Thursday, October 8, 2009

La Mesa del Contento (sic)

ABSTRACT: Granada Doaba is a story about neighbors, immigration + confluence. Our music is a human process of borrowing, sharing and transformation. My writing is a work in progress -- an attempt to shed light [and historical context] on a improvised piece of art we created in the dark.

Chapter 1 : "Flamencología"
false dichotomies in spanish dance music
  1. Folk vs. Classical
  2. Vertical Borrowing
  3. Party Music [part 1]
  4. Indigenous Spanish guitar
  5. meta-Historical Musicology
  6. Gypsies + Class

Chapter 2 : "Bohemia Al-Andalus" war brings us together too
  1. Military expansion & interpenetration
  2. Ottoman Zurna vs. European Clarinet
  3. Turkish Orientalism in Euro Art Music
  4. Convivencia: living with friction
  5. Gypsies + Religion

Chapter 3 : "La Senda del Abuelo"
connecting the margins like pacman
  1. 1492 (re)Conquista
  2. Horizontal borrowing
  3. Diversity of outcasts
  4. Party Music [part 2]
  5. Gypsies + Arabs

Chapter 4 : "Nunca Fui a Granada"
cuz you don't know what you got til its gone
  1. Federico Garcia Lorca + the Spanish Civil War
  2. Exile and Nostalgia
  3. Colonial Oppression + Percussive Transgression
  4. New Spain: La Movida [part 1]
  5. Gypsies as Symbols

Chapter 5 : "No Te Rebeles"
suffering, and smiling
  1. Flamenco: Birth and Evolution
  2. Misery Sublime
  3. Authenticity and Race
  4. Gypsies and/or Andalusia

Chapter 6 : "Qanun Al-Tarab"
pan-Arab music
  1. Islam and Music
  2. Al-Andalus: Arabs (?) in Spain
  3. Structured improvisation
  4. Party Music [part 2]
  5. Dancers & Luthiers

Chapter 7 : "Menudo Jaleo"
hip is the knowledge, hop is the movement
  1. Digital Borrowing
  2. Participatory Culture
  3. Party Music [part 3]
  4. Memory and Forgetting
  5. Musical Environmentalism
  6. The Internet [part 1]

Chapter 8 : "El Manisero de Potemkin"
is that song mine?

  1. Colonial Imagination
  2. Music in the Marketplace
  3. Copyright vs Creative Commons
  4. Africa [via Latin America]
Chapter 9 : "Calabazar de Sagua"
and the walls came down
  1. New Spain [part 2]
  2. Immigration: Ida y vuelta
  3. Fusion: Cuban Flamenco
  4. Party Music [part 4]
Chapter 10 : "Yerbaguena"
standing on the shoulders of giants
  1. New Spain: Internacional [part 2]
  2. Fusion: Arab Flamenco
  3. Fusion: Jazz Flamenco
  4. The Internet [part 2]
  5. New Spain [part 3]
Chapter 11 : "La Lengua del Río"
mi manera de sentir ...
  1. Habichuela family
  2. Cultural Inheritances
  3. Genius
Chapter 12 : "Perro Cruzado"
one two three four ...
  1. Globalization & African-American music
  2. Other Spanish music
Chapter 13 : "Juxtapotente"
the old and the new
  1. Gypsies from India
  2. Cultural Inheritances
  3. Dance Music [part 5]
Chapter 14 : "El Arte de Escuchar"
keep your ears open and eyes moving
  1. Learning to listen
  2. Teachers and Students

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Download Granada Doaba

Granada Doaba took me 4 years to produce. Special thanks to Sean Dwyer, Hidetomo Nambu, Juan Miguel Carmona, Uzman Almerabet, José Yañez, Jack Salt, Catherine Gomez, Raul Ruiz, Wayne Marshall, Dwight Reynolds, Carmen Abelleira and Dave White.

Time for a new beginning. My name is Canyon Cody.

Monday, January 26, 2009

In Praise of Local Music

gatos on the rocks
Back home in Ojai California USA (pop. 8202), I've swandoven back into the digital realm: twittering and blogging and googleReadering and mySpace bombing and facebooking and rapidsharing and and and . . . I find myself quite physically isolated, and yet über-connected.

The Internet is not a very important tool for social interaction in Granada; even most college students still spent 1 euro/hour to check their emails at an Internet café instead of paying for broadband at home. Granada has a diverse community of global immigrants, and yet the town remains astoundingly provincial, self-absorbed, local.

