Week 142 (Music Room Cloud)

At long last the acoustic cloud in the Music Room has been completed!  With 60 panels totaling very nearly 900 sq ft (nearly 1800 sq ft of active acoustic performance since both sides are used), it is a thing of beauty to behold:

But if you look more deeply, many more layers of beauty await…

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Glee? Not for me…

Last month after the buzz reached a fever pitch, I finally sat down to watch an episode of Glee.  I have not watched it since, but I have been thinking about why not.  I came across this blog posting, which begins:

The fictional high school chorus at the center of Fox’s Glee has a huge problem — nearly a million dollars in potential legal liability. For a show that regularly tackles thorny issues like teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse, it’s surprising that a million dollars worth of lawbreaking would go unmentioned. But it does, and week after week, those zany Glee kids rack up the potential to pay higher and higher fines.

Indeed.

I’ve watched enough television to know that sometimes a deliberate distortion of reality is part of a show’s appeal.  The Office clearly (and hilariously) offends virtually every HR law on the books, but we’re in on the joke no matter how straight the actors play it.  In its day, Ally McBeal did the same thing with courtroom antics.  On the opposite side of humor, the TV drama 24 created a “hero” who could always be relied upon to use torture as an excuse to continue to protect a regime that condoned such illegal and reprehensible actions.  I never watched 24, but from all the advertising and imagery that surrounded that show, it was pretty clear they knew and the audience knew that the show was stepping over all sorts of legal, ethical, and moral lines, and that was quintessential to the drama.  Glee appears to be entirely tone-deaf when it comes to the subject of copyright:

In one recent episode, the AV Club helps cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester film a near-exact copy of Madonna’s Vogue music video (the real-life fine for copying Madonna’s original? up to $150,000). Just a few episodes later, a video of Sue dancing to Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 hit Physical is posted online (damages for recording the entirety of Physical on Sue’s camcorder: up to $300,000). And let’s not forget the glee club’s many mash-ups — songs created by mixing together two other musical pieces. Each mash-up is a “preparation of a derivative work” of the original two songs’ compositions – an action for which there is no compulsory license available, meaning (in plain English) that if the Glee kids were a real group of teenagers, they could not feasibly ask for — or hope to get — the copyright permissions they would need to make their songs, and their actions, legal under copyright law. Punishment for making each mash-up? Up to another $150,000 — times two.

[…]

It’s hard to imagine glee club coach Will Schuester giving his students a tough speech on how they can’t do mash-ups anymore because of copyright law (but if he did, it might make people rethink the law). Instead, copyright violations are rewarded in Glee — after Sue’s Physical video goes viral, Olivia Newton-John contacts Sue so they can film a new, improved video together.

If Glee decides to bring copyright into its storyline, and treat it as intelligently and as sensitively as it attempts to treat other social issues, then perhaps I’ll watch.  Until then, no Glee for me.

Jazz Music and Open Source Software

Who knew that Open Standards maven Andrew Updegrove was a jazz fan?  He riffs:

Jazz, of course, is open source all the way — it’s the ultimate freedom machine. Once you’ve grasped the melody line and basic chord structure of any song, you’re on your own, encouraged to take the author’s initial inspiration anywhere you wish. A jazz musician isn’t judged by the faithfulness of his rendition but by what he codes at the musical keys.

Even the legal underpinnings of jazz are different, at least in the trenches. No one who is really serious about jazz goes out and buys, say, an Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis or Mahavishnu John McLaughlin song book, setting down note for note what the great musician played. How could you? They played it different every time.

You can read more of this wonderful entry here.  Me?  I need to go practice more songs from The Real Book.

The Jazz Loft Project

On December 3rd I attended the Jazz Loft Project book and website launch event at the West End Wine Bar in Durham, NC.  WUNC’s Frank Stasio, always on top of local goings on, clued me in.  It was packed, despite the venue being situated by LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY signs from all approaches.  Where else would Jazz fans congregate, if not in some well-hidden bar that’s so small you’d need three of them just to hold all the people who came to hear the music?

Needless to say I bought the book, got it signed, and have since met people who are on their third reading of the text.  I’m trying to save it for Christmas!

I look forward to the time when, perhaps 40 years from now, The Miraverse has become the definitive archive for a new collection of music representing a meaningful continuum of talent and community.

Copyright v. Culture: Music Think Tank Followup

After posting Copyright v. Culture last month, Bruce Warila contacted me about re-publishing the article on his site, Music Think Tank.  I agreed to do so, and was pleasantly surprised to see 10 comments within a week.  That, and having made some more progress on The Glenn Gould Reader (edited by Tim Page), compelled me to write a followup to the article, which I reproduce here:

To the question “doesn’t culture primarily advance through people creating new works, as opposed to recycling old ones?” I would say the answer is beyond my ability to answer in a perfectly factual manner.  Since we’re talking about Gould, perhaps his perspective on the matter could be enlightening.  The article in question (from The Glenn Gould Reader, edited by Tim Page) is “Strauss and the Electronic Future”, and he writes:

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Copyright v. Culture

In the case of the written word, I can quote a few words from the latest best-seller and know that I am legally protected by the doctrine of fair use.  In the case of digital media, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that no such fair use exists at all when it comes to sampling.  In the case of the written word, it is possible to quote and rearrange concepts as a form of criticism, satire, parody, or public discourse, but the record industry claims there is no such right when it involves quoting from their music catalogs.  In the case of the written word, it is possible to draw inspiration (and characters) from multiple sources and to bring those characters together in a new context to reveal new truths (or at least discussions) about the human condition, but when this is attempted with musical materials (such as Danger Mouse’s The Gray Album), the music industry demands no less than total destruction of all such works.

Whatever freedoms have been won when it comes to the textual world of the printing press have been forfeited when it comes to the digital presses of the musical world, which is surprising because both the written word and the musical sound are fundamentally covered by precisely the same law: copyright.  Why should copyright treat one expression, one media so differently than another?

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The Participant Listener

In the seminal essay The Prospects of Recording, Glenn Gould “explores the vast changes in musical ontology, phenomenology, production, and listening brought about by audio recording” (see Audio Culture, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, pp 115-126).  The Glenn Gould archives have Part A of that essay online, but it is the paragraphs that immediately follow that have me most excited.  He says:

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