Saturday, March 14, 2015

link for the weekend: 22 songs that sound more similar to each other than Blurred Lines does to Got to Give it Up.

One of the most striking examples is John Fogarty getting sued by his own publishing company because "The Old Man Down the Road" resembled "Run Through The Jungle"

This is a case of being sued for copying YOURSELF. Yes, Fogerty’s former publishing company sued him because “This Old Man Down The Road” and “Run Through The Jungle” (which he released with CCR 15 years prior) sounded so similar.

The tongue-in-cheek summation of the litany is as follows:

The moral of the story is, if you’re going to steal, steal from Tom Petty.

or ...
The floodgates of copyright litigation aren’t going to suddenly open because of this case,12 for two reasons. First, access, access, access, access, access, access. Access is usually very hard to prove. Remember, most of the proof of access rests with the alleged infringer, who has little incentive to remember any exposure he or she may have had to the underlying work. Usually, people won’t bring a case for copyright infringement unless they feel very confident about proving access. - See more at:

Kind of gets back (indirectly) to a quote from Dan Deacon featured at this blog about how you either want to be so wealthy you can pay licensing fees upfront to sample something well-known or you go so esoteric with brevity and manipulation of sound samples nobody has any idea who you sampled from.

If someone were to build a song entirely out of samples of pop songs but all the hooks were fiddled into their respective retrograde inversions the hooks would probably lose all their catchiness and since nobody would recognize the hooks for what they were ... maybe somebody could test that out?

Not planning to, personally, just pointing out that there's a long history of appropriation and mutation.  T. S. Eliot may have opined that good poets imitate and great poets steal but ,well, it's the weekend so we're not gonna try to get too detailed about that.  :)

Besides, had Dean not decided to talk in front of a camera this week was originally slated to be a discussion of sonata form in early 19th century guitar literature.  It's too bad, Justin Dean, had you not opted to talk in front of a camera around the anniversary of World Magazine breaking that story about RSI and Driscoll's book ... this blog could have provided a possibly helpful break-down of the use of thematic delineation and development in an early 19th century guitar sonata. 

HT Mockingbird: Eve Fairbanks "... we respect failure only if we can interpret it as a stepping-stone to accomplishment."
In contemporary life, we respect failure only if we can interpret it as a stepping-stone to accomplishment. This is the premise of a raft of recent books, from “Failing Forward” to “The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success”. A week ago, a group of young writers asked me what my favorite writing achievement was; I proudly told the story of an essay that was at first rejected by a favorite magazine and then, after much work and rewriting, accepted at another. The tale, presented as a celebration of the necessity of making mistakes, was in fact a sly way of revealing not my fallibility but my tenacity. My reaction to initial failure, I was claiming, is what makes me not fail in the long run.

The real truth, though, is that most of our mistakes cannot really be said to have such obvious redemptive power. Most of the time, we simply lose time. We retrace our steps. We let friends fall away; we hurt our families. We do idiotic things in our work. We make mistakes from which we learn and, more often, mistakes from which we fail to learn. Aware of our errors, but frequently unable to do better, we hang our heads

The failures of a person, if they can be transformed into something through which they can ascend to even higher levels of success, just becomes part of the sales pitch. 

Regulars who have read Wenatchee The Hatchet will not be shocked at an observation, that the publication of Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage introduced, as a framing narrative to their various bits of advice, the revelation that their marriage was "functional but not much fun" and that it was beset by problems.  Even if the semi-dangling "r" in the title seemed to promise revelations that there were rough edges.  The trouble was that the framing narrative of the disappointments and dysfunctions of the Driscoll marriage dismantled the continuity and solidity of the public narrative of the Driscoll marriage Mark had been sharing from the pulpit year after year (notwithstanding very-long-ago sermons in which he might say that in the first few years of the marriage he won all the arguments but ended up sleeping on the couch a lot).

But what if the Driscolls had written and published their book WITHOUT that framing narrative of marital frustration (or even failure)?  Without that framing narrative would it have been  more than what it turned out to be, a hodgepodge of variously useful would-be bon mots?  That acronym "FRIEND" in the "Friends with Benefits" chapter?  Strip away that framing narrative and how much of the controversy surrounding the book might have gone with it?  Not the Result Source inc controversy, that was neither here nor there regarding the substance of the book itself.

No, it seems as though without that framing narrative the book would be a substantially different book.  Leveraging the described failures as the background against which the better-than-ever Driscoll marriage could be part of the sales pitch might be a significant part of the sales pitch for the 2012 book. 

It's just that in a variety of fairly conventional Christian interpretations and applications of biblical texts you're supposed to have arrived at that healthier and functional marriage before anyone greenlights you to ministry.  If the Driscoll marriage was within acceptably average marriages, however, then the question of who decided Driscoll was married well enough to be in ministry becomes more moot.  But the branding of Real Marriage might imply that having a "good enough" marriage wasn't going to be good enough for the marketing campaign that was settled on.

The book could be a case study of Eve Fairbanks' proposal that "we respect failure only if we can interpret it as a stepping-stone to accomplishment."  The failures that have come to light in Driscoll's ministry since the 2012 publication of Real Marriage don't exactly seem like the kinds of failures that would lend themselves to being stepping-stones to further accomplishments.

If Driscoll's going to still show up at a Hillsong conference and is willing to get interviewed ...

if Mark Driscoll's been candid about the mistakes he's made then he's welcome to be candid in even more detail.  How about the nature of MH PR response in the wake of Janet Mefferd's on-air confrontation and subsequently produced case for copyright infringement in The Trial study guide?  How about the way that MH's public response was to distribute blame to research assistance even though only Mark Driscoll's name was on the introduction?  How about the eventually revealed as errant statement that they didn't sell the study guide? 

Would Mark and Grace Driscoll be willing to clarify to what degree, if any, William Vanderbloemen was authorized by them to say anything about the reasons for Driscoll's resignation?  Would the Driscolls be willing to name names as to who counseled Mark Driscoll to resign?  Would Mark Driscoll have anything to share about the short stint in which his daughter Ashley was featured blogging at Pastor Mark TV?  Was there a process in which Mark and Grace Driscoll second-guessed that decision?

