Life on the Inside: Living in a Post-Skinner World

B.F. Skinner was an incredibly influential psychologist from Harvard who made massive strides in the field of behavioral psychology. His most famous experiments involved animals inside deprivation chambers having access to seemingly innocuous levers or buttons that would cause some kind of change in the animals’ environment. However, the conditions under which a change would occur were controlled by Skinner. For instance, he could make a rat pull a level ten times before receiving one food pellet, or he could make a rat wait until the first lever pull after an hour to receive the same reward.

His work is especially notable, particularly in our modern world, for its definition of learning. Skinner defines learning as a multistep process, beginning with an environmental stimulus, followed by a response, and then tail-ended by feedback from the environment. As this cycle repeats, it will become clearer with every iteration which behaviors lead to desirable outcomes and which lead to unfavorable outcomes. For example, if someone notices that the forecast says it will rain and they don’t bring an umbrella, the displeasure created by getting rained on will motivate them to try a different response. So the next time it rains, the person decides to bring a metal rod taller than all of the objects in the surrounding area. As you can imagine, the result of that really will disincentivize that particular behavior. When this individual finally settles on a beneficial response, like bringing an umbrella, they will be happy, on some level, with their current situation, which motivates them to continue to bring their umbrella in the future.

Now, what does this mean for us as individuals in the modern era? More specifically, what does this mean for us as individuals with constant access to devices that provide stimulus and feedback? As a further complication, all of these devices that we have access to and that respond to us and get us to do tasks were sold by a company for profit and host apps that elicit money from users. In summation, we are constantly holding a device created for extracting profit at the point of purchase and throughout its use that can make us react and can also provide feedback conducive to the profit motive. We all own devices that interact with us in a way that fits Skinner’s definition of learning—namely, we are prompted by our phones to do things, we pick a response, and then are given a type of feedback as a result—and they train us to make money for them.

For example, an app like Instagram shows us things that we may enjoy. If we decide to engage with this content, we get more of it. The same is true of things like YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. In order to maximize user enjoyment, an important modification has been made to Skinner’s original design. That is, there is no response on the part of the user that will lead to negative feedback from the app itself. Every engagement is positive to the app, and the feelings you get from seeing more of the things that you like, as well as having people like your posts, will have you coming back for more. The consistent user base created who become increasingly dependent on these positive feelings equates to a consistent stream of data for advertisers and a platform that is guaranteed to have an audience for advertisers to market to.

Mobile games are another opportunity for some old-fashioned newly-fashioned learning experiences. As we discussed earlier the rate at which feedback is administered is highly adjustable and can lead to different results. In recent years, as it relates to games, researchers have found a variable schedule of feedback distribution to lead to the most player engagement. Consequently, many games such as Candy Crush makes players wait for powerups or even additional chances to play the game for variable intervals of time. This conditions users to acquire their happiness in bursts, as just like in the Instagram example, the negative feedback element has been removed, although here the penalty for waiting is definitely harmful to players’ enjoyment. To circumvent this problem that they created, these games typically provide cash-based get-out-of-jail-free cards, which allows the companies to be quite forward in their profit-seeking. The “apt” among mobile gamers may download many of these kinds of games and schedule their playtime in such a way that they never have a time in which they are locked out of at least one of their games, but this is akin to thwarting McDonald’s by ordering a Whopper Junior, Dave’s Single, and a Famous Star With Cheese, in addition to a Big Mac; the more of their product that you consume, the more you are going to want to partake, and the more you partake, the more data you provide, and the more exposure you give to the app.

This positive feedback loop in particular is not something to take lightly. Other corporations are stuck with much longer wait times between engagement with products, regardless of how enticing they make them. For instance, no matter how beautifully you craft a hotel experience, it is unlikely that consumers will stay in a hotel unless the need arises. Additionally, unless one has an infinite amount of money, one cannot stay forever. In fact, even if getting a hotel room had been previously pleasurable if one were to purchase one while under tight financial constraints, the stress created may completely outweigh any of the luxuries the hotel can offer, ultimately damaging one’s view of hotels, at least for a little while.

The same kind of refractory period does not exist for those who spend most of their time in apps or online; there exists an endless amount of interesting content and most of it is readily accessible for free. The consequences for engaging with that content in a serious fashion long-term are not yet socially accepted, usually being alluded to as something that everyone experiences but accepts as a part of life. However, stripping away one’s sense of consequence in terms of actions harms interpersonal relationships, work ethic, motivation, and mental health overall, potentially, to an alarming degree. By teaching users that fun things should be repeated as much as one desires, as that repetition actually will make things more fun, companies are steadily increasing your reliance on their products for their own gain, regardless of how it may affect your personal life and ability to function. The scariest part about seeing parallels to the behavior of rats within ourselves is seeing the parallels between their cages and the way that we live. Ultimately, we must disengage from such content. Despite the short-term negative consequences of doing so, it is never too late to enjoy a life outside of the box. Out there, as opposed to in here, pleasure is derived from making the best of unpredictability and accepting hardship, which provides a greater sense of being than anything appealing to our lowest instincts can provide.


Repetition Compulsion in Popular Media: Art Imitates (and Implicates) Life?

From the catchy tunes of Britney Spears’ Oops!…I Did It Again to the binge-worthy plotline following Walter White in Breaking Bad, perhaps nothing screams “Art Imitates Life” more than the relentless and fascinating portrayal of repetition compulsion in popular media. Laying bare the intricate human struggles of self-destructive loops, modern media has the power to intimately connect with its audience and implicate their lives away from the screen. 

Rooted in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, repetition compulsion is the individual’s disposition to reenact painful and/or self-destructive behaviors because of past traumas. This process can unfold in various ways: a false sense of self and defensive attitude towards the bad behavior, a yearning for familiarity in past experiences however unpleasant, a desperate attempt to master anxious and helpless feelings, or the mere inability to see beyond flawed behavioral models learned in early life.

Entertainment media eagerly adopts the story of the vicious cycle, especially those with potent narrative powers like songs and television series. 

