Monday, May 28, 2012

RECREATIVITY writings and talkings

various writings on the subject of Recreativity, "everything is a remix", "everything new is old", unoriginal genius etc

You Are Not a Switch
Recreativity and the modern dismissal of genius.
Slate, October 5 2012

by Simon Reynolds

Some years ago I visited the Tate Modern in London with my young son. Then aged 5, he had lately been drawing pictures of a fantastical nature, so as we approached the threshold of a Surrealism retrospective, I suggested that he might want to check these paintings out. “It’s really weird, this stuff,” I said, giving it the hard sell. “And you might get some good ideas.” He just flashed me a disapproving look: “That would be copying.”

This incident sprang to mind recently when making my way through a spate of recent books, articles, and blog posts celebrating the practice of artistic theft. In stark contrast to my 5-year-old’s seemingly instinctive aversion to mimesis, an emerging movement of critics, theorists, writers, and artists argue that techniques of appropriation and quotation are inherent to the creative process. Not only are the concepts of originality and innovation obsolete, they’ve always been myths. Let’s call this movement recreativity.

The most high-profile proponents of recreativity are Jonathan Lethem and David Shields. Both published manifestos—“The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” and Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, respectively—that put into practice what they preach by being assembled almost entirely out of quotations. Earlier this summer another acclaimed novelist, Tom McCarthy, entered the fray with the e-book Transmission and The Individual Remix. Academia has produced book-length interventions such as Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing and Marcus Boon’s In Praise of Copying, while art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud has brought a fresh twist to old debates about appropriation and the ready-made with his concept of postproduction art.  

Many of these polemics make allusions to DJ culture in their titles: Mark Amerika’s remixthebook, Kirby Ferguson’s video essays and website Everything Is A Remix, Arram Sinnreich’s Mashed Up. Remixing and mashups are familiar—indeed, somewhat tired—notions in dance culture, but in critical circles they enjoy modish currency because they seem to capture something essential about the cut-and-paste sensibility fostered by digital culture. Likewise, the Internet’s gigantic archive of image, sound, text, and design has encouraged a view of the artist as primarily a curator, someone whose principal modes of operation involve recontextualization and connection-making. 

As a neutral description of the current state of the art in many fields, this would be fine. But recreativists don’t just champion these practices, they make grand claims about the essentially recycled nature of all art. In Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling, authors Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola quote the DJ Matt Black’s assertion that “humans are just sampling machines … that’s how we learn to paint and make music.” In an opinion piece for NPR, Alva NoĆ« discussed contemporary anxieties about plagiarism in a cut-and-paste era and defended quotation as an artistic practice. But instead of stopping there, he also asserted that “sampling is nothing new, not in art, and not in life … Evolution, whether in biology, or in technology and culture, is never anything other than a redeployment of old means in new circumstances.* We use the old to make the new and the new is always old.” Much the same idea crops up in Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, a sort of self-help manual for modern creatives. Kleon moves quickly from “every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas” to insisting that “you are the sum of your influences” and that “you’re a remix of your mom and dad.”

Recreativity has many proponents and represents a wide spectrum of opinion. Still, it’s striking how easily some of these critics and theorists glide from relatively sensible talk about the role of appropriation and allusion in art to sweeping claims of an ontological or biological nature. They seem so confident. How they can be certain that nobody has ever just come up with some totally new idea, ex nihilo? The remixed nature of everything (not new) under the sun has become an article of faith. Impossible to prove, these assertions tell us way more about our current horizons of thought and our cultural predicament than they do about the nature of creativity or the history of art.   

In Steal Like an Artist, Kleon approvingly cites Jonathan Lethem’s claim that “when people call something ‘original,’ nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.” That’s just one of many widely cited maxims on the recreativity circuit. Others include “We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants” and that hardy perennial, “Talent borrows, genius steals,” attributed to a wide array of poets and painters. 

