Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In the meantime, the mean time.

A) Whoever arrived at this blog by searching for 'art for art's fucking sake', you're welcome back any time.

B) TimeOut visitors, I know you're out there. I'll be expecting the New Indie roundtable shortly.

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So, what do I write about when I'm not seeing shows? Well, first I pimp the reason I'm not seeing shows:

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe opens in the Chopin studio a week from Sunday, emmereffers! Get you some tickets!

Also, on a related note, you might not have checked the Signal EnsemBlog in recent months. Nor would I blame you, as it had been dormant for nigh on a year. But we went and figgered out just how this blogging thing is supposed to go down, so swing on by! There's for real content goin' on and has been for a while; you've got catching up to do! Dramaturg Aaron Snook has plenty to keep you busy through the opening of Ballad (much of it already up there for you, but more to come), and then be on the look out for some meet n' greet on the ensemble, updates and insight from and about each of the company members, and plenty of Brian Jones/Rolling Stones build-up for the world premiere of Ronan Marra's Aftermath, coming this spring.

The blog. Read it.

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Also in the meantime, I may as well turn to some product(-ion)(-ive) writing as well. At least two big projects in the woodwork right now, with a third trying to weasel its way into something resembling rationality. The first is, of course, SubUrbia, Part One of The Nine, which I'll talk about in more detail in a week or two when I've got a couple of things finalized. The third is still too much of an inkling to discuss much further, so we'll let that gestate for a bit. But the second! Oh, the second!

I've spent the last few days (the few hours not at work or in rehearsal) buried in mash-up culture. As one of those digital age questions that has shaken up the ideas of intellectual property and art ownership, I've been interested in the mash-up for a while. But now that I'm taking on the task of translating it to the stage in the next year, year and some change, it's time to delve deep. (The project t'ain't a secret, I'm just building to it. Deal.)

I'm skipping the basics. Anyone not familiar with the mash-up, click here and read, then come back.

Today's focus is DJ Earworm. I stumbled across Earworm not too long ago, but he's grown to one of my favorites. He doesn't have the bombast of Girl Talk or the sheer output of The Hood Internet, but I get a greater sense of purpose in his work -- a level far deeper than novelty.

Earworm's biggest (and most novel) hits are his United State of Pop mixes, a mashup of Billboard's top 25 hits of the year. The 2007 mash-up is passable, but 2008 is way hot, and a good case study in mash-up structure. Every quality mash-up has a good base and a good top layer. Whether it's A vs. B or glitch pop, you gotta build your foundation first. Earworm builds with Natasha Bedingfield and Rihanna (who he returns to with great effect), but settles into his most expansive option in Coldplay. It's a great choice (rather than his more beat-heavy alternatives) to provide an open playing field for the myriad of artists he's got to layer in over top. Which is the most impressive part -- not just the number of artists but how well the variety mix: Sara Bareilles' girl next door, Lil' Wayne's complete lack of tone, P!nk's fauxhawk punk, Alicia Keys' full belt, Usher's light-headed velvet pop, OneRepublic's whiny soar, they all meld so well you might think someone managed to round everyone up in one studio for some fucked up benefit hits compilation. I'd be curious to hear what others think, but for me the only sore thumb is Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" snippet. Even worse, I can't tell exactly what the problem is; whether it's Perry's vox, a poorly chosen (or timed, coming directly off of P!nk's similar style) sample, or my general feelings towards the woman that's causing the problem, though I imagine it to be a mix of all three. Then, after setting a chopped vocal rhythm, Earworm allows a couple of artists to linger: T.I. plays into Chris Brown & T-Pain, and as this releases into Chris Brown solo (underlined by a Rihanna build, of all things!), Earworm releases with a taper rather than an explosion, recalling the earlier chopblock, albeit a much more scattered version.

From a technical standpoint, it's a brilliant mix, especially starting with no easy challenge (a given set of songs to be mashed). It shows tonal differences as something to be embraced (with timing) rather than avoided, and it gives a nice two-act structure with a prologue and a callback epilogue.

But it is essentially a novelty. For a glimpse of the meta-bilities of a well-considered mash-up, point yourself to Earworm's No More Gas. Read the description first, then listen to the song. With No More Gas, DJ Earworm has created a critique of the 'Gimme More' culture by exploiting the very (and literally) "Gimme More" pop commercialism that is helping to feed the hungry zeitgeist. And you can dance to it! Go ahead, shake your hips to Danity Kane's taunting "How you gonna fix it?" and The Pussycat Dolls downright frightening "Be careful what you wish for" laid over Britney simply asking us to give her, give her more. It's either disgustingly catchy or catchily disgusting. Go ahead, bob your noggin to Lupe's "Superstar" confidence being completely undermined by the realization of the false bravado therein. But most effective of all, is the framework of Estelle's "American Boy" -- a very direct pointed finger, but one with a wink and a nod, unable to shake the charm and desire of the original. Estelle is the reason you can dance to it; she lets Earworm keep the subtle meter high and the agitprop meter low. Bastard pop is recycled, but never really reformed.

Have a further look around, see what else you can uncover at DJ Earworm's place, and let me know what you like (I especially recommend the nervous energy of Just Dance To New Order and Reckoner Lockdown, in which a half beat shift on Kanye's original makes all the difference). And check the videos as well, although video mash-up is a topic for a whole 'nother day.

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I recently placed a decent sized order on AbeBooks and have since had a steady flow of vanguard art books to the homestead. Paging through this one today, I had a random moment of clarity:

"You have to know the rules in order to break them." -- it's one of those commonalites that has always rung of bullshit to me. I've been applying my frustration to the wrong place, it's not the sentence that's bullshit, it's the implication. In order to explore the artistic structure and the various ways out of it, you do have to study up on it. But if the implication is that this study must be an internal process, I suggest an external. Rule-breaking artists, rather than beating your head against a wall until the plaster cracks and lets in the light, spend some personal time with the darling motherfuckers teetering on the ladders outside and shoving the structure in on itself. You can learn how to be normal and then learn how not to be, or you can learn how others have not been and find out how that applies to yourself.

Study up, but do it from an angle you'll appreciate. Piero Manzoni can teach you what the rules are just as well as anybody that follows them to the letter.

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How art has destroyed science, part 3 (a follow-up to the forgotten but not lost part 1 & part 2):


Sleep research:


Vs.

Sleep Research:


You tell me who's made more progress.

P.Rekk
2009

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