Tag Archives: Music

Revive The Vinyl: Music, Medium and Mediation

For the past weeks, we have examined the poignancy of a particular text, whether it was Daft Punk, Andy Warhol or “Ayo.” This week, we devote our conversation to the artifacts that allow our senses to consume this content, information or media, if you will – the medium. The manner in which this content is transmitted to and from analog and digital formats is through mediation. One medium that I am steadily becoming fascinated with is the vinyl record; partly, because I’m a minimalist and partly, because my mom’s 45s are sitting in my living room, begging for some airtime.

The mere discussion of vinyls in the age of mp3 files and Bluetooth-capabilities for music playback is reflective of how a technology – more so, a medium – cannot be eradicated. Dialectically speaking, one cannot die when it is constantly being acknowledged in comparative discourses. As Professors Ribes and Irvine discussed, Apple and Adobe became one another’s archrivals based on the functionality of their respective products. And while both appeared to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum argument, their interaction proved them both to be a part of a broader ecosystem – a media system.

While digital music files and playback lessen the need for tangible artifacts, the transformation of the medium has altered the art form. As McLuhan’s tetrad of technology lays out, just as we advance, we risk obsolescence. I believe the current minimal effort behind listening to a musical composition devalues its essence. I may be negating myself a bit here, but in making the access to music more efficient – placing it on our mobile cellular devices – we intensify the immediate gratification, quick-triggered satisfaction/obtainment of an art form. There’s something sweet about listening to an entire album untouched, no clicking or tapping of a screen, as you would with a vinyl record. It is this appreciation for tangibility that has sparked a resurgence in vinyl record sales. Similarly, it is a richer experience to indulge in a live acoustic performance versus running over to YouTube to catch video of the same event. And while the cost of concerts and vinyl records may be a deterring factor in its competition with mp3 sales, the quality is at the heart of the matter for most of these traditional aficionados , not the quantity.

Some digital music playback systems – specifically Pandora – display album art as songs play. Therefore, it is not just sounds, but visuals that are being mediated. Prior to music videos or recorded live performances, there was an ambiguity attached to music where the artist’s identity was either implicitly or explicitly hidden. Some record companies did not allow for many artists to have their faces on album covers according to their race and the musical genre. How did the idea of race as a social construct infiltrate the impact of music and of producing album art?

Vinyls also contributed itself as a galleria artifact — a thing to be admired or envied upon display. Cover art for records like The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Stevie Wonders’ Songs in The Key of Life and even Fugees’ The Score has made it on to lists for “Best Cover Art of All Time.” How do these artifacts compare to posters sold in retail shops? My parents and other relatives often mocked me for getting posters out of magazines, insisting that “nothing can compare” to using vinyl art as bedroom décor. Has the significance of album art diminished since the employment of digital music online? Do artists and record companies even focus on creating visual masterpieces to complement their aural work? How do the visuals of music — be it music video or album art — affect the manner in which it is mediated? This interplay between audio and visual can either strengthen or dismantle our notion for signs can be delivered. [Ex. Remembering the shock of seeing Teena Marie and Bobby Caldwell for the first time, as they performed hits like “Square Biz” and “What You Won’t Do For Love?” respectively.]

My dream entertainment room | Source: Pinterest

My dream entertainment room | Source: Pinterest

teena marie robbery cover

Lastly, the dissatisfaction with an aspect in the media system can influence one’s mediation decisions. Case in point: the cost and monopolization of media consumption, be it film or music. As Professor Ribes pointed out, Apple has been accused on filtering out competitors within its own products in terms of searching. How does one’s ethical decisions affect companies on a larger scale? Are we more cynical in terms of accepting larger brands like Apple, Google or even Walmart? Mediums like vinyl records are more readily associated with mom-and-pop shops while digital music files have no definite identity, except for Apple’s iTunes store or sites like Pandora, Soundcloud and Spotify. I find myself anticipating self-started web series as opposed to guaranteed blockbusters, and even watching more public television stations. (Much of this has to do with the scandalous, over-publicizing of mainstream entities.) I wonder if   instances of distrust in mainstream media will create a surge in vintage or underground art and content.

DC’s Signature Aural Party: Go-Go Music

I’m relatively new to the DC Metropolitan area, but it did not take long for me to understand the pride and distinctiveness of the nation’s capital. Some signs and symbols are inseparable from DC culture: the taste of mambo sauce, pillars in the food industry like Ben’s Chili Bowl or Georgetown Cupcakes, events like the annual Cherry Blossom festival. However, even as a native of Richmond, VA, an alluring segment of DC culture trickled its way down I-95 and into my life – go-go music.

