Tag Archives: Marxism

Reproducing Music: Another University Essay by Me

Yo. More essay for you. This one was for a course on Art and Anti-Art. Though I just wrote about music and ownership. Again, my views have changed since I wrote this. But still…sometimes it’s good to get a bit of perspective.

More essays will follow. Unless someone complains that I’m boring. In which case I’ll go and cry somewhere. The truth hurts.

 

Reproducing Music:

Who owns the sounds we listen to?

 

The issue of music copyrighting, part of wider issues in regards to intellectual property in general, is a thorny one, to say the least. Andrew Goodwin points out that we live in an age when digital reproduction of music in which technology allows anyone and everyone the ability to ‘purchase an “original”’1. He talks about the ‘mass production of the aura’ (p259); the way music is reproduced in a way by which ‘there is no discernible difference between the sound recorded in the studio and the signal reproduced on the consumer’s CD system’(p259). This reproduction can now be performed from CD to CD and computer to computer by means of the mp3; and this copying and file sharing, normally over Peer to Peer (P2P) networks like Kazaa, is so prevalent that the US Deputy Assistant Attorney General John G Malcolm estimates ‘that over 50 million Americans have downloaded or shared files via P2P, and that about 5 million of them are doing it on any given day.’2 Record companies are in uproar to prevent what is seen by many as a ‘Marxist revolution [,] since property is theft and musical recordings are considered property.’3 Matthew Herbert, a revolutionary electronic music producer who goes under several different recording identities (Doctor Rockit, Radio Boy, Herbert and his latest project the Matthew Herbert Big Band) is among those who provide a new way of looking at these processes of reproduction, especially the act of sampling music to make more music, an issue on which I intend to focus.

Malcolm, representative of the department of Justice in America tells us that:

Millions of copyrighted songs and hundreds of thousands of copyrighted movies are illegally copied every day. The losses to those who create software and games from illegal copying are also significant.’4

That an important official is making lengthy speeches about the importance of enforcing copyright law -something that ‘has always been, and should remain, civil in nature’5 and encouraging criminal enforcement- demonstrates how serious the matter of musical reproduction is considered. Malcolm complains that too many people are of an attitude that they ‘can take whatever [they] want, whenever [they] want it without paying for it just because [they] now have the means to do so’6, and that it is their moral right to do so, on the grounds that the industry is charging too much for the music it provides. He and the industry (particularly as represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)) protest that this is immoral (not to mention illegal) as it takes money away from the industry, a figure estimated at ‘more than 300 million dollars a year domestically [i.e. in America]’7, and therefore by inference the recording artists themselves. The RIAA claims noble goals to ‘protect intellectual property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists’8, and helps pursue legal action against those downloading and pirating music around the world. This activity has sparked much protest from the download community, which in general seems to fall under a category of people wanting something for nothing, because they ‘have the means to do so’9. This argument falls apart rapidly on any legal footing; intellectual property is a recognised and important part of the law, and has been in this country since the Anne Act of 170910 and was even mentioned in the original US constitution11.

Another significant aspect of copyright issues is highlighted by Andrew Goodwin in his essaySample and Hold’12, and this is the sampling of music, whereby musicians (or more properly perhaps composers/producers) digitally sample elements of other records and use them as the basis of new songs. Goodwin talks of the ‘Age of Plunder’ (p267) whereby everybody is ‘ “stealing” segments from other records [as a] part of the meaning of the “new” text’ (p271). This is fourteen years ago now, and the trend has only increased, more and more copying and pasting of bits of songs happens all the time. It is not necessarily a problem in itself, as Matthew Herbert notes ‘some of my favourite records have been done this way, including the bulk of hip hop.’13 Nick Hornby, points out that some acts have ‘upped the ante’ and that acts like ‘The Avalanches [in their single ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ from their album Since I Left You] use so many samples to create something so indisputably their own that to accuse them of plagiarism is pointless: you may as well make the same case against a writer whose books contain words that other writers have used before.’14 Hornby makes a good case for the ability of acts like these, while diminishing those who merely ride on others’ coattails, the musicians that Herbert points out who ‘sampled jazz records and called themselves jazz, they sampled James Brown and declared their music funky’.15 The case is convincing, you have to do something interesting with samples you use in order to make something valuable in its own right; but this debate of creativity, ignores the question of ownership, which brings up significant problems.

