Indris located on Madagascar. Credit: Cornell University
What a face! And, it introduces you to the latest from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ (CALS), from a February 26, 2018 news item on phys.org,
Musicians have long drawn inspiration from nature, but a new online game is taking that connection one step further. “Beastbox” takes sound clips from real wild animals, transforms them into loops, and allows users to mix and match them into an endless variety of beats, breaks and drops. Along the way, players learn about the animals and the ecosystems they belong to.
The free game is the result of a collaboration among the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Cornell Hip Hop Collection and Ben Mirin, a sound artist and beatboxer whose career as a “wildlife DJ” inspired the project.
“‘BeastBox’ is a surprise mashup brought to you by scientists, musicians, designers, animators and coders,” says Mya Thompson, leader of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Academy project. “It’s dedicated to the idea that we could all use a few minutes to appreciate our musical planet. When I first met Ben Mirin, I knew we could take his wildlife DJ concept to a new level – and ‘BeastBox’ is what came out.”
By bringing animals from the same ecosystem together on the virtual stage, players can unlock “Beastmode” and control the moves of animal characters as they dance to Mirin’s music. Each bonus track is created exclusively from sounds recorded in six ecosystems including the Madagascar rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef and the Sonoran desert. Fun for all ages, “BeastBox” celebrates the musicality and biodiversity of our planet and encourages fans of music to become fans of wildlife.
“BeastBox” highlights two of Cornell’s world-renowned collections: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library and the Cornell Hip Hop Collection. The Macaulay Library is the world’s premier scientific archive of natural history audio, video and photographs. Many of the sounds players encounter in the game are archived in the library. Players who complete at least one ecosystem puzzle win the opportunity to download 20 wild animal sounds from the Macaulay Library collection.
Founded in 2007, Cornell’s Hip Hop Collection is the largest research archive on hip-hop culture in the world and is part of Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. “BeastBox” players are encouraged to browse the archive to better understand the cultural roots of beatboxing and hip-hop.
Here’s an April 11, 2015 TEDxNYU (New York University) talk by Ben Mirin (published on YouTube June 5, 2017),
I’ve been to two new exhibitions in Vancouver (Canada) and while both could be described as mashups, only one uses the word in its title. Before getting to the shows, here’s a little bit about mashups for anyone who’s not familiar with word.
A mashup definition
Generally speaking a mashup is when you bring together multiple source materials to create something new. Here’s a list of different types of mashups, from the Mashup Wikipedia entry,
Mashup may refer to:
Mashup (music), the musical genre encompassing songs which consist entirely of parts of other songs
Mashup (video), a video that is edited from more than one source to appear as one
Mashup (book), a book which combines a pre-existing text, often a classic work of fiction, with a certain popular genre such as vampire or zombie narratives
Lotus Mashups, a Business Mashups editor developed and distributed by IBM as part of the IBM Mashup Center system
Band Mashups, the former name of the video game Battle of the Bands
While the book mashup seems relatively new, there have been other older literary mashups such as cut-up technique (Note: Links have been removed),
The cut-up technique (or découpé in French) is an aleatory literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The concept can be traced to at least the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writer William S. Burroughs, and has since been used in a wide variety of contexts.
Arguably although problematically, the exquisite corpse could be included as a literary mashup (Note: Links have been removed),
Exquisite corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis) or rotating corpse, is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. “The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun”, as in “The green duck sweetly sang the dreadful dirge”) or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed.
The technique was invented by surrealists and is similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Surrealism principal founder André Breton reported that it started in fun, but became playful and eventually enriching. Breton said the diversion started about 1925, but Pierre Reverdy wrote that it started much earlier, at least before 1918.
