Tag Archives: music

Friday essay: the loss of music

The Conversation

Peter Godfrey-Smith, City University of New York

In New York City, a classical saxophone player I know was asked to play some live music for an event at a large, successful store that sells computers, phones, and other electronic equipment. The event was a product launch, and they wanted something innovative. The sax player was interested. The man from the store then added: “There’s no budget for this.” The musician was being asked to play, for free, surrounded by the machines that are destroying his profession.

Discussion has been going on for years now about the future of music under the impact of technology, especially computer downloads and streaming, and the subtraction of billions of dollars from every part of the music industry. I am offering some thoughts because it seems to me that a particular place is now being reached. The threat to professional music is becoming acute.

Why should you believe me? I am a philosopher, not a professional musician. But I am a close observer of professional music, through my spouse (who is a classical musician) and her colleagues. (Disclosure: because of this connection I do have a vested interest in the issue). Musical professions have been under stress for decades, but I think the present time is special. Quite a lot of musicians are just now leaving the field, or shifting away from full professionalism. The “day job” is more and more common, ideally a job around music, but not always so – hopefully a job that allows time to play.

The threat to professional music is becoming acute.
Dun.can/flickr, CC BY

Those leaving the field had been sustained by hope over recent years (“maybe iTunes will save the business… Maybe a streaming service will start to pay real money…”) That is looking less and less likely. Instead, people are asked more and more to play for what is euphemistically called “exposure,” as in the case of the saxophone player of my opening.

Music itself is not being destroyed, but it is being changed, and some valuable things are being lost. I want to do what I can to increase awareness of this situation. The changes are due in part to technology, and there’s no turning that back.

But the changes are also due to habits and decisions, which are things we can reflect on and modify, and the viewpoint of a philosopher who lives close to the troubled ecology of music might have a role to play. If we are going to have professional musicianship go down the tubes, we should at least be aware that it’s happening. And it might not take so much to turn things around.

Amateur creators, unpaid professionals

Each creative field operates through an interaction between two sets of behaviours, roles that are modified in each case by quirks of the practice and its market. That basic duality is between making and consuming, writing and reading, playing and listening. Between these basic roles, we have intermediaries who broadcast, publish, and curate. The “making” side in the case of performing arts – music, drama, dance – also has more steps than “making” usually does in the case of words and pictures.

On Instagram, there is a deluge of amateur creativity.
www.shutterstock.com

Practices on both sides, making and consuming, are being continually shifted by technology. In recent years, technology has led to changes for good and for bad, and has done this in just about all creative fields. On the positive side, a shift in many areas has been a deluge of amateur creativity. Photography, as exemplified by Instagram, is the extreme case. Vast numbers of people have become creators of content, not just consumers.

Compare this to the decades people spent sitting in front of the TV not long ago. This is something to celebrate; it is surely making more agile and creative minds. What is bad is the ebbing of the willingness of the culture to support professionals who are doing a different thing from amateurs.

In the case of words, the deluge of amateur work has challenged the earlier producer/consumer balance, and at one stage professional writing might have seemed in more danger than music, as technology galloped along. But it’s not looking that way now. The ancient format, the book, is showing its resilience. Writing is also a field where high-quality, crafted work is not too much more expensive to produce than low-quality work. You might think I am wrong to be so sanguine about words, but however badly words are doing, music is doing worse.

New behaviours

In the case of music, the threat comes less from amateur creativity than from new behaviors on the consumer side, and from new businesses mediating between performers and listeners.

When I taught at Stanford at the end of the last century, I used to chat just before my classes about music, and ask what people were buying. I remember that before one particular class, I asked the question and learned that no one in the class had bought anything for a while.

Some of the students looked at me slightly uneasily, while some beamed. This was around 2000, the era of Napster, the first file-sharing platform that took off in American colleges. This piece of technology initiated a shift in habits. Once people did not have to pay for vast libraries of music, they became reluctant to pay, even after Napster in its original form had been shut down. Technology developed further to accommodate those shifts in behaviour.

Along with the sheer devaluing of musical production came the steady relegation of music to background. The increase in music’s background presence is made possible by technology, and people then become accustomed to it in that role; music becomes less and less a natural focus of attention. That creates markets for very cheaply produced sound – much popular music now is made on a laptop with a singer or two, no band. As sounds of these kinds become the norm, it makes even less sense to sit down and listen. There is a spiralling downward feedback between modes of production, reproduction, and listening.

Outside of music, people often assume that an adjustment is underway and money is returning. Promising signs do sometimes appear, but they fade or are squashed by a new problem. In a major development over the last few years, YouTube has become a monster. When it streams music, it pays even less to artists than services like Spotify, and YouTube now dominates online listening.

