by carl wilson

November 21, 2008

She Said, 'Johnny You Got Big Eyes'

In the NYT Magazine's "Screens" issue, coming this weekend, some prominent types name "Moments that Mattered" in their encounters with flat, candescent images of all sorts this year. Novelist Heather O'Neill picks the above YouTube video, titled "Dance Dance Revolutions Co.," and tells a touching story about it and her daughter. As she says, the song ("The End of Poverty") is by Toronto band Tomboyfriend (see the Zoilus entry about chief 'boyfriend Ryan Kamstra earlier this week). But she neglects to mention that the video itself was created by Toronto artist (and Zoilus comrade) Margaux Williamson using found YouTube footage of teenagers dancing in their basements (as she explains here); it was shown in an exhibit at Harbourfront in Toronto earlier this fall.

(Margaux was also inspired by YouTube in her full-length video, Teenager Hamlet 2006, previously mentioned here.)

But what O'Neill says of it is lovely and true: "Each time you watch it, you have a different favorite kid. They flail their arms around and gyrate their hips and completely, completely let themselves go. ... the side of them that just lives in the moment and laughs all afternoon and feels a rock song the way adults never can and spends all day looking for the most original way to shout out: I am here! I am me!."

Speaking of "I am here! I am me!" and of Harbourfront, try tonight or tomorrow to catch one of the last two performances of Hospitality 3: Individualism Was a Mistake, a performance by ex-Torontonian, now Montrealais, Jacob Wren and PME-ART's , in its world premiere. I'll be there tonight.

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 21 at 3:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


November 20, 2008

I hate to side against Kraftwerk, but ...


Germany moves closer to justice on sampling than most legal systems have so far, in a decision against Kraftwerk, who were suing a rap producer for using two seconds of their song "Metal on Metal" (from 1977's Trans-Europe Express).

The court errs in banning quotation from melodies - are German jazz soloists in trouble now? - and indeed I'd be curious what their definition of a "melody" is. Do they mean vocal melodies only? What about instrumental hooks? What about rhythmic hooks? I'm curious if the ruling includes any guidelines in those directions. Personally, the only two tests I would advocate are (a) that the use must be substantially transformative of the source material, by whatever means; and (b) that the source material be credited. I realize licensing fees have been good for some under-appreciated artists, but the censoring effect has been greater - just ask Public Enemy, whose work has never been as powerful as it was in the sampling age. Conscientious artists could still donate profits from sales on songs where they sample deserving obscurities (and acknowledgements would permit those obscurities to pressure with public shaming of the non-conscientious). Meanwhile, if the original artist felt that someone had just ripped them off, not really created a new work, they could sue to make that case.

Does anyone know of anywhere else that explicitly has liberal sampling laws, rather than just weak copyright regimes because they're poor and it's not a priority? I know Gilberto Gil was trying as Culture Minister in Brazil, but as far as I can tell what's been done there is only to allow artists to use Creative Commons if they choose to. They haven't made the leap that Germany made today, where sampling artists would be innocent until proven guilty.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, November 20 at 6:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


November 17, 2008

Ryan Kamstra's
Apocalypse Madge
(And Girl Talk Etc.)


Madonna underdeveloped, underperforming
underwater, untamed . . . deserted North America.
There are Post-it notes in each drawer. Either my regime's
been changed or else I colluded.
My ass is missing. I really don't recall.
Between hunger or adoring welter, another interior hunchbacking
to another interior.
The crucial updates only:
There are a series of outstanding waiting lounges into which
I'm now departed.
A turntable made of only more but ever smaller dreams.
Orange slums beyond metal cities.
Cities barnacle the empire.
No matter which floor, it's repeating like this.

Sarah Liss wrote a very sharp, insightful profile of poet and musician Ryan Kamstra in this week's Eye, in anticipation of his launch on Tuesday night at Mitzi's Sister for his new book iNTO tHE dROWNED wORL_D, an end-times phantasiac poetry cycle in which the world ended eight years ago, dedicated and addressed to Madonna, or at least to a tattered poster of her Drowned World Tour (which ended the week of 9/11).

As Liss's article mentions, I've created a Madonna trivia contest for the occasion, though unfortunately I can't be there in time to deliver it in person. Skill level: middlingish. In addition there is a Madonna-costume contest with actual prizes and two sets by Ryan's ever-more-excellent band Tomboyfriend (currently recording their first full-length, Don't Go to School). Doors at 7, readings & shenanigans at 8, music at 10, drinks throughout.

I have had a lot of other things to talk about but no time to talk about them - for instance the way that Eye has been mixing up filesharing and appropriation art in its discussion of Girl Talk (Girl Talk doesn't threaten the "economic engine" of the music business because he's just making collages, not giving away the original music, and indeed is probably making people more likely to seek out the original music); how the usually perspicacious Mike Barthel became oddly literalist in his discussion of the same subject on Idolator - if Girl Talk "is not fair use" in the current legal definition then that definition needs to be expanded, mainly because its fixation on parody as the primary legitimate use of appropriated material is out-of-date, as I think Idolator's lawyer understands; how this is really just the sampling debate of the 1990s all over again - in fact it makes me dizzy with a sense of proximal amnesia - and Girl Talk's use of the technology is not anywhere near as exciting as the Beastie Boys' was; how music writers as a broad group seem to be way behind the curve conceptually on this stuff; and how everyone should read The Gift by Lewis Hyde, or at least, as a starting point, the quite beautifully written NYT magazine feature about him this weekend.

