11 12 2003
Remember: Mimesis is a Form Of Creativity
About Music and Equal Opportunities in the Era of the Digital Sample , by Mercedes Bunz (DE)
It is not by chance, that "Get your freak on" from Missy Elliott was among the most sampled pieces of Bastard Pop or Bootlegging, the musical genre that did rise as the hype of summer 2002 and went straight out of the computer, into the internet and up in the charts.
While electronic music in the beginning of the nineties was formatted largely by the aesthetics of repetition, its transforming structure nowadays can be found in the copy. And last but not least the lyrics of "Get your freak on" are more or less invoking a competition: "Copywritten so, dont copy me - Yall do it, sloppily - And yall can't come, close to me" – are invoking a competition that eventually lead to a the re-naming of bootlegging to "doing a missy", like the New York Times did report. But there is more to it than just a new musical style.
"The future can only be for ghosts", writes Derrida in "Specters of Marx". A haunting started, the haunting of the digital copy. Take for example the track "Take the piss on" of the American lap top musician Kid 606, that does rely on a sample of the Hit "Get your freak on" from Missy Elliott published on the label "Violent Turd" [http://www.tigerbeat6.com]. Kid 606 productions are especially notorious for the way they exploit digital technology to pillage the supermarket of musical history. He invents a self service sample music as an alternative to the output of the majors, which can be read as a political gesture against a copyright, that gives people who can pay for it the access to work with music and excludes all the others - and we may not forget that exactly this is, right at the moment, the dark side of the copyright as a protection of the artist.
The haunting of the copy: We do know that reproduction, that copying has always been a technique, which influenced our cultural formation in two ways: First of all, different techniques of copying and their actual use determine the possibilities of a culture: Which techniques of copying are available and which effect do they have on cultural production as well as on something like "style", "form" or "format"? Secondly we can observe, that the role copying plays within a culture transforms culture as well: So which cultural status do we assign to copying?
In the history of reproduction, even within the story of the copy, the digital copy plays an extraordinary role: If we compare the digital copy to the mechanical one, we can see that the digital copy does not only climb another step up on the ladder to the perfect copy, but it changes and transforms the copy in a way, that crosses out is own notion: The digital copy becomes an identical copy.
While the order of the analog world has a central need of the author - as the one who identifies the original and authenticates the copy - in the order of repetition this function is sort of irrelevant. It becomes sort of irrelevant, because the authenticity does not defy anymore its technical reproduction – as it does in mechanical reproduction. The german philospher Walter Benjamin still reported in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: "The whole sphere of authenticity is outside technical reproducability". With digital multiplying, which does produce copies, that are not distinct but identical, the authenticity can be reproduced for the first time. They do not need the certification of an author. Exact repetition certificates their authenticity.
This small shift provides immense effects. Authorship is a form of ownership. Something can only be property, if it is bound to a name. Whether it is bound to a real person or a juridical person, the fact remains the same. Someone owns something. With the digital this "something" mutates. We all know the examples: Sharing is limited in the material world. If someone owns something, this something is in use - it is unique and in its uniqueness it gets eaten, consumed, outworn, maybe obsolete. With the digital this "something" does behave different. If you give the something away, it can still stay there, because it simply gets copied, it gets multiplied. Sharing is therefore unlimited - or at least only a question of bandwidth. Compared to the analog-material world the structure of the digital is determined by its potential of a multiplicity, it is determined by the potentiality of dissemination. With the digital copy copying becomes itself a form of transport – it mutates to a new form of logistics. Normally we define transport by movement, something does move from a to b. The outcome: something is in B, while A is empty. But the digital copy introduces a new topology of space, because nothing moves anymore in the sense of leaving. Transport and repetition are indistinguishable: with digital copies files are transferred from A to B without moving from their original place. They are at the same time in A and in B, they are in A and in B as identical copies.
The logistics of filesharing
With the logistics of filesharing we now have two originals and with that two new platforms from which a dissemination can start. Filesharing uses this principle as a programmed logistics of repetition. If Marx defines in his early work "capital" as a inequitable form of property, as the accumulation of collective work which now belongs to the hands of a single person instead of belonging to all hands, then filesharing is as a programmed logistics of repetition of data a technological answer to that problem. The dissemination of the digital copy irritates the accumulation. Indeed. Or does it only shift it to another level?
In fact, Filesharing as the programmed logistics of the repetition of data does neither suspend the accumulation nor the alignment towards a center, which controls the accumulation. First of all filesharing is nothing else but an organization of the dissemination of digital data, a type of program that knots search engine, copying and transport together. It's function is the reptetition of data, but that does not mean that the program itself performs in the order of repetition, because the execution of an identical double does not force the program to act in the sense of the same dictum. On the contrary. We can observe, that the two differential orders – the order of representation and the order of repetition- cut through the middle of filesharing programs, divide their logic of functioning right in the middle, if the logistic of repetition itself is organized centrally along befriended technical and legal issues.
In the beginning of our century Napster has been such a prominent example, which organized the copying not peer-to-peer among the users themselves but coordinated filesharing via a central server. So Napster did organize the order of repetition – the transport of identical data, filesharing – based on the order of representation: the sharing of the files was transacted peer to peer, but the request for a file used a central server which was controlled technically and juridically by the company Napster. Indeed it is clearly possible to notice that those filesharing programs, which work without a central server, did survive the attack of the music industry according to their distributed technical organization. If the sharing of files does principally not need a central server, but is organized peer-to-peer – directly among the users - then technical filesharing enters the order of repetition, and according to a distributed organization it is impossible to shut it down. The act of multiplying eludes control. It eludes control, because the organization of multiplying itself gets multiplied. And exactly this brings in a new and irritating potential.
The identical copy, its logistics of doubling, its order of repetition irritates the established order by suspending it. That's all. It is not an alternative - it is an irritation – a haunting. "The future can only be for ghosts", writes Derrida in "Specters of Marx", but the spirits that were cited are obviously more difficult to control than assumed. There seems to be a certain resistance within the Internet, within the digital copy. The digital haunts the logic of our economy. And to shift this haunting finally to cultural production: While the traditional model does define authorship as a form of expression, it characterizes a work first and foremost as the product of an artist and thinks of an artist as a producer, in the order of repetition the artist is seen as a consumer as well. Producing here is not merely a form of expression, but a form of consuming other works, other material, formats, traditions, habits. The relations within different products are of the same importance as the relation between the producer and its work. With digital dissemination it gets more and more easily to combine products. A new way of cultural production emerges like the highly illegal track of the German artist Ekkehard Ehlers, who repeats in the Track "Ehlers plays Cassavetes" exactly 4 seconds of The Beatles track "Good Night", shifts these seconds into a beautiful new track that has not a lot to do anymore with the Beatles and their famous "White Album", of which the copyright is owned by Michael Jackson. One could say this track centering around the aesthetics of the copy is about, as Richard Barbroock from the London Hypermedia Research Centre puts it: "Not just the right to consume media, but also the right to produce media too."
Mercedes Bunz firstname.lastname@example.org is co-founder and co-editor of the media, music and culture print magazine DE:BUG. She also works as theorist.