Friday, April 15, 2011

#12 – Lessig and Rip: A Remix Manifesto

Both the reading from Lessig’s book and “Rip” touch on similar ideas regarding copyright and creativity; Lessig seems to offer a rather more moderate and balanced look at the current issues, but “Rip” makes some good points as well.
                The main similarity between the two that I noticed was the how the issue of control affects creativity and industry.  One of the four “rules” that Rip lays out is that “To build free societies we need to limit the control of the past” (or something close).  Basically they are saying that the old way of doing things is stifling creativity by holding its control too tightly.  Lessig also discusses the limitation of control in his discussion of hybrid economies.  While talking about what have encouraged various open source software, Lessig mentions that Red Hat was able to succeed because it offered customers total access to the code, this gives the customer control over how they will use the product and encourages them to invest time and money into it (p. 181).  Lessig also mentions the Wikia websites, Wikia Inc. hosts the sites and profits from the ads on them, but the users are free to alter the content and even to copy it to another site if they so chose (p. 205), again by freely giving up control of the “product” the business encourages user creativity and is able to prosper financially.
                Taking this idea further also points out another connection between the film and the reading; the idea that the new creativities that technology has created cannot be stopped but can only “be driven underground.”  Rip shows this in a number of ways from the amusing old coot who “stole that mouse fair and square” to mentioning that Brazil broke medical patents in order to provide AIDS medications to its citizens.  The idea crops up in reading when Lessig discusses how hybrid economies can help “decriminalize youth” and in the story of the Harry Potter fansites.  Teenage Heather Lawver was able to humble Warner after they decided to try and police Harry Potter themed fan creations.  Through networking and boycott (and possibly because being mean to kids makes you look like a jerk), Lawver and others were able to stake their claim on the culture that they consumed and the creativity that came out of it (p. 206-210).
                This brings me to the final connection which is the opportunities that can be found for both RW and RO culture in a hybrid economy.  In the film we can see this most easily by looking at what opportunities were lost by trying to keep strict control over intellectual property.  Gregg Gillis, the musician behind Girl Talk comments on how in his day job as a biomedical engineer (right?) there are many pathways for medical research that are effectively blocked because some company or other has a copyright in place.  We can also consider how the pharmaceutical companies might have benefited if they had been more flexible and been able to figure out a profit rather than having the Brazilian government simply cut them out entirely.  On a more positive not when Radiohead allowed fans to set a price to buy and remix their music they made a profit (and probably had fewer pirated copies floating around) and encouraged creativity.  In the reading Lessig provides numerous examples of how hybrid companies are already able to support both profit and creativity.  If we look at the Harry Potter sites again we can see how not only are the fans able to express themselves creatively, but their fervor spreads interest in the original franchise.  Companies like Wikia and Red Hat prosper because they allow the user creative freedom.

Monday, April 4, 2011

#11 – Lessig and Sharing or Commercial Economies

                In chapter six Lessig illustrates the difference between two types of economy; commercial economy and sharing economy.  He begins by first defining economy as a system in which “something” is exchanged with another for “something” given in return (p. 117).  These “somethings” can be essentially anything, but these exchanges are governed by the culturally imposed rules of the economy in which it takes place.  Lessig also states we interact within both commercial and sharing economies, as well as in “hybrid” economies that are able to flourish in the internet realm (p. 119).

                Lessig explores the commercial economy first; describing it as an economy in which money (price) is the primary measure of an exchange.  Lessig also describes a commercial economy as relatively simple; the exchanges of goods and services are clearly delineated by their monetary cost.  Personal interactions beyond the minimum are not expected or even desired in this sort of economy (p. 121). 

                By contrast Lessig describes the sharing economy as one in which money is not only unnecessary, but can be harmful to exchanges within this sort of economy.  In sharing economies the terms of fair exchange are more nebulous than those within a commercial economy, and are based on “a complex set of social relations” (p. 145); interactions with friends and neighbors are usually part of a sharing economy. 

