Feb 10, 2014 0
Dec 8, 2013 0
In a recent post, I talked about issues surrounding music piracy—i.e., the reproduction of music without the consent or compensation of the artist and other interested parties—in light of a column published by David Byrne in The Guardian.
In this post, I would like to put my views another way for, in the past, I fear I have too cavalierly dismissed lamentations over the rampant piracy of music.
Why should you be able to make money from musical recordings at all?
The ability to record and distribute or broadcast recordings of musical performances was until very recently in the many millennia of human music making impossible. Given the relatively brief span of its possibility, I often pondered why would anyone think that it would be forever possible, especially now that the ability to reproduce and distribute recordings has become ubiquitous and trivial.
The fact that you can magically copy musical recordings without altering their format (by, for example, going from vinyl to cassette or even cd) has changed the reality of what a recording is. It has gone from an artifact (record) to a formula, an infinitely reproducible mathematical model.
Oct 25, 2013 0
It always puzzles me when people dismiss homosexuality, or frankly, any particular human behavior, as “unnatural.”
It puzzles me because people who hold this view are not thereby saying that homosexuality is physically impossible. Indeed, its physical possibility is a necessary pre-condition of its being either denounced or proscribed. But this then begs the question:
How can something that is physically possible be “unnatural”?
In other words, if a particular behavior can be observed in the natural world, we must admit of its “naturalness.” Since sexual interactions occur between members of the same sex in at least one species (ours), and possibly others, homosexuality is, ipso facto, natural.
So what is really going on when humans claim that a particular human behavior goes “against nature”?
Oct 18, 2013 1
I can’t remember when I first read David Lowery’s impassioned polemic directed at
an NPR intern all the companies who profit from the exploitation of musicians and other creative artists, but I decided to revisit it after reading David Byrne’s more recent lamentations on streaming services and the sorry state of artist compensation in the modern age.
Byrne’s piece bothered me primarily due to this conclusion/claim:
…the whole model is unsustainable as a means of supporting creative work of any kind. Not just music. The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left. Writers, for example, can’t rely on making money from live performances – what are they supposed to do? Write ad copy?
His argument boils down to this: Unless people can make a living creating art (or, more awkwardly producing “creative content”), then art will cease to exist.
Believing, as I do, that humans are creative by default (though that creative impulse may, sadly, be acculturated out of them over time), I found this claim preposterous.
Jun 10, 2013 0
We all carry around with us an idea of how the world works. This idea isn’t necessarily super detailed, but it does lay down the general guidelines for what we deem possible in the world and what we deem impossible.
For example: I am an atheist. This means that I don’t believe it’s possible that a supernatural being may, from time to time, intervene in human affairs (in response to a petitioning with prayer, for example), if for no other reason than that I believe such beings to be, all interventions aside, impossible.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that no matter how sophisticated one’s notion of the world’s machinations, there is always something that one just doesn’t yet get or know about the world.
If we ever experience something like a revelation, then, what gives such revelation its jarring force is the way in which it reveals a fundamental and unsuspected truth about how the world works: that the imagined impossible is, astonishingly, possible.
And sometimes the realization of this possibility is nothing short of apocalyptic.
May 30, 2013 0
The argument, in nuce:
- The messianism at the heart of Zionism means that the fulfillment of the dream is also its apocalyptic end. Catastrophe and the culmination of a destiny, ordained from on high, fall together.
- Zionist nationalism, which views itself as destined, represses its own contingency. In doing so, it negates any potential national claims of the indigenous people and brooks no dissent with regard to its legitimacy. To question the latter is to attack it.
- The militarism that has become emblematic of the Israeli state is a response not so much to the suffering of the Holocaust but to the humiliation and shame associated with the Holocaust (and the pogroms that proceeded it). A strong and aggressive Zion is the only way to blot out this shame and undo the legacy of Jewish passivity and powerlessness. Survival becomes the overriding value of the state, justifying any means employed to ensure it.
Which is not to say that this book serves simply as a critique or dismissal of Zionism. Instead, we find something like an archaeology of it. Rose takes pains to find within the history of Zionism itself critiques of its messianism (Sholem), nationalism (Buber and Arendt) and its militarism (today’s refuseniks).
In the end, we’re left with a portrait of Zionism that is complicated, internally contested, utopian and tragic. As such it allows us to see how statements such as, “Zionism is racism” or, alternately, “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism,” freeze Zionism into one of its aspects and concomitantly erase all others.
It should also be noted that this book was published in 2007. Since then, of course, Israel has withdrawn from Gaza (with rather fraught consequences) but also continued to expand the settlements and, with Netanyahu once again Prime Minister, doubled-down (as far as I can tell) on the militarism Rose describes.
May 23, 2013 2
Everyone says, “Time is money.” But isn’t it more true that space is money?
I can’t increase the amount of time I have. In fact, I can’t possess time in any real sense because, in a very real sense, time doesn’t exist.
Time is not; it’s more like the is-ing or is-ness of everything. (I think a Nazi philosopher once wrote about this.)
By contrast, I can increase the amount of space (actual, physical space) that I own and control. In fact, through rents and the extraction of natural resources, this space can be fairly easily converted into money.
The notion that “time is money” is the expression of a wish: the wish for immortality. If time were something that we could accumulate and hoard, then we could, through force of will, stave off death, the end of our specific time.
But time doesn’t work that way.
Nor does money.
Mar 27, 2013 0
When we are asked to “tolerate” the religious views of others, the assumption is that we harbor no religious views of our own or, at least, that such views do not lay claim to absolute truth.
In other words, calls for religious tolerance (and this includes the “freedom of religion” ensconced in our Bill of Rights) tacitly imply that all religions are equally valid, which is just another way of saying that no one religion is the true religion.
Of course, at least in the case of Christianity and Islam, such an insistence is baked into the religion itself. For this reason, asking Christians to be “tolerant” of (in the sense of neither criticizing, mocking nor lampooning) Islamic doctrine, or vice versa, is tantamount to asking them to disown (or at least relativize) their own creed.
That many believers are in fact willing to do so, thus accepting the relatively modern perspective that one’s religious beliefs are a matter of personal preference, rather than universal obligation, testifies to humanity’s willingness to favor social bonds over dogmatic, doctrinal fidelity. It also suggests that many people understand their religious identity to be as much an accident of birth as their native language or particular ethnicity.
That others are unwilling to do so and, in fact, ready to persecute and attack adherents of rival faiths or be martyred in the name of their own, strikes us as both hopelessly antiquated and, if seen as an act of principled, unwavering devotion, oddly heroic.
Which does not mean, however, that such “heroism” need be tolerated.
Mar 21, 2013 4
It’s been a week since I saw Chris Potter play with his quartet (David Virelles (p), Larry Grenadier (b), Nate Smith (d)) and two weeks since I saw Kurt Rosenwinkel with his (Aaron Parks (p), Eric Revis (b), Justin Faulkner (d)) and I’ve been wrestling with how best to describe what made these shows so different and, not to put too fine a point on it, why the Chris Potter show was so much better.
Top of Their Game
The most obvious reason, I guess, is that Potter’s band is just better. Larry Grenadier (picture above) is a “best of his generation” bass player, David Virelles is as rhythmically inventive and harmonically adventurous as they come, and Nate Smith plays drums in a way that is commandingly funky as well as surprisingly understated (he played a solo that built so slowly and massively that he was halfway into it before you knew what was happening).
To top it all off, of course, is Chris Potter himself. Combining a pop sensibility (that reminds me of Stan Getz, though Potter sounds nothing like him) with a protean mastery of the instrument, Potter can be at turns lyrical and wild, brainy and melodic. And whether it’s a question of his acumen as a leader or the collective intelligence of the ensemble, the group moved effortlessly with him and around him into realms that seemed both uncharted and sublimely familiar, as if we had been transported to a 80s era Brecker Brothers New York funk throw-down infused with an unheard of at the time nuanced modernism.
Long story short, Potter’s set was energetic, energizing and everything I want when I go see live jazz: amazing musicians playing astonishing, improvised music.
Mar 5, 2013 6
The post was entitled, “Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now” and it’s main line of argument was that people should not try to control where their content appears on the web.
My reasoning was threefold. First, if people are citing your content, or, really, reproducing lengthy citations from it, on their site then (a) that may fall under the doctrine of “fair use” and (b) as long as they are attributing it to you and linking back to the original, that should be fine.
Second, I invoked John Perry Barlow and asserted that “giving it away” was the wave of the future and that companies should share content freely and focus on making money from inimitable products or services. As an illustration, I referred the Grateful Dead’s willingness to allow taping at their concerts while charging for attendance at said concerts.
Finally, I argued that, since every page on the web is literally one click away from any other page, the very notion of a “site” is questionable. That is, in a sense, the web is the site, so quibbling about where content appears (on this site or that site) misses something fundamental about how the web works (or, more accurately, how the very nature of the web calls into question the absolute location of any particular piece of content).
Dissenting from Myself
As I mentioned, I wrote the original piece a long time ago and my thoughts on copyright and control of content have in the interim shifted somewhat.
For example, a little over two years ago I started working for an online publisher and came to experience first hand what it’s like when someone scrapes your content and publishes it in it’s entirety to their site (and not always with proper attribution). Aside from blatant issues of copyright infringement, there is an actual business impact to this sort of thievery to the degree that the stealing site reaps the SEO reward of your content, on the one hand, but can also bring Google penalties down on your site for publishing “duplicate content.” (If any SEOs are reading this and I’m getting this wrong, please school me in the comments.)
My thoughts on digital copyright have also been influenced by Robert Levine’s book Free Ride, in which he convincingly argues that, rather than a question of free speech or freedom of information, the people calling most vocally for “freedom of content” are actually huge businesses (Google and Apple, among them) who sell services or products that benefit from unlimited access to content. If you can fill an iPod with music you downloaded illegally from the web, or use Google to find such music, the argument goes, then the content creator’s loss is the gain of Google and Apple.
Finally, I think that, underlying my argument, was the notion that “content is going to be stolen, so don’t build your business around ownership of content,” which is really more an expression of resigned acceptance than an actual argument.
All That’s Solid
We live in a world in which things that used to be concrete—books, records, movies, etc.—and relatively difficult to reproduce and distribute, now exist as configurations of electricity that can be replicated at will and accessed from anywhere. The obstinacy of matter that once offered some protection to works of imagination, intellect, technical proficiency and physical prowess, has evaporated.
We are in the midst of dealing with the repercussions of this technological turn of events and the end is not yet in sight. Organizations and individuals are experimenting with a variety of methods for tracking, tagging and getting paid for access to content, but there is no perfect solution yet that can prevent people from “taking” whatever content they like. In fact, these people can easily feel little guilt for doing so because, in the end, they aren’t “taking” anything at all; they are merely copying or reproducing, as I said, a “configuration of electricity.”
Should someone who has recorded a piece of music or written a book or produced a film be able to control access to their work? I believe that they should.
Can they now? Not entirely.
Will they be able to do so in the future? I am not certain and tend to think that, if the work can be copied and distributed electronically, then it will always be, to a greater or lesser degree, beyond their control.