Death of the musician

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Much like the literature, music is open to different experiences

The musician’s individual originality is dead. Talk about artistic intent is largely fruitless. In the era of sampling, tributes and trends, it’s hard to know the intent of the musicians who contributed—directly or indirectly—to the song. What does originality really mean in this era, and how original can music truly be? All artists are influenced by the people who came before them. No artistic work is truly original, and variety is a great thing. Like any artistic medium, you have to understand what came before you to make your own work.

To a certain extent, every artist acknowledes their influences. Radiohead is literally named after the 1986 Talking Heads song “Radio Head,” which they have listed as one of their favourite groups. They even worked with producers of the Pixies, who are one of their biggest influences. “Idioteque,” one of Radiohead’s signature songs and an amazing song to experience live, uses a sample from Paul Lansky’s 1976 song “Mild und Leise.”

Despite the fact that people say Radiohead has an “original sound,” they have clear influences, that might not have stylistic traces in their music, but references their production style and work ethic.

Sampling also complicates artistic intent and the originality of an idea. Take Drake’s collaboration track with Rihanna “Take Care” in 2012. The song samples a 2011 Jamie xx track, “I’ll Take Care of U,” which already has a sample of Gil Scott-Heron song of the same name (2010).  That song is a cover of the original version by Bobby Bland. Drake and Rihanna’s song is the fourth version of the same song. Each version carries so much history, and it’s great to see how a song from 1960 transformed into a contemporary pop hit in 2012.

Each artist presumably had their own intent in recording the song, and each version retains the original vision and eventually expands it. With each new iteration of the same song, new ideas are added, and the vibe changes completely.

Drake uses 52 years of history to share a personal and intimate experience on “Take Care” in collaboration with Rihanna, who brought her own style and influences along with her. Drake’s song is tender and personal, whole but cold at the same time, which Jamie xx brought to the Scott-Heron track one year earlier. Drake and Rihanna add their own textures to the song.

Originality doesn’t really matter because “Take Care” is an amazing track. Sampling is not as lazy as some artists say, it’s a way of sharing a sense of musical history. Crafting a song from a sample is an amazingly intricate artform, much like playing the instruments yourself.

Musicians aren’t the only ones who create musical experiences, audiences also create meaning. People experience music in different ways and in different situations. Does the artist’s intention really matter if people interpret music subjectively? I think not. The beauty of music creation and listening is the act of interpretation and experience.

Artistic intention is a muddled field; did Bobby Bland imagine his song being used 52 years later? Like every single artform, music is cultural and historical. Culture is passed on from generation to generation, with each generation making subtle changes, and occasionally monumental shifts happen as a result of different factors. Music is much more than the individual musician’s originality.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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