                Lessig goes on to discuss how both sharing and commercial economies are important, and can offer similar services without negatively impacting the other; one of the examples he offers is the existence of a church choir (sharing) and a band (commercial), neither is harmful to the other and the presence of both encourages greater diversity (p. 150).  This example of economic overlap and the concept of commercial and sharing economies are important to Lessig’s main argument because it suggests a world in which both RO media and RW media can beneficially coexist.  The RO media feeds the commercial economy, providing jobs and monetary income, while the RW media fosters amateur creativity and cultural exploration.  The existence of both economies provides greater diversity than either could alone.

(Apropos of nothing, Lessig’s way of talking about the “youth” makes parts of this book sound like he’s an anthropologist studying some slightly puzzling tribe of people somehow totally separate from the rest of Americans.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

#10 - A remix and connections to Lessig

                The remix I chose is a song done by Jonathan Coulton, called “W’s Duty” (here – also here in the “Thing a Week One” section).  It is comprised of clipped bits of various speeches of George W. Bush set to music.  Coulton has specifically found a speeches referring to “duty”, which if this song is to be believed is one of W’s favorite words.  The YouTube link also has various picture of Bush that the uploader felt was relevant to the song, another layer of mixing I suppose.

The first and most obvious connection that can be found between this song and the Lessig remix is that “remix […] succeeds by leveraging the meaning created by the reference to create something new” (p. 76).  In fact Lessig cites a similarly themed remix that takes a jab at our former president.  By compiling these clips, Coulton highlights a feature of Bush’s speeches and acknowledges the fact that many of the American public found Bush somewhat (or a lot) ridiculous. While Coulton could have easily created a similar song out of a new recitation of W’s speeches it wouldn’t have the same impact.

The second connection is closely related to the first and has to do with remixing as quoting.  Lessig describes remixing as quoting but with the possibility for a more layered creation (p. 69).  In W’s Duty, Coulton is truly quoting Bush; there are no other “lyrics” to the song than dialogue from his speeches.  However, the song conveys the original message (found within the words and conveyed by what we know of the speaker) as well as Coulton’s opinion of Bush and his message, conveyed through the format (sort of a faux rock tune) and the arrangement of the clips.  The end result makes as clear a statement as any written work could and does so in a much more entertaining and culturally aware format.

The third connection that I would like to make is less clearly drawn and has to do with what Lessig says regarding the protections given quoting in text versus those in other mediums (p. 55).  While Coulton’s work falls entirely within the legal realm (works created by a federal employee in their official capacity are within public domain), if he had decided to choose clips of a song or another person for this song the legalities become much iffier.  This is an interesting situation to consider; I don’t know that you could harm anyone’s bottom line with this sort of work, and could you even slander someone with their own words?  While Lessig has yet to convince me that creative works should be a shared resource*, rather than a commodity (some people, and not just the wealthy producers, do like to make $ from their works, and some people do less remixing than simple appropriation), I can see how the current legalities have become inappropriate for the modern world.

*And yes, everything is already a shared resource, nothing new under the sun and all.  However, I think our ability to create nearly infinite perfect copies of creative works adds a new wrinkle to this idea, and is something that merits careful consideration.  Like, how much remixing needs to be done for a "quote" to become a new work?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#9 - Remix: Intro & Chapter 1

                I would say that Lawrence Lessig’s key argument in the Introduction of Remix, is that copyright protection as it stands now is stifling creativity and is harmful to the amateur creator well beyond what is necessary to protect the interests of established artists.  The first example he uses for his argument is a mom who uploaded a video of her baby to YouTube, in which one of Prince’s songs could be faintly heard.  Not only did the production company (Universal Music Group) demand that the video be removed from YouTube, they brought up the threat of legal action when she pursued the matter.  As Lessig points out it is highly unlikely that this video could cut into the artist’s or producer’s profit margin at all, which raises the issue of whether this law serves any beneficial function.  Lessig goes on to point out other ways in which copyright law stifles the creative expression of many (whom he refers to as “collateral damage”), and the benefits that can be claimed from freer uses of creative content, using the example of songs released under a Creative Commons license.

