I don’t do confrontation; especially not on Twitter. BUT last week I posted the following:

Did I *really* just witness @StuartMaconie offering to play @robinrimbaud track that’s basically ANOTHER 800% blah stretch on FreakZone? ;)

I could’ve expressed myself better; it just sort of burst out of my fingers onto the screen.

Both Robin and Stuart responded, and war didn’t break out (as you’d expect when dealing with such reasonable chaps). I felt compelled to expand on our exchange though, as it points towards an interesting tension that I feel is often present in art, especially music even – maybe? It’s certainly something I have considered before, so I thought I’d bung it in a blog post and see whether anyone is interested in discussing it.

Here is the ultra-slow Cheeky Girls piece, by Robin (Scanner):

I like how this sounds. The conclusion I swiftly came to when Robin replied was that it really doesn’t matter how it is made it just matters how it sounds. OK, I have heard this sort of thing MANY times** but so what?

** HERE is a demo extreme stretch I did when someone asked me about the process online. “Hocus Slowcus”. This is “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, slowwwwwed. Ironically, I heard the original for the first time on the Freakier Zone ;)

My initial outburst derived from a sense that doing something so easy / done to death, resulting in an offer of getting played on Freak Zone seemed unfair to me. I was initially surprised that Stuart would find this sort of thing interesting enough to play. Maybe I was jealous? Well, I’d certainly like to have my stuff played on the Freak Zone…but I don’t think that was what drove my response. I think I was just amazed that something so simple to do, so cheap, was going to get played on a radio show I respect. Or something along those lines…

This all got me thinking about art more generally and what makes art, art. For example, when me and David did this at the Town Hall Symphony Hall in Birmingham. We were performing a piece by Reich with a twist I had seen Tom Bugs do many moons ago. Moreover, there were some real musicians also performing at this event, such as the multi-instrumentalist Joby Burgess. What do people like Joby think about a couple of ne’er-do-wells wheeling out a done to death process piece? BUT, did it look and sound good? Yes, I think it did. Did it engage people? Yes, definitely (especially the younger generation in the audience). What is art about if not that? So, the stretched Cheeky Girls piece is fine, yeah? Discuss.

I realise this is a confused and rambling (possibly naïve) blog post, which hints at the fact that I am myself confused about this; I can simultaneously hold opposing views on this matter. So, what do you think? Comments below, please.


Oh, and here is the full conversation between myself, Scanner and Maconie.

Sam Underwood
Did I *really* just witness @StuartMaconie offering to play @robinrimbaud track that’s basically ANOTHER 800% blah stretch on FreakZone? ;)

@misterunderwood This was made entirely with a touch of irony if you read my notes under the video, then it will all be a little clearer.

Sam Underwood
@robinrimbaud Surely! AND I like stuff like this (so maybe that’s my answer!) but I was just a tad surprised at the response.

@misterunderwood Surprises can be nice. And Stuart and I go back a long way as friends anyhow :-D

Sam Underwood
@robinrimbaud Yep, I’m all for pleasant surprises ;) Big ups!

Stuart Maconie
@misterunderwood you certainly did. Why on earth not?

Sam Underwood
@StuartMaconie True, I came to that conclusion when discussing it with @robinrimbaud ;) I like how it sounds it’s just a cheap trick.

@misterunderwood @StuartMaconie and hence my choice of The Cheeky Girls as the victims of this sinister plan :-)

Sam Underwood
@robinrimbaud @StuartMaconie Indeed..I did the focus on the method not on the results thing. I’ll be sending you LOTS of these now Stuart ;)

Stuart Maconie
@misterunderwood @robinrimbaud you could argue that ALL music is a cheap trick. Especially Cheap Trick of course

Sam Underwood
@StuartMaconie @robinrimbaud Especially them! ;) I might expand on this in a blog post; it’s an interesting area & relates to my practice…


*Update* Just for clarity, here are Scanner’s original tweets about this piece.

.@StuartMaconie Just what you’ve never wanted. The Cheeky Girls sounding almost Wagnerian these days :-) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zz_f_ghIwFI …

The Cheeky Girls stretched to an extreme proving that even the worst music can sound epic stretched out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zz_f_ghIwFI …


  1. Lots to talk about here and I’m not sure I’ll get it all down in one response.

    My own reading of aesthetics etc. is pretty limited, so I’ll just give a personal response – on Twitter I said that “Art” is just a framing exercise, which is a) very Cagean as I admitted and b) a slightly glib version of what I really think.

    Forget “ART” with a capital A and all the connotations that come with it for a moment and let’s talk more about creativity. For me it’s all about dialogue. When I make something I engage in a dialogue with all the things that have informed my taste, listening experiences, and also with an audience, who will bring their own associations.

    Some things/processes are by their nature “easy” to do – but it’s not just the five minutes spent knocking something together that count (and I’m happy to admit that most of my own compositions are knocked together very quickly indeed) but the years of creative engagement that lead up to the moments of production. In your example, Scanner has an ear for something that’ll sound good – and he didn’t acquire that overnight.

    I think what Stuart and Robin say about having a friendship going back a long way is far from irrelevant here – and if you think more broadly about some of the collaborative things you and I have done in ORE – like making an effing racket on stage at the end of our set with KK NULL – they’ve not trod any real new ground musically. But what fun! And we made new friends as a result.

    Art = community. Or something.

    (This may be one of the reasons why I like Amanda Palmer so much).

  2. Hi Sam

    Can I point you to the notes I left under the video for further illumination.

    “In January 2004 “The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)” by The Cheeky Girls (2002) was voted the no.1 “worst pop record” by Channel 4 viewers in a poll.


Trying to resurrect something beautiful out of something so disposable, in the spirit of experimentation and as a retort to the endlessly stretched songs out there, this should demonstrate that almost anything will sound lovely pushed to the limits.

    And I always felt that a little bit of Wagner was hiding under the surface of their glossy pop veneer. This is an excerpt from a three hour version.”

    So my Cheeky Girls mix was made in response to the countless multitude of mixes out there in the digital world, and especially a Bauhaus one I’d been sent links to that very morning, and as such I consciously chose a rather bland pop song to demonstrate that almost anything can sound magnificent. I was not trying to present something original, startling or revealing.

    I did edit and EQ the work though so it’s not as is so to speak.

    Anyhow I’m an open minded person and as for Stuart playing such works I can’t argue with his wonderfully eclectic tastes and perhaps mine simply stood out because we’ve long been friends from many moons ago and as such my cheeky response caught his curious ear.



  3. Well this is a simple one – I reckon we can get this sorted between us :-)

    Some disjointed thoughts then…

    I also like the 800% slow stuff, some sound better than others, and for sure they’re hardly original any more. But I do have a favourite – Ticket To Ride, it’s on youTube…

    This is one of those definitions that people want most when they notice something on the *wrong side* of the dividing line, and get a bit upset about that.

    Now, design always seems to me, to be creativity to solve a problem. With Art the ‘problem’ part is either vague, not understood, open to interpretation, or the entirety of human existence.

    There’s certainly communication – I think Burroughs said the purpose of art was to make ‘it’ happen in the mind of the viewer – whatever ‘it’ is – intention and effect.

    Interesting that Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ was named the most influential or important 20th century art piece.

    *anecdote klaxxon*

    I remember at art college we had an invitation to enter some work for a group exhibition. A tutor cam round and noticed an old suit I’d hung on the wall while thinking what to make out of it.

    “That’s good” he said, “do you want to enter that piece?”

    I agreed, and it made it into the show. I regret this now*, as it wasn’t a piece of my art, it was a piece of his art, surely?

    *I regret most of all not getting paid

    That’s enough for a Friday afternoon anyway

  4. One more thing – this reminds me of ’24 Hour Psycho’, where Douglas Gordon slowed the film down to 2 frames a second.

    Interesting things which happen when you play with time-based media like this…

  5. Thanks for the responses so far. Fascinating.

    It occurred to me whilst thinking about my post how much my initial response stems from my knowing how to do extreme time-stretching and it being a very common sound _to me_. That struck me as a slightly odd basis for judging a piece of art / music. Hmmmm.

    Originality in art is a whole other fascinating topic. Mostly speaking (and there are exceptions) these days I tend to the view that if you think you are being wholly original you are probably not looking hard enough to find others that have done the same before ;)

  6. Thanks for this blog!
    Here’s some short thoughts in response. If it sounds a bit teacher-y (and I hope it doesn’t but just in case) I am sorry…aesthetics is my research area and I find the way your post fits into long standing (and totally unresolved) arguments in that area interesting.

    The main point that you put forward, that art is separate from its materials and transcends mere enjoyment, is one that has a long history in aesthetics. In ancient Greek thought it enabled social stability, in renaissance thought it communicated with religious sensibility, in the enlightenment it actively took part in creating new knowledge, in the 19th century it offered a transcendent experience that was both morally beneficial for society and allowed people to experience something beyond themselves. In the twentieth century and beyond there has been a lack of a single narrative which, although the idea of a higher purpose of art which is greater than the sum of its parts remains, makes it difficult to identify a single (socially sanctioned) nature and purpose of art. 

    I personally can agree with your reaction to this piece. The comment from its creator (above) shows how this work does engage with a number of postmodern artistic narratives (irony, the idea of the technique itself making something “bad” sound good, the idea of anything being up for grabs as an artistic material) but my reaction to the piece is that although there is a specific reason for choosing the cheeky girls track, it doesn’t really matter. If a different piece had been voted the worst he might have chosen that one. In this case—at least to me within the frameworks in which I work—the “art” is the time stretch itself rather than the actual sound which results. So, a process which can be reused in many pieces. That doesn’t stop anyone enjoying the sound, though. 

    I also like the comment about Duchamp and the suit artwork. Of course there isn’t a threshold of energy expended which makes something art, and the comment that the creator of the suit art was the person who saw it in an artistic way is probably right. The idea that art tells us something or discloses something is very important. That’s why I can’t remake Duchamp’s fountain—because it doesn’t reveal anything about itself (although, perhaps I could display a urinal with the sign “This is not Duchamp’s Fountain”. It would be hopelessly derivative, though). In the case of the time-stretch piece, we all already know what it will sound like and that we will enjoy it, so it’s hard to impose an artistic narrative on a sound we don’t feel is revealing anything. 

    Currently, “the arts” is a label applied to many things which are basically just entertainment or commercial products. In the case of the radio show, perhaps artistic narratives are less important than providing something which is engaging for their listeners. My personal opinion is that it is completely ok for them to play a track that they think will engage the listeners without worrying about whether it is art or not. The fact that you wrote this post also suggests that the track provoked thoughts beyond its own boundaries, too. I also think that it is probably a good thing that not everything is art (or successful at being art). If art is something that we want to have special qualities, whatever they are, those qualities aren’t as special if they are possessed by every piece.

    The destination, again in Greek thought, between craft and art is that between praxis and poiesis. The piece you mention would be an example of praxis: it has an accomplished creator but doesn’t produce something new within itself. Poeisis has the sense of combining forms and thus creating something that is new independently of its materials. I don’t think that the different can be known in advance…the act of creation is as important for poeisis as praxis. So, such pieces as the one you’ve posted about need to be created as they might be art in the same way that anything else might be at the point of its creation. 

    Anyway, those are my few thoughts which are probably very badly expressed and dry…and perhaps Greek thought is a bit much for a Sunday night. Perhaps the last thought that I have is that if the work contributes something to a discussion such as this one then it is fulfilling what might be one criteria of art for many people which is important to me too.

  7. Intension and context are what, in my opinion, makes something art. Intension can be difficult to convince others of so a previous track record gives established artists a distinct advantage here (along with an ability to speak the language). It suggests that the creation was not a fluke, and that even if one example may seem underwhelming when looked at from certain angles, it doesn’t reflect as poorly on an artist who has already proven him/her-self elsewhere. Similarly context plays a role. In your example, Robin picked tongue-in-cheek ironic source material, demonstrating that some thought had been given to what he was doing and how it may be interpreted, and also suggesting that it is not a serious part of his canon. Damage limitation in case of negative responses. So why won’t Stuart play everything like this that he gets sent? Because there would be way too much of it available and the barrier to entry is too low. Why did he play Robin’s? Because they are mates and can share the joke.

  8. I think it becomes art at the point it is experienced by someone. If you play the stretch above to someone who has never heard this type of thing before it’s going to sound very grand and like Robin said, magnificent. They may well find it artistically pleasing. If your job is to produce these sounds day in, day out then the first one may be artistically pleasing but the 1000th certainly won’t.

    And that experience is not just limited to a single sense or even context. Once a particular style has been done to death it can still be used artistically via something like irony.

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