by carl wilson

Of (i)Tunes and Tangibility


Read Frank's fruitful thoughts and even more fruitful links on the devaluation of music via its disembodiment. I'm downloading far more than I used to these days, ever since I redid the Zoilus links page and provided myself a better browser's guide to the MP3 blogs, and I am experiencing that devaluation and accumulative fetish, to my own distaste. Angry Robot, a blog I've never read before but will now, is particularly cogent on the relationship of this phenomenon to the iPod mania - the iPod itself substitutes for the album as an attractive object to which you can attach emotionally. (AR's also smart about the Buddha Machine and the Ghostbox series - no coincidence, as the Brit bloggers have been discussing, that these themes of spectrality and hauntings might be linked to a project dedicated to restoring a corporeal presence to its music.)

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 24 at 04:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (23)



We poor musicians, we give and we give and we give, and this is the appreciation we get.

Because I figured out pretty young that the prospects of making money from music had to do with long shot gambling in unpleasant circumstances, I've tried not to worry too much about it, and I'm all about giving it away.

For instance, here's a song:
(Click on "John Shaw." That's me. Me & Scooter.)
(Carl has linked to it before. Thanks Carl.)

And as for me & Carl "going at it" -- I didn't mean to sound harsh, and I suspect from Carl's passing reference to "accessibility" that we're on the same page about a lot of this. And agree or disagree about this or that, Carl's my main man. (One of them, anyway.)

And hey -- if anybody needs somebody to write a jingle, give me a ring.

Posted by john on January 30, 2006 09:53 PM



I could hear Carl and John going at it all day. Its very entertaining.

Charles Rosen is wonderful

I wish my dental hygienist was that cool.

Carl its not like i have my plan for how to keep music free worked out. Its just a goal i want to shoot towards.

I regard music as quite disposable. Which doesnt mean i dont love or appreciate all the talent that goes into it. it but it means there is so much of it out there, endless amounts of it. Im jewish for fucks sake, im not going to say no to price of zero dollars, its against my genetic make up.

(This is of course a bit of a lie on my part. Because i pay full price for music i get really excited about. But not if I could get it for free. This habbit of mine will stop. And lets keep this quiet. I have a reputation to uphold)

The way the market is eventually musicians making money from selling their recorded music will dissappear. How will they make money? How the heck do I know. I suspect by playing live shows. Or maybe the idea of the profesional musicians (at least in the context of popular music) will dissappear. Or maybe we will have J.Lo style entertainers who sing and dance and act, where music is just one small aspects of the package. You're guess is as good as mine. Though if they work writing jingles for banks ill still give them lots of shit, just because.

Saying this is bound to piss musicians off. But hey in 15 years dont tell me i didnt warn you it was going to go this direction.

For the record as somone who practices so called "pure" biological research (which almost certainly will not yield any benefit to humanity). I am 100% govt. and charity funded. So here i am taking you're money to do something useless. Worse still i use this time and resources to download music for free. I sleep wonderfully at night with this knowledge. You only live once i want to do the science that gives me moments of zen like perception into how life works on the molecular level and at the same time troll singingfish for the latest Kelly Clarkson Single.

I bet kelly will still be able to make enough money to afford that personal chef. Too bad about all those indie rockers i screwed though.


Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 30, 2006 09:25 PM



Jo Miller is also funny as hell and very nice.

Arts funding -- I'm speaking as a formerly very poor theater guy & musician here -- it's just a visceral thing with me. NEA started getting whacked by Reagan, while simultaneously homelessness exploded, when I was in college.

I support arts funding, but wish it would focus on accessible institutions and arts education. Free instrument rental for any schoolkid who wants it. Something less expensive than $30 for the cheapest seat at the publicly-built symphony. The museum here does it right -- donation only. Money for me to write my songs? Sure, it would be nice, but I'll write them regardless. And my old theater pals will still write (and produce! for a shoestring!) their wonderful, excellent plays. They've gotten 18 years of great reviews for original plays in Chicago, with very little institutional support, and very few theater people outside of Chicago have heard of them. (Theater Oobleck.) Make a living from it? Sure, it would be nice.

And, yeah, stop building bombs (and sports stadia on the public dime).

I disagree about art and empathy. The Aztecs had phenomenal art. Picasso was a crown jerk. I know people with very little interest in art who are all heart. I suppose they could be exceptions, but I just don't see that the generalization has much bearing.

The case for the arts -- it's about a religious experience of something inarticulable that can only be experienced in the arts. A more precise vocabulary for emotional whatever -- and all the best cathartic therapy that money & time could afford and ingenuity discover -- wouldn't obviate the need for music. And people crave that "something inarticulable" independent of morals or empathy.

Posted by john on January 30, 2006 07:39 PM



I actually think that supporting the arts and solving homelessness are not unrelated - if it were done right, if arts funding concerned itself more with accessibility and so on, a longer argument than I'll go into here - but just to say I think art and empathy are related, and creative expression is related to gaining a sense of agency.

And saying "once we've really solved poverty then we'll get to the arts" is actually to say "we'll never get to the arts." It's not like you have your entire public-sector workforce out there fighting poverty 24-7. You can spare some time and money for the arts. (Stop the war and borrow a little from the Pentagon....) I think linking the two that way is a complete red herring.

Oh, and I like Jo Miller! Or I used to like the band Ranch Romance, anyway. What a cool dental hygenist to have!

Posted by zoilus on January 30, 2006 06:43 PM



Guy, thanks for putting up the links.

Carl, as a United Statesean I'm mildly envious when I see "Thanks to the Council for the Arts" in small print on Canadian CDs -- you gotta be classical to get that kind of dough here south of your border. But I'm much more envious of universal health care. I'll worry about public support for the arts after we solve homelessness.

I told my dental hygienist (excellent trad-style country singer Jo Miller) that I found a bluegrass duet CD she made with Laura Love at the library and burned a copy. She was momentarily miffed, and I was embarrassed. I told her I'd buy a copy of it to give to my brother.

Posted by John on January 30, 2006 06:27 PM



But of course in both cases (bread and museums) the people who work in those fields are government-subsidized in order to make them cheap. (Everyone complains about farm subsidies, and there are good reasons in ref to killing off competition in the third world, but bottom line, the gov't is giving farmers money so that you can eat your bread and give your kids milk at incredibly low cost.) Without something like that, you're again arguing that musicians should work for almost nothing. What if the good ones just become athletes and mechanics instead, and only play music for their friends? (Or, as you've also objected to, Guy, give their talents to doing soundtracks and commercials, which are getting to be almost the only things that pay?) It's a nice sentiment that music needs to be cheap or free, but until there's a socialist music-supply plan, it's only a sentiment.

Posted by zoilus on January 30, 2006 12:51 PM



Like this?

There are some more here:

Music needs to be cheap, like bread, and museums. I will argue this point to the death.

Anyhow. I better get back to dowloading some more free music, im starting to get the shakes.

Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 27, 2006 10:02 PM



Records put a lot of working musicians out of business. John Philip Sousa predicted this would happen when records started getting popular, and he was right.

Perhaps more importantly, records decimated the ranks of amateur musicians. Classical types have been talking about this at least since the '30s. Once a year or so Charles Rosen writes an article about this in the NY Review of Books. (And it's always an excellent article, if you can take my word for it; I'm not being sarcastic.)

The cheapening of music: 40 or 45 years ago, a band like the Wailers in Washington State could play a few gigs a month and all 5 members could pay their rent. That ain't happening now.

Posted by john on January 27, 2006 04:47 PM



I sooo recommend *Off the Record: The culture of Sound Recording* by David Morton. Two most interesting things he touches on; the use and development of recorded classical music to prove technological *development* and how certain technologies failed (the Dictaphone) because of social resistance to the *falseness* of the recorded human voice.

Posted by Brian on January 26, 2006 03:37 PM



I'm realizing I should have made mention of this column of mine on the subject from last summer - I was kind of assuming folks had read it, which was dumb:

Posted by zoilus on January 25, 2006 03:20 PM



I believe that the experience of listening to music is devalued by the high-volume downloading faciliated by high-speed internet and high-capacity iPods. For me, having an abundance of music at my fingertips leads more quickly than formerly to over-listening and growing tired with wonderful works. Now, we are able to acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of a body of musical work much faster than in the past, but with this increased quantity of music comes increased time spent listening, and with that a decrease in the quality of the experience -- especially for those (such as myself) with headphones in our ears 24-7. I think, only when music is a comparatively rare break from the humdrum silence of life, can it make us roll around on the floor in ecstasy.

But if the music-listening experience is being devalued with the change from records & cds to iPods/mp3s, imagine how much pleasure music must have been capable of delivering before the emergence of radio, recorded music, and even before the widespead accessibility of printed scores. Imagine what music was worth in Mozart's time, when the average aristocratic (let alone commoner) concert-goer was likely to hear a piece of music only once, at the event for which it was written. Imagine hearing a masterpiece knowing you might never hear it again; you'd make the most of the experience.

Schubert once wrote that he could still hear faintly the echoes of Mozart's music -- faintly, because performances of any given work were comaparatively few and far between, and because most of it was heard in one's head, while reading a score. And yet this faint mental sound (at once clearer and more ephemeral to the scratchy hum of a wornout 78 record) was able to inspire the greatest ecstasy in its listener. Perhaps we've lost the art of hearing music "faintly."

(Digression: Luckily for classical-music fans, there is the Naxos label. You get an encyclopedic trove of high quality music, in a guilt-free traditional format that requires more patience than the mp3, and for a fair price -- no more being robbed by the folks at Deutsche Grammaphon.)

Posted by marco on January 25, 2006 01:25 PM



It's true the BBC story is alarmist - this post was such a quick link-and-post driveby that I didn't comment on the specifics of each one. Interesting how they refer to music's "aura," a term going back to Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, a vital piece of course but at the same time also one that didn't anticipate how mass produced works could take on new kinds of auras in new media. Still, I do think there is something to their study - there is something apt in the description that the "soundtrack" becomes valued over individual artists. But they presume to know what that means with undue haste.

Posted by zoilus on January 25, 2006 09:56 AM



Heyhey. I think my post was more in response to the links (esp this BBC one:
than to the body of your post.

Posted by misha on January 25, 2006 12:26 AM




Ok I understand what you meant better now.

but personally I think I was listening to less music more before because I had to not and i dont think it made me listen to music more or better.

The human brain has infinite capacity to absorb and appreciate things and given the chance will get better at doing so.

I have 40 GB of music on my computer and I know all the lyrics or can hum along to a significant amount of it. I think even if I had 80GB that would still be the case.


The Blog has been smokin' of late Carl. So many thought provoking ideas!


Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 24, 2006 10:02 PM



I didn't think my post was so alarmist! I don't think you have to interpret the shift as a horrifying nightmare in order to find it interesting and not, um, "lossless" to consider changes in media and their effects on listening experiences. It may not be disembodiment that I'm addressing exactly, although I do think music on the radio is less important to a person than the music they "own," certainly the move from live-in-social-context performance to recording or broadcast is a disembodiment, and this is just another step in that process. On the other hand a radio station has a geographical identity the Internet lacks and there are questions of what you might call abstract embodiment, at least, implied by that.

However there's a significant shift in EFFORT, in what it takes to hear music and musicians you want to hear at will, from a whole hell of a lot (in the pre-recording age), to quite a bit (in the 80-year-span Misha addresses), to very little (now). So perhaps the point is not embodiment but the labour factor involved in musical spectatorship and consumption. I think the ubiquity and to a large degree interchangeability of music in the Internet context is interesting, and is a significant shift in convention. I don't think it's at all about musical knowledge or sophistication, which is certainly expanding rapidly (so much that as a critic one fears becoming obsolete). However the emotional relationship between performer and fan does seem to change. If what we're witnessing is the slow death of the "fan" identity, I think that has social interest, and can certainly be talked about without any overtones that the end is near.

I do think downloading encourages in many people (including me) this desire to get more and more and more songs without even necessarily taking the time to absorb them, and it certainly seems notable if the standard model is becoming to listen to a song once. I find this distasteful in myself because I don't think I can form useful critical perspectives that way, but I'm not trying to moralize heavily on it.

And Misha, I think books have totally become less valuable as an aggregate. Not reading. But books? That seems pretty evident. But it's not caused by their availability nearly as much as by their displacement by this other textual medium, the one where we're having this conversation. I'm not sure there could be any comparable development in music.

Posted by zoilus on January 24, 2006 09:20 PM



I do like your take on it, Misha; I'd just like to point out, though, that it's not about the difference "between an ipod and a CD", it's about the difference between having instant access to the 10 songs on that CD, and having instant access to almost any song you can possibly think of on the internet.

Posted by ryan on January 24, 2006 09:14 PM



Carl Im with Misha on this one (a joy to read his comments in fact). And ill raise you one. Our concept of "music" is totally fucked. Music was many things in the past a lot of them to do with religion, but also a lot of it was a form of enterainment in a social context. Whether it was some chick in a corset playing the harpsichord after dinner in the 18th century mention, or a bunch of drunk Cornish apple farmers pulling out the fiddle and guitar in the local, one thing it wasnt was a capitalist commodity ment to make some dude rich.

we have we have had part of this discussion before when you raised good points about the skill and craftmanship that goes into being a master in the studio (im not doing justice to your argument here). I think a) there will either be some sort of market for that or b) this "modern" form of music appreciation will go the way of the dinosaurs.

I very much hope to never ever buy another cd (unfrortunatly i still do, especially albums by indie toronto bands, knowing as it stands its an evil I must put up with).

My logic is this. If google can be the most valuable company in the world without me "paying" anything to do them why cant music be free too?

WHat you view as the devaluation of music is an essential step in restoring music to its proper place. That is entertainment in a social (im tempted to say commmunity) context.


Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 24, 2006 08:50 PM



Its not like, for all of human history, music was a plastic disk. The real deocorporialization of music already happened, ages ago, with the introduction of broadcast, and those plastic albums whose loss we mourn. The difference between a record and a live performance seems a lot more significant, decorporealizationwise, than the difference between an ipod and a CD.

I wonder if, when more music started being listened to over airwaves and vinyl, people had the same sorts of concerns about devaluation? Presumably the new possibilities of musical ubiquity took away a lot of the specialness and magic that had previously defined music as a live experience.

By making something, anything, more plentiful and accessible and varied, you also make it cheaper, pretty much by definition. It's the price of plenitude. I'm sure people cherished books more when they were more expensive to produce. I'm sure there's a level of appreciation of food that's impossible to attain when you always have enough to eat.

I'm not sure it's actually "music" that becomes less valuable, just "this music" or "this album". For instance: Over the past few hundred years, a lot of innovations, technical and social, have made books cheaper and mor acccisible (I'm thinking everything from movable type to cheap paperbacks to public libraries). I bet indivdual volumes become less fetishized. But it doesn't seem crazy to say that "books" on the whole (ie - the whole worldwide endeavor of writing them and publishing them and reading them them) have become more valuable: Ideas spread better, more books are written, more people read, etc.

I'm not at all worried that kids who grow up with instant free access to all the music in the world are going to grow up somehow musically impoverished by this experience. The fact that they happened to miss the 80-year-long blip in thousands of years of human history when music came on slices of plastic is I think only troublesome to those of us from that very particular time.

- Misha

ps: Carl, I got my Buddha box (the only "record" I've bought in three years or so) a month or so ago. Maybe I can rip you a copy. :)

Posted by Misha on January 24, 2006 08:16 PM



I neglected to order one, Trevor, so I haven't yet witnessed it in person. I kinda felt like the concept was enough. But now I am ashamed of that dematerialist attitude.

Posted by zoilus on January 24, 2006 07:23 PM



Have you beheld the Buddha Machine yet, Carl?
Mine came in the mail yesterday afternoon - fairly interesting, surely some sort of a review is to come.

Posted by Trevor Haldenby on January 24, 2006 06:57 PM



( )

Posted by ryan on January 24, 2006 05:19 PM



I think everyone should start their own record label.

Posted by ryan on January 24, 2006 05:17 PM




Thanks for the kind words.


Posted by angryrobot on January 24, 2006 04:52 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson