Harvard Law School Fed Me a Steak.

April 10, 2005

A rib-eye, in fact.

I flew up to Boston for the Signal/Noise conference, put on by the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. I was interviewed by Eric Hellweg at 9:15 in the morning–on sampling, on recording digitally, on the basic chordal structures that underlie all Western music (i.e., I played ‘em “Louie Louie” and “Wild Thing” and a bunch of other tunes with that precise same riff). I had a blast, and was gratified that this stuff–a lot of which I feared would seem really pedantic–was news to the law students, and the next couple of panels kept referencing our presentation.
I was supposed to fly back that afternoon, but I changed my ticket and watched the whole thing. Fascinating to see these kind of questions filtered through legalese, and legal minds. And some of the speakers blew my mind:
Walter McDonough, a lawyer who founded the Future of Music Coalition; a brilliant, fiery Boston Irish guy, just hilarious and fascinating.
I expected him to be the usual kind of infuriating, non-pro-artist-understanding, “The web will free copyrights for everybody, yay!” kind of a dude, but he was nothing of the sort. In fact, when the webmaster for Beatallica (a live band that flawlessly mashes-up the Beatles and Metallica–their singer, nom de guerre James Lennfield, entertained us at dinner with his spot-on Hetfield) went off on that fluffy let’s-free-the-art rap, saying that Beatallica should be allowed to exist because they “promote the Beatles,” McDonough interjected sharply, “I think the Beatles sold a couple of records before you started ‘promoting’ them.”
A presentation on Machinima, an art form in which movies are made using videogames not intended for filmmaking. Check ‘em out: machinima.org. He showed us movies made with Halo, the Sims, etc.
Lawrence Ferrara, a lawyer who’s consulted for hip-hop artists, and described these evil genius forensic uses of ProTools to unearth buried illegal samples.
Paul Hoffert, an incredibly engaging mathematician and composer from Toronto, with whom I sat at dinner; a guy who expressed in the most articulate way I’ve ever heard the moral/economic line an artist has to walk in terms of appropriation, sampling, etc.
William Alford, who wrote a gorgeously titled book called To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property in Chinese Civilization.
John Perry Barlow, the Grateful Dead lyricist and old-guard of internet philosophers, who admitted, astonishingly, misgivings about free downloads of Dead recordings (who’s going to download them from iTunes when they’re available, the exact same recordings, of the exact same quality, for free on archive.org?). So ballsy of the guy to publicly speak of his questioning his own attitudes.
And a bunch of others. I was jazzed all day.