Picking over the bones of the moribund commercial interference with the business of culture.
The above video is a promotion for Airborne which seems like a good idea (although I have no idea – I’m not endorsing it as anything more than an idea). The cost is $1/month. There’s also Sound Cloud which is pretty much the same thing (maybe the interactivity differs), however, it doesn’t cost anything as far as I can tell. There is a premium service which you can pay for.
What these services do is cut out the middle man. At one point, it was useful to have someone who were a node to the greater industrial network. However, as the Internet is the global network (and as a friend often asserted, we should just call it the Network), we require far fewer of these middle men. They can be replaced with web interfaces. Granted, these also have their drawbacks, as they require technology (which is far from green or sustainable – look at all the plastic – shiny), and ISPs and other service providers, however, they do cut out the chaff. The unnecessary middle men who insert themselves in the equation as obstacles that demand a toll where one is otherwise unnecessary.
I think part of what the video above doesn’t address is that although we are producing more music than ever, how much of it is music we will want to hear again in ten years. Or a hundred. Or tomorrow? How much of it has the staying power of Bach or Armstrong? I hope that such artist-to-fan networks will keep me from ever being inundated by music I hope to never hear again. I can hum hundreds of songs from artists whose albums I have never owned. So, for today, I want to skim over the history of music, in the technological playground that is 20th Century North America.
see also: this is your brain on music, and light, health, rhythm
Banksy does it again
I couldn’t agree more (maybe if I tried I could):
I’m thinking of this particular rant of Banksy’s in the context of what music has become in our supersaturated, overstimulating commercial-consumer environment. There are melodies that have been deemed to make people spend more money, and so they play it in shopping centres, malls what-have-you. Elevator music, canned music, muzak (as repugnant to hear as it is to see misspelled so atrociously deliberately – thank the gods that the original company that bore the name is dead – may Pluto use you to torture the Kenny Gs in the afterlife).
We are inundated with this, via radio, video, television programming – you can opt out by not watching or listening – yet still, I cannot escape it. At several workplaces I have had to listen to commercial radio. At my house, I have been assaulted by neighbours and workers listening to it. In friends cars, they choose the music. In the store. In the coffee shop. It’s pervasive. I don’t mind it most of the time. I don’t notice it a lot of the time, and that is the tragedy of the thing. Music is playing, and I can’t even hear it. Reminds me of this:
I like to think I would have stopped to listen, but maybe not, if I had promises to keep. But I’ve stopped to listen to birds singing (or cawing). Plus any busker who’s not playing Neil Young or Simon & Garfunkel gets my attention.
Music and Us
I try to think of things in terms of first principles. How did music first start? With us listening to birds? The calls of animals? Maybe. I often think of it as a later development, something that came from hunting.
The knowledge of the animals by which he was surrounded, which threatened him and which he hunted, was man’s oldest knowledge. He learnt to know animals by the rhythm of their movement. The earliest writing he learnt to read was that of their tracks; it was a kind of rhythmic notation imprinted in the soft ground and, as he read it, he connected it with the sound of its formation –Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power
Imagine seeing the tracks of numerous animals heading towards another clan. One could play the drums to indicate the rhythm and number of the animals, and the direction they had taken, and so share in the hunt.
Regardless of the origins, music used to be something in which we participated – all of us did, as a communal activity whether it was playing or dancing. We were all involved. However, as our cultures progressed, and specialist classes emerged, so did the musician – that particular class of person who dedicated great amounts of time and energy to the development of their craft. And as they developed, so did the professional dancer, and the audience. Those who did not participate actively, but passively. In live performances, the audience contributes to the energy of the event, to which the musicians and dancers respond. If the audience is energetic, so too the musicians, or they will be booed offstage.
Then, as the new forms of North American music (blues and jazz) were developing and setting their roots in the same earth as relativity, a strange new technology emerged: the record. This recorded music allowed songs and musicians to be heard by a much broader audience. The musicians wouldn’t have to endure the same rigorous touring to be heard (although the rigorous touring continued, to be sure).
The drawbacks of course, is that the recording simulated the live experience. Musicians played in the absence of the audience, and the audience listened (or danced) in the absence of the musician. The record (and radio stations) became the middle men. The commercialization of radio was seen with the same vehemence as the commercialization of the Internet is today. Some see it as inevitable, others as undesireable. Either way, all this technology had to be paid for, not to mention the middle men.
In the world of jazz (which I am only slightly more familiar with than blues and even at that, not all that familiar), there are songs which are standards. They are the means to measure one’s ability. And one was expected to add one’s own personal touch to it (what Frank Zappa called “putting the eyebrows on it”)
Where do these standards fit in with the current draconian legislation around copyright? I can sympathise with those who want credit for their creativity, and wish to make a living from their craft. However, the whole mess has been left to lawyers and legislators, who, for the most part, can’t play an instrument or dance.
We’ll come back to that.
Now, we’ve progressed from musicians and dancers to audiences, and from live to recorded. Listening to live music was an immersive process. You attended a concert or recital to participate in the performance (clapping, calling and responding, singing along, yelling ‘encore’). However, with the recording, it became possible to do other things while the music played. If you missed something, you could always play it again. And again. And the performace was always the same, note for note. This is never the case with a live performance.
Further, we stopped listening to the music. Instead of monotasking, sitting and listening to the music to the exclusion of all else. Now we have dinner music, cleaning music, workout music, elevator music, and commercial music. There’s nothing wrong with listening to music that suits a particular mood or activity. What I find distressing is music that plays and isn’t heard (and I’m talking about quality music, like one of the worlds greatest violinists, not half-assed cover songs).
It has degenerated to the point where we have months of music on tiny devices, and we listen to it constantly. It is the shuffle of our lives. At what point does it become like living next to a waterfall, and we tune it out?
Personally, I like to sit in the dark with headphones on and listen, to the exclusion of all else. The longer the piece, the better.
Can you feel what Strauss did when he wrote this? He was looking over the destroyed opera houses after they were bombed in WWII.
Lowest Common Denominator
I don’t mind if an artist makes a living from their craft. I would prefer if more of us developed a modicum of artistic talent, and supported the truly masterful in exploring its boundaries. Miles Davis. Frank Zappa. Tom Waits. Absolutely. Justin Bieber? He may be popular. He may have sold more albums, but his music is eminently forgettable, and he has contributed little to our culture other than a source of dated derivative jokes.
When a company owns the rights to the music, then what? The source of the music loses control, even if it is used to sell sneakers (you say you want a revolution?). This is a travesty. Music is broadcast to the public, and yet we are restricted from participating. Our culture has been coopted by those who don’t know how to share with others. If you want to keep your music private, keep it off the radio. Play it at your house. Once it enters public airwaves, it is ours, and it is disingenous to not allow us to play it, or play with it. Especially once that artist dies. Why doesn’t the copyright enter the public domain immediately? The creator has no more say, as they have no more breath.
At any rate, I’m glad to see the Internet subverting business interests, as business interests have been subverting our culture pretty much from the get go.
And I will gladly vote for the first political figure who is a better dancer than rhetoritician.
280 Days to Dec 21st 2012