Speaking in Sung

In Understanding Media, McLuhan uses the metaphor of Narcissus to explain the almost hypnotic/narcotic effect that electric technologies have upon us — that is, we are almost hypnotized by our own reflections emanating from the "changing same" surface of the electronic media pond.

To continue the metaphor, I've often considered the DJ-as-archivist to be the individual that stirs up the sediment pooled beneath the water's surface. Sometimes you get muddy water, but sometimes the light reflects/refracts in the most beautiful way on the shifting particles/digital artifacts floating in solution.

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In Archive Fever, Derrida notes that the meaning of the word "archive" comes from the early Greek, in which city magistrates or authorities — the archons — were granted "hermeneutic right and competence" to interpret the official documents stored within the arkheion. "The citizens who thus held and signified political power were considered to possess the right to make or to represent the law" (p.2).

Nike can pay $250,000 for the rights to use the Beatles' "Revolution" as the soundtrack for a shoe commercial in 1987, while almost two decades later DJ Danger Mouse must illegally use Beatles samples to create The Grey Album — and then circulate it via the Internet's "samizdat of sound" (cf. Miller) to share with others. If the DJ is archivist or gatekeeper to a sonic past and its potential futures, then we must view the act of repurposing samples as an attempt to seize control of that hermeneutic right to interpret — even if at first glance the issue is presented as an economic battle over musical IP and royalties.

The storage of information may be as valuable as its transmission, and the archive is a vector through time just as telesthesia is a vector through space. The whole potential of space and time becomes the object of the vectoral class (Wark, A Hacker Manifesto, #318)

As Chris Cutler points out in his essay, "Plunderphonia", samples can now be manipulated to the point of non-recognizability before insertion into a song. So why want to be recognized? Put another way, if Miller tells us that "today, the voice you speak with may not be your own," the question should be "why not?".

Because we — or at least the hackers — are literally fighting against a vectoral class (if we ride with Wark's framework) for the political right to communicate, to make the law, to exist and participate in a democratic society. To do so, we need the right to speak freely, in all senses of that word. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and we must also speak through their voices.


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