended. Every track has clear structure, with the lyrics easy to follow even for those who are not native English speaker.
Though I don't know much about Madonna, I've heard that this album is exceptional, for the relatively poor sales by her standards and the frequent use of (often acoustic) guitar. For my ears, this guitar sometimes sounds more electric than any other electric instruments or the effects. It comes across as not only comfortable, but also mysteriously clean. That's the punctum for me.
I wonder if this kind of engineering is possible for only big record companies. I guess it is. Then, if the trend of the declining record industry's revenue continues, will this kind of engineering disappear, or become available for poorer musicians because of the prices to hire good engineers and good studio going down?
I read an article titled The Freeloaders by Megan McArdle appearing in The Atlantic. The author is the business and economic editor of the magazine. She says the music industry (which is, actually, the record business) is in a crisis and young file-sharer are to blame, calling them "Generation Free." What she thinks as the solution is innovation of a new hardware like 3D, which is harder to reproduce at home.
I understand she doesn't really care about music, but mourns the shrinking market. She says, "To be sure, today's 20-something file-sharer may someday pay $200 to watch Vampire Weekend rock the Astrodome. Or maybe not; the Internet tends to fragments audiences. Generation X, of which I am a member, was probably the last to grow up with the Top 40 and only a few TV stations--and the kind of common taste that this structure instilled. The bounty of the World Wide Web encourages niche interests." She doesn't actually mind if artists starve. Her interests are, as a business writer, competition and profit: "This fragmentation has been good news for performers, like Jonathan Coulton, who makes a decent living selling quirky songs and related merchandise on his Web site. But the broader music industry, like other entertainment fields, has always worked on a tournament model; a lot of starving artists hoping to be among the few make it big."
I found the article through Disquiet, which criticizes McArdle's simplistic view and also points out young people are paying much, if not for the contents, for hardwares, such as mobile phone, computer, the internet, iPod, and frequently uploaded gadgets. At this moment, Japanese companies are trying hard to sell 3D TV. In an electrical bargain store I saw a man with his body painted blue standing by the 3D TV which was of course screening Avatar, talking to the customers. But the marketers say they need more contents because "There is no point to watch a reality show in 3D." The mediums, mediums, mediums...
I'm also Generation X, but I'm interested in more what kind of culture is being made, than mourning the "common taste" of the 1980s. Will Pop end? Maybe not. I don't know. Maybe this Pop thing as a historical project started roughly between the 1880s and the 1920s and will end someday. But I really don't know.
Weeks ago, Malcolm Mclaren died. It is well-known that he was influenced by Situationist. The jacket of Never Mind the Bollocks was made in this manner. He once said he appropriated some songs and made them "better." But this kind of attitude was not new.
The notion of intellectual property in music is ambiguous. Whose property is it? Who is the most creative among singer-songwriter, arranger, producer, engineer, and CEO? If only melody and chord are considered, any song can be plagiarism. Bop musicians played the game with intellectual property, appropriating the harmony structure of hit songs and embedded another title on it. Tonality may be, say, a common property.
Additionally, many classical composers didn't try to invent a novel melody, but tried hard to give a novel structure to the melodies they found. What's the difference between our contemporaries and them?
I don't know how to define Pop. It may be a very capitalistic project, and it ever mourns very Romantic notion of genius of individual artist, originality, and artistic autonomy (rock music has full of legends including of Malcolm Mclaren, even who appeared to deny such notions). Mocking and criticizing capitalism is very part of Pop:

Madonna - American life (Director's cut)

VIDA | MySpace Video

Well, I actually like American Life.
It's a pity she self-censored the video. I imagine if Joni Mitchell started her career in the 1980s, she could have been like Madonna or Cindy Lauper:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

an additional note about Zizek, and so on

When Slavoj Žižek in his Violence says that the most violent thing to transform the society is sometimes doing nothing, he dreams a kind of situation that the majority cast blank ballots and the powerful people find that they suddenly lose their "balls(if I refer to a joke he mentions in his First as Tragedy, the as Farce)." Casting a blank ballot is not abstention, but more active act. So actually it is doing something. So why does he call it doing nothing?
I can note that he doesn't say you should cast a blank ballot. What I can imagine is that it has to be done without someone urging "Let's cast a blank ballot to disapprove our politicians," so the people have a tacit agreement to do so. Such an agreement may be so powerful, Žižek may imply. I imagine why he sees the power of the unspeakable is not only because he is a Lacanian, but also because he saw such a thing happened in the former Yugoslavia. He also knows what happened to the people under Stalin's regime: the people started communicating and understanding each other without uttering what they wanted to say.
My question is that whether our liberal (permissive) society was build aiming at preventing such a thing from happening. I imagine it is difficult for us to have that kind of tacit agreement. Instead, we are forced to come out by a voice saying "Act now!" So I understand Žižek's ambivalence: he wants to awake us without uttering "Act now!"


