Beats Artistry: MIDI East

MIDI East is a library of East-Euro/West Asian music – 9,000 midi files discovered “floating around” the internet by Aus/Berlin electronic musician, producer Brian May (DJ Delay / Beam Up / Sonical), and offered up to electronic musicians and producers with a challenge – to put down the synced sampler and do some hard work on some raw files and create some new electronic music.

MIDI East is a SoundCloud group where tracks created from the files can be shared: “no curatorial/selection process. No fixed end date. No track limit”…*

And, MIDI East is a 4-track EP from DJ Delay himself, making some great ‘folktronica’ sounds ranging from cumbia to deep house, using the files as the building blocks:

Of these tracks, ‘Baga Cumbia’ is perfectly described as ‘velvety cumbia nueva with a Turkish twist’ – that kind of nice rough velvet, not at all slippery.  ‘Xopo’ is my favourite – a circular, muted and moody track, using a ‘tallava’ (Greek/Turkish, Romani) bassline and some lovely fuzzy sounds.

I love Delay’s MIDI East ‘challenge’. First, for the open sharing of what are essentially found sounds, the open invitation to creative people – to create. Secondly, for the way he is able to highlight, just through doing this, the increasingly strange nature of the music we’re hearing, DJing, promoting and making. The exponentially layered ‘lives’ that a sampled piece of music goes through – from the original recording, through its production, through sample, through another record, another sample, through a ‘DJ’ to a ‘producer’ to a ‘DJ’ to a ‘DJ’ to a … I’ve talked before about my mixture of fascination and concern in this. Fascination with the depth of artistic reference – the jazz reference in a trumpet solo – the infinity photograph – the Chinese whisper – the conversation of artists across time .. . Concern, for the potential for the original important cultural message, and or art, to be ‘lost’ or appropriated, devalued. In Cumbiónico’s excellent interview with Brian on the NuCumbia Experience blog recently Brian said something that resonated with me:

“[I] see the role of the dj as being a filter to present music to an audience..using their knowledge of music and awareness of what’s happening in the moment to the best of their abilities…”

That’s not diminishing the ‘artistry’ or ‘craft’ of it, but it does highlight what concerns me about the growth of DJ ‘composer’ culture with the increasing ease of accumulation, reorganisation. redistribution of music. It’s not a copyright question for me, but a personal, artistic question. How many DJs upload sets to the ‘web – or even sell as CD samplers – without crediting the tracks they’re using? And I mean some pretty well known, should-know-better DJs. Maybe it’s because I started out as a radio DJ, but I’m just not comfortable with that…

Whilst many of the MIDI files are of unknown origin, Brian encourages those using them to search for the original creators and credit where possible. It’s a really familiar thing to me, using spoken word  recordings on radio and in my sets whose origin I have no idea about … I guess that’s just what we call found sounds … but I think it’s important always to take the time to at least search - if not for the creator, then for the context. And the soul of that search is having the curiosity to seek understanding and learning, not being satisfied with the ‘kudos’ of ‘having it’.

As I was talking about earlier this week about Maga Bo’s album – it’s about being fully open to and mindful of the cultural and personal contexts of your collaborators – whether they are known or unknown, whether they are living or dead. It’s a much, much richer experience.

I’minspired by MIDI East because also, it’s nice to hear more discussion and more challenge about the craft of electronic music as well. As Brian put it in his interview with Cumbiónico’:

It’s worth keeping in mind that musicians in Indian classical music, for example, often undergo a year or two of training before they can even touch their instrument. Who’s investing that much study/practice with their electronic gear today? Some, for sure. Many, not. The point is merely that most people outside of natural musical genii need 1000s of hours practice to get that expression flowing no matter what the instrument. Electronic music production in general needs to be looked at with this in mind.”

Tracks apparently are duefrom the likes of DJ Rupture, Zeb, Hifana, Deadbeat, Greg Hunter (ex Orb), Watcha Clan & Nickodemus. And I’m going to delve into these files myself, create/recreate some music with some old ‘found’ recorded poems that have taken me on so many curious journeys already. Challenge accepted!