Friday, April 29, 2005

Let them sing it for you!

I guess it's a few years old, but hey, new to me. I missed in 2003 when it made the rounds on boingboing and whatnot. Anyway it's still fun. backstory: Apparently it was created by a sound artist named Erik B√ľnger for the Swedish National Radio.

it's got a limited vocabulary (no "weasel" for example)

but the Let Them Sing It For You project lets you type in your own words, and then searches a database of words sampled from popular songs of each word, and then sings it back to you. If it doesn't know the word, it asks you to provide a sample.

best of all, it's got a function where you can email your new song to someone!


( Probably if it was done in the US someone would have sued him. In NY at least. sigh..)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Some history of ASCAP and why Law&Econ won't help us with IP policy

(Hee. I lied about not posting much.. but actually I wrote this for the class blog, but I think it's worth posting here too) (and Law&Econ might help us, I suppose, but it's for heaven's sake in NO WAY sufficient analysis. not if it's done like this..)

Although I found Robert Merges' piece (Compulsory Licensing vs. The Three "Golden Oldies" : Property Rights, Contracts, and Markets) generally quite problematic, I'll stick to one example.

In the section titled "How Markets Solve the Licensing Dilemma Through Voluntary Associations," Merges tells of the rise of ASCAP, a collective rights organization that spontaneously arose during the 1920s, and points to this as an example of the market producing structures that enable proper market function (which is also somewhat elided with social desirability).

ASCAP from 1912 to the 1940s, despite a non-discrimination clause, excluded Black, 'hillbilly' and Mexican/Latino performers. In terms of the styles of music that became widely popular, this has the effect of making a free gift to whiter and wealthier musicians and composers across America, of the culture and what some would call "intellectual property" of their browner and poorer neighbors. It wasn't until around 1941 that BMI (founded only a year before) challenged ASCAP by signing and attempting to get "race music" and other under-represented genres on the airwaves. Up until that time, however there was an incredible pool of 'free music' upon which folks who were members could draw and then sell for their own benefit. (And a whole category of producers who were apparently producing without incentive.) The rise of white swing artists and their records is a good example of the former situation.

(From Rock 'n Roll: The Beginnings, by Donald J. Mabry)
"ASCAP controlled the bulk of American popular music between its founding in 1912/14 and the 1940s. ASCAP decided who could belong to the organization. Each music publisher had one vote for each $500 in royalties earned by the publisher in the preceding year. By 1958, three music publishing companies controlled 51% of the publisher's vote. Writers got one vote for each $20 in royalties earned in the preceding year; in 1958, less than 5% of the writers controlled 51% of the writers' vote."

So apart from representing one section of the population at the expense of others, and in fact enabling the transfer of property (assuming that's how you see music) of one group to another at no cost to the recipient, ASCAP itself was also incredibly skewed towards already-powerful players and at the mercy of existing members' prejudices. On two levels, this seems to me a poor "solution" to licensing problems.

1) assuming we did only care about market efficiency, ASCAP seems a poor example, based on its exclusion of a substantial number of producers and the enabling of other producers to profit off that exclusion.

2) assuming we might care about what kind of a society we live in, whether it is fair, racist or whatever, ASCAP functioned (among other things) to possibly reward copying of works of non-included members, to prevent non-included members from being reqarded, and as a mechanism that maintained white supremacy.

Merges mentioning of ASCAP is a splendid example of looking at how institutions function in their historical context, rather than in the context of an abstract economic model. I commend anyone who wants to look at how institutions (like CROs) have actually functioned, by seeking examples from history. However, without serious engagement with the historical contexts, the examples are merely anecdotes, with no factual or historical power, and using them actually does harm to our understanding of our history, as well as to our understanding of the problem at hand.

Beyond this issue, we can learn a lot from the example of ASCAP about questions we might want to ask ourselves when crafting possible solutions to the licensing dilemma. Some questions that this example raised for me:
1) Who produces IP?
2) Who profits the most from IP-making? What opportunities are there for others to profit? Who controls how others can profit?
3) What pre-existing bodies of work are available that are unprotected by IP law, and who has the ability to profit from them?
4) What is compensation based on now, under the current copyright regime?
5) Should our legal system ensure that those who are the primary beneficiaries now remain the primary beneficiaries? What other issues might our legal system be concerned with?

*For a few of the works that deal with the issues of ASCAP and race, or IP and race you can start with:
Arnold Shaw, Honkers and Shouters: the Golden Years of Rythm and Blues.
Jeffrey Melnick, A Right to Sing the Blues: African-Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song
K.J. Greene, Stealing the Blues: the Fleecing of Black Artists - Does Intellectual Property Appropriation Figure in the Debate over African American Reparations?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

quick notes and a gig or 2

whew. So it's finals time, which means I'll be scarce on the non-academic world for the next couple of weeks. Before I go:

1) I posted a link (permanently on the left) to my mix for the redzeroradio show as part of the Resistance festival in London last March.
They are kindly hosting all the shows as an archive - check'em'all out, many good thunderous unpredictable sounds. I particularly liked Noize Creator's use of Cyndi Lauper in the set following mine. Discerning ears will note my mix resembles the set I did a few days before at the Choon-up. Yeah, things were hectic, I was working it out.. I threw a few extra fillips in for the radio show though.

2) I'll be going to Europe, via London in May/June! Still looking for a London gig may 24-28th, and a Berlin gig on the 29th-1st. 2 gigs confirmed in Halle and Leipzig, I'll post full info here soon.

Re: berlin-- baze_djunkiii and I are looking for a show together, but no joy yet. Anyone with ideas for that, or for London for me, see the dates in the previous paragraph and spread the word!

3) I somehow ended up with a couple gigs in the middle of finals time. NO planning on my part. Anyway:

this Tuesday playing at Lit with Forest Green and Kid Kameleon as part of their regular weekly, HuggerMugger
(note the site is not at all up-to-date, but the directions are there). Yes, it's a techno night. I may do a special set of 120bpm sounds for some of my time, but it won't be techno, basically. And I got a stack of new records while in NY last month that I'm itchin to try out, including some Sonic Belligeranza.

And next Saturday I'm playing at Magic Milkcrates, courtesey of ffflood (who is hald of transdub massiv - watch out that link crashes firefox, although the site is pretty). It's a lounge, music tends to be in the background, I tend to play dub, glitchy hiphop, spooky beats, and a bit of jungle and dubby dnb. Come out, sit on couches drink some ridiculously candy-like drink called a "crushed velvet" that the bartenders made me the first time I played there - they liked what I was playing...You know you're doing okay when the bartenders like it, because they are forced to listen to an awful lot of music, captive-audiences par excellence.
That's at Kingman's Lucky Lounge, 3332 Grand Avenue Oakland, CA 94610 cross street: near Elwood.

Come out and say hi, I will be in final-paper shellshock, but happy to see smiling faces.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

IEEEEE! electronic music!

there's a "virtual museum" hosted and run by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

and their current exhibit is Electronic Music: From Singing Arcs to the Theremin

It's a cute idea, but deeply deeply problematic.

Although in some ways it focuses on the technology rather than the people, there are glaring omissions. Although another exhibit focuses on the contributions of women to technological developents, this one has no attention to who was involved or not. No Delia Derbyshire, for example, um.. or.. Herbie Hancock..

The piece focuses entirely on synthesizing and a bit of sampling of pure sound, but omits any other discussion of sampling, drum machines, and production techniques. And these omissions leave out, hey hey, black culture and black people, (and dance music, generally). Hiphop, Dub (so much an electronic genre that depends on and pushes/repurposes technology), disco entirely missing, and literally a word or two on "techno." (I'm not educated enough to know what black contribution to synthesizers there might be, either). this is just lazy. out of date. irrelevant.

