Vague Terrain 07: Sample Culture

This is Not Memorex

In familiarizing myself with this work over the past few weeks, I've felt an odd sense of nostalgia developing. These projects collectively highlight various facets of what we have dubbed sample culture, that is the continued evolution of the triumph of the fragment. There are dozens of threads that can be traced back to the 1980s and while I am personally indebted to the potent combination of Brian Eno and David Byrne, the perpetual litigation of Negativland, and the sonic collage of the Bomb Squad, I am going to instead direct my attention to another dusty artifact from collective memory.

A few years ago while perusing soulseek, I stumbled across a collection of recorded DJ mixes that had been aired on WJLB in Detroit in the late 1980s. These tapes documented a few choice moments in the mix from the storied career of The Wizard (aka Jeff Mills). Nestled amongst the flurry of tracks were the expected station IDs as well as a recorded message that repeatedly reminded me that “THIS IS NOT MEMOREX,” that is, the performance was not pre-taped. As I sat there post-listening, I found it very odd that the audience would need to be reassured that the editing and reconfiguring of largely sample based music was not itself sampled (read: studio constructed).

Buried in the subtext of that anecdote is the following: regardless of how we frame it, sampling is essentially an act of curation. Specific fragments are foregrounded and implicit in that selection is the exclusion of countless other memories and moments. The endgame in the act of sampling, whether reconsidering the familiar or resurrecting the forgotten, is to create an arena for discourse. In examining the constellation of projects we have brought together a few themes begin to emerge.

First, and most directly related to the sound-history sketched out above is a very diverse range of musical endeavours which collectively engage the genres of classical, dub, disco, electroacoustic, folk, hip hop, house, and techno. The work presented by Des Cailloux et Du Carbone, Eskaei, Freida Abtan, Jakob Thiesen, Noah Pred, and Ortiz all engage multiple traditions and in doing so challenge modes of production and performance. In keeping with our mandate to get musicians talking about their work outside of artists’ statements, we had Evan Saskin engage in thoughful dialogue with Ezekiel Honig of Microcosm Music.

Some common threads can be identified in examining Brad Collard’s Tactile Soundscapes and the video work of Christian Marc Schmidt. These projects both engage with architectural and experiential space and each of these investigations yield an archive through which the sum total of these fragments can be considered as a collection.

Abstraction is the strategy employed in the submissions of [dNASAb], Jeremy Rotsztain, and Defasten. Rotsztain’s Color Scheme and [dNASAb]’s iPod Ecosystems each use established and iconic media as a springboard into dynamic aesthetic explorations. Defasten’s Aexex, while not explicitly about sampling, positions the project as only the beginning of a larger process and offers the work as source material for sampling and remixing by the viewer.

This issue of Vague Terrain also features a pair of texts that aid in delineating the landscape of contemporary mashup and remix thought. Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture by Eduardo Navas is an ambitious schematization of the mashup phenomenon that traverses thirty years of musical and informational paradigms. Rebekah Farrugia has provided a thorough documentation of intellectual property and copyright issues with her text Sample Culture and Copyright in the Digital Age and this is complemented by the latest edition of her Copyright, Culture (remixed) video collaboration with Jennifer A. Machiorlatti.

We are extremely excited to present this body of work and we hope you find it as engaging, immersive, and thought provoking as we do.

Greg J. Smith, Toronto
June 2007