It might be worth noting that along his rise to his particular brand of stardom Mark Driscoll at one point announced Ashley was going to be blogging.  Now it seems only for the best that Driscolls reconsidered that move but it's worth noting here in 2015 that that sort of celebrity pursuit by Mark Driscoll not just for himself but for a short time also for his daughter Ashley, is something to maybe ask about.  It would seem implied the Driscolls thought better of Ashley as blogger who by dint of blogging could become a potential limited public figure but, if there's going to be questions, could somebody ask the Driscolls why they for a moment considered it a potentially good idea to feature Ashley at Pastor Mark TV?

It becomes more challenging to take the Mark Driscoll lament about the stories of the risks his family has faced when we keep in mind this was a man who advertised stories about his daughter amidst making cases for his unique take on Esther.  It's also impossible to separate Mark Driscoll's stories about the risks he's described his family as facing without bearing in mind his own public testimony about himself.

After all, let's recall that when Driscoll wrote this at "The Hardest Part of Ministry" :
Add to this the safety issues posed by technology. I cannot fathom allowing my two teenagers to be on social media for fear of the venom they would receive. When my kids have to report on current events at school, they’ve learned to ask before they click on to news sites, since I never know who is saying what about me where.
it's as though he momentarily forgot to mention that he announced Ashley would be blogging at Pastor Mark TV at some point. If Driscoll couldn't imagine it in 2013 it's not because he didn't imagine it in 2011.  Ashley kind of was a blogger for a little while. Observing a tension between the public plea for sympathy and the public conduct of the man has come up for discussion in the past.  A question can be asked of Mark Driscoll, why he has made so much of his public career out of incendiary statements and provocation if he has feared for the welfare of his family.  In 2014 he went so far as to declare:

That said, if there's a reason for Driscolls to have second-guessed their teens being on social media, Mark Driscoll's own history of engaging mass media and social media might be a cause for concern.  After all, Mark Driscoll boasted in his early book:

Radical Reformission
ISBN 0-310-25659-3Mark Driscoll
copyright 2004 by Mars Hill Church

page 14
... So I married Grace, began studying Scripture with the enthusiasm of a glutton at a buffet, and started preparing myself to become a pastor who does not go to jail for doing something stupid. To pay the bills, I edited the opinions section of the campus newspaper, writing inflammatory columns that led to debates, radio interviews, and even a few bomb threats--which was wonderful, because the only thing worse than dying is living a boring life. [emphasis added]
Oka, so how exactly does a guy like Mark Driscoll reconcile his pleas for sympathy for his endangered family with his own history of boasting that he inspired a few bomb threats and that this was wonderful because the only thing worse than dying is living a boring life?  How can he reconcile his plea for sympathy for his children with the reality that at one point he announced his teen daughter Ashley was going to be blogging at his site? 

But if there are going to be questions for Mark Driscoll pending how about these:

1).  Which people advised Mark Driscoll to resign, by name?  Driscoll mentioned getting godly counsel, so who were they?

2a)   Is William Vanderbloemen in a position to speak on behalf of Mark Driscoll to any members of the press? 
2b)   Is Vanderbloemen authorized by Mark Driscoll to speak to any effect that popular bloggers had any role in Mark Driscoll's resignation?

3)   Given how publicly well-documented the Driscolls' 2000-2006 acknowledgment of the work of Dan Allender was, why did neither Mark nor Grace Driscoll nor editors at Thomas Nelson think to include a footnote of acknowledgment in the first print edition of Real Marriage?
4)   Why did Death By Love, which by Mark Driscoll's account was mostly complete as of 2006, end up published as a book co-authored with Gerry Breshears?
5)   Given the thoroughness with which the scholars Christian Brady, Robert Cargill and Scott Bailey publicly addressed the historical and interpretive errors of Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears' statements about the Targum Neofiti (that it was not advocating any Trinitarian views and that it was a 2nd century CE rather than BCE targum), would Mark Driscoll like to change his public stance on that targum and the interpretation he and/or Gerry Breshears promoted in the 2008 Doctrine series?
6)  Is Mark Driscoll still persuaded that T. D. Jakes is an orthodox Trinitarian?
7)  How much did Mars Hill executive leadership know about zoning issues in the Orange County situation prior to the eviction?
8)  With respect to the International Paper building, Sound Transit has publicly stated that it finalized the purchase before Mars Hill even expressed interest.  Why did Mars Hill authorize a website initially indicating the property was taken by way of immanent domain?
9)  Is there some explanation for why Jamie Munson resigned?  The announcement was given but no actual explanation of the reason for Munson's resignation has ever been given.

That's just a few.  If the new story about Mark Driscoll's resignation is that he resigned in response to bloggers that drastically changes the entire framing narrative of why Mark Driscoll would resign.  He doesn't have a history of taking bloggers very seriously.  Even if it could be established that bloggers had some role in Driscoll deciding to resign that does not address the substance of what was being said by which bloggers that could have informed the decision by Mark Driscoll, or potentially those advising Mark Driscoll, to resign.

Driscoll's story about how and why the 2006-2007 re-org needed to happen significantly changed over the last seven years, so much so that it's a matter that he might find beneficial to clear up for public record.  But let's leave that aside, having mentioned it, and returned to a matter from the resignation days.

If Mark Driscoll was persuaded nothing in the investigation or the reportedly proposed restoration plan found him guilty of sins that ultimately disqualified him from ministry then why did he resign?  Wouldn't it have made sense and have been positive for Mark Driscoll to have announced that he was complying with whatever the restoration plan was (or reported to be)?  That way Driscoll wouldn't have had to resign at all.

But if Driscoll was advised to resign it matters who gave that advice and why. 

Let's keep in mind that on October 26, 2013 Driscoll wrote:
When people learn that my concern for family safety is the most difficult part of my ministry, I usually get the follow up question: Why don’t you just quit and go do something else or go do ministry somewhere else?
Honestly, I’ve pondered that question myself on the darker days. I love my family. I love Jesus—and so does my family. I love our church—and so does my family. And I love our city—and so does my family. On average, we have seen 100 people get baptized every month for about the last five years. We are seeing lives change, and we find great joy in that. That said, I do all I can to care for my family and protect them, without being paranoid, and the truth is if I were not called to this line of work, I would quit.

Yes, sadly this question is all too easy for me to answer, so your prayers are appreciated. I just turned 43. Lord willing, we have decades of ministry left to go, and honestly if I think about it too much I get depressed and anxious. For those ministering in similar contexts, I’m earnestly praying for you and your families as well

Yet not quite a year later:

Mark Driscoll resigned.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

the blurred lines verdict and some reactions, and some tentative thoughts about the mechanical and internet context in which this verdict happened

So, the verdict was the verdict.

Hip-hop in particular has proudly thrived on borrowed sounds and vibes, and has clashed with the courts over the years because of sampling. In the wake of the ruling, Questlove of The Roots sent (then deleted) a tweet with the hashtag #NiceKnowingYouHipHop. In 2013 he told New York that  “If it were a case of melodic plagiarism, I would definitely side with the estate,” but then explained why he thought Thicke and Pharrell were in the clear:
Look, technically it’s not plagiarized. It’s not the same chord progression. It’s a feeling. Because there’s a cowbell in it and a fender Rhodes as the main instrumentation — that still doesn’t make it plagiarized. We all know it’s derivative. That’s how Pharrell works. Everything that Pharrell produces is derivative of another song — but it’s an homage.
Borrowed sounds and vibes permeate every style of music.  Let's consider some old coverage of David Cope, who developed programs to compose music:

Cope had taken an unconventional approach. Many artificial creativity programs use a more sophisticated version of the method Cope first tried with Bach. It's called intelligent misuse — they program sets of rules, and then let the computer introduce randomness. Cope, however, had stumbled upon a different way of understanding creativity.

In his view, all music — and, really, any creative pursuit — is largely based on previously created works. Call it standing on the shoulders of giants; call it plagiarism. Everything we create is just a product of recombination.
Cope thinks the old cliché of beauty in the eye of the beholder explains the situation well: "The dots and lines on paper are merely triggers that set things off in our mind, do all the wonderful things that give us excitement and love of the music, and we falsely believe that somewhere in that music is the thing we're feeling," he says. "I don't know what the hell 'soul' is. I don't know that we have any of it. I'm looking to get off on life. And music gets me off a lot of the time. I really, really, really am moved by it. I don't care who wrote it."
Eleanor Selfridge-Field, senior researcher at Stanford University's Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities, likens Cope's discoveries to the findings from molecular biology that altered the field of biology.
"He has revealed a lot of essential elements of musical style, and the definition of musical works, and of individual contributions to the evolution of music, that simply haven't been made evident by any other process," she says. "That really is an important contribution to our understanding of music, revealing some things that are really worth knowing."

One of the worries that burbles up to the surface is that pop music seems to be flattening out and homogenizing.
Why?  Well, one working theory is that corporations don't take risks on music that's very new or very different on the one hand.  On the other hand, more in the direction of Cope's ideas, humans were never that inherently inventive or creative to begin with and the era of mass computation and cross-cultural analysis and recording have enabled us to better quantify how many kinds of ruts we've written ourselves into as a race and how deep those ruts go.
Coming at this as someone who listens to and composes what is colloquially known as classical music it's interesting to see writers and musicians fret about the decline of the popularity of their favorite musical idioms.
IS the crisis a loss of real musical appreciation?  Maybe not, maybe there's something else going on.
The Medieval church. The 18th-century court. The 20th-century university.
Artists have to eat, and the ways they have found to put food on the table throughout the ages have provided equivalent fodder for their inspirations. Whether their goal is to elevate a divine entity, a royal personage or scientific inquiry, these arts patrons have dictated, either directly or through habituation, the artistic emphases of their eras.

The word on the street now is that the 21st century is the age of entrepreneurship.
It could be the crisis is within what may be loosely called the patronage system.  In classical music composers could take somebody else's ideas and fiddle with them and things were okay.  Brahms could compose a set of variations on a theme by Haydn and it would go over fine.  Haydn could compose a theme and someone like Thomas Wenzel Matiegka could take one of Haydn's lieder and compose a sweet set of variations on it for solo guitar.  The point here is Haydn didn't necessarily care that his work was getting copied outright or made the basis of derivative works because he was already paid by his patron.  The patron ensured he could make a living and through that could dictate, more or less, some parameters about what sorts of music Haydn composed.
If in the medieval era the Church funded the arts; if in the 18th century courts funded the arts; and in the 20th century universities gave artists things to do, it may not be that the 21st century is really the age of the entrepreneur, not when we look at the styles of music people actually listen to. 
No, it seems that the patronage system in the 21st century "could" be an entrepreneurship model but it's more likely to make sense if we describe it as a corporate model, where corporations finance and promote artists they believe in.  Though it may be crude to put it this way, The Beatles are the apotheosis of corporation sponsored popular culture.  While rock and pop critics may bemoan the middlebrow pop culture frequently IS the middlebrow.  There's nothing in Revolver that gets even a fifth as trippy as choral music by Xenakis. Bartok's string quartets were violently psychedelic before Jimi Hendrix was born. 
But as Kyle Gann has put it, the distinction between "classical" and pop can be construed as a difference between philosophies about timbre:
In short, the pop record has turned its fans into cognoscenti of precise timbres. One reads constantly how proud they are of being able to recognize a tune or album from the first split second of a single note. There are possibly classical music mavens so familiar with recordings of the Brahms symphonies that they can recognize which orchestra is playing from the first note; but what does that have to do with Brahms's intentions? Most instruments are neutral, and can be easily dissociated from the music they are associated with. We can hear a piano without being disappointed that it isn't Chopin or Horowitz or Bud Powell, we hear an oboe without thinking of Mozart or Strauss, even an accordion without necessarily thinking of polkas. But trap sets and electric guitars, at this stage of the game, are not neutral, and cannot be bent to any compositional use the composer imagines. They make musicians want and expect to hear a certain kind of energy and virtuosity, and no music that fails in that comparison will be well received.
As has been noted here before, more than a century ago John Philip Sousa was willing to admit to being an alarmist about machines being used to broadcast and record music.
John Philip Sousa,
The Menace of Mechanical Music
Originally published in Appleton's Magazine, Vol. 8 (1906), pp. 278-284.
Under such conditions the tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant.  Singing will no longer be a fine accomplishment; vocal exercises, so important a factor in the curriculum of physical culture, will be out of vogue!
Then what of the national throat?  Will it not weaken?  What of the national chest?  Will it not shrink?
When a mother can turn on the phonograph with the same ease that she applies to the electric light, will she croon her baby to slumber with sweet lullabys, or will the infant be put to sleep by machinery?
Children are naturally imitative, and if, in their infancy, they hear only phonographs, will they not sing, if they sing at all, in imitation and finally become simply human phonographs -- without soul or expression?  Congregational singing will suffer also, which, though crude at times, at least improves the respiration of many a weary sinner and softens the voices of those who live amid tumult and noise.
He would have probably found the era of the iPod hugely troubling and offensive. He would find that a majority of American citizens hear the majority of their music mediated by machines with menus rather than through hearing live performance, let alone performing the music themselves, troubling.  The trouble would probably be exaggerated but it could be understandable.  It's interesting that the thrust of Sousa's worry is that the amateurs would dwindle.
A complaint that may be worth registering now is that when people talk about music it's often not really even about the music.  From a piece by Ted Gioia
Few can remember a time when music wasn’t a tool of self-definition, but until the second half of the twentieth century this was only a small part of a song’s appeal. For most people living in the world, circa 1920, music was embedded into their life, not chosen as a lifestyle accessory. But gradually, over the next several decades, music’s value as a pathway of personal definition came to the forefront of our culture. Sometimes the shift was barely perceptible, but in retrospect we can gauge its profound impact. For example, people in rural America didn’t choose country music during the early decades of the 20th century, but were literally born into its ethos; yet by the ’70s, country music had evolved into a lifestyle choice, a posture adopted by millions who never roped a steer or herded cattle, but still wanted to affiliate themselves with the values espoused by the songs. By the time we arrive at the age of disco and punk rock, the music consciously builds its appeal on lifestyle considerations.

Record label execs and critics never actually announced that they had given up on music as music, but their actions made clear how little faith they retained in its redemptive power, how much they craved the glamour of other fields. They acted as if music were a subset of the fashion or cinema or advertising industries. Songs became vehicles, platforms for something larger than just notes and words. Or—dare I suggest?—something smaller.
I.e. music criticism that is about lifestyle or identity politics is in some sense not necessarily really about the music as music.  Stevie Wonder could sing that music is a world within itself with a language we all understand, but that could only be sung convincingly within a shared musical language.  What if we're switching from the 12-tone equally-tempered chromatic scale and its diatonic offshoots to a seven-tone Thai scale in which the seven tones within the octave are all equidistant?  Suddenly that music that's a world within itself turns out to be a part of an underexplored solar system.  I guess for that there's the heliocentric worlds of Sun Ra ... .
The difficulty that authors have been trying to articulate about the recent verdict is that the problem with it is a precedent it sets in light of our increasing knowledge as a species of how wildly uncreative we actually are, how relentlessly and even unexpectedly recombinant even our most inventive and revolutionary works of art have turned out to be.  Perhaps it could be likened to some lovestruck teenagers who fall in love and have sex and think this is the most amazing thing to ever happen to two human beings and that their respective parents couldn't understand how this all feels ... except for the part where if their respective parents hadn't felt that way the teenagers wouldn't have been born.
And it seems as though the problem is not necessarily, in itself, the intellectual property, just as some libertarians might somewhere propose that by itself fiat currency might not be a disastrous idea.  Couple fiat currency with fractional reserve banking and a series of manipulations of interest rates and the economy could become some giant and unsustainable bubble, maybe?  Well, by remarkably rough analogy, intellectual property in an era before machines and virtually globally indexed search engines with access to nearly every preserved epoch and region of human culture wasn't exactly a problem.  But trying to retain some sense of what IP is for (and what it's for contains the contradictory impulses of preserving the monetary interest of creators while also providing a way for inspiring further work and additions to the shared culture) in light of the changes of the last three decades is messy.  So we get this at Slate:
So in the wake of “Blurred Lines,” musicians face a daunting task. They not only have to fear unintentionally copying three notes. They also have to fear that some other, maybe older or even dead musician, will challenge their great new song on copyright grounds just for incorporating some similar—and maybe very familiar—musical elements.
So how could musicians interact with or react to this verdict?  Probably much as some have already.  Take Dan Deacon in interview ... :
What some of the early rap samplers went through when, all of a sudden, their music became illegal in that way.
Exactly. And copyright law's getting more and more strict, but you can exist in two ways: You can either be remarkably wealthy and license whatever you want, or you can be really obscure and no one's gonna care. But if you're anywhere in the middle, collage becomes difficult. So I really like working with microsamples and sounds that are devoid of their original context, but exist just as a timbral element. [emphasis added]
Like a pixel, in a way, of music. And to get around copyright issues, you can just use it if it's that small?
Well, I would consider it fair use — because it's completely recontextualized. A new derivative work is made, and there's no way to tell what it was. [Laughing] We should really not talk about this. I'm expecting the emails that are like, "We've identified the microsamples you were discussing ... "
Having contributed in a small way to the observation that some local author who had sold quite a few books had not quite adequately given credit to those whose ideas he had benefited from, we live in an era of unprecedented access to information and of unprecedented access to citation. 
We also live in an era in which so much of our culture and our capacity to interact with culture is curated by corporations and governments and, perhaps even more crucially, so thoroughly mediated by machines that there's a real risk of artistically living and dying by the kinds of samples and sounds you pick when it comes to having an artistic life.
I think Sousa was at most partly right and that what he missed was that whatever dearth there would eventually be in the amateur musical life of a community, there would be a trade-off, a trade-off some of us consider to ultimately have been worth some of the trouble--we have access via recordings to every recordable epoch and region of human history.  A lot has been lost to the sands of time but a lot has been preserved.  It may be that every age will tend to have people liking whatever is already most popular in their time and place (which is fine) but we have an opportunity to have musical horizons that encompass the entire global across space and time, within very obvious limits. 

The shame of it is that there is a trade-off here, we can't fool ourselves about who owns this massive recorded legacy, can we?  If the medieval church had some unfair restrictions about what kinds of music it would and wouldn't pay for or endorse; and if 18th century courts were financing the arts to vault their own reputations; corporations have their strengths and weaknesses.  We have to take Bieber with the Beatles, basically, and we have to see that that's how the corporation-based patronage system works.  And in some sense the verdict we're seeing could be another sign of the times.  When mechanical royalties for audio recordings are the basis of a profit for corporations big and small then they're going to police the boundaries in ways that may seem draconian.  It's the kind of thing that maybe couldn't even have happened half a century ago when copyrights lasted 20-some years and had to be renewed or your work would become public domain.  It's not that great artists can't roll with the punches, Duke Ellington's most explosively brilliant creative phase came in reaction to BMI doing an embargo on the work of ASCAP members.  It's just that those of us interested in creating music may have a lot more keeping up to do with legal precedents if we want to stay out of trouble.  The recent verdict has not been met with cartwheels of joy, but perhaps we can take a long view and see that artists in various times and places have had to work around rulings and rules that seemed pretty punitive. 


Another thing the ruling may tell us about our culture is that in early 21st century American culture, particularly pop culture, we are living in the first century in which basically our entire pop cultural ecology is NOT generally featuring stuff in the public domain.  That's another sense in which this kind of court case and associated ruling seems like it couldn't have even been possible a half century ago because copyright laws in the US had not been modified to conform to more international norms. 

What may signal the poverty of our pop culture might not be that all the popular songs sound the same but that in an age in which all our pop culture is mediated through mechanisms and legal precedents that have no place for what is construed as public domain some company or some songwriter or publisher can potentially point to anything that isn't classical music these days and build a case for how and why it's probably cribbed from something this or that copyright holder has an interest in.

So in that sense it might be great that classical guitarists keep playing transcriptions of Albeniz and Bach, right? ;)

links and such

While the MoMa exhibit dedicated to her career is getting the verdict of being an unsatisfying mess, Alex Ross' feature in The Guardian earlier this year is still fun reading for those who may be into at least some of her work.

The last non-classical albums I can remember getting were Bjork's Vespertine which is amazing), Portishead's 3rd and Johnny Cash's posthumous album.  Maybe Weezer's Maladroit, after which I stopped paying attention to them.  So the new millennium has offered some fun pop music but when that's not exactly what you're composing all the time and you have other things going on you don't always keep up.  Didn't much care for Medulla, but still open to at least checking out some of Bjork's stuff.

In the "bad news for jazz fans", jazz and classical bottom out the charts, basically

Or at least they do if you don't count childrens' music, which is dead last.  Some styles of music just don't get a lot of traction.  It seems worth mentioning that as albums for kids go They Might Be Giants has done some great work.  Vowels are important letters ... and so on. You might not expect Wenatchee The Hatchet to have necessarily paid attention to childrens' music but TMBG has done some nice stuff in the idiom.  Meanwhile, back to the low numbers for jazz and classical, jazz actually declined in sales whereas classical had some increase.

Jazz has reached a point where it's considered art music and that might be part of its crisis.  It can be considered to "establishment" and too demanding.  Still, the decline of jazz might be oversold.  Some folks could quickly point out the fury of Bieber fans when Esperanza Spaulding got a Grammy for, was it best new artist, and Bieber didn't.   Setting aside that "best new artist" could be the kiss of death depending on how you look at things, what I've had a chance to hear of Spaulding's work left no doubt she does some fun stuff, whereas Bieber ... can't condone Cartman's reaction to Bieber or his fans, as such, but not a Belieber.

oh, another, Jim West is stoked that Jacob Wright's book on David, Caleb and Judahite war memorials won an award.

Since Wenatchee The Hatchet owns and read the book and found it fascinating there's going to be blog posts about it eventually but for the fact that it's currently lent out to a friend.  Kind of hard to blog about Wright's book if it's not in hand.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Naked Pastor on the Justin Dean Interview--WtH considers a question of whether or not MH PR responded to journalists and bloggers in the past

It has been very strange to recall that back around 2012 when Mark Driscoll weighed in on the "kerfuffle" of Liberty University, it didn't seem as though Driscoll took bloggers very seriously.

That was then, and now in 2015 we're in some kind of pre-emptive post-mortem year where people sound off on what the causes of decline were, even though the corporation doesn't actually expire until the end of 2015 so far as the state of Washington is concerned.

Even so, we get stuff like ... :

Driscoll’s resignation is unusual, Vanderbloemen says, as it was not prompted by serious misappropriation of funds or an inappropriate sexual relationship, but rather by a steady stream of criticism from popular bloggers, some of whom lived nowhere near Seattle.

It's almost as though the Relevant article goes from start to finish without referencing Janet Mefferd's confrontation with Driscoll on the air regarding intellectual property infringement on the one hand, or the World Magazine coverage of the Result Source agreement to secure a place on the NYT bestseller list for Real Marriage on the other.  How does a feature article of such length manage to go so long without mentioning the details of those controversies? 

On what basis does William Vanderbloemen know that Mark Driscoll resigned in response to a steady stream of criticism from popular bloggers?  If there is one statement presented as a declaration of fact that has yet to be verified by Mark Driscoll himself this would be the big one. 

Driscoll's resignation letter mentioned godly counsel but did that godly counsel ever suggest that bloggers had any role in providing an impetus for Mark Driscoll to resign?

Blaney and Dean seem persuaded that bloggers are not interested in the truth or that they are misguided.  Hayward records the following:

Blaney says:
”Sometimes it’s hard to win when you have a lot of people looking for traffic… they’re looking for eyeballs on their blogs, on their newspapers, on their websites… that’s why people, any famous person has a difficult relationship with the media… Because it’s that love hate… sure we’ll promote you here, but as soon as we get a chance we’re gonna put a knife in your back because it’s going to help me get me a few more readers. I think that was definitely… I think there were so many people that were hoping to get a little bit of traffic, get a little bit of attention, to their blogs, to their newspapers, and, you know, Mark was a great target for that.”
The shortcoming in this line of reasoning is that as Mark Driscoll put it himself
...They have that same freedom, and so, and so others are free to, to say things as well. And being a bit of a public figure I don't have the same, try to get this right, protection sometimes as a private citizen, because I've made myself a public figure. So that's just sort of a blessing and the complexity of the great opportunity that God has given me as a Bible teacher and a pastor, especially in an age of technology, which I praise God for.

In other words, Driscoll had made himself the kind of public figure who can be the subject of discussion and scrutiny.  While Driscoll expressed gratitude for being able to have such a role, it isn't so clear that Justin Dean or Justin Blaney seem as reconciled to the idea that being a public figure at some level opens a person up to public critique on the things the person gained a reputation in.  Had Driscoll not sought celebrity the criticism would not have been possible.  It could almost seem as though people like Blaney and Dean could be construed as having a double standard in which the benefits of celebrity for megachurch pastors shouldn't be construed as having with that any attendant responsibilities or risks?  A little tough to be sure.  But to go by Mark Driscoll's own words from mid-2014 it seems as though Driscoll had a clearer understanding of the risks involved in his being a type of public figure than seems reflected in the recent statements of Justin Dean or Justin Blaney.

Hayward quotes Dean's later statement within the interview as follows:

A little later, Dean responds:
”I would talk to these bloggers, I would talk to these journalists, who were kind of coming after us… it would seem sometimes that they were just trying to build their own platform, trying to, you know, make ad revenue, whatever… They’re going after something that’s intriguing and they know that they’re going to get a lot of hits for it. But I think for a lot of them it was something more. I think they believed that they were trying to do good. They really thought that we were wolves and that (announce) that to the world and protect Christians.”

Well, about that, it doesn't seem like it would be that tough for Justin Dean to have noticed that Wenatchee The Hatchet has never monetized the blog.  There's no ad revenue here and there isn't really a plan at this point to monetize the blog.  Long, long ago in college Wenatchee The Hatchet recalled a professor saying that in the field of journalism the greatest threat that would spike a story that needed to get published for the public good was generally not going to be from a hostile source; it was not going to be from an editor; it often even wasn't going to be from a squeamish publisher; it was going to tend to be from advertisers and sponsors who didn't like the impact a story might have on their bottom lines or their public reputations.  If there is a relative silence within the Christian media industries about the significance of the plagiarism controversy and the sales-rigging agreement that were at the center of the most high profile and thoroughly documented issues in connection to Mark Driscoll the question could be why those haven't stayed at the forefront of a discussion of how and why Mark Driscoll's star declined.

As far as hits go, the traffic to the blog these days is a tenth what it was half a year ago, if it's even that big.  There are posts incubating for detailed discussions by case study of the evolution of sonata form in solo guitar literature in the early 19th century.  That'll inspire a lot of hits and ad revenue, right? The trouble with the clickbait canard is that if we consider the old age in which Driscoll's podcasts were popular the traffic was considered a sign of the power of the ministry.  The problem with Dean's frame of reference is that one person's sincere effort being another person's cynical clickbait could go the other way.  Who's to say Mark Driscoll's various instagram and facebook controversies weren't at least potentially ginned up to get traffic, too?  Golden Rule the assertion and apply it to yourself and see how it plays out.  If Justin Dean aims to have any business in public relations he may want to keep in mind that the practice of self-promotion is kind of, by definition, in his vocation.  There's some axiom about how those living in glass houses should avoid throwing stones.  People whose professions involve developing clickbait need to be cautious about how they impute the motive of clickbait to people who may not even be in the field of public relations.

Even if we set aside altogether the problem that ascribing Mark Driscoll's resignation to a steady stream of criticism from popular bloggers is a William Vanderbloemen summary without a direct quote; even if we set aside that such a summary flies in the face of Mark Driscoll's public statements about what he considered to be the reliability and credibility of blogs and bloggers in general; there's still this other problem, what were blogs distributing that could have been construed as in any way making anything difficult for Mars Hill in general or Mark Driscoll in particular? 

Let's be clear, the Janet Mefferd and World Magazine moments were vastly more significant in terms of media events.  When members of the formal press had moments like that the contributions of bloggers could be considered negligible because in many ways there were.  Wenatchee The Hatchet is willing to say that about Wenatchee The Hatchet.  All that happened here was rather basically preserving and discussing primary source statements from Mars Hill leaders about its history and people for long enough that when members of the mainstream and Christian press got around to doing further investigation there were references that were possible to materials that, at least in 2014, had a perplexing capacity to disappear.

So whether Dean and Blaney would wish to address the topic of Wenatchee The Hatchet, a question could be raised as to whether Wenatchee The Hatchet had inaccurate information.  Considering the great lengths Wenatchee The Hatchet went to in order to establish there were factual inaccuracies in Valerie Tarico's initial April 2014 coverage, and considering that a Valerie Tarico came by to offer thanks for the corrections, and clarify that the article had been updated, any attempt at a blanket statement to the effect that blogs and bloggers had misinformation about Driscoll and Mars Hill seems sketchy. 

Wenatchee The Hatchet isn't really a watchblog, it never has been.  Blogs can have a valuable role in keeping a light on stories and issues that are under-reported in mainstream or even independent media and so that's a value in blogging, but it cannot be construed as a substitute for the formal press covering things.  There are strengths and weaknesses to blogging and conventional journalism.  The strength of conventional journalism is that it emerges with an establishment, a culture in which the narrative is accepted as part of the public record.  The difficulty, however, is that the sources which are relied upon to establish that public narrative can and do lie and if the establishment sources that are accepted as viable sources turn out to be misinformed or even deceptive, then the press become dupes for agendas they may not be able to see through.  This would, not coincidentally, be why Wenatchee The Hatchet does not really endorse the libertarian theory of the press. 

On the other hand, while the strength of a blog is not being tethered to the institutions that can spike or spin stories, what blogs do not have is the kind of credibility and clout to be treated as seriously as a magazine like Time or a newspaper like The Guardian would be.  Bloggers don't have copy editors, fact-checkers, staff or people and resources to ensure things have been accurately sourced.  And bloggers can often be woefully ignorant (to their own peril) of what constitutes a defensible journalistic line of enquiry and what is likely to end up becoming the basis for a defamation suit.  This seems to be where folks like Justin Dean might be most eager to camp on, especially when the word "evil" gets brought up, though Dean seems to have granted that bloggers think they are aiming for the right thing.  This, too, is the kind of diagnosis that could boomerang.  After all, didn't Mars Hill leadership consider Result Source a good idea at one point, a strategy that would help get the message out to the most people?  Dean's sincerity or insincerity is moot here, what's interesting is that the lines of reasoning he proposes about bloggers end up being critiques that can be applied as equally to his former employer and even to himself as to "bloggers". 

Golden Rule it, if you would be willing to cheerfully grant that someone say about you what you're willing to say about them and concede that it could be accurate, proceed.  If you're going to suggest that bloggers are motivated by clickbait and grudges can you concede that that's part of your motivation? 

Wenatchee The Hatchet does not suggest this to actually provide any interpretation of the motives of Dean or others but to propose that if you're going to wade into a public discussion about media theory and media motivations you have to think through what philosophies motivate people in a way that opens yourself up to the same criticism you might subject others to.  If a person wants to suggest that nobody wants to write anything that's untrue, except for bloggers, what about Mark Driscoll's blog?  At the peak of Mark Driscoll's celebrity around 2012 he had that "A Blog Post for the Brits", didn't he? Well, it was up for a while but it's down and not exactly archived.  A bit of the post can be read as preserved by WtH over here. What was striking about the blog post for the Brits was that Mark Driscoll published in advance of his full interview with Justin Brierley being made available to the public, if memory serves.  If a Justin Dean were to argue that blogs and bloggers might be willing to write things that don't turn out to be true, what could be said about Mark Driscoll's blog post for the Brits?  Did it seem like a pre-emptive strike of some kind with respect to Brierley?  Could it be possible that by the measure of Justin Dean's own arguments against the ethics of bloggers Mark Driscoll could have had a few missteps?

If Mars Hill advocates believe that Wenatchee The Hatchet has misunderstood or misquoted anyone in the history of Mars Hill it's not like they can't say anything in settings where comments are available.  By and large nobody's commented here and Wenatchee won't deny discouraging comments.  The aim here was to document things and to also prevent people from venting things about former members and staff that could be construed as even potentially defamatory.  If you aren't willing to swear to it in court don't say it as a comment in a blog, basically. 

To the extent that bloggers are not really journalists and the internet has opened up new risks and opportunities it's not unfair for someone like Dean or Blaney to express reservations about the power that social media has, even as they could have gone a bit further to concede that the majority of Mark Driscoll's public role hinged precisely on his use of social and broadcast media.  If Jesus once said "he who lives by the sword will by die by the sword", today's parlance might be that those who live by twitter will die by it. Thank God humans do not live by twitter alone.

The thing Hayward "may" have missed is that Justin Dean suggested to Matthew Paul Turner that he listen to the 2008 Spiritual Warfare series.  Dean mentioned that "I would talk to these bloggers."  Really?  Because why would anyone imagine that Justin Dean and MH publicity WEREN'T talking to at least one blogger?
**UPDATE**According to Mars Hill, Mark performed a “Spiritual Warfare Trial” (a definition and instructions for a Spiritual Warfare Trial can be found here, toward the bottom of the page). They also deny using the word “exorcism”.**

**Late yesterday, I notified Mars Hill Church’s publicity department that I was running this story and offered them an opportunity to comment along with a few questions. Initially, they were going to issue a statement, but later said they would wait to comment until they read the story. They also directed me to this sermon series by Mark Driscoll.

So SOMEBODY on the MH PR side got in touch with Matthew Paul Turner and even recommended he consult the spiritual warfare teaching.  That material has been removed but should you want to ever review it for yourself the sixty-five part majority transcription with commentary series is available for reading here.

So MH PR seems to have contacted or responded to a blogger.  So what would be different? 

Justin Dean may have been unfamiliar with the history of MH leadership interacting with bloggers about their blogs

The other puzzle about Dean's comment that he would talk to bloggers and journalists is that it sure seems like he did.  Why as recently as March 6, 2015 Brendan Kiley wrote:

A few years ago, Dean used to answer e-mails from The Stranger, even if we were asking inflammatory questions—but last spring and summer, when things started to really unravel, he went silent.
Around the same time, former Mars Hill members wrote me to report that Dean had been trying to join Facebook discussion groups for ex-Mars Hill members and current members who were thinking about leaving.

"It caused a bit of an uproar," one ex-member wrote, "as he could not convince the members that he was doing anything other than gathering info to use against us. He's the PR guy, he's in charge of the spin that has continually tried to publicly invalidate people's experiences."
When I asked why he thought Dean had stopped answering questions, the ex-member wrote that a friend who worked at the church had recently said that the go-to Bible verse during controversies at Mars Hill was Proverbs 26:20: "For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases."
A veil of silence doesn't sound like the best approach to massive controversy—but what do I know?

So it turns out that The Stranger can confirm that there was a time when Justin Dean was happy to respond to questions from the press, even deliberately inflammatory ones, but by the spring and summer of 2014 Dean was unresponsive. 

So precisely what Justin Dean could mean by having said: "I would talk to these bloggers, I would talk to these journalists, who were kind of coming after us… " is a bit vague. There seems to be at least some evidence he WAS talking to bloggers and journalists for a while, at least until the spring and summer of 2014.  One can only make a guess or two as to what happened in the spring of 2014 that may have changed things.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 18 years later ... a sideways riff about the franchise as an end unto itself after it reached its end

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a fun show when it came out.  I watched it up through about the end of season 3.  Then I intermittently watched from seasons 4 to the end and had largely given up on the series by about season 5.

The general conceit of the show is wonderful and charming, literalizing the apocalyptic sense of horror at the injustices and hostilities in the caste systems of American public high schools.  This was done in a way that managed to evoke both the triviality of the setting but also take the emotional weight assigned to that setting by teenagers within it seriously. I.e. not being able to do something you wanted to do all year could sure feel like the end of the world and in the context of Sunnydale it could literally be the end of the world, too. 