                In Chapter One, Lessig posits the idea of two types of culture: Read/Write (RW) culture in which average people not only consume culture, but also “add to the culture that they read by creating and re-creating the culture around them”, and Read Only (RO) culture in which people tend to passively consume culture rather than interacting creatively with it.  RW culture, Lessig argues is one that encourages amateur creative endeavor, and is “flat”, that is it’s shared person to person and is thus more democratic.  By contrast RO culture encourages passive acceptance of professionally created content on the part of the consumer and discourages active creativity.  This distinction between the two types of culture is important to Lessig’s argument because the sort of “remix” behavior that he is attempting to advance and protect falls squarely within the ideals of the RW culture.  By outlining the cultural benefits of RW and disadvantages of RO, Lessig shows us why this topic is important and how it is affecting everyday people.  While people in a RO culture are passive recipients of ideas from a very small fraction of the population, those in a RW culture are actively engaged in the creative process and create a richer cultural experience.  However, Lessig also points out that this need not be an either or proposition; a society can have elements of both types of culture and still by creatively enriched (p. 34-5).

                Also in Chapter One Lessig explores the beginnings of copyright laws as they exist today.  To explore this past he focuses on the early 1900’s and on John Philip Sousa, a composer who argued for more stringent copyright protections than existed at the time.  Sousa was displeased by the rise of mechanically reproduced music (phonographs, player pianos, etc.)  in part due to the fact that he was not entitled to payment for these “copies” (I cynically suspect that this was his primary motive, but perhaps I am being unfair).  Lessig points out a number of times that Sousa states that mechanically reproduced music was responsible for a decline in casual, amateur music activities.  According to Sousa, people were so enamored of the “infernal machines” that traditional amateur musical expression and appreciation was being destroyed.  Aside from topical relevancy, I suspect that Lessig brings up Sousa because the very laws that he argued would encourage amateur creativity are currently responsible for stifling it.  Additionally, there is the fact that Sousa’s “infernal machines” are now the major instrument for amateur creativity and cultural interaction.  The quandary of copyright protection now is sort of a dark mirror of what Sousa argued was occurring in his day; the amateur is still suppressed only now it is the machines that can free us from the laws that were meant to promote creativity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

#8 - Miller Quotes and Who Sampled

#8 – Miller Quotes and Who Sampled

Rhythmic Cinema
“They found freedom in the abandonment of roles that they, like everyone around them were forced to play.” p. 80
In this section Miller is discussing the perceived tyranny of Isaac Newton’s “absolute time” and how Surrealists attempted to escape from the sort of strict regulation of time that the Industrial Revolution fostered.  It also touches on individuality and how people are forced to adhere to certain roles and “play a role.”  Individuality comes up a lot in “Rhythm Science”, and I found this mention of social roles interesting because I am always trying to figure out where society leaves off and the individual begins.

“Prime Time: Life as a boundless-level video game with an infinite array of characters to pick from.  Poker-faced the dealer tells you “Pick a card, any card.”  It’s a game that asks “Who speaks through you?” p. 77
                This quote also has to do with individuality; specifically Miller seems to be addressing the effect of mass media on the creating of individual identity.  With the constant bombardment of media comes an “infinite” number of possible roles to take on, none of them entirely new.

Rhythmic Space
“It all seems more and more that the creative act itself is becoming a source-code like Linux where people create and add modules of thought-ware to the mix, making it all a little more interesting.” p. 89
                Here Miller is talking about how our expressions of creativity are changing; he’s suggesting a remix ethos where everyone contributes in some small way to the development of a shared creation, from which (I assume) individual projects are shaped, reshaped and returned to the meld.  This particular part reminded me of Weinberger’s “social knowing” where everyone shares their knowledge and works towards a consensus together.

Errata Erratum
“Put simply, he was “into” the space between things, the motes of ideas and intentionality that objects and the emotions that they invoke in us drifted through his mind like a self directed swarm of birds.  The flocking instinct holds the geometry of ideas together.” p. 93
                The “he” that Miller is referring to here is Marcel Duchamp, another Surrealist, perhaps best known for “The Fountain” a signed urinal.  I am absolutely unsurprised that Miller is so fond of Duchamp; they seem to have a similar outlook on art and both seem to tend/tended to eclectic creative repertoires.  Miller is attempting to convey the driving force behind Duchamp’s work.  It was the elegance of the phrasing that attracted me to this quote.

