music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Thanks, Jason!

Jason Kottke, world renown professional blogger and subject of a semi-recent New Yorker profile, wrote a review of the “March of the Penguins” documentary a few weeks ago and published an update today with a link to my story about the remixing of the film.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend bookmarking Jason’s site and reading it daily for a take on everything from books, movies, science, web design, technology and much more. A brilliant web resource…

August 30, 2005 | Link to this entry

Typo or Change in Strategy?

Yesterday, while having my morning coffee, I came across this item on page 3 of the Los Angeles Times:

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself early today at the entrance to a busy bus station in the Negev desert city of Beersheba, injuring more than a dozen people, two of them critically, Israeli police said.

You can see it for yourself here until the link expires.

August 29, 2005 | Link to this entry

Rip + Remix Culture, Part Deux

“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.” -- Henry Matisse

Last week, I came home from a late rehearsal and was confronted in person by a disgruntled reader of my last post, namely, my wife. She took issue with me over my second paragraph:

“I’ve always been a little suspicious of the concept of ripping and remixing of other people’s work. It goes against the grain of a traditional artist’s view of creativity. That view says that creativity comes from within as a total and complete original expression. All artists are informed by what has happened before them and they are influenced by their predecessors and their peers. But the expression of that influence is usually a nod to a style, attitude or gesture, not the wholesale rip-off of an actual piece of the original work."

She told me that I had an extremely narrow view of creativity.

So we sat down over the course of the next hour and hashed it out.

I always welcome the chance to have my mind changed. It’s the only true way to keep a check on ourselves and keep our minds open to new ideas. I read Lawrence Lessig’s book, The Future of Ideas, over two years ago in this spirit. Lessig is one of the founders of Creative Commons, an organization providing creators with a less restrictive alternative to traditional copyright protection. More on him later, but in the meantime, back to our argument…I mean, our discussion.

I had to concede that creativity is not always a singular vision with wholly original source materials. If an individual takes elements of several existing works, songs, for instance, and mixes them together with a voiceover or a new drum track to create a new work, well, gosh darn, that qualifies as a creative act. Collaborations, which by nature are not singular visions, are of course, also creative acts.

(In case it wasn’t clear in my post, I also want to say that I have no qualms over the rip/remix of the original “March of the Penguins” film. I only used the alteration of the movie to highlight it against the broader backdrop of the rip/remix issue.)

Coming from a traditional music background which reflects the era of my education, which includes rock and roll, R&B, jazz and classical music, I think I’ve been prejudiced to appreciate the models of creativity I was presented with. Digital rehashing wasn’t available to the artists I studied. Most of the composers I studied were loners and wrote music in solitude. Even rock legends like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and many others I grew up with all wrote most of their own material and if they strayed from that, it was to cover a song by another writer/musician. They all forged their own styles by giving “a nod to a style, attitude or gesture” but never to the best of my recollection did they directly “lift” or incorporate a piece of another musician’s recorded output, nor are their entire careers based on such sampling.

Lessig makes the argument that copyright terms should be shorter in order to introduce material to the public domain or “commons” quicker so that artists can use the material as building blocks. He says that without these building blocks artists will suffer from a dearth of creativity because all art is built upon the backs of those who have gone before them.

I disagree.

As I said earlier, almost all artists are influenced by their predecessors and their peers, and in some cases like Bartok and Stravinsky, occasionally incorporated melodies from peasant folk songs into their broader works. But for the most part, the wellspring of creative output and raw material that artists draw upon is their own, and is massaged into existence by every experience, feeling and urge the creator comes across in life.

Upon my wife’s suggestion, I asked a handful of composers and musicians in Los Angeles for their thoughts about the subject. Almost to a man, they believed that although the work of rip/remixers could be very creative, they didn’t feel that it qualified them to be respected in the same way that traditional musicians and composers are. Call them collage artists but they’re not musicians, one said. Remixers can’t create anything unless someone first creates for them, said another. Copyright issues aside, any composer who has experimented with looping programs and automated composing programs knows in his heart that he is somehow faking it when compared to the traditional model. Is there room for alternative methods of art creation using machines, spare parts and the mind to meld something new? A few new artists will probably break out of the pack, but I doubt it will ever become the status quo. I just hope that young people eyeing a musical career don’t get sidetracked into believing that cut-and-paste can take the place of discipline, hard work and practicing.

