Some good thought pieces by students from prior semesters:

Jess Steele, On remix and memory in contemporary music (the whole wiki discussion from last semester has many good student reflections, and Jess extrapolates from DJ Spooky's observations about remix and reinserting pieces into the memory system of music.)
Jess built on this idea for her final Wiki project (here).

Alicia Dillon, final project on Location Aware Music (discusses DC-based locative music group, Bluebrain).

--Martin Irvine

What do you think about the Music Genome Project, the music analytics project behind Pandora Internet Radio?

Does this typology of music characteristics map out a core "semantics" of music properties?
Are these qualities/properties/characteristics semantic (as meaning-bearing minimal units) or pre-semantic (like communication signal models)?
Aren't meaning content units meaningful only in a network of relationships and differentiations among other units?
Can the genome model be used explain the generative principles behind making or composing music; that is, can it be used to explain how music is produced?
Are they (merely) "taste" categories (Pandora began as a way to find music that a listener "liked" by preferences and features of a music genre)?
Is the genetics metaphor/analogy useful or not?


We couldn't have Yoko K as a guest presenter this semester, but here's a video performance:Yoko K: Performance at TEDx Potomac

Jasmine Wee

Paper Planes: Violence, Hip-Hop and Globalization according to M.I.A.

My work revolves around the social implications of technology and how that reflects throughout the entire spectrum of the culture. It can take the form of sound, digital media, installation art, language art, conceptual art…I guess you could say I’m a memory artist.
- DJ Spooky

At this point in time, basically anyone who creates any type of art or creative product will be a memory artist; we consciously or subconsciously filter through society’s archive of knowledge to inform our newest creations. Therefore, in my opinion all artists—fine artists, musicians, even graphic designers for advertisements— are “memory artists”, though some may be more willing to identify as one than others. A contemporary musician who readily acknowledges the past and present archives as important components of her work is rapper-singer M.I.A, who exploded from the underground music scene to the global musical mainstream with her sophomore effort, Kala, in 2007.

M.I.A., whose real name is Mathangi Arulpragasam, grew up in Sri Lanka and immigrated to London to escape civil war in her hometown. Strongly influenced in the tradition of hip-hop sampling, her music fuses, samples, and remixes elements from reggae, rap, dance, electronica, drum and bass, and South Asian music (among others); her music falls firmly under the category of reflexive remixing (Eduardo Navas), in which the music “allegorizes and extends the aesthetic of sampling, where the remixed version challenges the “spectacular aura” of the original and claims autonomy even when it carries the name of the original.” Having witnessed civil war and the life of a refugee since her teenage years, contemporary political issues regarding immigration, globalization and racial politics are themes that M.I.A addresses through her music, though these are often subverted, decoded messages. One of these tracks in particular, and an unlikely one at that, propelled Kala into musical superstardom. “Paper Planes” was all over international airwaves from 2007 to 2009, fueled by its appearance in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. The song could be interpreted on numerous levels, but essentially deals with the themes of immigration, exclusion, violence, and money. Heavily sampling The Clash’s “Straight To Hell”, M.I.A. created this piece in shortly after she was allowed to come to America to record after facing numerous problems in obtaining a visa; she did not know the reason behind her "stupid visa problem...aside from them thinking that I might fly a plane into the Trade Center – which is the only reason that they would put me through this..." “Paper Planes”, therefore, is in reaction to not only her visa troubles but also to her background growing up as an immigrant in inner-city London, the general attitudes and stereotypes towards immigrants, and the perception that immigrants contribute nothing to local culture, and that they are violent and uneducated; in other words, immigrants personify the most undesirable elements found in many advanced European and American societies. The chorus features the most telling lyrics, in which she (and a children’s choir from London) sings:
“All I wanna do is…and take your money”, interjected with the sound effects of gunfire and the opening of a cash register.

