Magic and Accident

The legend of sampler wizard Matthew Herbert and his live shows was already growing prior to the cancellation of last September's Knitting Factory gig, but his ensuing feats only heightened the anticipation for his late-June stand at Mercury Lounge. Herbert's latest project, Radioboy's The Mechanics of Destruction—which uses multinational consumer items such as Big Mac meals and Coke cans as sole sample sources for funky-ass rhythm tracks with muddled anti-globalization politics—has become a pop cause célèbre for the art media. And the dance music culturati, suffering through an extended creativity drought, recognized his ensorcellment of smoky jazz and house beats—under Dogme 95-like rules for sampling—as a rare Merlin act in the days of magic-shop DJs.

Gore-Gore-a-go-go: astral girl Amy Surdu
photo: Bruce Alexander
Gore-Gore-a-go-go: astral girl Amy Surdu

Yet even Merlin needed assistance in conjuring some spells, and on June 26, Herbert's quintet (vocalist Dani Siciliano and pianist Phil Parnell, both mainstays, and newly added tenor saxophonist/flautist Dave O'Higgins and trumpeter Peter Wraight) were crucial in creating an aura. When he'd usher them offstage for the rhythmically witty solo Radioboy tracks—manic sprints among three mics and a bank of boards that sounded like groove-oriented, less frenetic takes on Kid 606's laptop rumbles—he seemed to be misdirecting. Creating music by destroying a Starbucks cup, a box of cereal, and a pair of Gap shorts was a fine jig, but its McLuhan inferences about the politics of disposability needed liner notes (

The real enchantment took place in the interactive whimsy between the players and the leader's technological setup, when Herbert played equal parts Eno the mixer and Duke the arranger. Indicative of a man who once named a mix CD Let's All Make Mistakes, he allowed warped sounds and beats to bleed out of whack, improvising immediate remixes. The messy, on-the-spot process was all Pollock; the breath-thin timbres under the electronic twitches were pure Sketches of Spain. And while the patched-together quality may have driven house-music perfectionists batty, it also added a living force nearly nonexistent in today's clubs. These weren't just manipulations of old stratagems; they were creations of the new. And how often do you get to witness the makings of legends nowadays? —Piotr Orlov

I'd Rather Go Blind

What organization somehow persuaded Congress that Internet radio, unlike broadcast radio, owes royalties to the copyright owners of the recordings it airs? (First one's free: the Recording Industry Association of America.) What organization's division, SoundExchange, gets to collect those royalties and distribute them at its leisure, whether or not its members own the copyrights in question? (Again, the RIAA. Now you figure them out.) What organization does the government's new webcasting statute assume has had 15 of its recordings played every hour since 1998 on every webcasting channel if there's not evidence to the contrary? What organization's biggest members, the five major labels, are making noise about suing individual file-traders, despite the brain-melting PR stupidity that would be involved in subpoenaing Internet service providers and ganging up on music fans?

What major label might nonetheless be a little reticent to sue Madster and Gnutella users, given that its corporate daddy likes to flash strangers the file-trading technology under its ISP raincoat? What other major label is looking like a liability now that its corporate mommy's stock has nose-dived, with rumors of imminent Enron-itis? What tarnished superstar has been calling a third major label's chairman "mean," "racist," and "very, very, very devilish," although the star owns half of the same company's publishing arm, which just bought the Acuff-Rose catalog of every good country song ever? What fourth major label has lavished close to $100 million on a now-obsolete peer-to-peer service, and is now trying to figure out what the hell to do with it?

What congressman plans to introduce legislation allowing record labels to violate the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if it might maybe perhaps help dissuade those very, very, very devilish file-traders? (Oh, fine: it's Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California.) What congressman is the music industry's No. 1 donee in the House, with almost three times as much music-biz money as No. 2? (See above.)

What peer-to-peer monolith is now based in tax-free Pacific micro-country Vanuatu and lards its software with nasty "extras" (read: spyware)? What high-traffic haven for electronic-music buffs is attempting to camouflage itself from teenpop-crazed Audiogalaxy refugees by deleting everything from its front page but three links and a broken GIF? What first-rate but publicity-shy file-sharing site has stopped accepting new users altogether? What do you want to bet that Internet music panic is just a smoke screen for much deeper problems in the record business? —Douglas Wolk

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