Friday, November 11, 2011

Recaps galore - part 1

My online personas have kinda been hijacked by the Occupation movements, which are so interesting, and so diverse, across the US, that it's hard to summarize except to say --as I've been saying to all my European friends all month-- that something really exciting is happening. It may not seem that exciting to Europeans at first,  but that's because they still have mass movements and a "Left," they have general strikes and mass squatting/occupations in living memory. It's not, however, that what's happening here is exactly like the strikes & occupations that have happened in Europe - the point is that since they HAVEN'T been happening in the US up until now, it means something different now that they are. But on that, please see this this this (all the same guy I know but he's good) and this, and (super-important) this and for a good take on the European occupation movements please see this.

but I did just go on a European tour. It's true! I met a whole new crew of amazing people, saw some old friends & crews, puttered around some beautiful cities in unseasonably warm weather, and spent a lot of time refreshing #OccupyOakland on Twitter since the media reports almost nothing..

Anyway briefly:

Landed in Berlin in time to have dinner with one of the fantastic producers behind Hey-o-hansen, his charming daughter, and the amazing Dj Marcelle Van Hoof of Another Nice Mess radio (which everyone should check out and be schooled on the deepest crates and the most fearlessly inspired mixing. Marcelle and I had been booked to play at Bei Roy, a Neukolln warehouse space with that classic artists-in-a-warehouse vibe. The nice thing about playing before Marcelle is you know that the audience is up for absolutely everything. So I had a nice slow buildup as the place warmed up and then a nice peak of about 40 minutes happy dancing people before she took charge. A great beginning to the tour. Also the intrepid Dj Zhao came through making time in his busy schedule - good to meet him face to face at last after years kicking around on internet spaces.

The next day, I headed to Hamburg for Wobwob, the premier space for dubstep (hee) at one of my favorite venues, the proper dark and ruff Hafenklang. I don't know if it comes across in German at all, but I really like saying that word -Hafenklang. I'd been lucky enough to play there the summer before last, with a great crowd, and this time did not disappoint. As always, so much good conversation with Vinylizer (who has done Back To The Basics radio for years and years), and then a fantastic show at the Hafenklang. Love that crowd, love that party! People screaming for more, pretty packed club, and Kera, half of incite/ came through and stayed late,  and then I got to catch up with both of them the next day. They do crazy cool audio visual art, and play festivals and art events all over the world.

From Hamburg, back to Berlin for a few days (in time to see few people including the always inspiring mind&soul behind play in progress) , then on to Cologne. Courtesy of AgentK, I had been invited to throw down at legendary club Gebäude9 for their party Sub9. Agentk is also involved in a local squatted community center, introduced me to some urban gardeners, and generally was a fantastic host, as was the rest of his household. I was lucky to be interviewed by local breakcore hero Desmond Denker (also of the band Bambam Babylon Bajasch - don't ask me how to pronounce that last word peoples) and play a short set for their Mülgrime radio show(forthcoming!). The night of the gig I also did a short interview for Funkhaus Europa with Cologne's leading global bassologist Daferwa (represent!). Wadada, another great & deep producer, helped create a vibe (as well as cooking up a mean & tasty lentil soup beforehand). Also perhaps inspired by the venue being huge and industrial, and the audience being mainly black-clad and somewhat serious, I played perhaps a more bass-oriented set than some folks expected (although there was stil 3bal, balkan twerk, juke, kuduru and garage in there with the dubstep/dubcore) - but people seemed to like it. A good crowd, committed to getting down on the dancefloor for the whole set.

Then, on  to Amsterdam to the legendary Rebel-Up! Soundclash crew at the great venue OCCII where I have played before with Dälek, I think, and maybe one other time too. I also linked with the mighty Process Rebel, who was kind enough (with his lovely partner) to host me. This party was a benefit
for the "Boats 4 People" project which aims to decriminalize migration in the Mediterranean. YOu know me, I'm all about regional solidarity and the destruction of borders. so that was a pretty sweet connection. And the party did not disappoint - super global sounds from all the djs and a live set from Process Rebel, culminating in a fantastic tag-team at the end with all of us, spanning so many genres I can't even name. A true delight.

Next up was Brussels, where I was booked to give a talk and dj as well, at Recyclart, an artspace/cafe/bar/nightclub/TRAINSTATION. Yeah, in the daytime it's a train station, at night they set up a stage. cool, right? not the only train-themed repurposed venue I was to mess with on this tour!

out of steam for now, further recaps to come...

for the students beaten this week

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Occupy Wall Street

Having just returned from OccupyBoston on what may prove to be a decisive night, if rumors are correct.. I'm pleased to say that I am still seeing what I thought I was seeing and hearing from people actually at these burgeoning events. It's impressive, and important, and exciting almost beyond belief.

I'm not even going to engage with the "but what do they waaaaaant" crowd, or the "they're so inarticulate" crowd, because so many folks have answered these concerns clearly enough. But I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on why these occupations are important.

I was initally repelled by the analysis especially from leftists, and I have to say especially (though not entirely) from leftist men, which sounded like a lot of armchair quarterbacking about how to "win" the "occupation." This contrasted pretty dramatically with what I found interesting and inspiring about the occupations on wall street and beyond. The occupations, by focusing on creating spaces for living and for having dialogue, highlight how little space we have in our lives for either of those things. The society we live in parcels out living space and space to talk and think, based on money first and foremost. Caregetting/giving, learning, reading, talking, getting/giving food, communicating - all are privatized more and more.  People assume they are supposed to happen in our homes, but fewer people can actually afford to do them at home, or can't afford the home itself. We are supposed to hire people or services to provide them, if we can afford it, and ration our participation in all of these most human and humanizing activities based on their cost.

So the most radical thing the occupations have done is made visible a lot of that work, and made it accessible. They show it is possible for people to self-organize things like food, like medical care, child care, a library, media centers, internet, etc.

There has been commentary, especially from, I would say, a more macho side of the left, about how camping isn't real protest. These people are just camping, they are not, so to speak, sticking it to the man. Well, the most effective way the man keeps everyone in line is through our dependence on expensive infrastructure which we don't control and can barely afford. 