In 2015, David McCandless put together a graphic summary of how much money musicians make from various online platforms. One calculation he did was how many plays of a song would be needed, on a given platform, in order for an artist to make the US monthly minimum wage of $1,260.

On Spotify, a signed artist (hence sharing revenue with a record label) would need a million plays per month (180,000 if they were unsigned and independent). On YouTube, 4 million plays in a month would be needed (4 million if signed, 700,000 if unsigned). That’s not 4 million plays to make a decent living that repays years of practice, but 4 million to make the minimum wage.

One result of all this is the revival of live shows, and the rediscovery by some audiences of how different live music is from the cheaply-produced sounds that surround them. But as more and more musicians take this road, it puts new downward pressure on the money.

Suzanne Vega is close to 60 years and still tours to make a living. zsófi B/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The 1980s/90s singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega wrote in 2014: “Right now I’m in competition with my heroes, my peers and everyone else coming up.” Vega, who is getting close to 60 years of age, probably did not expect to be touring continually now, simply to make a living. Live music is wonderful, but it’s a tough road, only works financially for some kinds of music, and shouldn’t be the sole way for a recording artist to pay the bills.

What to do?

How then can we retain the profession of being a cellist, or a composer, or a guitarist – someone who works all day to practise this activity and does it at a higher level than any amateur can manage?

Do we want these people to exist? Surely yes. We want people who will put in the time to be able to play the hardest material, and create works that extend what’s possible. Then they have to be paid. One option is for them to be paid through government grants and programs, but it’s not healthy for an art to depend too much on a bureaucracy, with its political vulnerability, waste, and openings for manipulation.

Instead we have to look for individual, decentralized behaviors that nudge things in the right direction, look for ways to be part of music in a non-parasitic way. (Wasn’t listening to the radio “parasitic,” back in the old days? No, radio was part of a mix that worked. You listened for free, and were exposed to a mix of familiar and novel music, with advertisements along the way. You listened to new things and you bought some of them. Now we can listen to everything at will while buying nothing.)
In 2015, when Adele’s album “25” was released, she kept it off the streaming services for many months. A story in the New York Times at the time noted that Adele appeared to have “activated millions of customers for whom making a purchase is viewed as a sign of devotion and support” for an artist.

“There’s a level of respect by buying the song, rather than just streaming it,” said one fan quoted in the story, Carlos Villa. “I acknowledge the work that you put into this song, and I appreciate you for that.”

Adele kept her album 25 off streaming services for months. Paul Buck/AAP

Mr Villa, in the music world you are more appreciated than you realize. A lot of good feelings went out to you. Around the same time, a New Yorker writer noted that Adele had put subscribers to streaming services in a “quandary” by holding it off the streams. It was a quandary because the music would end up being streamed eventually, so this felt like “an attempt to make us purchase the music twice.”

Consider the cost involved in the “quandary.” An album today costs today about US$11 through a download, a bit more as a CD. Back in the heyday of popular music – say 1980 – the cost of a record was perhaps the same nominal amount, about $11. But given inflation, that $11 in 1980 is over $30 now. A record purchase back then was something to give careful thought to. Now it’s in the category of a drink or two in a bar.

My students sometimes used to say, as they filled their computers with unauthorized downloads: “Information wants to be free.” I don’t hear that sentence much any more, perhaps because people have begun to realize that it could best be translated like this: “All sorts of activities that were essential in forming western culture (playing and composing music, poetry) will soon no longer be professions.” There is now some acknowledgment of the problem; there’s acknowledgment of the madness in this superfically appealing slogan. But how can we redirect the forces that have been set loose?

The future will come from the interaction between technology and behavior, and “redirecting forces” is largely a matter of changing the habits we bring to the technology we use. In the past, there were only a few ways to listen to music, and they fitted together into an economy that made the profession viable. Now everyone has more choices in their behavior. What I want to do here is encourage people to think about those choices.

If you like a piece of music, ask yourself: will you get some benefit from owning a copy? Is it just inertia that prevents it? Does having it on your machine have advantages over relying on the internet all the time?

Perhaps you think those things won’t really make much difference to you. Then I say: buy some of the music anyway. That sounds like charity – as if I am begging on behalf of the musicians – but I have in mind something different.

