Creative Commons?

I’ve thought for a while that it would probably be useful to have a page clarifying why I use Creative Commons licenses, and how I intend them to be viewed. As users of CC come from a variety of standpoints - from those who feel that ‘piracy’ will save to music to those who simply don’t like branding their listeners criminals for sharing tracks with friends - it seems necessary to clarify where I’m coming from. This post (minus the preamble you’re currently reading) will also be a seperate page on my website.

FIRST: I AM NOT A COPYRIGHT EXPERT, AND THE FOLLOWING IS ONLY INTENDED AS AN IMPRESSIONISTIC GLOSS. I HOPE THAT IT CONTAINS NO GLARING ERRORS, THOUGH THERE ARE ALMOST CERTAINLY MISTAKES IN THE DETAIL. PLEASE FORGIVE MY IGNORANCE.

Why Creative Commons?

Go read Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig.

Still here?

OK, I guess telling you to read a book just to know why I do something is a bit silly. Especially as I didn’t write it. And it’s not specifically about Creative Commons. At least it’s free.

And good.

OK fine, quick run through: culture is about the exchange of ideas. Ensuring that ideas (in the broad sense, encompassing artworks, compositions, novels and so on) reach as many people as possible is good for the general health of our culture. It is also good if people are free to develop and respond to these ideas or creations. Over the last couple of hundred years, the copyright and intelectual property systems were developed to help ensure that creative people could distribute their ideas widely. This was achieved simply by creating a legal framework for people to make money from ideas and creations. Thus industries grew up based on the distribution of these works, allowing the development of culture on an unprecidented global scale. Along the way, distribution seemed to become a more important aim than creatively sharing ideas, as it was through distribution that money could be made. As a result of this, the freedom to creatively build on other people’s work (which had initially not been affected by copyright) was gradually closed off until we reached the current situation where permission is needed to do almost anything. If you open a book published in the UK you will find a copyright warning informing you that if you wish to sell or loan or even give the book to someone it must remain in its current binding/cover.

An example: under eighteenth and early-nineteenth century copyright laws, you could go and make a Star Wars film yourself. You wouldn’t need anyone’s permission. You’d need permission to sell the original, but to make your own version, or a sequel, or (yawn) a prequel, you were entirely free.

My point is not that copyright is somehow evil. It is merely one idea about how we deal with distributing and sharing creative ideas. It has been very useful, and in the industrial age I think it would have been difficult to improve upon as a legal framework for cultural exchange.

HOWEVER, we live in the information age. Publishing new creations to the world via the web is cheap or free, depending on the nature of the creation*. The creation of new work itself involves a cost, but the old copyright laws were really concerned with distributing works. The question of how creators ought best to be renumerated, now that no huge profit can be made through distribution, is a large societal issue which I cannot gapple with here. I think that models will be found in the end. The important thing in the meantime, as far as I am concerned, is to try to contribute to a healthy cultural exchange, which is where Creative Commons comes in.

Briefly, Creative Commons licenses are a subtler alternative to the All Rights Reserved model. The creator preserves SOME rights, and can allow others various grades of freedom in their use of his or her works. Details can be found on the Creative Commons website, what follows is a brief guide to the main licenses I use:

THIS IS MY GLOSS ON HOW THESE LICENSES WORK. FOLLOW THE LINKS FOR FULL DETAILS. IF YOU NEED CLARIFICATION ON ANYTHING, PLEASE ASK ME BEFORE USING MY WORK. IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING WHICH ISN’T COVERED BY THESE LICENSES, AGAIN, GET IN TOUCH AND WE’LL TALK. I’M UNLIKELY TO STOP YOU DOING SOMETHING UNLESS I THINK YOU’RE BEING COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS.

Attribution-ShareAlike

You can freely copy, distribute and share the work, so long as you always link back to where it came from.

You can use it in your own work, so long as any new creations remain under the same license, and you link back to the source (i.e. me).

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

This is exactly the same license, except for the fact that you can not use the work in any commercial way or setting.

(Any rights not granted under Creative Commons licenses remain with the creator, exactly as if they had labeled their work All Rights Reserved)

*I mean from the point of view of the creator. Of course there IS a cost involved in online publishing, but compared to industrial manufacture and distribution it is laughably small.