In any event, music mashups (also called remix amongst other things) seem to have predated any other mashups, from the Mashup (music) Wikipedia entry,
A mashup (also mesh, mash up, mash-up, blend, bootleg and bastard pop/rock) is a song or composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs, usually by overlaying the vocal track of one song seamlessly over the instrumental track of another. …
The practice of assembling new songs from purloined elements of other tracks stretches back to the beginnings of recorded music [emphasis mine]. If one extends the definition beyond the realm of pop, precursors can be found in musique concrète, as well as the classical practice of (re-)arranging traditional folk material and the jazz tradition of reinterpreting standards. In addition, many elements of mashup culture have antecedents in hip hop and the DIY ethic of punk as well as overlap with the free culture movement.
The history of sound recording – which has progressed in waves, driven by the invention and commercial introduction of new technologies – can be roughly divided into four main periods:
the “Acoustic” era, 1877 to 1925
the “Electrical” era, 1925 to 1945 (including sound on film)
the “Magnetic” era, 1945 to 1975
the “Digital” Era, 1975 to the present day.
It seems the musicians got there first. That settled, it’s time for the visual art exhibition that’s a mashup in principle if not in name. (Although Robin Laurence in part 2 makes a compelling case for the 18th century visual artist, Mary Delany and her ‘paper-mosaiks’ (scroll down about 75% of the way; it’s in the subsection titled ‘Reviews and commentaries from elsewhere’).
While he’s made his money as a Vancouver real estate marketer, Bob Rennie is better known internationally as someone who is passionately committed to the visual arts. Crowned as one of the top 200 art collectors in the world by ArtNews, Rennie rated both a profile in ArtNews and a mention in the ArtNet News April 30, 2015 article, Top 200 Art Collectors Worldwide for 2015, Part Two. According to his entry on Wikipedia, there’s also this (Note: Links have been removed),
Rennie chairs the North America Acquisitions Committee (NAAC) at Tate Museum in London,is a member of the Tate International Council and sits on the Dean’s Advisory Board to the Faculty of Arts at the University of British Columbia (since 2006). In recognition of his dedication to the arts and the arts community, he received an honorary doctorate of letters from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2008, and was appointed to the university’s Board of Governors in 2009.
Rennie joined the Board of Trustees at The Art Institute of Chicago in 2015.
The current exhibition at the Rennie Collection (where pieces from his extensive art collection are displayed) is untitled and unique. The show was curated by Rennie himself (from the Rennie Collection Jan. ??, 2016 news release),
Rennie Collection is proud to present a major group exhibition featuring 41 prominent and emerging artists. Bringing together a variety of practices and media, this survey aims to reveal the chaos of the world by addressing enduringly pertinent issues, from migratory displacement to an in-depth examination of identity and history. The exhibition runs from January 23 to April 23, 2016 [ETA April 4, 2016: The show has been extended to Friday, May 20, 2016.].
“This is our twelfth exhibition at the Rennie Museum, with works from the collection. Although we never burden our shows with a formal title, the working title for this install− which mines 41 artists from the collection − is ‘chaos’. Given the chaos of the world, I wanted to bring tough topics into conversations.
From the first work that ever entered the collection, Norman Rockwells On Top of The World (1933) – a utopian world that I thought actually existed outside my childhood home in Vancouver’s eastside – through to Bob Beck’s Thirteen Shooters (2001) showcasing the Columbine killers – the world stopped sixteen years ago hearing the news of a school massacre – my concern today, and a focus of the exhibition, is on elevating the topics in the show. We just don’t stop anymore upon hearing the news.
For anyone familiar with the Rennie Collection, it is in a heritage building in one of the oldest parts of Vancouver. The building houses both the ‘gallery’ and Rennie’s real estate marketing business. Visits (tours) to see an exhibition must be booked; there is no ‘dropping in’.
When I attended, over 15 of us were booked for a visit, we were introduced to the exhibit by Whitney (a student from the University of British Columbia art history programme). Usually you get an introduction to every single piece in the exhibit but with over 41 artists represented and, I believe, 53 pieces being shown that proved to be impossible. That said, there is one piece which is likely to be everyone’s starting part and that is the camel or more precisely, John Baldessari’s 2013 Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle (Large) on the ground floor by picture window where passersby can look in from the street.
