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December 14, 2010

[berkman] Wayne Marshall on brave new world music

[Two days later: Ethan Zuckerman liveblogged this better than I. Get thee hence. Also, check Jillian York‘s comments.]

Wayner Marshall, an ethno-musicologist at MIT (and of wayneandwax) is giving a lunchtime talk at the Berkman Center. He’s talking about the “unstable platforms and uneasy peers of brave new world music.” Music can tell us a great deal about politics and culture, he says. We can see the fault lines in public culture as it appears on the Web. The aesthetic qualities of works bear traces of the technology by which they’re made.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The ability to publish to a near limitless audience with production-grade tools has created a brave new world. The watermarking (“remove this stamp by paying”) of some of these works, and the maintaining of these watermarks rather than removing them, ( bears witness to a change in attitudes and culture. He points to a YouTube video titled “Marvel Inc Jerkin in Hollywood,” which uses a brand name, and includes more in the tags. It’s aimed at their peers but is posted in a public site. It’s got a visible watermark in the middle. Wayne then points to the audible watermarks in a jerking track (Fly Kidd – Buckle My Shoe) — every 15 seconds a voice interrupts it. But first we have to listen to an ad to see the video. These are the compromises we’ve made to create public music.

He talks about the New Boyz who created a video using FrootyLoops, posted it, and found other videos of people dancing to their song. Their song became so popular that the New Boyz got signed and produced an official version of their video, far slicker. (Jerkin kids foreground their embrace of technology. Plus they project skateboard culture, skinny jeans, etc. There are arguments about whether they’re violating black masculinity, Wayne says.) Once the professional version came out, YouTube started finding the videos using the soundtrack, so the video creators began began swapping out the audio for other tracks. (In a discussion we learn that Amazon lets music owners register their tracks, triggering a takedown notice or an offer to post a link to a buy link if someone uploads a video that uses the registered track.)

Wayne points to the Jamglue site where users could mix tracks. It’s now shuttered.

Now he switches to “uneasy peers.” Videos and music obviously travel much more easily than before; he shows a Panamanian video that reproduces the original New Boyz vid quite closely, with a new rap over the beat. “They’ve inserted themselves into jerk culture.” This is the music of a brave new world, he says. But it also becomes a new world music. E.g., blogs follow the global spread of music and dance: ghettobassquake. We’re seeing a reimagining of what world music is about: Not so much about West vs. the Rest, but a local dance style (jerkin) circulates throughout the world, peer to peer.

We’re seeing many problems on the platforms that we consider to be part of public culture, e.g., YouTube. Are there other ways to go about it. It’s important to teach new media literacies, but they only go so far. Maybe there are more design and architectural issues to think about.

Q: Are the dispays of cellphones in the vids a sign of new media literacy or just a sign of status or of sociality?
A: I wouldn’t disagree. I don’t want to be too optimistic about the technical savvy. They have certain literacies, but there are other issues.

Q: Maybe people use the audible watermark as a part of the music or culture. Maybe it’s part of the style.
A: Interesting thesis. I haven’t heard people bragging about their watermarks.
Q: They used to blur commercial logos…
A: That was because MTV didn’t want to give away free ads.

Q: As recently as 5 yrs ago, it was pretty much impossible to have access to these productions without access to an underground trading network. Is there no more underground or margin?
A: Those boundaries between underground and mainstream have of course been increasingly blurred. It’s not so much new as easier to do.
Q: Are there some people who are avoiding the public platforms because they want to keep it outside the public?
A: Undoubtedly, although I have not encountered much of it. More often it is being done for friends and just happens to be public.

Q: What sort of architectures ought we be to looking at?
A: The public platforms make the works vulnerable. After the Great Blogocide of ’10, many of the music blogs switched to WordPress. We could use ways to host your own music, for example.

Q: What terminology are you comfortable with?
A: “World music” too often implies non-Western vs. the West, with the West being the real music. [I missed some of this]

Q: Do you think there’s a new kind of underground forming — mainstream platforms vs. underground platforms? Non-US platforms?
A: Yes. Dailymotion in the francophone world, or SkyRock. In Latin America, fotolog is a popular way. 4Share. And more dark net places.

Q: Should the record labels be using you as a consultant?
A: I don’t know what will save the labels.

Q: What are the ethnographers responsibility to the artist if the music makes no copyright statement?
A: As a researcher, I have fair use rights. My masters thesis was about sample-based production and the litigation around it, I refused to identify which music I was talking about. Now, when I blog about a video I know I may be bringing an unwelcome audience to it. It’s an interesting question.

Q: Is the New Boyz story a success story for them and their label? If so, what’s the harm?
A: They’ve had two big hits. But some of the videos that helped elevate them are disappearing because of copyright claims. But I don’t see any chilling effect here: The vid disappears but that was last week anyway. And, of the three groups mentioned in the NYT as signed by Warner Brothers (proof of it going semi-mainstream), Wayne says he’s heard nothing from them since.

Q: You said we may be at the end of the W vs. the Rest or North vs. South paradigm. But, as ___ said, there are four outcomes when cultures map: One dominates. War. Fusion. Thanks but carry on. You’re talking about fusion, but in all the videos we’ve seen, the kids are wearing NY caps, t-shirts, etc. It’s as if they’re saying they’re as NY or LA as the rest of you. Have we hit the point where the remix impacts outside the ethnic community or specific music community? Are we seeing that cross-over?
A: Yes. And we have to look at how the local audience views the performance. Often there’s contentious conversation about the local group aping US culture. OTOH, I look at it and do not see homogenization. It’s locally accented. And the best example of this bleeding out of local communities is MIA, who’s won a Grammy and is frequently sampled; she’s one of these uneasy peers, who’ll issue a CD that nods to local genres but has the attention of the national media.

Q: Has the circle turned? At PlayingForChange, people around the world can play music today. Do the New Boyz look at what the Dominican boys do and want to work with them? Are we getting actual collaboration?
A: Yes, to some extent. That’s burgeoning. More of these videos are echoes. Wayne points to Lil B.

Q: What propagates this music style? The music? The dancing?
A: Hmm. Hard to know. The fact that it’s dance music helps.