The Future is Here
“Once you get their basic credit information and various electronic representations of that person who needs the real thing anymore?  That’s one of the oppositions I explore: my art critiques live and non-live.  The two are utterly mutually conditioning, and this cycle will only intensify throughout the twenty-first century.” p. 101
                In this section Miller seems to be addressing the interesting state of social contact that the internet has engendered.  This seems to refer to how people can know interact solely by electronic mediums. However, this seems to suppose that the electronic representation is both less real than and is divorced from an immediate biological presence.  Which is to say, if you only know someone over the internet, do you automatically know less of them than if you’d met in person?  This quote also reminds me of the “technological determinism vs. technological neutrality” debate.  From this I would guess that Miller leans more towards technological determinism, but perhaps I am misinterpreting his intent.

The Prostitute
“Nothing is really so poor and melancholy as art that is interested in itself and not in its subject.  The truth is cruel, but can be loved, and it makes free those who have loved it.” p. 109
                I’m not entirely sure what Miller is trying to say here (or in general really, but hey), but I wanted to include this because, again, it is wonderfully written.  I would guess that Miller is making an argument against “art for art’s sake”, especially considering the preceding commentary regarding argument and advertisement.  Miller seems very concerned with the meaning behind things, especially music.  I expect that he wouldn’t be terribly invested in something created solely for its beauty, except in what meaning he could derive from it.  This is not a philosophy that I subscribe to, but I can understand the reasoning behind it.  

“The sample is an interrogation of the meaning we see in a song, of its emotional content lifted away like a shroud from a dead corpse, only to be refitted and placed on another body.  That’s the deal – you renew the cloth by repurposing the fabric.  That’s recycling.” p. 113
                This seems to be an excellent quote to demonstrate Miller’s feelings towards sampling as a way of recycling content.  It’s an interesting idea; taking something that’s already been used and keeping it from going to waste, a way of applying the recycling method to music.  It is an able analogy, creating something new from something old is what the best remixing and sampling is able to accomplish.

Who Sampled
                The song whose “genealogy” I chose to explore was “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.  The first thing I noted about this song is that it doesn’t sample or remix any other songs (at least according to the site).  By contrast there are a lot of songs that have sampled it, and a veritable legion of covers done by artists as diverse as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to Weird Al.    The diverse flavors of the sampling/cover songs ties into the ideas of breaking out of roles and the freedom from time.  Artists were able to weave whatever genre Bohemian Rhapsody is into their own vision, be it either rap (“Poor Boy” Shaun Boothe), or slow guitar music (Grey DeLisle).  The “breaking out of roles” also can apply to the original song given the bewildering range of genres in a single song.  Different artists are also able to take this song from a specific time (Queen has always seemed to me to be very much a song of its era, before my era though so take that with a grain of salt) and bring its ideas into a contemporary setting (some with more facility than others).  This is also a good example of sampling as recycling; Bohemian Rhapsody is an interesting song and there seem to be a number of interpretations of its meaning.  The artists who chose to sample or cover this song are able to take an aspect of its emotional resonance, reinterpret it, and put it into a personalized context (or a parody context, but I suppose humor can be personal too).  Another thing that I found interesting is the way that Queen recorded the song with multiple tracks recorded over each other and many sections spliced together, almost as if Queen were sampling themselves.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

#7 - De Bourgoing & Miller

De Bourgoing:

                The core of De Bourgoing’s article seems to do with the culture of hip hop and how the various players and trends interact within this culture.  She talks about how hip hop artists are using various forms of social media, such as Twitter, in order to interact with and attract their fanbase and sell their “brand”.  De Bourgoing also discusses the importance of community, commenting on the prevalence of collaboration and the tendancy of older artists offer opinions or advice to newer artists.  Additionally, she discusses the role of gender in hip hop culture and asserts that despite being largely male dominated; there is still a strong female presence in the form of female rappers or critics. 