Moving back to my small boring town has re-broadened my horizons. I'm more engaged with international news and global dialogues than I was while living in Granada, where my immediate physical surroundings were sufficiently diverse and dynamic to keep my attention rapt. In Spain, we were collaborating almost every day with physically-present musicians, sharing sandwiches + recording songs. Global music (which is to say "far away music") had little appeal.
"people used to make records
as in a record of an event
the event of people playing music in a room" [ani difranco]
Back in Ojai, I heard (somewhere, somehow) "ABCs", the lead single from Somalian-Canadian rapper Knaan's new album Troubadour. I was struck by the intermittent pauses in Chubb Rock's flow [kinda reminds me of Scottie Pippen on a fast break] and thought it would sound tight over our instrumental "La Senda del Abuelo" from Granada Doaba. I googled Knaan's song, found the torrent for the CDS, dropped it into Azureus, made a sandwich for myself and soon had the acapella. Opened Ableton LIVE and time-stretched his 120bpm words to fit our song @ 141.5

It's funny when you talk to someone from outside the garden walls. My dad asked me, "Did Knaan give you permission to remix his song?" Well, not in so many words, but why else would they release the damn acapella? It's like selling Rizzlas and banning spliffs. My boss asked me, "Can you monetize this?" Well, not exacting. I don't "own" various components of the remix, in particular the guitar from our instrumental, which is sampled from flamenco guitarist (and Granada local hero) Juan Habichuela's song "Coge la Senda." We've chopped up the original enough that I would personally consider it a transformative work, but we also included 10 unedited seconds of singer Marina Heredia's voice at the end (just cuz it's pretty).

But we didn't just reorganize pre-existing material -- we also planted a few new seeds. Gnawledge bredren Afro DZ ak played a new trumpet line for the chorus (which fits rather nicely with Knaan's children chorus) and Mohammed Dominguez tapped out live darbuka over the entire track, adding a fresh element of inconsistency to a rhythm track otherwise structured on an electronic grid. For the video, I used about half of the original music vid, and then spliced in new footage of us in Granada, Afro in Boston and my little brother in Ojai.

After I bounced the final draft mp3 of our new mashup, my momma asked me, "So now what are you going to do with it?" Share it, of course. "Why?" Because it makes me feel engaged, because it helps me meet new musicians and new fans, because it doesn't do any good idling on my desktop. Ideally, a DJ would play it at a party somewhere and people would dance. That would be awesome.

Knaan "ABC" [Gnawledge Remix]

So here I am, assembling a song that incorporates musicians from Somalia, New Jersey, Venezuela, Seattle and Spain. In Granada, this was local music, but now it's global music, simply because I got on an airplane. What does local Ojai music sound like? I'd never actually given it much thought, maybe because our culture is so young that I didn't think it worth my attention. But back home, eyes moving and ears open, I've encountered lots of different musicians -- and even if I like the actual music they play less than what I was hearing in Spain, I certainly *enjoy* their physical/local presence much more than even the funkengroovenest mp3 I download from wayneandwax
or babe(b)logue or globalgroovers or loolo or or or or

better than a lemonade stand

Perfect example: these 5 elementary school kids from Ojai strumming and tooting for change on the side of the road. They were either some jazz geniuses, or they were actually just playing 5 totally different songs, but either way, their energy made me feel good all day. Especially the kid in the middle, who plays the trombone but left it at home, so just did handstands instead.

Jonathan McEuen @ Farmer + Cook

Farmer and the Cook is the essence of local. The all-organic restaurant features a menu of delish veggies grown locally and hosts small concerts on the weekends with Ojai musicians. This week was Johnathan McEuen (guitar center), who lives next door. They also host art exhibitions by local painters and poetry readings by local farmers.

led zep tribute rehearsal

So what's my point? I like local music more than global music. Listening to my friends (above) rehearse for their upcoming Led Zeppelin tribute concert is more fulfilling that listening to Knaan's new album, unless of course I get to participate with his music through the act of remixing, at which point a global/local transformation occurs. What does local Ojai music sound like? Download and find out.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Biters or Writers? MLK, Obama + Jay-Z

"This brother's creative. I'm not gonna say it's plagiarism, but he's creative."

POP QUIZ: The quotation above refers to _______?
  • A. Barack Obama
  • B. Martin Luther King
  • C. Jay-Z
  • D. Bollywood

For one answer, watch my video©® of an interview with Clarence Jones, who helped write [and copyright] the "I Have A Dream" speech. Jones points out the obvious similarities between the political language of Barack Obama and Dr. Matin Luther King, specifically Obama's "urgency of the moment" vs. MLK's "fierce urgency of now."

Is the reason we don't charge Obama with plagiarism because he's not trying to be deceitful and pass off others' work as his own, but instead making a popular reference that his audience should recognize? That's how rappers usually defend themselves against charges of biterism after recycling an old Rakim or BDK lyric
, though (ironically) when Jones actually explains the original source of Obama's catchphrase, in the background of my video you can hear mi amigo Nick Marshall say, "I thought that was a Smashing Pumpkins reference."

How does Jones (or any of us) make this
distinction between plagiarism and creativity? Obama didn't raise bunny-eared fingers to indicate his quotation, but he did slightly change a few words.

