Archive for the 'musicology' Category

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.


Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

The Trichordist

Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.


My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting…

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Joyeux Noël !


Debbie Harry (Blondie) :

François Bayle – Fifty Years Of Musique Concrète


François Bayle for the booklet of the compilation “Ohm, The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music, 1948-1980” (Ellipsis Arts… 2000):

Musique concrète, or, in a broader sense, sound as a musical material, must not be confused with several other types of music, which belong to neighboring fields. The use of electricity to produce a sound wave dates back to 1906 with Thaddeus Cahill’s “telharmonium”, followed by Léon Theremin’s “aetherophone” in 1921, and the ondes Martenot (invented by Maurice Martenot) in 1928. The futurist movement also had its composers, including Luigi Russolo, who published a radical futurist music manifesto entitled “L’Arte dei rumori” in 1913, while the American composer John Cage gave the first stage performance of a work using variable-speed turntables and frequency recordings (“Imaginary Landscape”, 1938). As for that great pioneer Edgard Varèse who composed “Ionisation,” a score written for thirteen percussionists, in 1931, and, before that, in 1926, “Integrales”, in which he envisaged a spatialization of sound, such gestures remained within the framework of conventional music, even though he tried to break away from it. The invention of musique concrète by Pierre Schaeffer in 1948 had nothing to do with these developments, except that it used a resource that had never been used before: sound presented on a medium and accessible from that medium without having to return to the initial acoustic causes (tape manipulations of naturally occurring sounds). Several degrees of freedom then suddenly became apparent: freedom from things, from time, and even from moments of sound.

At the end of his life, Olivier Messiaen himself declared that the invention of what he succinctly called “electronic” sound was the greatest adventure in music, going so far even as to influence conventional composition. New confers were born by the dozen, composers by the hundred, and works by the thousand. From the creation of a prestigious institute such as the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique) by Pierre Boulez, to spontaneous popular movements, from rock to techno, from the synthesizer to the computer, from real time to the Internet, the coming of sound has attained a major dimension.

In the worldwide dynamics of technological music, we must note the importance of the GRM, which has been present since the very beginning, the exceptional career it has achieved over the past fifty years, its extraordinary pertinence at each of the technical stages and turning points, which in fact confirmed every time the fruitful nature of the “concrete” approach, clearly postulated and established by Pierre Schaeffer.

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Robert Moog – The Theremin And The Synthesizer


Robert Moog for the booklet of the compilation “Ohm, The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music, 1948-1980” (Ellipsis Arts… 2000):

The theremin was one of the first electronic musical instruments. It was invented around 1920 by the Russian musician-physicist Léon Theremin. It is a space-controlled instrument. That is, the player determines the pitch and loudness of the instrument’s tone by moving her or his hands in the space around the instrument, without ever touching it. The sound suggests a violinist or singer but is distinctly unlike that of any traditional acoustic musical instrument. Because its pitch and loudness respond to every motion of the performer’s body, the theremin is inherently expressive-and difficult to play.

Leon Theremin was one of the founding fathers of electronic music technology. He developed many different types of electronic musical instruments and inspired innovators around the world to do the same. There is a continuous thread connecting Theremin’s early work not only with modern-day theremins, but also with a wide range of electronic keyboard instruments that have been manufactured since the 1930s.

The use of tape recorders as music production devices (rather than passive reproducers of performances) is a different branch of the music technology family tree. This branch began with Edgard Varèse, who assembled sounds with multiple disc recorders, and it continued with the many experimental composers who worked with tape recorders after 1945. In a typical early tape music studio, sounds were first recorded on tape from acoustic or electronic sources, then processed by electronic means such as filtering, modulation, and synthetic reverberation, and then assembled by mixing, tape splicing, and rerecording.

The modular electronic music synthesizers of the 1960s made by companies such as Buchla, Moog, and others combined some of the tone production and control features of theremins and other early instruments with the sorts of sound generation and processing that were developed by the post—World War II tape composers. Using the technical principle of voltage control, these large, telephone-switchboard-like instruments enabled musicians to shape and sequence sounds automatically and by purely electronic means. The explosion of synthesizer records in the late 1960s, and of live performance on synthesizers and other electronic instruments in the 1970s, represented the growing together of the innovative work started by Léon Theremin and the techniques developed of the tape music community.

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Bill Laswell – Ohm, The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music


Bill Laswell for the booklet of the compilation “Ohm, The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music, 1948-1980” (Ellipsis Arts… 2000):

[With the coming of electronic music,] it was encouraging to hear how expansiv and experimental you could be with sound. Any acoustic sound could be electronically processed indefinitely. That’s very interesting. Obviously, it had a huge effect on dance music and house music. Ambient music in the last ten years has infiltrated all those types of music.