Composer Iannis Xenakis in his Paris studio in early 1960.
cea +/Flickr, CC BY

Don’t think of it as charity; think of it as more like voting. Voting is a behavior most of us engage in, at some cost, because we want to have an effect – even a tiny one – on what happens in politics. And even if we have insignificant effects, we want to express our preferences. We want to be on one side or the other, and if our candidate wins we can identify with what happens next. Buying music right now is voting for a certain future, voting for a system that will include professional music in later generations.

Whenever you listen to a streamed song, like it but don’t buy it, and instead stream it again – especially on YouTube – you are casting a vote for the future nonexistence of professional musicians.

It’s not a vote for the nonexistence of music itself, but a vote for the loss of the profession. You are voting for the end of the difference it makes to have people practising for six hours a day and spending months in a studio, making it one’s life project to do those things well.

I don’t know what you like – Adele, Kendrick, Xenakis – it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is you like, vote for it to continue.

This is the first of two articles discussing the state of the music industry. A response to this essay – Why music is not lost – will be published on Monday.

The ConversationPeter Godfrey-Smith, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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On the Banks of the Tigris – a documentary that traces the forgotten history of Iraqi music

The Conversation

Robyn Sloggett, University of Melbourne

Decoupling people from their culture is a perennial tactic in war. The millions of Syrian refugees now seeking asylum across Europe retain little of their material culture, and within Syria cultural material is targeted for destruction. But people’s stories, songs and music do not need suitcases to survive, and it is worth being reminded that war is transient, regimes pass, but culture and identity are shared, enduring and powerful constructions.

In March, I was part of the audience invited to a screening of an extraordinary film, On the Banks of the Tigris (2015) – the product of 10 years of vision, belief, and sheer hard work by documentary filmmaker Marsha Emerman and Iraqi-Australian writer and actor Majid Shokor. The film chronicles Majid’s journey to reconnect with the music he loved as a child and which he heard in coffeehouses, on the radio and in the markets of Baghdad.

Last month, the film was awarded Best Documentary Film at the Baghdad International Film Festival. The award celebrates the resilience, in the face of relentless attack, of the people who create, nurture and preserve cultural identity.

On the Banks of the Tigris is, at its heart, the story of culture triumphing over regime. It presents Iraq as a significant multicultural centre, where Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions were welded together in a unique Iraqi culture that today appears almost utopian.

It explores the influence of Iraqi Jewish musicians in the cultural life of Iraq, charting their passage from Baghdad to Israel, from celebrity to anonymity. And it reflects on Majid’s own journey as a refugee from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, and the journeys of so many like him.

In Australia, the memory of the music of his childhood leads Majid to explore its history and to uncover the extraordinary truth that much of this music, still loved by Iraqis, was composed and performed by Iraqi Jews. This revelation takes Majid from Australia to Israel, Europe and Iraq to meet Iraqi-Jewish musicians, and other great Iraqi musicians, and to learn their stories.

Kawkab Hamza, one of Iraq’s most famous songwriters in the 1960s, explains how the then Vice President, Saddam Hussein, contrived to erase the names of Jewish composers and other musicians unsympathetic to the regime. Refusing Saddam Hussein’s “invitation” in 1973 to join a committee to “review Iraqi musical heritage”, Hamza fled the country, with devastating results for himself and his family.

Yair Dalal and Majid Shokor. Fruitful Films.

In Israel Majid hears acclaimed composer, violinist, oud player, and singer Yair Dalal. Born in Israel to Iraqi-Jewish parents, Dalal performs traditional Iraqi music as well as his own compositions and teaches Iraqi music to young Israelis. “Arab” music, once dismissed in Israel, is now all the rage, an irony not lost on Dalal or those students from Arab-Jewish backgrounds.

Ahmed Mukhtar master oud player. Fruitful Films.

In the UK, Majid meets master oud player Ahmed Mukhtar, a composer and recording artist, born in Baghdad but a political refugee in the UK where he teaches oud and Arabic music theory at the University of London.

Farida Mohammad Ali.

In the Netherlands, Majid watches Farida Mohammad Ali, the first woman teacher at the Baghdad Institute of Music and considered the greatest living interpreter of Iraqi maqam singing, perform with the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble.

The film culminates with a celebratory and jubilant concert at London’s Barbican Centre, thus realising Majid’s ambition to bring Iraqi musicians of all faiths together again.

Regimes dislike culture that is not theirs to own. They dislike the contradictions inherent in cultural production: the mercuriality and immutability of cultural identity, the recklessness and cautiousness of cultural activity.

Regimes also dislike culture that is presented in a language they cannot understand. This dislike often manifests in attacks on the people who create, nurture and protect culture: the murder of the great Chilean singer Victor Jara; of Oromo musician and poet Ebisa Adunya; or more recently of the traditional Syrian folksinger Ibrahim Kashoush, or the great Palmyra archaeologist, Khaled al-Asaad.

