Last year, my professor recommend a book for me: Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, by David Shields. In it, Shields demonstrates the new role of the creator in the Digital Age. In the spirit of remixing and re-using, I’d like to “rip” excerpts from his manifesto that concern the creation (or, more accurately, recreation) of music here:
44. Collage, the art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image, was the most important innovation in art of the twentieth century.
74. The opposite of broadcast: the distribution economics of the internet favor infinite niches, not one-size-fit-all….A new regime of digital technology has now disrupted all business models based on mass-produced copies, including the livelihoods of the artists. The contours of the electronic economy are still emerging, but while they do, the wealth derived from the old business model is being spent to try to protect that old model…This is to be expected: entire industries (newspapers, magazines, record labels) are threatened with demise, and most will die. The new model is based on the intangible assets of digital bits: copies are no longer cheap, but free and flow freely everywhere….Reality can’t be copyrighted.
102. I don’t feel any of the guilt normally attached to “plagiarism,” which seems to me organically connected to creativity itself.
259. Genius borrows nobly
260. Good poets borrow; great poets steal.
261. Art is theft.
264. Sampling, the technique of taking a section of existing recorded sound and placing it within an “original” composition, is a new way of creating with found objects…A mix breaks free of the old associations. New contexts form from old. The script gets flipped.
290. People are always talking about originality, but what do they mean? As soon as we are born, the world begins to work upon us, and this goes on to the end. What can we call our own except energy, strength, and will? If I could give an account of all that I owe to great predecessors and contemporaries, there would be but a small balance in my favor.
300. The recombinant (the bootleg, the remix, the mash-up) has become the characteristic pivot at the turn of our two centuries. We live at a juncture, one in which the CD (as an object) and the recombinant (a process) still coexist. There seems little doubt, though, as to the direction things are going. The recombinant is manifest in forms as diverse as Alan Moore’s graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, machinima generated with game engines (World of Warcraft, Halo, Quake), Dean Scream remixes, genre-warping fan fiction, brand-hybrid athletic shoes, and Japanese collectables rescued from anonymity by custom paint jobs…
Rip! rightly addressed the complexity regarding the piracy v. copyrights dilemma. However Gaylor gets ahead of himself in saying that ours is the most trying time for creativity–in fact, it’s just the opposite. We are living in an age of unprecedented communicative and expressive endeavors.
Consider that his beloved subject, Girl Talk, was not sued, despite Gaylor’s apocalyptic prophecies. And those big-name record labels he referenced? At the time of the documentary, the RIAA had already seen a decline of 64% from its revenue peak in 1999. Since the release of the documentary (two years ago) it’s dropped another 10% and is estimated to weather further decline.
Perhaps more importantly, artists are moving away from their labels. With the stellar decision of Radiohead (referenced in the documentary), the industry has seen a mass exodus of artists towards the independent promised land. While the industry will blame piracy, the truth is that equipment is becoming much more available (I recorded my album in a week in my buddy’s basement), and, lest we forget, the heads of the industry are total douchemongers. That’s right. Enormous. Sweaty. Douchemongers. Nobody wants to deal with them!
If anyone is surprised that the lobbying party that is the RIAA is making life as shitty as their slimy palms can manage, please raise your hand! I applaud your innocence! This is the truth of out times; lobby groups like those representing Monsanto and Big Oil can sue farmers for having genetically copyrighted flowers on their land, even though it was naturally blown there by the wind. And so, yes, the RIAA will use whatever funding it has left to sue the pants off Mother Teresa while continuing to shove their latest empty shell of a voice down our throats via the radio-machine.
We are moving slowly but surely towards a rightful balance between artistic livelihood and collaboration. Big-name record labels are dying out and mainstream artists are moving away from their labels; really, you’d be hard-pressed to find a contemporary rap or electric artist that didn’t use sampling. With every streamed song, with each ripped album or track, with each video montage we inch nearer to an unadulterated open exchange.
This is our future: all is fair game.