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date: 05 June 2020

(p. 227) Authorship, Creativity, and Musicianship

As Conner observed in his chapter, “Hatsune Miku, 2.0Pac, and Beyond,” “although appearing to be singular personalities with agency, today’s characters—like so many who have come before—are made available for cultural consumption through a complex production process involving a large body of labor (including, in Miku’s case, the contributions of the consumers themselves)” (Chapter 8). The focus on nonexistent bands and creative participation by fans reveals a striking thematic and interpretative resonance with Alon Ilsar and Charles Fairchild’s exploratory chapter, “We Are, The Colors,” an experimental music project conceived and realized primarily by Ilsar as an activity hub for fans to act and interact, with the aim of confronting notions of ownership and power over the creative process: “The goal of the Colors project was not simply meant to enact an online narrative hoax. It was to use the space created by this hub of virtual collaboration to challenge and even change prevailing conceptions of creative collaboration beyond the digital hub” (Chapter 13). As Jordà observes, “the Internet has encouraged these collaborative techniques because it not only favors ‘the omnidirectional distribution of information, but also promotes dialogue among its users’ by enabling ‘both collective creation and the production of open and continuously evolving works’ ” (1999, 5, cited in ibid.). Although many have engaged with such collaborative music-making devices, the Colors were unique in framing their collective collaboration within a fictional storytelling element: formation of the Colors Collective (p. 228) by brothers Alex and Isaac Moler and their call-to-arms song “We Are, The Colors,” allegedly dating from 1958. “Through this scanty narrative, the Colors [became] a kind of virtual empty vessel whose key markers outlined an alternative history of post-war popular music. The narrative framework of this project leaves the field as open as possible for fans, writers, musicians, or even academics to construct, contest, and continually transform the legacy of the Colors, including and especially the wholesale reinvention of their music. In this sense, the Colors only existed in the creative relationships the idea of their existence might facilitate.” The merging of the concept of a cyberband, which included interactive music, real-time collective composition, collaborative music production, remixing, and open-source software, with the storytelling of fans on tribute band websites, forums, blogs, wikis, and social media [made] the Colors’ hub a distinctly engaging experience for fans and musicians alike,” and throughout its several-year lifespan it became a tool for creative collaboration beyond the control of the people who started the project: “It was a deliberate and unreasonably idealistic endeavour, just like the musicians whose lives, careers, and values it pretended to chronicle.” Chapter 14, “Music in Perpetual Beta: Composition, Remediation, and ‘Closure’,” is also project/process-based and explores Paul Draper and Frank Millward’s collaborative compositions on the World Wide Web. More specifically the authors examine the significance of narrative as a generative process in their own practice-based work: new music created through asynchronous file exchange, from improvisation to some degree of assembly/composition. The immersive qualities of their collaborative composition e Strano, for example, “draws one into a narrative waiting to be created by the listener. To listen and in the mind’s eye see a virtual time and space made in some way real by the attributes of a sonic image” (Chapter 14). Music in perpetual beta makes a valuable contribution to the debate as to whether, in today’s virtual world, “a composer may be in fact one who intentionally relinquishes control in a world where technologies offer audiences to be collaborators.”

Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen is also concerned with the concept of authorship. As she states in “Justin Bieber Featuring Slipknot: Consumption as a Mode of Production,” Chapter 15: “I believe …, as Michel Foucault (1991 [1969]) and Roland Barthes (1977) argued in the late 1960s and mid-1970s, that the figure of the author—and, in effect, how we understand concepts such as creativity, originality, and musicianship—is historically conditioned and discursively defined. If the figure of the author is a construct, then the content that we invest in it is also prone to alteration.” Not least, the author function may well disappear. She cites “American scholar David Gunkel (2011)[, who] believes that this moment has come and argues that mashup music ‘provides a persuasive illustration and functional example of an alternative configuration of artistic creativity after the passing of the figure of the author’.” More specifically, she says, Gunkel contends that “the mashup producer functions more as a scripteur than an author, in the sense that his/her task involves mixing and remixing ‘scripts’—that is, existing recordings—instead of creating something from nothing” (2011, 16, quoted in Chapter 15). Unlike Gunkel, however, Brøvig-Hanssen considers that “even (p. 229) within this ‘configuration of artistic creativity’, the author remains a central and functional figure—if, that is, we rethink the traditional notions of authorship, creativity, and musicianship with which we are working.” As she explains, “virtual studios … [encourage] those who once thought of themselves as strictly music consumers to become music producers as well. In the act of mashing two musical tracks, the ‘masher’ goes from being a consumer of these tracks to becoming the producer of the mashup.” Hence, “if one tries to understand mashup music through this author-based lens, it will be rashly reduced to uncreative copying, outright stealing, plagiarism, and consequently copyright infringement.” As Conner previously argued, authorship in today’s virtual world has become discursive, and as such, says Brøvig-Hanssen, “decontextualizing and recontextualizing” tracks in mashup can be considered “a perfectly legitimate mode of artistic production and creation that involves both a creative and an interpretive act of appropriation,” thus encouraging us to rethink what musical authorship, creativity, and musicality mean to us today. Here, Brøvig-Hanssen provides the reader with an interesting insight, contending that mashups are “often based on two key concepts: musical congruity and contextual incongruity. Mashups are often intended to violate the conventions of otherwise established categories, such as high and low, serious and playful, black and white, mainstream and underground, or rock and pop.” As she further explains, “Put simply, the art in the mashup lies often in its juxtaposition of samples to produce a coherent piece of music that at the same time generates a feeling of incongruity. It is often the experiential doubling of the music as simultaneously congruent (sonically, it sounds like a band performing together) and incongruent (it parodically subverts socially constructed conceptions of identities) that produces the richness in meaning and paradoxical effects of successful mashups.” “The fact that mashup bands exist only virtually is made obvious not just by the recognizability of the individual tracks incorporated but also by the unlikelihood that the mashed artists would ever perform these mashups as such.” It is an observation that is made explicit in her case study of “Psychosocial Baby” and its mashup of “the wolf pack” with the “pop idol,” so creating “the doubled pleasure of the palimpsest: more than one text is experienced—and knowingly so” (citing Hutcheon 2006, 116).

