Creativity, all new or already used

12 Oct

I’m just back from having a cup of hot chocolate tonight reading my coursemates’ blog posts about this last week’s topic on Content, Sharing, Creation and Re-using.

They are really awesome (no  ass-kissing in here, I’m being completely sincere) and as it was expected, I have seen that the anti-piracy vs. pro-piracy debate is still alive and well, specially here in the UK with the controversial Digital Act that was approved some months ago.

But I’d like to set aside that discussion to center on another topic that caught my attention last Friday. It’s about remixing and new ways of creating.

CREATION II: Birth of a sculpture by Simeon Barkas

CREATION II: Birth of a sculpture por Simeon Barkas (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’ve never been very keen to the whole disco-house remix or reworking of original songs as I usually prefer to stick to the original one. Not to dismiss people who work at it, because from time to time I find some great remixes or mashups, but it’s not my taste. The poins is that mixing , reusing and mashing-up in music has existed for ages. The first use of reusing as far as I know is by J.S.Bach , who used some parts of works he already composed to create a new arrangement or piece of work by transposing them and making them look like totally new… although they were not! This is because he was a very busy man, undertaking many tasks at the same time (organist, teacher, cantor…) so sometimes when he was in a hurry to write a chorale or cantata and he didn’t have the inspiration with him at that moment he took some of his previous work, disguised it and make it look like new. Many more classical composers did the same thing too. The beauty of it relied on how beautifully and gracefully they did it.

Then, a step forward in time, mash-ups started to be very common in the 20th century with jazz bands that very often joined two or more jazz standards (mostly from Tin Pan Alley) into a live performance of a song, making it more enjoyable, funny and impressive for the audience. It is a very well known trick for live musicians, very effective and always pleasant. And finally, taking over the last years, we can see that musicians and artists started to mess up with tape remixing and cutting in 1956! From then on, it has become a very common practice and a new way of creating new songs from already existing ones.

But the point here is to ask if it is legal or not to do so, as 99 % of the times the new mixes/remixes/mashups are made taking already Copyrighted content without the artists’ consent or approval. It sometimes happen than a remix is posted in Youtube and creates such a buzz that the original artist gets to hear it and might like it a lot… or dislike it so much that he/she can lawsuit the remixer! The last one is a Disney lawsuit against an artist called Pogo who created a remix of some Disney’s movies and soundtracks. Or even better, some very well known artists also get sued by almost unknown artists because,apparently, they have used samples of their works without any permission and made a lot of money with them as you can see in this Black Eyed Peas case. Nobody is free from guilt as it seems!

We can go even further and say that almost every piece of culture that is being made nowadays is already a Remix of previous works as “everything has already been done”! Besides the controversy, the Everything Is A Remix series of videos are very interesting and insightful about how the creative process takes advantage of previous works. But, Copyright matters will always be there unless we take advantage of the Creative Commons license when taking some piece of work to re-use it or share it freely. Talking in depth about Creative Commons would make this post too long to read, so I suggest reading Sara Rosso’s short guide to Copyright and Creative Commons (link content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.) as he gives pure golden links to masterpieces on the topic.

For example, as a matter of study, let’s take our first assignment for DSP subject. We have to create a Dub style remix of either one of two Bob Marley’s songs “Is this love?” or “Lively up yourself” from the original master tracks. And we’ve been given carte blanche to do whatever we want with the song: it can be the weirdest mix ever done. As long as it is technically complex, we show our knowledge on the Dub style production requirements and finally we demonstrate mastery in the use of the audio equipment (hardware and software) involved, we will get a good mark. Apart from the amazing fact that is for example being able to hear Bob’s voice a cappella just as if he was there in the room I think this is brilliant, isn’t it?

Bob Marley live in Dublin in 1980

Bob Marley live in Dublin in 1980 by MonoSnaps (licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

As far as I know, the master tracks for that song in particular have been available in the internet in various websites and in different qualities. Searching a little bit I have also found that there are also some other multitracks widely available such as some Marvin Gaye songs such as “What’s going on?”  and also Queen’s songs. Some of them even feature alternate vocal or instrument takes that didn’t make their way to the finished version and that we have NEVER heard before. How insightful is that?

These multitracks are made available freely by someone who in the majority of the cases doesn’t know where the tracks came from. He/she just shares it and claims that  “If you have more of these, share them, NEVER EVER EVER SELL THEM”. That’s a good question to further investigate in another post or project: how do people leak multitrack recordings out of the studios so easily? Even when they’re analog like those ones we’ve just talked about.

We are available to remix them and create something new. Is this bad? Illegal? Maybe it is according to the RIAA or the law on publishing. I’d better not say this very loud in case they decide to lawsuit the University of Salford or our DSP lecturer for forcing us to undertake such “evil” tasks even knowing it.

My personal take for this audio production is that the best way to learn from the masters is listening to the finished song and afterwards what the producers had in their hands back in the day, which is a situation in which we’ll find ourselves most of the time. Then, it’s fun to do reverse engineering and see what they kept and what not, how did they mix all the tracks together, which effects, compression or EQ they used just by ear.  That way, we’ll be able to know the tricks and turns of the task and reproduce them by ourselves with different music.

Just a last question for me to ask and make you think a bit more (and also to make it a bit shorter… are we really able to create something new from scratch? Or are we unconsciously or even consciously taking music riffs, sentences or colour mixes that we’ve heard/read/seen in other place in order to create our new pieces of work? Creation, is it better all new… or previously used?

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One Response to “Creativity, all new or already used”

  1. G. Konstantinidis October 12, 2011 at 17:18 #

    Why some people can not recognize the facts that you mentioned in your post? In my country (Greece) people use the oration: “There can’t be parthenogenesis in music”. This means that no one can create (music) from nothing. Every musician has influences from something already existed, to create something “new”. Even the very first musician inspired from the sounds of the nature…

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