4 min read

Week 2: Soundwalk and the Molotov Man

Reflections on Our Soundwalk

Untitled by Nima, Orpheas, and Mashi

I’d always been reluctant to join sound- or rhythm-based activities because it would quickly become evident that a musical background was a significant advantage, and I would somehow be surrounded by musically-trained participants. I thought this project would be no exception – hilariously, my collaborators Nima and Orpheas are musicians, too – but I found myself contributing much more than I expected.

Our creative process could be split into three parts: sound collection, story selection, and finally compilation. For the first step, we paid no mind to structure and recorded anything we thought could be interesting: from me pouring chips on a plate to the traffic on Jay Street. For the second step, we listened to the sounds we collected and discussed our favorites, which pushed us to consider how they could be joined. For example, we enjoyed how the sound of rotating wooden tiles in Daniel Rozin’s hallway installation could be mistaken for insects, as well as how ominous an ice-cream truck’s jingle could be when its echo is heard from a distance. With those two pieces, we came up with a scene of our “main character” walking through a forest and hearing an ice cream truck through the cacophony of critters. From there, we tried to fill in the holes: why are we in a forest in the first place? What happens when the main character approaches the ice cream truck? And in answering these questions, we found out how we could use the other recordings we collected, and naturally transitioned into compiling our piece.

In this last step, Nima’s experience with music editing software jumpstarted our ideas for weaving our samples together – some distorting effects on the ice cream truck and other samples perfectly captured the dreamlike twist we’d discussed. We adopted a kind of “pair-programming” approach to editing on Audition, where one of us would navigate the software while the others would direct, switching off as needed. As the piece came together we replayed small sections and discussed edits as a group, until we arrived at the version presented here.

I’m pleasantly surprised to report that I enjoyed the whole process. I wish my music classes growing up taught such collaborative approaches to sound, rather than just brute force theory that I didn’t know how to use.

Response to "On the Rights of Molotov Man"

"On the Rights of Molotov Man: Appropriation and the art of context", by Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas

I’m perplexed by how this article came to be – did the editor ask Garnett and Meiselas each to provide their opinion on the subject? Did they agree to write together? Did Garnett write her half, in defense of her work and what followed, and Meiselas rebuttal? It’s a strange article, because while not explicitly adversarial, Garnett positions Meiselas opposite the artist community that rallied around her. In other words, to Garnett, Meiselas is not another artist, but rather an example of the red tape and gag orders that artists face, even though her art is the one that’s been reused without permission.

I’m thinking about the recent trend of comedians bemoaning how “cancel culture” has ruined their craft, and how they intend to reclaim it by doubling down on their jokes, told at the expense of their “woke” (read: non-white and/or non-male) critics and other performers, who have only used the limited space provided to them – on Twitter threads, blog posts, and a meager selection of content moderation tools – to advocate for themselves and their work.

The comparison here is barely even skin-deep, but I find it interesting that when Meiselas used one of the limited methods available to protest her work’s reuse in an exhibition – as any artist in her position likely would – the response among Garnett’s supporters (or more accurately, copyright detractors) was also to escalate.

But maybe I’m also misreading the power dynamics at play. Upon rereading, Meiselas was represented by Magnum Photos, a 75-year-old cooperative with offices in four countries, while Garnett was independently exhibiting her work at a NYC gallery. Doesn’t it seem like a misuse of a cooperative’s collective power to direct itself against a lone creator, instead of against the gallery that seeks to profit from said creator, or better yet, the system at large that creates such gross imbalances between artists making a living? It’s easy to think that rather than protecting its artists from exploitation, Magnum, like a corporate entity, invoked copyright law to protect its bottom line by extorting an easy target.

The whole incident could have been resolved easily if Garnett made the most basic of attributions from the start, but also if Meiselas had merely requested the same, without a licensing fee. Which is to say nothing about the central question posed by both artists: What is the relationship between this artwork and the subject himself, the anti-fascist Sandinista Pablo Arauz? Who gets to decide whether this artwork, the latest in a long line of reenactments of a photo also taken and published without permission, is still connected with him or his cause? Regardless of our answers, I think we can only have such discussions if we can even trace the piece of art throughout history, which doesn't seem to be within the purview of our copyright laws, but is instead, as Meiselas writes, a responsibility we should take on artists and audiences.