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I have been working on this piece for a forthcoming audio book version of Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet for some time. I knew that I wanted to work with field-recordings and manipulated guitar samples, but a couple of early attempts to turn these ideas into tracks came to nothing. It was only from spending more time turning the ideas in the text over and over in my mind that the ideas of repetition and a cyclical experience of time began to stand out as important. Somewhere along the line the idea to use the hiss and click of the run-in track on an old record came to mind, and this seemed to fit not just with the broad themes of the book but the specific nature of the text I had been given to work with, with its talk of things forgotten or remembered only as dreams. The hiss of a record is like digital music hesitatingly recalling its analogue roots.

Here is the text I was given to work with:

“For some time now - it may be days or months - I haven’t really noticed anything; I don’t think, therefore I don’t exist. I’ve forgotten who I am; I can’t write because I can’t be. Under the influence of some oblique drowsiness I have been someone else. The knowledge that I do not remember myself awakens me.
I fainted away a little from my life. I return to myself with no memory of what I have been and the memory of the person I was before suffers from that interruption. I am aware only of a confused notion of some forgotten interlude, of my memory’s futile efforts to find another me. But I cannot retie the knots. If I did live, I’ve forgotten how to know that I did.
It isn’t this first real autumn day - the first cold rather than cool day to clothe the dead summer in a lesser light - whose alien transparency leaves me with a sense of dead ambitions or sham intentions. It isn’t the uncertain trace of vain memory contained in this interlude of things lost. It’s something more painful than that, it’s the tedium of trying to remember what cannot be remembered, despair at what my consciousness mislaid amongst the algae and reeds of some unknown shore.
Beneath an unequivocal blue sky, a shade lighter than the deepest blue, I recognise that the day is limpid and still. I recognise that the sun, slightly less golden than it was, gilds walls and windows alike with liquid reflections. I recognise that, although there’s no wind, nor any breeze to recall or deny the existence of a wind, a brisk coolness nonetheless hovers about the hazy city. I recognise all of this, unthinkingly, unwillingly, and feel no more desire to sleep, only the memory of that desire, feel no nostalgia, only disquiet.
Sterile and remote, I recover from an illness I never had. Alert after walking, I prepare myself for what I dare not do. What kind of sleep was it that brought me no rest? What kind of caress was it that would not speak to me? How good it would be to take one cold draught of heady spring and be someone else! How good, how much better than life, to be able to imagine being that other person, whilst far off, in the remembered image, in the absence of even a breath of wind, the reeds bend blue-green to the shore.
Recalling the person I was not, I often imagine myself young again and forget! And were they different those landscapes that I never saw; were they new but non-existent the landscapes I did see? What does it matter? I have spent myself in chance events, in interstices, and now that the cool of the day and the cooling sun are one, the dark reeds by the shore sleep their cold sleep in the sunset I see but do not possess.”

Sounds for other people

This blog has been rather neglected of late. A winter working long hours in a cold warehouse has allowed time for musicking, but little to spare for writing about it. I hope to be posting here more in the coming months. This is an update of what I have been working on lately.

In the past my music has been driven by me from start to finish, it is a very personal pursuit which has only gradually become something I share with others. Thanks largely to twitter I now have connections with many wonderful musicians and composers who I would not have met otherwise. This led to the two gigs I played at the end of last year (in Colchester and London). I am pleased to report that this year’s musical work has involved more collaboration and thinking about other people’s approaches to music and sound.

Many of my musical friends took part in the RPM2012 Challenge, to write and record an album in one month, February to be precise. I have toyed with the idea of doing this before, and may well in the future, but I don’t feel that output has really been a problem for me, and most of my releases have been done in a month or so. I don’t really feel it’s useful for me at this stage. I have, however, been involved in someone else’s.

UK-based Australian composer Caitlin Rowley issued a call for volunteers to commission and record new pieces for her RPM album. I was one of the people who stepped forward, and so was lucky enough to work with Caitlin on what became ‘I Want It To Kill People’, the seventh track of her album. It was a real pleasure to enter into another person’s approach to making a piece. She took my work with field-recordings as a starting point and created a tape part for me to play over, with a graphic score to guide my playing. This really helped focus my performance, especially as the piece is quite short and I’ve been working with longer forms lately. I’m really pleased with the result, and we hope to work together more in the future.