Brøvig-Hanssen has described Bieber and Slipknot’s mashup as “intertextual play that converges existing meanings in order to form a new one”; Cora Palfy argues in her Chapter 16Human After All: Understanding Negotiations of Artistic Identity through the Music of Daft Punk” that Bangalter and de Homem-Christo’s insistence on their robotic personae is subverted by their music, which “contains elements that betray the artists’ original humanity,” hence co-constructing “Daft Punk’s identity through authorial mediation.” Her initial discussion contrasts strongly with earlier discussions on Hatsune Miku, where fans assumed an important authorial responsibility, reminding the reader that a more traditional analysis of the musical artist depends on an authorial mediation whereby small chunks of second-hand (p. 230) information are communicated to the consumer, forming “behavioral markers” of artistic identity (ibid.). Having set the stage, she turns her attention to Daft Punk, where the band’s assumption of robotic bodies and refusal to reveal their private identities is undermined by interview references “to their humanity, the passion and emotion of their music” (ibid.), which creates a “conflict between their technological and human selves”—a mediation inconsistency. This, in turn, “prompts the listener to consider not only the larger relationship between technology and man, but also the artistic identity in question.” As Palfy points out, the duality of Discover and Human After All, the titles of which suggest a human sensibility under a robotic body, are further constructed in the commingling of mechanical, interlocking rhythmic patterns and unchanging repetition in the tight groove of the loops, and vocals that draw attention to an embodied speaker, a sentient being with a voice, to represent respectively the robotic and the human. As she asks, given this conflict of identity, is Daft Punk human or robotic?

The authorial voice next moves to the circus train and Dave Tough’s “Virtual Bands: Recording Music under the Big Top.” The focus here is on Tough’s interviews with Chicago-born musician/singer/songwriter Ryan States and the journey he undertook to create his own personal music, recording virtual musicians via the Internet, and completing and releasing his project Strange Town in 2010. What makes States’s process unique is that he completed his entire eleven-track CD “virtually” while on board a moving circus train. Tough’s discussion provides valuable insights into new methods of recording, virtual collaboration, and creating and producing on the Internet. As he observes, “The growth of the speed of the Internet and personal computing power continues to point toward more unique ways in which artists are collaborating with each other anonymously and by asynchronous means. Entire albums are now being recorded by exchanging files across the Web” (Chapter 17). It is also interesting to note that States wanted his album to be very personal and introspective, presenting his unique voice as a gay man, writing songs about his journey across the United States of America. “It’s a throwback to the 80s where gay artists weren’t as out as I would have wanted them to be. I wanted to be a voice for ones that grew up in that time, and this is the music I would have wanted to hear.” States also offered several good pieces of advice when recording “virtual” musicians: “Don’t hire musicians based on your belief or hope that they can play the kind of music that you want. Make sure you’ve already heard examples of them playing the specific instrument in the very style that you need. If it begins to look like they can’t deliver, either musically or the studio isn’t up to snuff, bail out. Don’t try to force something, it’ll only waste time and make people feel bad. … Stick to highly motivated professionals who can meet deadlines.” As Tough concludes, “Even though the entire recording process for Strange Town was completed virtually, [the] inspiration for the album came from truest parts of his being.”

Books, Articles, and Websites

Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana.Find this resource:

Foucault, Michel. 1991 [1969]. “What Is an Author?” In The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thoughts, ed. P. Rabinow, 101–120. London: Penguin Books.Find this resource:

Gunkel, David J. 2011. “What Does It Matter Who Is Speaking? Authorship, Authority, and the Mashup.” Popular Music and Society 35(1): 16.Find this resource:

Hutcheon, Linda. 2006. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Jordà, Sergi. 1999. “Faust Music on Line: An Approach to Real-Time Collective Composition on the Internet.” Leonardo 9: 5–12. (p. 232) Find this resource: