Archive for February, 2011

Sample this

I have always been interested in definition of a thing turning to something else and the point in which this happens. In what point does a piece of land or a population turn into a nation state? Life ain’t all binary and a lot of the grey stuff is where the interesting things happen. Today I won’t go to politics though, but will make some notions on music.

There are rules on copying someone else’s ideas in most of areas in life and it is called copyright. When you make a great song, you want your name cling on it and get a dime every time it gets played. But is the song really, originally yours? Are you so sure?

In my world of academics, one should not cite a writer word by word without references without fear of accusation of plagiarism. On the other hand, you cannot write anything detached of the community and the ones who have thought things through before you. In academic writing the rules are clear; if you cite without references, you plagiarize and that is a bad thing in a science community. In the music industry, the rules can be a bit more blurry.

Basically the writer and the composer owns rights to his creation until his death and a set number of years after that. I think in Finland the year limit has been set to 70. Do not get me wrong, it is totally fine to take the good stuff of someone’s song and put it in yours, but usually you either check first that the guy has been dead for quite a while, or you at least ask permission, put their name in the credits and pay them accordingly. If you couldn’t, there would be no hip hop or rap around. And when it comes to any pop or rock songs, do you think that the melodies that you hear now in top 10 haven’t been heard before?

But even when some of songs on the grey area (like the one by Coldplay above), the difficulty of drawing a clear line on what is legitimate and illegitimate use of previous works of art. There are thousands of good examples of lazy people using a classic song, singing it again badly and adding a techno beat on top, but I won’t go into those at all. After all, there are good copycats and bad ones as well in any industry. But I want to introduce you to one of my favourite artist, who in some people’s minds is a music liberator, and others judge him to be biggest musical criminal alive. His name is Girl Talk.

Girl Talk (or Gregg Gillis)  uses vocals and samples quite freely, and he might “steal” a beat or two from a song and put it into his compilation. Or at least a compilation would be a term used by the record labels or copyright officials who try to protect and uphold copyrighted material and the conventions of their use. He has actually admitted on using from 150 to 300 samples in each of his albums and that he hasn’t asked for permission since it would take too much time and the costs would be too overwhelming. Now you might think that there is no question that this guy is knee deep in law suits or probably locked down and sanctioned not to use his laptop ever again to create this illegal art. Well, actually he is doing just fine. It seems that in spite of apparently breaking just about every rule in the book, the artists and the record labels leave him be. The rap artists (which he mainly uses as vocals in his mash ups) have originally put a cappella versions of their songs out in hopes of dee jays and fans using them on top of other songs to make variations or mixes. I mentioned earlier the lazy techno revamps of old classics. You can check here how “easy” it is to produce Girl Talk mash ups.

I spotted this artist a couple of years ago in a documentary called “RIP: A Remix Manifesto!” which I invent you all to watch. It gives a refreshing view of modern society at it’s best and at it’s worst one might argue, at least in the realm of copyright. Can you spot out the villain?

ps.  a German author Moritz Heimann has wisely said that the most opinions form when one forgets where he has heard or read them. In retrospect, most of the things I am trying to convey here are actually touched upon in the documentary above.


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Art outside of the box

I have been following an artist who has an eye for visuals as well as for politics and irony. His work was in the beginning illegal graffiti, but as he became more renowned the houses which he has “smeared” have actually increased their value.

image from banksy.co.uk

Banksy questions our everyday perception and popular culture icons. He has decorated the “new Berlin wall” which separates Israel and Palestine. He makes sometimes big public installations in the center of London and Bristol without getting caught. Although I am in awe of his highly skilled stencil work which is really funny and sometimes provocative, in the spirit of this blog I will concentrate on the one side where an idea has been twisted on its head and given a really clever new perspective.

image from banksy.co.uk

Have you ever considered that all the security inside museums has the objective of keeping the art inside? Well, Banksy has considered this and decided to embrace it and he has smuggled his art into the museums. Doing this I am not sure whether he is breaking any rules or law, but it looks like a lot of fun and can make the audience find something that they really were not in for when they entered the museum of classical art.

image from banksy.co.uk.