The emphasis of that particular proverbial truism has shifted, though. It used to be a way of celebrating the artfulness of the genius, who takes something and makes it his or her own, effectively erasing its origin and turning it into another facet of his or her glittering originality. This contrasts with the timid craftsman—the merely talented—who never quite makes you forget the source and ultimately achieves glitter only by association. But nowadays the rhetorical purpose of “genius steals” is decidedly different: It’s meant to make us feel more skeptical about the very idea of the genius, who allegedly pilfers his ideas from elsewhere, just like anybody else.

It’s certainly true that the concept of genius, as famously formulated in Edward Young’s 1759 Conjectures on Original Composition, is unfashionable nowadays. It’s been chipped away from multiple angles by scholars keen to stress the role of context and the influence of contemporary peers, so that what appears to be an individual breakthrough is really the outcome of collective processes. Today we reject as dated and middlebrow the Romantic idea of the visionary artist gushing forth inspiration from deep within or from some transcendent plane of mystery.  That myth is explicitly targeted by recreativity maven Marjorie Perloff in her book Unoriginal Genius, which recasts writing as “moving information.” Other recreativity proponents characterize the artist or writer as a filter, a sort of “search engine endowed with consciousness” (to modernize Baudelaire’s trope of the artist as a sentient kaleidoscope drifting dazed through the metropolis).

You don’t have to be an antiquated Romantic or old-fashioned early 20th-century-style Modernist to find this input/output version of creativity unappealing. Surely the artist or writer is more than just a switch for the relay of information flows, the cross-referencing of sources and coordinates? What is missed out in the recreativity model is the body: the artist as a physical being, someone whose life and personal history has left them marked with a singular set of desires and aversions. There is also the little matter of will: bubbling up from within, that profoundly inegalitarian drive to stand out, to assert oneself in the face of anonymity and death. It’s this aspect of embodiment and ego that gets downgraded in digital culture, which tends to reduce us to the textual: a receiver/transmitter of data, a node in the network. This is what civilizations and societies always do: remake the past in the present’s image, mistake the current conditions of knowledge and experience and feeling for an unchanging human condition or biological reality.

Still, let’s entertain for a moment the notion that the recreativity believers are right: that innovation is an obsolete and unhelpful notion and that the curatorial, informationalized model of art is where things are at. A few years ago William Gibson opined, via Twitter, that “less creative people believe in ‘originality’ and ‘innovation,’ two basically misleading but culturally very powerful concepts.” Forget for the moment that Gibson would appear to be rather an original writer, an innovator in his field. What’s relevant here is that he is characterizing as false consciousness the mindset that powered everything from 20th-century modernism to the most dynamic eras of popular music. Post-World War II jazz explorers like Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. The 1960s psychedelic moment, with the Beatles circa Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Jimi Hendrix between Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland. Post-punk pioneers like Talking Heads, Joy Division, and Public Image Ltd. Nineties techno-rave-influenced auteurs such as Goldie, Bjork, and Aphex Twin. Even today, evidence would suggest that artists, writers, and musicians who labor under the misconception that it’s possible to come up with something new under the sun are much more likely to try for that and thus stand a better chance of reaching it.  Perhaps it would be better if we continued to be “misled”! Whereas the ideology of recreativity, as it spreads, not only legitimizes lazy, parasitic work, it actively encourages it by making it seem cool, “timely,” somehow more advanced than that quaint middlebrow belief in the shock of the new.  

As much as it is propaganda in favor of underachievement, recreativity is also, I suspect, a form of solace: reassuring balm for the anxiety of overinfluence, the creeping fear that one might not have anything of one’s own to offer. The achievements of a great composer or a great band (such as Led Zeppelin, a target of Everything Is A Remix’s Kirby Ferguson) seem less imposing if you can point to their debts and derivations. Part of the appeal of standing on the shoulders of giants is that it makes the giants seem smaller.