Even if he was going to add a footnote, who would Obama cite? Those words weren't invented by MLK, who was a powerful orator in large part because of his adept use of
allusion, recycling phrases and language from important cultural texts, including the Bible, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Shakespeare.

When Dr. King said, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream," he didn't pause to attribute those words to Amos. When Jay-Z wrote composed his verse for "My President is Black" he also borrowed heavily from a popular text, in this case a widely circulated e-mail message:

"Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk,
Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run,
Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly

Is this plagiarism or creativity? Does the anonymity of the original author influence our judgment? How does someone other than Webster own words?

Accordind to Clayborne Carson, director of the Dr. King Papers Project at Stanford University, "instances of textual appropriation can be seen in [Dr. King's] earliest extant writings as well as his dissertation. The pattern is also noticeable in his speeches and sermons throughout his career."

Clarence Jones noted a similar pattern in Barack Obama's campaign: "President-elect Obama, like a masterful musical composer with perfect pitch, successfully updated, translated and rearranged "We Shall Overcome" to a "Yes, We Can" surround-sound mantra for the cell phone, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Internet-blackberry generation."

This discussion is largely based on some unresolvable semantic issues: What do we mean by borrowing vs stealing, allusion vs appropriation, biting vs signifin'? Our judgment is of course totally skewed by the our biases, which is why Nas fans call Jay-Z a biter and racists call MLK a plagiarist for similarities between his "I Have a Dream" speech and Archibald Carey, Sr.'s address to the 1952 Republican National Convention.

[[The similarity is that both speeches end with a recitation of the first verse of Samuel Francis Smith's popular patriotic hymn "America" (My Country ’Tis of Thee) composed in 1832, and both speeches share the Biblical exhortation "Let freedom ring!"]]

Keith Miller, in Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Its Sources, argues that such "borrowing", which he terms "voice merging", follows in a long tradition of folk preaching, particularly in the African American church, and should not necessarily be termed plagiarism. On the contrary, he views King's skillful combination of language from different sources as an oratorical skill.

During their so-called "beef", Nas dissed Jay-Z as biter: "How much of Biggie's rhymes gonna come out your fat lips?" In the the "Trial of Jay-Z", the website hiphopdx assembled dozens of examples of Jay-Z songs where he re-uses old rhymes from previous rap songs.

Biting is as old as hip-hop itself. The very first, err ... second rap song ever [Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"] not only bites the rhythm + melody from Chic's popular disco track "Good Times", but MC Big Bank Hank's rhymes weren't even his. They "belonged" to Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers, who in turn assembled them from a hodgepodge of couplets popularized by various toasters at different block parties.

On "What More Can I Say", Jay-Z toys with these ideas of artistic originality, showing how mercurial the situation really be:

These fucks, too lazy to make up shit, they crazy
They don't, paint pictures, they just, trace me
You know what?
Soon they forget where they plucked
they whole style from,
they try to reverse the outcome

I'm like - TOUGH!
I'm not a biter, I'm a writer for myself and others

I say a B.I.G. verse, I'm only biggin up my brother

Biggin up my borough, I'm big enough to do it

In defending himself against charges of biterism, Jay-Z justifies his lyrical borrowings as his way of giving props to his deceased mentor Notorious BIG, a la "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

In hiphopdx's subsequent "Vindication of Jay-Z", J-23 writes "If you think Jay-Z is a biter, you are probably just uneducated in this game...or a hater. It's really as simple as that. Every rapper flips, borrows, or adopts rhymes from other rappers, it has been going on for a long time.

"There are about 40 bars in that audio clip that Jay-Z has been accused of biting. In his career I'll take an educated guess and say Jay has spit 12,000 bars, give or take. More importantly, most of those bars have been incredibly clever, witty and quotable. Does anyone ever claim Jay's best lines are those one's he has borrowed? No. So Jay has borrowed lines in about 0.4% of the bars he has spit ."

So the question, it seems to me, is not copyright vs copywrong, but copygood or copybad? For the record, plagiarism is not the same as copyright infringement. While both terms may apply to a particular act, they are different transgressions. Copyright infringement is a violation of the rights of a copyright holder -- when material protected by copyright is used without consent. On the other hand, plagiarism is concerned with the unearned boost to the plagiarizing author's reputation that is achieved through false claims of authorship.

What constitutes wack biterism in the creative arena is a subjective judgment, but in the realm of academia, plagiarism is a pretty well-defined transgression. In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that the dissertation Martin Luther King presented for his Ph.D. in theology from Boston University was largely plagiarized, with a good deal of material taken verbatim from a variety of other sources without proper attribution.

They decided not to revoke his degree, the committee found that King "is responsible for knowingly misappropriating the borrowed materials that he failed to cite or to cite adequately. . . a straightforward breach of academic norms that constitutes plagiarism as commonly understood."

