Author Archives: Eric Cruet

Latin Music and Rock ‘n’ Roll Remix: 1960s – 1970s

Eric Cruet

“All forms of culture are continually in the process of hybridity. But for me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the “third space” which enables other positions to emerge […] the process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, an area of negotiation of meaning and representation.”

Hommi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994, 211)

Introduction

I grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, known as the birthplace of two Latin music subgenres:  la Bomba y Plena.  

These are percussion driven, dancing rhythms reflecting the Afro-Caribbean heritage of this half country, half US commonwealth island.  During my childhood, my hometown was a key distribution point for the petrochemical refining business, and executives, managers, and workers from the US, Caribbean, South America, and Europe settled in the area.  I had the privilege of attending schools taught in both English and Spanish languages.  I was also exposed to a variety of cultures.  I had Spanish, American, and European friends.  I listened to Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, Light Classical, and Rock music.  Studied the literature of William Faulkner, Edmond Rostand, Julio Cortazar and Miguel Cervantes.   But my hybrid upbringing although academically and culturally enriching, has always been a source of tensions and anxieties having to do with feelings of being in and out of social context.

Later in life, my early multi-cultural experiences proved invaluable as I traveled to far away places for business and pleasure.  From the Portuguese Azores, Canadian Newfoundland and Moroccan Casablanca, to Italian Sardinia, Austrian Salzburg and Sicilian Siracusa, I realized that regardless of how different cultures can be, the “third space” (Bahka. 1994)) created by their inter-section is “the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space–that carries the burden of the meaning of culture.[…]  And by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of ourselves.” 

The study takes a brief look at the cultural world that comprises “La Musica Latina” from a cross-cultural perspective, by using hybridity to examine the “third pace” created by its intersection with Rock n’ Roll during the 1960s – 1970s.  This will include issues of transformation, dislocation, and mediation that characterize structures, productions, and performances within their political, cultural, and historical frames of meaning.

The methodology for this project is also hybrid.  We will touch upon several of the “high” traditions of hybridity theory; post-colonialism, remix, hybridity, and network theory.  The primary goal is simple: to reveal patterns, the not so apparent, to identify networks and their nodal interconnections, and establish power structures and agencies within those networks.

 

Hybridity and identity

 

In 1970, Carlos Santana recorded the monster hit “Oye Como Va!” hitting #13 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart.  While rock fans in the US and around the world grooved to the killer tune, little did they know that the song was originally composed by the Puerto Rican mambo and salsa bandleader/percussionist Tito Puente back in 1963.  A veteran of New York’s epic Latin music boom in the 40s and 50s, Puente borrowed the memorable riff of “Oye Como Va! from the beginning bars of a previous arrangement titled “Chanchullo”, composed by the Afro-Cuban bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez; of the Buena Vista Social Club fame.

This is hybridity in action; Puente created the song as another Spanish Caribbean mambo in his repertoire; but its stylistic ethnomusicology was grounded in Africa and Cuba, the composer born in New York, a muti-ethnic US metropolis, and influenced by an array of musical genres.  Carlos Santana, unlike Puente, was an immigrant, born in Mexico and raised in Tijuana.  He relocated to San Francisco with his parents when he was an adolescent.  In his remix of the song, Santana distilled Puente’s Spanish Caribbean musicality through his hybrid brand of US rock, which he had mastered not in the US but in his Mexican homeland, where young people had embraced rock since the 1950s. [3]

In 2000, National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered named “Oye Como Va!” one of the 100 most important American songs of the 20th century, based on its profound influence on musical developments in the US [4].  How ironic that an immigrant Mexican rocker, is pioneering the subgenre of Latin rock, and introducing the U.S.-born Puente’s Afro Cuban dance music to mainstream U.S. rock audiences.  What stands out is a major characteristic of US Latino musical practices: rather than being tied to musical elements specific of national groups, Latino music making has always involved remixing musical, geographic, racial, and ethnic boundaries. The resulting mezcolanza1[1] has been a dazzling array of musical practices–of which many are not usually associated as Latino–each with its own intricate ethnomusicology and each giving voice to the multipolar traits that characterize the Latino experience in the US.


[1] Mezcolanza – Spanish slang: a confused multitude of things

 

Following are videos of the compositions referenced in the previous paragraphs:

 him(Song begins after 2:00 min ET (Elapsed Time)

http://youtu.be/DkuPCCe-ggI

If we pay close attention to the mix of musical styles and inflections embedded in the previously provided sample versions of “Oye Como Va!” you can hear the turbulent political, social and cultural rumblings that typified the 60s and 70s. But more importantly, you can still hear their echoes resonating in the extraordinary assortment of blended sounds and styles–from Latin freestyle to hip-hop to reggaetoncreated by US-born Latinos in subsequent decades.

