2009.05.20

During the Open Everything event I attended in April, we watched part of the file RiP!: A Remix Manifesto which featured “Girl Talk” who is labeled a “musician” by, well, lots of people.

Me? I’m not convinced he’s really a musician.

I mean, I guess I consider a musician to be someone who can play and instrument (or maybe sings) and who (may) writes songs. Perhaps I should say “original” songs.

From what I can tell, Girl Talk doesn’t play any instruments, and doesn’t sing, but just creates this audio collage out of other people’s work, with no original bits except how they are arranged.

I feel like my argument could be seen as thin, and could honestly go either way, but in seeing (part of) the film, and seeing people go nuts for Girl Talk, which bases (I believe) all of his work on the work of others, creating no original pieces of sound/music on his own, only taking from others… I’m conflicted on this.

And I know he claims “fair use” on his use of the material (that he does not compensate the original artists for) but hey, that’s the same claim the media outlet that stole my photo used. Fair use is only determined in court of law, but in my opinion, what he is doing is not fair use. Add to the fact he is making money off of the work of others, and not compensating them, and now I really don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong, as far as music goes, it’s some cool shit, but how cool would it be if it used none of the original bits from others, and we just gave Girl Talk a room full of instruments and said “go nuts”? I get the feeling it wouldn’t be the same.

Maybe I’m just old, and this new digital world scares me. I mean, when I started playing music, you had to use actual guitars, not the sound of a guitar that some legendary musician recorded 20 years ago. You had to learn how to play, and you had to practice… a lot.

A few years ago when I started to get into making music again, I played with GarageBand, and it was fun to make songs, but it didn’t feel real. I mean, clicking and dragging samples around was easy, butI didn’t get the same satisfaction I did from actually playing a guitar.

On my most recent album, I ended up using drum loops, and it was my biggest disappointment. I wish I could have played the drums on every track. If I had, I think my sense of accomplishment would have been even higher. I did manage to record all the guitars, bass, vocals, and some of the cymbals, but being able to avoid canned drum tracks would have been huge for me.

But why bother when you can click a mouse and make music, and by make, I mean arrange the music other people have created into something new.

I want to compare it to someone who calls themselves a “photographer” but doesn’t shoot photos, and only arranges the photos other people have taken (in something like Photoshop) into a collage and then calls themselves a photographer. “Digital Artist” maybe, but photographer?

But wait! I’m supposed to be some big supporter of open culture, open everything, and Creative Commons, etc… Yeah, I am, but I’m also a strong believer in the rights of the creators. Those who make art/music/whatever should be able to decide how they are used (if they haven’t given up those rights.) While so much of the old depended on artists signing away their rights to corporations, I think we can get past that. Some believe the way to do so is to break down all those old ways, and open everything up (even if the owners of the old stuff don’t want it opened up) while other believe that we should move forward, and reward those who fully support being open, and do everything in their power to be open, yet still survive as artists…

And collage? I’m a big fan of collage. I used to do a lot of collage art years and years ago, and yes, I used sources I probably shouldn’t have (“fair use” right?) but I also didn’t publish to a worldwide audience, and didn’t make any money from my artwork. So I’m fine with collage being legitimate art, be it remix/mashup, whatever.

So going back to the question of “Is Girl Talk a musician?” My vote is no. I can’t even say Girl Talk is a composer, so maybe the term would be “re-composer” or “re-arranger” or something.

But he’s still taking the work of others without proper permission, building upon it, and not compensating them, all while profiting from them, and that my friends, is a load of crap…

One Response to “What is Girl Talk?”

  1. I was a bigger fan of Girl Talk )before( we watched Remix Manifesto. I haven’t seen the whole film yet, so I’ll reserve my commentary about such. IT’s funny, because I went to try to download a copy and there wasn’t a legal way to get one at the time. So I didn’t bother.

    So here’s the discussion:

    Is Girl Talk a:
    Band: NO.
    Visionary? Yes.
    Artist? Hell Yes.
    Dirty Dirty Copyright Infringer: Yes.
    Criminal? Semantically, Probably. Should he be sent to prison, No.

    You left out of your screed here, Old Man Raster, a couple of points to ponder.

    1. You said at Open Everything, what gets me is that there are plenty of artists out there who would love it if Gregg Michael Gillis would sample their work and do something cool with it.
    There are tons of artists who _Want_ Girl Talk to remix their work. But he doesn’t because, lets face it, most copyleft work isn’t part of the cultural landscape that makes Girl Talks work resonate.
    Frankly, without the Emotional Baggage that listeners have attached to the source materials Girl Talk works with, his stuff just isn’t that good. Hearing a song you know and love presented in a new or interesting way is Girl Talk’s magic.

    2, Just because something is illegal, doesn’t make it wrong. And just because something is awesome, doesn’t mean we’re wrong for making it illegal. Girl Talk’s work infringes on the rights holders rights to tell him to knock it off. And We’re talking about Substantial infringement here, if not minimally on the original right’s holder right to determine what cultural context his or her work is used.

    There is lots of room for discussion here about the necessity for copyright reform in the United States– but that doesn’t change the fact that by using substantial portions of copy-written work in his remixes, Mr. Gregg Michael Gillis is committing a copyright crime, and I don’t have a problem with that. Mr. Talk’s right to infringe on that copyright as a method of creating discourse is what comes with enjoying the right of Free Speech.

    But the trick with Free Speech is this: Although you have the right to say what you want, you also have the burden of being responsible for exercising that right.

    The better question, then, is what is the extent of the burden that Mr. Talk should bear?

    3. So, if we agree that Gregg Michael Gillis should not be selling his entirely derivative works without compensating the rights holders, the more interesting discussion to me is this: Are his public performances of his works equally as infringing? Or are they simply illegal public performances?

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