Meanwhile, I am working on a piece for a project for an audio-book version of Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet. Again, this is an opportunity that came to me through the wonders of the World Wide Web. SoundFjord, a gallery specialising in sound art, issued a call for musicians and sound artists to express an interest in contributing. Those who did so have all been given some text to work with, selections will be made after they have the submissions. I hadn’t come across the book before, and have enjoyed exploring it’s dark reflections on the emptiness of everyday life in Lisbon in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties. I also view this work as a collaboration, though of a very different nature. Trying to distill the atmosphere of even one section of a complex literary work into ten minutes of sound (and sound that can be spoken over) has proved quite a challenge. I’m not quite there yet, but pretty close. I’ll hopefully have something to post in the next few days.

Thanks for reading, I will blog again soon

Sam

Live Again

Last weekend I invited a few friends round to my place and performed a piece for them. As well as (hopefully!) being enjoyable for them, I knew this would be useful for me to keep in practice and experiment with a longer live form. Whereas in my recent live performances I used field-recordings from specific places, for this I simply went through what I had recently done and made a soundscape that seemed interesting. In particular, I was keen to make sure that distinct structures were apparent, in order to create some sense of narrative in the piece and also to help me remember what point I had reached in the performance.

I recorded my performance using a Zoom H1 portable recorder, and was happy enough with the recording to put it on bandcamp yesterday. There have been some lovely responses, it’s always great to learn that people enjoy what you do!

It’s available on a pay-what-you-like basis in a choice of audio formats, or I’ll make a CD-R just for you for £6. Anyway, here it is, if you like it please share it with others. Thanks for listening :)

a new addition to my Improvisation project, downloadable for free in a wide choice of formats http://store.samgrinsell.com/album/improvisations-free-download

3rd December 2011 at Slackspace, Colchester. I’m afraid this recording has some rather unpleasant microphone distortion in places, this is my fault for setting the input volume too high. However, it’s the only document of my two recent performances and as such I thought it worth sharing. I’ve left it pretty much as is, apart from reducing the volume of the performance itself. I really enjoyed the conversational atmosphere of this event, so have left in the chat before and after. You can hear the voices of Stuart Russell, Adam Parsons and Chrissie Caulfield (and me). Huge thanks to Stuart for organising the event

(if any of my geeky listeners fancy trying to get the annoying noises out of this recording, give me a shout!)

The Sound Of Bygone Futures

A name to conjure with. A man embodying his concept of freedom, living his ideals night by night by blowing freedom through his plastic horn. Some listen, some only hear.

At first I heard only a name. Beyond A Love Supreme Coltrane had sailed to further shores, reading Free Jazz in the stars. This Ornette Coleman it was said had made the chart. The man guiding the ‘Trane.

Some said they had gone too far, for pursuing a dream is likely to seem mad. Mad men follow the moon. This was before I knew the moon.

A CD on the racks. £4. Free Jazz. The name is there and conjures.

Home again. I try to listen, but my green ears can only hear. Unjoyful noise, cacophony is all they find. A few sparse oases of calm. But the rest is noise.

An album put to one side. Some men went too far. An experiment gone wrong, a curiousity. Leave it to the moon.

Miles and ‘Trane and Cannonball. Then there was Mingus, Yussef, Milt. These were my ear-guides on the road beyond hearing. The gods of listening I followed.

With larger ears, and time passed, and strength renewed, I played the disc again. And now the freedom is there, the groove is king, but wild and dancing playful, rollicking king of a merry polyphonious people. My body was my ears and my body now could listen.

The Shape Of Jazz To Come slithered down my iTunes path, sinewy and quick, but strong and deep. It had all the bold and angular power that a former future should. A prophecy fulfilled, disproved and buried five-foot deep. For a thought cannot be put to rest.

And here I am, years later. London, The Royal Festival Hall. The Shape now manifest within the cardboard sleeve under my arm. The vinyl solution.

A slender ghost walks out on to the stage. Slowly. He probably cannot move faster. But this is a man who wouldn’t, even if he could. Deep love is slow. And the freedom that is to come is love.

And so the swinging sound of freedom, the shaping of what is to come, begins. I am listening from outside. I recognise the beauty, but I cannot trust it. Is this my future, or the shape of jazz long gone? Listen, listen. They sing from the stage, Ornette and his band of brothers. And I listen.

