Dec. 17, 2016: Track Sharing
In his 200 Words write-up for The Out Door, Graham Lambkin mentions that "Spectrum," a track from his recent album Community, "also shows up on Sean McCann’s new LP as 'Pearling’ (reinforcing a communal/sharing motif)." Having heard McCann's album, Music for Public Ensemble, prior to hearing Lambkin's or reading his write-up, I had already made this observation. But it wasn't until I read Lambkin's comment that I a) thought about how cool this act of sharing really is, and b) made a connection to another really cool act of musical sharing that happened in 2016: Kanye West's "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. II," from The Life of Pablo, and Desiigner's humongous single "Panda."
Like many others, I first heard "Panda" within Kanye's song; when I started hearing the Desiigner track blaring from every car in New York City a couple weeks later, I thought for a while that it was just a new version of "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. II" (unsurprising given all the post-release tinkering on The Life of Pablo). Anyways, I quickly learned that it was an independent song that Kanye had merely plopped in the middle of his own—not quite sampling, definitely not covering.
To release the same exact song (albeit with some contextual alterations) at more or less the same time (Lambkin's and McCann's LPs came out within weeks of each other too), but with different artist names, is indeed a powerful act of sharing. It speaks to the increasing logistical ease of such artistic sharing in the information age, as well as the increasingly porous frameworks that encompass "artist" and "album." In other words, I applaud Lambkin, McCann, Kanye, and Desiigner for the choices—not to mention, I like all four songs mentioned here quite a bit.
I feel like there are precedents for this in popular music, but I can't think of any... In the '50s and '60s and into the '70s, artists would often cover brand new songs. This is why you see so many versions of the same pop tune by different bands in a single year during those decades; it's tough to know who wrote the song, or at least who first performed it (maybe not tough given the internet, but still...). In jazz, people are always inserting other songs—heads, riffs, etc.—into their own, but they're playing someone else's tune, not using the exact same recording of it.
While it's on my mind, though: an interesting case, to go back to popular music, is "Wild Horses," which was written and popularized by The Rolling Stones of course, but was actually first released by The Flying Burrito Brothers, who put it on their 1970 album Burrito Deluxe just a bit before The Stones released their definitive version on 1971's Sticky Fingers. Again, though, what Lambkin, McCann, Kanye, and Desiigner did was neither covering nor sampling nor interpolating—it's something else, something about which I will write more articulate statements one day, maybe. My final thoughts are that more than any studio-based music, the practice I'm describing is perhaps closest to DJing, which obviously involves inserting readymade songs (often ones that are brand new) directly into one's own art (sets, mixes, etc.). Are Lambkin, McCann, Kanye, and Desiigner offering a new type of subtly reflexive DJing-as-composition? How else could this look?
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