"You can either apply it on a street level and go, oh, you’re talking about somebody robbing you and saying I’m going to take your money. But, really, it could be a much bigger idea: someone’s selling you guns and making money. Selling weapons and the companies that manufacture guns – that’s probably the biggest moneymaker in the world.” On the other hand, M.I.A. added that, “It’s up to you how you want to interpret [the lyrics and sound effects]. America is so obsessed with money, I’m sure they’ll get it.” Therefore, on one hand, “Paper Planes” is a mashup and remix on the sonic level—of sounds, genres, and influences from all parts of the world. But the content and topics M.I.A. deals with on this track are similarly a feature of our postmodern culture and global society. Only in the 21st century can a Sri-Lankan born singer-rapper from London come up with a track commenting on serious political, global issues in Brooklyn New York, only to have it gain international acclaim and lose its original intent in the process; most people are content watching M.I.A. perform the song on stage (now a successful millionaire) and mouthing along to the lyrics and making gun handsigns when the chorus comes on, while completely losing the rapper’s original message. But perhaps attempting to really understand the lyrics, especially ones that concern such serious issues as global violence, would have been too close for comfort for most music consumers in today’s postmodern cultural climate, where inequalities created due to class, race and religion are often glossed over--or worse, glamorized and commodified--by the great capitalist machine.


It's inevitable in a discussion of modern music and mash-up culture to bring up the polarizing figure of Girl Talk. First of all we must wonder why his music is so interesting and popular. A friend of mine recently told me that he has argued with friends about the merits of Girl Talk: apparently many consumers think that making a mash-up isn’t a difficult task. I too thought this before I had to make a mash-up of my own for a class here at Georgetown. I used to think mashing-up was as simple as laying rapped lyrics over a good riff, which was part of the reason I was initially unimpressed with Danger Mouse’s Grey Album (that combines Jay-Z’s Black Album with The Beatles’ White Album). Of course The Grey Album sounds good, I thought. It’s rhymed words laid over guitar chords that already sound good because the Beatles made them. But Girl Talk’s work more clearly demonstrates the art of mashing-up. It’s not uncommon for people to listen to a Girl Talk track and hear a sample that makes them want to hear the original song, only to find that the original song is much less impressive removed from the mash-up. Another interesting idea is that mash-ups present the first time in human history that music can be created without the actual diegetic use of instruments or voices, much in the same way that computer technology has made it possible for movies to show things that never actually occurred/were acted out in the real world.

Mash-up culture is bringing the general public closer to a collaborative or creative state previously only seen in the black American genres that some authors have referred to as belonging to the “Black Atlantic” tradition. The idea is that Western societies and non-Western societies have long held different beliefs when it comes to the value of original thought. Before European colonization, African tradition was not concerned with issues like copyright, or the general concept of who created what first; an idea belonged to everyone, and its value was increased when it floated amongst the community and passed through word-of-mouth—it didn’t decrease when it did those things, as it is thought to do today in Western culture, which seeks to compensate creators of an idea every time that idea is repurposed. When blacks were brought to America, this thinking came with them and could be seen in the traditionally ‘black’ musical genres like jazz, gospel, blues, Motown and R&B, and even later in rap and hip hop which highlighted ‘call and response.’ Mash-ups encourage people to create freely and to, in effect, issue calls and responses to fellow creators and repurposers. I think this is part of the reason why Girl Talk has yet to be sued—he represents a formidable, positive and proletariat spirit that industry might not want to challenge.

Jen Lennon

Music has always been such a huge part of my life, and I’ve been influenced from day one from all of the different members of family up to my friends throughout my life and definitely in college to now.. I recently took a survey about hip hop and one of the questions was “Do you think hip hop is this generation’s music? (The Millennials)”. I answered no. But when I had to write in what I did think was my generation’s music, I froze. Everything I listen to now seems like a mash up of a bunch of different styles. How do you describe what’s on my iPod? There’s electronic music, which is huge today and something I really love, but it’s not ‘electronica’ or ‘dance’ as I grew up to know it. The electronic music I listen to has plenty of hip hop, jazz, and even rock influences. It isn’t merely a DJ spinning records together, like Girl Talk, but people using computers as instruments. Have you ever seen the Ableton Live in action? It’s software that works as an instrument in live performances, but also does composing and arranging. Artists like Blockhead and Daft Punk use it to produce multi-layered tracks on stage.
Here’s what Daft Punk’s set up looks like:

Here’s Blockhead, more of a hip hop influenced electronic act, playing with his Ableton Live on stage:

This segues into Herbaliser, a band made up of a DJ and a guitarist/bass player who developed a jazzy type of hip hop, but for a long time didn’t have rappers to work with. They toured with a seven-piece band and eventually got people to sing or rap on their records, so listening to a full album is always a remix of styles in and of itself.
Here’s one Herbaliser track:

This gets closer to one of my favorite artists, Bonobo. Bonobo is actually Simon Green, a British musician, producer, and DJ. Bonobo shows have been some of my favorite shows, and he does both DJ sets and live band sets. The live band sets use the studio material, made on electronic equipment, and adds the sounds of a full band and vocals.

This is hardly what you might consider “electronic” music. But it’s all in there.

Keller Williams, when he plays without band, plays all the elements of a band by himself with the use of multiple technologies. Watching it live is pretty interesting, watching him play one riff, record it with his pedal, then play something else and play the two together until he’s got a full band sound going on. Here’s what Wikipedia says he uses: “A self-taught musician, he usually performs with a variety instruments connected to several synchronized Gibson Echoplex Delay units, which allow him to play a riff once on an instrument, record, layer, and repeat it. This lets him play unaccompanied on stage, helping him to recreate the sound of a full band. He also uses a wide variety of effects, including an envelope filter expression pedal, wah pedal, a Line 6 tap delay, a Roland guitar synth, and a Talk Box.”

That’s a lot of equipment. Here’s the effect:

What’s interesting about Keller is he is definitely not what you would view as an electronic musician. He plays a lot of folksy bluegrass type of music and sings and dances around on stage barefoot. This is more modern bluegrass than electronic. But of course the influences are there because all of these artists are using the same equipment to make completely different sounds.

And finally, the electronic rock band that introduced a whole new type of sound to rock music, Radiohead. When Kid A was released, it was something that was truly unique at the time. It was different from their previous three albums which were more straightforward rock albums that people were used to hearing. Kid A introduced new electronic sounds mixed with what they had done before, and consequently debuted at Number 1 in the U.S. This was an interesting case where an already popular band changed their sound, and while alienating a few fans, gained a ton more in the process. They introduced a new subgenre to rock music influenced, in their words, by Krautrock, jazz, electronic bands like Aphex Twin, and 20th century classical music. Front man Thom Yorke said that he had become bored with melody and wanted to play around with rhythm.
Everything in its Right Place is the first song on Kid A, and Yorke felt it represented their new sound since it was written on a piano and a computer.


The success of Jay Chou underlies on Chinese traditional aesthesis, globalization, and semantics. Back to 2000, Chinese traditional aesthesis representation was influenced by Chinese historical and traditional arts, which led to a Chinese-style music industry. Before Jay Chou, I would say China also had some rock singers, R&B musicians, or western style performers; however, none of them brought up connections to art, global branding, or consumption. The emergent of Jay Chou happened when Chinese traditional aesthesis engaged“ innovation ”,“ creativity” and “personality” through global branding. Jay Chou is famous for his Chinese style of narrative R&B. Cook said “All great music arts are featured by recognizable, well-organized music and abundant metaphorical languages”. Jay’s distinctive fusion of R&B, Chinese classical music and ancient Chinese words was presented in his first album-Jay. Jay Chou develops verbal and visual expressional icons. By combining with western styles, the recognizable Chinese R&B carves out a stage of unconventional Chinese pop music and shapes his own identity in ways that make him one of the most important music artists. His style can be seen in Qinghuaci, Qianlizhiwai, and Shuangjiegun.

Sa Dingding is even more remix than Jay Chou. . She is of mixed Han and Mongolian ancestry, and sings in languages including Mandarin, Sanskrit, Tibetan, as well an imaginary self-created language to evoke the emotions in her songs. Semantics of her song underlie on her understanding of Tibetan cultures and Buddhism. For instance, in her album Alive, she used Sanskrit to portray the Saṃsāra. When we talk about semantics of Sa’s music, it is hard for us to use verbal language because her self-created language.

