Archive for July, 2009
Ex-Procol Harum keyboardist Matthew Fisher just won a court victory in his extremely belated--as in 40 years--copyright claim for the "famous organ riff" in the '60s hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale." (hat tip Mark)
Fisher claims it's only about credit but his 40% of all future royalties of that song will not be insignificant, as it is still an "ear bleeder" on classic rock stations.
In any case, the man has balls, since he admits he took parts of the riff from JS Bach's "Air on a G String" and "Sleepers Awake."
He should give 95% of his royalties to Bach's heirs, whoever they are. It would be the fair thing to do.
It should be noted that Procol Harum was not a one-hit wonder, which is why there is any legacy for Mr. Fisher to claim. Fisher left the band after the third album so his share in the hard dues of touring, recording, etc, that made PH a money machine in the '70s is proportionally small (lower than 40%, I'd say). The live version of "Conquistador," recorded after Fisher left, was a big '70s hit and the band's later LPs such as Grand Hotel (also sans Fisher) also sold well.
The problem with these copyright cases is they hinge on simplistic readings of parts of songs and don't take elements like context, timbre, or "career gestalt" into account. In this case it all hinged on timbre and a few notes. The "He's So Fine"/"My Sweet Lord" (horrible) verdict completely ignored timbre.
But the main point here is, if you're going to sample Bach then don't sue the people that sampled you.
Considering how long it took Fisher to initiate the filing of the suit (no statute of limitations for copyright? why not?) a fair verdict would have been 1% to him and 1% for some foundation dedicated to teaching Bach in music schools.
1969 psych/prog LP (more influential than I realized)
"Claves of Steel" [3.7 MB mp3]
The piano is a three note e-piano sample (heard at the very beginning) I trimmed from an LP of '70s breakbeats (thanks dave). I cut the sample up into stabs of three differing lengths and mapped each to a couple of octaves' pitch range. Then added compression and phasing and played it using MIDI to get some new tunes. Most of the notes are variations of the first few bars and unfortunately aren't as soulful as the original source (unless you like mutant 12-tone soul). The underlying beats are 4/4 techno with some FX and scratch samples. Also there are live drum hits under the original piano adding a kind of stop and start "breaks" feel to the rhythm. There's also some "house organ" in there.
"Spherefield 4" [YouTube]
spherefield quasi-tutorial microhouse lo-fi animation molecule
Bob Somerby (The Daily Howler) is one of the few people who thinks Gatesgate is a moron-fest. Apologies to Mark, with whom I've been discussing this on the internets. I don't think you're a moron, but you are wrong that this is a good example of a cop on a power trip. It's not a good example of anything, since there were no witnesses, no photos and no way to verify what actually happened. Yet millions have weighed in without knowing basic facts about the incident. The Howler found, and commented on the empty-headedness of this discussion:
On CNN, the cable buffoons were pondering possible “teachable moments” last night. Lou Dobbs mused about where the “moment” might lie. And then, Keith Richburg, of the Washington Post, said this. We did not make it up:
RICHBURG (7/27/09): Let me just add one thing on—
DOBBS: Quickly if you will.
RICHBURG: Yes, it just seems that one thing is, Professor Gates and his neighbor should get to know each other.
JAMES TARANTO: But she was not a neighbor. She lived about seven miles away.
RICHBURG: Well, she worked— Yes, but she worked in an office 100 yards away.
By now, Richburg understood that the caller wasn’t a neighbor—but for reasons only these Martians can explain, such narratives must never die. When Taranto corrected him, Richburg advanced a new Mars-ready theory: You should make sure you get to know everyone who lives within 100 yards of your office. You should get to know everyone who works in a building 100 yards from your home.
(We can’t vouch for Richburg’s yardage.)
We’d call that a teachable moment—about a group of unteachable life-forms. Our teaching? Only on Mars do life-forms like these actually grow and thrive.
And yet, these strange people remain on the air, shaping America’s “public discussions.”
1. Dick wrote We Can Build You in 1962 but the book wasn't published 'til 10 years later, causing some critical misreading of how it reflected growth or changes in the author's thinking. For example, Patricia Warrick considers it an inferior treatment of "...an idea [of a human becoming an android] that apparently remained in Dick's mind after he finished the superb Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (p. 209, Philip K. Dick, edited by Olander and Greenberg, 1983).
2. Clues that it's an earlier novel: much of the action centers around an American small business struggling to stay afloat, with "Organization Man" themes redolent of the '50s and Dick's mainstream novels of that time. By the late '60s, psychedelia had happened and Dick had gone full blown cosmic.
3. It's unusual for being written in the first person. More typical is the well-constructed beginning that goes off the rails halfway through, into personal hypochondriac maundering.