As far as I'm concerned, Martin Luther King's academic plagiarism is basically irrelevant wrt his character as a preacher, Civil Rights leader or a human being. But academia, unlike church or hip-hop, has very strict rules on proper citation and they need to be respected if you're going to participate. This blog post would not pass the scrutiny of academic research, since I've copied entire phrases from Wikipedia and other websites.

In reviewing King's academic career, historian Ralph Luker concluded, "What became clear was that they were a patchwork of his own language and the language of scholars, often without clear attribution." When I copy language from another website, especially something anonymously or collaboratively written like Wikipedia, I might use 60% of the sentence the way I found it, but change a phase here, add a word there, and make it mine. Instead of putting the new sentence in quotation marks, I try to make at least the slightest wink of attribution, but the idea is to work the authorities' words into a seamless construct of [my] own creation.

In her NY Times op-ed "Why we now Iraq is lying", Condoleeza Rice accuses Saddam Huseein of "unabashed plagiarism" as part of her argument for pre-emptive self-defense. A young Helen Keller was accused in 1892 of plagiarizing a short story and was brought before a tribunal of the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where she was acquitted by a single vote. She claimed to have never read the original text she was accused of copying, though admitted she may have read and forgotten it. Keller "remained paranoid about plagiarism ever after" [37][38] and said that the experience led her to write the one thing she knew for certain to be original: an autobiography .

In the case of Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music,[2] Harrison was found to have unintentionally copied his song "My Sweet Lord" from another songs called "He's So Fine" by The Chiffons, to whom he was forced to surrender royalties until Harrison eventually bought the rights to the original tune.

A Mathematical Look at Musical Plagiarism

A famous composer was once accused of plagiarizing from a far inferior one. His answer was (tongue-in-cheek, no doubt) something like, "After all, there are only 12 notes." Now this led me to wonder what the chances are of a melody being plagiarized by sheer chance rather than by design. So let us do some classy calculations.

We will assume that the melody in question lies within a single octave, which is to say it consists of only the 7 white and 5 black keys on a piano, 12 possible notes in all. The simplest scenario is that the melody consists of 12 notes, no two the same. If you remember your high school math, the answer is 12!—for which read, "twelve factorial."

You see, the first note can be any one of the 12, the second note any of the remaining 11, the third note any of the remaining 10, and so on. By the laws of what we call "counting" (or "permutations," if you will), that gives us 12x11x10x9x8x7x6x5x4x3x2x1 or 479,001,600 possible sequences of 12 different notes, each played only once. So the probability of repeating those 12 notes by chance is 1 out of 12! or approximately .0000002%.

so what's my point? that plagiarism's not cool, but copying is. that biting is wack, but biggin up your borough is not. that the internet makes it even easier to control-c but it's embarrassing when you get caught.

but the most important thing is to keep moving forward.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MLK's "I Have A Dream" (Copyright 1963)

Full 17-minute video of MLK's "I Have A Dream"
  • Read the full text online or download the PDF.
On Monday, I saw Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech in its entirety for the first time in my life. How can something so constitutional to our nationhood remain so obscure? Why didn't my school teachers play this for us every year? Because we the students don't own our history. The ideas behind MLK's dream might be our cultural patrimony, but the 17 minutes of his speech are owned and copywrit, which means they're not yours.

What's it mean to copyright a dream? If not the abstract idea, what about its specific articulation -- your (exclusive) version of the sueño? The 4fathers certainly did their darnedest trying to trademark The American Dream, even though it's basically just The Human Dream, re-branded as "life, liberty and the pursuit of property happiness." (ⓒ 1776 USA)

After CNN replayed the speech (which they presumably paid for), there was an interview with MLK's friend and lawyer Clarence Jones (above). In 1963, Jones had helped Dr. King write his "I Have A Dream Speech" -- I'll save my "it-takes-a-village" rant for mañana -- but what I found most interesting was his contribution of a single circled letter scribbled on the physical copies of the speech distributed to the press.

Ever since 1802, until quite recently, US law required that all physical copies of a published work must include an
explicit notice of copyright, typically the symbol . In March 1989, the Berne Convention ended this requirement in the US, which means that copyright protection is no longer subject to any (stupid) formality. Nowadays, as soon as you transform ( sublimate or reify?) an idea into physical reality, as soon as it's "fixed in a tangible medium of expression [and] its embodiment ... is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration," then the expression of that idea automatically becomes legally yours. Though this change became effective in 1989, all works published before that date are still governed by the prior law, including MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech.