Beside Chinese music, I want to talk about the concept of music in the digital era. I just saw a virtual choir presented in YouTube. Rather than traditional choir, people did not meet each other and they were hardly to get cues and semantics from other composers. However, in the digital era, the virtual project of music works!

Yvonne Junya Yuan

Hybrid and Collage-Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Hymnen and Kontakte
So there is a personal sense of style for a given work - I don't like a general style, but every work has its own style, and I want to create a style for every work.

Whenever I felt happy about having discovered something, the first encounter, not only with the public, with other musicians, with specialists, etc, was that they rejected it.
--Karlheinz Stockhausen

A German musical pioneer, Karlheinz Stockhausen broke many barriers and taboos. He wrote more than 300 works in various genres from opera and orchestral pieces to electronic music and complex compositions where performers, producers, helicopters, recording equipment, and audiences all together become his instruments. Stockhausen began his experiments with live music and recorded sounds in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He played with the tape-recorded sounds of glass, metal, wood and other unconventional sources in Paris Radio Studio and at West Deutsche Rundfunk (WDR) electronic studio. In 1968 Stockhausen wrote the conceptual "From Seven Days" after living completely alone and without food, being influenced by Sri Aurobindo. His thought-provoking output was cited as an influence by the The Beatles, Yoko Ono, Kraftwerk, Miles Davis. Stockhausen appeared on the cover of The Beatles' album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with Paul McCartney, one of his numerous fans across the universe.
Kontakte(1959/1960) ("Contacts") is the epitome of Stockhausen's pioneering "moment form," characterized by long periods of inactivity broken by sudden changes. The prepared tape used in the work consists of a variety of metallic effects, some sped up to create radically different sounds and timbres. The title of the work “refers both to contacts between instrumental and electronic sound groups and to contacts between self-sufficient, strongly characterized moments. In the case of four-channel loudspeaker reproduction, with loudspeakers placed at the corners of a square surrounding the audience, and the aid of a "rotation table" (consisting of a rotatable loudspeaker surrounded by four microphones), he was able to send sounds through and around the auditorium with unprecedented variety it also refers to contacts between various forms of spatial movement. The term spatial movement indicates that music in which the location and movement of sound sources is a primary compositional parameter and a central feature for the listener. As one commentator says, " The most famous moment of Kontakte, at the very center of the work, is a potent illustration of these connections: a high, bright, slowly wavering pitch descends in several waves, becoming louder as it gradually acquires a snarling timbre, and finally passes below the point where it can be heard any longer as a pitch. As it crosses this threshold, it becomes evident that the sound consists of a succession of pulses, which continue to slow until they become a steady beat. With increasing reverberation, the individual pulses become transformed into tones once again (Clarke 1998, 225).

In the mid-1960s, Stockhausen became interested in the composition of a "music of all countries and races". As early as 1964 he had begun collecting recordings of anthems, and begun realization work on HYMNEN in 1965. The familiarity of many of those anthems to most listeners permits a particularly easy orientation in the (at that time still new) electronic sound world into which they would be integrated. Furthermore, the familiarity of the basic material makes easier the perception of the subtlety and accomplishment of the many electronic transformations. Even if you do not know all the anthems, you still can recognize quite a few, and most of the rest are clearly anthems by their musical character. In addition to the national anthems, other "found objects" have been used: scraps of speech, sounds of crowds, recorded conversations, events from short-wave radio receivers, recordings of public events, demonstrations, a christening of a ship, a Chinese shop, a state reception and so on.