In the camps, people are providing it for themselves and each other. So rather than saving up money, inheriting it, borrowing it,  abandoning one's responsibilities, or simply not having any yet, in order to stick it to the man without fear of losing your health care or child care or whatever...these people in these camps are demonstrating how you can do without the man. And the skills that come from that are indeed transferable.

And as I keep suggesting, these skills are also unglamorous. Often seen as "feminine." The caregiving, organizational, maintaining skills.  But they are the skills that make things accessible to more people, especially to people more at the margins. They are also the skills of people who are not dependent on the system, they make it easier to resist selling out or buying in.

And then there are the skills and practices of decision-making and discussion. People are learning what a general assembly can be - they are seeing people who care about whether decision-making is done in a non-hierarchical way - about whether voices are heard. People are not only noticing whether too many similar people have spoken, but are saying "I think someone else from a different gender/ background should speak instead of me, because a lot of people like me have already spoken." Just demonstrating that it's worthwhile to consider these things, that it makes for better decisions. And one of the nicer moments of that was learning that OccupyBoston rather quickly made itself aware that the term "occupation" is rather a loaded and non-liberatory one for many indigenous/native peoples on this land as well as elswheere. Especially as the day approached which celebrates the invasion of native people's lands by Columbus. And although the work of decolonization is undoubtedly still to be done, the fact that this was acknowledged and space left to discuss and move forward on native people's concerns in relation to occupation as well as Wall Street shows, already, a better and more inclusive (in the right way) movement than I have seen. Overall I have been impressed with the gracious and generous participation and analysis of many Native people to these various camps, as well as several important critiques which show the way towards better moves in the future.

So yeah, add in the diversity I saw at Occupy Boston. Yes, in Boston. As I walked around, I heard multiple languages and a good smattering of solid working-class Boston accents. I saw asian, arab, latino, black, white, native, and all kinds of folks, in clusters, twos and larger groups. I saw folks from sixteen to sixty, at least. I saw queer, cis, trans, and straight folk in every style and scene and age, crusty-punk kids in layers of dingy denim and patches, college kids in t-shirts, union members in their union gear, medic in home-made uniforms with goggles and bandannas. While linking with the medic tent, I met an EMT who came to offer her time, and a former military medic checking out the piles of donated supplies (including two huge tubs from the nurses' union). I chatted with the father and mother from Braintree (south shore!) who had brought their four children to see the camp "I work in Boston" he said "I drove by this every day, watching it grow. I think it's just great. It's so great what you're doing here. I wanted to bring my kids so they could see people standing up for something, doing things for themselves." 

I also overheard conversations, among groups of people, on subjects ranging from critiquing the gender binary to McChesney's analysis of media propaganda. There were hundreds of people there when I arrived, and more were streaming back after what had sounded like a truly huge students march (Boston is a college town after all). I saw guitars and saxophones and the inevitable drum circle. But overall what I saw was excitement, and hope, and people connecting across their differences - not by erasing them, but because we saw that we are on the same side anyway whether we like it or not, and we've got a lot of work to do.

From the early days now: two good reports and the first decent analysis. Although by now even the New York Times editorial staff has wised up and basically admitted that their first hatchet/hack job by Gina whatever is a pile of crap.

And Mike has been doing a great series of posts (yes, each word there is a differnet link), especially strong for me is the way he lays out a lot of background very clearly as he is wont to do.

And of course Zunguzungu is always a treasure, of thought and of further links. Just read everything. 

and lest you think this is totally unrelated to other stuff I do - I'll just say that my dissertation is about "exilic spaces" which are spaces in which people's interactions and relationships are not determined by colonial capitalist power. People's identities are not defined only by their oppressors and exploiters, but instead are lived out in relation to a life outside, in resistance to, and predating global capitalism.

I came to this through focusing on creative practices which embody and reinforce exilic spaces of discourse. This term comes from Jamaican scholar Obika Gray, whose work I am eternally indebted to Erin for introducing me to. In this case 'spaces' are a metaphor for'a way of speaking/communicating in which communication -including music- is not commodified. So, riddims, sampling, answer tunes, call-and-response, fan fiction, all aspects of dynamic, social interactions with music, they create around themselves kind of exilic space in which you are not, traditinoally, expected to ask permission in order to participate. And they need exilic spaces - safe spaces where their actions are not controlled or monitored (that don't require you to ask permission), in order to flourish. Copyright freezes communication/music into commodifiable chunks which are attached to particular entities ('owners'), and if spaces of creativity track and enforce this it can kill the essence of living dialogue/musicking. I'm not entirely sure how much the occupations are exilic spaces, but the wilful carving out of a different society in the cracks and fissures in commodified space made by our ability to live fully within it.. well it makes me think anyway.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

DC: speaking and Djing

In January I was lucky enough to be invited to DC for World's Fair Use Day (where I for once got to play the straightgal to the panel discussion on hip-hop and sampling alongside Das Racist). While there I met some fantastic people, including more folks from the Future of Music Coalition, and from the amazing Dj Collective Anthology of Booty.

All that led to much plotting and planning, and the first phase is complete! Which means a triumphant return to DC to speak on another panel, and this time DJ my first DC gig, courtesy of the Anthology of Booty crew! (check out this awesome piece where they discuss how to play raunchy music without destroying the vibe for women - all djs take note - and this hot mix from the whole crew.)

October 1, at the back bar of the 9:30 Club - Diasporas - alongside DJ Bent
rsvp on facebook here

and it's a bit of a reunion, because who is playing upstairs? none other than DAS RACIST so you can rock out upstairs and then check us out below.

and then, Monday and Tuesday, you can sober up (or not) and make it out  to the Future of Music Coalition's Policy Summit. Full schedule here.
I'm on a panel called Killer Apps, Conflicting Law: Remixing Compensation in Music Services
alongside one of my favorite scholars, Jessica Litman. It should be a lively one! I'll be bringing in my research based in about 13 months living in Jamaica as well as my experience as a DJ for 16 years across 19 countries.