                Another key point from the article is the importance of storytelling and the incorporation of different types of media (dancing, graffiti) into hip hop.  She mentions that hip hop exists as an oral tradition, which gives it more fluidity and enables it to assimilate other art forms easily.  If I were going to boil the essence of her arguments into a single sentence it would be “Hip hop is a legitimate, texturally varied art form with its own rich culture and innovators.”

                There are a few points of similarity that I noticed between De Bourgoing’s article and some of the previous material from class.  Most notably is her discussion of how hip hop incorporates various media, and the way that the artists are using different types of media to promote themselves.  This seems to tie into Jenkins’ idea of convergence culture, whereby media, as well as its creators and consumers are becoming more flexible rather than being bound to a single avenue of distribution.  Her mention of the artists “leaked music” also reminded me of Weinberger’s claim that “hoarding knowledge diminishes power”.  By freely distributing their music the hip hop artists are increasing their “power” by increasing their online presence.  De Bourgoing’s phrase “We were scholars before colleges” also seems to tie into Weinberger, specifically regarding his discussion of gatekeepers.  Although she doesn’t really expand on this phrase, I think that De Bourgoing could easily be referring to the same rejection of traditional authorities that Weinberger discusses in his book.


                Paul Miller seems to have a serious “sesquipedalian loquaciousness” bent to his writing.  This makes it a little difficult sometimes to work your way past the pretty words to the point that he is trying to make.  To start with though, I would say that the main point of this reading is that all art/dialogue/consciousness is informed by the works of past creators (which is in turn informed by prior creators and so on).  He refers to previous writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Goethe who also made similar arguments (and whom he quotes copiously, though this is perhaps appropriate considering the topic), discussing how any work exists both as a synthesis of, and a reply to all that has gone before.  Miller also discusses this in relation to DJ-ing and sampling, drawing a connection to the words “replication” and “reply” (p. 73) and the effect that audio recordings had on the realm of creative responses and the idea of inappropriate copying.  In addition he discusses the effect that the current media culture has on identity, and proposes a “multiplex consciousness”, although I confess that I was not entirely able to pin down what he meant by this.

                There are a number of the connections that I see between the reading from “Rhythm Science” and previous class materials.  I think that there is a strong connection between the sort of creative reply and the creation of a “consensual manufactured situation” (p. 76) that Miller discusses and the idea of “social knowing” from Weinberger’s book and “collective intelligence” from Jenkins’.  All suggest a form of knowledge that fluid and is built collectively rather than in discrete, individually contributed chunks.  Miller’s commentary regarding the free exchange of culture and information (p. 65) sounds very much like Weinberger’s “digital disorder.”  Miller also goes on to mentions the “battle to control and distribute culture” (p. 73) which relates to Weinberger’s gatekeepers, and the political nature of organization.  Miller’s ideas also remind me of the Web 2.0 business model of “Some rights reserved” that suggested that businesses should facilitate and encourage “remixibility and hackability.” 

Further connections:

                Apart from the previously mentioned connections between De Bourgoing and Miller and previous class information, there are a couple other similarities to be seen.  Both De Bourgoing and Miller emphasize the importance of cultural interaction (either with past or contemporary co-contributors).  De Bourgoing discusses the collaboration between artists and the importance of community, and Miller discusses the interaction of hip hop and mix culture and the creation of individual identity (p. 64).  They both also discuss the hip hop culture’s flexibility and facility at absorbing other forms of media (Miller p. 65, De Bourgoing #7).  Miller also briefly touches on the idea of technological neutrality versus technological determinism, although he doesn’t seem to definitively support either side (p. 57, 61).  Lastly, both De Bourgoing and Miller seem to typify the “long tail” concept from O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 article.  De Bourgoing focuses on the creativity and importance of independent artists, while Miller’s book in my opinion, exemplifies the niche market that is encouraged and nourished by the Web 2.0 mindset.

I think that I’m going to have to work on my succinctness, because these posts seem to keep getting longer and longer.  I’m almost to the point of “tl,dr” and I’m writing them.