The piece looks like a giant lump of camel-shaped plastic, smooth and white. The artist has coloured in the eyes which from most angles seem to be gazing not at the needle before it but heavenward. It is as you’ve likely guessed a reference to the saying about rich men having as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. Whitney informed us that the saying can, more or less, be associated with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (If you look on Wikipedia (Eye of a needle) entry, you’ll find it can also be associated with the Bahá’í faith.) By the way, the saying is written on the gallery wall in Arabic.
It seems telling that the first piece is about rich men and their difficulty getting to heaven in a show curated by a rich man (Rennie’s stated intention seen later in this post does not resemble my response to the piece). Then, further into the gallery’s first floor, there are pieces by Jota Castro titled ‘Motherfuckers never die’. One of the pieces features a list of art collectors, both individual and corporate (not including Rennie), with the title prominently featured as the headline. It suggests a highly self-critical view both personally and socially, which is borne out through the rest of the exhibition.
Upstairs, the second floor is an overwhelming experience given that its three galleries are loaded with the bulk of the items. One of the more engaging pieces for me was ‘Animal Farm ’92 (after George Orwell)’, 1992 by Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’ has been ripped apart so the pages could be glued to a huge canvas or some other surface. Over top of the book’s pages, artists have rendered political figures of the period as animals. The usual suspects are present: the US president, China’s president, France’s president, Japan’s prime minister and, more excitingly, leaders who are largely unknown outside their own countries. It was fascinatingly comprehensive.
The Tate (UK art gallery) has an image which shows you what I’m trying to describe but in no way conveys the scale,
Animal Farm – G7 1989-92 Tim Rollins born 1955 Lent from a private collection 2000 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/L02312
You could spend hours contemplating the geopolitical and social implications both then and now. As well, the piece has an interesting story of its own as can be seen on the Tim Rollins and K.O.S webpage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press website,
In August 1981, artist and activist Tim Rollins was recruited by the principal of Intermediate School 52 in the South Bronx to develop a curriculum that combined art-making with lessons in reading and writing for students classified as “at risk.” On the first day of school, Rollins told his students, “Today we are going to make art, but we are also going to make history.” This book unfolds that history, offering the first comprehensive catalog of work created collaboratively by Rollins and several generations of students, now known as the “Kids of Survival.”
Rollins and his students developed a way of working that combined art-making with reading literature and writing personal narratives: Rollins or a student would read aloud from classic literary texts by such authors as Shakespeare and Orwell while the rest of the class drew or wrote on the pages being read, connecting the stories to their own experiences. Often, Rollins and his students (who later named themselves “Kids of Survival” or K.O.S.) cut out book pages and laid them on a grid on canvas before undertaking their graphic interventions. This process developed into the group’s signature style, which they applied to literary texts, musical scores, and other printed matter. This book and the accompanying major museum retrospective document the history of the groundbreaking practice of Tim Rollins and K.O.S., with full color images of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints. These include a caricature of Jesse Helms with an animal body drawn on the pages of Animal Farm; graffiti-like images painted in acrylic on the pages of Frankenstein; a gleaming pattern of fantastical golden horns on Kafka’s Amerika; and a series of red letter A’s on The Scarlet Letter.
As promised, social issues dominate this Rennie Collection show throughout. Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Coloured Vases’ (2009) with industrial paint covering and cheapening seven Han era dynasty vases, Brian Jungen’s mishapened and blackened Ku Klux Hood (‘Untitled’, 2015), and Judy Chartrand’s ‘If this is what you call “Being Civilized” I’d rather go back to “Being Savage …”‘ hotel bowls (2003) which ahs drawings of cockroaches included with the decorative imagery, call viewers to take into account their own biases. Wei Wei’s vases are cheap and garish, it’s on learning that Han era vases are beneath the paint that the viewer is forced to reevaluate the piece and his or her own judgment. Chartrand’s cockroaches blend in with the decor and it takes a minute or two to recognize them for what they are and recoil. The experience is a bit shocking and for locals who recognize the names of the three hotel bowls represented, the link to the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is searing. Jungen’s second piece (Untitled) in this show is on the floor, the shape not readily seen, and the colour black. Once Whitney told us it was meant to represent a Ku Klux Klan hood, we were presented with a problem. When something as iconic as a white, cloth, KKK hood is represented by a misshapen lump of solid black plastic and is on the floor unrecognizable as a hood, one has to resolve cognitive dissonance.
The show ends on the third floor where the Norman Rockwell print ‘On Top of the World’ (1933) mentioned in the news release is bracketed by two pieces by Anton Kannemeyer ‘W is for White’ (2007) on the left (once also known as the ‘sinister’ side) & ‘B is for Black’ (2007) on the right. Rennie’s first art purchase representing an idealized world he (and many others) have aspired to is bracketed by Kannemeyer’s pieces, which feature definitions for white and black found in the Oxford English Dictionary and are illustrated with crude racist images. The effect is of one more disturbance added to a series experienced in this show. One final discombobulating experience (I’m not sure if it’s intentional *ETA March 8, 2016 1720 hours: Yes, it is according to Wendy Chang of the Rennie Collection*) is due to a permanent installation seen from the rooftop, Martin Creed’s strangely reassuring neon words ‘EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT’. All you have to do is go to the door which opens onto the roof and turn your head to the left and you can either view the Creed piece through the glass door or step out onto the roof.
Social commentary and artist’s approach to reporting the news has always interested me – Gilbert and George’s Bomb from 2006, or the questioning of commerce in the backroom photos of Amazon by Hugh Scott-Douglas, John Baldessari’s albino camel bringing ancient proverbs into question [my response was not that as noted earlier], and Glenn Ligon’s ‘fallen America’. I felt it was time to stop looking at the world’s chaos in isolation and let you see into the world in accumulation. If you leave sad, tense or somewhat suffocated, then I have… you know, I don’t know really what I have done, other than reminded us that when one of us has a problem, we all have a problem. [emphasis mine]
Thank you so much for questioning the world with me…”
Here’s an image of Rennie with the Martin Creed piece visible behind him,
[downloaded from http://www.artnews.com/top200/bob-rennie/]
Finally, Rennie’s comment that one of us having a problem means we all do brought to mind this,
Part 2 covers the mashup at the Vancouver Art Gallery and more.
Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist, writer, actor, and tree planter. He is best known for his award-winning hip-hop theatre shows, including The Rap Guide to Evolution and The Canterbury Tales Remixed, which interpret the works of Darwin and Chaucer for a modern audience.
Originally from British Columbia and now living in New York City, he has brought his Rap Guide to Evolution which has been an off-Broadway show, a festival performance, and a DVD project to Vancouver. The last time he performed this show, which morphs as new information is received and as it is adapted for different media and performance types, to Vancouver was in 2011 (my Feb. 17, 2011 posting features a pre-show interview he gave),. This time he’s at Vancouver’s East Cultural Centre, (The Cultch) from Oct. 29, – November 10, 2013 (tickets here).
Baba has very kindly (especially since the show just opened a few days ago) given me a second interview. Without more ado, here’s the interview,
Could you describe the full theatrical version of the Rap Guide to Evolution that played in New York? And is this what you’ve brought to Vancouver or has it been adapted either due to cost and/or venue and/or geographic location?
The show running in Vancouver is the full off-Broadway production, which includes music and live turntablism by Jamie Simmonds, visual projections by Wendall Harrington and lighting design by Jason Boyd. All of these production elements were added in 2011 specifically for the New York run, and they create a full immersion experience with lights and sounds and visuals and words all weaving together to tell the story of Darwin’s intellectual impact on the modern world.
In Adrian Mack’s Oct. 23, 2013 piece in the Georgia Straight) newspaper, you talked about karma, Vancouverites’ belief in it, and the science of it. How did you come to a scientific understanding of karma and could you explain what you mean by ‘cheater detection’ and ‘evolved deterrents to free-riding behaviour’?
Karma is *often summarized as “what goes around comes around” and for most people it’s a belief that the universe is somehow keeping score, rewarding goodness and punishing badness. The dark side of the widespread belief in karma, in Vancouver and elsewhere, is that it could just as accurately be summarized as “whatever happens to you, good or bad, you deserve it” which doesn’t sit right with most people when they think it through. We constantly see people around us being unjustly rewarded for bad behaviour and punished for good behaviour, and we see a lot of randomness too. Not many of us would tell a pedestrian who was hit by a drunk driver: “that’s karma”, but if you give a homeless person a dollar and later find out that you’ve won a big prize in a raffle draw *you might think it’s karma. Hence, we usually only invoke the concept of karma when we encounter seemingly random events that appear to repay like with like.
The scientific view is that our minds misattribute causality to these kinds of random events, but we do it for a good reason. Humans are social primates, and social groups share the mutual benefits of cooperative efforts, but those benefits are constantly undermined by individuals who claim the rewards without paying the cooperative costs, ie cheaters and free-riders. Evolution will favour free-riding behaviour unless there are mechanisms to punish or suppress it, but punishment itself is costly, so there are a whole series of obstacles to evolving cooperation. One way to overcome these obstacles is with psychological mechanisms for “cheater detection” (seeking and identifying non-cooperators) and “altruistic punishment” (enforcing costs on them through reputation-damage, ostracism, loss of liberty, etc), both of which humans have been experimentally shown to have in spades. We care about who’s a fraud, a thief, and a cheater, and we want to see them pay for it. Denouncing and locking up Bernie Madoff feels good.
Hence, the concept of karma can be redeemed as a social as opposed to metaphysical phenomenon. The reason we feel like the universe adheres to the principle of “what goes around comes around” is because we are evolved to pursue that model through our social interactions, so we project it onto the physical world. The universe doesn’t enforce good behaviour, but your peers certainly do. If you doubt it, try ripping them off and see what happens.
I see you were an artist-in-residence at the US National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) which is located at the University of Tennessee. Could you describe the experience especially in light of the fact that Tennessee is the state where the Scopes trial took place? (The trial is famous for bringing two of the US’s best known lawyers of the 1920s [William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow] to argue whether or not evolution was scientific and should be taught in schools.)
I was expecting the Tennessee residency to be a lot more controversial, but in fact most of it was spent interacting with post-docs and grad students, learning about their research, going to lectures, and going to live music events at local bars. Major evolution vs creationism showdowns reminiscent of Scopes did not feature prominently in my time there, but in retrospect that isn’t surprising since I was a guest of a national scientific research centre and was situated on a university campus. The one exception to this general tranquility was my performance at Union County High School, which generated some controversy, summarized in my “Tennessee Monkey Trials” blog. I thought I was there to fight a culture war, but mostly I just drank local craft beer (and moonshine) and listened to live bluegrass music. *The end result was The Infomatic EP produced by Jamie Simmonds, who was in Tennessee with me for most of the residency.”*
How have you and/or your work changed since you embarked on rapping science?
The biggest change is that I have come to identify as a skeptic, atheist, and philosophical naturalist, whereas before I would have called myself agnostic or spiritual. I was never religious before, but I was sympathetic to the idea of a nebulous spiritual “force” at work in the world. However, the more I read about evolution and psychology and the scientific method, the less seriously I was able to take supernatural or miraculous explanations for anything at all. Now I write rationalist anthems like “Naturalizm” and “Off That“, which are very different in tone than the music I was making six years ago.
Where are you off to after this?