There may well be a happy hour Tuesday night as well, which I might even dj at for a bit, will confirm as I know more. But I hope to see DC area peoples out in full force on the 1st!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Roundup & last gig for a while in the Boston Area

It's been an intense summer. (tl:dr? info on the gig here (fb) or here)
Luckily, I've had the chance to meet up with amazing people, through giving some talks
-at the Social Media Research Collective at Microsoft Research Labs
-at dorkbot pittsburgh (review of talk & show here)
and play some AMAZING gigs (see sidebar)

And I managed to get involved in some interesting (as well as damn silly) debates online and off about music, politics, global power, ethics, taste, and law.. all that hot stuff. I decided to take it a step further and invite some of my favorite people whose voices should be heard more, to participate more formally in some of these conversations - so please vote for my proposed panels at SXSW
(featuring Chief Boima (Dutty Artz), Dj rAt (Anthology of Booty), Tina Piper (Center for Intellectual Property Policy) and me!): &

and shortly I hope to announce another panel featuring MORE of the most interesting and critical  djs/promoters/scholars I know.

But in the meantime, Boston area peoples, come out to Beat Research on Monday the 22nd of August and hear me and DJ Refusenik throw down!

Ripley's taking off

Friday, August 05, 2011


My internet presence has been lots elsewhere. Some various discussions on the government-monitored, corporate-ownership-of-daily-life site (the older one, not the plussy one). Some great Twitter conversations (one with the one like ProdigalEntertainment especially) and a good three-way convergence via Twitter, email and FB with various members of the Anthology of Booty crew in DC, with whom I hope to work in October, because it looks like I will be coming through DC again at last!

I've been lucky enough to get some great gigs this summer - last week playing with Kingdom, Dev/Null and DJ LeahV in Boston, and this weekend two gigs tomorrow - a free daytime set in the park as part of the Free BASSin' in the park event. The whole thing goes from 1-7, I'm in the latter half, sometime between 4 and 7.

Later in the evening, I'll be throwin down with the Tsunami Bass Experience fundraiser (FUNDBASSIN) down near the Morgan ave side of things in Brooklyn. This one is $10 presale (get tickets here) or more on the door. The lineup for this is equally sick: Joro Boro, Barney Iller, Morphous & Shizaru (Tsunami Bass Experience) and Doppelgenger (Tokyo Bass Culture special guest).

I'm thrilled to finally play with Joro Boro, super excited for bass music stalwart (and killah producer) Barney Iller, curious about Doppelgenger and really honored to join the faculty at TBE.

One thing that draws all these cats together is that they are folks who care about music, make and support it with lots of energy, and also really engage with their minds and souls as well as their turntables and computers and such. They are great examples of how thinking (critically) about music makes music better - not just individual songs being better (although check out some tracks from these cats, whooh!), but by helping create an active, creative thinking community of artists. Super inspiring! And fun as hell to dance to. Hope to see friendly faces out and about, and it looks like I'll be back the following week as well, so watch this space.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A million miles a minute: on sources, communities and audiences

This week I was honored to be invited to work as part of the Bay Area Video Coalitions' Producers Institute, a 10-day workshop in which five projects for social good which are centered in film or interactive media come together to work on developing their projects into something that can be pitched to funders at a pretty high level. It's a super-fast, intensive experience, where everything seems to go a rocket-speed, and yet thoughtful, nuanced projects come out. The Institute draws on the Bay Area's rich network of technologists, artists, game designers, film makers, app designers, data visualization specialists and futurologists to help people bring their projects into the digital era - transcending the traditional format of documentary film (which most of the projects appear to arise out of), and really make use of the connections and people that contributed to the making of the film, and the connections and people who contribute to its reception.

Coming to it from a non-film background, I have been fascinated by the parallels and the contrasts between my work as a DJ and an anthropologist/ethnomusicologist.

Documentary practices, by which I mean the practices involved in making a documentary, share a lot, it seems to me, with anthropology, in terms of negotiating a relationship with a specific community or issue, in order to make a communicative work. Many issues around access, ethics, representation, technology, and trust seem really connected to my own processes as I spend time in the field. The purposes may even overlap as well: in this case, the projects all have a social goal, whether it is awareness-raising, retelling history, facilitating dialogue, encouraging changes in behavior or shaming authority figures. All of these are often explicit or implicit goals of anthropologists' work.

To be more specific: I'm especially concerned with my relationship to the communities I research,  personally (for immediate, self-interested reasons), and for my work and the effect I want it to have. Jamaican musicians, and the specific people and personalities I have been lucky enough to get to know, are not the owners or the controllers of what I do, but they are people who have shared something with me and I have to have integrity about what I do with what I have learned. Even if I end up pissing them off, I need to make that choice seriously and for reasons that hopefully they can understand. I do believe that folks I worked with who might disagree with me would still understand my reasoning for the arguments I make about Jamaican musical practices.

At the Producers Institute, the different projects have some really different goals, which I'm going to totally idiosyncratically summarize below, followed by the project names and descriptions taken from the Center for New media's blog post on the opening day.

1. Straight-up encouraging participants to change their behavior through recasting currently unpopular activities as fun
(Wikilakes: Empowering Kashmiri communities to preserve their environment through game think)
2. Inviting people to view themselves and others differently in a way that overturns stereotyping and fear
(Question Bridge: Transforming preconceptions about black males through video-mediated dialogue)
3. Fostering dialogue between opposing sides and interests while educating the wider world about how we are already involved in this debate without knowing its impact in a particular local setting.
(Equal Footing: Developing tools for Chiapas locals to communicate with government and institutions on sustainable environmental practices)
4. Personalizing a global issue through allowing folks to connect on an intimate level with scientific data about living things
(Rekindling Venus: Bringing awareness and attention to the extraordinary symbiosis of animal and algae in the coral ecosystem and the very real impacts of climate change.)
5. Spreading a forgotten history while making that history a starting place for mobilizing engagement with its aftermath and current incarnation.
 (We Were Here: Developing interactive curriculum that honors the memory of victims of the San Francisco HIV/AIDS epidemic.)