(On a related subject, was I the only one who initially missed Suzanne Vega's charming NYT blog post [many weeks ago now] about how the infinite number of remixes of Tom's Diner came to be, and how she inadvertently helped invent the MP3? You can tell it's written by an artist because she's not afraid of what she doesn't know.)

I wish Ryan had incorporated lines from Madonna songs throughout Into the Drowned World and I could make all these points tie up neatly, but he didn't, but you get the general idea.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, November 17 at 1:47 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


November 11, 2008

Darren O'Donnell:
Can he tell us how to get to Sesame Street?


I've got a piece about Toronto writer-artist-performer-impresario Darren O'Donnell, creator of Haircuts By Children along with much more, in the new issue of Toronto Life. It's a radically reduced version of my original but gets the job done as an introduction to O'Donnell and his take on participatory/relational/social art-theatre - which he charmingly reduces to an attempt to recapture the Sesame Street urban-community fantasies of his childhood in his real life in Toronto. Forget Allan Kaprow and the Internet, he hints - all this social-art stuff of the current generation might be traceable to the Children's Television Workshop.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 11 at 4:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


November 7, 2008

Bienvenue Les Poules


What with all the Obamabanananess this week I've been remiss update-wise. So you're getting late notice that AIMToronto (the Association of Improvising Musicians) is doing another of its "Interface" series, in which locals improvise with visiting heavyweights. This time around the guests are Les Poules ("The Chicks"), the longstanding trio of Joane Hétu (sax & vox), Diane Labrosse (sampler) and Danielle Palardy Roger (percussion) from Montreal, who have been major contributors to the Quebec musique actuelle scene for some 28 years, not to mention a strong feminist presence in the improvimentalist thing internationally.

They'll be at Parkdale's own avant-living-room Somewhere There in various configurations with T-dot types tonight and tomorrow at 8 pm and Sunday afternoon at 3:30 pm. Tix are $15 ($10 for members, students, seniors, unemployed, "etc.") or $30 for all three shows. My particular recommendation goes to the Sunday matinee, which features a full Poules set as well as Labrosse and Roger playing with local accordionists Erin Crickett and the great Tiina Kiik, and Hétu with clarinetist Ronda Rindone and sax fella Jeremy Strachan (Feuermusik). Don't sleep.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 07 at 2:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


November 4, 2008

The Blame-Celine-First Crowd
(Plus Digidoo and LadyFi's 'Representin Obama')

People are still claiming that the reason Hillary Clinton is not being elected president today was that in June of 2007 (!), she chose a Celine Dion tune for her campaign song. Here's what I had to say about that at the time.

The amazing thing to me reading that entry back is that Barack Obama is not even mentioned.

If you're in Toronto tonight and not sure where to go for election-watchin', the artist-activists of the Department of Culture are having an election-watch gathering at the Gladstone Hotel, and public-space group Spacing is organizing a "Welcome Back America" party in Dundas Square after the results are announced. (They encourage everyone to bring radios to play the acceptance speech in concert, in case the operators of the giant screens at the square choose not to do so.) There's also a shindig at my place, but I'm afraid I can't invite all of you.

Wherever you celebrate (or mourn, but I'm pretty sure it'll be celebrate) tonight's events, have a great party. We deserve it. If you need a soundtrack other than the prattle of talking heads, this special all-Obama music edition of WFMU's Transpacific Sound Paradise is a great source (thanks to TO Music Pix for the tip). Or check out roundups from Eye Weekly (thanks to Scott Woods) and PopMatters. Or just play Erykah Badu.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 04 at 3:06 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


November 3, 2008

Fan Dance:
Fandoms & the 2008 Election

Election Dance-Off With the Obamanators and the McCainiacs.

An email from online streaming-music service saying that they'd implemented Obama and McCain "radio stations" where you can listen to the music the candidates have on their own iPods reminded me of something I'd wanted to point out for a while: This article by U of C Berkeley's Abigail De Kosnik comparing political constituencies and fan cultures, particularly in this case regarding the Democratic primaries. Her focus is on the "marginalized fandom" of Hillary Clinton supporters, whom she likens to the portion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom that was self-declaredly "bitter" about plot developments such as the Buffy/Spike romance not working out, or Willow's lover Tara being killed off. (Or conversely, about there having been a Buffy/Spike or Willow/Tara romance in the first place.)

A minority of the Spike "shippers" never forgave the show and spent their time trolling and lobbing rage-bombs on other fan sites, just as a small part of the Clinton faction moved over to various "Democrats for McCain" organizations, notably for example in Pennsylvania, where they are likely the biggest X factor that makes the Republicans believe they have a shot in that state tomorrow. (Listen to the Oct. 24 This American Life show from Pennsylvania.)

