by David Laderman and Laurel Westrup, Editors
Oxford University Press, NY, NY, 2014
284 pp., illus. 44 b/w. Trade, $99.00; paper, $29.95
ISBN: 9780199949311; 978-0-19-994933-5.
Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University
"Take something. Do something to it. Do something else to it." That was a gnomic utterance by the artist Robert Rauschenberg, riding high (TIME magazine cover story) when I was in college. It could be an epigram in this informative essay collection. What some call Mix culture, and Stefan Sonvila-Weiss called Mashup Culture, David Laderman and Laurel Westrup, looking back to the '80s rap group the Beastie Boys, prefer to call Sampling. The catholicity of their introductory flyover cite the tape loops of Jim Shaw in his college-age audio sessions with Mike Kelley, Oulipo literary experiments and the Beats' cut up texts, even the allusions to Hong Kong cinema found in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.
Laderman posits that what was once Dada is now normative in mainstream media, a viewpoint shared with Lev Manovich, historic techniques coming to the fore with the artists in the 1970s New York "Pictures Generation." He mentions Bruce Conner's rhythmic use of found footage and notes the music by Nick Cave and Barry Adamson. A key work is DJ Spooky's 2004 "Rebirth of a Nation," which I found myself telling my graduate Digital Media class about on the 100th anniversary of D.W. Griffith's racist "Birth of a Nation" predecessor, the source material for Spooky. Like Danger Mouse, Spooky demonstrates unique artistry found within a cloud of broken parts.
Richard L. Edwards' "Remixing With Rules" examines restrictive remixes, such as that of the rule-making Oulipo writers. One might add Ron Silliman's 1978 book-length poem Ketjak that used a Fibonacci sequence to assemble its sentences. R.D. Crano's "What Ever Rubbish Was At Hand" appreciates the images of the spectacle and intentional exploitative class dynamics in the films of Guy Debord, giving us a fine explanation of Debord's motivation and process.
In his chapter, Barry Mauer juxtaposes textual strategies in three personages in different realms. These three are of the Paris Cinematheque Director Henri Langlois' small-c catholic curatorial practice; Memphis radio disk jockey Dewey Phillips' genre-busting in days of racial segregation, to excite and inspire musicians like Elvis Presley; and Jean-Francois Lyotard's sampling in curating a labyrinthine tech-heavy 1985 exhibition, which Mauer knows only from eyewitness descriptions. All of these curators of pop culture succeeded through showmanship and theatricality.
Ryan Alexander Didich contemplates duration, and Martin J. Zeilinger appreciates Martin Arnold's "Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy", a deft sampling of young Mickey Rooney's movies. Other pieces explore fans' own re-cuttings of Anime and Hip Hop documentary films (Laderman authored an enjoyable 2010 book on Punk musicals). We learn of The Trailer Park, a contest for assistant editors to mash up movie trailers put on by the Association of Independent Creative Editors (AICE) remixing given footage. One result was Robert Ryang's "Shining," where footage from "The Shining" is transformed from a horror movie to feel-good tale of bucolic family.
Outside the US, chapters cover Mexican music in its political context, romantic imagery in Hong Kong and Chinese karaoke, and Sydney, Australia dance clubs' interface with the international dance scene. Spanish artists David Domingo and María Cañas use motifs of pigs and sausages, causing this review to remember a trip to Extremadura whose shops proudly featured jamon, jamon y jamon. Even the Macarena, of Spanish but dubious origin, was a source of remixes, including "MacArena", where interviews with the '90s dance craze's purveyors root in the trough beside anti-McDonalds' messages.
Corella Di Fede examines the 15-minute celebrity of Antoine Dodson, and undertones of class and race disparities, despite the best inclusive efforts of Gregory Brothers, who auto-tuned and sampled the news story where Dodson expressively told of his sister's near-rape in their Huntsville, Alabama housing project. She might have mentioned the similar news story of Sweet Brown, a Southern black woman who escaped a fire and exclaimed, "Ain't nobody got time for that!" Her statement was turned into a sampled dance song (whose video flashed an image of Dodson barbecuing) and earned her an appearance on THE VIEW. Di Fede does cite a David Laderman's paper on sampling by David Byrne and Brian Eno's for their album "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" as inadvertently Orientalist practice, something I certainly want to read. Though promises are posted on the website of the University of Nottingham's film studies journal Scope that its archives will soon be back up, their absence made me wish that piece by Laderman had been included in this volume, too. Readers will, however, appreciate the book's accompanying website, which allows them to examine firsthand many of the projects discussed in the book, including the sampled Mr. Dodson.
Jaimie Baron writes well on found-footage films, the work of Christian Marclay and Gerard Freixes Ribera. Here I learned of Akosua Adoma Owuso's 2007 "Intermittent Delight," which juxtaposed Ghanaian textiles and Westinghouse refrigerator advertisements. Yet one wonders why the book has no mention of the greatest film sampler of my own generation, Craig Baldwin, the filmmaker behind "Spectres of the Spectrum" (guerilla actions against the conspiracy to privatize the Internet) and the amazing "Tribulation 99" (US Latin American policy 1930-1990 only making sense if interpreted as a response to alien invasion of interplanetary Quetzals). Baldwin is also distinguished as an erstwhile underground film curator, for a quarter century presenting Other Cinema in a San Francisco storefront on Saturday nights (full disclosure: I proposed a Baldwin essay for this volume). There is a single earlier mention by Laderman of Bruce Connor, with whom Baldwin studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, but not the following generation, Connors children, so to speak.
From his vantage point at the peninsula's Cañ ada College, David Laderman is well-positioned to survey the sampling career of Baldwin, the related practitioners around A.T.A. (Artists' Television Access) Phil Patiris and David Cox, the Prelinger archive, 1980s billboard "correctionists"-qua-street performers Rats for Profit, and all their roots in San Francisco Punk culture, aesthetics and politics still roiling 20 miles to Prof. Laderman's north. He might then turn to examine the digital technologists 20 miles to his south, maintaining Google's YouTube and on the Apple campus, and the tech (Oculus Rift virtual reality?) of the next wave of creative sampling. One likes to think that's his next book, well in progress.