Revealing that Nabokov probably purloined the title and basic plot premise of Lolita from a 1916 short story by the German author Heinz von Lichberg serves to diminish Vlad’s stature just a little, bring him down to our level. Even though that fact can hardly account for the overflowing inventiveness of the language, the brilliance of characterization, the satirically mordant observation of  late 1940s America, and all the other ample evidence of  Nabokov’s, if you’ll excuse me, genius. 

Although its proponents see recreativity at work in every field of artistic endeavor, fiction and poetry seem particularly prone to being viewed in terms of recycling. I think that’s because literature lacks the dynamic relationship with technology that you see at work in the plastic arts, cinema, or pop music: the new formal possibilities opened up by innovations in materials and production processes. Working with the same tools as it always has—words—and steadily amassing behind it a couple of millennia worth of narratives, archetypes, tropes, and so forth, literature inevitably starts to feel more and more like a closed, self-referential system. Hence the confidence with which Tom McCarthy declares, near the start of Transmission and the Individual Remix, that “every groundbreaking or innovative work turns out, when probed a little, to be piggybacking on a precedent, which in turn has its own precedents.”

But rather than wring his hands about the predicament of belatedness, McCarthy argues that ‘twas ever thus. Each and every writer, from Shakespeare on down, is “a receiver, modulator, retransmitter”: “not an originating speaker” but “a listener” whose activity is necessarily “a secondary one.” Moreover, literature can only really be about other literature: No new content can seep into it from experience, history, the changing world outside. “Let me … affirm in no uncertain terms, that … I have nothing to say,” writes McCarthy. “Indeed, I’d go so far as to claim that no serious writer does.”

Recreativity talk often has, like this, a peculiarly cheerful, even rousing tone and a categorical sweep to its proclamations. But beneath the surface positivity, I suspect, lurks despair about a kind of inner poverty, as though the mass of cultural matter we collect and stuff into ourselves is just making us ever more empty and barren inside.  The mental sleight of hand in “genius steals” is the syllogistic implication that if you steal your ideas from here, there, and everywhere, you might actually be a genius, too. Hence Austin Kleon’s candid and chirpy confession (and suggestion: you try it, too, budding artist!) that he has a “swipe file.” “See something worth stealing? Put it in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file.”

If only it were so simple. The stealing and the storing is the easy part. The much harder—and forever mysterious—stage is the transformation of the borrowed materials.  Recreativity has nothing to say about this stage of the process, the bit where, every so often, genius comes into play. It’s not the fact or the act of theft but what’s done with the stolen thing that counts: the spin added that “makes it new” (to twist slightly the modernist injunction of Ezra Pound, a major exponent of quotation and allusion himself).  The hallmark, or proof, of genius, in fact, is not merely transmitting or remixing. It’s fashioning something that others will someday want to steal.


2013 blog post

You ARE A Switch

Kenneth Goldsmith on uncreative genius, recreativity, etc etc, in a piece for the New Yorker about the death of the poetic versus a boom in poetry (of a sort):

"In the past decade, writers have been culling the Internet for material, making books that are more focussed on collecting than on reading. These ways of writing—word processing, databasing, recycling, appropriating, intentionally plagiarizing, identity ciphering, and intensive programming, to name just a few—have traditionally been considered outside the scope of literary practice....

"Canadian media scholar Darren Wershler.... has been making some unexpected connections between meme culture and contemporary poetry....  Wershler calls these activities “conceptualism in the wild,” referring to the aspect of nineteen-sixties conceptual art that concerned reframing, and thereby redefining, the idea of artistic genius (think of Duchamp’s urinal). Conceptual projects of the period were generated by a kind of pre-Internet O.C.D., such as Sol LeWitt’s exhaustive photographic documentation of every object, nook, and cranny in his Manhattan loft... Today’s conceptualists in the wild make those guys look tame. It’s not uncommon to see blogs that recount someone’s every sneeze since 2007, or of a man who shoots exactly one second of video every day and strings the clips together in time-lapsed mashups... a woman who documents every morsel of food that she puts into her mouth....

