Electronic Intertextuality in Music

These past days I’ve had my head lost in the intertextuality of music, especially genres that use sampling as to incorporate themes, musical ideas or lyrics into original ideas that then create an altogether new experience.  This kind of creation is a musical frankenstein, as all the pieces are chopped and sawed, stitched and glued, assembled and rearranged to create the perfect arrangement that resonates back to the other artists that were originally responsible for the “samples.”  With that being said, Perhaps one of my favorite, groovy rap/rock/punk albums is The Beastie Boy’s album Ill Communication.  Apart from the abundance of creative and oftentimes hilarious placement of samples all throughout the album,  the music, the tireless vocals from Ad-Rock, Adam Yauch and Mike D, sail over smooth jazz licks, scream at vocal-chord shattering volumes in their punk numbers and keep the groove locked in more of their rapping songs.  All over, the album is dense.  It seems endlessly deep and monstrously sculpted as the layers get bigger and bigger in the album.  So, much can be said of this gem; but that isn’t my concern.

The intertextuality that courses through the veins of Ill Communications, is really astounding.  It is in itself some kind of literature as lyrics and voices are stripped from their original source and married with the Beastie Boy’s sound to form a completely new vision.  This borrowing to sample is such a common motif in rap.  But even if the Beastie Boys are borrowing lyrics, they borrow beats, rhythms and sounds.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of certain pieces of e-lit that perform the role of intertextuality by recalling their predecessors in the text in very subtle approaches.  This kind of borrowing of ideas is in a way of paying homage to the artists of past and present, ancient and new.  Just like T.S. Eliot wrote in his essay on the modernist tradition, intertextuality is an integral spice to the poet/artist.  The piece can’t be floating in the vast, complex universe of art; it must be tethered in some way that expresses the inspiration and who the creative mother is.  By this artistic play, performers and producers alike are perpetually acknowledging other artists by sampling portions of their tracks.  This is at once a thank-you and a reconstruction.

But sampling could not be possible without the birth of all sorts of electronic devices that allow for recording, augmentation and amplification.  Without the equipment available, this kind of amazingly lucid sampling could never be possible.  Technology, just like with literature, had completely redefined music and the limitations it held.  The potential has grown as technology has allowed for the intertextuality to grow and grow and grow.  And I think Ill Communications is the paradigm of brilliant intertextuality contingent upon certain technologies and the works of previous artists.

I guess without further adieu, listen to Ill Communications if you haven’t already.  Do a favor to your ears and feed them some tasty tunes during your next e-lit play.  I’m sure the combination won’t disappoint.

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