 Some of these have films associated with them and some do not. But it's been amazing to be a part of the discussion for how one engages with the various communities associated with these projects. There are lots of complexities that arise out of one's relationship to the communities - if one has a particular goal, how to achieve it collaboratively with communities? How is that goal shaped by the people you want to participate, by their attitudes, knowledges, and local situations?

But what about the people with whom you share your work after it is made (to the extent that you see it as a finished work)? Viewers, listeners, critics, students, dancers, experts, colleagues, competitors, fans?

As a scholar, I generally see my work in two ways: as a product (usually written) that seeks a venue, but also as an argument that is intended to convince people or at least share information that I hope people take seriously as they make their own choices about similar issues. So, besides thinking about how that argument/information affects the people and places I study (who are part of the audience), there is a larger audience for my scholarship of scholars, policy makers, technologists and music fans outside Jamaica. Here I am committed to making arguments that will be hard to use to reinforce the kinds of inequalities that are so much in force in Jamaica and globally. I want my work to make people think about what their assumptions are, whether they agree or not. I also know there are institutions in the world that depend on particular understandings of human behavior and meaning, and I hope my work doesn't too easily fit into the dominant ones. This seems to me something at least some documentarians and social-justice-oriented film-makers would be concerned with. But beyond that there are some different traditions in relation to the different media of music vs. film.

Thinking about music and how we enjoy it at my gigs, and how I have studied its enjoyment in different parts of the world has brought out a big difference with film: a different history and trajectory of the different medium. My impression is that film-making, including documentary film-making, has tended to rely on a pretty clear separation between what happens on the screen and what happens in the audience. that is, the audience is not considered much a part of the creative process. Certainly the way I hear film-makers talk is mostly about the message or the story inherent in the film, and how they want it to "reach" or "affect" the audience. The work is constructed in a rather totalizing way, as something that is  complete in itself, and the audience comes later.  While this isn't so different from a lot of scholarly work, it is completely different from my musical work.
Music starts from a very different place. At least for most people, I think music is a social experience - if there are recordings, the recordings are an element in musical experience, but even live performance in which not everyone has an instrument accords the non-instrumentalists a bit more action than in a movie theater. The conceptual separation between "author" and "consumer" is not quite as strong.  The  most important and common ways that people experience music is engaged with is more dynamic than sitting down in a dark room (I guess I should separate 'classical' music as it is currently presented, hmmm).

As a DJ, the role of the audience in creating a musical experience is crucial : I help create an audience, partly dependent on who is in the room, but the audience creates itself in interaction with me. I can't ignore or hector them into appreciating what I do. I have to invite them, and their response shapes how I move forward. How I invite people depends on my respecting them where they are, and trying to learn or intuit something about them - I have to figure out what they are likely to respond to. They are as much a part of the  musical experience as I am.

One of the terms that is floating around at BAVC (and more broadly) is "transmedia." Music has always been transmedia,* because most music has never been meant to reside in the medium in which it is recorded. Part of what I've found fascinating in the past few days is seeing filmmakers grappling with how to think about audiences as active participants, or breaking down the distinction between audience and producer in different ways. Although people make music with various goals, there is also a tradition, especially in ethnomusicology, of identifying the way music serves social functions without people necessarily being explicit about it. It doesn't have to be "message music" to represent a community, people make music that represents them in a more organic way than that. Although films serve social functions too, I wonder if the history of film-making as a capital-intensive tradition,  something expensive and time-consuming to make and distribute and show, made its social function more narrow? 

*actually, the concept of transmedia in itself reveals a standpoint that is outside of most people's lives - it sounds like a term used by people who are focused on media first, rather than people. People  engage with culture (music, movies, etc) in their lives, by means of media, but for most of them the specifics are not the point (which is not to say that the medium doesn't affect the message, but just that people's use of media is shaped by interests outside of the medium). The idea that there is an experience or a message which exists across different media is how we all experience culture, but also, different cultural forms have grown up around specific kinds of media engagement.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Odetta's laugh

Ah, check out this lovely piece about Odetta, catch her discussion of  “theft”  where she schools her interviewer on inappropriate application of property arguments to musicking in the tradition she is a part of.
Seriously. Watch it first, it's a lovely 20 minutes, and then I will take you through her amazing smackdown of her interviewer.

At 13:48, he asks her about Dylan, about how he “took something deep from" her. She pushes back, says he was "influenced" by her, but that he did his own thing with it. 

He than says that Dylan listened to the same songs as her, recordings of sharecroppers, workers and slaves, and “stole" from them. She says, immediately,  (at 14:15) “no no no no no"
"no no no no no"
" we call it folk music we don’t call it stealing.” And this look, while she says it
"we don't call it stealing"
And then as she is trying to choose the right word ("what do we call it?" she asks herself, clearly), the interviewer offers "Appropriation?" 

And Odetta says: “well we could but we don’t” and looks back again at him for emphasis.

"but we don't"
Odetta will have none of this property language, even though her discussion of the music is rooted in a sense of ownership in a way, ownership of her self and her experiences and her perspectives.  First, she roots what Dylan did in a social practice, She says we call it “passing on the folk tradition.

But then, she laughs. I love the long long long laugh she gives after defending Dylan. She connects him to the tradition, but then she gives this drawn-out, deep, rather dark sounding (to me) heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh (24, I counted) at 14:31..
In it, I hear a lot of things going on. But starting with the fact that she begins by looking him in the eye while she laughs:

"passing on the folk tradition"
she’s tossing back at him words used by music-writers, scholars, ethnomusicologists --people who also, for the most part, are implicated in different but maybe equally hierarchical institutions.

But the laugh continues. There's more in there, I think. The most obvious, is the one maybe hinted at in the interviewer’s “theft” language used by : focusing on the different people involved in the tradition. Dylan, a white guy, and black sharecroppers in the south. 

