the mother of all funk chords

"Leaves and Grass" Dan Torop (2002)

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

The ceaseless chattering on YouTube can get pretty solipsistic. While there is the lipservice given to the democratic tendencies present in allowing everyone to publish themselves online for everyone else to see, “Everyone has a voice, now it can be seen and heard.” But, like cellphones on public transit have so richly illustrated, now everyone can be seen and heard. And, as any aspiring professional blog writer can attest, the act of sharing your voice on the internet can seem to only amplify your sense of alienation as your voice is met with a deluge of billions of other voices competing for attention.

It is in this sense that Kutiman’s THRU YOU is like a love letter, tossed into that yawning abyss called the Internet. Kutiel was not the first to appropriate other’s in this way, cinema itself began in exactly this way. Just a few years before Kutiman, DJ Spooky was touring with his ReBirth of a Nation, where he reappropriated DW Griffith’s celebration of the Klan, Girl Talk had just released the amazing Night Ripper, so what warrants THRU YOU as one of the top inventions of 2009?

Apprehension in three acts

Context matters.
Come across an unfamiliar word, check the surrounding sentences to get a sense of its meaning from the context in which the strange was found.

For example, consider apprehension. Without context the word is inert, simply a collection of letters, or it is like a battery: charged with meaning and prepared to burst forth. To apprehend the meaning of these words is to understand what is being said. The room at night, no lights on, fills the child with apprehension – afraid of what can’t be seen. The police apprehended the suspect after a foot chase.

Context, the situation in which one is found, determines two things simultaneously: what is appropriate and what can be appropriated.

Eating at the local ラメン屋 (ramen noodle shop), it is appropriate to slurp the noodles, in fact, it’s a politeness to the proprietors as it informs them that the food is delicious. Slurping soup at a white tie affair is inappropriate as it demonstrates a lack of control.

Ophir Kutiel - a musician composed in the composition

Kutiman’s THRU YOU demonstrates the second sense, what can be appropriated. THRU YOU is the result of Ophir Kutiel‘s researches into funk, on one hand, and a love letter. The first sense is obvious within seconds of his project – this is a supremely danceable song. Obviously it’s a marvel that Kutiel, like a sculptor, apprehended within the millions of YouTube posts these songs. The inspiration was there and then all that was left was to whittle-down the videos until these songs were present. But what does it mean that THRU YOU is like a love letter? First, some context.

To appreciate Kutiman’s work in an expanded way, consider the history of this appropriation strategy. Similar to Whitman’s Song of Myself, Charles Baudelaire was intrigued with this new city-living-thing that was beginning to take off. Baudelaire developed the term flâneur to describe someone, such as himself, that would wander without intention and be enthralled by the aesthetic experience of being in the City. But Baudelaire, always concerned with the appropriateness of other’s aesthetics, would vacillate between flânerie and being a dandy.

'nuff said

What Baudelaire‘s flâneur made difficult was understanding the point of doing art any more. As soon as the poet or artist materialized their craft (by writing down a line or two, or sketching-out a scene), this object was now a commodity: that poem could be copyrighted and sold, that painting could be auctioned. Commodifying an artwork seems to remove an aura of authenticity from the work of art. This alienation of the artist from the work of art has an obvious parallel in the City as it is, in a sense, the accumulation of all those recently migrated peasants from the countryside, now alienated from their sense of community. The City was the site of alienation, and against this the flâneur was staged, aloof, something like an artistic anthropologist wandering among these new, alienated urbanites, concerned only with providing a mirror to those miserable fobs, not actually participating in all that mess. But this is dandyism. Walter Benjamin would later appropriate Baudelaire’s term, flâneur, and develop it into something that many of us will recognize today.

In Benjamin’s Arcades Project the flâneur, like Whitman’s Song of Myself, composes itself in the shared experience of being in this space at this time. It is an affirmation. The flâneur faced with the repetition of the assembly line, doing the same thing over and over again, sees an opportunity. The flâneur, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, overcomes nihilism by affirming their experiences in each of those moments, the flâneur‘s task is be ever-present to the experiences that are possible in the places in which they find themselves. Not a passive recipient or critic, but actively engaged in the maximization of these experiences. Immediately we can think of two strategies, then, for the flâneur: say “Yes!” to everything; or the cultivation of appreciation.

The Simulation Will Not Be Televised

Baudrillard asked, "What Are You Doing After the Orgy?"

There is an obvious pull of the first strategy. Saying yes to everything means a lot of fun, à Baudrillard we are left with the emptiness of asking, “what are you doing after orgy?” The phrase illustrates well the emptiness of the sort productivity that comes with always saying yes: it is a dog chasing its tail. THRU YOU is not about blind agglomeration, but the process of appreciation.

To appreciate is not simply to enjoy and be thankful for a gift. We say that a family heirloom appreciates in value as it is passed from generation to generation. It is not necessarily simply the aging of the heirloom that accounts for this increased value, it is also the lived dimension e.g. an old cast iron skillet. The longer the skillet is used, the greater its value – it’s become seasoned, it has appropriated something of all the meals prepared within it over time and thus reappropriates this context into something more than the sum of its parts.

This is the real gift of a well-met friendship. Kutiel’s project is this.

Enjoy Kutiman here.

