at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

the sampler, the sampled & the sample.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on April 19, 2010

i had a good conversation with a friend of mine the other day.  it was mostly about what it means to create, to be a part of a collective and/or a network.  much of this conversation was centered around the difference between organizing a group of people as a collective, which requires much more commitment and self-reflection within a community setting, and a network, something that is more loosely based and organized based upon the needs of a certain project.  now of course, much of the time, these two understandings share many traits.  and often times, it’s hard to distinguish between the two.  but for me, a collective is defined heavily by method.  to pursue a project as a collective, the decision-making and organizing principles rest upon profoundly democratic principles.  not just that each person has a voice and an equal weight to their opinion, but also that there is some sort of shared basis, a common vibe between all the involved individuals.  a network, on the other hand, is much more malleable in that it can be hierarchal, democratic, whimsical, etc etc.  the point is… a collective is much harder to maintain and more fruitful (in my opinion) to be a part of… at least in a long term sense.

so when thinking about what this means for the production of art… we hit an interesting hill.  if i may assume that a good work of art rests on a continuity with a given community, experience, and/or group that is couched in everyday experience, then we have a pretty cool departure point from where we can think about collective art production.  it illuminates the difficult process of creating a work that is both honest/authentic to who you are and where you are situated as well as to the wider aesthetic sensibilities roaming about in the wind.  in short, it’s particular… but in its particularity, you may perhaps hit at something humanly shared.

so i guess at this point, some examples are needed to demonstrate what my friend and i were talking about.  a most pertinent example would be the hip-hop movement.  now i’m not talking specifically about top40s… i’m mostly referring to 80s.  i’m talking about a particular cultural movement that arose from the neighborhoods of new york.  i’m talking about the origins of a multi-billion dollar, global phenomenon… which happened to come from a bunch of kids who society predestined to not produce anything of worth.

we’re talking about that guerilla perspective, graffiti.  that body rock, breaking.  that grammar-interrupting flow, rhyming.  and that streamin melodic rhythm, djing.

now what hip-hop presents to me… the gift that its given to the world… is a modern (perhaps postmodern?  who knows what these terms even mean anymore), contemporary aesthetic.  hip-hop music, after all, is really an aural collage.  the use of multiple samples from various sources.  the juxtaposition of dynamic rhythms.  the open space left for the improvisational to happen.  the form of hip-hop… is about framing these intersecting complexities.  a gift from jazz… and a direct child of the jazz movement.  you create a form that frames all these various sources into a space where something is supposed to happen.  you place certain restraints.. but only dynamically so in order that the unknown is more readily accessible.  in other words, dissonance is harmonically framed in such a way that beauty is its offering.  but we must remember, beauty doesn’t mean clean and tidy.  the beautiful is a subjective description of the persuasive.

hip-hop is a contemporary aesthetic.  if you listen closely to the grooves coming out of nyc jazz clubs, they’re in dialogue with it.  they have to be… or they’re not relevant.  if you pay attention to dance… the striking movements of hip-hop are seething through.  these are of course sweeping claims.  but these are also my personal opinions and experiences.

what makes hip-hop so dope is that it presents a new form of communication that expresses vast amounts of information in severely limited and constrained amounts of time.  perhaps a lesson for us youtube/googled-out folk.  sure, this could be a bad thing.  sure, maybe we’re losing our ability to focus on one thorough text.  sure, soundbites are no alternative for deep, prolonged listening.  but perhaps this is an indication of how we are processing information today.  and let us remember, most folks were never able to read anyways.  much of what we know as “history” is an oral narrative passed from generation to generation.  so maybe we can see this as a challenge for a new era.  maybe we ought to bring ourselves up to the task of figuring out new forms that harness this current internet-based sentiment.  in short, we should take a cue from hip-hop and move forward.

of course, i speak of hip-hop in its ideal sense (if there is one).  i love to hear the stories of how these dj’s got started at house parties.  i love watching ciphers on street corners.  i love to watch those young artists mark their place in the urban landscape through painting on trains, walls, and the like.  i enjoy it… because it produced a culture.  one that is potentially fruitful and damaging.  but powerful nonetheless.

hip-hop had a particular origin.  it came from an oppressed folk who slowly saw their dreams and opportunities crushed by the national machine.  and in the face of the tragic, they chose to create.  they chose to bring forth a new attitude.  a “fuck you” posture of living.  and it was in speaking from and through those particular spaces… that they hit at something profoundly human: freedom?  love?  justice?  fairness?  hopes?  who knows.  but whatever it is… it can’t be ignored.

is hip-hop dead?  perhaps.  whatever its life-status… there’s an aesthetic that we need to learn from.  and continue to unpack.


2 Responses

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  1. VyVy said, on April 21, 2010 at 01:59

    how quickly making something out of nothing became stealing something to make millions. 😦

    in other news i heard prof. chomsky speak today and got to take a picture with him. R:WKJGWJ! ! ! imma post it on my blog. you should check it out. he’s so cuuute ^^ (among others things)

  2. sam said, on April 27, 2010 at 01:31

    ^ Is that Noam? No way..

    I took a Hip-Hop lower div last quarter. This post brings it back. Ironically, the class was taught by a rocker. He seemed to be reading off a book. My TA was awesome though. He knows people currently in the Hip-Hop world, and was a fascinating fount of information.

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