But it's not just poetry without the poetic.... it's writing without a reader:

"Like much conceptual poetry, the book was designed more to ignite discussion than to actually be read....  Quality is beside the point—this type of content is about the quantity of language that surrounds us, and about how difficult it is to render meaning from such excesses. ...

"It’s not clear who, if anyone, actually reads these works

"...  the poet Tan Lin...  has said that “the best sentences should lose information at a relatively constant rate. There should be no ecstatic moments of recognition … the most boring and long-winded writings encourage a kind of effortless non-understanding, a language in which reading itself seems perfectly...  redundant.” 

A kind of undeath of poetry, a mestatising of text, or a meta-statising... a swarming glut of emptiness

"In an essay on the Poetry Foundation’s Web site called “Poetry is Dead, I Killed it,” Vanessa Place says that the poet today resembles a zombie more than an inspired bard, gathering and shovelling hoards of inert linguistic matter into programs, flipping switches, and letting it rip, producing poetry on the scale of WikiLeaks cables. Imagine the writer as a meme machine, writing works with the intention for them to ripple rapidly across networks only to evaporate just as quickly as they appeared. Imagine a poetry that is vast, instantaneous, horizontal, globally distributed, paper thin, and, ultimately, disposable"

Not just poetry without the poetic, but poetry without the Poet.... writing with the Writer evacuated as much as possible from the process and the product...

Everything Is Not A Remix: Why Music Dwells On the Past

- a July 2016 talk in Moscow 

2014 blogpost at Retromania

recreativity / curativity / curationism / appropriationism / anechronosis

Momus does a pop-up video  version of a new song "Bathyscape" with "attributions" overlaid. His rationale:

"This is something I’ve planned to do for a while: take a videosong of mine and try to attribute the source of every element, visual and musical, as it comes up....  This is a dangerous thing to do, because we still live in a world in which copyright is ostensibly enforced, and clearly I’m in breach of lots of copyright protection (unless this is all considered “fair use”)...."

One of the attributions flickering across the screen is to Nicholas Bourriaud and his bible-of-recreativity Postproduction:

"Curators like Nicolas Bourriaud advocate a much more lax and supple approach to intellectual property, proposing...  artists as basically curators themselves, pulling together their exhibitions from multiple existing sources.... Once it was mainly provocateurs like Richard Prince who did this, but now, Bourriaud argues, every artist is basically a dung beetle, using whatever’s lying about.

"What interests me is that although I work alone, I am actually making a collaboration with dozens, even hundreds, of people when I make one of my videosongs. Rather than the Romantic image of an artist on a mountaintop waiting for inspiration, I’m a node on a human (and electronic) network, picking and choosing, framing and reframing, bending the data as it rushes through my wires and screens and sending it on (via social networks) through other people’s. ..."

"... I’m no longer a songwriter: thanks to free programs like iMovie, and the enormous archives on YouTube, I can become a powerful wrangler of all sorts of data. Since, for me, writing songs was always about capturing and repackaging sensibilities, and laying claim to areas of culture that I’d got interested in and researched, things like YouTube and iMovie vastly extend my semantic reach. It’s become so much more than songwriting. It gets closer, for me, to the whole process of being passionately interested in culture, and reaching out towards it, and making it one’s own, while trying to influence others to appreciate the same things.

"With the archives so available and manipulable, sensibility is more important than ever. My experience is that most cultural content bores or even repels me, but that I find things all the time that I admire and covet and want to flag and share with others. Whereas in the last decade I would have done that with blogging, I now tend to do it with the most powerful thing I know: videosongs. This is like moving from being a songwriter to being a journalist to being a film director." 

