Make It Rain
I thought of this while trying to figure out some activities for my Philosophy of Music class to do. Rest assured, we’re still definitely doing this in class this summer. I just realized the activity is part of a larger project.
This is a reworking of Steve Reich’s canonical minimalist/process composition, “It’s Gonna Rain.” I take Reich’s composition and modify it in two ways, to address two sets of political and aesthetic issues that emerged since the original composition’s debut in the 1960s.
First, though, how would the performance work?
- I’d preserve the basic compositional form of the work: two identical loops of a vocal snippet, played back on two devices started simultaneously. We’d listen as the two players (likely) go in and out of synch
- Devices: Instead of tape and tape decks, I’d use smartphones and mp3 files streamed over a wireless network (WiFi, phone networks, etc.).
- Audio File: Where Reich used a sample of an African-American street preacher he recorded in San Francisco’s Union Square, I will use a sample of an African-American rapper uttering the clichéd phrase “make it rain.” (I still need to decide which exact sample to use; it’s possible I may make loops of a few different utterances.) I will loop the sample and turn this into a 3-minute mp3 file, which will then be uploaded to a site (such as Soundcloud) where it will be available for streaming.
o Fat Joe feat. Lil Wayne, “Make It Rain”
o Travis Porter, “Make It Rain”
- There are two main performance contexts, indexed to type of recording of the performance:
o Video recording of the smartphones:
§ Here I’d have two people operate their phones and record the process on video.
§ I want a variety of different couplings of phones, operating systems, and networks.
§ I guess ultimately I’d edit a cohesive video of different performances.
o Smartphones make audio recordings of themselves/each other as they play back the files.
§ This seems less straightforward, so I want to experiment with this a bit.
§ It’s also sort of a combo of “It’s Gonna Rain” with some of the self-recording-and-playback techniques Riech uses in other phasing pieces, like “Violin Phase.”
a. The original is made possible by mechanical technology: the media –tape, tape loops, and mechanical tape players—really are the message, because it’s only by virtue of mechanical imperfections in otherwise identical tape decks and tape loops that the two loops fall in and out of synch.
b. Instead of mechanical technology, my performance uses digital technology. I still want to make use of affordable, mass-marketed consumer technology. In 2012, most people play recorded music on personal digital devices like smartphones. Many people actually stream music from internet radio services like Spotify. My performance inserts itself in this milieu: I will use streaming mp3 files played on smartphones.
c. More specifically, I want to experiment with different brands of phones, different operating systems, and different wireless networks (Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, etc.).
i. At this level, the piece speaks to social relations, the power structures organizing these social relations, and how everyday individual quirks modify the smooth application of power structures to social relations. For example, I’m thinking of how, because of het-patriarchial ideals of nuclear family, my partner and I are on a “family plan,” and have the same phone running on either the same provider and/or the same wireless network (at home). But, because we load our phones full of different amounts of data (different apps, different quantities of stored data like mp3 files, etc.), they might actually run at different speeds. That’s one example, but there are others (e.g., the class and race differentiation among wireless providers, phone and OS brands, etc.).
d. My sense is that the digital streaming will behave somewhat differently than the tape playback. I am particularly interested at the phasing and other sonic effects that happen when the smartphones record themselves/one another.
e. There is a whole genre called “ringtone rap.” Music is made on phones (e.g., Muse frontman talks about how he recorded a sample of his child vocalizing, and then uses this sample in one of his songs), for phones. People record videos of concerts on their phones, and then post them to YouTube. So what might this project tell us about digital phones, music, and sonic culture in 2012?
f. We also need to think about the extent to which the looped vocal sample is now a standard compositional form in hip hop (A Milli, Swagga Like Us, Diva, etc.).
a. Reich recorded an African-American street preacher in Union Square in the 1960s. He was giving a sermon about the story of Noah (hence, “It’s gonna RAIN!”). We need to think about the kinds of black public speech that the state allowed at that time, and also the kinds it didn’t allow. We need to think about Reich, as this white/Jewish composer, going sorta Lomax here in his field recording of black vernacular audio culture. Also: why is it still so easy for ME to go all Lomax and appropriate black pop music for my artsy project? (See:
i. Sumath Gopinath,
ii. Lloyd Whitesell
b. But it’s also 2012, and the race politics are very different now than in the 60s.
i. While black male public speech is still strongly regulated in lots of ways, one prominent form of regulation is through hip hop:
1. Black men can say whatever they want on mainstream media, as long as it reinforces (at least on the surface) 1) capitalism, 2) heteronormativity, 3) patriarchy, 4) white supremacy.
2. So, when black male rappers talk about “making it rain”—that is, showering paper money on/over (presumably female) strippers—this is precisely the sort of “Yay capitalist patriarchy!” speech power wants from these guys.
3. Of course, these speech acts are often fictional, sarcastic, parodic, etc. Rappers subvert this “controlling image” through the non-literal use of language.
4. But, what’s the significance of the difference between a liberation theology sermon about Noah and a bling-rap meme about money and strippers? Or are they merely superficially different? Or just reflective of the need for different race politics in different historical moments?
5. Also, “Making it rain” is something men ostensibly do to women as displays of their (market) virility. So obviously there’s some gender politics to dissect here.
a. Is making it rain something only men do to only women? Is it presented as an exclusively heteronormative (or maybe homonormative—think about Puar’s concept of market virility) activity? Do women ever make it rain? Also: “making it rain” as metaphor for use of tech—is this use of tech also gendered/het-or-homonormalized in specific ways?
c. What about race and technology?
i. The sorts of tape loops Reich was making were still more or less specialist—or at least hobbyist—level tech in the 60s. They weren’t skills everyday people used. Recording music, copying the tape, and then making a tape loop were not skills most people used in the course of their daily activities. BUT, playing streaming music on one’s phone IS a skill or activity that most young people do; this cuts across class (indeed, most lower-class people access the internet primarily through their phones).
ii. Contemporary white hipster culture’s obsession with old-timey-ness, with stripped-down folky musics, etc., reveals that the conspicuous consumption and use of commercial digital technology is, from this perspective, coded black. Think about it: black artists use lots of technology in their music (AutoTune, 808s; R&B has become really house-heavy recently, as hip hop is produced mainly electronically), and in their music videos. Afrofuturist imagery is part of mainstream pop (Perry’s “ET,” West’s “Stronger,” Lil Wayne and Beyonce in general). So a certain stereotype about blackness is definitely associated with digital technology.
1. But I think it’s associated with well-functioning technology: robots that do what they’re told, what they’re supposed to do (right, b/c that’s how white supremacy wants its POC, and its electronic tech). No Glitches!
2. This piece is about the non-standardizable deviations in digital tech (e.g., network speeds, signal strength, the speed at which a particular device runs a particular program).
iii. White supremacist hegemony has associated blackness with technology for a long fracking time. In what ways might Reich’s original either obscure or foreground this association, and in what ways does my reworking make this relationship newly or differently intelligible?