Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Building Dub

In discussing the absence of literally preserved or documented institutions in Jamaica, Michael Veal highlights the complication of the merging of cultures that willfully neglect their creations with those that place a high value on works as completed artifacts and privilege the archive over the process. Veal quotes Chinua Achebe's observations on the Igbo mbari houses in Nigeria: "Process is motion while product is rest. When the product is preserved or venerated, the impulse to repeat the process is compromised." (Veal 92) Building these houses through the available material "samples" in the environment has an analogy in dub, where the producers are sampling the available recordings to construct a variation on their original structure. Mikey Dread's "Pre-dawn Dub" and King Tubby's "Psalm of Dubs" work from apparently the same recorded tracks with substantially different results. The signature of Dread's version is the production of animal and human noises layered on top of the sometimes subtracted dub mix in a treble yell. We hear a consistent drum and bass loop, while the wavering keyboard and guitar move in and out of the mix (always on that reggae offbeat). Tubby's version is sonically heavier with deep, resonating bass and chunky guitar; it also features the guitar and keyboard moving in and out of the mix (there's that offbeat again). Here are two different constructions from a similar, but always changing, sample base. Richard Pinhas uses a similar technique in his Dextro track, but unlike the Dub producers, the samples come from the studio and from the live performance of his work. Returning to the mbari houses, one might want to know: who owns the materials from which they were built?

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