Baghdad Radio Orchestra. Fruitful Films.

Asylum and relocation are leitmotifs that run throughout the film. In the 1930s, Jewish Iraqis comprised a third of the population of Baghdad. By the late 1960s most had fled. As a young aspiring actor, Majid was forced to flee Saddam’s regime with his wife and two young daughters in 1995. In Australia singing songs from his childhood helped retain his links to the Iraq he loved.

A world away in Israel, elderly diasporic Iraqi-Jewish musicians meet regularly to play this music for the same reason.

On the Banks of the Tigris is an extraordinary story of cultural resilience and identity. When war and conflict dominate the news, this film reminds us that real heroes play music, tell stories, and, in this case, make films.

On the Banks of the Tigris will screen in Sydney on November 8 and in Melbourne on November 12 and 15 as part of the Jewish International Film Festival. Details here.

The ConversationRobyn Sloggett, Director, Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Obama’s Amazing Grace shows how music can lift oratory high

The Conversation

Liam Viney, The University of Queensland

Where words leave off, so music begins – Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Amazing grace, amazing grace … (trailing off). Amazing grace, how sweet the sound (now singing) – Barack Obama, 2015.

Barely a week after Donald Trump’s presidential campaign launch provided a problematic example of music in the political sphere, Barack Obama’s eulogy at the Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral in Charleston, South Carolina on the weekend provided the polar opposite; an example of how music can propel oratory into regions of meaning and impact that most politicians can only dream of.

To be sure, the two events are categorically distinct on many levels; Trump’s campaign launch (likely attended by paid actors) sits firmly in the political sphere (or the commedia dell’arte sphere, depending on your viewpoint), whereas a funeral, even one freighted with political issues, connects with music more readily through the raw and exposed emotional nerve endings of the people in attendance.

Yet music played a fascinating role at both events, and in each case, context was everything. Unlike the Trump campaign launch, however, Obama’s most recent public musical moment (there have been others) has reverberated positively around the world.

Only a hard heart could fail to respond on some emotional level when the President of the United States of America, eulogising at one of the most emotionally and racially charged funerals in US history, started singing Amazing Grace.

Only blindness could deny the power of witnessing the US’s first president of colour break into song, powerfully illustrating his connection to one of the most musically rich religious communities on Earth (the African American Church generally), galvanising an entire nation into finding strength in a time of great need.

Obama’s words alone that day would have been enough to inspire awe. His performance approached the emotional intensity of a sermon, and subsequent speakers were compelled to anoint him “Reverend President”.

Compared to the anodyne and anaemic cultural engagement leaders of most Western neo-liberal democracies exhibit, it was hard not to be transported back to the heady days of Obama’s election win in 2008 by the centred charisma he showed onstage.

The power of the moment

Near the end of an almost 40-minute eulogy, after a perfectly-judged rhetorical crescendo, Obama paused, bowed his head, and gently launched into a rendition of the first verse of Amazing Grace:


Obama sings Amazing Grace.

A re-reading of the names of the shooting victims follows, and the climax of the eulogy is reached. Many news stories that feature video of the event cut into the moment a split-second before Obama sings, and only some include the subsequent reading of names.

But to fully understand the power of the moment, it’s worth going further back into the text of the eulogy.

The theme of grace, God’s grace here, was threaded throughout. And like a great symphonist embarking on a lengthy musical journey, Obama drops his theme right at the beginning: the first thing he’d noticed upon meeting Rev. Pinckney had been his “graciousness”.

Obama builds his theme

After beautifully describing the Reverend’s biographical embodiment of graciousness, Obama pivots from the personal to the general.

As Pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Pinckney was profoundly connected to the history of African American religious culture. The references to history open the door to a political dimension, which comes a bit later.

He then twice describes the alleged killer as “blinded” by hatred, saying “he would not see the grace” of the people he would soon murder. Obama was clearly building his rhetoric around the last line of the first verse of Amazing Grace:

was blind, but now I see.

Obama then explicitly refers to grace as the central theme of the eulogy:

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.

He quotes lines from Amazing Grace, described the local community’s reaction as graceful, and referred to the grace shown by the victims’ relatives upon facing the alleged killer.

Pondering the opportunity grace provides further, Obama again uses blindness to bring up a list of acutely painful issues for American society: blindness to the pain cause by the Confederate flag, to the role of past injustice in present-day problems, to poverty, to endemic problems in education and employment, to the criminal justice system, to recent problems with law enforcement, and to voting issues.