And she keeps laughing

She is not only adamant that theft is not really the right word, she earlier describes the folk scene, the “bohemians” as a home for her, and I don’t think that scene was all black sharecroppers. But there's a lot in that long, long laugh. I wonder if there's something broader than the story of Dylan and his relationship to the music personally.  Because she talks about tradition, she shows how aware she is of social institutions bigger than individuals. Maybe that laugh has in it the rueful acknowledgment of how Dylan was able to make something of that folk tradition that catapulted him into a kind of fame not reachable by the people with whom he was in creative dialogue, not because of his talent, but because of his position – although an outsider, he’s not as much of an outsider as sharecroppers in the south. Even through genuine participation in the tradition, he ends up with something quite different, because he has access to institutional power by virtue of things that are partly beyond his or anyone’s control.

But, ironically, given the whole piece is about her, the interviewer doesn’t seem to be really listening to Odetta and the points she make. Even when she fixes him with a lazer-like look

"It ain't what you say it's the way you say it"
saying “it’s ain’t what you say it’s the way you say it” (14:37)
how can he miss that look? How much more explicit can she be, that the language you apply to musicking matters, that words like "stealing" do violence to the social realities of music?

But he can’t let go of the morally-inflected language, keeps harping on the word "steal." So then she changes tactics and says  "we professionals have stolen an awful lot from amateurs!"

 Undercutting and complicating his simplistic approach. She said those guys making those songs didn't get paid for them .. "but us professional people got at'em, and learned from'em..."
SO AMAZING. She implicates herself in this system of power - she doesn't claim ownership as a bohemian, a folkie or a black person. Instead she recognizes her specific status, someone who gets paid within a larger system. Not in a guilty way, but not in denial about the realities of music-making, even alongside the potential for communication, mobilization and healing.

Preach it, Odetta!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Cops kicked my class out of the building (rare non-music post)

The same questions I ask about the claims over "intellectual property" have always been worth asking about physical property. By what right do people claim the right to exclude? What rights do people who labor and create have to define access and share what they have?

Those of you who tried to come on Thursday, I apologize - the police let several of us in and we were inside the building until police came and told us the chancellor was closing the building at which point we had to leave.
A question this course should lead you to ask is: by what right does the chancellor get to close Wheeler Hall? Whose property is it?

Know that this university exists because the land was donated by the state to the university in exchange for it providing free education to the citizens of California. In terms of labor theories of value, if the labor of teachers is part of the educational mission, at what point do teachers get to decide what happens on school property? If you believe, as I do, that students labor is also part of education - helping create what is learned by all in the classroom, what right do students have to make use of the spaces that were given as sites of education? If there is disagreement or diversity of opinion, who or what should arbitrate these rights?

I later got an email from the chancellor saying there was a "health and safety issue" in Wheeler which necessitated closing it. This seems odd to me.  I also heard from a friend who was stopping by Wheeler (a volunteer medic) that police had pepper-sprayed and beaten protesters with batons while attempting to remove them from the area. (was that the health and safety issue? if so, I can think of a few ways short of closing the building that could have protected people)

I encourage you to think about the primacy of property rights in what happened at Wheeler Hall. Property rights in objects were supreme over rights over people's own bodies. The rights to bodily integrity of the students were not as important as the rights of the chancellor to control what happens in Wheeler Hall. Its true there may have been a concern about damage to the building - but during the first occupation a police officer smashed the hand (and nearly took off the finger) of a student who was participating in the protests (nonviolently and not causing property damage), and yet police are still allowed on campus. The costs and the harm of  batons and pepper spray are not as much concern to the university as the right of the university to control property.
Whose rights are being protected by this? (note that we were carrying on our section without a problem until this happened, it was the police who were limiting access).

Of course there is the question of students right to pursue an education without protest. As above, who should be the arbiter between those different opinions about educational priorities in situations where protesters ARE disrupting classes?

But also, what happens if you include the rights of the students and former students, and also the janitors (speaking of keeping the building in good shape) who are no longer on campus because of the policies like fee hikes and the layoffs dictated by Operational Excellence? Did they have any rights? Milton Friedman (whom we read this week) would say no. But what about the founders of the UC system and its mission?

Also, the rights of nonprotesting students to pursue an education are affected anyway, because even despite the massive fee increases the resulting funds have not gone to education: class sizes are increasing, labs are cut, teaching resources are cut, class sessions are cut ( this course has four fewer classes than usual because of the cuts), libraries are closed, construction disrupts the campus as much as protests..

I hope this is food for thought and future discussion!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

a sufi & a killer & a guitarist & drummer & native artists & metadata

 Lowdjo informs me that the Gonjasufi & Gaslamp Killer album gives no credit to the artists whose recordings are re-used. This is really a pity.

It seems like bad faith (I'm pretty sure Turkish psyche-rock great Erkin Koray is still alive and also famous outside the US, and his music is pretty easily findable online). I'm not too sympathetic to G&G in this case, but I do think the way copyright laws links identifiability with the ability to sue ends up strangling some of the great potential that can come from musical hybridity and mixing.  The law makes it worse for everyone involved.

Copyright law makes it risky to share information about who made the music and where, because  by attaching names, in the current copyright system, someone can use the law to shut you down.  Since copyright is overenforced and too broadly defined, and most people can't even afford to go to court, while  the people who tend to have lawyers are already rich enough, I'm not a fan of requiring people to license samples no matter what. But in this case, I think it would be better to  separate the license question from the information question. It would be great if attribution - or concerns over inequality of participation and representation could be dealt with without getting into a battle over exclusive rights.

Attribution is pretty important, just on its own. Alongside whatever financial advantages come from increasing your reputation, attribution matters for historical, political, and ethical reasons. Recently, a curator at an art museum in Denver made the museum switch to identifying the specific creators of Native American artifacts (rather than just listing them by tribe and region and year). The curator recognized, especially in the face of the literal erasing of past and present people from the public imagination and public discourse, that names matter, and that attaching names and histories can serve living communities.

So too, says Clyde Stubblefield, the funky drummer, who isn't an owner of the tune his drumming made famous. He just wants people to know that it's him playing the drums. And the law works against him too - since he doesn't own the copyright to the track, the bandleader James Brown does (as is quite common). You can see the confusion in the comments to this video of the track - which is titled "James Brown - The Funky Drummer." Although he played the beat which is arguably the basis of hip-hop, people can't quite figure out what that means, and even question whether he played it, since he isn't named on the copyright. Authorship, and especially copyirght ownership is just the end result of a negotiation, but people confuse that with the law being all-knowing about the nature of creativity. So his name is erased, because he wasn't in a position to argue with James Brown. But Stubblefield  doesn't say that he is owed money for that erasure,  he says he wants is people to know it's him. Although it turns out he could also use money for dialysis, too,* what matters is that we know his name.