At this moment I just correct the pronunciation of the Japanese company's name they (Amy Goodman and Jean Friedman-Rudovsky) mention in the above clip...it's not "Sumimoto", but "Sumitomo," the name of a prominent part of "Corporate Japan."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

random notes

World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, led by Bolivia is going to launch the sessions on Monday in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Last week Democracy Now! announced that it would broadcast from there. The major media rarely mention about this meeting. Even The Guardian, which usually appears very enthusiastic about the issue, only put an article by its environment editor John Vidal, whose view about Evo Morales is slightly ironical, or indifferent, describing it "the hippiest environment meeting of the year."
During the COP15, I found The Guardian is basically critical about Bolivia on this issue, praising the UK negotiator's deal making, though I also found the other opinions on its website. At that time I was zapping many channels reporting from Copenhagen, for example:

I actually don't like such a back-to-nature kind of way of saying, also I feel the picture of WPCCC's website, in which Evo Morales leads people, is cheesy. But, I look forward to watching Democracy Now! next week.
Bolivia criticizes capitalism on the grounds that it is causing climate change. China, which was depicted by The Guardian as a deal breaker at the COP15, claims its efficiency to deal with climate change. It is curious that this article that says democracy is ineffective to deal with climate change appeared in The Guardian


Today I happened to find an essay by Simon Critchley, in which he tried to correct Slavoj Žižek's misunderstandings about his Infinitely Demanding, which I haven't read yet. Actually Žižek is not optimistic about Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales and sometimes critical about them, though when he wrote about the Critchley's book he put it this way. I don't take this as Žižek's praising Chávez, but pointing out the malfunction of liberal democracy. 
Critchley's reading of Žižek's Violence appears basically correct for me. I also felt that the last chapter of Violence doesn't get me anywhere. Perhaps clarifying thoughts about "non-violent violence" is not the aim of the book. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"i could swim across the sea of my tears"

I've made another formulation of the video sketch I posted before. This time I put some sentimental words and Shostakovich's restful music by my own interpretation (so, it's not good...):

Sunday, April 4, 2010

that was

How different or same are recording environmental sound and taking photos, and then listening to it and looking at it respectively? The differences may be many...then what is the relevant difference?
Reading Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida, I came up with an idea that what he calls the punctum found in photos lacks in taped environmental sound. The Punctum refers to details of a photo that denaturalize itself, a kind of dissonance, something autonomous from the narrative the photo tries to deliver (which may be called the studium by him, if I understand correctly). In his book Barthes obsessively plays this game of finding such details, such as a boy's bad teeth, a girl's finger bandage, a man's crossed arms, and so on.
I can listen to the details of the environmental sound and can find them strange or funny or disturbing: I can listen to an air-conditioner generating Dm7 or my own bag hitting my back. But these do not come across as the punctum to me:these are not autonomous from the whole set of the sound-scape.
Though finding the punctum in photos is more active way of seeing than the conventional way of seeing, it may still be passive, compared with my listening to environmental sound. In my view, the punctum is not what I have to try to capture it, but what I'm inevitably captured by it. It comes across as a surprise, and in order to be surprised I have to be passive. When listening I'm more active, so the details do not come as a surprise: I have to grab them with an anticipation.
This may sound counterintuitive, since the sense of hearing is deemed less active than the sense of seeing: for instance, when I faint I first lose my sense of seeing, and then my sense of hearing. The body needs less effort to retain the sense of hearing. But, I think it is because of this, I have to be more active when listening.
I'm attracted by the punctum. It is subversive. And I'm a bit disappointed by the recorded environmental sound, because it comes across to me as too natural. There might be a trick in order to denaturalize it.
And also, I note that the recorded environmental sound has no strong studium: for instance, I cannot distinguish the sound of the beach in Tokyo from the one of the other beach in, for example, De Haan, unless I can hear the language the people speak. Of course, there are sounds that show the characteristics of a certain city. But, generally speaking, the studium is weaker in the environmental sound than in photos.
Having said that, I like the subtlety of the environmental sound, even though the tension between the subversiveness of the punctum and the platitudes of the studium is much weaker in the environmental sound. Therefore I oscillate between the sense of hearing and the sense of seeing: between the subtlety and the subversiveness.
The sound is not chatty, but the silence is. As Jacques Rancière puts it:
But the semiologist who read the encoded message of images and the theoretician of the punctum of the wordless image base themselves on the same principle: a principle of reversible equivalence between the silence of images and what they say. The former demonstrated that the image was in fact a vehicle for a silent discourse which he endeavoured to translate into sentences. The latter tells us that the image speaks to us precisely when it is silent, when it no longer transmits any message to us. Both conceive the image as speech which holds its tongue. The former made its silence speak; the latter makes this silence the abolition of all chatter. But both play on the same inter-convertibility between two potentialities of the image: the image as raw, material presence and the image as discourse encoding a history (The Future of the Image, p.11).
The oscillation between "the image as raw, material presence and the image as discourse encoding a history" interests me. My problem has been that, if I only work with the sense of hearing, I cannot express this oscillation. I want to deal with the studium "as discourse encoding a history," even though I was trained to deal with the sense of hearing.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

the familiar sea

If I understand correctly, Rancière doesn't mean images are categorized into as resemblance and as non-resemblance, but one image can work both way simultaneously: we cannot simply say that this painting is resemblance or that film is non-resemblance. He refers this non-resemblance to something passing itself off as the Other, if not novelty. What he calls today's "formal imperative of non-resemblance" is actually imperative of the Otherness. Many photographs that show their otherness neither renounce the visible nor meticulously craft in a way literature does. Rancière adds another term, hyper-resemblance, which refers to the resemblance that are not merely a copy, but the one can pass off itself as the Other. Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida shows many examples of them.

It takes time to read Rancière's book, because it tends to prompt me to play around with images in my room. Cutting my bad drawing, I made a humble video, again. This time, too, I hegitated to add audio:

Not the Other, but familiar...