Posts tagged culture

House concerts

Good morning good morning good morning etc
I have been thinking for a while that I ought to try to play live more, but that I’m not sure my music really fits into conventional pub-gig kind of setups. In fact, I have my doubts about that whole approach to live music anyway. There’s probably a separate blogpost in that, but suffice to say I think they often fail to deliver a fully satisfying musical experience.
I have been thinking about house concerts for some time. They seem to be a pretty well developed phenomenon in the US, but less so over here although there are exceptions to this. I’m attracted to the idea of just being able to turn up with a guitar and play to a group of people ready to listen. There also seems to be a higher possibility of making a bit of money from this approach (notoriously difficult for those starting out in ‘conventional’ gigging).
Another point that appeals to me is that, except in unusually large houses (!), I’d be able to play purely acoustically. Too much of the music we hear comes to us via PA systems, it’d be nice to reconnect with truly acoustic sounds.
All that said, this can only really happen if people invite me to do it! So if you’re reading this thinking that it sounds intriguing, maybe you could host one. I don’t mind playing to small numbers, so you almost certainly do have room! I would like to make some money from this, exactly how we approach this (paying in advance or ‘passing the hat’ for example) I’d be happy to discuss and be flexible on. I’m currently based in South London but plan to move to Leicester in the next couple of months. I will consider going anywhere but I will need to cover my costs! If you’re far away/abroad do still get in touch, in the long run I’m sure we could arrange something. If you’re thinking it could all be a bit scary, check out some of the links below.
As I’ve said, part of the attraction is turning up and playing acoustically. If, however, you’re more interested in some of my electronic music, we could totally talk about that too ;)
Thanks for reading, hoping to hear from you soon
Sam
Some house concert links:
Steve Lawson: http://www.stevelawson.net/2009/03/house-concert-hosting-a-beginners-guide/
Emily Baker: http://emilybaker.co.uk/houseconcerts/
Concerts In Your Home guide: http://www.concertsinyourhome.com/CIYH_HouseConcertGuidex.pdf (I’m definitely willing to play to fewer than twenty people btw)
Marian Call: http://mariancall.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/house-concerts-101/

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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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Music and Art

"Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul"

Plato, The Republic, Book III

"All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed." 

Richard Adams, Watership Down

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A brief visit to Tate Modern in London yesterday got me thinking about the different roles of music and visual art in our culture. Popular music has huge power in its sphere, and television, radio and film would be lost without the communicative strengths of music. On the other hand, music conceived as art, be it sound art intended for gallery spaces or contemporary classical music for the concert hall or experimental music for a specific place or a combination of some or all of all these things, is generally outside mainstream cultural discourse. The world of visual art is relatively quite well covered, being considered a reasonable topic for cultural news items or discussion in review programmes such as Newsnight Review on BBC2 or Saturday Review on BBC Radio Four (I’m afraid this post is deeply anglo-centric, but short of living in another country for a while I can’t really change that. And that seems an extreme step for blog research). So strong is the domination of the visual in the ‘serious art’ world, that in 2009 a book was published titled Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don’t Get Stockhausen. I haven’t read the book, but I do have some thoughts on the question and on what this means for musicians, composers, sound-artists and the others involved in this field.

Get Back

Firstly, I really think that the extent to which ‘ordinary people’ ‘get’ Rothko, or Damien Hirst, or Jackson Pollock, or whoever, is hugely exaggerated sometimes. I know plenty of people, none of whom I would call philistines, who have little or no attachment to modern art, and in some cases a strong dislike for it. Certainly, they are more aware of modern art than of sound art or contemporary classical music, but this is because of the media rather than any particular tendency among members of the public. So, why do I think those who control the media are more inclined to cover visual art than aural art? I’m sure they’d argue that they’re just giving people what they want, but culture is never that simple. Let’s think a bit about who people in the media are.

Nowadays, it must be pretty likely that they have studied media at some point. The dominant media of our age, or at any rate the late twentieth century, are television and film. The growth of ‘new media’ this century is important, no doubt, but it is so new that I think we can assume that those who hold real power in the old media grew up before its development, so their understanding of what culture is comes from the days when TV, film, and to some extent radio and print where the dominant cultural forces. If one views sound from the point of view of a culture primarily based on the visual media of television and film, is it not likely that ones understanding of it would be somewhat skewed? To some extent, those interested in visual media must also be aware, even if only in a general way, of wider developments in visual art. But sound exists, in this model, only as a support for images. It has a whole separate cultural sphere of performance and recordings, but while this may be interesting to television it is not intimately connected to it. Of course, visual art has another great advantage: you can see it. An image can be put on the screen, and a narrator can talk over it, without unnecessary confusion. But playing a piece of music while someone speaks is fraught with annoying technical decisions about their relative positions, and because words communicate specific things, the conclusion is likely to be that the music should be relegated to the background. And then you still have to decide what image to show while this is going on.

In previous eras, people like Stockhausen were featured on the television to some extent, but I suspect my previous argument applies here again, in a slightly different way. Up until the mid-twentieth century, the radio remained a huge cultural force in Britain, so I would argue that this sound medium was making its influence felt over television. Those who had grown up in the age of the radio are likely to have possessed a more acute awareness of aural culture, so it is unsurprising that they brought this approach into television.

There is, I think, one other thing that has contributed to the overtly visual nature of out culture: the camera. The one art which all people have at least tried is photography. Quite possibly all an individual has ever done is take holiday snaps, but nonetheless they now have more understanding of visual art than of aural, all else being equal (all else isn’t equal, of course, but you take my point). If everyone made field-recordings of places they visited, our culture would be much more attuned to aural art.

So: we are generally more visually attuned; our media understands visual art better; and as a result we are exposed to more visual art. Even if we don’t like it, we may well be, at some level, aware of it. Aural art (by which I mean sound-art, contemporary classical, free improvisation, and a whole host of other things too long to list), remains outside the mainstream, and the public are left to seek it out if they wish, without much in the way of cultural guidance. Most commentators on this matter find this a cause for concern, and potentially damaging to the creation of aural art. But I say…

So What?

Pause for a moment to think of any great artistic movement you admire. It needn’t necessarily be musical. Consider that stage of its development when it was ignored, shunned, perhaps actively discouraged by those in authority. Was that not also the stage when the legends were created, when the tradition created itself in spite of indifference, disapproval, or worse from ‘normal people’? Isn’t that the time you wish you could be in, just for a moment? Bop grew out of the surplus talents of musicians working in the mainstream but dissatisfied with it. No-one in mainstream culture in 1975 was sitting around waiting for the punks to smash the rules to pieces: they came along and tried to do it anyway. Robert Johnson and Nick Drake were ignored in their own lifetimes but have been rediscovered since. The mainstream killed Socrates.

What I am trying to say, is that being ignored by the mainstream needn’t be an artistic problem at all, quite the reverse. Be subversive and discomforting, undermine the culture which behaves as if you are not needed. Of course, the practical issues with being outside the establishment are huge, but aren’t artists supposed to struggle? If it was easy everyone would be doing it. The mainstream is always dull, bloated, corrupt, in the pocket of government, or big business, or popular taste, or the aristocracy, or some equally non-artistic nonsense. It is not for you. Freedom is for the rebel, the outsider, the artist lying in the gutter gazing at the stars. So next time you’re annoyed to find yourself outside the cultural mainstream, just remember that it could be worse: you could be in it.

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