Britney Spears’ character in chart-topper Oops!…I Did It Again embraces a corrupt self-image, whistling “That is just so typically me” before transitioning to the iconic chorus. The Verve’s 90s hit Bitter Sweet Symphony resounds, “You know I can change… But I’m here in my mold,” echoed by Current Joys in A Different Age with the lyrics, “And I wish I could change, but I’ll probably just stay the same.”

The Verve — Bitter Sweet Symphony

Some of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV series of all time, namely Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Euphoria, and BoJack Horseman, all observe characters trapped in behavioral loops. In Breaking Bad, high-school teacher Walter White embarks on a journey of increasingly dangerous and immoral actions following his cancer diagnosis, uncovering a deep-rooted egoism that detonates against the powerless fear of death. In The Sopranos, mob boss Tony Soprano acknowledges his violent past and dysfunctional family dynamics as he attempts to salvage his emotional well-being. Euphoria follows Rue, a high school student grappling with drug addiction and mental health issues amidst the turbulence of adolescence and the loss of her father. Also an addiction story, BoJack Horseman chronicles a self-centered yet self-destructive Hollywood celebrity as he confronts the depraved nature of his actions. 

Walter White from Breaking Bad

Beyond mere content in lyrics and character plots, these artistic creations embrace the behavioral loop in their form, the materiality of their very production. In both the songs Oops!…I Did It Again and Bitter Sweet Symphony, the verses seem to vary only as a backdrop to, and in anticipation of, the amplified and repetitive chorus chanting “I did it again” and “I can’t change my mold.” Similarly, the format of seasons and episodes in TV series is ideal for crafting a character-led cyclical narrative. BoJack Horseman, for instance, consistently reserves the few final episodes of each season for a dramatic climax concerning the protagonist’s entanglement in repetition compulsion. The media’s structural repetition oppressively reminds its viewers of the behavioral loop around which everything revolves. 

Does popular media’s success in portraying repetition compulsion mean anything for audiences grappling with similar issues? In Remembering, Repeating, and Working-through, Freud proposes therapy as a possible cure. If the patient can recall and reenact their trauma in a safe and controlled environment, they may gain valuable insights into the roots of their behaviors and eventually correct them. However, Freud asserts the first step of the treatment must be to “bring about a change in the patient’s conscious attitude to his illness” (152). According to Freud, all victims of repetition compulsion may initially resist help. Someone, or something, must show the victims their illness “has solid ground for its existence” and matters for “things of value for [their] future life” (152). 

This is precisely where popular media comes in. Nothing rivals the appeal and accessibility of entertainment products, and the audience’s engagement with these pieces is as crucial as their ingenious production. Whereas the latter is the message, the former is its delivery. Songs are often saved and listened to on repeat, while TV series allow audiences to closely observe the destructive nature of repetition compulsion and the potential for change from a third-person perspective. Although removed from technical terminologies, these media effectively convey the need for a victim to reverse the course through persistent efforts. 

Green Day’s single She poses the question, “Are you locked up in a world that’s been planned out for you?” and suggests smashing the loop “with the brick of self-control.” Linkin Park’s Breaking the Habit repeats, “I don’t know how I got this way. I’ll never be alright. So I’m breaking the habit. I’m breaking the habit tonight.”, evoking relatability and inspiration to change in victimized listeners.

Similarly, the aforementioned TV series’ thorough depictions of repetition compulsion in the characters’ daily life highlights the illness’s intrusive nature and the devastating consequences of inaction. Audiences cannot help but introspect on their own terms, and numerous individuals have shared how these artworks spurred awareness within them and encouraged them to seek professional help, including Euphoria and BoJack Horseman

However, the process of instilling awareness and inspiring change in victims of repetition compulsion is far from straightforward. Freud attests to the concept of resistance, whereby individuals refuse to acknowledge their illness and defy change for various reasons (149). They might be protesting the idea that they need “fixing,” like Walter White and BoJack Horseman did, or they fear not being able to return to familiar situations, as seen with Rue’s refusal to attend rehab. Even when these individuals enter a therapist’s office and recount their behaviors, they may still construct a resistant wall, selectively narrating their stories to avoid accountability and justify their harmful actions, as happened in The Sopranos. Pink Floyd’s classic hit Comfortably Numb depicts a fictional artist, Pink, found overdosing on heroin in his hotel room. The lyrics, “I can’t explain, you would not understand. This is not how I am.” perfectly encapsulate the denial rhetoric commonly used by victims of repetition compulsion.

A therapy scene from The Sopranos

Similar to these fictional characters, real-world audiences who are not ready for change may force these media to conform to their distorted and destructive worldviews. In this way, the media intended for awareness could inadvertently exacerbate their behavioral looping process. The episodic structure and dramatic cinematography of TV series actually enable audiences to selectively view the characters, downplaying consequences while fixating on “success moments,” for example, through online fan-cam edits. As a result, they validate and glamorize harmful behaviors of repetition compulsion, evade confrontation, and remain in their comfort zone.

This duality of TV shows in the individual’s processing of repetition compulsion holds true for the broader digital landscape. On the one hand, mental health awareness is more accessible than ever, with concepts like “trauma,” “healing,” or “triggers,” and even specific manifestations of repetition compulsions, such as “toxic relationships” or “trauma-related drug abuse,” becoming increasingly prevalent across social media platforms. Multiple YouTube self-help videos discuss the need to recognize and break bad habits or toxic patterns (this one is from two months ago and has 1.4B views.) This public blog post is another drop in the sea. On the other hand, however, an increasingly enabling algorithm shows individuals only what they want to see, as exemplified by glamorizing fan-cams of corrupt characters or platforms that promote manipulation of romantic partners (please take the time you need to process that.)

Ultimately, the journey to escape repetition compulsion requires not just awareness, but courage, vulnerability, and readiness from the individual. As we consume these media on repeat, seeking out the next melancholic song and moving from one TV show featuring flawed characters to another, we cannot help but confront the loops in our lives. The illness is not linear, and neither is the healing process. The best we can do is put in consistent efforts, and perhaps with a little help from these “relatable” media, we may at last find hope. 