As he explains it in the video above (which btw I recorded with a FlipVid from a saved TiVo session, imported+edited with iMovie and then upload to YouTube, where it was again re-encoded), Clarence Jones [lawyer] re-opened the mimeograph copies of the speech, which were going to be distributed to the press, and scribbled circled c's on every copy. This proved important when, soon thereafter, 20th Century Fox Records released an unauthorized commercial recording of the speech on vinyl. The utter silliness of physically writing little ⓒs, like some magic word, ended up protecting MLK's copyright in court.

But back then, copyright law also required registration with the government, not just the ⓒ. In MLK's day, the rules were still based on the 1909 Copyright Act, which stipulated that publishing a new work without first registering it with the government meant the complete forfeiture of copyright protection.

The single, decisive act of publishing no longer occupies the prominent place it once did in determining copyright. From 1909 until 1976, the law guaranteed automatic copyright protection for works-in-progress, but upon publication, a work was required to be registered with proper notice or else it was just thrown into the public domain.

During MLK's court case with 20th Century Fox Records (and also in a later, similar case with CBS), the question of whether or not his speech was "published" became the important legal distinction. Delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King's speech was heard by more than 200,000 people gathered in Washington DC, and countless more on TV and radio. A few days later, The New York Post published the complete text of the speech and later offered reprints for sale. Most importantly, MLK's own organization distributed physical copies to the press, and even though they were marked with the magic ⓒ, they didn't actually register the text with the government until a month after the speech.

The (possibly) legally legitamate argument for CBS + 20th Century Fox Records was that Dr. King lost his right to copyright protection because he "published" the speech before obtaining copyright, thereby placing the text in the public domain.

Though the 1909 Act wasn't untirely re-written until the 1976 Act (which de-emphasized the impact of the moment of publication wrt copyright protection), there were in the interim certain legal decision that gave the law certain shades of gray which MLK used to defend his copyright. First of all, his argument was based on the well-established precedent that a performance, no matter how broad the audience, is not a publication. In defending MLK's position, the court of appeals expressed concern that "an author whose message happens to be newsworthy" should not be forced "to choose between obtaining news coverage for his work and preserving his common-law copyright."

The second significant fact is that the physical copies of the speech were distributed only to the press. This means they were not released directly to the public, but instead to a specific group for a specific purpose. This distinction between a limited, as opposed to a general, publication eventually convinced the court to grant MLK exclusive legal ownership of his dream.

Of course, these days it's not actually Dr. King wielding legal control of his words, but his heirs. Clayborne Carson, director of the MLK Research & Education Institute has said he "would like to make [the "I Have A Dream" speech] as widely available as possible. However, I respect the King family's point of view that this is private property and there has to be a balancing of the public need versus the family need." President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address is in the public domain, and it's not because he forgot to register with the Feds, but it's well-worth remembering that the King family certainly doesn't enjoy the financial privilege of the Kennedy clan.

Critics of the King family's decision not to put the speech in the public domain say the poorest children are the most deprived: "The more elite the institution, the easier it is to pay the mandatory fee," explains David J. Garrow, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning MLK biography.

(The Internet, of course, has made this somewhat of a moot point, since illegal pirates have upload an unauthorized version of the entire speech onto YouTube and the full text is available both online or as a PDF download.)

In his 1971 academic article "Protection of Original Material," the former President of Berkelee College of Music, Lee Eliot Berk, connects the lessons from MLK's "I Have A Dream" copyright issues and the problems faced by musical educators with regard to their original works used for teaching and research purposes. Of course, I haven't actually read anything past the first page, because I don't pay tuition = I'm no longer an official academic = I don't have access privilege to JSTOR. I recognize (abstractly) that JSTOR offers a service and deserves remuneration for their efforts, not to mention the original author's work, but IMHO the market of ideas just shouldn't be governed by supply n' demand. That it would cost me $19.00 USD to read this article is just rediculous.

In the (beginning of the) article, Berk raises questions concerning "how the teacher's sole rights to the material he creates are to be preserve for his exclusive benefit." He advises teachers to "consider the legal significance of showing the material to a colleague, delivering it verbally in class lecture format, having it performed, recording it, or distributing copies of it". It should be noted that this was written before the law was revised by the Copyright Act of 1978, which means these were more practical concerns than they are today, but I think they demonstrate how copyright concerns can stifle collaboration in an attempt to protect the exclusivity of authorship.

Harvard University recently adopted a policy that requires faculty members to make their scholarly articles available free online and MIT has free online course materials for the autodidact. Many academics, such as ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall, have posted their work on their personal blogs, where he takes it a step further and licenses his works copyleft so that others can share + remix.

But in general, academic journals are still just ivory echo chambers. I take much less umbrage with Disney fighting for an exclusive perpetual trademark of Mickey Mouse because they're in the business of making money. As an organization, that is their primary purpose and they're doing what they can to fulfil 'that role.

