Plagarism, Or Just Being Lame?

Let me state up front that I find this more amusing than anything else. One of my old cohorts at Cycling ’74, Gregory Taylor, brought this video to my attention:

I don’t speak Spanish(?) so I can only guess at what’s being said, but it appears to be an excerpt from a Peruvian television show in which someone is showing off various things made with Max/MSP/Jitter. The amusing part is that this person must not be terribly creative, because one of the installations is nothing more than a demo patch that comes with Jitter. I know this because I built the patch. (It was about the only thing I did with Jitter; I didn’t have the time while working for Cycling ’74 to learn Jitter, and I didn’t have the inclination to learn it after leaving.) Its output is quite distinctive. It’s the wavy abstract stuff that first appears at 0:30 in the video and then again at 1:30 through 1:50.

This speaks to a broader issue that I’ve mulled over at various times and in various contexts: what constitutes original work in the digital age? If I get up on stage with a Korg KARMA keyboard and plunk my finger down on one key and let the KARMA engine generate myriad patterns, am I the artist or is Stephen Kay, the KARMA inventor, the artist? If I use U&I’s lovely Artmatic software to generate a number of images, then print those images in a large format and hang them in a gallery, am I the artist or are Eric Wenger and Edward Spiegel, the creators of Artmatic, the artists? (Yes, I know that exactly this has been done.) If I string together a bunch of loops with ACID or GarageBand, am I the artist or are the creators of those loops the artists? If someone else grabs my Jitter patch from the demo folder of their Max/MSP/Jitter installation and projects it onto a screen in a gallery, I can’t help but think that they’re not the artist. No, I don’t think that I deserve any compensation or even necessarily any credit, but personally it would be a violation of my own integrity as an artist for me to present someone else’s work in this manner.

In case it’s not obvious, I don’t mean at all to disparage KARMA, Artmatic, ACID, or GarageBand. I have a great deal of respect for the respective creators of those products and admiration for their work. (Well, okay, maybe not so much for GarageBand…) But the inherent power of these products, and the sophistication of what they generate, raises questions about who’s doing the creating when they’re used.

3 thoughts on “Plagarism, Or Just Being Lame?

  1. To be fair, the whole thing is pretty general, kind of saying “all these things can be done” rather than saying that these are original works by anyone (within the parameters of TV journalism, which is usually happy to have a list of names to read out and give credit to…) The chico talking to camera doesn’t really claim anything for the contributors to the exhibit.

  2. Author Jonathan Lethem wrote an excellent essay about these sorts of questions: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/02/0081387

    It’s brilliant, but rather lengthy. However, as a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, you should stick it out for the “surprise twist ending” 🙂

    Speaking of Cycling ’74, what do you make of their “strategic partnership” with Ableton (and the fact that it’s been well over a year since the announcement and no further details have been released)?

  3. Domi: thanks for the translation. It’s certainly true that I have (had) no idea how much credit, or not, anyone was taking for what was being displayed. However, I can’t help but wonder what the point of the show is if these works are not being presented as creations of the person(s) putting on the show. In other words, is this person really just exhibiting Cycling ’74 products for their own sake, taking no credit themselves? Seems unlikely.

    Tom: thanks for the link. I’ll read the essay when I get a chance. As for what I make of the C’74/Ableton partnership, well, um, nothing, really. I haven’t paid much attention at all to C’74’s activities since I left the company, and that was years ago now.

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