Pillage or be damned: Kenneth Goldsmith
Kenneth Goldsmith’s Epiphany in issue 327 is one of the dumber things I’ve read in The Wire, and at first I thought perhaps it was supposed to be part of the April issue as some kind of April Fool joke.
Things that went through my head as I read the piece: how is getting everything for free whenever you want it and then never actually listening to it a good thing? Why is he more interested in “the acts of acquisition” than the object he’s acquiring, and is this somehow a good thing? Being a collector of digital files shared on a network and downloading just because you can is, to me, quite an empty experience. Perhaps his idea of culture is broken?
Also, I thought about the magazine and when and where I’ve purchased it over the years and it was obvious that I’d usually grabbed it in a record store after thumbing through and auditioning a bunch of vinyl/CDs, much of which was imported and hard to find anywhere, even online. Now, of course, my favourite record store has closed, and I only pick up The Wire if/when I go to a bookstore or happen across the news stand when roaming downtown. Imported vinyl is more expensive now because I have to buy it direct from the label since the distributors are closed and the record stores are closed, and even finding out about the things that are good is more difficult since I have to comb the web for who knows how long to come across something worth my time. In the past I could go to my local shop every week or two and listen to numerous things and usually walk out with a few to savour and enjoy and get to know.
Sure, the internet is great, there are a couple of online shops I really like and Bandcamp can be full of indie wonders, but the last thing I want to do is spend hours sucking up bandwidth using some file sharing network chasing a bunch of sonic trophies that I’m supposed to have in some kind of collection. I’d rather spend my time listening to the things I have and getting to know them and adding something new every so often. But that’s just me.
And need I even get started on piracy (for all its double edged sword issues) sucking the life out of many an indie artist/label?
Maybe I missed Goldsmith’s point, but it seems to be it’s that ‘everything should be free and it’s really cool when it’s so convenient for me to get it because I’m too fucking lazy to get it any other way and oh yeah I’m just collecting stuff anyways and have no purpose’. Steve Westbrook via email
Kenneth Goldsmith’s UbuWeb has performed a useful service, making out of print recordings of modern composition available. But his Epiphany was several steps too far. It was lucky that by the time he had his Epiphany # 4 – “I stopped buying music” – musicians had begun to live on air, and so didn’t need to sell their products. Picking up things for free is an unusual kind of ‘record shopping’, as is his definition of sharing: “To me, if music can’t be shared, I’m not interested in it.” Maybe I should invite myself round to his house to share out some of his non-digital property.
You don’t have to be a Luddite attacking a download revolution that’s long been a fact in order to have doubts or scruples about the ethics – and disastrous practical consequences – of the wholesale piracy that Goldsmith endorses. How about going to a gig and occasionally supporting the music by buying a CD? I guess that wouldn’t be ‘sharing’. Andy Hamilton via email
Chris Cutler’s response to Kenneth Goldsmith’s Epiphany is on page 16 – Ed
Glossing Michel Chion’s comments in his Invisible Jukebox in The Wire 325 about the naming of musical works, in his Masthead (same issue) Chris Bohn asserts that, “The act of naming distances you from the essence of the thing named. Words lock down meaning.” These words returned to me as I read the cover story (a word which I use quite deliberately) on Richard Skelton in issue 326.
I began reading The Wire when I grew tired of the mainstream music press’s foregrounding of the ‘story’ – the narrative of music’s creation, which avoids any real analysis of its purpose or impact. Skelton’s music – by far the most affecting that I have come across since my induction into Wire world – is curious in that it seems to demand that the listener engage with his back story, the tragic death of his wife. Skelton has not just created CDs, but a whole latticework of words, field recordings, found objects, all tying his music to the physicality of his surroundings and his history within them. Reading Clive Bell’s piece, I wondered what it would be like to hear Skelton’s work without all these explanations, collections and exhibits. Like naming pieces, Skelton’s understandable drive to frame his music within his own tragedy seems to lock down the meaning in his work.
But perhaps Chion, and Bohn, underestimate the listener’s ability to bring their own narrative to music, in whatever way they see fit. Perhaps as I have never experienced a tragedy like Skelton’s, his music rarely speaks of loss to me. But I am familiar with the sort of country he documents in his writings and titles – and the malevolent beauty of the vast, bleak moors of Yorkshire and Lancashire are never far from my mind as I listen. The listener picks and chooses, consciously or otherwise, what he or she takes away from any piece of music; no amount of framing, be it naming or explaining, can stop this. Oliver Goodyear via email
Draw the shades
Thanks for another enjoyable issue (327). Just one point. In Print Run, Richard Henderson notes that Umm Kulthum’s “eyes were perpetually obscured behind opaque sunglasses seemingly ordered from Roy Orbison’s optician”, which creates a great image. However, in the picture accompanying the review she is seen sans these glasses that she purportedly wore continuously. Still, I’ve drawn my own on and she looks fantastic.
Keep up the great work. MJA Smith Milton Keynes, UK
I would like to thank Steve Moore for his letter (issue 327) in response to Joseph Stannard’s review of Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse. Spot on. I would just like to add that Mr Stannard was not only unpleasantly self-righteous, but also ill-informed: Wild Love dates back to 1995, and thus was not issued “11 years ago”. David Rengel Toulouse, France
Unfortunately, no Brötzmann interview or story in The Wire! This guy was 70 in April! Shame on you! Ed Stein via email
Corrections Issue 327 Counter to what was stated in the introduction to Daniel Miller’s Invisible Jukebox, May’s Short Circuit festival was not a celebration of the Mute label’s 30th anniversary (the label was formed in 1978, and in any event, doesn’t do anniversaries).
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Next month in the July issue of The Wire
6 | The Wire | Letters
Rob Young on Roy Harper Dan Wilson on Daphne Oram Richard Pinnell on John Wall
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