The key problem is the fact that ‘well over 90% of sample usage is never cleared’16, meaning that the composers of the original music being sampled fail to get the money from the use of their own creativity. To use Herbert’s example, James Brown does not get the money for the funkiness that the samplers have borrowed (or rather stolen) from him. There is an argument that this is acceptable because it recuperates the sales of the music it samples, Tom Simenon points out that ‘all of his [James Brown’s] records are being reissued. Kids of 18, 19 wouldn’t have heard of him if it wasn’t for hip-hop’17. This relies upon the clearing of samples, acknowledgements on record sleeves (absent from pirated, copied and shared music), through the music press, or through the knowledge of pub bores and musos. These sources of information sharing are flawed, and often fail to help the more obscure artist reach fame (and financial reward) they may deserve. Herbert eloquently sums up a large portion of this problem when he says:

Many people have considered this a Marxist revolution, since property is theft, and musical recordings are considered property. The problem…within musical composition, however, is that people then sell their own music using these samples. They are creating their own exclusive property and their philosophic raison d’être is destroyed…If people want to take samples for free, then they need to be prepared to distribute their music for free.’

(Matthew Herbert – Records and Responsibility)

Here Herbert proposes one solution to the problem, the free distribution of music, an idea that sounds like it is falling into old traps, but has not only been done by Herbert himself, but is also promoted by groups coming under the wing of the ‘copyleft’ movement.

Herbert’s album (released under the recording persona Radio Boy) The Mechanics of Destruction18 was to Herbert something of a ‘mini revolution’19 in that it was made up of the things it was rather than simply being about those things20. An example of what this means is that the first track is called McDonald’s, and is made from samples generated using a Big Mac meal as the only sound source. The accompanying website explains the political motivation for this (Herbert’s politics have become more and more intertwined with his music as his career has progressed), but the key to the meaning is the distribution method. The album was given away to any who wanted it, either given out at gigs, downloadable from the internet or by mail if you sent Herbert’s own label a self addressed envelope. Herbert says this

created a genuine and spontaneous relationship with the audience. People sent us money, stamps, cds of their own music, books they had written, pictures, artwork. It felt like a dialogue that was almost entirely absent in the traditional business models.’

(Matthew Herbert – Records and Responsibility)

It is this spontaneous relationship, the free giving of unasked for reward that suggests a new way around the problem of copyrighting. A way that allows copying and sharing of music, but still allows the artist to be rewarded. It also avoids the institutionalised power of the record companies, the industry (as seen earlier in the RIAA comments) that demands rights for the artist but in fact takes most of the money from intellectual property suits for itself. Ram Samudrala, author of an essay entitled The Free Music Philosophy21 encourages this sort of distribution process (often called copylefting, as a simple pun on copyrighting, that points out its left wing origins) and offers an appropriate liner note that, as I am running out of space, I shall offer as a fairly self explanatory legal alternative to copyrighting, and my conclusion.

Permission to copy, modify, and distribute the musical compositions and sound recordings on this album, provided this notice is included with every copy that is made, is given for noncommercial use. If you obtained this by making a copy, and if you find value in this music and wish to support it, please send a donation based on whatever you thought the music was worth to the address given on this notice.’22

 

 

 

Bibliography

1 ‘Sample and Hold’ in On Record Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (London: Routledge 1990) p259 – all quotations from this edition

2 Privacy and Intellectual Property – Legal Issues Related to Peer-To-Peer File Sharing Over the Internet New York State Bar Association & International Bar Association (Amsterdam, The Netherlands – October 23, 2003) –http://www.cybercrime.gov/Malcolmtestimony102303.htm – all quotations from this web page