It sounds -- from the sound of the music but also some of the Momus-discourse around the music - a bit like Momus-does-hauntology:

"The meaning-patina and retro texture encrusted in the original (and by “the original” I mean, usually, a glitchy and lo-fi YouTube copy) is so much more interesting and evocative. I even like the shitty digital glitches and soft resolutions of things you find in the public domain and sample. If you love culture, you often love the telltale technical limitations of each era: the grain and colour of 1950s film combined with the sampling and bandwidth limitations of today’s digital approximations of it. Far from searching for the original experience, I’m excited by the weird sedimental layers of cultural history, the borrowings of borrowings and samplings of samplings. I keep all those in my videosongs." 

But if  - as the recreativity / uncreativity ideologues argue, endlessly, and to my mind anachronistically (backwards-projecting today's exhausted, overloaded sensibility onto the past) - if  all cultural creation both now and in the past is and has always been just a tissue of preexisting elements, then what, pray, is the added value of the overt citation and attribution?  You're being honest, upfront, about what every one else veils?  It demystifies the aura and mystique of the Creator? 

Personally, speaking as a punter, it spoils my potential enjoyment of the piece, and I'm glad that, say, Ghost Box have never thought to do this, although of course if you ask them, or Moon Wiring Club, they'll happily and freely divulge inspirations, reference points, recent listening / reading / watching that's informed the latest output. As Momus himself says at the end:

"We should either thank everyone, or thank no-one and just get on with making the stuff and putting it out there. Bending the semantic rays as they pass endlessly though our machines."

Also, I have to disagree with Momus's argument that "I am actually making a collaboration with dozens, even hundreds, of people when I make one of my videosongs" - that's not been thought-through... A collaboration involves mutuality - a back-and-forth between two or more people, ideally in real-time and real-space, but increasingly these days virtually, through remote networks. Nonetheless, even when not face-to-face, there is a reciprocity.  What is happening when someone samples or copies/recreates/parodies an idea in someone else's work without their knowledge or consent is a one-way process -- an act of taking or duplication. Oh, you might like to imagine you're in a dialogue with the people you're appropriating, but that's not actually what's going on. Be real. 


This reminded me of a recent post at Momus  (confusingly, now also the name of a new arts criticism webzine -- both the musician and the journal take their name from the Greek god of criticism) concerning the book  Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else - by David Balzer. The writer Saelan Twerdy notes that: 

"since the mid-1990s, we’ve been living in the curationist moment. As power-curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev told [Balzer] in 2012, “The curator is the most emblematic worker of the cognitive age.” 

But Balzer also apparently warns that  “excessive fretting over attribution and precedent is paralyzing to dynamic intellectual thought"

And apparently Balzer "ends his text on a note of confidence that curationism’s moment may be about to pass," citing various indications that "the mass obsession regarding anxiously displaying the signs of one’s own distinction" is waning.

Well, that would be a relief. That this is the age of the Curator is hardly big news or even news - people have been moaning about it for a while (including myself in Retromania) and as far as I can tell the very first person to spot this development, and frame it in positive terms, was Brian Eno, in a review of a book about hypertext for Artforum. In 1991.

There are times when it feels like we're going round in circles - a  hyperstasis of thought and critique as much as of cultural production. 


Momus (the singer not the art-crit-site) making reference to "provocateurs like Richard Prince" also reminded me of Our God Is Speed's recent flagging up of responses to Prince's latest / lamest provocation, "Instagrams".

 Peter Schjeldahl notes the "fated"-ness (or less kindly, dire predictability) of his exhibiting " thirty-eight Instagrams harvested from the Internet and inkjet-printed on canvas", for "had Prince uncharacteristically dozed, some other artist was going to notice that Instagram recasts Andy’s proverbial fifteen minutes by urging everybody to be famous fifteen times a day".  The rhetorical question "Is it art?" is followed by "Of course it’s art, though by a well-worn Warholian formula", The real question is: it good or new or interesting or powerful art?  What does it make you feel? Schjeldahl does in fact go on to answers those questions by saying that his reaction to Prince's Instagrams was "something like a wish to be dead—which, say what you want about it, is the surest defense against assaults of postmodernist attitude. Come to think of it, death provides an apt metaphor for the pictures: memento mori of perishing vanity. Another is celestial: a meteor shower of privacies being burnt to cinders in the atmosphere of publicity. They fall into contemporary fame—a sea that is a millimetre deep and horizon-wide."

Schjedahl's twist on Warhol's "famous for fifteen minutes" as "famous fifteen times a day" recalls nothing so much as Momus's "in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people" maxim of over two decades ago.  That's the nature of microfame today -- shrunk both in scale and duration, approaching the degree zero of parochial and ephemeral. 

"Wish to be dead" also, if you'll  pardon me, reminded me of anechronosis: my term (anachronism + necrosis) for the "curious 'undead' quality exuded" by retro culture artifacts.  Explaining it an interview, I said: "It's a really unpleasant sensation. Things under the sway of anechronosis are just nothing. You might as well be dead." 

Paddy Johnson is more blunt:  "Richard Prince Sucks"

"The most remarkable feature of the show is that the printouts are reflected perfectly in Gagosian's shiny floor. Thin offerings for anyone who is in possession of a brain....

"We can trace appropriation precedents back to Warhol, and Prince as an early adopter, but who cares? Copy-paste culture is so ubiquitous now that appropriation remains relevant only to those who have piles of money invested in appropriation artists....

"There's no reason for the reproductions to exist, except to make Prince a little cash—the prints are apparently going forup to $100,000 a pop. This makes the show exceptionally vapid. Don't go see it. Don't ever buy the work."

blogpost from 2015

Retromania Revival !

There's been something of a spate of pieces on retro in pop culture in recent weeks and months  - Lauren Cochrane's thing on "old school", the "does dance music have a problem with nostalgia" piece,  from earlier in the year this NPR one on "Pop's New Old Sound: Retro Without Rules", others I'm struggling to remember...  And now this one from Cuepoint / Medium by one DJ Louie XIV, titled "Pharrell, Bruno Mars and The Age of Pastiche Pop".

It's a decent effort, and  also has the decency to quote me (as indeed most of these pieces do, either from the book or approaching me direct for soundbites). 

Nonetheless, and ironically, it does have a little bit of the air of the retread about it, let's be honest. Recapitulating points in the book or in the articles I wrote around the book. 

But I suppose - and I'm repeating myself here too - this is where we are at: deadlock. The same conditions persist; the same critiques get run and rerun.  

One interesting thing alluded to in the DJ Louie XIV piece that was new to me was this keynote speech lecture given by Malcolm McLaren at the Handheld Learning Conference, not long before his death (his last public talk, in fact). Titled "Reflections on Learning", it riffs on what he calls Karaoke Culture - i.e the practices of recycling, reenactment, parody, fan-fiction, mash-up....   

Techniques, McLaren notes wryly and dryly, that are "all unencumbered by the messy process of creativity". 

Interesting that McLaren refloats the concept of authenticity as the opposite of all that recreativity cack:

"It's about discovering, I suppose, something that is real - that can only be achieved through a struggle - that adores, romanticizes, and  actually makes that 'messy process' a romantic and noble pursuit"  

McLaren explicitly connects Karaoke Culture's "everything is for sale" worldview with the attempts of Tony Blair to "rebrand" the U.K.   

Recreativity as the noncultural or anticultural superstructure to Third Way managerialism / finance capital 's substructure.  

Both equally vaporous. Simulacrum, through and through.

"Authenticity" -  and I've been saying this for years on the other blog - is a concept that "we" are all too educated and self-conscious to have any truck with...  I remember being embarrassed by the concept and repelled by the word (authentick - yuck!) in all its earnest dourness back in the 1980s.... But it is nonetheless an indispensable concept.... a concept, that far from being on its last legs, is going to have a comeback. 