John McCain and Joe Biden don't really inspire that many fan-like followers, it seems anecdotally, but both Obama and Palin do, as their appeal is as much in style and identity as in policy. My initial reaction is that if De Kosnik's model is right, it's an indicator of how far the drift into tele-democracy has gone. I'm reminded of the sting of the Republicans' summertime attack ad on Obama as a "celebrity". The charge didn't stick - partly because of the silliness of comparing him to Paris Hilton, as Paris Hilton herself so effectively helped demonstrate - but it wasn't totally void of substance.

Fan democracy, even more than the soundbite-and-spin democracy that mediatization has generally given us so far, feels especially risky because it seems to tip easily into mob mentalities. You see this in the tone of comments sections on lefty-Dem sites such as the Daily Kos (where McCain is routinely called McSlimy) as well as in the ugly, ugly rhetoric that surfaced in late-campaign Palin rallies, where the real and fake America were set up against each other and Obama was accused of not seeing the country the way "you and me" do - that you and me (besides being potentially racially divisive) also being a way of constituting the sort of imagined communities that fandoms construct. Fandom feels like a highly inappropriate way to relate to political life: In my book I discuss the troubling tone of a lot of cultural-taste conversation, the way that it's used to sharpen social distinctions, but at least there the stakes are relatively low (at least in the short term); in politics the consequences feel more dire.

Yet De Kosnik suggests a more positive reading that actually resonates a lot with what I say late in my book, about the need to shift away from an adversarial to a more pluralistic model in taste talk. She points out that there's something impoverished and inhuman about insisting on a purely rational and "objective" ideal of citizenship. She cites (second-hand) George Marcus, author of The Sentimental Citizen, on the way that a modicum of sentiment is necessary to a rounded sense of life (and thus of politics and governance) - as I've argued elsewhere, the label of "sentimentality" (so common a weapon of pointyhead critics against certain styles of music etc.) can be a device to exclude valid parts of the spectrum (arguably those associated with women, the young, the old, etc.), in a parallel way that labels such as "subversive" or "offensive" can exclude dark or ironic material that makes another set of people uncomfortable.

Not fully sure how to reconcile the hopeful and fearful ways of looking at a fan-like or "sentimental" citizenship - that is, the fan as an engaged and more deeply connected citizen, versus the fan as an unwavering and potentially aggressive partisan - I dropped De Kosnik a line. Basically, what she argued was that a "fan" model might be a healthier one than the typical notion of a political partisan - that when we realize that part of our attachment to a candidate or party is based on identification, projection and context, the way that we insert ourselves in any kind of narrative, it's easier to understand that the people who disagree with us aren't evil monsters. It's a perspective worth contemplating in the wake of this extraordinary political year. She writes:

I definitely agree that fandom can be anti-rational and that a "sentimental citizenship" that would be wholly or largely positive for the public-at-large is impossible. At the same time, an Enlightenment rationalist politics is also impossible. I'm not calling for what my colleague David Bates calls a "politics of affect" - rather, I argue that such a politics is already here, it is what we have already, it is a method of emotionally investing in public figures that is equally operative in political discourse as in entertainment/celebrity discourse. So the question is, What do we do with a politics of affect, with "fannish" politics, now that we see that's how it's working?

In the Clinton vs. Obama fanbase wars, I still see a war raging, though now it's a quiet one compared to the McCain/Palin vs. Obama/Biden fanbase wars. I think one positive outcome that society can strive for with a politics of affect is acting ethically towards people who belong to fanbases different from one's own. For instance, I am neither voting for Obama nor McCain, but constantly find people assuming that I am voting for one and hurling all sorts of insults about the other quite freely. It is as if my participation in one of the fanbases can be assumed. To me, that's just as strange and off-putting as people assuming I'm Christian, or people I know from online communities assuming I'm a certain ethnicity or nationality.

Is it possible to be a fan of one candidate or another, and not speak ill of that person's opponent? ... Broadening the public political discourse to me would mean first of all, acknowledging that most people do have a kind of fannish allegiance to certain politicians or political platforms, and then realizing that there are almost always strong emotions underneath that, and then acknowledging that people who believe differently aren't evil - they're fans of a different stripe. They're Red Sox fans and you're a Yankee fan. They're West Coast rap fans and you're an East Coast rap fan. They're Palin fans and you're an Obama fan.

You'll never think the Sox, NWA, or Palin are the best, you'll never want them to win, but it is possible to have an attitude that people who love those other objects aren't horrid or ill-informed or moronic; they're fans. And so are you.

And when it's acknowledged that emotions run high on both sides, I think and hope there can be a backing away from name-calling and reductionist stereotyping of entire groups of people - millions of people, usually - as somehow morally defective. I know this sounds like "Live and let live," and I do think that is what I'm advocating, but when it comes to fandom and fan wars, it's still important that a clarion call go out for "Live and let live," because fandom too often ends up at, "Believe as I believe."

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, November 03 at 4:26 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson