Originality is Back!

Talking about originality is asking for trouble. So not many people talk do anymore, atleast from where I’m standing. It’s just not a very relevant topic in a world where “everything is a remix“. In remix culture everyone (and everything?) is a DJ that is always inspired by others in various ways. Yeah, okay. Sure. But…

Still, I don’t value all music the same way. Consider the difference between a DJ who plays other people’s music, and someone who improvises with her own compositions using home-made software. It’s not that it’s more impressive, or better, or more complicated – but there is some kind of difference, right?

It’s not about the performance: a DJ is just as likely as a composer to use Ableton with 100000 clips. It’s not about the composition, because even if you don’t sample you’re probably stealing subconsciously anyway!! It’s impossible to find an origin to the composition.

Most importantly though, is that originality is not about “creativity”. What I’d like to propose here, is that it’s about the ontology: what is the song actually made of? I got this idea from Raquel, and thought I’d think aloud about it.

For example, if you take yer average electronic music release, it likely uses plenty of samples, effects and instruments that someone else made. It’s not super-difficult to copy the song if you find the source. For example, look at how Jim Pavloff rebuilds Smack My Bitch Up from scratch. The value in this bitch-song comes from the idea, not the labour.

Yeah, I said labour. By using music tools with a bit more friction you can move away from presets, towards manualism. Instead of tweekin’ sum knobz, you have to spend an hour to write a list of numbers instead. There are no instruments or samples to load, no automatic sliders or fancy algorithms to produce automatic variations. In the ideal manualist case there’s absolutely nothing but your hands.

Chipmusic is not 100% original – nothing is. But it does get pretty close sometimes. Most chipmusic software does not use samples. A lot of them don’t even let you save an instrument that you’ve made. Sure, you get some basic timbres and effects, and an interface with plenty of character. If u’re lucky there’s even some copy-paste functions. But then it’s up to you.

Por examplo – when lft makes Bach-music in C64 assembly, they are original works event if he didn’t compose them first. They are original, because he typed them by hand, from scratch. The list of common denominators is short: assembly, C64 and keyboard.

In Exedub from 2SLEEP1 you can see me composing the song live, starting with nothing but an empty music program. This seems to go well with this idea of originality. But the song is a recording. It doesn’t exist as an executable (a bit like with live coding) but I’m not sure if that’s important or not. Indeed, it does change the ontology of the music.

What is important is that purist chipmusic – provided in non-recorded file formats – is original by default. The ontology of chipmusic is quite unique. I’d say that it’s the only digital music genre in the world. All the others are just platform-independent recordings. I doubt that there’s any other genre that has 10,000’s of songs as executables or open-source.

Anyway. This idea of originality is an analytical concept, more than something useful for everyday life. Who knows how the songs are made, anyway? But I think it’s important to have concepts that are neither antropocentric nor über-structuralist. Materialism, yo.

16 Responses to “Originality is Back!”

  1. Omri Suleiman Says:

    Thought provoking post, thank you for that.

    Does an orchestral score count as source code ?

    • goto80 Says:

      I guess sometimes it makes sense to call the score source code.
      But otoh, notes & duration and some vague instructions, are not the clearest of code obviously. :)

      • Niklas Sjösvärd Says:

        Great article Anders!

        I think source material for chipmusic has some similarities with instrumental notation. If you consider the source material (MODs, SIDs etc) as a kind of notation intended for computers as your performers instead of human musicians. The computer needs the right tools to interpet the notation, and in likeness with a human performer it might get some things wrong if it’s using incompatible software (old MOD players, SID players written for a TI-83+ calculators etc). Consider a future where all original C-64s and SID chips are fried and only emulators based on emulators are available to interpet the original files. Today there are no performers still alive who remembered exactly how the works of J.S Bach were generally played back in the 1700s.

        Let’s not forget either that every SID filter has it’s own unique quirk as i’ve understood it. As a composer that distributes chip files you cannot always be sure that your work will be heard the way you intended it to due to people using incompatible software on broken computers.

        Writing instrumental scores is also not always limited to writing pitch, duration and vague instructions, especially the case with some contemporary music that uses new or extended systems of notation, graphical scores etc. stockhausen, cardew and all those old guys.

      • goto80 Says:

        Yeah, I found lots of nice notationz http://animatednotation.blogspot.com.

        A lot of soundchips are a bit unpredictable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if even that can be emulated in the future. Maybe the software could do more than just emulation, and improvise with the data too. It’s surprising that nobody did that already…?

  2. FTC Says:

    In the book Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty presents the dialectic interplay of sedimentation and spontaneity as an explanation for how speech is meaningful and how thoughts come into being via bodily accomplishment. Isn’t every meaningful act such an interplay between re-use and spontaneity (or originality) in some sense, and of course, the degree and ways in which these elements are involved may vary in different cases? So, yes, I agree, only emphasizing “sameness” (everything is a remix) misses out on the differences that may be there in terms of originality. It might also be added that even routine activities (like rituals) have to be achieved again and again each time they are performed etc. I know best because I am a professor. Sådeså s’att eh….

    • goto80 Says:

      Nice comment, dj professor!

      The good thing about a ‘materialist’ view of originality, is that you can deduct (?) the origin. I guess that doesn’t really work with humans, though? With a digital song, you can get back to its roots. The least common denominator, the lowest level, the foundation. But with humans I guess we usually get to the dead-end loop of nature-vs-nurture.

  3. ionustron Says:

    Was the u’re intentional or unintentional given the tone of the essay?

  4. alex Says:

    Poignant and provocative, Mr. 80. Love that George Harrison song… err.. that Chiffons tune.

  5. Alma Alloro Says:

    Just a note: I am not sure how, but I think you can make music using only presets or copy most of the things except of one element or… and still be very original. I don’t think there is a F(XXX) manual about how to be original, otherwise it could not be considered original anymore. All tough I don’t really have a strict point against it, I don’t like when people try to show how being original is not importent, because it is the only religion I believe in and you just inslut my god, or something. yeah. and btw the painful truth is- nothing is a remix.

    • goto80 Says:

      Yes, I think one can be called original with all presets. But the work “is” not original, in the way I mean. What people think about it is another issue (and atleast theoretically there could be a The Manual for that, like KLF did) but here I wanted to try to see if it’s possible to talk about originality by only looking at the material, I guess.

      Sorry for offending your god! And for the record – if I feel like something is original, it makes a lot better to me. But to argue about what is more original than the other thing, is perhaps not so interesting.

      • Alma Alloro Says:

        Yes exactly. I think originality is like a magic, and when you try to analyze it to much, it kind of ruin the magic. Sorry for the over-romanticism in this post and the previous :) I don’t even have the excuse of being drunk. Promise to give it a shot saying something more coherence next time.

  6. horsemagic Says:

    yes i agree

    death to the LAZY “artists” and conceptualiser idealiser mishmash plagiarisers reappropriators, Myself included

    che guevara’s head on a T-shirt

  7. Why Chipmusic Is Not Retro « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] 5. Originality. It is made from scratch, manually. It’s not pomo remixism. Read more about that here. […]

  8. We Are The Zombies, Not the Machines « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] People don’t seem to be talking about much else these days. Everything is a remix and originality is a sin. But does that mean that we should promote remix culture even more? Doesn’t really seem […]

  9. When Misuse of Technology is a Bad Thing | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] • Originality is when something is made without too many presets, samples, macros, algorithms and automated processes. The results are irrelevant, it’s the process that matters. Hm. […]

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