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Tear It Apart and Put It Back Together
February 1, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Pain Pack — Ze Frank posted a phone number and asked that anyone experiencing emotional pain leave him a message. He received a number of very distraught messages. From those, DJs and musicians created 138 samples for him—and those samples have since been made into songs—and the collaborative process continues.
posted by netbros (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
the actual messages are way better than the songs. They're tough to listen to, but they're great.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:47 PM on February 1, 2010


I love Ze Frank. Out of the hundreds of Internet People I've discovered and become fascinated with, he's one of only two people who seem to be treating the Internet as an artistic medium capable of sparking the imagination. (The other was why the lucky stiff, rest in e-peace.)

Things like this excite me so much. He's not just making music, he's making it out of something else, and taking advantage of the size of the Internet to fuel his ideas. Then he fits it all together and you've got music based on the actions of real-world people. That's neat in and of itself, not counting how it also was fueled by people in a state of emotional despair, who hopefully felt better after using his answering machine service.

It's like a kid in an enormous sandbox, building the coolest castles you've ever seen, while everybody else is dropping sand down each others' pants or talking about how their sand is better than everybody else's sand. Every once in a while I look over in his direction and wonder if maybe I should be working harder at building castles of my own. Having that feeling provoked by somebody's artwork is the best feeling period.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:48 PM on February 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


Things like this excite me so much. He's not just making music, he's making it out of something else, and taking advantage of the size of the Internet to fuel his ideas. Then he fits it all together and you've got music based on the actions of real-world people.

Yeah, but also meh. Found sound/objects are pretty ubiquitous in the artsy world, and I thought this particular music was a fairly mediocre example. The idea was cool, but I'm not convinced on the execution.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:53 PM on February 1, 2010


Pretty much all of making music is making it from something else.
posted by scrowdid at 4:02 PM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but also meh. Found sound/objects are pretty ubiquitous in the artsy world, and I thought this particular music was a fairly mediocre example. The idea was cool, but I'm not convinced on the execution.

But, as with a lot of other Ze Frank projects, this wasn't entirely about the final production. It was about encouraging people to be an active part of the process. He wasn't hands-on as he could have been; most of the work was carried out by a bunch of Internet denizens. Kind of like how while he was the producer/writer/star of The Show, what he wanted to emphasize was the reader: Make people do things they couldn't or wouldn't do before, make their experiences into something beautiful.

I don't always agree with his design choices and if I ever felt snarky towards him I'm sure there's a lot in his artwork that can be debated/criticized on a handful of levels, but that doesn't stop me from feeling grateful. I feel like the Internet's artistic potential is misunderstood by a lot of the more conventional artists who have moved and tried to use it. Having a blank slate and complete artistic freedom is great, and it's led to some wonderful comics and videos, but where the Internet adds a depth of its own is where it hands some control of the proceedings over to the viewer, and makes everybody a piece of the artwork.

(MetaFilter works like that. I've been reading MetaFilter as my evening entertainment for years, though I only joined recently; there's depth to these conversations that come from lots of people with different ideas clashing and debating that sometimes make the individual lectures I attend seem limited by comparison.

I'd make a bet that in the upcoming decade that's what the most exciting art in the world will be like. In any case, that's the art I'm dedicating myself to making, and most people I know who try to make art are slowly leaning in that direction.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:03 PM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sorry. This doesn't sound like collaboration to me. It sounds like exploitation.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:08 PM on February 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can't wait for the Crying Wife mash-up.
posted by carsonb at 4:21 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is kind of... vampiric. I don't feel right about this at all. Did he get permission to use all these recordings? It says he got permission to post some of the messages in their entirety, but did these people with genuine pain know that they were basically being used for some jerkoff's artsy-fartsy found sound project?
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:35 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


>Sorry. This doesn't sound like collaboration to me. It sounds like exploitation.

>Wow, this is kind of... vampiric. I don't feel right about this at all. Did he get permission to use all these recordings? It says he got permission to post some of the messages in their entirety, but did these people with genuine pain know that they were basically being used for some jerkoff's artsy-fartsy found sound project?

He told the callers exactly what to expect (and looking at his blog to find this out is not very difficult).
posted by poorlydrawnplato at 4:47 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I'm not that big on performance art. I mean, intellectually I get it. It's just that the whole is a lot less than the sum of the parts here. The final result isn't in any way interesting.
posted by GuyZero at 4:48 PM on February 1, 2010


Ick. Audio software geeks and their sonic twist-up hackery was the fucking wrong crowd to turn to.

I really like PARTS of this idea, but this particular execution is just so completely dehumanized it's ugly. There's a seed of a wonderful idea, but this directive...

The resulting sounds can be percussive, ambient, tonal...as long as they... are not recognizable in any way

...is "vampiric". (I love that term, db.)

This could've been a channel for great empathy.

Ze should try again, but with this one rule: "You can insert pauses."


posted by Moistener at 4:50 PM on February 1, 2010


This whole project sounds like a David Foster Wallace mini story-within-a-larger-story premise. I don't know if that's critique or praise. Which itself sort of stands to reason, I guess.
posted by rusty at 4:56 PM on February 1, 2010


Once upon a time we dreamed of making oscillators and filters and magnetic tape, vinyl platters and vacuum tubes sound like a musical instrument or a human voice.

Today we take musical instruments or the human voice and make them sound like oscillators, filters, magnetic tape, vinyl platters and vacuum tubes.

There is a cargo cult logic of sympathetic magic in the significance of source materials to an audience. Somehow a filtered, compressed, reverbed, and chopped fragment of a vowel sound from a sad person feels like it should sound very different from a fragment of a happy person's vowel sound, identically processed. Perhaps a better comparison would be the halo effect - everything about the music changes when you are told "this is the sound of a person in distress", or "this is the sound of a person having fun". Just like you can change the flavor of a meal by mentioning "sustainable family farm" or "ground pig anuses, chicken gizzards, and other assorted offal".
posted by idiopath at 5:01 PM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


God damn it. I applied for a Canada Council grant years ago to sit on a folding chair in downtown Ottawa, with a microphone, tape recorder and sandwich board that just said "TALK TO ME," and to turn those into an ongoing radio series of true stories set to instrumental music.

They turned me down.

Graah.
posted by Shepherd at 5:05 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I understand happy, I know that I used to be happy"
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:10 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the 1990s, when the internet was still a sprout, NYC had Mr. Apology (Allan Bridges). It was roughly equivalent to the content here. Though he never made music with it, NYC is a fertile ground for harvesting this sort of emotional exposition.
posted by Fupped Duck at 5:14 PM on February 1, 2010


To those accusing Ze of some sort of pretention/snobby intellectualism: I humbly submit this and exit without comment.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:26 PM on February 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


There is a cargo cult logic of sympathetic magic in the significance of source materials to an audience. Somehow a filtered, compressed, reverbed, and chopped fragment of a vowel sound from a sad person feels like it should sound very different from a fragment of a happy person's vowel sound, identically processed.

Yeah I think the individual samples in this particular project ended up with too heavily processed samples and it made the whole thing unrecognizable. I felt the same way about the Venetian Squares/Hectate album that was made entirely from recordings of the two of them having sex, other than an abundance of weird repetitive squishing and slapping sounds you wouldn't know where the samples came from. I think a good example of something similar that actually worked well was Secret Mommy's Very Rec album, which used recognizable samples from different environments as a basis for each track.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:54 PM on February 1, 2010


I'm not a big fan of the music, myself, but thanks for the link Rory. The Hard Times videos reminded me that I really miss The Show.
posted by graventy at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2010


I like Ze. I like pretty much everything Ze does. He needs to blink more and those pupils have to be the sign of a brain tumor or something.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:24 PM on February 1, 2010


He told the callers exactly what to expect (and looking at his blog to find this out is not very difficult).

That makes it less sleazy, but no less vampiric in my opinion. This is sound-kid fetishism taken way too far. It makes me want to delete my copy of MAX/MSP.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:21 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really kind of pissed off about this. It's making me consider a lot of arguments that I previously dismissed about computers dehumanizing the creative process. This is about as dehumanizing as it gets. This is not what it's supposed to be about.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:34 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why? Because Ze is giving a crowd the options to do things rather than forcing his directorial vision on things? I think that's a pretty shallow way to look at this, and at art in general.

Ze actually talks about his ideas re: online art during The Show, especially here, where he expresses a delight in letting people do their own thing regardless of whether or not it's good. He further elaborates during his TED Talk, and on a speech I couldn't find online where he talks about the people who, by being drawn into these group activities, were able to achieve something on an emotional level and felt connected to something larger than themselves. He gets pretty worked up over it.

Or are you talking about the dehumanization of the clips that he used? Because other people have said it before: This isn't the first mash-up of its kind. Pogo does it, but with small movie clips instead of with small people clips. Matmos has done it. I'm sure they weren't the first. It's a valid technique, and can result in some fine music.

But I think you're missing the point of this. If you're looking at this and saying: "The music at the end was not very good", then you're missing that Ze isn't making music. I agree with you that he's not a good musician, and similarly not the world's best actor/writer/director/artist/web designer. But that's not his medium. His medium is the Internet, specifically communities. His biggest projects involve interacting with people DIRECTLY in a unique way that only the Internet will allow him to do.

The Show, for instance, was not about a guy cracking jokes for three minutes a day. It was about a guy making something that he could not produce at the speed he was without having a community of hundreds, thousands of people doing things. Recording video. Taking pictures. Doing silly things. Over the course of a day he would get hundreds of pictures of people taking photos of their vacuums dressed up as people. The photos weren't the art. The instant act of all those people doing that single action and creating the gallery, that was the art. Or the project wherein he took over two people's Facebook accounts and was them for a week, and interacted differently with their friends without letting on he was somebody else. The art is specifically that creation of changing somebody's life in small, subtle ways, through the medium.

In this case, there're several steps to the piece. First the people leaving messages, which is cathartic in and of itself. Then the act of turning them into openly available loops. Then the DJs who made songs — not the only songs possible, but songs. If you want to make a better song, you can. I'm certain people will try, because it's Ze Frank.

Note the way the site's designed. Emphasis is placed on the words of the DJ who said he wanted to work hard to do justice to these people's emotions. There's a connection! One person has been influenced and touched by other people he's never met. Those people cried into an answering machine, and the result is that now that is being turned into music. Not crying music, but music of another sort. Perhaps not good music. But the process that took people crying and motivated other people to write music, and to put an effort into doing it, and that transmuted the one thing into the other, that's a creation in and of itself. I don't know if this is as brilliant as his Facebook project, but it's very, very smart.

What's inhuman about that? Are you suggesting that this is a bad thing because it disregards those people's emotions? Because he did them justice: He told them what it was about, and he placed some of those recordings online entirely, unedited. Or are you saying that it's bad because it led to bad music? In that case: Simply making bad music is not a crime. Particularly not when you're making that music along with something else. In this case, we didn't come to hear the music. We came to read about the experience all these people had, and how the one thing became the other. I did, anyway. I can understand how you might have come for the music at the end if you weren't into Ze to begin with, but try to understand that the goal was not to make music. It was to get people involved in some kind of organic process. That process is the result of Ze's mind more than the music or the beats are; that's his particular genius.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:08 PM on February 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


What's inhuman about that?

If it takes eight paragraphs to convey the humanity of a collection of music...
posted by Moistener at 9:04 PM on February 1, 2010


If it takes eight paragraphs to convey the humanity of a collection of music...

Oh, fuck off. I figured out Ze Frank without anybody writing essays about him. It's just a matter of getting into the guy and thinking about what he's doing.

I happen to be a longform writer by habit, and so I enjoy writing eight-paragraph pieces that give people an enjoyable read along with some understanding. In return other people write long pieces for me to enjoy reading.

I could have just said "It's not about the music, it's about the art of connecting people thorugh a community", and I did. I just also said more.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:27 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


God damnit - I just came a'rushing over after seeing this and going "POST!! POST!!! POST!!"

I liked Ze's piece very much and am glad to see he continues to make interesting things for and from the Internet. He and Cockerham are aces in my book.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:45 PM on February 2, 2010


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