2012 blogpost

"Not wishing to resurrect some ancient notion of creativity ex nihilo, but underlying and unifying all the above, I sense a tendency towards entropy: indistinctness, inertia, ultimately indifference. Whether it's good (Since I Left You) or bad (most bootlegs), what we're witnessing is the kind of sonic grand bouffe only possible during a late era. Could it be that the age of retro-mania / file-sharing / sampladelia--where time has effectively been abolished--enables us to use the abundance of the past to obscure the failings and lacks of the present? Well, it's a thought..."

The germ of Retromania?  That was written in early 2002, for Unfaves of 2001 (it's in the section called "Lameness on the Horizon",  about mashups, or as they were called then, bootlegs / "bastard pop")

Well, it's one of the germs--these questions have been a back-of-the-mind preoccupation for ever, really, and sporadically a front-of-the-mind preoccupation for a really long time too.

In fact I discovered recently that the working title for a piece I wrote in the early Nineties (pegged to the launch of mags like Mojo and Vox, but also dealing with reissue-mania, reformations, etc) was actually "Retromania". But the Guardian went with something else as the headline.


I suppose I do sort of wish to resurrect some ancient notion of creativity ex nihilo

Or at least, I'd rather not unilaterally abandon the idea... I don't quite get the appeal of dancing on its grave with merry abandon, proclaiming good riddance to bad rubbish, and  it was only ever  a myth in the first place, and an oppressive myth that's "holding us back"

The talk I did in Central Europe was a kind of remix of the Slate piece on recreativity plus elements on the all-new chapter  I did for the Ventil Verlag edition of Retromania plus other stuff that occurred to me since. And one of the ironies I pointed out was that :

The old-fashioned ideology of innovation/originality/genius remains the best way of encouraging people to produce new-fashioned music

Whereas the (allegedly) new-fashioned notions of "everything's a remix/we use the old to make the new/"even the Beatles were derivative, were retro", these are a sure-fire route to fostering old-fashioned-music,  old-fashioned anything...  they are propaganda in favour of underachievement

(Actually, my further point was that these seemingly cool, latest-thing, trendy, hot-off-the-academic press ideas about appropriation/quotation/"unoriginal genius", etc are in fact rather aged themselves -- you could in fact just as easily talk about old-fashioned postmodernism as you could of old-fashioned modernism)

Which mindset gets the best results, that's the question, I think...

Choose your illusion, the most useful delusion...

2020 blogpost


This book [Beg Borrow & Steal: Artists Against Originality]  came out several years ago, but the ideas were shopworn years before that

Release rationale:

'Art is theft,’ Picasso once proclaimed, and much of the best and most ‘original’ new art involves an act or two of unequivocal, overt theft. Paradoxically, the law relating to artistic borrowing has grown more restrictive. ‘The plagiarism and copyright trials of the twenty-first century are what the obscenity trials were to the twentieth century’, Kenneth Goldsmith, has observed. ‘These are really the issues of our time.’ Beg, Steal and Borrow offers a comprehensive and provocative survey of a complex subject that is destined to grow in relevance and importance. It traces an artistic lineage of appropriation from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons, and examines the history of its legality from the sixteenth century to now.

Some chapter titles and quotes

 Chapter 1 "How Original Are You?"

"The self -- the thing that makes me so uniquely me and you so uniquely you -- is entirely borrowed" 

Chapter 2 "Thou Shalt Not Steal"

Chapter 3 "…But You Will Be Taught to Copy"

"Michaelangelo's own originality was of an avowedly imitative kind" 

"Copying is the foundation stone of art-making, and the impulse to copy the art of other artists is the progressive motor of art history." 