– Mai

Experimental films, TikTok, and other art forms

Although I have studied art history extensively, especially art throughout the twentieth century, I don’t usually encounter art that is intentionally taxing and unwatchable. Repetition and looping, on the other hand, are entirely different for me and quite enjoyable, so it was interesting to see a mix of these techniques. I didn’t know anything about experimental filmmaking before, so the experience was confusing, intriguing, then back to confusing. I had many questions and wrote down my observations during the screening. My initial observations included words like collage, layering, sampling, abstraction, and means of editing that felt oddly contemporary, much like the parody videos today. 

Like the class discussion said, T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G was mentally taxing, inducing in different people a spectrum from boredom to anxiety. In my case, it was an uncomfortable mix of both. Destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy… Regarding the formal qualities of the film, I am drawn to the dynamic use of color and light, but I could not sit through more than 30 seconds of it before going on my phone and looking at something more calming. The rapid repetition of both images and sound created a sense of urgency that could not be escaped even when I closed my eyes, because I could still see the flickering light and hear the robotic voice.  Destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy… 

As the screening continued, I found myself becoming more and more immersed in the films. My Name is Oona was quite relaxing and poetic. Wonder Woman was funny and insightful; I was very engaged because I had never seen the show, and I completely understood the message of critiquing the depiction of females as objects of desire, even when they were superheroes. Something is to be said about all of these films: the use of unconventional techniques such as found footage, abstract visuals, and non-linear narratives challenged my preconceived notions of what constituted a film. I realized that experimental filmmaking was not just a means of creating art but also a way of subverting traditional modes of representation and challenging societal norms. The artists sought to break free from the shackles of commercial cinema and use their craft as a tool for social commentary and political activism, which was eye-opening to see.

Having been born in the era of the attention economy and a regular consumer of short-form video content, I have made “successful” Instagram posts and TikTok videos that made use of the algorithm, and it does feel good to have accomplished such goals when the standard is ever so elusive and fleeting — and I do realize this line of thinking is problematic. Hence, it would be interesting to imagine how to use formal qualities of contemporary media to critique themselves. T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G would totally work in the browser, in form of a pop-up window that cannot be exited without watching for a duration of time, almost like an uninvited virus; Vertical Roll could be transformed into a critique of mindless scrolling on TikTok; furthermore, there are already edits on different Internet platforms that use parody to make fun of celebrities, politicians, and such. Some people noted under the discussion thread that these critiques are always limited by physical constraints of the media, but so is every art form. Paint doesn’t work without a canvas; code doesn’t work without a computer; video art doesn’t work without a television. 

At the same time, 2023 is different from the late twentieth century. Although there are many restrictions imposed by online platforms, media has become less centralized (at least on the surface?) and distributed into the hands of creators, where diverse voices can be heard if they make smart use of the algorithms. Yes, there is the problem of algorithmic bias, but it is not unbeatable. With persistence and creativity, creators can find ways to work within the system and make their voices heard. Ultimately, the democratization of media offers both challenges and opportunities, and it will be interesting to see how this trend continues to evolve in the future.

Throughout the twentieth century, there was the desire to combine art and technology to make art more meaningful and technology more humanistic. Video art was one of the many examples where artists sought to control the means of influence and make it work for the people. Bauhaus came before it, and glitch/internet art came after it. There will always be resistance to new and emerging technology, and I see AI and machine learning art to be the next manifestation of the rebellious spirit of artists, especially the creative technologists. I am currently taking an AI art class, and one of the things we discussed was how prompt engineering can be put in conversation with Fluxus – it’s interesting to see themes in the past resurface and become relevant again. 

by Vivian

Curation in Galleries and Theaters

By Chloe Perez

Considering how video artists had to fight in order to reach gallery spaces because these artists wanted their work to be engaged with in the way that people look at sculptures and paintings instead of as a film, it was interesting to see how our class engaged with the art form from the screening last Wednesday. Much like the works from the reading, the films we watched dealt with storytelling through loops. The speed, length, and movement of these loops all came together to tell these stories. Despite how often we encounter these loops in our daily lives through the various forms of media we consume, like music and social media, the lengths of the films were excruciatingly long and painful to watch to the point the majority of people walked out during the screening. This made me think about what may be the problem with the screening since the class is for people who are more inclined to explore this type of art than most people and how people would have felt or reacted to them if they had watched them somewhere else.

Artists like Robert Breer refused to have their work in the theater. The mysticism of the environment takes away from art or at least his own. Not to mention, a theater is more of a space designed for enjoyment(no offense) and not one where people think critically about art. At least for me, I like to sit at home and process what I watch, not as I see it. Simply put, a theater is more of a place where I take the content as it is. Especially since in the theater, the viewer sees everything once. It limits the viewer/audience’s understanding of the film and elevates every moment because it can only be seen once. The viewer cannot leave because they cannot miss something. If viewers miss something, they cannot simply go back. They must watch it all over again in the theater. Something I find interesting about this is since each time you rewatch a film, although it is the same, the previous context from the last viewing builds on to your engagement and experience with the film. The viewer notices smaller details and is less focused on the mystery of the unfolding plot. 

I think this is the most major advantage gallery spaces have over theater spaces. It is less so the mystery of the theater itself but the curation of films in theaters that are actually distracting to the viewer. In gallery spaces, although there is pleasure in art, people are given as much time as they want with a piece. There is no rush and no mystery. Art is presented as it is, and viewers are not forced to see everything exactly once for a second. Although, of course, the curation of art in a gallery is somewhat a mystery in itself where the exhibit guides you through each piece to give you some sort of greater connection or meaning to the art all together. The curation of the exhibit also changes the outlook a viewer may have on a piece of art. However, I still think that since the viewer is given as much time to explore as they like, it is nowhere near the same as the mystery of the theater.

When it specifically comes to video art in galleries, they are often put in darker, theater-like rooms. To an extent, the darkness of the room is distracting because it is different from the light of other rooms. However, the ability to walk in and out of the exhibit and stay for different periods of time completely alters how the films are taken. Not to mention, the darkness of the room is part of the artist’s vision as to how their film should be shown, and they may want to have a mystical theater atmosphere. Unlike theaters, the viewers come in at different times of the film, which creates more individual personalized experiences with the art since the plethora of art creates a much more relaxed environment. Not everybody sees the same scenes. Not everybody stays as long as others. In works such as Breer’s Recreation, not everybody remembers the same images. Although people have personal connections with films in the theater, everybody sees the same thing at the same time. The personalization through the randomness of videos in galleries allows for different types of conversations than those of ones in theaters, mostly about loops. 

If the films we watched in the screening last week were in an art gallery, not a single person in the class would have sat through the whole thing. They may not even watch the same videos or the same parts of them. Videos in gallery spaces are important, but so are those in theater spaces. They matter most when considering the interpretation of art in the space it is in. That’s why I think art should not be in spaces outside of how the artist chooses. It completely changes the message of the art and evolves into the art of the art because it is no longer in the control of the artist and becomes removed from them. Art spaces are much more important than the art itself since the spaces mediate the way the art is absorbed.

White Cube / Black Box / Phone Screen

By Sage Adams

As I was posing questions for discussion, I was operating, perhaps problematically, under the assumption that gallery and theater spaces were standard and that digital spaces may perhaps undermine them or fail to adequately engage spectators. This is an especially salient question given the limited access to gallery/theater spaces during the pandemic, bolstering an already large-scale acceleration of the 21st century digital takeover. However, I was taken aback to hear that many people in class strongly preferred digital methods of engaging with art as opposed to the gallery space. Among other critiques, people noted that galleries were too formal or sterile, they impose strict criteria for which art is considered valid, and imply something is wrong with you if you don’t appreciate a certain piece of art on display. On the other hand, there was a general consensus that digital spaces are a valid addition rather than a source of degradation to traditional art spaces. In particular, there was discussion of curated art pages and tiktok videos as methods to democratize art and increase its reach. At least one person stated that they were familiar with Can’t Help Myself, a piece I presented in class, but would never have known about it if not for social media. 

In hindsight, I now recognize a parallel between the work that moving image artists were doing to problematize the gallery/theater dichotomy and the advent of digital art spaces. By blurring the lines between formal art contexts, moving image artists asserted not only their right as artists to properly contextualize their art, but also the right of spectators to engage with art in various non-traditional ways. Similarly, digital spaces offer us the opportunity to encounter art on our own terms; we gain more control over contextualization, method, depth, and duration. This democratization of art has been an important offshoot of the greater democratization of knowledge that the internet has contributed to. The ability to discover new pieces of art online with a wealth of information available at your fingertips is priceless. 

Though the breaking down of barriers and limitations in the art world expands its reach to ever more people, there is a tension: sometimes limitations serve important purposes. Encountering art is not the same as engaging with it, and leaving everything up to spectators can potentially undermine the work of the art and artist. For instance, the constraints of the gallery and theater spaces force a focus on the art which is on display. It’s considered bad form to check your phone during a movie or take a call at the museum. In digital spaces, or in the home, these social and artistic customs lose their force. It’s incredibly easy to be distracted by a notification, switch to a different app, or even to have your feed refresh only to lose the art you were looking at. Humans are easily distractible, and the oversaturation of online content only feeds into this tendency. If the post of a piece of art isn’t immediately interesting, we’ll just scroll past it. If it’s not entertaining, we won’t work to understand it. Alternatively, in museums, I frequently find myself looking at all the pieces of art displayed in a particular gallery or room. I don’t want to be gauche, disrespectful, or miss out on an important continuity by skipping unappealing art installations. I’m more likely to engage cognitively, to read the plaque on the wall, to attempt to determine why this piece of art was chosen for a curated exhibit. So, even as digital spaces afford greater opportunities for us to encounter art, what good is it if we don’t care? What do we gain from staring at a screen-sized photo of a ten foot painting for a mere 30 seconds before promptly forgetting and moving on to the next post? 

Even with the reading for our class, which I did my best to genuinely work to understand, which I had to pay attention to lest my presentation be terrible, there is still a limit to how much I can learn when I can’t see the central pieces of art in person. The best I could access were the pictures in the reading (with explanations), pictures and videos posted online, and gifs. Despite such a heavy emphasis on the physicality of art pieces from Breer, Duchamp, and Paik, I will always lack some of their intended effect because I was unable to interact with these pieces in real life. Not only was physical apparatus and situation in space integral to their works, so was the complicity, even necessity, of the spectator as an integral element of the art itself. It was disappointing to be unable to experience these works of art in their entirety. Something is missing.

But how often do people consider the missing element when they come across art online? We’ve been so inundated with pictures of the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers that we become completely blind to the fact that there’s more than the photo; the scale of the paintings, the brushstrokes, the texture and thickness of the paint, the true hues of the colors. We are so conditioned to the mere image, replicated digitally, that we forget the physical. Equally worrisome are the stories of visitors to the Louvre taking pictures of the Mona Lisa then moving on, more concerned with telling people that they saw it than actually seeing it. Even when the physical is right before us, we still fail to recognize its importance. 

I think, then, that we come right back to the problem moving image artists attempted to address: context of art is important, and when it’s wrong, the art is unable to come into its entirety. Different art works best in different spaces, and artists deserve some degree of say in which spaces those are. But this is not to discount the digital entirely. While paintings may be best in the gallery, while experimental video art may be best in the theater, and while pieces like the Mutoscope may bridge both spaces, there are countless forms of art which thrive in the digital. It’s up to us to recognize which forms these are. 

De La’s Soul

by Cassie Haas

Occasionally media outlets will do these interviews where they ask folks what the objects they can’t live without are. Be that personal items, fancy jewelry, or in the case of Danny Pudi, socks and a good cup of coffee. I generally stay away from these as the lives of celebrities and those with amounts of money I’ll never even be in proximity to within my lifetime don’t interest me. That being said, I often wonder what those items are for me. I come back to a few each time: my Nikon D3500 camera, my blanket made from shirts I grew up with I received as a graduation gift from my Mom(thank you Mom), and my CD copy of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. Now this last one is interesting, because I don’t own a CD player. Well, I did when I inherited my Dad’s old desktop he made in the early 2000’s. And there was a brief period of driving a 2005 Toyota Prius named Francis that housed both a CD and a cassette tape player. Vintage! But now, nothing. The CD sits on the lower shelf of my bookcase next to my vinyl records in the warm company of The Fugees and Jim Croce. Haven’t used it in years. Besides, I can listen to it at any point I want from wherever I want due to the modern age of streaming. And yet, it remains there still.

When De La dropped 3 Feet in 1989, they were at the forefront of a new wave of hip hop coming out of New York. By no means the first group that experimented with jazz rap, they were among a group of likeminded creatives in the newly formed Native Tongues collective. While somewhat short lived(by only 4 years later Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest is quoted saying “that native shit is dead”), by the release of High and Rising the collective had already grown to include De La, ATCQ, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and Monie Love. They were a group dedicated to their Afrocentric roots, calling back to the past with samples of music created by those who came before them to address the life and beauty of the modern age amidst an era of gangster rap that emphasized being hardcore and individualized from others.

Where ATCQ and the like tended to take some pride in sampling the deep cuts, spending hours in the record store looking for what would work just right, De La grasped for what sounded good. Of course this isn’t to say Tribe didn’t sound good—they have my favorite three album run ever—but it’s undeniable that De La went for the heavy hitters. Steely Dan, The Turtles, Hall and Oates, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, The Isley Brothers, and those were just some of the names on their first album. They continued this trend through their next few albums, sampling the big names and turning them into something new and beautiful entirely in its own unique way. I hesitate to call them unlucky as their peers were already avoiding the trap they would soon fall into, but these works came at a new age in music legality. Groups started to get somewhat peeved at De La’s usage of their music on De La’s own releases. In 1991, The Turtles filed a lawsuit against De La Soul for a whopping $2.5 million dollars with Mark Volman of The Turtles somewhat famously claiming that “sampling is just a longer term for theft”. Other groups would come forward and air their grievances as time went on, but repercussions would not truly show themselves until the streaming era. For years and years none of De La’s 80s or 90s releases were available anywhere digitally due to legality reasons. The only way to access them were through the CD or the vinyls that were pressed. 

I grew up in Columbus, my Mom in Youngstown, and that’s as far back as I know. Grandma Cookie was alive just long enough to see me into this world and then was lost to the home my Mom and my uncle grew up in as it engulfed her in flames. Willa Crawford was her given name, and my mother knew Willa’s mother, but Lord help me if I could tell you a thing about her. I think of our generations as being compact; Mom was only 22 when I was born, and it wasn’t far off in distance from her own Mom. Each of us knows nothing. Lord, the remaining family recently attended a military funeral for Cookie in Northeast Ohio. It was the whole shebang, so to speak. Three rifle volleys, a folded flag, a speech. Only me, Mom, my step-dad, my uncles and my uncle’s wife were there to see it. We had always known she was in the Navy(hence this ceremony taking place at all, especially 18 years after she passed), but it wasn’t until arriving at her plot in the cemetery that any of us learned she used to be a drill sergeant. A drill sergeant! We laughed, of course. There was a mutual understanding that there was so little we did know that finding this out couldn’t even be classified as a surprise. This is all to say that the history of my family is dwindling, and will continue to do so.

So when I say that De La Soul is and was reaching back into the past through the music, I mean it. It’s the only way I’m able to reach into my family’s history myself. I’ll never know exactly whether this is what Pos, or Mase, or Trugoy intended when they joined forces together—after all, they were just high schoolers looking to have fun. I’ll never know my grandparents, or their parents, or their history, and especially not the music they listened to. Oftentimes though, I think of the samples they used as a place to sit alongside them. I’m not radically spiritual, but to think of it as a front porch in the summer, sipping iced tea alongside them—it helps. Trugoy the Dove passed at 54 on February 12th of this year. Just a few weeks after that, on March 3, 2023, the albums made their way to streaming services for a new generation of listeners to experience. Legal issues were finally cleared up after years of fighting between De La Soul, labels(including their own), and other artists. Less than three weeks between his death and their release. It seems sometimes that the world is against preservation. His music will finally now have a chance to live on, but it took until his passing to do so.

The story goes that Me Myself and I was originally created in just a day, whipped up as a final addition to the album as a joke by the group. Their label had been requesting a song that would be a hit, something that would make it to the radio. De La laughed them off and created something entirely their own, their interpretation of a radio hit. Their joke was successful, of course, and is how many know the group today. But it did start as just that: a joke. In that moment, a group of friends, freshly graduated from high school, playing with samples from Funkadelic, the Ohio Players, Edwin Birdsong and more in Mase’s mother’s basement, created a time machine. A time machine I enter as often as I need, less than I need if I’m being honest with myself, to quietly sit on the porch on a sunny day with that family I’ll never know, and will never know me.

A Reflection on Minimalist Music

Going into discussion beforehand, I didn’t have much previous knowledge on minimalist music. After the discussion we had in class, I got a few clarifying questions sort of answered and gathered a few take aways that bettered my understanding of the genre.

First, I went in not fully understanding the difference between ambient versus minimalist music. Within the scope of all the different sub-genres of electronic music, and music in general, I felt the lines were a little bit blurred between what distinguished the two from each other if even at all. After a little extra research, I kind of came to the conclusion that ambient music is a little more cohesive in what a standard song might sound like while minimalist music, more specifically its origins and first iterations of it are more experimental. After the class discussion, I also came to a better kind of distinction between the two genres in the fact that ambient music more so focuses on textures of the music more than minimalist music.

I appreciated the conversation we had throughout the discussion from class relating to the future of loops and music production, starting off with the question from the minimalist discussion of whether loops might lead to more minimalism in music, whether in the more traditional minimalist way, or by creating more music that sounds the same. I think that it is important to take into consideration the amount of accessibility there is now and days for people that want to make music. There’s a larger platform with the internet that allows for more sharing of music and allows for more simplicity when it comes to accessing the tools to produce music. I think that within the realm of minimalist music, since so many of the examples seen began to feature loops thanks to innovations in the craft of minimalist music from artists like Terry Riley, it’s interesting to think how the future of minimalist music might develop with the development of more technology and accessibility. For one, there are plenty of places for people to access loops, whether less experimental guitar loops or FX sound effects. There are also countless effects and modulation plug-ins that make the creation of more experimental music as easy as clicking one button.

I think with all these resources, while there isn’t as big of a scene for experimental music as there is for more traditional sounding songs for a variety of reasons, it might be interesting to see if there is a sort of resurgence in minimalist music or at least a little more production similar to the production of its innovators/founders. I think with a sort of nostalgia being seen in younger people for a time before they were even born, it might be interesting to see how up and coming producers might be able to create a new adaption of minimalist music or even pay homage to more traditional minimalist music by combining the tools of old production with the tools of new production. For example, record players are some what coming back into fashion amongst younger people. There’s a sort of aesthetic that comes with owning a record player now and days only further spread through social media. For producers, this might mean finding actual records and playing around with glitching them using technology now and days that allows recording to a DAW (digital audio workstation, basically what software music producers use to actually produce music) to create weird samples to use in their minimalist music.

Straying away from this, another thing I found kind of interesting to think about within the scope of minimalist music was the notion of trying to use as few instruments as possible on the track. I think back to some of the tracks on the playlist for class, specifically “String Trio” by Terry Riley, I think about how that might be seen in music today. I feel with the development of technology, there are a lot more options of what you can put in a song. Rarely do I listen to an album and see a smaller instrumental track, let alone one that features minimal instruments. I do take that with a grain of salt that the music I’m listening to is not minimalist music, and so there shouldn’t really be a surprise that the music isn’t minimalist; however, I do know that every once in a while there are some interlude tracks on albums that could technically be classified as minimalist music according to this definition of using minimal instruments. I think this is interesting to think about and raises a few questions in my head: did the artist make this song with the intent for it to be a sort of more “put together” minimalist track (by “put together” I mean a less experimental track that goes more in line with more common song structure)? I then think even without the potential intent for the song/track to be minimalist, do these example act as more recent examples of minimalist music?

All in all, I still think I would need a bit more time to try and focus in on what minimalist music really is to be able to better understand it. I feel like after the discussion in class, I’ve gained both a slightly better understanding of minimalist music as well as a better understand of how to think about minimalist music in the context of music today. I still say to take everything said with a grain of salt since I still feel shaky on my understanding of minimalist music, although I know this isn’t the focus of the class. Loop wise, it’s very apparent, in some examples more so than others, where the concept of the loop comes into play in minimalist music. There are still a few questions I would want to ask about the relation of loops in music and their impact/role within minimalist music, but I feel as thought I can do a deep dive to better understand the genre and then wait and see how the music community evolves and what that means for minimalist music.

Gabriel Byrd

Loops in Video Game Music

When listening to arrangements of early looped and electronic music, the crafted compositions were evidently experimental. Access to new technology allowed for composers to be much more radical and imaginative with their works. As such, diverse instrumentation, varied melodies and harmonies, and generally innovative ways of creating music came forth. Thus, looped music became a catalyst for musical evolution as it pushed the process of composition to its absolute limit.

As time progressed, integration of skills and ideas from looped music intersected with more traditional methods of creating music. Looping certain rhythmic and melodic patterns became a more common practice in modern music, whether it was looping the beat to a song or a certain harmonic progression. However, I find that where I notice the evolution of looped music is in video game music. Why do video game soundtracks rely on loops? It’s because they have to. 

For those who are less familiar with video games, the easiest analogy is that video game music operates similarly to movie soundtracks. Compositions are created to further immerse the player in the environment or situation the characters find themselves in. Essentially, video game music is meant to elevate the player’s experience by creating atmosphere or emphasizing the emotional impact of a scene.

There are a few reasons why loops serve video game music so well.

Simply from a production level, I think it is important to recognize that in video games, music is an almost constant element of the experience. Whether it is a theme for a character, theme for a setting such as a dungeon, or theme for an intense battle, music plays a crucial role in gaming. As I started to consider why loops are used in video game soundtracks, I realized the sheer number of pieces that need to be composed for every game. For example, Final Fantasy IX and Xenoblade Chronicles both feature soundtracks that consist of over 100 unique pieces each ranging around 4-5 hours if all the works are compiled together. If these compositions did not loop, it would significantly delay game production and would likely mean cutting down the number of distinct musical pieces that these games include. 

This is also why within video game music, there are often even sections of a piece that loop. Whether it be a looped background rhythm or drumming beat, or a phrase that is repeated back-to-back, these loops can help create a piece easier for composers who have to compose so many unique sections. Additionally, some pieces will loop a melody, but introduce a new instrument or harmony to transform a piece and make it appear less repetitive.

Further, game developers have no way of knowing how long a player may need or want to remain in an area for, and therefore pieces of music have to loop. For example, two people who are playing the same boss battle may take different amounts of time to complete the encounter. If the music did not loop and just ended at some point for the player who required a longer time, the atmosphere of the scene would disappear and thus the player’s immersion would be jarringly broken.

For players, a benefit to the repetitive nature of looped music is that they can easily recognize and follow a musical piece. After listening to the composition in a repetitive setting, it becomes very familiar. As they run through an area, they can hum along or simply enjoy the music since it is something they can easily recognize. As such, a piece can be something that passively plays in the background as a player is deciding how to win a battle, or it can be something they are actively listening to as they are just trying to get from point a to point b.

However, this emphasizes the difficulty of creating video game music. The music must be stimulating enough to positively attract the attention of a player by illustrating the situation it is played in. Yet, the music cannot be overpowering to the point where it turns attention away from the game. Likewise, a composition cannot be too repetitive to where the listener either gets bored of the piece or can no longer enjoy it. It is a constant tension within the very concept of game music that makes it so complex. 

To conclude this post, I wanted to analyze two examples of pieces that utilize loops in interesting and original ways. Consider The Fallen Arm from Xenoblade Chronicles as our first example. 

After a brief introduction around 0:12, we are introduced to the sorrowful melody of the piece played by an oboe. Then at 0:39, this section loops but has added contrapuntal lines played by strings, giving it a new, more complex feeling despite featuring the same melodic material. At 1:05, we are introduced to a part of the piece that introduces a different melody. This provides a breath of new air as this is new melodic material we have not heard before. At 1:32, the original melody reappears, however, it is now joined by a counter melody played by the strings. This gives the piece a more dense texture, and makes it difficult to recognize the original melody. At 1:59, the melody and the contrapuntal line are looped again right after it is played, which allows the listener to fully identify the combined melodies that are being played together. At 2:25, the main melody appears with a new timbre as it is played by the piano instead of a violin with a slight variation at the end.  This reappearance of the melody leads to instrumental piano postlude that mirrors the harp prelude from the very beginning. Thus, the loop of the entire composition is completed. 

Here, there are really two distinct sections that are played. However, the continuous variations in the instrumentation (from oboe solo, to oboe/ violin dialogue, to strings, to violin solo with piano accompaniment, and finally to piano solo) make the repetitions appear different. Added to changes of instrumentation are contrapuntal melodies and new, richer harmonies that make the piece both easy to follow and still unique and not repetitive. This music plays in an area that holds a nearly-eradicated civilization in a forgotten land. The downcast sound evokes a feeling of pain that the civilization endured. 

A different approach is taken in Final Fantasy X’s Path of Repentance

The entire piece is played by piano solo and centers on a simple melodic phrase. The very first couple of notes played in the right hand part establish the melodic motive which is looped to create the A section. Essentially, the same pattern of melody and rhythm dominate this section with the pattern being sequenced up or down a whole step. Thus, a loop of a single sequence is used to create the A section in its entirety. At 0:20, the A section loops and is played again. At 0:39, a B section is introduced. While this section introduces a new melodic pattern, this pattern is then again sequenced going up and down by half steps and looped. After this, the A section is played again and the loop is complete. 

This piece is much more straight-froward, as it is played only by a piano, features only two sections, and consists of both small scale (sequenced melodic patterns) and large scale (ABA pattern) loops. Yet, the piece does not feel repetitive since it employs pitch sequence in place of actual repetition and large scale pattern by including ternary form. This piece plays as your character is escaping a prison after being wrongfully detained. The repetitive pattern illustrates the confining environment your character finds themselves in, and the sole piano reflects the isolation and sorrow you feel separated from your party. 

I encourage you, the next time you are playing a game, to dedicate a little time to appreciating the music that is being played. 

By Aimee S

Escaping the Daily Animation Loop/ Why are we so scared of Loops?

  • By Nora Jovine

As a cryptic form of self flagellation I listened to Smile by Noehida while I wrote this Blog post, by no means is it necessary to join me. This song was my most listened to song since 2016 every year as I would loop it for days on end, until this year- where I seemed to break out of the loop. If you prefer songs without lyrics while you read I recommend Osho. Alright, settle in and lets get looping!

In this blog post I would like to explore how the loops in animation mirror the looping routines (I assume) many of us find ourselves in- should this looping be considered a failure of a boring individual? And why stagnation presented as the most terrifying loop of all.

From positive affirmation journals, and meal prep, to weekly workout schedules, routines are prefaced as the way to solve mental health to physical ailments alike. But at what point does a routine become harmful? Despite routine being highlighted as this cure all, when it comes to our content the loop is often considered a way of cutting corners and effectively cheapening a work. In 101 Dalmatians after analyzing the sheer amount of looped puppies the glamour of the beautifully animated movie seemed to slip away as I was left with the knowledge that animators were probably underpaid or overworked and leaned on the loop out of necessity to ensure the film remained visually exciting. The disguising of the loop via slowing certain frames or layering images to different scales emphasizes the dichotomy of the loop as necessary for production but also its ugly nature as something repetitively mundane used to create constant movement in a more economical way. So, why when we see the looping dots bouncing as these tiny dogs run do we chuckle to ourselves at the outrageous nature of stretching the same drawings repeatedly, but are awed by those who manage to wake up at 5am everyday and go to the gym. What makes it inspirational to loop ourselves but lazy to loop animation. x

The driven ideal of someone with a fantastic looping routine becomes admiration due to the amount of discipline it takes to live in such away. With the proliferation of lifestyle vloggers and influencers creating the perfect ‘routine’ is seemingly always trendy. Though the idea of looping in such a rigorous way seems to neglect the downsides of efficiency. In the video essay “The Defense of Inefficiency” Zoe Bee discusses the lack of efficiency of the creative process- and the relatively recent nature of society’s obsession with optimizing ones time. When considering that creativity requires a certain aspect of looplesness, would the creative evolution of ones own person not be subject to the same rules. How can an individual grow if they are bound by the shackles of a rigorous loop that occupies their every waking moment. If we were to expand from that, and please tolerate my humanity major ramblings, how can the loops of generational trauma, toxic masculinity, and systemic racism, ever be stopped if one is to remain stuck in the industrious loop of a admirable routine. The loops of normal behavior, while on occasion rewarding, can also distance one from the human needs of your community. The loop of school, work, buy a house, have kids, die, I assume can be fulfilling but at what point does it cheapen the growth and diversity of human nature in the same way a looping character becomes visually exhausting after the third reiteration.

However, on the other hand we cant be rid of the loop just yet. Without the repetition and practice of looping would change ever occur on a scale that isn’t individual. Additionally, there is truth to the comfort of a loop, the reliable nature of your favorite idle animation creates a sense of reassurance that may be what we all need in these increasingly chaotic times. Heck, I’m guilty of this all the time and have consumed the same comforting cute romance stories since I was young enough to read, and when everything seems utterly incomprehensible the safe haven of a narrative loop is what the heart needs every now and then. This push and tug of stagnation versus growth in its own way is a loop of itself.