Leave Britney Alone! Blacklightbodypainting, The Power to Apprehend, Macbigot, the Dandy, pocketburgers



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15 responses to “the mother of all funk chords

  1. Thanks for the post, Paul. As always I like your informal and poetic writing style. This time it’s a little bit like thematic tidbits. A question. I’m trying to write about a type of “temporary industrial ruin” in European cities (mostly in Spain) and part of what I want to talk about is the difficulty that art, which can be read as political (resisting the dominating capitalist narrative), has in actually producing political results without turning into a cool commodity. I’m gathering some material that talk about this idea (Benjamin’s “Art Reproduction” essay, the Surrealists in general, Debord, Mouffe’s articles that I found on Aaaargh (thanks!!)). And then I read your comment about Baudelaire. When you have a chance, could you tell me where (in what texts) you gathered Baudelaire’s idea that “as the poet or artist materialized their craft (by writing down a line or two, or sketching-out a scene), this object was now a commodity”? (From Baudelaire I’ve only read “Paris Splean.”) And if you know of any other texts about this, please let me know!


    • Hey Megan, thanks for reading and feedback! I’m always looking for feedback to develop and elaborate on this stuff.
      It was little thematics, I want to recreate something like what Kutiman’s doing, or what the flâneur does.

      Since I started studying with Ranciére this summer I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of the revolutionary avant-garde of the 20th century. I’d grown-up with this, sorta, Art Appreciation kinda understanding that there were cubists and futurists and dadaists, etc. But I’d really only thought of them in that restricted, milk teeth kind of way: these were artists concerned with making new art. It did not dawn on me for a long time that to make new art forms means to live in a new formation of life itself. I mean, I think I even read Kandinsky’s stuff on this and still thought of it as only about painting. Actually, Ranciére’s really important in this regard. His Politics of Aesthetics is all about illuminating for us that intersection. In his book he argues that most often in the political realm what we have is policing (maintaining order) and very rarely politics (which is bringing to the forefront what had been put in the background). Politics, then, doesn’t really happen very often, because it’s antithetical to policing (maintaining the status quo, what “works”). Some recent examples of politics then would be MLK, Jr. and Malcolm X – they made White America reconceptualize Blacks in American society. In a similar way, art will make us see the world in a new manner.

      So, I’m really trying to expand my understanding of the artists as something other than the producer of art. With this conceit, that an artist is someone that makes art (like a bridge builder builds bridges) already we have a capitalistic formulation. Capitalism (and modernity) couldn’t happen without the specialization of every activity the human being can accomplish. Baudelaire’s Paris was experiencing this shift in the middle of the 19th century: each section of the city was being established toward some economic principle: the weavers live over here, the iron workers will live over here, etc.

      Places I’ve looked to get this read of Baudelaire are primarily from Walter Benjamin. His On Some Motifs in Baudelaire is the place to go, also for inspiring this writing I considered some of what I read in George Markus’ essay “Benjamin’s Critique of Aesthetic Autonomy” which is from a recently published Creative Commons-licensed (!!!!) book called Walter Benjamin and the Architecture of Memory edited by Benjamin & Rice.

      The section you quote here is not from a text by Baudelaire, I’m actually taking this from Karl Marx’s definition of how a commodity is produced. According to Capital, a commodity is the bearer of use-value but also subject to exchange value. What is value? Marx responds that value is crystallized “socially-necessary” labor-time, this is what it means that a commodity is the bearer of (use-)value. So, once an artist puts their hand to work on an object that object can enter into the process of exchange in a capitalist market. The problem with this form of exchange, long-term, is that social relations become alienated from one another as the process of capitalism becomes more entrenched in everyday life. Benjamin was a big-time reader of Marx.

  2. Dave Mead

    Very nice, Paul. What does Ranciére have to say about the whole Obama phenomenon? Does he view it as a conflation of policing with politics in any sense?

    • Thanks, Dave.

      Y’know, I didn’t ask him about Obama because by August of ’09 it had become fairly apparent that actual change was not what would be on the table.

      Yes, it’s true, we have our first not totally Caucasian President, that is historic. And were Nina Simone alive to see Obama as President she’d probably be pleased. But, it’s clear that this will not be a political (in the Ranciére sense) President.

      I think that the overall tone, and there was recently an article in Adbusters about this summer’s course work, was that we’re witnessing the beginning of a new economic and political era, not unlike what Marx saw in the 1850s. Sovereignty, the dominant modes of production, all of it is changing.

      How could it not: today we are making technology that would allow us to build a bicycle at the molecular level, perfect. Today we can monitor the movement of almost any object greater than the size of a postage stamp within feet. Today we can contact anyone in the world and talk to them via video instantaneously and for free. All of these technologies would have been considered magical 150 years ago. So, of course, life as we know it will have to change.

      But change is pretty terrible for those that seek comfort and the maximization (not of profit, but) control. There will be change, but it will be (as we saw in the case of the VCR) on the best terms for those powers that feel they are owed something. The Supreme Court just ruled that corporations in the U.S. are people and protected in their speech, like you and I are. But, we will die. Strom Thurmond, thankfully, died. Coca-Cola will never die because they will be able to impact structural conditions in a way such that it is not right for them to die. Like GM or Ford or Bank of America today. They will ask that the tax payers of the U.S. should finance them when capitalism won’t sustain them.

      The Obama Administration did that. I’m not saying they should not have done that, but, if they were really about change, it would have been pretty radical of them to say, “See, capitalism is like a fire: it will consume all of its resources until it burns itself out,” and then let the whole global marketplace collapse.

  3. Dave Mead

    And, ironically, withholding aid from failing banks would have also pleased Obama’s enemies, the teabaggers. He could have made a radical statement, possibly revolutionized the entire system, and defanged his weirdest opponents, all at the same time.

    I love the VCR post. It sent me back to Kasulis.

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