I think electronic music is now part of our life system. It has been integrated into how we exist, so it’s the pulse of what we’re doing. Everything is electric; everything is electricity. Those pulses are no different from your pulse, your heartbeat, and how you breathe. It’s all connected. It’s an electronic age.

Electronic music can’t exist without human thought. So everything that is generated is a thought. It’s very human, it’s not cold like people think. Computers and electronic music are not the opposite of warm, human music. They are exactly the same. You’re not going to necessarily find the equivalent. of Charlie Parker on a laptop, because we can’t perceive that. But there’ll be a time when someone can, and then it’ll happen. it’s all in your head.

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Brian Eno – Foreword to “Ohm, The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music”


Foreword by Brian Eno to the booklet of the compilation “Ohm, The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music, 1948-1980” (Ellipsis Arts… 2000):

If you’re under ninety, chances are that you’ve spent most of your life listening to electronic music.

The experience that used to be called music up until about the 1920s—listening to someone sing or play a musical instrument live and unamplified—actually forms an increasingly minor percentage of our listening experiences now. Instead, we listen to records, or we listen to the radio, or we go to see musicians who transmit electronic signals through electronic PA systems.

It might seem extreme to include all the products of the recording age under the umbrella term electronic music, but I think it’s warranted. The process of recording music separated it from time and place and as such eventually led to all the amazing experiments presented on these records.

Whenever a new musical technology appears, new forms of music follow it. Debussy was apparently so thrilled by the three-pedal Steinway (the middle pedal allows you to sustain one chord while playing unsustained notes over it) that he wrote many new pieces specifically for it. In the same way, the many new possibilities of electronics have given rise to whole new forms of music.

John Cage said that any sound could be described by four characteristics: pitch, duration, timbre, and loudness. One way of thinking about electronic music is as a continuous expansion of all these characteristics. We can make sounds of almost infinite loudness, using pitches as low or as high as we want, that last for as long as there’s electricity, and of infinite shades of timbre. If you were to compare it with painting, it would be as though, about seventy years ago, painters started to discover how to make completely new colors, colors that no one had ever seen before.

But the electronic revolution changed more than just our ability to control the physical parameters of sounds. By turning sound into a plastic material manipulable in space and time—it drew the process of composition closer to the processes of the plastic and visual arts. The impressionists in their painting, had aspired to “the condition of music,” envying its ability to be both abstract and emotionally engaging. Meanwhile, much of the musical composition of our century has drawn closer to the condition of painting or sculpture, as composer have started to think about music as a tactile experience in time and space.

So many new areas of consideration now fall under the heading “composition.” For classical composers, there were certain describable islands of sound:
a clarinet, for example, is a number of sonic and playing possibilities, whereas a harp is another. If you write “violin” in a score, everybody knows what you mean. That isn’t possible, however, it you write “electric guitar” or “synthesizer.” A synthesizer isn’t really, in that sense one instrument, it is a bag of possibilities from which you assemble your instrument. So the first thing an electronic composer does is build a set of instruments, a soundworld.

But that’s only one issue. There are also quite new questions about where the music should take place. The concert hall is of course still a possibility, but only one among many. The home hi-fi, the gallery installation, the Walkman, the supermarket aisle, and the unexpected public space are all equally interesting. Are you making a private or public experience? And since the music can theoretically last as long as you want it to, are you making a ore-night performance or creating a sound-object to persist for decades? Are you making something that you expect people to hear once or hundreds of time? Are you making something that will stay the same or change endlessly? What will govern the way it changes? Does it react to anything outside itself, or is it driven by internal rules? What are those rules?

The composers represented on this compilation have addressed questions like these and many others. They’ve helped develop a vocabulary of perspectives for music that is quite new to this century and that has, perhaps surprisingly, become part of a very fruitful interchange with popular music. Indeed, one way of looking at contemporary pop is to see it as the offspring of an ongoing affair between African music and Western electronics (with European harmonization as the influential godmother).

Many of the Ideas in this collection have now been so completely assimilated into popular listening that it may sometimes be hard to remember how surprising it all was on first outing. Some of it still sounds pretty exotic. As music, some of it stands the test of time. As ideas, most of it does. […]
November 1999

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The Music Industry: It’s Becoming a Third World Country…


Paul Resnikoff for Digital Music News, Monday, 23 May 2011:

It was supposed to be the complete opposite. But years into this digital revolution, the music industry seems to resemble a Third World country. I’m talking about extreme gaps between the rich and poor, a depressingly large group in poverty, endemic corruption, extended decline, and the presence of pervasive, religious ideas that have little connection to reality.