And I find they sing to me. They sing joy into me, and strength. And Peace. My cynic flies away and it is me and the band and the Shape of all that’s to come and everything under that roof is in tune and all the guardians of my musical soul are listening with me. And my self is eclipsed by the sound. And Jack Rose is listening with us.

And this is it.

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At Source

As I sit writing this, I am listening to the current version of the recorded part of the piece I shall be performing on Friday 25th. A few weeks ago I took the train up to London and spent a pleasant afternoon recording sounds in the area around the venue. The original score I wrote for this piece is below. Bear in mind that I was writing these essentially for myself, to start ideas flowing and get me working. They are rather like a set of rules, perhaps reflecting my teenage war-gaming days ;)

A text score for a site specific performance piece

The performance shall consist of live sound from one or more performer(s) and recordings made in advance. Length shall be decided first.

Recordings

These should be made within one mile of the site where the performance is to be held. Whoever makes the recordings has only one hour to do so. Any found sound may be used so long as it is made in that hour and within one mile of the site.

Once these sounds have been gathered, they can be manipulated and combined in any way that seems appropriate in order to produce a soundscape of the required length. Once this has been made, the performer(s) should not hear the soundscape again until the performance.

Live Performance

The soundscape will be played and the performer must respond in whatever way seems natural. The audience should clearly be able to hear the recorded part of the piece, the aim is not to drown it out but to respond to and comment on it.

Destroy recordings?

If yes, when precisely?

The questions at the end probably reflect the influence of Bill Drummond’s work with The17. Certainly I think the soundscape itself should only be used once, I’ll delete that after use. I should say again that although that entry in my notebook is written as if to someone else, it was really intended only for my use. As soon as I started seriously working on the piece, I found my own rules too restrictive. Although I only recorded about half-an-hour of sound, I spent more than an hour doing it. The idea remains in the online descriptions of the gig, because I feel like the idea of a time limit was a meaningful part of the evolution of the piece. However, there is already enough control in the limitation to one mile. I didn’t actually measure out a mile at any point, but simply wandered around the area making sure not to stray too far. I do think limiting the amount of actual sound recorded could be more useful by making one focus more effectively.

When I met Leah Kardos last month, she asked if the recorded part of the piece should make the listener think of the area itself. I think I said yes, but then started saying something about how it might also try to subvert that idea. I think it would be more accurate to say no. The point of using sounds from the area is not to make people think about that place, but to reflect on how there is beauty tied up in the everyday things all around us. We tend to remain blind and deaf to this. I have stretched, distorted and manipulated the sounds so that only some of them will be recognisable, while others will sound like things they are not. If we could listen differently, perhaps the world would always sound like this, just as it would look different if we could see in infra-red or ultra-violet. The piece I have made remains as chaotic as everyday sound, but it has been reshaped so as to be less familiar and thus (hopefully!) draw the ear more.

Over this I shall improvise slide guitar. Against the everyday, we set humanity’s attempts to create our own beauty. Again, I rejected my original rules: I see no real need for the soundscape to be unfamiliar to me when I perform the piece, I think this would only be interesting if the performer had never heard it before. Perhaps someone out there would like to use the piece in that way, but for a solo set it’s clearly impossible.

Yesterday I named the piece At Source. At some point I shall make a more user friendly text score for it, changing the rules as I have outlined and making the whole thing a bit pithier as well. I’m hugely looking forward to the performance!

Sam

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Physical goods

Greetings all!

I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, but have finally decided that my music should be available in a physical form. Rather than go the usual route of paying to produce some CDs and then selling them, I’m offering to make one-off CD-Rs of some of my releases. I’ll create a unique package just for you. This saves on costs for me, of course, but also means you’ll be getting something very special for no great cost as well. I’ve chosen the three releases that I feel best represent my work:

The Re-Education of Ned Ludd £6

ME £5

newfanglements £5

Postage is free in the UK, £1 to Europe and £2 to the rest of the world

Thanks for reading and listening

Sam

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Improvisation 27/10/11

Acoustic slide guitar. You may just be able to hear the faint crack of distant fireworks at the end.

Now available to download in a wide choice of formats here

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