4. The plot of the first half: an electric musical organ company builds an animatronic robot of Edward M. Stanton, Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War, as a prototype, then follows it with a lifelike, walking, talking, reasoning Lincoln. Although the simulacra think and feel with their "ruling monad brains" the same way their predecessors did they are typically callously referred to as "the Stanton" and "the Lincoln" by the narrator and other characters. A Howard Hughes style industrialist takes an interest in the simulacra because he wants to use them as fake companions to encourage people to immigrate to the Moon, where he owns the majority of the land. The builders of the sims wrestle with losing their creations in the face of a lucrative buy-out. The Lincoln and the Stanton become active advisors within the "start up."
5. The narrator, Louis Rosen, an employee of the organ company, falls in love with Pris Frauenzimmer, the 19-year-old-going-on-40 cured schizoprenic who designs the outer shells of the sims. She is a typical Dick female, a highly intelligent ball crusher. Perceiving the industrialist as a rival for Pris' affections, Louis flips out midway through the book and tries to kill him. The remainder of the narrative describes Louis' experiences in a state psychiatric facility. Dick drops the android plot after the attempted murder.
6. A charitable reading of the book (which Warrick and others have suggested): Louis has turned into a machine and Dick typically subverts the mechanics of the sci fi potboiler to explore the psyche of the human android. Louis, however, is probably the least cold, the least logical, character in the book--he is a sloppy emotional mess from page 1--and Dick lays no foundation for an excess of logic sending him over the edge. An uncharitable reading: Dick needed to wrap up the book to get paid and found it easier to write 80 pages about his own mental health and women problems than to work out the rest of the plot, and no one would read this dime novel anyway.
7. Still vital are the ever-surprising uses of the Lincoln and the Stanton as characters: the former grave but given to annoying reading aloud from children's books, which he finds fascinating, the latter decisive in business matters but mysterious as to ultimate goals--too bad we never find out what they might be. As with much Dick, there's an intriguing novel in here waiting to be written. A debate between the industrialist and the Lincoln about what it means to be human anticipates the trial of Data in Star Trek TNG's "The Measure of a Man" episode by some 25 years. Rather unlike Star Trek is the endless bickering between Louis and Pris, showcasing the author's urbane, melancholy humor. At one point they check into a motel, feinting sexual interest back and forth. Pris suggests going out for corn beef sandwiches. A page or two later, during a lull in their sparring, Louis says "It's too late for kosher corned beef anyhow. I don't mean too late in the evening. I mean too late in our lives."
Related: Lies, Inc. (aka The Unteleported Man).
How many words have been written in a short amount of time about the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest? News stories, op ed pieces, internet comments: A staggering volume of words. That's because the story is a Rorschach meme. Consider all the ingredients here. A conflict with only the word of the two parties to tell us what happened. A perfect storm of social tensions: cop vs citizen in a post 9/11 police state context, elite university employee vs "townie," black vs white, a racist DC press still absorbing the fact of a non-white US president (and both commenting on the incident). Everyone, but everyone has an opinion on this one. Which of the above factors was the most important? What must have actually happened? Type away. Your issue is in there somewhere.
My only comment (made on twitter) concerned the Huffington Post's publishing of Gates' mug shot after the charges were dropped. Classy move, Arianna. The "blogger" press can be as bad as the National Enquirer: worse because people think it's not fiction.
Update: Since the above was written this story has turned into "cable catnip." A crazy local story to distract us from the health care we aren't getting, etc. Hats off to the US media, which now includes syndicated bloggers. You've done it again.
Update 2: Reason's headline "Put the race talk aside: the issue here is abuse of police power, and misplaced deference to authority" typifies the pedantic rhetoric surrounding this incident. Almost everyone who writes on this topic offers the definitive word on what it "means." "A phantom Negro" says: "So before we heed the call of racism, let’s be mindful of the tower from which that call came. This has something to do with race. But it has a lot more to do with messing with Skip Gates." David Brooks says: "Maybe this 'situation' had something to do with Harvard University and social class... But even if class mattered, it did so mostly because of how, in this situation, it was bound up with race." Ishmael Reed ventures: "If Gates ceases his role as just another tough lover and an 'intellectual entrepreneur,' and takes a role in ending racial traffic and retail profiling, and police home invasions...we can say, "Welcome home, Skip; welcome home.'" Everybody has their take. No one was there.
...at Marianne Boesky, a group show curated by Todd Levin. This is just one corner of the largish exhibit (over 70 works). Reminiscent of the "Unmonumental" and "Younger Than Jesus" New Mu house style but more considered and artful placement of works. Most of the artists were transgressive young craft and schlock appropriating Turks of yesteryear (Cady Noland, Leonardo Drew, Joseph Cornell (whoa)) who are now many years older than Jesus (or have passed on). The show really does show the silliness of shows based on age. Anyone can work with these kinds of ideas. Really.
Finally got up on the High Line last evening. These shots, with and without a flash, were at twilight. The High Line is an old elevated rail line that runs from the meat packing district (MePa) north about eight blocks through West Chelsea. The indigenous grasses that used to grow between the railroad tracks have been mimicked by freshly planted indigenous grasses growing among the curved Modernist pseudo rails you see in the photo. You can't tell from these pics but it was party central up there last night: you could barely walk for all the bored West Siders milling around.