Frenchie Friday

I went see Julie & Julia last night with Michelle.  I hope Meryl Streep wins an Oscar for her amazing performance as Julia Child.  The Julie Powell character was a bit annoying at times though, and her story line wasn’t nearly as interesting as Julia’s.  They could have probably made an entire movie based on Julia Child’s life alone.  Nevertheless, I recommend the film.

Julie_and_julia

The cringe-worthy Cobb salad scene where Julie Powell has lunch with her friends made me strangely homesick for NY.  The depiction of Julie’s shamelessly ambitious, cell phone-tethered friends was pretty-right on.  They represent all that is terrible yet strangely charming about NYC (or maybe it’s just because I’ve been away for the too long).

Watching all that French food being made and eaten on the big screen piqued our appetite, so I busted out the iPhone and found Le Charm French Bistro in SoMa.  The restaurant is a charming, old-school French bistro, with a very reasonably-priced $30 three-course dinner prix fixe.  I had the French onion soup, a seafood bourride, and the strawberry tart for dessert.  Yum!

One more week to go for my ccLearn internship.  The rest of the ccLearn crew will be in Vancouver next week for the Open Education Conference, while I will be sticking around SF wrapping things up and documenting my work.  Then back to NYC next Friday.

Cunningham, Cage, and Copyright

The Christian Science Monitor published an article yesterday about Merce Cunningham’s living legacy plan to avoid the kind of intellectual property feuds that followed the death of Martha Graham. The Carol Strickland  of the CSM reports:

Although the Cunningham living legacy plan aims to preserve its founder’s vision intact as custodian of his intellectual property, that does not mean the choreography will be frozen forever, like an artifact of the past. As a choreographer, Cunningham always welcomed new technology and pioneered countless innovations. Collaboration, chance, and change were the very cornerstones of his approach.

Although the sun has set on his career, a new dawn inspired by his achievement may follow. “Ideas,” as the artist Robert Rauschenberg, Cunningham’s collaborator, said, “are not real estate.”

Neither is intellectual property. It could be a site where past art is not just preserved but fertilizes future growth.

“Dancing is a process that never stops,” Cunningham said when announcing his living legacy plan, “and should not stop if it is to stay alive and fresh.”

There was a mention of Creative Commons in the article’s discussion of copyright issues.  Cunningham was one of the few major choreographers to have licensed his work under a Creative Commons license.  As an advocate of Creative Commons licenses, I applaud Cunningham’s generosity to our collective artistic heritage.  However, I should also note as a comparison that in most folk dancing traditions, sharing and open collaboration are the norms– the idea of ownership is fluid and oftentimes forms and techniques are owned and transmitted collectively.

<tangent>Another scenario to consider: Michael Jackson “owned” the moonwalk in the sense that it is a dance move popularly associated with him.  But what if he literally owned it as intellectual property?  Would the Jackson estate be going after the unauthorized moonwalkers in the Eternal Moonwalk tribute site? </tangent>

The CSM article did not mention Cunningham’s life partner and frequent artistic collaborator, composer John Cage.  The two men’s work similarly combined demanding detailed instructions with indeterminacy and chance operations such as the rolling of dice.  The Cage estate has recently gone after what it considered copyright infringements against Cage’s (in)famous 4’33” (“The Silent Piece”).

The big Zen koan question then becomes, is randomness and silence copyrightable?

The score of 4’33” instructs the performer(s) to not play their instruments for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  But the piece is not really silent.  As I have previously written:

The piece is made up of the hum of the air-conditioning in the hall, the ruffle of programs, the coughing of an audience member; it is an invitation, an invocation, to listen to the ambient sounds all around us.  Cage rejects the distinction between musical and non-musical sounds, and embraces all sounds, regardless of the performers intent, to be potentially musical.  In doing so, Cage completes the break from the history of classical composition and offers up a new model for music in which the primary act of for the composer and for the performer is not to make music, but to listen.

When a critic told Cage that anybody could have written 4’33”, Cage responded with his usual charming wit, “but nobody else did.”  There is no doubt that the provocative and performative nature of 4’33” is an act of creativity, if not genius.  At the same time, one could also argue that because the piece is about listening to the sounds that exist in the performance space even if no instruments are being played, then David Tudor’s “non-playing” of the piano at the premiere, as well as the noises generated by the audience members present, were all integral parts of the piece.  In that sense, the performer and the audience share a kind of authorship of the piece.  They all ‘performed’ 4’33” and made it what it was.  By elevating the role of listeners, Cage was in effect bringing back a participatory, interactive element that had been lost in Western “classical” music.

