“Ethnic Sounds” (pp.93-108)
The Economy and Discourse of World Music Sampling
Producing and Selling Sounds
“Popular music since the 1950s has become increasingly dependent upon the technologies of audio production and reproduction, and, partly in response to this overall trend, there has been a corresponding importance attached to “sound” — as both an aesthetic and a commercial category — that is at least equal to that conventionally accorded to melody and lyrics in popular music production and reception….the rise of digital synthesisers and samplers during the 1980s has placed a new kind of emphasis on individual instrument sounds as distinct musical entities and as independent objects of commodity exchange.” (pp.94-95)
The Role of Discourse I: Authenticity
“…the soundware industry must be considered one of the most extreme manifestations, and perhaps the ultimate commercial outcome, of R. Murray Schafer’s notion of “schizophonia” — the splitting of sound from the maker of the sound (1977: 90-91). Once split from its maker, the sound can be appropriated, modified, and made available for sale as a discrete commodity. While schizophonia and commodification can be considered the potential byproducts of virtually any act of sound recording, the fragmentary nature of sound sampling — where individual instrument samples are seldom more than a few seconds in duration and often as brief as a few hundred milliseconds — seems to attract and indeed may require a proliferation of discourses whose first and foremost role is to guarantee the authenticity of the originating sound source, investing it with cultural significance and enhancing the value of the sample in the marketplace in the process.” (pp.98-99)
“This play of signification and exchange is especially evident in the case of world music samples where discourses of authenticity are closely linked to those of exoticism, essentialism, and primitivism. But while such discourses are no doubt similar to those found in the recording industry promotion of world music/world beat, they are inflected somewhat differently. On the one hand, much of the promotional emphasis associated with world music is placed on the development of star performers, allowing certain individuals to come to the fore on the international music stage. The ethnic origin and perceived cultural integrity of the artist is taken as the primary guarantee of authentic musical expression. Discourses in world music sampling, on the other hand, tend to downplay the identity of the sampled artists (performers are seldom identified at all in liner notes or promotional material) and are more often condensed around the figure of the musical instrument itself, its sounds regarded as the embodiment of musical culture.” (p.99)
“(Generalised appeals to the “primal” and the “primitive” are given greater specificity in advertisements that stress the quasi magical powers to be found in sampled sounds and phrases)….the promise implicit in world music sampling is not simply access to new creative materials, duly authenticated, but the fact that the samples carry with them primal powers that can be transferred to the user/consumer — powers that can then be used to induce specific effects on the listener.
In delivering these sounds found only at “the edge of the world,” sample manufacturers and distributors invoke a set of narratives drawn from the colonial past.” (p.100)
“The constant reference to the power and authenticity of traditional music tends to mask the degree to which these “primal” performances are tamed, so to speak, by the technology of digital sampling. Whatever their status as “authentic” performances of traditional repertoire, the recorded performances are subjected to a technological process calculated to render them useful to Western sampling musicians.” (pp.101-102)
“At the same time that suppliers of prerecorded samples infuse the material with cultural significance and authenticity, they also transform it. Through the techniques of digital sampling — editing, looping, pitch shifting, and time compression, among others — sample developers organise and facilitate easy encounters between a diverse range of musical styles.” (p.102)
The Role of Discourse 2: Appropriation and Identity
“Making music with digital samplers and prerecorded samples of world music instruments and phrases is, fundamentally, an art of appropriation. But while samplers and sample discs may facilitate, at a technical level, the acquisition, manipulation, and layering of diverse sonic materials, the discourses of world music sampling play a key role in defining the significance of the act of cultural appropriation, justifying and enabling it at the level of ideology. Furthermore, appropriation is linked, through discourse, to a process in which musical identities are transferred, adopted, or remade.” (p.102)
“A fundamental task of this set of world music discourses is to deflect ethical, political, or musical criticism of the cultural appropriation that has taken place. In some instances, writers acknowledge that critical perspective exist but simply deny their relevance…Others are more self-conscious with regard to their relationship to those who have been sampled. Their concern, however, often manifests itself only indirectly, again eliding the question of cultural appropriation itself.
