Born of the Internet
Friday night, San Francisco based producer Giraffage (Charlie Yin) held court at the Hi-Ho Lounge for what was to be a late night of outstanding music. For its part, Charlie Yin’s music has always been tied to the technologies that drive its creation. This is a music that is born of the Internet. It emerges in the space between the vast library of sounds available to be sampled, reworked and manipulated and the legal apparatus that limits the use of those sounds for commercial recording. This tension between available material and sanctioned use has been a point of contention since the wide reaching legal disputes levied against hip-hop artists in the late 80s. Basically this debate has boiled down to a fundamental disagreement over the meanings of fair-use and artistic creation. Who owns a three or four second clip of music that has been painstakingly crafted into a completely new sound by a later producer? Legally, it has been decided that no matter how the manipulation occurs, the original copyright remains and the producer must have the clip cleared before it can be used commercially in another record. One can see how this would create issues for artists who have cut their teeth through the manipulation of the sounds of others. In fact, many hip-hop and electronic artists have abandoned commercial sampling and begun to make their own beats to be sampled later (some like Portishead even going so far as to press base tracks to vinyl for remixing live). This complex legal relationship has a direct impact on the ability of artists like Giraffage, DJ Frane and Girl Talk to disseminate their music in a way that will produce a solid fan base (fortunately, all three have succeeded despite these impediments).
For his part, Yin asserts that his latest EP (No Reason) contains no unlicensed samples. This lack of samples marks a clear departure from his earlier work. The beauty of the live performance is that it gives the artist license to explore the entirety of his or her creative impulse without being burdened by the legalities that bog down the recording process. On Friday, Giraffage put on just such a show. Yin was able to mix tracks from across his career with the practiced hand of a producer who is completely comfortable with both the crowd and his tools. When I say that this is a music born of the Internet, it is evident not only in its construction but also its delivery and reception. From the video loop of 8-bit computer art and animation (liberally sprinkled with video loops of kittens and puppies) projected across both the stage and his face to the liberal sampling of the beeps, alerts and ringtones that make up the background noise of daily life, Yin was able to layer a digital skin over the space of the Hi-Ho. The importance of devices to our conception of everyday life was clearly on display here both in the generation of the music and the audience’s attempts to record it to their phones. Toward the end of his set Yin built a track around a central remix of the old iPhone Marimba ringtone. It was a perfect comment on the evening as a whole. By using the technological remix to comment on contemporary digital practices, Giraffage is truly building something unique and ultimately significant in modern music.