My next tour is the Norway Hip-hop Festival in February, and then a big tour of Australia in May/June, including the Sydney Opera House. In the meantime, my wife is pregnant with our first baby, due in late November, so I’m going to spend the winter learning to be a father, which is pretty exciting. Darwin would be proud.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I hope your readers will come to the show, if they are able. It runs until November 10th in Vancouver. Or, if they can’t make it, download the album and bump it in your headphones. Scientific literacy never sounded so good!
Baba, I very much appreciate the interview and the gift of your precious time writing this up just after you’ve opened your show here in Vancouver. As well, congratulations to you and your wife!
Also, thank you for that explanation of karma and science and, especially, for this bit, “The dark side of the widespread belief in karma, in Vancouver and elsewhere, is that it could just as accurately be summarized as “whatever happens to you, good or bad, you deserve it” which doesn’t sit right with most people when they think it through. We constantly see people around us being unjustly rewarded for bad behaviour and punished for good behaviour, and we see a lot of randomness too. …” Many times I’ve lovely well-meaning individuals do damage with advice that includes blame via ‘karma’. Thank you for being much more articulate about it than I’ve been.
As for anyone who likes to see reviews, the only one I could find is from Colin Thomas who in an Oct. 30, 2013 review for the Georgia Straight which was further elucidated in a Nov. 1, 2013 posting on his eponymous blog, had issues not with the performance (“Smart writer. Handsome production. But no. Just no. ” [from the Oct. 30, 2012 review]) but the content and the politics regarding rap and gender, in particular. I gather Thomas found the show thought-provoking.
* Two corrections made: ‘ofter’ to ‘often’ and ‘raffle and you might’ to ‘raffle you might’ in the response to the Karma question and one sentence added to the end of the Tennessee question on Nov.4, 2013.
I’m happy to see that Baba Brinkman’s IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign was successful (my Jan. 25, 2013 posting), so he can introduce the first hip-hop theatre cycle (Evolutionary Tales) to the world. He will be performing three of his shows, Ingenious Nature, Rap Guide to Evolution, and Canterbury Tales Remixed in repertory off Broadway in New York City on weekends (Fri. – Sun.) starting Friday, May 31, 2013 and then, throughout most of the month of June. Here’s more from Baba’s May 29, 2013 announcement,
Greetings from the Player’s Theatre! We’ve spent the past two days setting up not one but three shows here, preparing for the world’s first-ever hip-hop theatre cycle: Evolutionary Tales.
We launch on Friday with a performance of Ingenious Nature, which was recently nominated for an Off-Broadway Alliance Award in the category of “Best Unique Theatrical Experience” (which we didn’t win, but it was a nice acknowledgement). Use the code “Genious” to get $29 advance tickets.
Then on Saturday we’re taking the “peer-reviewed rap” theme to the next level, with a World Science Festival presentation of the Rap Guide to Evolution featuring Dr. Helen Fisher, Dr. Stuart Firestein, and Dr. Heather Berlin providing a live post-show peer-review talkback. Use the code “Darwin” for discount tickets.
Finally, on Sunday the Canterbury Tales Remixed will have its first off-Broadway performance since early 2012, tracing the evolution of storytelling from Gilgamesh to Slick Rick via Chaucer’s masterpiece. Use the code “Tales” for discount tickets.
Evolutionary psychology, sex differences in behavior, and the modern dating scene. Can science serve as a road map to romance? It turns out, ovulation studies make for awkward first-date conversation.
Fridays 8pm, May 31 – June 21
RAP GUIDE TO EVOLUTION
Rap Guide to Evolution interprets Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution for the hip-hop age, exploring the links between bling and peacocks’ tails, gangster rap music and elephant seals, and the species-wide appeal of Afro-centricity.
Saturdays 8pm, June 1 – 22
CANTERBURY TALES REMIXED
Canterbury Tales Remixed brings you a collection of the world’s best-loved stories, supplementing Chaucer’s masterful character-driven Tales with artful re-tellings of the epics of Beowulf and Gilgamesh. The evolution of storytelling!