A second discursive strategy trivialises the act of appropriation, depoliticising it by rendering it banal. This is accomplished by exploiting and elaborating a common metaphor — that of “taste” — thereby creating an essential equation between musical aesthetics and the gustatory senses.
A third, and perhaps more significant discursive strategy characterises appropriation as a form of cultural exchange among equals and the inevitable byproduct of larger social forces, such as the diffusion of modern communications technologies and increased cultural contact in the “Global Village”….Similar discourses are evident in a variety of mass media, where technology is often represented as a benign force in an increasingly globalised culture…But in music the exchange of ideas is often understood as part of a larger process in which cultural identities are also transformed.” (pp.103-104)
“The significance of this Global Village discourse lies not simply in the role it plays in facilitating the global music mix and the adoption of new musical identities but, more importantly, in the very manner in which it justifies cultural appropriation: by portraying the recorded subject as active and the sound recordist as passive, it inverts the relationship of power that exists within the process of cultural exchange. This “ideological reflex” absolves sampling musicians from responsibility through an apparent liberation of the sampled subject, in discourse, at the same time that their sounds are technologically reduced to mere raw material, grist for the sampling mill.” (p.104)
“The desire to immerse oneself in the endless variety of recorded world music is, no doubt, one of the more recent byproducts of “schizoponia” as it affects the listener in the age of postmodernism, and is quite different from earlier relationships to the music of other cultures….Bartok regarded his work in collecting folk songs (Hungarian peasant music) on the early recording devices of the day as simply an adjunct to a deeper, more anthropological study of music “as part of a life shared with the peasants” (Bartok 1931/1967) While Bartok’s empathy for Hungarian music cannot in itself serve as the sole justification for his appropriation of it, it is nevertheless clear that the fusion of traditional and modernist elements in his music is qualitatively different from the fleeting juxtapositions of collage that have become the preferred idiom of contemporary technoculture….With the vast, decontextualised collections of sampled sound available on CD-ROM, technoculture neither allows for the type of profound encounter experienced by a composer such as Bartok, nor is it required.” (pp.105-106)
“In world music sampling, “identity” is a mobile construct, influenced by the ever-shifting surfaces of fashion and personal taste. In this, musicians appear to differ little from other music consumers, where musical taste “is now intimately ties into personal identity; we express ourselves through our deployment of other people’s music. And in this respect music is more like clothes than any other art form — not just in the sense of the significance of fashion, but also in the sense that the music we ’wear’ is as much shaped by our own desires, our own purposes, our own bodies, as by the intentions or bodies or desires of the people who first made it” (Frith 1996:237). Sampling technology enhances our ability to deploy an increasingly diverse range of “other people’s music” but does so in a manner that is at once fragmentary and exceedingly rich, consisting of individual sounds, timbres, and rhythmic and melodic loops organised and densely layered into a “global mix.” And as Frith suggests, this mix has relatively little to do with those who produced the original sounds but everything to do with those who consume them.” (p.106)
Conclusion: Everything Old is New
“In the commercial worlds of technology, music, and fashion, it is always necessary to create a sense of “the new,” the sense of experiencing something “for the first time” even when that experience coincides with something that is simply old or replete with nostalgia. To do so requires, first and foremost, a considerable effort to erase the collective past — a past stretching, in the most general sense, across centuries of musical exchange between various musics of the world and that of both Western classical and popular musics (see Bellman 1998). And, in the specific case of world music sampling, we are expected to forget the fact that pop music from at least the beginning of the twentieth century to the present has been continually infused with, and invigorated by, exotic sounds.” (pp.106-107)
“But what is new,… is the level of commodification and the broad, unfettered access afforded by the combination of samplers and specialised sample compilations — a phenomenon potentially leading to the kind of qualitative changes in music characterised by Steven Feld as a shift from “schizophonia” to “schismogenesis,” the progressive differentiation and interaction of world cultures, which is intensified by the economic and industrial interests at play in the global marketplace (1994). That such a development has been accompanied by the most essentialising and exotising discourses, on the one hand, and the strategic denial of cultural appropriation, on the other, should come as no surprise, for a more critical perspective on this phenomenon would serve only to constrain the marketplace by calling into question the economic and technical processes of musical globalisation and the discourses that sustain the unequal distribution of cultural capital that are so characteristic of them.” (p.107)