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Power and production

Posted in: General,News Items,Race,Theological Production by Rachel Bundang on April 15, 2011

Been thinking about canon + appropriation again.  On canon, there’s the recent news of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising being added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.  It’s only the second hip hop LP and the fourth hip hop recording to make it onto the list.  Criteria for the NRR include cultural significance and general excellence, plus the piece must be at least 10 years old.  So in pop culture, that’s at least one test of staying power.


The other bit is about appropriation as imperialism and theft, as evidenced by these ongoing tiffs between Diplo and the artists he samples.  There are the questions of who gets credit vs. who really benefits.

I wonder about that tension between hewing to tradition vs. pushing forward to the new.  At the risk of being simplistic, it’s as if theology is all “slow twitch” and pop culture “fast twitch.”  Does theology tend toward the former + pop culture to the latter?  Does theology lack enough of the right “twitch fibers” to keep up with quickly evolving postmodernities?  And likewise with pop culture:  might it also tend toward historical/cultural amnesia, except for what it can sample– and steal?

Rachel Bundang

Seeing out loud

Posted in: General,Race,Theological Production by Rachel Bundang on April 6, 2011


[Photo: TELLUSTools. 2001. Double-LP. Composition: 12 1/4 x 24 5/8″ (31.1 x 62.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York. Gift of Harvestworks. Cover Art by Christian Marclay. Produced by Carol Parkinson, Harvestworks. Image courtesy Kanji Ishii.]

I spent last Saturday afternoon at MoMA, checking out the new exhibit Looking at Music 3.0, which explores the connections between music and contemporary art.Previous portions of the exhibit were shown in 2008 and 2009 respectively. This third segment focuses on New York in the 1980s and 1990s and encompasses everything from street art to hip-hop and graffiti, underground mixtapes to Riot Grrrl zines, Eric B & Rakim to Fischerspooner, Sonic Youth to Wu-Tang, and of course the birth of MTV.

Much of the hip-hop history would not be new to an engaged listener, but the cross-genre collaborations and the juxtapositions between the sonic and the material dimensions of the culture were certainly thought-provoking when regarded with a more anthropological and religious eye. What we hear connects with what we see and touch, and even what we smell and taste. It reminded me of a friend’s story of her recent experience going to Lil Wayne’s concert at the Nassau Coliseum in that the security check and a certain herbal odor that lingered on her clothes were, for her, among the markers of the pilgrimage just as much as any ticket stub or cell phone photo.

One of the threads that I see persisting in the production of music is the DIY aesthetic (as with the audiocassette or the zine, treated like relics or fetish objects in their own right), combined with interactivity via computer culture and accentuated by the subsequent fragmentation of the music landscape and the move from studio to home recordings. This has its parallel too in music videos’ move from performance art (Diamanda Galas is certainly an eyeful) to MTV to YouTube.

A second thread is the ongoing conversation about appropriation, sampling, and remixing. Whether in theological thought (such as Sharon Welch’s use of African-American women’s literature in her ethics) or the many uses of a hook (such as the classic example of Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” forming part of the DNA inAfrika Bambataa’s “Planet Rock”), when is the use of another’s work legitimate borrowing to pay homage or to create something new vs. being outright theft? (Bonus: to carry this to the present, check out jazz pianist and 2010 MacArthur genius Jason Moran’s deft + muscular cover of “Planet Rock”.)

A third is about canon. I found myself wondering about who conceived of the exhibit. Barbara London has been a longtime curator of media and performance art at MoMA, so these works felt privileged in this exhibition. Very few would argue with the inclusion of A Tribe Called Quest or Laurie Anderson in the lineup. But if the aural had been given preference, what different music might have been chosen, and what different artworks might have instead been highlighted as classic, transitional, even pivotal or transformational?