Chris on the cross
Kenneth Goldsmith’s Epiphany (The Wire 327) was one of the most personally resonant I’ve read, and so it was with disappointment (though not altogether surprise) that I read the tired and misinformed criticisms in issue 328. Steve Westbrook’s assertion (Letters) that discovery is more difficult than in the past was baffling, but the more wrongheaded approach was that posited by Chris Cutler in his response piece (Collateral Damage).
Cutler’s first mistake is to characterise music as a primarily commercial activity rather than a primarily artistic and social activity, and his second is to misunderstand the exchange mechanism for selling music. Cutler asserts that making a recording is not cost-free or work-free and that those costs can only be recovered through sales. Certainly artistic practice requires an application of time and resources, but this fails to distinguish between the monetisation of labour and the non-commercial (and paramount) motivation for expression. For what it’s worth, commercially many industries whose business model has been impacted by digitalisation are innovating new methods of revenue-gathering that successfully manoeuvre away from basic unit sales as the sole available method, as practised by the historical blip that is the modern record industry.
The supply of available music is enormous and growing at an accelerating rate, as the technological barriers to music production have lowered dramatically, flattening distribution further into the long tail and more equally dividing the attention economy. To the extent that music is substitutable, there are a lot of substitutes. Cutler’s socalled ‘data’ paragraphs only really contain a couple of napkin equations calculating his personal financial cost-benefit assessment of pursuing certain actions. But maybe music doesn’t particularly need a reformed Henry Cow? Cutler retorts that his position is symptomatic of many on the verge of withdrawal. Well, let’s look at some actual data. According to Nielsen Soundscan,
106,000 new albums were released in the US in 2008, approximately trebling the tally of 36,000 released in 2000. A similar pattern of growth is seen in the UK. The number of bands with pages on the now decaying MySpace site has escalated from 600,000 in 2005 to in excess of ten million in 2010. The truth is that the volume of recorded music released continues to expand, during and in spite of the filesharing age (indeed, partially because of it), even while individual artists may protest the Schumpeterian creative destruction involved.
For listeners then, the situation is clear: you’ve never had it so good. The wealth of content available is unparalleled, and it’s never been more available to you and more conveniently delivered. Cutler describes a false dichotomy between diversity and monoculture, but this too is in favour of filesharing, which has lead to a broadening of tastes and expanded the variety of forms and genres a typical listener has exposure to: just compare the musical awareness of interested youth with that of decades ago. Filesharing has acted as a phenomenal catalyst for musical practice and composition in which music as an art form benefits, and consumers of that art form benefit. So perhaps Cutler’s suggested Epiphany 7 is right: actions do have consequences, and for these particular consequences we should be grateful. Joshua Mouldey via email
Boy, how great was Kenneth Goldsmith’s Epiphany on downloading? And how wooden and worthy and scolding and sensible was Chris Cutler’s response (and that other one on the Letters page)? Epiphany is supposed to signal the shock of some inner truth. Goldsmith captured that: a valuation of something furtive, not just the downloading but the giddy, manic wanting it brings on (like porn, just one click over… and that fills me with as much shame as Cutler would desire). Peter Hansen London, UK
I write in response to the following formula of Chris Cutler’s: “No income = day job = less art + more compromise.” The ‘less art’ part may be true. If one works during the day at something other than one’s art, sure, less of that art may be produced. But as for the ‘more compromise’ part, there’s no reason to think that a transition from a world where artists are able to extract money from those who enjoy their work, to a world in which they are unable, would result in less authentic art being produced. My own concern has been the opposite – that attempting to live off one’s art results in compromise, as the artist is influenced (consciously or subconsciously) by concerns of saleability/marketability rather than driven solely by aesthetic considerations. Raleigh Morgan Tokyo, Japan
In his article about the Not Not Fun label (The Wire 327), Simon Reynolds made a gross over-generalisation about digital download listeners, stating that they listen “most likely in a fairly disengaged, distracted manner”, and presenting this as a side effect of not having a monetary investment or a physical engagement with the music. I believe that’s putting an outdated value judgment on modern music fans. Say what you will about the loss of revenue to artists and labels, but internet pirates can be, and are, credible listeners. I personally download everything (I read about in The Wire) that I might have an interest in, and the most engaging of those I collect on vinyl. As a collector I prefer the association with the object but I don’t believe that I experience the music from the download differently from that of the record. Associates of mine find empowerment in not having to own anything physically. They have access to film, literature, music, etc without having to collect or even own anything. Glenn Taylor Canberra, Australia
I am sick and tired of people like Peter Shapiro in The Wire sticking their noses into
US politics (Unofficial Channels, issue 327), especially when they don’t know what they are talking about and are blatantly lying. Of course Peter wants NPR funded – it’s not his money. It’s my money and I don’t want it spent on NPR. If NPR is needed, let them raise their own funds. Then he mentions an NPR executive who made “the indisputably true statement that the Tea Party is racist”. Mr Shapiro must be watching MSNBC. He doesn’t back up this statement or give examples of the Tea Party being racist. Thank you for offending the Tea Party. The Tea Party consists of hard working Americans of various races and ages who are fed up with the spending that’s going on in Washington – including spending for the NPR. Sorry Mr Shapiro, the Tea Party is not going away.
You have your own political problems in England. Why don’t you concern yourself with those? Can you say Shariah law? Rich Rahnefeld via email
For the record, Peter Shapiro is an American who lives and works in New York City – Ed
Nice to have my letter printed (The Wire 327), but if I can point out a mistake on my part, I incorrectly referred to the relevant album as Flannery’s Mounted Head when it’s actually entitled Foburg. Flannery’s Mounted Head was a song cycle commissioned for the Cork European Capital of Culture 2005. Foburg evolved from the commission. Ronan Quinn Dublin, Ireland
Corrections Issue 327: The photo of CM Von Hausswolff on the Reviews Index should have been credited to Maria Von Hausswolff.
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