Copyright law as it stands now limits one of the great advantages of digital communication and sampling practices: it limits the chance for actual creative communication and learning about actual other cultures and places and histories.  Since one of the great delights of sampling is the way it both reinforces and criss-crosses geographies and communities,  it's a pity to obscure the names, communities and personalities of the people whose music is sampled. It denies them participation in the musical conversation, only including people, traditions, cultures into the broader musical community as resources, or raw material, for other people who DO get to have names. 

 Of course you can't always include names, for reasons of time or expense, or because you don't actually know the information. The context matters too - leaving out the names matters differently if you are learning, broke, starting out, or in some ways needing access but can't afford to give much back, and aren't famous enough for your use to bring much attention back to the sources. But all that oughta change once you are signed to a label with money for distro and lawyers (especially a label like Warp, which spends a lot of its lawyers' money on demanding money for any samples of Warp artists).

Its a shame not to pay back at least recognition to the people who lend you their sound.  Nameless reuse can erase the reality of difference, turning everything into a consumerist fantasy, where you don't have to deal with the lived realities of different worlds and different lives, and you turn people in to raw material for your profit.

*as I said in DC - let's not pretend that Stubblefield's dialysis costs are an issue that copyright law can solve. They are why we need free national health care and pensions.

Friday, February 04, 2011

paying it forward: (c) sorts it out, badly

From Generation Bass, one of the places I first came across the great DJ Lowdjo (outta Belgium), comes a great example of how political copyright is, and how it tends to hand over power to those in colonial centers (regardless of intention). It also reveals again how Soundcloud is turning on the communities that gave it its start.

So, two American producers (Gonjasufi and Gaslampkiller) release an album that include lots of songs sampling Turkish psychedelic rock songs. Warp records puts out the album. A Belgian DJ (Lowdjo), independently buys the Turkish albums that G&G did, and makes a mix putting those tracks on it. When uploading the mix to soundcloud, it gets pulled for copyright infringement --of the Americans album A Sufi and a Killer.
It's a mishmash of competing rights, communities, and musical practices, and, not surprisingly, copyright law doesn't help use sort out anything meaningful. Although I would be curious to know how far it reaches - who felt the had to or ought to negotiate with whom. I haven't seen the physical album, I don't know if any of the Turkish artists were credited. Or if they were paid.

Coincidentally, Warp records was the only label, back in 2005, to refuse to allow me to include their track on a mix CD I did for Death$ucker records. They said it would cost a flat 200 pounds and refused to negotiate. That was about what I was paid to make the mix of 41 tracks, of which there were only 500 copies ever sold, at I think 5 pounds each. Anyway, I hope they paid 200 pounds to everyone sampled on that record!

And, where did Gonjasufi and Gaslampkiller got the idea to put a song together made from samples? All kinds of people credit the album for its imaginative use of sampling. The idea of doing that, the creative sensibility that informs that practice, comes from the aesthetic of communities that soundcloud first built itself around, and is now divesting itself of (having profited from our participation).

I found the page where Soundcloud debuted discussion of its change in policy and automatic "enforcement" (expansion) of copyright law.. I encourage discussion there as well as here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Doings and goings: feb 12 and 24

Ok folks: two gigs in February before I head to SXSW Interactive in March! (I'm on this cool panel)
I'm still looking for gigs during Interactive, let me know if you have any ideas.

so in February, here's what you have to look forward to:

February 12th - I'm playing Monsters Of Love, a fantastic event in an incredible space in Oakland. This one is more like word-of-mouth underground style, at least for now, so email me or leave contact info in the comments and I'll send you the info. But rest assured, it's big! The space is amazing, and some of my favorite of the breakcore booty bass warehouse crowd will be throwing down.

Feb 24th - I, aka DJ Ripley,  get up on the decks at TRANSIT, a new event in Oakland
The lineup for this is EXTREME:
Mark N of Bloody Fist records (Australia) is on the deck playing an exclusive 94-96 jungle set

alongside el juan hubbard aka big sloppy ..(otherworld -highjnx)
octopod .............(electo-shamen)
life1.......(high jinx )

I will also (like Mark N) play a slew of classic ragga jungle, and also some jump-up and ragga breakcore - kind of an oldschool Ripley set for those who remember what I was up to 10 years ago and more..or those who missed me back in the day!

free before 10pm $5 after
RSVP here
La Estrellita Cafe (kitchen open till 10!)
440 e/12th Street
Oakland, CA

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Some of what happened at World's Fair Use Day

(Hi all you coming over from the wikipedia 10th anniversary party page! check the sidebar for links to mixes of mine or my musical philosophy such as it is. below is a recap of an event I was part of in DC last week)

Thursday was World's Fair Use Day, which I celebrated at a symposium thingy in DC, sponsored by Public Knowledge. And wow, it was a truly inspiring and entertaining time. For someone who is pretty cynical about the use &value of policy, that organization made me feel a ray of positivity --mostly for its insightful choice of people to bring into the room, and the free reign they gave to us to express what's important.

It was opened by the acting Register of Copyrights, who gave a basic rundown of some fair use cases that shape the fair use landscape. She also said some very positive things about fair use principles

Lawyers and policy people often overstate the way legal cases shape the actual landscape, maybe because legal cases are what they do all day... But since fair use now partly depends on how technology is designed, and mass-use technology is more susceptible to regulation by law because it is more visible to law, at least fair use that relies on networked technology is probably shaped more by law than it used to be.

Still, it's funny to hear what legal people call "history" since it's usually a history of DOCTRINE, not a real history - they describe a chain of logical argument based on a series of principles that change or refine over time. Contingency, the material world, power, social groups, political and ideological shifts in the culture, culture in general, people in general, doesn't seem to be present in many of these accounts.  This presents a vision of legal change and maybe even social change the suggests change is made by people making arguments in court. Which isn't very convincing to me.