But the role of the education system and Civil Rights movement is different: the goal is affecting positive social change. Money is needed for operating costs, but profit should be a concern only insofar as it nurtures that goal.

it was all a dream, i used to read ethno-remix magazine

Part II mañana will explore borrowing/stealing/copying in the rhetoric and writing of Barack Obama, Jay-Z and Dr. Martin Luther King.

Who's dream was it? And where'd the dream come from?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ralph Ellison and Flamenco

"'Flamenco', Ralph Ellison's first published music essay, evokes his debt to Ernest Hemingway: the sweat-on-wine-bottle detail, the strings of independent clauses, the deadpan tone that is nonetheless full of passion."

Ralph Ellison's album review of the Third Anthology of Cante Flamenco was published in the Saturday Review on 11 December 1954. He had been traveling and living in Europe ever since the release of his first novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. One of the best undergrad courses I took at Boston College was dedicated exclusively to Invisible Man, a book I've returned to periodically and found new depth in every reading.

As the story goes, a major fire at Ellison's home in Massachussetts destroyed 300 pages of his second novel in 1967 -- though, according to his new "definitive biography" by Arnold Rampersad, the story is not actually true. Regardless, Ellison did eventually write over 2000 pages of a second novel, but it was never completed. In 1999, five years after his death, Ellison's second novel Juneteenth was published as 368-page condensation of his unfinished work.

Ellison studied trumpet and piano as a young man and attended the Tuskegee Institute on a scholarship to study music. His later writing has the rhythm and cadence of a jazz genius and the passages about music in Invisible Man are some of my favorites, particularly the introduction quoted below, in which the nameless narrator describes listening to a Louis Armstrong record after "accidentally" smoking some reefer:
"It was a strange evening. Invisibility, let me explain, gives one a slightly different sense of time, you're never quite on the beat. Sometimes you're ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around."
Which, of course, makes me think of Afrika Bambaataa. As part of the founding trilogy of hip-hop, along with Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, Bambaataa was the godfather of meta-physical philosophizing about slipping into breakbeats and lookin round. Under the spell of marijuana, the Invisible Man discovers a new way of listening to music:
"The unheard sounds came through, and each melodic line existed of itself, stood out clearly from all the rest, said its piece, and waited patiently for the other voices to speak. That night I found myself hearing not only in time, but in space as well. I not only entered the music, but descended, like Dante, into its depths."
I remember reading this in high school, thinking it wasn't exactly an anti-pot PSA. Ellison then moves into italics for the next section, a powerful sermon about the "Blackness of Blackness". But just before the preacher begins his speech, Ellison finishes his description of the IM's herbally-enhanced listening session:

"And beneath the swiftness of the hot tempo there was a slower tempo and a cave and I entered it and looking around and heard and old woman singing a spiritual as full of Welschmerz as flamenco."

I don't remember this brief reference to flamenco from the first time I read the book -- I probably just skipped past it because I didn't know what "Welchmerz" was either. Coined by German author Jean Paul in 1820, Welchmerz literally means world-pain or world-weariness. It's often described as the sadness felt as a result of the difference between physical reality and the ideal state. It's a perfect word to describe the soul-crushing wail of flamenco singing, called "llantos" or "lamentos ahogados" in Spanish. To a foreign ear, it can sound like a shrieking injured animal, but Ellison recognized flamenco as a "tradition that contains many elements which the West has dismissed as 'primitive,' that epithet so facile for demolishing all things cultural which Westerners do not understand or wish to contemplate." The all-too-common description of flamenco as "animalistic" ignores its highly organized and rigid structure, which because it doesn't correspond to European art music's scales or rhythms, is often dismissed as "primitive". That Ellison had the vision to recognize that flamenco is actually an extremely subtle art of great refinements is a testament to his sharp, open ears. (All mixed metaphors dedicated to Wayne&Wax)

Ellison's writing on flamenco begins with his characterization of Spain as "neither Europe nor Africa but a blend of both." He continues:
"Cante Flamenco is the very ancient folk music of the Andalusian gypsies of southern Spain. Its origins are as mysterious as those of the gypsies themselves, but in it are heard Byzantine, Arabic, Hebraic, and Moorish elements fused and given the violent, rhythmical expressiveness of the gypsies. Cante Flamenco, or cante hondo (deep song, as the purer, less florid form is called), is a unique blending of Eastern and Western modes and as such it often baffles when it most intrigues the Western ear. In our own culture the closest music to it in feeling is the Negro blues, early jazz, and the slave songs (now euphemistically termed "spirituals")."
The discussion of whether flamenco is ancient or modern is a tricky one. Ethnomusicologists usually give the mid 19th century as the birth date for flamenco, though most scholars admit the music's roots go back much further than that. At what point a genre "becomes itself" is a murky game of taxonomy, but there's a good argument that flamenco is not ancient, but actually quite intertwined with the emergence of modernity.