This industry has become so totally bi-polar, I’m not even sure where to begin. Well, how about the charts—any chart. Whether it’s BigChampagne’s Ultimate Chart, Billboard’s Hot 100, or the most-streamed songs on Grooveshark, the top-ranked artists are all the same. It’s Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Justin Bieber, and the Black Eyed Peas, week after week, over and over again. And sure, indie success stories are definitely happening, but why aren’t they hogging the rankings next to the mainstream, major label priorities?

The rich are a tiny, elite cadre, and they’re benefiting from a preferential pipe that still matters. In fact, not only do mainstream channels like terrestrial radio and TV still matter, they have a dominant influence over music culture. But these channels are also controlled by a tiny group—ie, mostly the majors. Turn on a terrestrial station, and it’s the same artists played ad nauseum (in fact, it looks like this), while the masses languish in obscurity.

And how about the road? Maybe festivals are the bright spot, but the huge artist ransoms belong to Bon Jovi, U2, and Lady Gaga, who are minting millions every night. It’s a tiny group, but how can that be reconciled with the artists that are struggling to pay for gas for their tour bus? For example, Imogen Heap, and the mass of other artists struggling to cover tour costs?

Then there are the obscene—and questionable—salaries for a top cadre of executives. We just learned that RIAA president Cary Sherman yanked down $3.2 million in compensation for 2009, and Mitch Bainwol $1.6 million. And we’ve been witnessing a textbook looting of Warner Music Group for years, with a select group of operators walking away with tens of millions in cash. Yet, every week I hear about new layoffs, or get emails from people struggling to find employment in this business. It’s almost impossible to find a good job it seems—even for really qualified people. That’s why people are fleeing towards other industries, just like people emigrate from horrible economic situations.

And what about the impoverished artists? Instead of some egalitarian revolt, a vast majority of artists are barely surviving. Forget about the pricing debate between Tunecore and CD Baby for a second—because on both platforms, the average yearly payout is about $175 per artist—before costs (we calculated both). Yet the pervasive idea is that direct-to-fan channels can make artists self-supported winners, that intermediaries don’t matter, that radio is dead, that labels are redundant, and that the solution is to simply respond to every tweet and email.

And who gives us this misguided inspiration? The extremely rare lottery winner, or artists that were already promoted by the major label machine (like Amanda Palmer or Radiohead). As if somehow, these post-major success stories are a template for others to follow, rather than rare exceptions.

I’d say nothing’s changed from the ‘old days,’ but it seems like it’s actually gotten worse. And I’m left wondering why this ‘music nation’ keeps sliding.

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Best / Rough Trade (1981)


“Best / Rough Trade – Le Quartier réservé à la musique” cassette compilation (HS 88 – Rough Trade Records/C.P.F. Barclay 1981) (click to zoom):

A1 – Scritti Politti “Sweetest Girl”
A2 – Essential Logic “Fanfare In The Garden”
A3 – Orange Juice “Blue Boy”
A4 – The Gist “This Is Love”
A5 – The Fall “Fit And Working Again”
A6 – Virgin Prunes “Twenty Tens”

B1 – The Raincoats “Shouting Out Loud”
B2 – Blue Orchids “Work”
B3 – The Red Crayola “Milkmaid”
B4 – Mark Beer “Pretty”
B5 – Young Marble Giants “Final Day”
B6 – Robert Wyatt “Strange Fruit”
B7 – Television Personalities “Magnificent Dreamer”



“NME C86” compilation (ROUGH 100 – Rough Trade Records 1986) (click to zoom):

A1 – Primal Scream “Velocity Girl”
A2 – The Mighty Lemon Drops “Happy Head”
A3 – The Soup Dragons “Pleasantly Surprised”
A4 – The Wolfhounds “Feeling So Strange Again”
A5 – The Bodines “Therese”
A6 – Mighty Mighty “Law”
A7 – Stump “Buffalo”
A8 – Bogshed “Run To The Temple”
A9 – A Witness “Sharpened Sticks”
A10 – The Pastels “Breaking Lines”
A11 – The Age Of Chance “From Now On, This Will Be Your God”

B1 – Shop Assistants “It’s Up To You”
B2 – The Close Lobsters “Firestation Towers”
B3 – Miaow “Sport Most Royal”
B4 – Half Man Half Biscuit “I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart)”
B5 – The Servants “Transparent”
B6 – MacKenzies “Big Jim (There’s No Pubs In Heaven)”
B7 – Big Flame “New Way (Quick Wash And Brush Up With Liberation Theology)”
B8 – We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It “Console Me”
B9 – McCarthy “Celestial City”
B10 – The Shrubs “Bullfighter’s Bones”
B11 – The Wedding Present “This Boy Can Wait (A Bit Longer!)”

Why Curation Is Important


Curators are filters. The filter system for the music is led by the DJs, the A&Rs and the critics. “Why Curation Is Just As Important As Creation”, an op-ed by Steve Rosenbaum (curator, author, filmmaker and entrepreneur) for Mashable, 18 March 2011:

The personal web publishing boom has led to an information explosion. It’s a data free-for-all, and it’s just beginning. Andrew Blau is a researcher and the co-president of Global Business Network in San Fransisco. Blau has foretold the changes in media distribution and content creation. Now he’s watching this new, historic emergence of first-person publishing.

Today, publishing tools have been set free, Blau says. Cost, ownership, and barriers to entry are all gone, almost overnight. “The ability to amplify one’s voice, to amplify that beyond the reach of what we have had, reflects a change of course in human history.” He pointed to the difficultly of sorting through the riot of voices online. What that chaos needed was curation—a way to get value out of the information flood. But the role of the curator has been a contentious one, and not everyone has been on board with the concept.


All big changes have unintended consequences. Blau says that the old problem—limited access to the tools to amplify speech—has been fixed by the Internet. It used to be that making and moving information was so expensive that the question of who was going to get permission to speak was a central social and political issue. But now speech is more democratic.

That development, not surprisingly, creates a new problem. “The problem is who gets heard,” Blau says. “The real issue that remains is access to an audience. Because that’s hard. Access to technology has become trivially easy for most people in the industrialized world, and increasingly easy for people in the emerging economies around the world.”

Blau is right: Speech is easy. Being heard is hard and getting even harder. Computers can’t distinguish between data and ideas or between human intellect and aggregated text and links. This lack of aesthetic intelligence in a storm of data changes the game. […]

Okay, let’s get this part out in the open: Creators don’t like coloring inside the lines. They’re fueled by a passion to make original work. But there’s a reason why painters don’t rent a storefront, hire a staff clad in black clothing, and throw endless cocktail parties with white wine and fancy hors d’oeuvres. That’s called a gallery, and a gallery owner is a curator. These are the people who enjoy the process of choosing what to hang, how to price it, and how to make sure painters have enough income to pay the rent and buy more paint and canvas. Hopefully.

The web doesn’t work that way. At least not yet. The folks who run the online galleries—the curators—aren’t asking permission or giving a revenue share, which means that content creators need to get comfortable with the idea that in the new world of the link economy, curating and creating aren’t mutually exclusive. Exhibit A: Seth Godin. He is one of the web’s best-known marketing wizards. He’s a speaker, author, website owner and entrepreneur. And he says that content creators can’t ignore curation any longer.

“We don’t have an information shortage; we have an attention shortage,” Godin said. […]

“If we live in a world where information drives what we do, the information we get becomes the most important thing. The person who chooses that information has power.” […]


[Robert] Scoble has declared curation as the next “billion dollar” opportunity and wonders aloud as to whether he should “create or curate” as tech news breaks in Silicon Valley. Scoble says a curator is “an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule.”

“I used to drink from the real-time fire hose, because on the social web, everything was about real time,” says Brian Solis, author of “Engage”. “Then I realized over the years that it’s actually more about right time than real time. In fact, when information comes through, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the right time to engage, capture it, and share it. I’m more successful now creating a list of information, relevant information, and then repackaging, repurposing, and broadcasting that information at the right time.”

Getting people to pay attention to you—by following, friending, linking, or otherwise engaging—will have real economic value, says communications consultant and author Chris Brogan. “Attention is a currency, just like many others. We understand time and money as two interchangeable things. But attention is just as much something that needs to be arbitraged and disconnected from a 1:1 value. Said another way, ‘Attention costs me time and time is worth money, so attention by extension is worth money.’”


Data will be created with staggering speed, and systems will need to evolve to find, gather, and package data so that you can get what you need, when you need it, in coherent and useful bundles.

Curation taps the vast, agile, engaged human power of the web. It finds signal in the noise. And it’s most certainly going to unleash a new army of web editors armed with emerging curation tools.

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