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Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy Pt. II - Music


Robert asked:

isn’t the SAMPLING of music a kind of non-mediated (i.e. we don’t copy the sounds with our instruments, we copy the very sounds themselves with our computers) hyper-orthopraxical musical technique insofar as it is a modification of the audio-cultural meme (as opposed to the mythical ex nihilo creation of original musical ‘substance’)?

My initial feeling was — yes, sampling is hyper-orthopraxical — but then I reconsidered: Isn’t sampling just a production technique? One of the earliest samplers — the mellotron — is used on “Strawberry Fields Forever” to replicate flute sounds. If sampling stays at the level of “production technique” and not “total creative outlook,” then we can very easily say: No, it doesn’t have much to do with orthopraxy or orthodoxy any more than a guitar does.

Orthopraxy/orthodoxy come into play in two areas: creative intent/direction and critical judgment. With Shibuya-kei, the fundamental desire was to mimic the sound of the artists’ favorite records down to the melodic range and stereo panning. The creative impulse did not come into any kind of conflict with the idea of “sticking to a script” because the artists decided they were supposed to stick to a script.

From a Bourdieuian perspective, we can probably argue that “good” musical taste is dependent upon prior access to cultural and educational capital: i.e., even the orthodoxical Western musician is ripping off something he’s heard and just rearranging it. Musical ideas are not completely sui generis.

However, the ideal in the West has always been about original creation — not sticking to the script. And while we have bands like Jet who are as into pastiche as any of the Shibuya-kei bands, they get slammed in the press for “ripping off” Iggy Pop. Franz Ferdinand et al. prove that sounding like the past is fine as long as you obey the 25 Year Rule.

Armed with a heart towards orthopraxy and a highly artisanal skill in imitation, Japanese end artists up making a lot of very, clearly imitative works. Those in the West that aim to imitate are so clumsy with their imitation that original works often just happen. The Beatles just happened to have a new sound because their imitation of American R&B didn’t sound “right.”

Meanwhile, the Japanese philosophical and artistic tradition rarely distinguishes between content and form, and therefore, every single part of a influential work ends up available for imitation and analysis. In the past, Japanese dramatists put on fake Western-looking noses when doing Shakespeare. They did not understand that the incidental “form” of being European had nothing to do with the performance content of the play. When all culture is imported, everything is up for breakdown and research. This in turn creates a script of conventions, and within an orthopraxical value system, that script is to be followed.

Back to sampling, Cornelius’ Fantasma seems to be post-orthopraxical in that he creates a highly original sound through the intention of curated imitation. Plus-Tech Squeeze Box is hyper-post-orthopraxy in that Hayashibe cuts up the sampling/imitation into such small units that it takes much original work to put them back together. Unlike Flipper’s Guitar, he doesn’t “do” My Bloody Valentine for a whole song: He just does it for ten seconds before moving on to country rock or something completely unrelated. I don’t think that orthopraxy has much to do with his creative intent, but I do think that Plus-Tech Squeeze Box’s bending of lines between pop (with sugar sweet melodies) and electronic (sampling mayhem) hasn’t won him any fans with the older generation.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
February 16, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

2 Responses

  1. r. Says:

    thanks for giving this one some thought. i:ll be back soon with a proper reply.

  2. ndkent Says:

    It’s pretty much self evident but I’ll say it anyway. The meaning of sampling is entirely shaped by the particular context it’s applied in. It’s mutable. You can make it more or less what you want though in some cases an artist might wind up with unintended results.

    Yes, the Mellotron is technically a direct ancestor to sampling but in terms of context it’s very much creative (mis)use of technology. They were capitalizing on it’s imperfection to to create a feeling of dislocation. They certainly had no budget issues to economize and not hire a flautist and it was clearly a case of “it works here” rather than a later deconstructed analysis.

    When you speak of the intentional imatation and it’s value and outcome you really have to analyze the intent too. As a personal experience an artist might very well be imatating as a learning experience. On the other hand from the standpoint of an observer one naturally feels compelled to call someone out who appears to be passing off an imatation as something “genuine”. So again it comes to what exactly was the expectation when one passes judgement.

    Though an aside to your formal arguement, I agree that the music journalism “25 year rule” or the Mickey Mouse 7 year rule or whatever makes business sense in that in that inferior product is less likely to be compared with the memory of something superior.

    >The Beatles just happened to have a new sound because their imitation of American R’n’R didn’t sound “right.”

    It’s pretty obvious that through imatation and inspiration they honed their craft to the point in which it became highly original.

    Very few people keep going. It’s by no means just a Japanese “fundamental desire was to mimic the sound of the artists favorte…’. Might the phonomena you describe just be a greater willingness to devote some appreciation to craft alone. I’d think you have that same tiny universal percentage of stuff that’s not mediocre. Could it be the person coming from outside a culture to look for differences will devote attention to connecting the mediocre yet different from your own familiar experience. It’s certainly easier to seek out and find what there is a lot of rather than answer tougher questions like what makes good are good.

    > Back to sampling, Cornelius’ Fantasma seems to be post-orthopraxical in that he creates a highly original sound through curated imitation.

    Could this be an academic response to a simpler phenomena? There always are a small percentage of artists who reach a point where their contributions trancend their influences.

    >Plus-Tech Squeeze Box is hyper-post-orthopraxy in that he’s cut up the sampling/imitation into such small units that it takes much original work to put them back together.

    Isn’t that more or less the definition of Shibuya-kei? Maybe not that exact technical method but wasn’t the point of Shibuya-kei *not* being more or less one style or one influence at the same time. It’s attraction is that it’s a more creative and complex “what if” scenario with less of a formulaic: old and cool + whatever is “current” = easy hit.

    Much of the crap use of sampling has to do with merely choosing something that likely sounds cool and sticking it into their own product in lieu of something better they generated. Perhaps it’s thinking too deeply to believe the intent is imatation? If anything it’s hoping something better will somehow rub off. (remember that the New York Post reported Mariah Carey had to be committed for treatment after J-Lo beat her to the same YMO riff).