Chapter 4 "A Brave New Multi-Authored World"

Chapter 6, "Remake, Reuse, Reassemble, Recombine: That's the Way to Go",

 "Art has become one big stylistic mash-up, then, an orgy of copying and collaging beyond the logic of time and place 

"As is only appropriate in a book on appropriating and copying, every word and thought in this text has been borrowed from someone else"


2012 blogpost

Beck, retromania, art versus craft

 Bourgeoiseaux with some thoughts on Beck and retromania:

"His record club project, while great fun for its participants I'm sure, (the recording sessions certainly seem like they were a blast) is perhaps the most damning example of this: track for track covers of "classic" albums (something that the Flaming Lips have also gotten into as they've settled down into increasingly less interesting work), without even the wink and nudge of the Moog Cookbook or Camper Van Beethoven's version of Tusk. Was this retromaniacal turn an inevitability for Beck? Hidden in his gleeful appropriation of junk culture and slacker attitude, was it a time bomb waiting to appear?

Never heard of this "record club".

Was is it that makes talented, in the case of Flaming Lips pretty darn creative, outfits go down this recreative route?  (The Lips, in addition to the Dark Side of the Moon remake, have also recently down an interpretation of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, titled 'The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs feat. New Fumes and Linear Downfall with Space Face Present: Playing Hide And Seek With The Ghost Of Dawn'.)

Is it a form of work-as-relaxation? Or even craft as therapy: recreating an existing album, either exactly as possible (Rundgren with Faithful) or loosely, liberates the enjoyable aspects of  art-making (the technical, doing-it aspects, which can it's true be challenging but in a specifically practical, technical, how-to-achieve-that-sound way) from the more difficult part which is the en-vision-ing of something new, something that didn't exist before... 

Remaking an album means you can have all the demanding fun of making an album, without the pressure of actually contributing anything new to the world.  If you make an album that is trying to be new, a valid contribution to a crowded artistic field, the chances are still very good that you'll fall short, add to the redundancy and clutter of music. But if you remake something that already exists, then the redundancy of the project is built-in, pre-accepted. You're off the artistic hook.

This reminds me of something I saw in at LACMA in Los Angeles recently, a retrospective of the work of the ceramics sculptor Ken Price (who turned a craft, pottery, into art). One of his quotations, from 1993, was stenciled on a wall:

"A craftsman knows what he's going to make and an artist doesn't know what he's going to make, or what the finished product is going to look like"

So art, properly, involves an element of discovery...

Which chimes with a sub-theme in Retromania, my hunger to be surprised, continually, by music...  in a sense Ken Price is saying that the artist should be surprised by what he or she comes up with...

(But perhaps a retromaniacal, or retrolicious, artist -- if there's enough creativity in their recreativity -- can feel that way too, e..g. Ariel Pink "Interesting Results":  every time I pick up the pen I get interesting results / every time I sit down and I try I get extraterrestrial results / I get these interesting results")

Craft and art also seem to correspond roughly to the difference between talent and genius.... between skill and generative capacity (the paradoxical proof of which is precisely its tendency to incite, in your contemporary others, imitative work, skilful emulation....  and to invite, for decades to come, retro-replication)

Bourgeoiseaux , again: "Certainly, by Mutations (named after Os Mutantes), Beck's urge to cite, to curate and to copy, had already begun to overwhelm him, parody clearly slipping into pastiche (a transformation completed in toto on Midnight Vultures)....""Mutations is about its influences. Not doing anything with them, not transmuting them, but instead making them very apparent. They are the surface and the content, the purpose of these songs".

I thought Midnight Vultures was execrable, embarrassing.... I can't even remember Mutations. Perhaps I had stopped listening by then.

Other stuff Beck's done has teetered on the good side of retro-collage aesthetics, the Stereolab/Wagon Christ side

As Bourgeoiseaux argues, Odelay is kind of undeniable, still

And I did find myself surprised to really love Modern  Guilt, the  2008 album he did with Danger Mouse, the mash up man.

Particularly this track, titled, funnily enough, "Replica":

It's sort of his Low, this album....  those nervy, jittery drums...   he seems hollowed-out, sunk in a malaise...  feels like  maybe the masks have dropped away, and much of the clever-cleverness too...

It's the sound of the record I like, as much as the tunes (great as several of them are).


genius recreativity that redeems the whole concept 

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