Mixing Media: The Artistry of Borrowing

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

Earlier in the semester I attended an excellent panel discussion on hybrid uses of sampling in music and media hosted by Professor Martin Irvine (new window) at his 14th street gallery space, Irvine Contemporary (new window).

Martin is very interested in the post-modern concept of hybridity (new window), its role in popular art, and its use as an academic category of analysis. The gallery has featured several shows (new window) exploring hybridity in visual art, and he teaches a course (new window) on the subject within the CCT program.

Fellow student Graham Eng-WiIlmott, and local electronic music composer, Yoko K (new window) (Asahara Music), spoke on the panel, discussing their experiences with mixing media in musical forms.

Graham is a long- time dj, focusing mostly on the genre of hip hop. But that’s not to say he excludes other styles. Graham discussed his love of all music at length, a hobby which he’s pursued since the 3rd grade. Eight years old is a surprisingly young age to engage in music as an avocation, which he credits to early exposure granted by his parents.

Graham spoke of the very material connection he feels with vinyl records, and the satisfaction gained from physically flipping through filed stacks of records while performing. Graham demonstrated his extensive knowledge of music at large and his enthusiasm for sampling, especially its ability to transcend time, cultures, and musical genres in surprising and powerful ways.

He talked extensively about the work of hip hip producers
such as the hugely influential J Dilla, who experienced an untimely
death last year (R.I.P.). Graham played several tracks highlighting creative uses of sampling that were very instructive. He elaborated on the specific tracks used by producers in sampling, and their often surprising origins in genres and time periods one might not expect contemporary hip hop artists to source.

Of course, Graham had vinyl copies to display of all the records he discussed. He also provided quotes from artists that he felt expressed his thoughts on the role of hip hop and sampling in music culture, such as this quote (new window) from Diplo:

think a lot of kids that like music live in a postmodern era where
everything is everything. We’re all hip-hop kids, we’re all from the
hip-hop generation, and hip-hop at this point is everything. Hip-hop is
the ultimate form of music, …. We’re like postmodern DJs in a way,
we’re just doing something that [connects] back to everything that’s

Yoko K is an accomplished producer of ambient electronic music and a Washington, DC resident. Her first album, elusively titled "012906," received several awards from respected granting bodies such as the Independent Music Awards. She is currently working with Dust Galaxy, a solo project of Rob Garza from local entertainment and music aficionados, Thievery Corporation.

Yoko discussed her entry into music, also from a young age, following the death of a loved one. She described the intense need for a creative outlet for her emotions, and the near compulsion she has since held to compose music that manifests her feelings.

Yoko performed several of her original songs, the airiness of which paired beautifully with Kahn and Selesnick’s fantastic graphic pieces hanging as a backdrop. Yoko’s music has a light but luscious, emotive quality rendered by the complex, fluid layers of sampled instrumenation. The pieces she played ranged from fluttering and hypnotic to intensely passionate, to wonderfully sweet. The grace of Yoko’s delicate voice implemented only sparingly at strategic points in her pieces added another dimension to the multimedia experience.

The talk was well- attended by both CCT students and friends of the speakers. We engaged in lively discussion on the meaning of hybridity and its implications in cultural production in our specific historical moment.

Martin raised an interesting point regarding the resistance to
sampling, and use of technology, which some people view as inappropriate
lifting that lacks faithfulness to both past works and current forms of
music. This "keeping it real" commitment to originality is prevalent among artists and
music lovers who sneer at the use of prior works by some artists as
lacking artistic credibility, which turns borrowing such elements from an homage to
an artistic legacy, into a form of dishonerable cheating.

Graham brought up the incredibly reclusive concept hip hop artist, Burial (new window), who
supports the resistant sense of ownership that underlies the attitude against sampling. Nobody
knows who he is, or where his music comes from. And no one samples
from him, which is just how he likes it.

Martin disagrees with this attitude. He attributes it to the "myth of origins" phenomenon, the
notion that one could determine the historical point that an aspect of
music comes from, and therefore judge the allegiance or integrity of
implementing those elements. Martin maintains that this is actually a fallacy given
the intense borrowing that is inherent to musical and artistic traditions.

It can definitely seem horribly disingenuous when talentless pop tart artists get the people who actually produce their music to sample from iconic musicians and genres with a deeply rich musical legacy. But Martin couldn’t be more right because in reality, "everything comes from something."