But actually World's Fair Use Day itself shows that everyone in the room, even the Registrar, knows that's not the whole story either - we were all there in that room to tell stories about the material world, about the communities we are part of, about our politics, about culture, and about everyday life and the kinds of power we do or don't have in it. And we heard a lot of stories. (check the schedule here for the full breakdown of participants with links.)

The first panel was on remix and games, and the participants and moderator Josephine Dorado described the gaming landscape (which is much more diverse in terms of purpose and people than you might think), and the various ways they interacted with existing games to play or comment or create art. Almost as valuable as their arguments was the way they so clearly demonstrated the cultures around gaming - they had their own languages, their own jokes, and strong emotional attachments to games as part of their lives. Not in some sad, shut-in kind of way, but in the way that people are attached to fairy tales their parents told them, or a sports team they follow, or any other more broadly-accepted cultural practices.

The amazing Ben Sisto moderated a panel on visual arts which included several artists who engage with the internet in interesting ways. They all talked about their creative processes, which Ben bracketed with some philosophical objections to the premises of copyright law and a casual statement that "western capitalism just doesn't make any sense." (Will there be more on that later in the day? I didn't really wonder.) We got little windows into video game music, into fandom of particular games and overall, how games link together in people's memories and social experiences, which makes people want to literally link the games together with each other or with their own lives.

Aram Sinnreich gave the second keynote, which was partly based on his most recent book, and I was initially suspicious at what seemed like a familiar (history-less and abstract) concept like "mashup culture" or "configurable culture." But he actually engaged with the power issues in a more grounded way than most people who talk about this stuff. It's a pet peeve of mine the way many techies and lawyers appear to have discovered society for the first time now that it appears on the internet, and build grand theories out of behavior they observe online or through people's interaction with technology, without looking to see whether people acted that way before. 

The argument often goes: "before the internet, insert-sweeping-generalization about what social practices predominated in the world (!!!) or the country (!!) or even among artists (!) , based in whatever my personal experience is/whatever books I read in high school before I started studying tech/law/whatever.... and NOW, after the internet, IT'S ALL DIFFERENT." Sounds like someone describing their personal life story if they spent the years before 1999 awkward and unconnected from society and who found it easier to socialize online, so the internet revolutionized their personal ability to connect with people. Nice, but  all of society has not had the same trajectory. Sigh. So anyway a book titled "the rise of configurable culture" sets off all kinds of alarm bells to me (was culture rigid and unchanging before 1999?).

Since every person is part of multiple historical experiences, traditions and pre-existing institution, that should be accounted for in "before the internet." There are even entire fields of scholarship attending to these things! Like: history, sociology, ethnomusicology, art history, etc etc, from which one could start generating a vision of why and how people do what they do.  But I was pleased to see Aram show a lot more depth than most folks I see starting with those kinds of catch-phrases. Actually I was pleased to see an whole Jacques Attali-eesque riff on the relationship between musical culture and the social-economic organization of society!  Overall instead of "then vs. now" he kept leaning towards "certain institutions reflect and shape the power structures in society, and when once changes, it suggests the other is changing" which is wayy more my kind of argument, and made me much more likely to read the book.

Next was the panel I was on, featuring Kevin Driscoll moderating, and Das Racist as well. Man, it was fun. Das Racist did what they do best, which is be exactly who they are -not reducible to abstracts- but in a way that cuts through a lot of the bullshit abstractions that mask racial & economic power and that also lead to bland comfortable music. I tried to just cut in with my own experiences and my research from Jamaica in a similar way (although not as funny because next to those guys I don't even). It was hella lively, and Kevin did a great job of pulling out the randomness and reframing it, or pushing us to be more explicit when the crowd mighta been missing something. I think we kinda kicked ass. I even got one of the bigger spontaneous rounds of applause of the day! (I'll do an edited highlights post later)

Dj /Rupture's keynote took all of that to another level -and included a short dj set as well, speaking with music which I hope people took note of in itself: hey folks - music is in itself a kind of conversation, especially DJing where musical recordings are vocabulary not end products. He began by warming my heart: saying nearly word-for-word exactly the reasons why I love Jungle, when describing how an why he got into this music (in the same club I did, the Loft, at the same time, the early 90s). then he described what DJs do in an irreducibly social and creative way. And then on the subject of property he brought it, all the way back to slavery, and what it means to talk about ownership, and highlighting how much of the time we were talking about black culture and creative practices, or about power that is often racialized. (something that Das Racist and I both talked about - me more from a labor perspective and colonialism perspective, but that /rupture just laid out clear as glass and twice as heavy).

The last panel, on humor and fair use, lightened it up a bit, but not as much as you might expect. I was flagging a bit after the end of the day, but they talked a mile a minute about lolcats, 4chan, corporate reuse of images "from the internet" and lots of other entertaining bits and bobs. Kenyatta Cheese,  already my favorite from the knowyourmeme crew, was unexpectedly (to me, since I don't know his other work) militant not only on tech issues but around broader and more historical claims about race and power. However, overall I wasn't as clear on the definitions of "community" being used by the different folks on the panel. The lolcat/ cheezburger networks, 4chan, and other internet-based ways of participation were mostly discussed (there were lots of talk about DDOS attacks), but at the end I wondered what exactly makes those things communities and how do they relate to already-existing communities? Still, the stories were provocative and their depth of knowledge about law and tech issues was pretty impressive, and they are all funny, funny guys.

Overall, a great range of creative people, a lot of irreverence and deep thought and serious politics and creativity. And then there was ethiopian food, and good conversation till the wee hours. And then I flew back to SF  to dj at the wikipidia 10th anniversary party!

I'm sure more accounts of WFUD will crop up. I am going to do another post on specific highlights from  the day later. You might find your own, if you search the backchannel commentary running on Twitter. I wish I knew how to archive it chronologically. Check #wfud on Twitter or @laripley for my tweets, or search @laripley or djripley for others' responses to my tweets from the event.
What's the best way to archive and organize a cluster of tweets including a hashtag?

there's a video archive of the event up, and somehow it's missing ONLY our panel, as far as I can tell? story of my life.. still you can catch lots of goodness there.