The composer elaborates these points in a text written in 1968:
"National anthems are the most familiar music imaginable. Everyone knows the anthem of his own country, and perhaps those of several others, or at least their beginnings.
"Naturally, national anthems are more than national anthems: they are "charged" with time, with history – with past, present and future. They accentuate the subjectivity of peoples in a time when uniformity is all too often mistaken for universality. One must also make a clear distinction between subjectivity and interaction among subjective musical objects on the one hand and individualistic isolation and separation on the other. The composition HYMNEN is not a collage.
"Numerous compositional processes of intermodulation were employed in HYMNEN. For example, the rhythm of one anthem is modulated with the harmony of another; this result is modulated with the dynamic envelope of a third anthem; the result of this is in turn modulated with the timbral constellation and melodic contour of electronic sounds; finally such an event is given a specific spatial movement. Sometimes parts of anthems are allowed to enter the environment of electronic sounds in raw, almost unmodulated form; sometimes modulations lead almost to the point of unrecognisability. There are many degrees in between, many levels of recognisability.
"The composition of so many national anthems into a common musical temporal and spatial polyphony could make it possible to experience – as musical vision – the unity of peoples and nations in a harmonious human family."
However, I feel the work shows a rather dark side that seems to be in contrast with the apparent goal of unification and harmony.

Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff

I once listened to a set of lectures, by a Professor Greenberg about the history of classical music. I kept having to think of these lectures as I was reviewing the material for class today, because even though they discussed music that in terms of genre and cultural context is pretty far from things like “Techno Dream Trance” or other genres and sub-genres we were asked to think about, it seemed to me that the thought process that went into music making has remained the same. Mozart took the melody of a widely know French folk song, “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman” (this song is incidentally also the source of the tune to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) and through varying, sampling and repeating, came up with one of his famous Piano compositions. This work fell into the standardized genre form “Theme and Variations” with which many classical composers were structuring their compositions at the time.

And to connect sampling to another piece of classical music, one that seems to be universally known, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is based almost entirely on a single 4-beat pattern, that he resamples, inverts, speeds up or slows down, puts in a higher or lower key or otherwise varies throughout the entire song. Sampling, from the year 1804. It is the same thing that’s going on in the short billiard ball video, presented as part of Paul Miller/DJ Spooky’s lecture on Sound Unbound. Here, the billiard ball sequence (both visually and aurally, in this case) is the short motif that gets resampled, inverted sped up or slowed down. (Minute 19:52-20:25).

Jumping forward a hundred years from Beethoven, I was very interested what we read about Futurist Music. The Futurists, centered in Italy in the early 20th century were interested in giving aesthetic value to industrial noises. Actually, they were interested in replacing what they saw as outdated, no-longer-relevant aesthetics coming from antiquity with an aesthetics of the industrial in painting, sculpture, literature film and music. In painting and sculpture, I would argue that we live in a rather “post-futurist” world. The futurists wanted to reject non-machine, non-modern ideas of the beautiful entirely. Today that we accept that there is an important place in art for old ideas of the beautiful to mix and re-contextualize in the modern, machine-filled world, along with a place for more unusual, modern noises.

Just coming from my impressions listening to example pieces, a lot of electronic music today is engaged with these futurist themes. I listened, for example to Kraftwerk’s 1974 hit Autobahn. First of all, “Kraftwerk” means “power plant” in German and “Autobahn” means “freeway”, so right away the band and the song present themselves as “machine-age”. The repetitive lyric, “Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn” (“we drive, drive, drive on the freeway”), comes across inhuman, as if said by an automaton. The one tiny respite from this lyric, is the one fleeting moment when we feel like we’ve reconnected to the humans inside the car, that they have not been completely turned into robots. We even hear the awkward squeaky noise of an out of tune radio at this moment. (“jetzt schalten wir das Radio an. Und aus das Lautsprecher klinkt es dann…” “now we’re turning on the radio. And from the loudspeaker then sounds…”). Despite this one not-quite-machine moment, I think the Futurists would have liked this music. DJ Spooky mentions the importance of the urban world landscape in the creating of contemporary music, something the futurists got us started on. He likens the regulated, synchronized, repetitive nature of much electronic music to the rhythm of traffic, crossing and intersecting in repetitive or slightly different combinations, choreographed by the automatic algorithms of stop lights. Thinking about this metaphor makes Autobahn even more poignant.

I read on the Wikipedia article about Kraftwerk, that the band uses a “Classical style of harmony”, which is in fact very different from Futurism’s rejection of all classical aesthetics. I think tropes from classical music give us listeners a framework that allows us to subconsciously understand what part is harmony, what is melody, and how we expect the song to develop, and thus more instantly be able to emerge ourselves in a song.