Based on prior conversations and queries with people in North Carolina and Virginia, it seems that the popularity of this musical genre seems only recognizable in sporadic geographic areas or to those of particular demographic circles. However, if we examine the musical works of Wale, an artist that has received national and international acclaim, hip-hop aficionados will see that this lyricist merges open-mic-style, go-go and hip-hop seamlessly into various compositions. Throughout this reflection, I will briefly historicize go-go music and introduce several works by Wale, a DC-bred hip-hop artist who faithfully alludes to his capital city roots in his music and lyrical references.

Go-go first came on the music scene during the late 1960s, which helps explain its aural similarity to funk and blues. The term “go-go” was a slang term used within the African American community to signify a local music club (See: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ hit “Going to a Go-Go”). As Professor Irvine clearly expressed last week, pinpointing the origin of a sign is superfluous and the black box that is go-go music is no exception. Yet, the appeal, credit and placement of go-go in musical discourses has remained centered around African American subculture, no matter how much its popularity has ebbed and flowed in the spotlight of mainstream music.

The primary component or standard that distinguish go-go from its predecessors is its use of junior-sized congas, keyboards, drums, hi-hats and hand cowbells in a syncopated distinct rhythm, similar to that of swing music. Prominent artists within this genre include Chuck Brown (1936-2012) – the widely proclaimed godfather of go-go – The Backyard Band, Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, Junkyard Band and EU. With the help of Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze, go-go group EU – which stands Experience Unlimited – became a recognizable face for DC’s feel-good music genre by way of their video for the song “Da Butt.” Many instances of remix culture rear itself in the makings of go-go music, specifically recursion, combinatoriality and dialogism. Like jam sessions in jazz, go-go music is often recorded during live performances, where much of the material is free-styled, off-the-cuff, improvised. As Yuri Lotman would say, “New texts are the texts that emerge as results of irreversible processes… i.e. texts that are unpredictable to a certain degree.” The grammar of go-go music is pretty simple and liberal, in that as long as you have the signature percussionist sound as your acoustic backdrop, the rest is free reign.


The essence of unpredictability also seems to be at the heart of go-go music, which often includes verbal shout-outs/odes to communities and sectors of DC; one go-go band is even named Northeast Groovers. More often than not, the only accessible text of go-go songs are those that were performed live. These recordings typically feature a call-and-response style between the band and the audience, which adds to the organic and unpolished nature of this musical genre. Many recordings exude the impression of an actual go-go, or party atmosphere – a feature of the music I’m sure isn’t coincidental.
The lengthy duration of some go-go songs like “Sick of Being Lonely” are the result of recursion – in this case, musical works that nest references, quotations, samples or allusions of prior works into a larger composition. This 14-minute live performance includes pieces of Atlanta rap group Field Mob’s 2002-hit “Sick of Being Lonely” and reggae star Lady Saw’s tune “I Got Your Man.” A similar song by go-go band Rare Essence called “Pieces of Me” is a cover of Ashlee Simpson’s 2004 pop song.

“Rare Essence – Pieces of Me” (5:04) [Derivative of Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me”]

“Backyard Band – Sick of Being Lonely” (14:18) [Derivative of Field Mob’s “Sick of Being Lonely” and Lady Saw’s “I Got Your Man”]

Wale, who was born during the peak of go-go’s rising fame, repeatedly pays musical homage to the funky genre along with another cultural staple – Seinfeld. In 2010, he released a mixtape, titled More About Nothing, which includes snippets from various episodes of the hit sitcom on each track, respectively. (Later this year, he plans on creating a sequel to this compilation – The Album About Nothing.) Undoubtedly enamored with go-go, Wale’s most recognizable songs, “Pretty Girls,” “Clappers,” and “Bait” are all derivative of DC’s signature music style.

Wale performing at Georgetown's Midnight Madness in 2010 | source: Wikipedia

Wale performing at Georgetown’s Midnight Madness in 2010 | source: Wikipedia

“Backyard Band – Pretty Girls” – WARNING: Explicit Language

“Wale – Pretty Girls ft. Gucci Mane, Weensey of Backyard Band” – WARNING: Explicit Language

As we can discover, go-go music is clearly the offshoot of funk, blues and swing. Yet, primitive go-go is not like the traces of go-go we may catch occasionally on DC’s WYKS radio station. It has morphed with time, pulling inspiration from different signs to create unforeseeable results – the essence of discrete infinity. Like any musical form, go-go evokes nostalgia; searching YouTube for “go-go music DC” can easily grant retrieval of early texts from Chuck Brown and others. And while the infamy of go-go remains sporadic – with Wale seemingly the only mainstream artist carrying on its back – and less potent than that of hip-hop, its acoustic DNA can be found in texts from artists like Beck (“Where It’s At”) and Jay-Z (“Do It Again”). Thus, the semiotic and generative saga of go-go continues…