More recent waves of immigrants have continued to enrich the Latino musical mosaic of the United States. They have contributed additional Latin American music styles such as bachata, banda, corrido, and vallenato.  They  have hybridized, remixed, and mediated themselves, their identities, and their musical practices, and during the process, added significant contributions to the “global village”.  These styles produced and consumed in the US manifest the hybrid nature of Latin culture’s “third space” in their oscillation between their original Latin American roots, their US diasporas, the US mainstream, and global cultures.

Latin Music, post-colonialism, and the politics of race

The existence of a well known, predominant mixed-race category in Spanish America – and its lack thereof in the United States -underlines the deep cultural differences between the ways Spanish and English-speaking Americans have identified themselves.  Latino Americanos recognize themselves and their cultures as products of the region’s rich cultural and racial blending.  Conversely, in the United States, racial and cultural identities have historically been created and portrayed in binary terms–black or white.  Fortunately, binary thinking about race is currently undergoing a period of change.  Recent proposed changes in immigration laws and a growing population of high profile multiracial people, including US President Barrack Obama, are examples of how the US is beginning to embrace racial hybridity.  Nevertheless, the steady stream of newspaper articles and television segments asking the question “is Obama black?” during the 2008 election season demonstrates the depth of discomfort generated by these new challenges to historical paradigms of racial identity.

In historical terms, taking for granted that race and cultural mixture has shaped US Latino musical practice has been controversial.  In the past, for most of the global community, the idea of racial merging and the resulting third space with both its certainties and doubts have a history of generating inherent anxieties about boundaries, power, class, sexuality, and the body.  The mix of Amerindian and African blood was considered the main source of inferiority for people of Latin American descent.  To British eyes during colonial times, even the Spanish were believed to be similarly afflicted with genetic inferiority, causing them to be predisposed to treachery, violence and other vices, such as indolence, irrationality, and sexual promiscuity.  This was reflected in their barbaric treatment of the natives in the territories of the Spanish Kingdom.

 

Genetic studies have demonstrated beyond a doubt that no races are “pure” and that racial mixture is universal. This universality does not mean it should be considered a neutral phenomenon lacking local significance or that it is disconnected from structural hierarchies. On the contrary, in terms of the quality of life of people throughout the Americas, mixed race peoples have historically had fewer rights and privileges than Continental Americans and Europeans although they consistently enjoyed higher status than unmixed Amerindians and Africans. These hierarchies of race and power have manifested themselves in the way Latin American popular musics have been produced, consumed, and valued in Latin America as well as the United States.

One of the terms used in Latin America for individuals of mixed descent is “mestizo”.  Technically it is used to describe people and culture of mixed European and native ancestry.  Generally, the related term “mestizaje” has commonly been used to refer the process of cultural mixing that accompanied biological mixing. But in practice what the term “mestizaje” really signifies is the resulting European/native hybridity.

Blood was considered the main source of inferiority for people of Latin American descent.  To British eyes during colonial times, even the Spanish or believe to be similarly afflicted with genetic inferiority, causing them to be predisposed to treachery, violence and other vices, such as indolence, irrationality, and sexual promiscuity.

The above concepts are important in order to frame our thinking about the complexities of US Latino identities and cultures, and to also illustrate some of the problems faced when used in the context of Latin music.  As an example, identifying the origins of African derived drumming rhythms does not have the same implication as trying to identify the origins of an individual’s hue of skin – particularly if the musician is white or light skinned.  The contributions of African derived aesthetics to Latino music, particularly merengue and salsa, among others, have been widely recognized.  The conclusion here is that the hue of a musician’s skin should not be tied to his proficiency, contribution, or mastery of a specific musical genre.

The more valid concern, however, is that the concept of mestizaje is being exploited to use the realities of racial mixture to deny racism and its structural manifestations.  Some race theorists, in particular Ian Haney Lopez [5], has argued that celebrations of Latinos’ mestizaje ushering in a post racial society, where color does not matter, is a double edged sword because it justifies efforts to break down race sensitive policies that persevere long standing social inequalities.

In closing, the constant musical remixing that has always characterized Latin music practices is precisely hybrid because they are perceived as expressing the harmonious (literally and figuratively) outcome of racial and cultural blending.  In addition, the individual components (musics of unambiguously African and native origins) would have never had the same access to and success within the popular music marketplace as their more audibly hybrid counterparts.

West Coast vs. East Coast

Cultural Nationalism and Latino Engagement with Rock and Roll

When Tito Puente wrote his now anthemic song “Oye Como Va!” in 1963, the United States was poised on the brink of profound social and cultural upheavals. In the seven short years between when this original recording and Carlos Santana’s 1970 rock version, would profoundly alter the context, nature, and meaning of Latino musical practices.