It's also funny that Ellison writes that flamenco's origins are as mysterious as the gypsies themselves, because the gypsy's origins have been proved linguistically to originate in India, particularly the northern Punjab/Doaba regions. He does list the usual suspects for flamenco influencers (Byzantine, Arabic, Hebraic, and Moorish), though he leaves out Afro-Latino. He does make explicit its parallels with African-American music, a point which he goes on to develop further:
"Like Negro folk music, Cante Flamenco (which recognizes no complete separation between dance and song, the basic mood, the guitar and castanets, hold all together) is a communal art. In the small rooms in which it is performed there are no "squares" sitting around just to be entertained, everyone participates very much as during a noncommercial jam session or a Southern jazz dance. It can be just as noisy and sweaty and drunken as a Birmingham "breakdown"; while one singer "riffs" (improvises) of the dancers "go to town" the others assist by classing their hands in the intricate percussive manner called palmada and by stamping our the rhythms with their feet. When a singer, guitarist of dancer has negotiated a particularly subtle passage (and this is an art of great refinements) the shouts of Olé! arise to express appreciation of his art, to agree with the sentiments expressed, and to encourage him on to even greater eloquence... the cantes con baile (dance songs) sound like a revivalists' congregation saying "Amen!" to the preacher"
Flamenco is not a spectator sport. Flamenco's natural habitat (la juerga) is a circle of musicians and aficionados interacting, not a "two-way (performers and audience) ritual of a concert", to use a recent phrase from NY Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff. The participation and encouragement of the crowd (called "jaleos") is integral to the performance. Nothing betrays an hither-to unnoticed square in the room like a misplaced "Ole!" Ellison also makes reference to the often inebriated nature of flamenco performance, an important theme for sure, though one that gets grossly exaggerated by Timothy Mitchell in his otherwise interesting book Flamenco Deep Song.
"Flamenco, while traditional in theme and choreography, allows a maximum of individual expression, and a democratic rivalry such as is typical of a jam session; for, like the blues and jazz, it is an art of improvisation, and like them it can be quite graphic. Even who one doesn't understand the lyrics will notes the uncanny ability of the singers presented here to produce pictorial effects with their voices. Great space, echoes, rolling slopes, the charging of bulls, and the prancing and galloping of horses flow in this sound much as animal cries, train whistles, and the loneliness of night sound through the blues. The nasal, harsh, anguished tones heard on these sides are not the results of ineptitude or "primitivism"; like the "dirty tone" of the jazz instrumentalist, they are the result of an esthetic which rejects the beautiful sound sought by classical Western music."
Flamenco isn't pretty. In fact, it can be quite grating, at times bordering on fingernails on a chalkboard, which is why I'm so confused by "Flamenco Chill" as a genre. Flamenco is gully, gritty music of lament and celebration, not insipid elevator music. To make flamenco palatable to the Western ear by transforming it into breezy electronic beats, marketed under cheesy names like Ibiza Sunset, neuters the music of its strength. Flamenco Chill isn't fusion, it's a eunuch.
"Perhaps what attracts us most to flamenco, as it does to the blues, is the note of unillusioned affirmation of humanity which it embodies. The gypsies, like the slaves, are an outcast through undefeated people who have never lost their awareness of the physical source of man most spiritual moments... In its more worldly phases the flamenco voice resembles the blues voice, which mocks the despair stated explicitly in the lyrics, and it expresses the great human joke directed against the universe, that joke which is the secret of all folklore and myth: that though we may be dismembered daily we shall always rise up again."
Flamenco, above all else, is human. And alive. It reconfirms things about yourself that you already knew. I really love Ellison's conclusion, though the issue of irony in flamenco is complicated. Flamenco rarely reveals it's tongue-in-cheek, but when you catch a glimpse of it, you can't help but laugh with God at the great human joke.

Ralph Ellison
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Monday, January 12, 2009

El Niño de las Pinturas + the Aftermath of Altamira

I've always found museums abit prisonish. Keep that art locked up where it can't hurt nobody. Limited visiting hours. Bad food on plastic trays. Guards + cameras everywhere.

One of the greatest parts about living in Granada is the grafitti. I could almost allow myself to use the word "yü-ˈbi-kwə-təs" without feeling like a hyperbolic snob, but just to be safe, let's go with "almost everywhere / constantly encountered."

[tangentially: ubiquitous computing or "everyware"
is crazyscarycool].

There seems to be two interrelated reasons why there's so much graf on the streets of Granada. The first is a vibrant street culture where the people actually occupy the public spaces. It's the only urban space on Earth where I haven't felt like a temporarily tolerated traspasser on government property. Street music bumps, street spliffs are passed, street flirting leads indoors. So it's little suprise that all this loitering leeds to grafitti. And certainly, much of it is nothing more than names scrawled on walls, but when enough people declare themselves in different colors, the results can be beautiful.