If you’re interested in hearing more go-go greatness or tapping into Wale’s repertiore, check out some of these songs below:

“Wale – The Break Up Song” – sample of Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do”

“Rare Essence – Sardines & Pork n’ Beans”

“UCB – Sexy Lady”

“DJ Flexx – The Water Dance”

“DJ Kool – 20-minute Workout” (5:48)

It’s More Than Characters and a Catchy Beat: Breaking Down TV and Music

Week 2: Approaches to Media Theory, Communication, and Meaning Systems

I must preface my commentary by stating that this set of readings gave me a lot to think about and I know I’m cognitively only scratching the surface in understanding all the concepts it has to offer. Nonetheless, Professor Irvine’s breakdown of the excessively used terms media, medium, and mediation, as well as Stuart Hall’s illustration of the message exchange process intrigued me. After all, with hopes of creating a magazine devoted to subculture, it is essential to grasp the distinction between and the interactions amongst media and meaning systems.

We typically relate the word medium, as being a channel of content delivery and reception; that meta-layer between information and observation/perception/understanding. Yet as Hall examined, the role of the medium possesses greater autonomy and importance. Mediated messages via broadcast media and especially music are not just new information, characters, plots and a catchy beat. To quote Irvine’s text: “Shifting to the question of mediation as social, political, economic, and ideological processes, rather than considering the contents or material technologies themselves, allows us to convert media into interfaces to the larger social-technical-economic and political systems which they mediate.”

Let’s take a ride and examine the vehicle that is reality TV, specifically on VH1. Created in the 1980s, VH1 is a cable channel that originally catered to showing the lighter and more mature side of popular music, but has now become a lead platform for drama-filled primetime programming. Shows like Love and Hip: Atlanta, Basketball Wives, New York and Hollywood; Black Ink Crew; Mob Wives and the recently nixed show Sorority Sisters have reinforced problematic imagery of minorities and women. I’m certainly not implying that conflicts are not realistic; As Hall’s texts explains, “… within a more traditional framework, his [Philip Elliott] discussion of the way in which the audience is both the ‘source’ and the ‘receiver of the television message.” Yet, reality is compromised in place of staged confrontation when reality TV producers have reportedly instigated brawls between cast members. The visual aspects and camera practices used for these programs deliver implicit messages that slip by even the most observant of viewers. Cameras panning and zooming methods on the female body have an effect on the psyche of young girls. A study conducted by Dohnt and Tiggeman[1] found that girls “who watched more appearance focused television shows were less satisfied with the way they looked.[2]

More fights equals more buzz on social media and higher ratings, which equates to more episodes being aired and more revenue for the shows’ participants. These shows exhibit fragmented truths under extremely magnified lenses that trickle down to affect the international social fabric and solidify racial and cultural stereotypes. While the study titled “Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television” from UCLA’s Ralph J Bunche Center for African American Studies revealed that TV shows with ethnically diverse cast members attract larger audiences, there are still disproportionately more programs with where women and minorities are underrepresented[3]. This absence of diversity sends a message in itself – which incorrectly displays the national makeup of which these programs are produced and displayed.

Consideration of the world of television awakens my interest in uncovering the motives and behind-the-scene environment of the music industry. You can certainly deblackbox the content – the instrumentation, the lyrics, the vocal notes. Yet what are the social, political and economic undertones behind the lyrics of a seemingly volatile rhymester or an aurally soothing songstress? Why does the dynamic of the beat crescendo in the middle of the song? Why does a certain artist always make “club bangers”? – Are they pressured by their label to sell fantasy and not truth? These analyses of frequently used media allow us to peel back facades and avoid distractions from the happenings of human symbolic processes and systems.

After all, it’s never just for show; there’s always a greater purpose.


[1] Dohnt, H & Tiggeman, M. “The contribution of peer and media influences to the development of body satisfaction and self-esteem in young girls: A prospective study.” Developmental Psychology. 42:5. 2006. 929-929. Web. 25 January 2015.

[2] Manwaring, Ayarza. “Reality Television and Its Impact on Women’s Body Image.” 2011. Online Theses and Dissertations. Web. 26 January 2015.

[3] Obenson, Tambay. “Programs w/ Black Leads Dominate VH1’s Top 5 Shows in 2013. Shifting Trends?” Shadow and Act | Indie Wire. Indiewire.com 28 October 2013. Web. 25 January 2015.