Cage’s 4’33” also represents a break from the idea of Romantic authorship, where “an author is perceived to be the source of original ideas, transforming the world around him through his own genius” (Authorship Collective).  Romantic authorship would claim that the roll of the composer is to create music out of silence. But Cage’s point is that silence does not exist.

One of the inspirations for 4’33” was Cage’s experience in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a soundproofed room designed in such a way that all the surfaces in the room will absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than bouncing them back as echoes.

Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but as he wrote later, he “heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.” Cage had gone to a place where he expected there to be no sound, yet sound was nevertheless discernible. He stated “until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.” (Wikipedia)

Composers cannot create music out of silence because silence does not exist. Even if it did, unless we are deaf, it is impossible to perceive it.  Cage’s 4’33”, like Duchamp’s ready-mades, is a kind of “found art,” comprised of environmental sounds that already exist.  We are all constantly surrounded by sounds, they are unavoidable elements of our environment.  The role of composers and musicians is to organize and present those sounds, which is exactly what  remix and mash-up artists do today when they create new music from the found sounds and cultural artifacts found in our environment.  In a way, the “found-sound” composition 4’33” is an Ur-remix, a remix of (non)silence and of reality itself, and John Cage an avant la lettre master of the mash-up.

All of this has inspired my latest composition: 433 trees falling in the forest with nobody to hear the sound. (C) 2009 Lee-Sean Huang, published by Hepnova Multimedia LLC.  All Rights Reserved.

RIP: A Remix Manifesto Screening and Dance Party

Brett Gaylor and special guest Dan O'Neill
RIP: A Remix Manifesto filmmaker Brett Gaylor and underground cartoonist/fair-use icon Dan O’Neill in San Francisco, 23 June 2009.
Brett Gaylor and special guest Dan O'Neill

Tonight Creative Commons co-hosted a San Francisco screening of RIP: A Remix Manifest, a documentary about remix and copyright.  The movie features interviews with remix culture pioneers and opinion leaders like Girl TalkLawrence LessigGilberto Gil, and Cory Doctorow.  RIP was on my summer viewing list.

I went to check out the screening with Michelle, another Creative Commons (and lurking reader of this blog).  Filmmaker Brett Gaylor did a Q&A after the screening.  He also introduced special guest Dan O’Neill of Air Pirates fame, who was profiled in the documentary.  You can download the film online under a pay-what-you-want model.

After the Q&A came the dance party. DJs Adrian and the Mysterious D and VJs Eclectic Method rocked the house with their mash-up madness.  I haven’t danced that hard in years. Awesome!

New Hepnova Album (FREE download!)

The latest Hepnova album is now available on Bandcamp for free streaming and download as well as pay-what-you-want for higher audio quality and to support the artists. 😉

Also check out Best Shots, our best songs from the 1998-2003 “Ronald Raygun” era.

Both albums are DRM-free and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license, so feel free to share mp3s with your friends and strangers and remix to your heart’s content.

More music on Hepnova.com.  Follow us on Twitter: @hepnova.

P.S.  There is also Hepnova music on other music sites online, but Bandcamp is my favorite so far, with a simple, clean interface and support for higher-quality audio.

Creative Commons Internship Midsummer Presentations

OpenEdAnimatedGif_GOOD

The Creative Commons summer interns gave their midsummer presentations to the CC staff yesterday.  Creative Commons CEO Joi Ito was in town, so he sat in on our presentations and gave feedback.  I talked about my main project for the summer: coming up with an internationalization strategy for ccLearn’s OpenEd project.

The OpenEd site (currently in beta) is:

for anyone interested in open education, from Open Ed experts to those new to the field…

This site should help you arrive at a variety of information, whether you are looking for an organization contact, a particular report, guidance on how to license your educational work, or information on where/when a particular conference is being held. However, please keep in mind that thought we host some of these resources (such as event data), most of the information on this site is linked to other sites. Rather than duplicate efforts, we choose to drive traffic to the many excellent, existing resources out there. The goal is for everyone to contribute by adding information and links to sites we have not yet discovered.

OpenEd is a point of departure for people to understand some of the issues and aspirations related to open education, and we expect it to drive interest in creating new forms of media and outreach to help more people understand open education, CC licenses, and hopes for the future.

In related news, the CC interns have been participating in periodic lunch talks with interns from other tech-related non-profits in the area.  Previously, we have “done the Google” and also gone down to Stanford to hear a presentation by Ryan Calo, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society.  Today, we are headed to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for a talk by Seth Schoen called “Information Security Discovers Physics.”