3 Matthew Herbert in Records and Responsibility: An interview with Matthew Herbert by Clare Birchall 15th June 2003 – www.signsofthetimes.org.uk/matt.html – all quotations from this website

4 Privacy and Intellectual Property

5 Privacy and Intellectual Property

6 Privacy and Intellectual Property

7 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/piracy/riaa.asp

8 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/copyright/history.asp

9 Privacy and Intellectual Property

10 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/copyright/history.asp

11 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/copyright/history.asp

12 ‘Sample and Hold’ in On Record Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (London: Routledge 1990)

13 Records and Responsibility

14 31 Songs (London: Penguin 2003) p170

15 Records and Responsibility

16 Records and Responsibility

17 ‘Beat Generator’ in New Musical Express, quoted in ‘Sample and Hold’ p271

18 www.themechanicsofdestruction.org – recordings available free for download

19 Records and Responsibility

20 Records and Responsibility

21 The Free Music Philosophy v1.4http://www.ram.org/ramblings/philosophy/fmp.html

22 The Free Music Philosophy

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“Life ain’t Nothing but Bitches and Money” – A half arsed discussion of Psychoanalytic and Marxist Criticism

God…that title looks boring.

Anyway, basically, I’m going to do a half arsed version of an essay I’ve been intending to do for ages. But because its Sunday, I’m not going to do any research, and I’m probably going to stop halfway through to start tidying up my room.

Still, at least I’ve got an NWA quote in the title.

Anyway, lets get on this.

So, I guess this could be considered an attack on the grand narratives of Freudian Psychoanalysis and Marxism. Which is interesting because It think there are lessons to be learnt from both. Its just the old post modernist thing of attacking the grand narratives I guess. Plus when you try and summarise Freud and Marx using the words of Ice Cube…it becomes much clearer just how much the two can be seen to reducing everything to nothing.

Lets (for some reason) ignore the fact that Freud was a sexist pig who had no idea of anything that happened in the lives of people who didn’t live in Middle class Vienna. This is probably a gross oversimplification of him…but that’s all that everybody ever does with Freud, which is perhaps the problem. My housemate did Psychology at Uni, and she always finds it interesting that I did loads of stuff on Freud (in my Literature degree) when they were taught from the beginning that the whole thing was unprovable tosh. Freud and the interpretations of Freud (we’re talking Lacan’s phallus here by the way) are still prevalent modes of criticism in the field of Literature.

There is genuinely some really interesting stuff going on there. You can compare Freud’s understanding of ‘the dream work’, that is the way our subconscious presents thoughts in dreams but then we encode and disguise them so our conscious mind doesn’t have to face up to the unpleasant truths within, with the practice of writing and creativity. The construction of meaning in writing can be compared to an expression of the mind of the author (who, as we all know, is dead) being transmitted through the veiling and changing process of language. Does that make sense to anyone who isn’t a pretentious wanker? Possibly not. But there’s definitely some interesting stuff going on there. For the likes of Nick Royle, literature is a form of telepathy (I’ll post my dissertation on Philip K Dick at some point for more discussion of this) between the minds of author and reader. In fact this is probably a gross mis-interpretation, but that’s what I always got out of it. In fact I think that its closer to empathy at least half of the time. Good literature has an ability to make you feel a situation, rather than just think about it. That’s why we love reading even when its not the smartest and wittiest and most intelligent pieces of Canonical literature. That’s why ‘trashy’ and ‘lowbrow’ books are still damn good.

Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward is an excellent book that essentially deals with psychoanalysis through the medium of a witty and fast paced sci fi narrative. Read it now…its worth it. The writing seems a little stilted at times but the pace and humour is so good that you forgive it immediately…and its a first novel…so its a pretty damn fine achievement. I won’t analyse it now as it would spoil it. First person who lives in my area and e-mails me asking for it can borrow my copy.

