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Baroquize this! June 25, 2007

Posted by François in baroque, cultural references, language, re-make, writing process.
4 comments

Suppliers yearn for user appropriation, but not just any kind of appropriation. Designers lay out careful scripts for users to re-make the products they adopt into something that is uniquely theirs. Phone makers want customers not simply to adopt a handset, but to personalize it with distinctive covers and straps, to program its short-cut keys, to inscribe its memory with their own address-book or calendar. Take Boost mobile, abaporu’s favorite MVNO: once you have bought their phone, the Boost brochure invites you to “make it your own” with call-tones, ring-tones, and wallpapers (yet omits to mention that you can personalize it further by installing mologogo, a free alternative to Boost’s own fee-based location service.) Suppliers thus intentionally carve out blank spaces within their designs, then invite users to infiltrate these spaces with their own data and decorations.

This particular appropriation mode, in which users follow the script laid out for them by suppliers, echoes a well-trodden cultural appropriation practice: baroque infiltration. During the colonization of Latin America, the Roman Catholic church was eager for local people to make the Catholic religion their own. To nurture the process, repeating a strategy used in Europe during the counter-reformation, Rome left spaces open on its monuments and in its ceremonies. Thus, the invaders set forth opportunities for the invaded to state their presence, infiltrate their messages, suggest their cosmovisions. Such “baroque infiltration”, Rome reasoned, would allow indigenous people to appropriate European culture and religion, but to do so safely, according to Rome’s own blueprint. In The Buried Mirror, Carlos Fuentes describes the results of this appropriation practice in the creations of José Kondori, the Quechua architect who built “the magnificent churches of Potosí, undoubtedly the most brilliant illustration of the meaning of the baroque in Latin America”.

“Among the angels and the vines of the façade of San Lorenzo, an Indian princess appears, and all the symbols of the defeated Incan culture are given a new lease on life. The Indian half-moon disturbs the traditional serenity of the Corinthian vine. American jungle leaves and Mediterranean clover intertwine. The sirens of Ulysses play the Peruvian guitar. And the flora, the fauna, the music, and even the sun of the ancient Indian world are forcefully asserted. There shall be no European culture in the New World unless all of these, our native symbols, are admitted on an equal footing.”
Carlos Fuentes (1999) The Buried Mirror – Reflections on Spain and the New World, Houghton Mifflin. p.196 (*)

Of course, Rome was perhaps naïve to think the locals would remain docile and stop there. Fuentes, along with others such as José Lezama Lima, go on to describe how baroque practices can overtake the very objects they infiltrate. Natives, Africans and criollos in Latin America learned to create a baroque within the baroque, appropriating the process itself into an art of contraconquista. This is a story for another day…

For the moment, we simply want to point out the striking parallel between “baroque infiltration” and the business strategies through which technology suppliers lay out a script for users to re-make their products. There is no good verb in English to describe the resulting user practice – personalize, fill-in, infiltrate, decorate, layer… each captures a dimension of the process but not its essence. So, we need to coin a new verb:

to baroquize (v.t.) = to re-make into one’s own, following an appropriation script proposed by the provider.

While “baroquize” doesn’t yet exist in English, we feel encouraged to proceed by our readers’ comments, who point out that barroquisar, barroquizar, and baroquiser do exist in Portuguese, Spanish and French. It must have been an oversight.

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(*) “Pues entre los ángeles y las viñas de la fachada de San Lorenzo, aparece una princesa incásica, con todos los símbolos de su cultura derrotada animados por una nueva promesa de vida. La media luna indígena agota la tradicional serenidad de la viña corintia, el follaje de la selva americana y el trébol mediterráneo se entrelazan. Las sirenas de Ulises tocan la guitarra peruana. Y la flora, la fauna, la música e incluso el sol del antiguo mundo indígena, se reafirman con fuerza. No habría cultura europea en el Nuevo Mundo a menos que éstos, nuestros símbolos nativos, sean admitidos en pie de igualdad.” (Carlos Fuentes, El Espejo Enterrado p. 282)

Creolizing Chopin June 13, 2007

Posted by François in appropriation, creolization, cultural references.
1 comment so far

Tom Zé gives a wonderful demonstration of “creolization” is this 1991 interview. After he won a music festival with his song “Silêncio de Nós Dois”, a newspaper claimed he had plagiarized the music from Garcia Lorca. This wasn’t true (he says,) but the accusation prompted him to compose a song that was nothing but plagiarism — entirely made up of music and words from other people. In this clip, Tom Zé shows how he appropriated the harmony from Chopin’s étude No2 and re-mixed it with a rythm from popular Brazilian music to create the melody for a new song “Se o caso é chorar” (which won the next year’s festival)

Here is a transcription of what he is saying (thanks, Guilherme)

bom a… o primeiro plágio é a harmonia que é do Estudo Número 2 de Chopin… que a harmonia é essa…
(plays the harmony)
que vocês aliás já conhecem na Música Popular Brasileira só batida um pouquinho diferente que é assim.
(plays the rhythm)
É do Estudo Número 2 de Chopin.
(the two together)
“A insensatez que você fez
Coração tão sem cuidado”

(he then continues on to explain where he ‘borrowed’ every phrase in that song. See the full 5-minute interview – pure Zé)

Zé is neither the first nor the last musician to appropriate other people’s music and lyrics (for a masterful treatment of the history of re-mix – and much more – stay tuned for Aram Sinnreich’s upcoming dissertation.) But this 30-second clip is a wonderfully concise way to get the point across in a presentation.

Tom Zé is an iconic figure for us at the abaporu project, and a terrific guide as we explore appropriation. In 1963, he met Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso in Salvador when they were hatching Tropicalismo. Zé joined them (along with Gal Costa, Nara Leão, and Os Mutantes) to record the album/manifesto Tropicália, which features his song “Parque Industrial.” Tropicalismo directly built on the Antropofagia movement of the late 1920’s, which had been launched by Oswald de Andrade’s Manifesto Antropófago… itself inspired by Tarsila do Amaral’s painting Abaporu. So, we are in excellent company.

There is a lot of easily accessible Tom Zé music on the net. A free download of his 1976 LP “Estudando o Samba” is available via the always excellent Loronix blog (many thanks to Josh Kun for pointing out that treasure trove of ‘forgotten music’). More recent albums can be streamed from Trama, or David Byrne’s LuakaBop.

Recommended reading: Josh Kun’s 1999 interview of Tom Zé in the Boston Phoenix: Plagiarize This!

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