U Can’t Touch This

A couple months back I confessed my allegiance to rapper Lil Mama, and surprisingly, I still think she’s pretty rad. In fact, she even made that annoying Avril Lavigne “Girlfriend” song almost tolerable. And speaking of that (that) annoying (annoying) song that’s totally stuck in my head now, it seems a pop song’s journey isn’t complete these days until the remix featuring Lil Mama is released. Another example: Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” I guess it wasn’t enough to have versions with and without Jay Z and Chris Brown. To be honest, Lil Mama doesn’t deliver as much punch to this particular track. Regardless, you can’t spend more than five minutes on Fire Island without hearing the now-ubiquitous “ella, ella, eh, eh, eh.” This will soon change as surely as the seasons, but for now we’re stuck with it.

Anyway, all of this incestuous remixing got me thinking about the new music scene. Might DJ Spooky be modern composition’s surrogate Jay Z and Lil Mama? Hmm, maybe not. The real issue here is why haven’t more composers gotten into tweaking works by their colleagues? Remixing seems to be something of a taboo when it comes to notated music. It happens, but only on rare occasion. Such actions are usually validated by some highfalutin theoretical justification as to circumvent plagiarism or claims of being unoriginal, or worse, an uncreative has-been. The more I think about it, there’s a plethora of interesting clashes just waiting to happen in the concert hall. Imagine Helmut Lachenmann re-rendering a Joan Tower piece. What compositional Frankenstein monster would you like to see brought to life?

11 thoughts on “U Can’t Touch This

  1. Chris Becker

    I think Burnt Sugar’s reimagining of The Rite of Spring (with Butch Morris conducting) is a completely successful recording exemplifying the aesthetic you describe. I regret I’ve never heard Greg Tate and Co., do The Rites live…

    The introduction Dick Hebdige wrote for his wonderful book Cut n’ Mix breaks down “versioning” as a fundamental component to African American musics and explains how he – as a white British writer who has never been to the Caribbean – approaches this book on Caribbean music and culture as someone “versioning” history. It’s really fascinating.

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  2. curioman

    Remixing Classical – Wherefore art the technology?
    Notated music is not as easy to remix as pop music in large part because the technology isn’t there. Open any music supply catalog (sweetwater, musician’s friend, etc.) and you’ll find a ton, I mean a ton of overwhelming options for twisting electronic music around in every imaginable and unimaginable way. But when it comes to notated music, what have you got?–Finale, Sibelius, Notion… please! These are not composers tools! They are engravers tools, and not very good ones at that. Give me a notation program that allows me to arrange note snippets as easily as a something like Live… then you’ll see some serious notation remixing!

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  3. teresa

    composer re-mix
    You know… this was really common about a hundred years ago. Liszt always “tweaked” other composers works by adding extra octaves and arpeggios, and anything that showed off his technique. There wasn’t the same performance practice aesthetic that there is now. His edition of Schubert’s sonatas is startling. I’m not sure Schubert would have approved, or maybe he would have? Who knows what Mozart might have done to other composers works if he’d had a computer and some software….

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  4. Chris Becker

    I totally understand what you’re envisioning if what you want is to contain the mix “in the box” as it were. But if you were to recreate passages of a piece using a controller, samples and a score – you could record your results then introduce them as separate clips into Live and see what happens (Live as you probably know allows you then to detune, change tempo and further process your sound files).

    The Rites combines written passages (some by Stravinsky, some not), improvised passages (some improvising off of Stravinsky’s themes, some not) and prerecorded material sampled live all conducted together and recorded as a performance then (on the CD) further mixed for effect.

    I think the technology is us and that the schism Randy describes is an aesthetic and cultural divide. Not a divide resulting from a lack of technological resources.

    However, it sounds like you are imagining technological possibilities that don’t exist yet…a sort of Burroughsian cutting up and spitting (musically) back of a notated score?

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  5. randy

    cut-ups
    My friend Tim Parkinson does the lo-tech cut up thing… check it out. I think he told me once that he’d sometimes get pitch material by taking the first note of each page of, say, a Schubert score. It’s sort of analogous to Burroughs.

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  6. Chris Becker

    This is cool…the visual impact is important here – is this how the score is presented to musicians? Or is this collage something separate from the actual realization of the work?

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  7. randy

    not 100% sure…
    …but I think it’s just a part of his working process. I think the final performance materials are a pretty straight forward. You can contact him via his untitledwebsite.com for a definitive answer.

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  8. amc654

    today’s vaguely condescending vocabulary lesson is ….
    (‘wherefore’ means ‘why/for what reason’)

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  9. jbunch

    * Sciarrino’s Le Voce Sottovetro for chamber ens., soprano and reciter. It remixes a bunch of Gabrielli Canzonas, and intersperses them with letters by a 16th century poet that was going insane.

    * Mark Applebaum’s Ferneyhough Remix (Affection Aphorism 1) – it’s a remix of licks from the Bone Alphabet.

    * Boulez’s many remixes of himself (only kidding on this one).

    * Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (3rd mvmnt)

    * Roger Reynolds Not only Night That quotes Nächt from Pierrot Luniare in it’s entirety in the middle of the piece (quite unexpectedly).

    And for fun there are actually a lot of pop folk that are sampling contemporary-ish classical pieces:

    * DJ Tiesto Barber’s Adagio
    * Radiohead Idioteque (Samples Lansky’s Mild und Leise, which itself sort of samples Wagner).
    * Matmos: “Schwitt/Urs” (which samples the Ursonate)
    * Venetian Snare’s : Szerencsètlen (which samples Bartok’s 4th SQ).
    * There’s also a rap song that samples the second movement of Ravel’s SQ (it’s a few years old, though I can’t remember who wrote it – if anyone does, please let me know).

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  10. curioman

    …for the vocab lesson.

    …and for the Borroughs analogy. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s a good way to put it. I want to be able to put lots of snippets on the clipboard (or multiple clipboards) and rearrange and hear them effortlessly. Currently, there are no notational tools I know of that do this. The programmers of LilyPond (excellent engraving tool!) have talked about this need for composers, though they’re not taking it on. (As for remixing, you’d need a way to import other people’s music too.)

    >>I think the technology is us and that the schism Randy describes is an aesthetic and cultural divide. Not a divide resulting from a lack of technological resources.< <

    Well, yes… but I don’t think you can have one without the other.

    I see it as two issues, the first being the taboos surrounding reuse or borrowing. Even Charles Ives, perhaps our greatest example of remixing genius, is still not taken seriously by some. (Boulez)

    So, it’ll take courage by composers willing to jump in and try it, perhaps putting their reputations on the line.

    And in order to do it, it would certainly help if we had better tools. My original point was that pop music has done this. The tools were created and the art followed. The same has not happened for classical/(notation)-oriented music.

    I really liked that Tim Parkinson pic, btw! Would love to hear the piece.

    Reply

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