Anyway. The point is that you need to get the whole breadth of Psycholanalysis being considered in order to get something useful out of it. I don’t like the way that one tiny element has effectively become the whole grand narrative. Its a simplification. Everything is about sex…apparently…it just becomes a hunt for phallic symbols and returns to the womb. Eye removal is apparently synonymous with castration anxiety…as is almost anything else that can happen. I mean…I can appreciate that people think about sex a lot…I sure do. I can even see how it could be considered one of the primary motivational drives. The reproductive drive (continuance of DNA…the selfish gene and all that jazz) is the obvious motivation. But even Freud had to override that with the Death Drive once he saw the results of the First World War. I don’t know…I guess its the reductionism of most psychoanalytic criticism that pisses me off. It is possible to take note of Siggy and not actually have to make everything about a couple of out dated and genuinely quite ridiculous statements. If most psychologists think that its nonsense…then why is the literary world still so obsessed with the Mother Loving Austrian Prick.

And I haven’t even mentioned Oedipus yet.

Anyway. Marxism is something i like. The key reduction here is viewing everything through a system of economic relationships. Sahil believes that every relationship is a constant series of negotiations…and that applies on International levels and on personal relationships. For Marx it’s about class war (aside: protest on campus once…someone yelled out ‘its a class war’ and got the biggest laugh of the day as everybody noted that in fact the only classes present were the middle…that’s what University protests are all about..middle class kids pretending they aren’t) and the constant dialectic struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed. The important thing however, is that everything becomes economic. The money and the value of goods is exchanged, and this leads to the exploitation and alienation of the proletariat etc etc blah blah blah.

We all know about it. If you don’t (or just like re contextualised works) look at this .

Anyway, I’m talking through a literary lens today…so lets go into what Marxist literary criticism is like. Basically, (I think) literature is considered complicit in the oppression of the ‘people’. It forms part of the ruling hegemony (unless it is subverting it of course) and creates and uses language to promote the status quo. The ideology of the ruling class controls the language and uses its meanings to impose its thought upon people. Language itself is guilty of oppression, which is why people try to screw the system up by subverting language itself. Look for those experimental poets fucking shit up. My mate Jeffers does a fine job of it. I think its all well and good. I kind of tend to agree with bits and pieces of it to an extent. But at the same time…I don’t like the idea that language is to blame. Can we not change language. I mean…I know language and meaning has its limits. But the beauty of language is in the fact that it changes every fucking time you use it. Every time I use a word in the company of someone…then for both of us that word acquires a meaning related to that moment. It adds an extra level to it. A lot of the stuff in my short story posted below (Abort , Retry, Fail) is little words and phrases that only make sense to me and a couple of people who will recognise the original situation. I don’t know if it makes sense to put them in there…but I think it actually challenges other readers to associated new meaning with those phrases. The story isn’t as subversive as I’d originally hoped…but it certainly is a struggle to read…it makes you think…but at no point to I make up or invert language. Everything is in vaguely accurate English. The grammar is disjointed…but you generally understand what is going on.

Anyway, I’m going to edit it soon and hopefully it’ll be better then.

I’ve rambled off topic.

Basically..the general point is that grand theories must be looked at in all their intricacies, and should be only used as a lens. You must be aware that you are making a certain judgement of something using a certain set of rules laid out, by that something.

Life is more than sex and economics. Don’t reduce things to that. Look at everything. If you’re being Marxist..then note that you’re being Marxist and try and think of what the other side is. same for Freud…don’t just glue yourself to his ideas so that eventually all you can see is cocks flying through tunnels or whatever it is that Freud saw everywhere.

Hmm,

I haven’t said anything have I…ah well…any thoughts? Any questions? Want to call me a big shit and tell me I’m wrong? Go on…make a comment…I dares ya.

Edit: Read the commments if you haven’t. My second comment below actually ends up saying what I was trying to say above but couldn’t quite figure out.