Grounding this in animation again, the necessity of a little loop clarifies itself. When looking at the “12 principals of Animation” created by Disney animators in the 1930s and was outlined by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, these principals provide the foundation of most animation education till today and can all be distilled to different loops of motion. For Example, ‘Drag’ refers to the process of delaying motion of objects connected to the main body, e.g your feet moving slightly after you turn with your torso, and it parallels how ones technical abilities only catch up with ones imagination after the process of practice and creativity begins. While utilizing these 12 principals is key in creating lifelike animation, ensuring the less flashy transitions are readable is equally as important in creating a character that is as endearing in their moments of action as they are in their more passive frames. This principal of mastering the subtle motions of animation comes with the unfortunately hard loop of practice, you only have to think of the paralyzing tranquility of a Miasaki film to know that the action is often the least important part of animation. I will save you all the spiel of how revolutionary these principals were and how each of the twelve highlights a different aspect of looping frames- but mastering these 12 loops is, to a certain extent, how you become a fantastic animator.

And in a wonderfully tangential way, I think mastering your own loop is how you become a fantastic person.

Anyways that’s all- I will now finally free myself from this looping song that will surely be an earworm for the rest of my day. Oh well- also! What loops do you find yourself stuck in? Are there any loops you want to work towards? Do you think some cultures/people are better at looping than others? Either way, I hope the rest of your daily loop is rewarding!


I Wish I Can Change Sth (Or Can I) & Who Am I?

By Helen T

—My Attempt to classify time-travel stories into their own place

(This’s my original character in her 13 and 19) Just thought it’s cool and also consistent with the theme of time travel having multi-versions of oneself standing right next to each other ;D

Time travel has been a tantalizing and ominous topic for a long time since the explosion of all kinds of natural science and the Industrial Revolution. It seems like human beings become much stronger and more powerful everyday at an astonishing speed, but in many’s eyes another vicious process has begun, and this world is drifting into an unreturnable abyss – pollution from earth to ocean and air, war from local to global, machine gun to nuclear weapons, etc. Nietzsche said that the evolution of science and technology will eventually lead to the failure of humanity, Marx describes Capitalism as the process of dehumanization, and Arendt argues that the ultimate change of human conditions leads to an entirely different mindset. In the nostalgia of “the good old days” and the fear of the shit-like presence as well as the bleak unknown future, time travel stories as a genre were born. 

There is an interesting argument coming from Hume who argues that one cannot imagine a presence coming out from nowhere/he or she never perceived before, and he gives an example saying that a Chimera is merely composed of all different kinds of animals that exist in the real world. If we apply this idea to all kinds of fantasy and science fiction, it makes sense to argue (and I personally believe) that authors are depicting and exaggerating the present Earth in their imaginary futuristic/imaginary world, and they’re either secretly or openly embedding their own wishes into it. Either for By His Bootstraps or Man Who Met Himself, authors give more space to describe the experience and influence of time travel and the reaction of the protagonist instead of making sense of the mechanism of the time machine. However, probably because there is always a time machine existing in the story, the most common category people grant to time-travel stories is “science fiction” instead of something else. 

There are many definitions of what classifies real science fiction, one of them that I think makes the most sense is that the author is trying to use logic and scientific methodology to make sense of the imaginary setting or invention he or she adds to the top of the real world. (Eg. in Dune, although Arrakis doesn’t exist in the real world, its ecosystem still makes sense in terms of either ecology or biology and there’s a complete and delicate design of it made by the author. If we take this as the definition of science fiction, there are a few things that those two novels I mentioned above failed to fulfill: in By His Bootstrap, there is no explanation of the reason for such a weird kind of future world to occur; and in both novels, the central sci-fi concept – the time machine – ends up with few explanations. Although both authors close the logic loop in the end (the time travel trip is just a smaller loop inside a bigger one), this is still a deviation from the more authentic kind of science fiction. In fact, Via the Time Accelerator, though using a pretty awkward and weird explanation of the time accelerator at the beginning of the story, does try to make sense of the time accelerator. (This type of explanation is pretty common in the earlier stage of sci-fi, in that time era one responsibility of sci-fi is education). Therefore, those two novels emphasize the type of society, the kind of warning/wish both authors have toward the real world, and probably also some philosophical reflection, but not the science or technology itself (although the settings are certainly inspired by Einstein’s Relativity).

Another topic worth discussing is about the concept of “Me” and the manipulation of identity in time travel stories. One’s destiny is always intertwined with the history (“plot”) of the world and a major and cliche reason for someone to either travel to the future or especially back to the past is to change his/her (or his beloved’s) destination. There are usually two kinds of world settings: 1. Predestination, the whole universe from its creation to its death has already been determined, and time travel is just a slightly special smaller loop inside a bigger one; 2. multiverse/paradox, one can change the past or future, but this will usually result in a completely different new world with (sometimes) unexpected consequences due to the so-called Butterfly Effect. 

Interestingly, both kinds of settings involve multi-selves and free will. According to the two novels (belonging to the predestination category), human beings exist discretely in a slice of time and are merely connected by common memory. The thought that “this WAS me who did this” creates an illusion of a single self. Multiverse on the other hand handles this problem more gently, with a focus on the discussion on the relationship between one’s identity/personality with his or her destiny/the world he or she is living in. In terms of free will, accompanied by the close loop of logic and the paradox created by time travel, Predestination manipulates the protagonist and beats them eventually with the cruel fact that they cannot do anything. On the other hand, the multiverse does emphasize the difficulty and subtlety of changing anything that happened in the past, but also grants characters the power to change something with a time machine, and time travel is not a cruel show demonstrating the power of fate anymore. In terms of both free will and identity, the multiverse is a milder and more colorful version of the predestination time story, the loose of strict requirements of a close time loop does introduce more possibility to the plot and makes it much more interesting. And that’s probably also the reason why the second kind dominates today.