One thing that he observes is the time it takes for the personnel to notice the added works and to remove them. Sometimes they last for several days on the walls of respected art institutions. I am not sure whether this is a sign of the lack of attention of the personnel or their understanding for this new way of using a museum as a public space. Whatever the case, I am sure that most of the guests can appreciate these works of art, at least after realizing that it was not the national treasure that was vandalized, but that the remakes are possibly cheap copies or some Sunday painter’s interpretation of art classics.

He has also revised the CD album of Paris Hilton by modifying the cover art and adding some “inspirational” catch phrases to the album. He then delivered hundreds of these to various CD stores in Great Britain and put them next to the original Paris Hilton records. With these projects he takes a stand on all the right reasons, some of them being shallowness of modern life, intolerance and conventional view of art and the institutions which decide on who gets exposure and who does not.

image by Banksy.

There is a new documentary out about Banksy called Exit Through the Gift Shop. I have not seen it yet but I intend to see it in the near future.  In my opinion, he walks the thin line on annoying the authorities and also delivering a welcome message through everyday citizens by some quite unconventional measures. He does not raise his fist but a can of paint instead. What kind of ideas does Banksy give to you? Is he a criminal, disobeying citizen or an underground artist? Are his guerrilla tactics to Palestine wall, art museums and CD stores called for? If not, how should ordinary citizen approach these institutions if they wanted to make a change or have their say?

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A time to reflect

When killing time between flights, have you ever wanted just to get away of the airport hustle and have a moment of silence? Those gate announcements and hasty passengers can make even a rugged travelers face grin, especially after a long flight or an early morning wake up. Have you noticed that in many international airports there is a way to take a breather?

The place that I am referring to is a prayer room, or in some places (mostly in the US) it is called airport chapel. I first got introduced to one about 10 years ago in Düsseldorf airport. If I remember correctly, my brother (who lived there) told me to find it, and luckily I did. It is a bit hidden away from the shopping and eating area, which in my opinion is only a good thing. From the outside, this Gebetsraum is quite unassuming but when you get inside, the experience is really rewarding.

Prayer room of Duesseldorf airport. Picture by Skydaddy.

Now what I love especially in this particular space that it holds no religious symbols, not even the holy books of different religions. It is quiet, calming and easy on the eye. At the end of the space there is a water feature which gives the room a little touch of organic, unstable material. Without crosses or prayer mats, one can go there without a specific agenda or justification, just to hang out and relax for a while. I have found a prayer room only in Duesseldorf and Kastrup airports, and sadly the latter was nothing like the one pictured above. I am amazed that Copenhagens Kastrup airport which has received many awards, can get away with a shabby and packed room. I asked Helsinki-Vantaa airport and they told me that their prayer room has been closed in 2009 due to a huge renovation and that they were considering whether to make a new one once the renovation is through. I made a strong plea in favor, since Helsinki is marketing itself as a hug for long-haul flights to Asia and really needs it’s services to be up to date.

After googling I came to a conclusion that these rooms are predominantly christian in US airports, and that in some Asian airports there may be separate rooms for different religions. As I am not that religious, I find the idea of bringing different religions together and pray or have a shared moment of silence for any reason together just wonderful. What the world needs now, is more of these places of common ground. In this sense, I can only to recommend next time you are stuck at an airport and want to experience something quite different,  go and ask for a prayer room. And if you are lucky, you can find something quite special!:)

Even at it’s “worst”, the room may fill a purpose of some spiritual need and host a library of various religious books. This should not be overlooked, although with little money and planning one could do so much better. If you find a new prayer room, beautiful or not, please take a picture and send it to me. I would love to know how this idea has been translated in various airports.

Airport of Heatherwood, Georgia. Picture by Y Mucho Más (Flickr).

Here is a link to the full presentation of Duesseldorf Airport prayer room. The pictures are dynamic, so you can “walk” inside the room by clicking on the arrows on the pictures. Enjoy!


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