Ultimately though, it is gun violence that Obama settles on. He implores Americans to approach the issue with open hearts, to find “reservoirs of goodness” that will allow grace to emerge.

He then says:

If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.

He trails off. Then he pauses.

The pause generates electricity, it suggests something is about to happen, and it makes people listen. Like musicians who don’t begin a performance until an audience has fully settled, Obama wants silence in the space before music.

In lesser hands, this moment could have been a corny disaster, and as an artistic moment, people are free to find it such. Critical discussion in most of the press, however, seems to have judged it a success – testament to Obama’s consummate skill as a political performer.

Don’t forget, Obama had just spoken the words “amazing grace” twice, and trailed off. When he then started singing Amazing Grace, he was literally re-creating Heine’s philosophical perspective on music’s post-linguistic status. Adding melody the on the third repetition was not only a great segue, but at a fundamental dramatic, theatrical, and philosophical level, pretty clever.

Many things then happen in quick succession. The church leaders behind him spontaneously beam, voice their pleasure at what is happening, and stand to join in. The congregation, surprised to find itself feeling so good about what is happening (it is a funeral after all) doesn’t cheer so much as collectively smile audibly, then sings too. The musicians figure out what key he is in and improvise an accompaniment (almost certainly unscripted).

Of course there are some who may have reacted negatively.

Amazing Grace is so ubiquitous as to almost warrant cliché status. The 18th-century English slave-owner turned abolitionist John Newton penned the words, and the melody we know today has been associated with those words since the 1830s and the Second Great Awakening. Used ever since in countless different contexts, especially since the 1950s, Amazing Grace is in danger of losing its power thanks to over-familiarity.

For the purposes of this eulogy, however, the singing of Amazing Grace was a perfect tool to take the political message into stratospheric emotional territory.

Three classic notes

The opening three notes outline the most ubiquitous structure in post-1600 Western music – the major triad. But they are arranged in a particular way: the first note, sung to “ah-”, is not the strongest of the three notes, but it leads into the most structurally stable, sung to “-maz-”.

The rhythmically longer “-maaaaz-” mirrors the way we speak the word when we want to emphasise it – as in, “wasn’t that speech amaaazing”.

By the third note on “zing”, we certainly know which song we’re hearing. These three notes resonate on deeper levels for anyone familiar with American music of the past. Just one example: Aaron Copland’s seminal Appalachian Spring (1944) is built on the same material, derived in turn from the opening figure to the traditional Shaker song Simple Gifts.

These three notes, outlining what’s called a second-inversion triad, create a beautiful, open sound. It’s this open sound that Copland uses throughout Appalachian Spring to depict the vast openness of possibility represented by the story of young pioneer love in the original ballet, and it’s the same open sound that gives Amazing Grace the open heartedness that Obama was campaigning for in his words about gun violence.

Back to Obama’s singing: another thing happens on “zing” – Obama sings a bit flat. Naturally, as a singer without formal training, who has had certain other things to attend to recent years, he may have just not have the best singing technique. Intonation insecurity and dubiously executed melismata were balanced by an undeniable connection to African American musical culture. That flatness was very likely Obama channelling the blues.

These observations pale in comparison to the overall impact this part of the eulogy delivers. It is thanks to the way music lifts the words about grace out of the quotidian, that Obama can then ride a wave of emotion to the end of the eulogy.

He goes through the names of the dead again, appending “found that grace” to each name, in a full and passionate voice. The soaring effect he creates builds on the music we just heard. “That grace” is a grace that’s had new and deeper meaning conferred upon it by the song.

His reading of each name is a righteous call, in full sermon mode, and the audience responds each time in a cathartic final acknowledgement of the victims. The musicians continue to riff, accompanying the whole antiphonal interaction, commenting on Obama’s words right to the end.

This subtle musical background ensures the emotional vibration continues and elevates the final moments of the eulogy.

By this stage Obama has carried the congregation into the realm of truly powerful communication, underpinned by a musically-accessed emotional state.

The way in which the Obama let music take over where “words left off” demonstrates music’s capacity for consolation in a profoundly important way. And it is salutary to consider that only a culture that understands music, that knows music, that values music, and that realises it needs music, will be able to benefit from it in this way.

If people were moved by Barack Obama’s eulogy, it was ultimately music, as much as God’s grace, that made them see.

The ConversationLiam Viney is Piano Performance Fellow at The University of Queensland. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s

by Tim Harding

2-CD Album: ‘Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s’ (VJAZZ 029). Australian Jazz Museum, Wantirna.

Since its establishment in June 1996, the Australian Jazz Museum (incorporating the Victorian Jazz Archive) has amassed a huge collection of jazz recordings and memorabilia.  The main aim is to collect and store jazz music performed and/or composed by Australian musicians; but the AJM also houses recordings of jazz produced outside Australia, to be used as a reference source.  The bulk of the overseas recordings have been generously bequeathed to the AJM as part of deceased estates.

In recent years, the AJM has issued some 31 CD albums of recordings from this collection on its own VJAZZ label.  ‘Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s’ (VJAZZ 029) is the AJM’s first album of overseas recordings and hopefully not the last.  It is an excellent selection of 48 tracks (24 on each CD), recorded between March 1926 and March 1940.  The cover notes say that this period was chosen firstly to avoid the earlier low-fi acoustic recordings prior to 1926 and secondly to avoid the less rare recordings made after 1940.

Most of the recordings are indeed relatively rare – for instance, I already had only half a dozen of the 48 tracks in my collection, which is reasonably comprehensive from this period.  To me, this implies that many of these recordings may not have previously been reissued on CD.  All tracks are American except for six recorded in London, UK; and almost all of the American tracks were recorded in New York.

Well known bandleaders include Red Nichols, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Condon, Fletcher Henderson, Harry Reser, Sam Lanin, Ben Pollack, Ambrose, Nat Shilkret, Ted Weems and Ben Bernie.  Even some of the lesser known bands have stars such as Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti in them.

The AJM has ‘cleaned up’ the original 78 RPM records from its collection by removing annoying surface noise; but otherwise the tracks do not sound is if they have been extensively graphic equalised or interfered with.  The resulting audio quality sounds like that from 78s in very good condition, which I think is a good audio standard to aim for.

I also think that there is a good musical quality in the tracks selected.  Jazz purists might prefer to classify some of the tracks as ‘hot dance’ rather than jazz, but to my ears they all have a jazz feel to them.  The AJM has used Brian Rust’s discography ‘Jazz Records 1897-1942’ as a guide to both jazz classification and recording personnel.  There are no insipid best forgotten commercial pop songs amongst them; and many of the so-called hot dance tracks contain some good ad lib jazz solos.

In my view, the best jazz solos on this album include those by trumpeter Henry Red Allen (Sweet Sue, Yellow Dog Blues); trombonists Jack Teagarden (Makin’ Friends, Monday Morning), Miff Mole (My Blue Heaven) and Dickie Wells (Sweet Sue); clarinetist Buster Bailey (Lorna Doone Shortbread); tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (Sweet Sue); bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini (No Foolin’); and tubist Joe Tarto (Hittin’ the Ceiling and Just the Same).

There are a couple of 8-bar cornet solos by Bix Beiderbecke on Frankie Trumbauer’s My Sweeter than Sweet, recorded on 19 October 1929Bix also plays quietly behind Smith Ballew’s vocal, but this recording is not amongst Bix’s best work, in my view.  Joe ‘King’ Oliver solos on muted cornet in Blue Blood Blues (1929) by Blind Willie Dunn’s Gin Bottle Four, but once again, this is not Oliver’s best work.

Roughly half the tracks have a vocal chorus on them, but whilst adequate, the singing is not particularly memorable.  Unlike many of the instrumental solos, the vocals sound more ‘dance band’ than jazz.  A couple of exceptions are Jenny’s Ball (1931) sung in a classic jazz style by Mamie Smith, and Wipe ‘em Off (1929) sung by Clarence Williams.  Interestingly, Clarence also plays jug on the latter track where the pianist is Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith.

One track of historical interest is Skeleton Jangle recorded in 1936 by a reunion of the 1917 Original Dixieland Jazz Band, with a different pianist.  Whether by accident or design, the 1936 band sounds remarkably similar to the 1917 band, but with better audio quality.

This album is available for purchase online from the Australian Jazz Museum at: http://vicjazzarchive.org.au/

The current online price for this 2-CD album is $25 plus packing and postage, which is very good value in my opinion.

Disclosure: Tim Harding is a life member and former board member of the AJM when it was the Victorian Jazz Archive.


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If copyright’s a dud, what business models do work for creatives?

The Conversation

By Nicholas Sheppard, Victoria University

Much of the creative work we value – whether it’s films, music, novels, or TV shows – requires a significant input of time and resources. The established method for raising the resources to fund such work is copyright – which gives creators an exclusive right to communicate their work to the public (with some small limitations). In its most familiar use, creators raise resources by selling copies of their work.

The spread of computer technology that makes copying very cheap and easy has led, however, to a lot of angst. Copyright owners complain that widespread infringement threatens their ability to fund new creative works. On the other hand, apologists for infringement insist that copyright owners have it too good already, that they use the quasi-monopoly created by copyright to enrich themselves at the expense of users.

Over my career as a researcher in copyright protection technology, one of the most common pieces of advice to copyright owners that I heard was to “get a new business model”.

But what might that business model be?

In this article, I’ll restrict myself to the music industry, which has one of the longest and loudest experiences with online copyright infringement. As we’ll see, online music retailers and individual musicians have trialed quite a few models over the years.

Subscription services and bundling

Legal scholar Terry Fisher and recording company executive Jim Griffin, among others, have proposed “flat-fee” models in which users pay a subscription in order to access a pool of music.

Griffin’s own venture, Choruss, shut down in 2010 – though subscription services such as Rhapsody have been operating for many years. Subscription services are also on the march in the video industry.

Choruss targeted the US college market by offering a blanket licence to access music from the college network. PlayLouder MSP (Media Service Provider) tried bundling music and internet access in the UK back in 2003 – but the last news I found from the company was back in 2010 and the company’s website no longer functions.

Nokia also tried bundling music and mobile phones under the name Comes with Music, but withdrew the system from most markets in 2011.

Advertising

Established radio and television broadcasters have supported themselves through advertising for decades.

Streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify bought ad-supported music to the internet, with additional features such as recommendations and playlists. Spotify got some listeners excited but many artists complain that Spotify and others like it only pay a pittance.

Viral models

Experimental systems PotatoSystem (in German) and Weed tried a “viral” model in which songs can be transmitted from user to user.

In some versions, sharers may receive a credit when a downstream user buys the song. Microsoft also tried a viral strategy called Squirt via its Zune player – but ceased manufacturing the device in 2011.

Donations

Radiohead famously offered its 2007 album In Rainbows in return for donations rather than a fixed price. The band never published the financial results of the experiment, but they haven’t returned to the strategy for later releases.

Nine Inch Nails even gave its albums away for free for a time, but it has also ceased this generous policy.

Some have pointed out that such generosity might be feasible for bands who have established large followings (and, presumably, bank accounts) through the major label system, but wonder how unknown bands could ever attract donations.

Some bands do allow fans to set a price through Bandcamp – though most ask for a minimum price.

Crowdfunding

Some musicians – most famously, Amanda Palmer – have recently turned to crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter to fund the recording of albums. In return, backers receive a copy of the completed album or other rewards.

David Bowie actually tried something like this back in 1997, when he raised US$55 million by issuing “Bowie bonds” backed by future sales of his music, but other artists have been slow to follow.

What works?

For all of the above experimentation, iTunes remains the most popular retailer, using the old buy-a-copy model.

The subscription model, in the form of Rhapsody and Netflix, has shown similar longevity, but other models have struggled to attract the interest of major labels and/ or listeners, or have been abandoned by their creators. Others haven’t been around long enough to say.

Of course, factors other than the business model contribute to the success or failure of individual services. A great business model might fail due to pricing, the mix of music available, market conditions, the quality of the implementation, or other factors. All of this contributes to new business models being easier said than done.

What’s more, copyright plays a role in many alternative business models as well: without it, subscription services could not demand subscriptions, internet radio would not have to pay at all, artists could not extract payment from viral distribution – and Bowie bonds would be worthless.

Read other articles in our Creativity series here.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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Plato on music

Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BCE) was a philosopher, as well as mathematician, in ancient Greece. He is considered an essential figure in the development of philosophy, especially the Western tradition, and he founded the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with Socrates and his most famous student, Aristotle, Plato laid the foundations of Western philosophy and science. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

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Way Down Yonder in New South Wales

(This review was published in Jazzline magazine,
Vol. 47 No. 1, Autumn/Winter 2014).

CD Review by Tim Harding

Album: Way Down Yonder in New South Wales Volume 2* – A wide ranging selection of rare early jazz recordings in Australia’s oldest state’ (FJM-039). The Jack Mitchell Library, Lithgow.

This compilation CD has been put together by the Australian jazz collector and discographer, Jack Mitchell.  It is an interesting cross-section of early Australian jazz and hot dance music, recorded in Sydney between the years 1926 and 1961, but mainly in the 1940s and 50s. The bands range in size from the traditional 6 or 7 piece groups led by Ray Price to the larger swing band format of Jim Davidson and his Orchestra.

way down yonder

The first thing a listener can’t help noticing is the low-fi audio on most (but not all) of the tracks on this album.  Ironically, at least 6 of the tracks were recorded live on tape by the late Robert Parker.  It doesn’t sound as if any of the original recordings have been remastered; and this detracts from the listening experience in some cases.  Nevertheless, most of the tracks are likely to be of interest to jazz historians and collectors.

The obvious next question is whether the music is good enough to justify a future effort of audio restoration, which can be a difficult and painstaking exercise, as remasterers tell me.  My answer would be ‘yes’; although some tracks are musically more worthy than others.

The star of the album is undoubtedly the youthful Bob Barnard on cornet.  When he recorded the Louis Armstrong flag wavers Cornet Chop Suey and Ole Miss Rag** with the Paramount Jazz Band at the Sydney Jazz Club in 1957, he would have been only 24 years old.  It must have been thrilling in those days for jazz aficionados to hear some of Louis’ hottest early solos played live.  Bob also plays on six tracks with the Ray Price Trio and friends – these are Chicago, 2.19 Blues, Stardust, My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms, If I Could Be With You and Someday You’ll Be Sorry.

The other stand-out soloist, in my view, is Bob Cruickshanks on alto sax.  Bob also plays clarinet on the album, but his alto solos with Ray Price on Chicago and Someday You’ll Be Sorry are beautifully melodic.  Norm Wyatt places a lyrical trombone solo on If I Could Be With You, indicating some Jack Teagarden influences.

The two opening tracks on the album were acoustically recorded in 1926 by The Palais Royal Californians, who apparently were the first professional American jazz band to visit Australia.  That Certain Party sounds datedly ‘ricky-tick’, and probably would not qualify as jazz without the ad lib solos by Australians Frank Coughlan on trombone and Ern Pettifer on baritone sax.  The Paul Mares/Ferd Morton composition Milenberg Joys is played about twice as fast as the New Orleans Rhythm Kings version of 1923 and comes complete with barnyard novelty noises.

Jim Davidson’s Eventide – A Mood is vaguely reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo, even down to the brief Duke-like piano interlude.  It was recorded in November 1933 alongside Davidson’s far better known (and better sound quality) Original Dixieland One Step, which is also on the album.

There is a swinging 27-second excerpt from a film short by a wartime army bigband called the Waratahs.  The track is titled ‘One O’Clock Jump’, but it sounds to me like Bugle Call Rag.  Then a mainstream quartet featuring Merv Acheson on tenor sax plays Study on the Jump Notes apparently recorded for a 1943 radio broadcast.  Lester Young and Count Basie have been obvious influences here.

The Port Jackson Jazz Band recording of I’m Nobody’s Sweetheart Now in 1947 features Ken Flannery on cornet instead of Bob Barnard.  Bob Cruickshanks plays a decent solo on clarinet but I do prefer his alto playing.  Ken Flannery later appears on trumpet in two tracks recorded by the Les Welch Orchestra.  These are West End Blues recorded in 1951 and Back Back Baby of 1956, which includes a vocal by Les Welch and a clarinet solo by Don Burrows.  (Les Welch was the founder of Festival Records, and claims to have pressed the first 78 rpm shellac disc and the first 33 rpm long-playing record in Australia).

Don Burrows and Errol Buddle (tenor sax) play some nice solos on the final track The Craven A Theme by Bob Gibson’s Dixie Group, which also includes George Golla on guitar.  Apart from the solos, this track is not particularly memorable.

In its current form, this album is primarily one for jazz historians and collectors.  However, after some decent audio restoration and remastering, it could also be an album enjoyed by the general jazz listener.

Endnotes

*The album front cover says ‘Volume One’; whereas the back cover, the spine and the disc itself are labelled as Volume 2.

** W.C. Handy’s Ole Miss Rag is listed as ‘Blues (Rent Party??)’ in the cover notes.

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Classical music puzzle solution

Composer        Format     Length
Beethoven      LP album        6
Holst                      single           7
Bach                        CD               8
Butler                     iPod            9

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Musical Recital Solution

1 = John played Mozart on the Violin
2 = Nick played Bach on the Piano
3 = Kate played Mozart on the Violin
4 = Mary played Bach on the Violin
5 = Larry played Vivaldi on the Piano

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Classical music puzzle

In my collection of classical music I have a range of pieces which last 6, 7, 8 and 9 minutes.

The piece by Bach lasts 8 minutes and the CD lasts longer than the piece by Holst. The piece on my iPod  is longer than the piece by Beethoven. The record single lasts for 7 minutes and the LP album does not contain any Holst. The piece by Butler is on the iPod.

Can you determine which piece of music is on which format and how long each lasts?

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