15 December 02005

Musical Battleground — article in The Spectator

My article under the title Musical Battleground is in the arts section of the Christmas issue of The Spectator, out today. It covers the remixing potential of digital media, using the BBC Creative Archive and The Grey Album as examples. Here's an excerpt:

But are the products of this 'remix culture' any good? Though technology has made it almost embarrassingly simple to re-appropriate media in the way that Kurt Schwitters and William Burroughs did more painstakingly, few of the works made with the new tools come near to matching those predecessors. Now that the means to collage and cut-up our news, audio and video are installed in many a suburban living room, the ends of these practices seem to have been shorn of the radical, disruptive credentials that were once claimed for them.
Advocates of a rich digital public domain like to remind us that all great artists draw from the common pool of culture to make their work. But in the drawing and the filtering, the origins are fused together, warped and re-cast. These are resolutely 'analogue' transformations. The trouble with digital content is its obdurate fidelity and the integrity of its bits: even when two tracks are mashed together, they do not lose their identities; you hear first one, then the other, then their collision. You may hear the tracks differently thereafter — as Borges argued a version of Don Quixote reconstituted word-for-word in the 20th century would be different, and richer, than Cervantes' book — but the bits are still the same.

You can read the beginning of the article on the Spectator web site, but full online access is subject to a paid subscription — I'm also making it available on request to subscribers to the updates email list for this site (subscribe — free — via the form on this page). [Update, 4 June 02006, the full article is now available as a 64 KB PDF file for download.]

Here are some links to further resources mentioned in the article:

Since the article went to press, the BBC has added a broad selection of news clips to the Creative Archive. Here's the announcement. After natural history and news, the BBC's contribution to the Creative Archive will extend to sports sometime in the next year, and drama after that. The Corporation's archive of music material remained a 'subject of debate' last time I heard.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) BBC, Cultural Calendar, Ideas and Essays, Music and Multimedia on 15 December 02005 | TrackBack
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