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Remixers get one up on Madonna

Producers angered by her recent antipiracy hoax base latest dance tunes on her voice. One admits they may be playing into her hands.

May 12, 2003|Eric Gwinn | Chicago Tribune

Music producers around the world -- from top remixers to everyday kids -- are striking back against Madonna's recent anti-music piracy hoax, basing their latest dance tunes on the unauthorized use of her voice.

Apparently lashing out at Internet music swappers, Madonna or her supporters used the file-swapping program Kazaa to make available a spurious track from her newly released "American Life" album. People who downloaded the tune heard only a few seconds of silence, followed by the voice of Madonna -- who always has courted controversy to help sell records -- asking what exactly they thought they were doing.

When John von Seggern, a Los Angeles digital DJ, musician and producer, got wind of it through the digital-arts e-mail list he subscribes to, he knew what he had to do.

"I listened to it and thought, 'That's funny. I should remix that,' " he said. "A couple of days later, someone [on the e-mail list] said, 'I bet somebody will mix this over the weekend' and that was Thursday [April 24], so I had to do it then."

Anyone with a computer and music software such as Acid or Live can be a music producer. The programs allow users to arrange snippets of bass guitar, vocals or even car-traffic noise in any rhythmic way they want, creating new tunes out of samples of music. Critics complain that the result is derivative, expressionless tunes that have more to do with using a mouse than coaxing music out of an instrument. But the democratization of music-making appeals to music lovers who want to do more than just listen to whatever the record companies release.

"There's a do-it-yourself thing going on," Von Seggern said. "It becomes about your ability to conceive the music." A fellow member of the e-mail list posted the remix on her site, "It mushroomed out of control," Von Seggern said.

Several tracks are available on the Net at, and most of them feature Madonna repeating the phrase over thumping bass drums, skipping high-hat cymbals and atmospheric chords.

Von Seggern, who says he doesn't like Madonna's music, realizes he and other remixers may be playing into the hands of her marketing machine.

"The people I know said she halfway thought something like this would happen," he said. "It's certainly not going to hurt her."

Madonna couldn't be reached for comment.

Von Seggern was trying to make a point. The music industry has been seeking to crack down on free file-swapping as piracy. Recently, the major music labels, which make up the Recording Industry Assn. of America, claimed a victory when four college students agreed to pay the RIAA fines of $12,000 to $17,000 each for sharing music on campus networks. The settlement marked the first time file-swapping individuals have agreed to pay damages to the music industry for copyright violations.

"Once they put it out there, there's no way Madonna or the record companies can expect to control the music," Von Seggern said. "The fact that I can grab her voice and remix it is proof of that.

"I find it ironic that the modern music industry, which became big by selling rock 'n' roll as packaged rebellion, is now telling its customers, 'Now, you behave,' while trying to sell rebellion."

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