And the walls are never done. Museums are where finished art goes to retire, whereas grafitti evolves. [unrelated: "to retire" en espanyol = "jubilar", which sounds way more joyous than "lying down"]. Someone else will eventually come and paint over your masterpeice, and then you'll gotta put your hoodie back on and bomb back. (kinda like wikipedia?)

I've never really enjoyed grafitti expositions in art galleries -- it all seems so unnatural -- somethin akin to takin Pigmy voices out the forest and turning it into background musak at Starbucks. In 1981, radical-chic galleries started to market grafitti as the next Big Thing, replanting graf from the streets in a controlled downtown environment to delite the elites.

But artists gotta eat and graf [unlike crime] don't pay. In fact, if you're any good, you'll eventually catch the cops' attention and then you'll end up paying to paint, which brings me to the second reason why graffiti thrives in Granada: the cops don't seem to care. That's an exaggeration of course, because it's definitely still a criminal act and the granadino grafiteros still complain about gettin fined, but the five-oh in Granada seem to have achieved a relatively sane perspective on policing priorities. Fighting/stealing = bad, grafitti/marijuana = less bad.

According to the historians, modern graffiti began in Philadelphia in the early sixties. By the late sixties, it was popular throughout Washington Heights, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. The New York Times took notice in July 1971 with a small profile of a graffiti artist named TAKI 183. The modifying clause "modern" is important, because Altamira is hecka old, and some dude named Kilroy has been here for a minute too.

Grafitti can exist without hip-hop, but not the other way around. Breakdancing, turntabling, beatboxing, rapping and graffiti are twined like rope and together they've survived an organized governmental effort to eradicate hip-hop culture. From Reagan's perspective, grafitti was a symbol of urban decay. In fact, it was more than a symptom of society's ills -- graffiti itself was considered a cause and catalyst for deliquency.

The so-called "broken windows theory" -- first proposed in 1982 by criminologists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson -- contends that people are more likely to commit crimes in neighborhoods that appear uncared for by residents or unwatched by local authorities. Criminals, according to Kelling, are ''emboldened by the lack of social control."

Convinced that the mere appearance of disorder begets actual disorder, New York City Mayor John Lindsay declared the first war on graffiti in 1972. Three years later, Mayor Abe Beam repainted every single subway car in NYC, which solved his problem for about 3 seconds. Jeff Chang explains, "The MTA’s attempts to whitewash the trains only further intensified the process of stylistic change, because there were many more potential targets, and they’re all clean canvases."

New York Mayor Ed Koch declared victory in the "War on Graffiti" [sans Mission Accomplished banner] in May 1989, when the last graffitied train was removed from service. When running for mayor of New York in 1993, Rudy Giuliani quoted Kelling and Wilson's broken windows theory, arguing that aggressive panhandlers and squeegee men were not nuisances; they were criminals.

Despite criticism form the left that his policies amounted to the criminalization of poverty, overall violent crime in New York was cut in half and the murder rate went down 70 percent during Guiluani's tenure as mayor, though plenty of other explanations [such as legalizing abortion] have been suggested.

Despite the fact that some local smarty-pants from Harvard have argued against the real-world results of the broken windows theory, Boston Mayor Tom Menino was still shaking his fist at the hoodlums in 2006: "Today we are addressing what may sometimes appear to be smaller issues, but for those of us familiar with the 'broken windows' theory and reality, we know that these kinds of community disorder issues are the precursors to the violent crimes that may follow."

"Después de Altamira, todo parece decadente"
Pablo Picasso

Granada grafitti got a Bob Marley problem. Old Robert was so damn talented that every reggae artist in his wake has been forced to live in his shadow (how's that for a mixed metaphor!).

I mean this as no diss to the other artists in Granada, but El Niño de las Pinturas [aka Sex, aka Raul] is so damn mind-blowingly talented that really he's got no one to play with.

He's got a style so unique that he really doesn't need to sign his peices -- there's no mistaking his characteristic Arabesque typography or his trademark crescent bicycle gears. Even frumpy abuelos en Granada appreciate his "vandalism" -- what he's doing is quite literally the opposite of "defacing" public property.

El Niño's art is simply beautiful. His control of color, shade, depth and perspective is just astounding, especially when you consider the time-constraints inherent to grafitti composition. His art certainly deserves to be in a gallery, not because it's radical-chic, but because it's classic. But he idn't some Jean-Michel Basquiat or Keith Herring pretend-bomber. He's actually out in the streets, finding new rincones to tag. And he's damn prolific, with peices all over Granada, sobre todo the Realejo neighborhood.

IMHO, he's got no superiors in the contemporary art scene, those he's got a few peers: Os Gêmeos, Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Carmen Abelleira -- but I'm not biased or anything.

[Full disclosure: El Niño is doing the cover art for Granada Doaba, but it's been delayed because he was hanging a new exhibit. In a gallery. Hrmph]