Feel free to post further accounts or links to them in the comments!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kingston Hot, try to bring it to DC and then round it up in SF

(my set & interview from a few months ago on SanguineSoul show on Pirate Cat radio is up: check it here for rocksteady, dub, glitch, cumbia, d&b, jungle and a bit of bhangra for good measure, plus a chat about sampling and ethics at the end)

Yes, a great week in Kingston (finally getting some beach in there right at the end)... Highlights include speaking to great and talented artists/producers like ZJ Sparks, Dj Krush and Natalie Storm (woy!), but also connecting to the many amazing people whom I got to know when I was here last year.

And too soon I will have to leave. But before I head back to SF to be a graduate student instructor for Property and Liberty (a really fun undergrad legal studies course at UC Berkeley), I stop off in Washington DC for World's Fair Use Day on January 13th
  The great people at Public Knowledge have rounded up an amazing lineup of artists and thinkers for what should be a really inspiring set of discussions. People from KnowYourMeme, Negativland, ROFLCon, the US Copyright Office, the Cheezburger network, the fine and Dutty arts and from academia, will all be on a variety of panels throughout the day. When Dj /Rupture is the keynote you know things are getting deep.

I'm definitely looking forward to my panel discussion moderated by Kevin Driscoll (Dj Lone Wolf) that includes me and the inimitable Das Racist. I can only assume hijinks will ensue. At law conferences I'm the clown, but I suspect I'll be the straight man on this bill. Don't miss it!

It's completely free (as is appropriate) but you must RSVP to ensure you get in.

Continuing the theme, looks like I've just been tapped to DJ the Wikimedia Foundation's 10 year anniversary party for Wikipedia, in San Francisco, at the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts  on Saturday the 15th of January! More details to follow.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

live from Kingston!

Just after Soundcloud dropped a bomb on the creative communities it had recruited to its site, I dropped a post in response which was re-linked, tweeted, and brilliantly engaged with by a lot of people (check the comments).. and then I headed to Jamaica.

I'm just here for 10 days, extending the research I did in 2009, and re-connecting with a few of the many hundreds of amazing people I met last time (you can have a look through the archive from Jan-July 2009 for some of the stories and pictures from then).

I tried, last night, to hit up a couple dances - but two out of the three were shut down by the police 10 minutes after me and my friends arrived. And I'm not the only one upset.. these "dancehall tourists" from Finland wrote a formal letter of complaint! with less ethnographic detail, but more outrage.. I guess I'm a slow burn kinda gyal.

So, my story: The first party was at an uptown bar/lounge in New Kingston. No dancehall, mostly live alternative and jazzy R&B. Packed crowd, very elegant, running on till the wee hours, with live guitars strumming behind vocalists who all seemed to know most of the crowd. A family vibe, glittering as they emerged from their cars (big SUVs crowd the lot which is guarded by security). I left as it was still hotting up, around 1am, for the next party.

Susie's Bakery hosts Mojito Mondays, in association with local uh "men's energy drink" Magnum. I associate this place with an uptown crowd, the place normally serves decadent pastries and meals that are quite pricey relative to local restaurants. On Qednesdays it has live music, not only reggae, many students from the local music school perform alongside a somewhat international crowd onstage and in the audience (or that's how it was when I was there in the past). The events take place outside and this one is free, with the sound system set up in front of the bakery and the crowd filling up the parking lot to bursting.  In terms of crowd and vibe, this night seemed a bit more downtown than the Wednesday night I remember - this night the music was played by a DJ, and was R&B/ Dancehall/Jamaican popular music whatever that hybrid is these days with a sound system I believe by Supahype... and the crowd was indeed super hype... in all their finery... which was at least in part quite a bit louder than at the previous party. The crowd wore brighter colors, more accessories, more over-the-top fashions: the latest trend appears to be wigs that are half-black and half-neon yellow or pink, there was a woman in a magnificent silver lame dress with big shoulders, men still going for heavily embroidered shirts, although I saw fewer chains, and I don't see so many neck scarves as before. Also the crowd was far less dominated by white, lightskinned and asian people than the previous event (and far more people).

Unfortunately, just as we pulled up and started checking out the scene a traffic snarl at the other side of the jampacked parking lot resolved itself into a police car. A bit later the sound cut out and people started milling around. Luckily Hot Mondays is around the corner, so we headed there. the crowd was similar or even more downtown in vibe - it's inside a shopping center, and used to be free but recently started charging. But about 10 minutes after we pulled in, so did the police.. we stood outside and watched the small sedan in blue and white drive through the crowd around the entrance right up to the front of the gate. My companion identified an inspector, not just regular police, so it seemed more serious, and then several people identified another man, in a bulletproof vest and helmet, as a local famous journalist. "that means them (the police) have to do someting" said someone seriously. With the eyes of the press on the police they have to make a show. Sure enough, the music cuts out 5 minutes later.

 People start streaming away. There's another party on, out in Bull Bay, but we are worn out chasing the nightlife and head home.

So the crackdowns on popular culture happen all over! And it might depend on your relationship to property, and power whether you get shut down or not. hmm what does that remind me of? and who gets hurt? the fans! who not coincidentally are the people who help make the ting profitable and expands its reach, as our Finnish friends point out, very sensibly.

But wait, on further research, perhaps the second party is Uptown Mondays? because the bossman was called Whitty, according to the people I was with, and that's apparently the name of the founder of uptown mondays, and we were on Constant Spring Road.  If so, there's new levels of irony - despite the name didn't have an uptown vibe to me, although Halfway Tree is uptown from a lot of other sound systems. But the real issue is that just last week there was an article in the Gleaner about this historic party. The article describes how this party played an important role in the music scene for breaking out new artists: " selectors, among them Hotta Ball, Foota Hype and Boom Boom, who have got a big break in the music business from playing at Uptown Mondays."

And yet it buss up by the cops the NEXT week after the article come out? what a gwan?