Once everyone graduated from high school that delicately, wonderfully balanced sense of proportion was lost.  The more "grown up" the ideas and themes the show attempted to engage became the more it became what might not have been immediately accessible to all fans of the show, that Buffy was becoming a fairly standard issue superheroine and that the more seriously the universe was taken the less unique she became. 

There were inspired moments after the high school graduation, to be sure, but the momentum of the show began to feel as though it was to keep the show going. 

Whether we're talking Star Trek, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, Terminator, Game of Thrones, endless iterations of Transformers or, yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it seems the franchise can become an end unto itself regardless of whether or not the idea may have played out to its reasonable end.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a great show while it anchored itself to the high school horror/teen milieu.  But it began to feel as though as season after season moved along it became self-serious.  Self-seriousness was a toxin for that show.  Self-seriousness in Batman?  Sure, fine.  Self-seriousness in Christopher Nolan Batman?  Heh heh, that's honestly part of what I love about that franchise.  Nolan managed to give us the closest thing I think we'll see to a cinematic variation on a Dostoevsky novel.  But Buffy?  That same level of apocalyptic angst saps the franchise of its evanescent charms.  It was possible to love a series that didn't take itself too seriously precisely by trafficking in the most earnest and self-serious of ages ... though truthfully we never stop being earnest and self-serious after adolescence, do we?  Still, it seems adolescence is an age of life in American culture where our place in the pecking order takes on the significance of a Delphic oracle. 

Even if it's to save the world every weekend, having an inescapable destiny still really sucks.  Then again, what else can you do?  A good deal of what made Buffy Summers fun and funny was her resignation to the tawdry inevitability of her destiny while having enough humor to be indigant about the increasingly inconvenient details. In the earlier seasons the show struck this tone well, such as when Giles, upon discovering a vampire with a soul was in love with the slayer noted that it was poetic, if in a terribly maudlin way.

For all the verve of Buffy it can seem, nearly twenty years on, that Whedon is some kind of one-tricky pony.  That one trick is truly impressive, especially in light of the art forum that is not usually recognized as television.  The problem isn't exactly that people keep asking why Joss Whedon writes strong female characters, it's that they all kind of seamlessly bleed together into an uber-woman at some point.  The plucky nerd, the world-weary cortesan and the invincible waif keep emerging.  It'd be nice to think Whedon's fully aware of how much he recycles his themes, but sometimes it seems as though he's given more credit than he has earned. Even though I enjoyed Firefly alright, I found the movie to be kind of lame and disappointing.  It was when the preacher and Wash died but River was kept around to be the plot device girl to stop the nameless monsters that it began to seem that Whedon's idea of the most compelling characters in his narratives and my idea of the most compelling characters had diverged, possibly permanently. 

There was a time when I was hoping he'd just get a shot at a Wonder Woman movie but when I read his take on the character it was not hard to see why it foundered.  Proposing that as a demigod Wonder Woman would wonder why humans were so cruel to each other skips too many obvious points about the Hellenistic pantheon. 

On the other hand, him helming the Avengers didn't worry me.  Some creators are better at tweaking and innovating the existing properties of others than sustaining narrative mileage with their own creations.  Gerard Jones ... can't remember much of what he did with Green Lantern and while "Run Riddler, Run" was a very fun story, all that pales compared to the glorious work he did helping adapt Rumiko Takahashi's stories into the English language.  I was inspired to write a sonata based on a character from Ranma 1/2, thanks to Jones' work.  Whedon's approach suits itself to the Avengers nicely.  After so many years of refining team dynamics in which the players frequently don't or can't get along but can't help liking each other anyway, Whedon was the right choice for the franchise, at least here's hoping that guess is right after Age of Ultron debuts.

Meanwhile, Buffy may be old enough to order drinks now, and it was a fun show, but even the best stuff can be said to have come up short here and there.  It's not ripping on the boundless charm of Whedon's creation to suggest that maybe it would be more precious if it weren't made to run the marathom of every other super-powered franchise and go on saving the world every weekend world without end.  It's okay for the apocalyptic spoof of the high school caste system to have ended at graduation. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

a linkathon--on a make-over for Maxim (?), the passing of an animation innovator, and a short riff on the arts that are not recognized

Well, for those guys who supposedly read Maxim for the articles, the magazine is reputedly getting some kind of make-over. As Troy Patterson puts it over at Slate: "The new Maxim manboy isn’t just supposed to ogle his fantasy woman. He’s supposed to make eye contact. That’s one small step for lads."

Wenatchee The Hatchet could not let the day close without noting the passing of Sam Simon, a co-creator of The Simpsons, now the longest-running sitcom in history and (we'll note) an animated sitcom at that. It's fascinating the low repute with which animation is regarded by many a critic, even though animation would be the highest ratio of visual art in cinema per frame of any cinematic genre.  The photograph is the photograph, but art doesn't get more meta than a moving picture of animated frames.  And yet there seems to be some critical law in which the value of animation as a medium is in some exponentially inversely proportional ratio to the amount of drawings necessary to bring an animated film to life.

You would think that after close to three decades for The Simpsons that this could be laid to rest.  But there are probably people aplenty who when they think of cartoons will think first and only of Frozen or Tangled or maybe Toy Story 2.  No The Wind Rises, no Persepolis, no Grave of the Fireflies. No The Secret of Kells, no Night on the Galactic Railroad, and certainly not Akira or Angel's Egg or Perfect Blue.

Between The Simpsons and Batman: the animated series there were two shows emerging in the 1989-1992 period that showed that cartoons could be for grown-ups on the one hand and that cartoons for kids could gain levels of narrative sophistication on the other.  If you had to pick two mainstream American shows that revolutionized cartoons as we've come to know them on television those are pretty much the two to pick. 

Then again, whether it's cartoons or paintings, perhaps the beauty is in the eye of the beholder even if the beheld might be worthy.  After all, whether a painting is really a Constable or not is also in the news here and there.

And in the age of the internet you can't even be sure if the person you're reading about is even a real person or not, even though you might one day stumble upon the fact that a figment of someone else's imagination has appropriated images from your life.

Thus ...