Sunday, February 08, 2009

Fair Use It Or Lose It

Hey, keep that chin up, Fairey. After all, it doesn't just happen to the worst of us. To wit... Click on the mix title to download.

Actionable Flattery

1. Foo Fighters - "In Your Honor" (00:00)
2. Scratch Acid - "Owner's Lament" (01:40)
3. Ween - "Japanese Cowboy" (Live in Toronto; 06:05)
4. Vangelis - "Chariots of Fire" (10:21)
5. Primal Scream - "Shoot Speed/Kill Light" (13:42)
6. The Fall - "High Tension Line" (18:53)
7. The Dust Brothers - "This Is Your Life" (22:32)
8. Primal Scream - "Kowalski" (25:49)
9. Jonny Greenwood - "Henry Plainview" (31:34)
10. Krzysztof Penderecki - "De Natura Sonoris No. 2" (Excerpt; 35:40)
11. The Fall - "Athlete Cured" (Peel Session; 38:45)
12. Spinal Tap - "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" (43:30)
13. Nirvana - "Come As You Are" (46:05)
14. Killing Joke - "Eighties" (49:36)
15. Jean-Pierre Massiera & Bernard Torelli - "Whistler Program" (53:20)
16. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - "Child Of My Kingdom" (55:48)
17. David Bowie - "Rebel Rebel" (01:02:47)
18. The Mothers of Invention - "Trouble Every Day" (01:07:14)

Of course, Fairey's pop propaganda is less analogous to a misappropriated melody than to, say, DJ Shadow's radical recontextualisation of the churning organ from "Orion" in his own "Number Song". I'm being unfair to Fairey in comparing his icon(oclast)ic stylisation of an AP photo to intellectual theft as lock-stock & bludgeon-subtle as the Dust Brothers jacking "Kowalski".

Now, is it unfair to say the Dust Brothers deliberately traced "This Is Your Life" over Primal Scream's blueprint? Absolutely not. I doubt the Dust Brothers missed anything upon which Andrew Weatherall put his imprimatur. Both songs open and close with an AM-quality voice-over pulled from a film, and sport near-identical bubbling sixteenth-note sub, stacatto funk beats, cut-&-paste production that skips across vocal samples... but Primal Scream got there over two years earlier.

Yet not on their own: the song's martial crackle comes from a sample of Can's "Halleluwah". It's startling how many iterations an idea can withstand before anyone feels compelled to create something anew. But Primal Scream have always walked the tenuous line between sarcastic PoMo scrapbooking, classic rockist role-playing, and a more finespun resurrection of musical spectres in the spirit of hip-hop's oral history. Unfortunately, they more often fall into the first two categories.

As for the other songs, all the artists filching riffs & hooks were equally aware of what they were embezzling, given their particular idioms. As the drummer for Nirvana, Dave Grohl once split a single with the Jesus Lizard, who rose howling from the ashes of Scratch Acid - a band Kurt Cobain counted among his favourite acts of all time, not too far ahead of Killing Joke.

Meanwhile, a considerable amount of musical overlap is guaranteed within the diatonic vocabulary of the Western musical tradition - but within the inexhaustible sprawl of microtonal composition? What are the odds that, in his score to There Will Be Blood, Jonny Greenwood would merely happen to compose a legato string swell that crests upon a queasy F# - precisely the same motif that opens Penderecki's "De Natura Sonoris No. 2"? Or that Greenwood's chattering derrick fire theme bears more than a passing resemblance to Penderecki's "Utrenja (Ewangelia)", as does There Will Be Blood's title theme to certain phrases from "Polymorphia" by Penderecki?

About the same as the odds that all three Penderecki pieces appear in the soundtrack to The Shining.

And before expressing shock that Spinal Tap would be anywhere on Mark E. Smith's radar, remember that The Fall's gone through over three times as many drummers as Tap. Truth is stranger etc.


Vicarious said...

I tried to download but it said file expired. :(

Seb said...

As the Almighty said unto his creation, "We apologise for the inconvenience."