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Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Musical Heritage, Copyright and Culture

There is a widespread misconception amongst music-lovers that traditional music is in some way static, set in stone.

This may be true of some written (and community-policed) forms of alpine Ländler music, but for 'living' (aurally relayed) traditions, with every relearning, subtle change is introduced. With time and a little human playfulness, this gives life to new variants or even tunes.

This musical evolution has, nevertheless, an element of musical continuity - increasingly threatened by predatory legal confections.

Quick in defense of own interests, the entertainment/music industry is lax in protecting what are pretty much universally accepted by traditional and folk musicians as open source, cultural heritage works against rights erosion.

Not only have session venues been confronted with opportunistic and unwarranted royalties demands, but musicians have been known to put their own 'spin' -and then copyright- on an established traditional tune - meaning that if played in a session, despite being a heritage work, it is just a matter of time before it is subject to charges. Once under legal lockdown, it is forever lost.

Big, brave, open-source, non-profit, community-provisioned, cross-cultural and Kim Jong crazy. → Like, share, back-link, pin, tweet and mail. Hashtags? For the crowdfunding: #VisualFutureOfMusic. For the future live platform: #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory. Or just register as a potential crowdfunder..

Streaming Music Live Community Heritage Contentment Wealth. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Streaming Is Not Community: Keep Music Live

The Language of Music

Traditional or folk music has the character of conversation. Like language it develops over time as tunes are learned, forgotten and relearned - with finely nuanced change at every relay.

Music speaks directly to our emotions. From it's origins in the community, it come to be widely used to underpin narrative in rituals as diverse as advertising, politics and entertainment.

Cultural Pillaging

Cultural Pillaging: What Fun #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Cultural Pillaging: What Fun
Traditional, folk -and their world music derivatives- have a stunningly rich melodic and stylistic legacy, one that many a contemporary group or composer -in the absence of own inspiration- has been happy to plunder.

How often were short snatches of popular folk songs or dances combined or overlaid with others, altered slightly to accommodate the odd chord variation, subject to normal thematic development?

In many cases, things are further obscured through alien rhythm and instrumentation. Eventually, awareness of the link back to the original is all but lost.

Innovation - or appropriation? More generally, are musicians as free of influence as they would like us to believe? My feeling? 'Innovation' in contemporary music derives at least as much from advances in sound production as any breaking of new melodic ground.

It suspect it might prove very educational to compare every folk tune from every musical culture with the content of databases underpinning services such as Soundcloud. I doubt if any copyright would remain watertight.

The assertion that anything relating to the language of music can be disassociated from earlier influences, and especially that it should henceforth be considered private property, is absurd. Musicians themselves are happy to reel off their musical influences. Yet it is law, and that law is being used -whether cynically, or in the modern-day ignorance of haste- to kill off culture and heritage.

Musical Copyright

Potential Crowdfunder?

Copyright laws define when a work is under protection, not when free for use by anyone. To be recognized as in the public or open source domain, works have to be explicitly 'released' by their creator. Yet as touched on above, the notion of musical creation is a myth. No intellectual work came into being in a vacuum. Heritage musicians are left shadow-boxing.

The one positive development (and that, perversely, as a result of streaming) is the erosion of copyright policing. "In the case of music, we've already seen the effective nullification of copyright, and despite the RIAA's best efforts I haven't seen any evidence that it's hurt music sales. People will happily pay for a colorful booklet if it helps support artists, but of course they will not pay $15 a shot to keep record-company executives in fancy cars". Carl Lumma, 2003.

Hypocrisy and laziness go hand in hand. Many purely traditional session venues have found themselves confronted with aggressive royalty demands. Challenging these is a time-consuming and -at the end of the day- utterly thankless exercise in bureaucracy.

Copyright serves, in a musical context, three aims: concocting a plausible fiction of entirely original work, securing ownership, and exercising exclusive economic control.

Were this applied to the written or spoken word, we would no longer be able to communicate.

At what point do the building blocks of a melody become 'own work'? After two consecutive notes? Eight? Sixteen? At the lower end of these ranges, we can be certain all possibilities have been explored, leaving all else reapplication of the known.

In this sense, if genre has degenerated into a marketing construct, rights have become a legal construct. Copyright is in severe danger of killing music as language, a form of free expression. Meanwhile, society is dispossessed, relegated to the role of passive, paying consumers of own culture.

Copyright stifles not just access, but diversity (the accidents of rediscovery, remixing and even renaming), concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, and lies at the heart of huge cultural resentment worldwide. It is, however, just part of a wider system of privilege, exploitation and cultural theft.

The Exploitation Stack. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
The Exploitation Stack

Copyright allows a few (fragile stage egos and economic hoarders) to live wildy beyond the earth's means - and any limits to common sense.

A Future Without Culture?

Arts funding gutted, commercialisation & commoditisation, revenue optimisation in the music industry, competing lifestyle expectations, fragmentation & loss of musicality through reliance on apps, flat-rate streamed noise, technology and commerce trashing event intimacy and teachers priced out of the running by software.
Declining Interest in Music Topics #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Declining Interest in Music Topics

No matter which music-related topic you choose, if you look on Google Trends, it's seems to be decline. Heritage is in decline. Culture is in decline. It seems music -as a source of wellbeing- is in decline.

Control over culture is being progressively wrestled from humanity's hands, an act as toxic (if not visibly) to wellbeing as fashion and cosmetic industry use of photoshopped anorexics in sales pitches to teenage girls.

With the advent of machine learning, algorithmic music and (inevitable) automatic copyrighting, our common musical language is further eroded: the collapse of musical culture programmed.

Copyright Oligarchs: Spooky #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Copyright Oligarchs: Spooky
Within a decade or so, all new copyright may well be found in the hands of a tiny group of music oligarchs. Spooked? You should be.

Worse though, is the danger that culture itself is eradicated through a form of mechanisation: that our senses are so overloaded by algorithmic music that music itself ceases to have any value.

"Copyright ought to be a pragmatic bargain between artists, business, and consumers that promotes creativity, not a right of vast scope, consequence, and duration that stifles it".

You can find a brief overview of the current (legal) state of affairs relating to musical copyright in America here.


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Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.