In the early 1960s, thousands of economically displaced Puerto Ricans including Puente’s family, arrived in New York in search of opportunity–just as the city was beginning to lose its manufacturing base. This led to the condemnation of many of the new arrivals and their mainland born children to lives of chronic unemployment, poverty, and racial discrimination. Increasingly negative images of Puerto Ricans and their culture began appearing in the media, such as John Frankenheimer’s 1961 film The Young Savages and the 1961 film West Side Story.  From this perspective, most of the Latin American music production out of New York City on receptive ears in the local Puerto Rican community, whereas the rest of the nation was turning its back on the mambos and cha-chas they once used to dance away the night at the Tropicana, now preferring rock and roll.  On the other side of the Americas, the anticipated economic restructuring was beginning to set in motion a series of events that would bring in millions of Mexicans searching for better lives into the United States.  Among these was Carlos Santana’s family.

Keep in mind however that in the early 1960s the Vietnam War had not yet mobilized the country’s youth to rebel against authority. The 2nd wave of the feminist movement was just getting underway and psychedelic drugs an alternate visions of how society could be restructured which is beginning to touch the imagination of young people around the globe. More importantly, the civil rights movement was challenging racist structures, although the seeds of the race and ethnicity movements by Puerto Rican and Chicanos of the 70s had not yet surfaced.

Because of their mixed racial ancestries, both Mexican-Americans and New York Puerto Ricans was subjected to racial discrimination, and they often resided in segregated neighborhoods in close proximity to African Americans.  Your, however as always bit more spatially concentrated but Los Angeles, with its characteristic metropolitan sprawl; the result Puerto Ricans, particularly in Spanish Harlem in the South Bronx, lived at work in close physical proximity to African Americans that did Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, where barrios have been comparatively more removed from African American neighborhoods. It is well known the biggest concentration of Mexican Angelinos reside in East Los Angeles.

Delving into the relationships between Chicanos and New York Puerto Ricans, that their respective musical developments in each other’s homelands as they relate to rock ‘n roll, both Mexico and the island of Puerto Rico had active rock ‘n roll scenes as early as the 1950s. Initially rock ‘n roll was associated with non-rebellious working-class youths there were light skin upper-class young people was assigned to participate in its modernity was perceived by nationalists as reflections of the colonization mentality. In Mexico however, Rock ‘n’ Roll was indigenized when a local rock scene developed encompassing elements of the US rock environment.  This was one sided, as US rockers did not incorporate any elements of the emerging Mexican rock into their genre.

In Puerto Rico, in contrast rock ‘n roll–irrespective of the ethnicity of the interpreters–continued to be perceived as an intrusive and unwelcome product of US imperialism, against which salsa became a symbolic antidote.  This was basically a “Fuck me-Fuck you” attitude- a counter culture backlash from the social discrimination and ill reception that they received during their migration.  Puerto Rico’s attachment with salsa as a symbol of authenticity and nationalism, and rock ‘n roll as a sign of US cultural imperialism, it is not surprising the musical elements from genre were not received enthusiastically from the working class and intensely nationalistic New York Puerto Rican community.  Chicano nationalists could look at the Mexican Rock scene with pride.  Carlos Santana, whose career as a rocker began in Tijuana, was a product of that scene.

West Coast

Mexican Americans, Latin Music and Rock ‘n’ Roll

As previously mentioned, and an expanding body of research continues to affirm, African American musicians were most influential on their Mexican American colleagues.  Both shared the experience of racial and economic injustices and the resulting segregation and marginalization in the urban landscape.  Back then, African Americans were familiar with Mexican American culture, and reflected it in some of their music.  In the 1960s The Penguins recorded a song called Hey Señorita, remixing musical elements from both African and Mexican riffs to the delight of mixed crowds.  Then, in the 1970s the group War recorded Lowrider, paying homage to the customized cars closely associated with Mexican Angelinos.

Rock ‘n’ Roll produced by Mexican Americans from the 1960s to the 1970s was unusually successful because of its style variations.  Those who attained national hits include; Trini Lopez (Texas born but discovered when performing in L.A.), Yaqui, Malo, and of course, Ritchie Valens La Bamba, based on a traditional Veracruzan folk song

Trini Lopez (1963)

Yaqui (Original Composition 1973)

Malo – Short Intro Clip

Malo (Original Composition 1974)

Another product of the scene was Ritchie Valens.

Ritchie Valens “La Bamba”

Later in the 70s, The Chicago movement, like any other movement, began to be stimulated by cultural nationalism and identity politics.  To a lesser degree, it was also influenced by more nuanced views of ethnic identities generated by alternative Latino lifestyles (queer, feminist, and other).  These contested monolithic ideas redefined what it meant to be Chicano. Chicano punk rockers such as The Plugz and The Brat reflected the desire to criticize the status quo.  Other groups, like the The Illegals, would only sing Spanish lyrics, at the same time rejecting the nationalism and other symbolism consistent with their language choice in their cover art.

