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Nate Harrison’s Can I Get an Amen :: An Audio Installation


Although Nate Harrison originally directed and produced this recording on acetate to be an audio installation with turntable, PA system, and paper documents, it was not in art galleries that his work got exposure but rather on the Internet, where the 2004 video caught fire.

Harrison’s history of the six-second Amen Break brings with it issues that pertain to copyright law versus public domain.  One quote in particular reminds me of my first post on the sculptor, Brian Dettmer.  At 11:18, Harrison narrates:

In other words, sampling was not seen as merely rehashing past sounds, but as an attempt to make new from something old:  an artistic strategy as time honored as creative expression itself.

Dettmer’s library of dated, non-fiction books that he takes the scalpel to is, like the six-second Amen Break, his public domain that he reinterprets with his incisions, thereby imbuing the pages with new life.  He becomes the second parent of these books, the first being none other than their author.

But, who knows, maybe there was a parent before their first parent?  This wouldn’t be too absurd to suggest seeing that the status quo for many if not all artists is to take the old and make it un-old.  Art is not creation, but re-creation.

Alex Kozinski, the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, bundled this notion much more elegantly when he presented the court with his dissenting opinion on the 1993 Vanna White case, which concerned property right to publicity.  Despite its elegance, however, it should be noted that the court ruled in her favor.  At 17:30, Harrison quotes Kozinski:

Overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it.  Culture is impossible without a rich public domain.  Nothing today, like nothing since we tamed fire, is genuinely new.  Culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion, each new creator building on the works of those who came before.  Overprotection stifles the very creative forces it’s suppose to nurture.

The first time I encountered this idea that nothing can ever be original, that there is no such achievement as originality, was while reading a Borges story.  But I can’t remember the title or find the quote, and the idea was so stifling at the time that I neglected to jot it down.

January 23, 2009 8:55 am

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