Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times

I like the beginning of the definition of record players being an instrument and the music produced by it is unique and nothing reproduced. DJs work with their own sense of music and produce new sound and noises with using the phonograph and nobody can deny that it is creative, even though the line between creativity and uniqueness is blurred these years.

The issue of copyright is also in music making, no matter is it among the composers or the listeners. If the composer is responsible for the layers of authorship associated with his work, what about the listeners who does not realize it but still enjoys the music? Are we encouraging the trespassing of copyright or it is the other way around, the trespassing of the composers led listeners to enjoy what we think is unique music?

“…The popular intrigue of computer theft has inspired cinematic and paperback thrillers while the robbery of music is restricted to elementary poaching and blundering innocence. The plots are trivial: Disney accuses Sony of conspiring with consumers to make unauthorized mice. Former Beatle George Harrison is found guilty of an indiscretion in choosing a vaguely familiar sequence of pitches” I don’t agree with the second half of this quote about robbery of music is only of the level of blundering innocence. To say it, I personally know a lot of Chinese or English websites who “help” with the robbery of music online. Most of the music is anime music which is barely heard of outside of Japan but big hooks for anime lovers. People in this “business” buy the CD and put it on whatever social website he or she is part of and share the music online. This is above mere elementary poaching. It became a big network and part of a business that a lot of people take part of, some consciously and some may just due to curiosity or love of the music.

I like how Oswald use the reference of quotation marks. Surely plagiarism is common in writing and using quotation marks can solve the problem sometimes but this cannot be done in music whatsoever. Anyone can claim that one took part of the music from the other when they sound similar and the composer did it consciously or not is not clear. “Audio piracy” is putting the copyright situation in a more aggressive language but it makes sense.

Also Oswald talked about computer and how it removes expertise from the scene. I was watching a talk show in China and there is this girl who makes music with random sounds such as a cough or a thump and mixes these sounds using NDS, PS3, iPhone and other electronic devices. She said that there was another band that emailed her saying they had the same idea of doing music this way and which is the first really is unclear. This also reflects the change of making music effecting the issue of copyright and authorship.

The first concept Oswald mentions, to plain and simply “reproduce sound”, is a mainstream, (and perhaps out of date) term which society interprets as their reaction to sounds they are exposed to in the actual worldwide media. Reproduction of such media allows a viewer/listener/interpreter to become a filter; however, the main dichotomy that perhaps the interpreter may or may not recognize is what this reproduction means to the original artist who created the work, and also, how the the public recognizes such modifications as: A.) A valid as a sort of ode to the original piece, or B.) Perhaps misleading, or straying too far from the original artist’s vision.

Further into the article, Oswald also brings up the mentality that original artists may view people who tamper with their, or others’ original public works as “the unblessed”. These one-sided solely (or as they may claim) “genuine” artists, haven’t quite convinced those a part of remixing culture that they are participating in a less significant or less meaningful movement to reconstruct previous works. These genuine artists are hard to 100% agree with. This being because, obviously such artists had to have had previous inspiration, and stylistic influences that impacted his/her own work. Not saying that the artist couldn’t produce an original melody of their own, but most likely what they create will branch off of sounds they are already familiar with. Inspiration is something that is universal, and it’s not natural to have that being restricted to play with, it’s how you claim to present your version of it, and how you choose to accredit the sources which you collected and used.

In 1976, “U.S. Copyright Act was revised to protect sound recordings in that country for the first time.” This seemed to be around the time where there was a defined yearning amongst society who were being bombarded with culture and media every day, to have their say for how they would express it, and recontextualize it. Once the issue was announced as an actual “Act”, it obviously was becoming an phenomenal idea which was hard to sustain amongst all people. It’s hard to say how much of a difference the government has to do with preventing people the liberty to express their interest in something they recognize as special, and inspirational. Whether or not that liberty turns into a personal project, or a subcultural phenomenon, is another concern which taps in to the concept of personal vs. external use.

Oswald then drops in the quotation: “recordings were not artistic creations.”

I don’t know what else to say about this quote, except that it pretty much stands as an outrageous statement to me. I mean, I suppose that it was an ambitiously defiant approach to mention when recording was first becoming mainstream, because nowadays, recordings are considered/oftentimes recognizable works of art. The art of recording has grown since technologies advanced. Instead of creating a song to perform over and over again, modern artists visualize how they can create a single perfect recording. In this sense, it gives a different way of looking at a song. It makes it seem more like a package, rather than a performance that may change slightly every time. The duration and the melody of a recording differs on a level of effecting the audio, than in contrast, presenting it raw.

The concept of the remix culture ties into the nature of mimicry. However the mimicking is blurred by the modifications that the remixer has made to the original source. Whether being declared only a remixer, or an artist who appropriates certain riffs of melodies, there is a direct drive that comes from the desire to pursue this replication.

I also found it fascinating to hear a bit from a historical perspective when Oswald mentions: the “mechanical manticores from the 19th century”. In referencing this, It projects that mimicry was a desire of past generations, only, the technology we are familiar with today could not be imagined in their time, so they had to work with the tools that were accessible to them, or invent new ones. It’s also amazing how the same idea can span back thousands of years in history, but the way these ideas were presented, if they were even ever pursued, was in the most popular medium of the time.

The more a listener can listen, and re-listen to a recording, the more familiar they become with it. This in response, can enthuse a listener to take the song/recording/melody in their own hands and interpret it in their own way. This concept is represented as Oswald says: “as producing and sound reproducing technology becomes more interactive, listeners are once again, if not invited, nonetheless encroaching upon creative territory.”

Towards the end of the article, the terms “fair use” and “fair dealing” are presented. This is sort of the middle ground of interpreting/modifying/recreating an original idea or source material. It seems like fair use is a term for personal usage of an original work, rather than exposing it to a public audience. It’s as if you created a video, reinacting a scene from a movie, or doing a cover of an already-made song, but never posting it anywhere on the internet, such as sites like YouTube.

As Oswald makes a concluding statement by saying that “there’s a certain amount of legal leeway for imitation.” I think that, in the end, a listener decides what their limitations are, nearly based on individual morals, which may be impacted by external forces, or more so driven by a personal prerogative.

-Nicole R