But it’s a new world today and that’s why technology is making us question principles which we may have held for many years. Those questions, and their subsequent answers, are what will keep us from closing our minds.

How was that, dear?

August 23, 2005 | Link to this entry


The new August 22 issue of The New Yorker arrived today and every advertisement in the magazine is for Target. Every single ad. And to make matters more interesting, the name Target does not appear in any of them. Just the familiar bullseye logo in various settings created by some of today’s best known illustrator/designers such as Milton Glaser, Gary Baseman, Melinda Beck, James Jean and Ruben Toledo. Even though it feels a little claustrophobic and I'm not entirely sold on the idea, it’s a very clever campaign and I can think of no better home for it than this, my favorite magazine.

August 23, 2005 | Link to this entry

DSL-less in Pasadena

During the last 48-plus hours my DSL line from SBC was down. An outage, they told me when I first called. We’re sorry for your inconvenience, but our engineers are working quickly to resolve the issue. At the 24 hour mark, I broke down and called again, making my way through the phone tree to the same tech support call center in India where accented tongues with first names like “Andy” and “Max” answered the phones, all of them reading from the same script like so many monkeys typing. Maybe if they type fast enough and long enough they will produce a correct answer.

I shifted to the hellish world of dial-up when I realized this was going to take a while and I pounded Google with strings and strings of search terms. Buried deep within the bowels of the SBC DSL support area was a news notice from April of this year instructing you to add your domain name to your password when logging in. This was the first I heard of it. Been working just fine and it’s what…August? I opened up my router’s config screen, typed in the domain and voila! It worked immediately! bad.

August 23, 2005 | Link to this entry

Rip + Remix Culture

Wired devoted a recent issue to the subject, young digital artists have been touting it, hip-hop recording stars have been using it on their CDs for a long time, and now ripping and remixing has hit the mainstream.

I’ve always been a little suspicious of the concept of ripping and remixing of other people’s work. It goes against the grain of a traditional artist’s view of creativity. That view says that creativity comes from within as a total and complete original expression. All artists are informed by what has happened before them and they are influenced by their predecessors and their peers. But the expression of that influence is usually a nod to a style, attitude or gesture, not the wholesale rip-off of an actual piece of the original work.

But what happens when a rip and remix results in one of this summer’s biggest movie hits, "March of the Penguins"?

I was shocked to learn in today’s LA Times, that this documentary about the mating rituals of the Emperor penguin, is the second-highest grossing documentary in history, second only to "Fahrenheit 9/11". I was doubly shocked when I found out the story behind its success.

"March of the Penguins" was originally a French film, "Marche de l’Empereur", directed by Luc Jacquet. It featured beautifully moving cinematography combined with superimposed individual voices used for the thoughts of the various birds. And a French pop soundtrack…

Warner Bros. president Mark Gill saw the film at Sundance, called writer-director Jordan Roberts and asked if something could be done to make it more appealing to American audiences. Jordan wrote a narration, performed by Morgan Freeman, and hired composer Alex Wurman to create a new score. The final result is showing in close to 2,000 theatres across America.

What makes this rip and remix very different from many others is that it was all done legally. Warner and National Geographic bought the North American rights to the French film with provisions that included modifying it for American audiences. The French producers were extremely generous in allowing such a total remixing of their work.

This is a pretty high-visibility example of a new form of expression. It could have been done in a non-digital world just as easily, but it was no doubt influenced by it.

How do you feel about ripping and remixing? Send me an email and let me in on your thoughts. I’ll post a follow-up in the coming weeks and include your comments along with some other ideas I’ve been wrestling with.

August 10, 2005 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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