 

 

For New York Puerto Ricans, although a strong adherence to tradition may have deterred these musicians from venturing into the more lucrative rock arena in the 1960s and 1970s, it undeniably help the community maintain its cultural coherence and integrity in years when it was under intense social and economic pressures. It is important to acknowledge and understand that maintaining a strong sense of ethnic identity is not necessarily dependent on any particular mode of engagement with US mainstream musical practice. Communities and individuals was decided for themselves when and where it is appropriate to participate and when and where it makes more sense to withdraw and resist.

In summary, Mexican-Americans musicians from Los Angeles have a rich, colorful history of hybridization with Rock ‘n’ Roll and, by association, with US pop music. Although some of their musical productions have been bilingual and even fewer have been entirely in Spanish, most of them have been in English. From the 60s – 70s Mexican-American rockers have encountered barriers mainly created by the disinterest of the mainstream music industry. Artistic recognition and economic success have eluded most of them, but enough of them have achieved amazing success to be considered co-participants in the development of US Rock ‘n’ Roll.

East Coast

NYC: The Sun of Latin Music

As a background, as far back as the 1950s, Puerto Rican musicians in New York had always engaged with U.S. popular music.  However, their engagement occurred more often with their African American counterparts than with the mainstream oriented Tin Pan Alley music [6].  Young PR teens were listening avidly to Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as to their parents’ Spanish Caribbean tunes.  But as the next two decades evolve, their enthusiasm waned.  With the exception of the short-lived Boogaloo and two golden musicians, Jose Feliciano and Tony Orlando, New York Puerto Rican musicians’ commitment to American music genres, including Pop, was lukewarm at best. 

Victims of racial discrimination, and sharing living accommodations with African Americans in the projects of N.Y. City, brought NY Puerto Ricans and African Americans closer socially, culturally and physically.  In addition, many of these Puerto Rican had African American ancestry, so the interactions between the groups facilitated the assimilation of the ancestral culture as opposed to the dominant white mainstream.  Nevertheless, these relations were not without problems, and NY Puerto Ricans have resisted the degradation of their cultural heritage when misidentified as Afro-Americans, a confusion not experienced by Mexican Americans, who were usually identified as mestizos.

During this era, New York was the country’s premier immigrant city and the center of the nation’s recording industry.  As such, it was the magnet for musical talent from the Caribbean and Latin America.  An accumulation of African American and whites from throughout the continental US had already been taking place, making it the ideal “third space” for musical experimentation and creativity.  So NY-based Puerto Rican musicians were living the dream of being embedded within a dynamic, music scene, solidly grounded in Spanish Caribbean styles, but with access to other music genres; jazz, funk, soul, swing.  Being in close proximity to the record industry offered the professional advantages of being able to obtain steady work recording music in the Spanish Caribbean styles.

In the 1960s some of New York’s more established Latino musicians attempted to revitalize the Spanish Caribbean music of the 50s with new energy by infusing it with R&B inflections, and scores of flute and violin.  Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Ray Barreto were the emerging stars of this period.  The musical subgenres of pachanga and charanga where characteristic at the beginning of the period, but later, guajira and guaguanco became predominant.  These were the new styles that would predominate and contribute to the Salsa explosion.

The emergence of Salsa was tied to the rise of Puerto Rican cultural nationalism and deeply rooted in Spanish Caribbean Musical traditions.  Its intense symbolic importance was directly proportional to the appalling social conditions that Puerto Ricans and African Americans lived under in New York City.  In addition, changes in immigration policies in the mid 60s opened up doors to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants globally.  The “white flight’ to the suburbs drained city budgets at the same time demand for public services was rising, contributing to the decay of New York’s once vital Puerto Rican neighborhoods.  A series of counter movements, social, cultural, political, inspired by the black and Chicano civil rights movements, brought together PR militant cultural nationalists, seeking to defend their communities by protesting the city’s neglect and promoting a sense of community empowerment.  Using their own cultural resources as a source of strength and pride, Salsa rose as the battle cry, and the lullaby of the Puerto Rican community, angry at their deplorable state of existence, and tired of the constant oscillation between who they were, and who they could be.

Salsa can be deconstructed as an assortment of contemporary musical styles; R & B, jazz, and various Latin American and Caribbean genres, but at its heart is a remixed form of the celebrated Afro-Cuban-Spanish musical elements that had flourished in NYC in the 40s and 50s.  The emergence of salseros, from Willie Colon through Tipica 73 to Larry Harlow, all shared the aggressive, dynamic energy and stinging lyrics that reflected their struggles growing up in New York’s barrios.

Rather than present the reader with multiple video clips covering the music described above, the clip below is a PBS documentary covering the “Salsa Revolution”:

http://video.pbs.org/video/1293757593

Another look (In Spanish, with an awesome soundtrack!):

 

References:

  1. Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The location of culture. Routledge.
  2. Foucault, M. (1966). Les mots et les choses.
  3. Hernandez, D. P. (2010). Oye Como Va!: Hybridity and Identity in Latino Popular Music. Temple University Press. 
  4. Lipsitz, G. (1994). Dangerous crossroads. D. Diederichsen (Ed.). London: Verso.
  5. Flores, J. (2000). From bomba to hip-hop: Puerto Rican culture and Latino identity. Columbia University Press.
  6. Lopez, I. H. (2003). White Latinos. Harv. Latino L. Rev., 6, 1.
  7. Loza, S. J. (1999). Tito Puente and the making of Latin music. University of Illinois Press.

 

“The fact that in the US most musical styles were at one time associated with a particular race left little space for those Latinos like myself, confortable with “bridging the gap”, living in that “third space”, not wanting to choose on aesthetic or identity over another.”

EC

 

Gender Confusion in the 1980s

By Eric Cruet

The Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult film in the 80s that celebrated the confusion of sexual identity. Tim Currie, the star, played a female with strangely seductive characteristics. In fact, most of the female temptresses were played by males. Our propensity for gender-blending gained a wider acceptance in the 1980’s as many films played with this theme of sex role reversal. Victor-Victoria, Tootsie, and Yentle were three additional film products of popular culture which addressed the inequities of socially imposed gender roles from the perspective of the victims of cultural stereotyping. Movie producers attempted to make “gender blending” humane and less threatening through these artistic comedies. As people became familiar with androgyny they also become de-sensitized to its transgressions of cultural norms. It became an acceptable, if an alternate, norm to a large portion of modern culture. And on stage, the 60’s fascination with sex in general, with productions like Hair and O Calcutta, became in the 80’s a fascination with homosexuality in particular, with La Cage Aux Folles competing for a Tony Award in 1984.

In 1983, I went to see David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” Tour at the Norfolk Scope Arena.  Although previously exposed to androgyny, I had never been hypnotized by it like I was by Mssr. Bowie.  To quote the lyrics to his hit “Rebel, Rebel”, I could not tell if ” he was a boy or a girl”.  I am not ashamed to admit there was something strangely fascinating about his aura, movements, and persona.  To this day I remain a big fan. 

It is my opinion that human sexuality has myriad manifestations.  Katherine Hayles’ description of “virtualized, embodied” sexual identities is too programmatic and IMO unrealistic.  Focault’s attempt at deconstructiing sexual mores in the Victorian area seems biased in the fact that he faults religion as the cause of repression in sexual activity.  Statistics show that The population of England almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901.  Finally, the manifestation of prostitution as a social concern in England began around the 1850’s.

Re-territorializing a de-territorialized global pop music

By Eric Cruet

There are two basic strategies for defining the Latin music market.  The first considers music produced by Spaniards, Latin Americans, or Latinos who include traditions as part of a culture mix, or hybrid music.  This refers not only to the stylistic use of musical styles but to their social use.  Consumers know what merengue, salsa or bachata is, but they don’t puzzle about whether they are hybrid or not.  Calling such music hybrid seems legitimate because ethno-musicologists have determined that their origins come from different sources.  However, in the social practice of the listeners, this argument doesn’t hold.  The music is perceived as “theirs” because it has been institutionalized in their everyday behavior and use, and the recording industry markets it as such.

The second strategy is more about semantics.  The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) defines Latin music as “51% or more Spanish language”.  In many cases this is a “de-anglicized” pop music as opposed to hybrid music. Obviously excluded from this category is English language pop music which picks up a Latin flavor.  Lou Bega and his top hit “Mambo No. 5” fit this category.  Although Mr. Bega is not Latin American nor does he speak Spanish (father was born in Uganda, his mother is Italian), his music was promoted as a Latin Music act in Europe and his style was classified as Cuban music.  This shows that listeners have shown great interest in music which can be decoded from another region, even if this region is an “imagined territory”.  This brings out a very important aspect of hybridization in music: “that hybridization can be understood as a re-territorialization of a de-territorialized global pop music”.

Mambo #5

Manu Chao: Latin Reggae

Steingress, G. (2002). Songs of the minotaur: Hybridity and popular music in the era of globalization: A comparative analysis of rebetika, tango, rai, flamenco, sardana, and English urban folk (Vol. 9). Lit Verlag.

Tango Nuevo

By Eric Cruet

Tango Nuevo is everything that has happened with the tango since the 1980s. It is not a question of a style… The words Tango Nuevo are neither a specific term nor a title (except in the case of a musical work by Piazzola). With this in mind, these words directly express, through their literal meaning, what is happening with tango music and dancing in general; namely that it is evolving. Tango Nuevo is not one more style; it is simply that tango dancing is growing, improving, developing, enriching itself, and in that sense we are moving toward a new dimension. There has been much recent discussion, in the community of tango dancers, on the matter of dance style. Open embrace or closed embrace, dancing with space or dancing close, these are all outmoded terms. This is an old way of thinking, resulting from the lack of technical knowledge in past eras. It is partly a matter of dancing style, in that a remix of styles from various eras are being combined, but more importantly, the hybrid nature of the interpretation of all the remixes included in what was the original “old school” tango music from the days of Carlos Gardel.  This is what is revolutionizing this part musical, part theater, and also dance art form.

By the late 2000s, the Tango Nuevo included many improvised and led dance moves from Argentine tango. These new elements of tango are not characterized only by the type of embrace but include off-axis moves, playfulness, attention to rhythm and melody, emphasis on greater improvisational skill of woman in dance to name just a few attributes. Some dancers began to adopt elements of other dance forms such as salsaballroomswing, and even rap music.  From a musical standpoint, it also incorporates elements from the same multiple genres to include the ones previously mentioned, classical, and even reading prose and poetry from some of Argentina’s greatest writers.

This exciting evolution of the music genre is also influencing fashion.  The clothes the dancers have worn, which were very traditional and conservative in style in the past, have been modernized significantly to where they now include baggy pants for men, and shorter skirts for women.  This signifies the liberalization trend that is parallel to what characterizes this beautiful, exciting, new musical genre.

http://www.youtube.com/artist/gotan-project

 

 

 

The Little People of Slinkachu

By Eric Cruet 

Slinkachu, a street artist based in London, creates, and then abandons, tiny installations in cities around the world using miniature model figures that he then records photographically. This allows him to bring his work into the gallery, where he can then post the photos on the internet, allowing him to share them on a hybrid medium with an alternate audience.

His art is ephemeral because Slinkachu fells free to leave his work behind and knows that it will most likely get destroyed under foot or by a road sweeper. There is this sense of danger and excitement about producing unauthorized art in public that he shares with the graffiti and street artist community.

Being invisible in a big city is the overriding theme of his work.   However, his art lives on the net through photography using alternate media, which gives it a different context.  This allows it to become a part of the Web’s cultural encyclopedia.

The way his pieces work on the Internet imply he considers two different spectators when making a piece and subsequently photographing it. People see his work online, recognized the area it was placed, and on many an occasion gone out to the location to look for the little people there.

In a recent interview for Slate, he was asked what effect did he want his art to have on spectators, he stated: ”I also like to imagine that unsuspecting people stumble across my pieces sometimes and think What the fu:k!?! I guess I want to surprise people, get them to look around themselves a bit more and reconsider the city. I want to add back a small sense of wonder that I think people loose as they get older”.

 

https://www.facebook.com/slinkachu

 

Lewisohn, C. (2008). Street art: The graffiti revolution. Tate.

http://www.streetartutopia.com/?tag=slinkachu

 

 

 

 

 

Radiology Remix

By Eric Cruet

Reading Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy brought to mind my experience with medical radiology systems.  Although the field is very broad for the purposes of this blog we will concentrate on projection, a.k.a. plain, radiography.  From a historical perspective, these systems used x-rays transmitted though a patient to produce a radiograph.  A capture device converts the rays to form a visible picture on film that is reviewed for diagnosis.   Like photography the film is silver coated.  Wilhelm Röntgen invented the procedure, which is still commonly used today, that won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.

The advent of new technologies such as broadband networking, high resolution displays, and advances in materials science allowing the creation of highly sensitive sensors, (Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) much like the ones found on high end photography and professional film equipment, led to the implementation of digital radiology.  This imaging modality uses digital X-ray sensors instead of traditional photographic film.  Its advantages include faster processing time, bypassing chemical developing, and the ability to transfer and enhance images quickly.  Here we see how technology that was not developed specifically for this application was appropriated, remixed, adapted, and implemented with a different purpose.

Another Remix in this field results in teleradiology.  This allows the transmission of radiological patient images from one location to another for the purposes of reviewing prints remotely by trained radiologists. Teleradiology is a growth technology given that imaging procedures are growing approximately 15% annually against a small increase in the number of radiologists entering the field.  It is interesting to note that this emerging field would not be possible without the  high speed broadband networks, fast processors, and monitors with a high display bit-depth available today.

The key message is that rapid progress in this medical field would not be possible but for the progressive diffusion of technology.  Here we see “network effects” from the hybriditization, appropriation, and remixing of hardware, materials, software, and networks, being incorporated into a almost “natural” progression.  As Marshall McLulan would put it: “We look at the present through a rear view mirror.  We march backwards into the future”.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=225zKmF_o8Y

 

<iframe width=”480″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/225zKmF_o8Y” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

 

Manovich, L. (2002). The language of new media. MIT press.

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the message. New York, 123, 126-128.

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. Penguin Press HC.

The Godfather of British Pop Art

By Eric Cruet

For generations of music fans, the album cover has a special place. From Andy Warhol’s banana on the front of the first Velvet Underground record to the underwater baby pursuing a dollar bill on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind, these were pictures that teased and intrigued. They offered a tantalising glimpse into an imaginary world through an art form that seemed glamorous, exciting and strange. But the once vast canvas is shrinking – whereas on glossy LP covers these images enjoyed a full 12 inches of sleeve space, this reduced to five inches with the advent of the CD.

It was in 1939 that young designer Alexander Steinweiss persuaded Columbia Records that the use of original artwork might attract more buyers.  Previously records came in drab brown cardboard covers with little to mark them out except the name of the artist and the album. The change was a big hit. Label bosses soon found the extra sales more than made up for the added printing costs.

Sir Peter Blake is often referred to as ‘the godfather of pop’ and this label couldn’t ring more true. Often overlooked, he has designed record covers over the past 40 years.  As artist and personality he has been a huge influence in the art world. Not simply in his influence on the genre of Pop Art, but also on British art and design as a whole and in more recent years, increasingly on a wide-reaching collection of emerging contemporary British artists.

 Here are some of his most regarded works of art:

 Sir Peter Blake

 

Chilvers, I. (Ed.). (2004). The Oxford dictionary of art. Oxford University Press, USA.
Host, P. A. H. (2011). Pop Art Movement.

 

Painters and Photography

By Eric Cruet

It’s surprising that Pierre Bonnard’s unusual painting method has attracted little attention. His work was on display at a recent  exhibition held this April of 2012 at the Phillips Collection, entitled “Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard“, in celebration of painters who were also some of the early adopters of the handheld camera.  In addition, this display brought to order an unwieldy topic: the competitive relationship between painting and photography at the dawn of the 20th century.

Instead of following the conventional practice of painting on stretched canvases resting at a convenient height and tilting at a comfortable angle on an easel, Pierre Bonnard generally chose to paint on unstretched pieces of canvas that were thumb-tacked to the walls of his studios or hotel rooms.  He went from one canvas to the other as he applied paint on his various compositions, having several works in progress at any one time. Often, he painted various compositions directly on a single large canvas that he cut later on, painting continously in one image, as seemingly captured by the eye. Photographs of the painter at work, bending down to almost floor level or stretching his arm up as far as he could reach, make you painfully aware of how exacting this procedure must have been.

Bonnard used photographs in preparation for painting; he abandoned it in his later years.  When you look at his photos, mainly of his of his paramour and his eventual wife, Marthe de Meligny, they feel especially cloistered.  They were never meant for exhibition.

However, Bonnard’s main interest in photography was in duplicating the variations in optical acuity, owing to the different ways that the eye receives and processes imagery. This is reflected in his painting technique.

On the surface, Bonnard’s paintings appear to gently extend the art of the Impressionists. Looked at closely, they are far more extreme. At first sight, their subject matter is solely the behavior of people and the effects of light in scenes from what often looks like an private existence. To spend time in front of these paintings, however, is to see them change. Figures and objects appear to move in and out of the viewer’s attention, as each painting seems to present an analysis of the processes of seeing and remembering.

Bonnard painted from memory, aided only by small sketches as aids. The process of making a painting would extend over months, even years. He was deeply conscious of the complexities of visual perception: He carefully plotted his paintings, so that what is seen in them depends upon the active participation of the viewer, as happens when we perceive scenes in the world. Bonnard encourages us to take time over his paintings, to be aware that some things will be hidden in them, and that some things in them will be difficult to identify. He encourages us to approach them with curiosity, for pleasure, and above all, the desire to comprehend.

Bonnard, P. (1952). Bonnard: lithographe. André Sauret.

Corruption and Copyright Legislation

By Eric Cruet

Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost, details many of the distortions that occur as a result of all the money sloshing around in the political system; and how this money is increasingly being used by incumbent companies to stave off new, creative ones that bring about disruption innovation. Former congressman and CIA director Leon Panetta described it as “legalized bribery”; something which has just “become part of the culture of how this place operates.”

When new regulation makes sense in order to foster innovation and disruption, but it doesn’t suit the interests of the incumbents, then that regulation will often be characterized by incumbents as “stifling red tape.” It seems to be happening more and more frequently, across many industry sectors.

In the Intellectual Property (IP) arena, copyright lengths (the amount of time it takes for a given copyright to expire in years) were much shorter in the past than they are now.  When Walt Disney penned Steamboat Willie — the first cartoon with Mickey Mouse in it — copyright lengths were substantially shorter but still long enough that it gave encouragement to Walt to create his famous character.  But presently, it seems that every time that Mickey is about to enter the public domain, congress has passed a bill to extend the length of copyright. Congress has paid no heed to research or calls for reform; the only thing that matters in determining the appropriate length of copyright is how old Mickey is. Rather than create an incentive to innovate and develop new characters, the present system has created the perverse situation where it makes more sense for Big Content to make campaign contributions to extend protection for their old work.  It’s this same type of mentality that has been driving draconian legislation such as SOPA and PIPA.

Finally, if there were any doubts as to how corrupt the system of political contributions has allowed incumbents to influence the legislative process regarding IP, take a look at what happened when the Republican Study Committee released a paper pointing out some of the problems with the current copyright regime. The debate was stifled within 24 hours. And just for good measure, Rep Marsha Blackburn, whose district abuts Nashville and who received more money from the music industry than any other Republican congressional candidate, apparently had the author of the study, Derek Khanna, fired.  Sure, debate around policy is important, but it’s clearly not as important as personal political capital.

 

http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf

http://republic.lessig.org/

 

Decentralized Dance Party

by Eric Cruet

Decentralized Dance Party, aka DDP, is based on a specific goal: to free all from the standard humdrum nightlife.  In order to do this, the two founders, Gary Laranche and Tom Kunza, remix art and science, urban planning and creative funding, and combine old technology with the state of the art.  Morphing into good hosts, they scour the best cities in America looking for the ideal venues to conduct their massive outdoor dance parties, always keeping their “leave no trace” promise.  This means no noise complaints, and no disruption of ecology or animal life, in order to keep the environment the same way they found it.

It works like this: tens of people carrying “old school” boom boxes, their tuning knobs duct taped to make sure they stay on a vacant frequency.  The DDP “DJ” is the master of ceremonies who, in a backpack, contains a high powered FM transmitter with antenna, a disco mixer, a 12 volt battery, mic receivers, separate Ramsey FM transmitter, and a “blue slipper” for good luck.  The source input with the music is provided by an iPod or iPad, magically controlled by a 1980s Nintendo Power Glove.  Although the glove is of no technical value, it adds just the right touch of “coolness” to the setup.

In examining the music that is played, which ranges from Booty Bass, Disco, and Rock, to the technology that is adapted and reused, it is clear that remix and appropriation are underlying conditions for the creation, production and postproduction of the final work.  The result is a contagious, wild, tribal dance party that brings out thousands of people spontaneously and with abandon.  It evokes our anthropological origins.

In addition, from Bruno Latour’s theoretical perspective, the participants that join spontaneously become actants, and the pre-conceived participants (with the boom boxes) are given agency, becoming active nodes in the network.  The network cannot survive without all parties, and the party cannot survive without the network.

This manifestation of culture also falls in line with Castells “The Network Society” and his thesis that modern society  “replaces the antiquated metaphor of the machine with that of the network”.  His urban sociology emphasizes the role of social movements in the collective transformation of the city which is part of DDP’s modus operandus.

But watch out!  Washington DC is not safe.  The DDP is coming to a town near you soon.

 

 

http://youtu.be/Vg9bBPP4ia0

 

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theddp/decentralized-dance-party-washington-edition

 

Appropriation-Remix-Hybridity Dossier
Some Major Historical Texts
Edited by Martin Irvine
Reconsidering Conceptual Art, 1966-1977, Alexander Alberro, Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, MIT Press 1999.

Where do we fit in the Cultural Order?

Eric Cruet

There has always been a debate about Post-Modernism’s role in Neo-colonialist Latin America.  The effect of a cultural movement on any particular country many times is based on historical, social, political, and economic developments out of their sphere of influence.

Hybridity is in full swing in the we-don’t-know-what-we-are USA Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  Our spoken language is spanglish, the favorite tunes are reggaeton, and you can’t go a couple of miles in the city without running into a McDonald’s, Walmart, or KFC.  However, every Sunday, families go out into the countryside to eat fresh pork roasted on the pit, fresh local vegetables, and listen to native music.  With a very strict, conservative Spanish family upbringing, current divorce rates now near 50%.

What is going on in this hornet’s nest of a place?  I would venture a guess and say that we are undergoing a delayed post-modernism.  I would also say Puerto Rico as a whole, missed the Modernist era due to the extreme poverty that existed until the 1940’s.  Only wealthy Spaniards governing the island, and subsequently, American Governors and their families had access to any art, medicine, and literature, which came from the European mainland.  The local braintrust, among them Pedro Albizu Campos, Jose de Hostos, and Cayetano Col y Tostes, were aware of the cultural movements in Europe. But they were busy at work plotting the revolution for the independence of the country, which culminated unsuccessfully in the Grito de Lares on the 23rd of September, 1868.  This led to the under-educated, poor majority of the island developing their own culture, consisting of primitive art and and music with heavy African, Taino, and Caribbean influence.

I have always considered myself hybrid, living in a permanent state of confusion about my cultural heritage.  Although I was born in the country of Puerto Rico, I am American First and Puertorrican second.  This is why I cheer for both teams in the Olympics.