there's also an exibit called The Beat Goes On: How Sounds are Recorded and Played, includes such helpful comments "In the United States, white Americans heard the Jazz music of African Americans for the first time on disc" and their only mention of race and race issues is "White people helped to make Swing music even more popular." They mention the boost to the record industry that Glenn Miller gives by touring and playing on the radio, but no discussion about how that worked for black artists or bands. Blah blah, Al Jolson, Glenn Miller, up until the present day with.. The Chemical Brothers. uh. Fuck this. They jump to digital music with no mention of hiphop at all, no mention, again of dub. Again, they focus primarily on techniques, not socal conditions, so I'm not expecting an analysis of the racial politics of recording. But if you are actually interested in recording techniques, they've left out a lot of innovators. A HUGE category of them.

linked from Infoshare (thanks for the link, guys!)

big up the Society Suckers

squintin in the sunlight. First time I've seen HIM out in the daytime in a long time. heh.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Pirate radio dj banned from going on rooftops

Can I point out, first of all, that Slimzee is 23! Good god.

Anyway, if Rinse FM is actually affected by this it seems like a bit of a blow to the scene, unless there are a lot of new pirates I don't know about... Grime is (like lots of underground music) driven by pirate radio as much as face to face events, studio work, and shows.

The power of the pirates in London is not to be underestimated - when I lived there in 99-00, I used to listen on the nightbus coming home from the party, one night I stayed outside my door because there was better reception outside my flat, to listen to the end of the show as it got light out. It was almost as fun listening to the banter, and the shout-outs to all the regular listeners, the messages people were sending to each other. It is such a vibrant, dynamic scene, you can tell everyone is living in it. I still have some minidiscs of shows with DJ Hyper I think it was, including some really silly freestyling vocals, just horsing around on the air, but once you listened regularly you got to know people's names and styles and felt affection for them..

Beyond my personal connection with it, pirate radio is one of the engines for creativity and hype in a scene that has not yet (fully) caught on in mainstream venues. Although I'd guess it's the broadcast laws rather than IP law specifically that's being enforced here, its enforcement stifles creativity and prevents artists from developing themselves, making connections, and ultimately getting paid. I remember first hearing Toasty's tracks on a downloaded radio show - I knew I was sure as hell going to buy that on vinyl.. If it takes loads of cash (or expense-account lunches) to get your tunes on mainstream radio, then newcomers and non-rich in music have few options for airplay except webradio and pirates.

Of course, another engine for maintaining creativity in London is the dole, I think (much like Berlin, welfare leads to the creation of some fucking great art).

Anyway the news from the Evening Standard - 15 April 2005:
"A pirate DJ who ran an illegal radio station from the top of a tower block has been banned from every roof across an entire borough. Dean Fullman, 23, otherwise known as DJ Slimzee, has received what is thought to be the first antisocial behaviour order of its kind for his Rinse FM broadcasts. The garage station, among the most popular in the pirate scene, helped launch the career of Mercury Prizewinner Dizzee Rascal. But council officers and the broadcasting authorities say such stations steal electricity, damage buildings and interfere with other radio signals - including those of emergency services. After a year-long hunt by Ofcom and Tower Hamlets officers, Fullman was caught by surveillance cameras at Shearsmith House in Stepney. Fullman, of Gernon Road, Bow, received a three-year conditional discharge at Thames Magistrates Court after admitting operating a pirate radio station and causing £10,000 of damage by erecting broadcast equipment. The court agreed to Tower Hamlets council's request for an Asbo prohibiting him for five years from entering any roof of any building over four storeys without permission."

I got this news from Fiddy

Sunday, April 17, 2005

cool tech

Datasound, by studio troika, explores the musical potentials of electronic data. The musical instrument enables you to hear, mix, scratch and perform digital data signals, from a picture, an old floppy, a scanner colour paper, a data cartridge, etc.

Listen to some sample of pure data noise -from the London Travel Card to neon lights or flatbed scanner- on the website (choose "devices", "datasound", "[4]".)

Apparently there's a festival called Cybersonica in London, April 28-May 1, and Troika will present Datasound and other works there. go check it out, London peeps!

(from we make money not art)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

who owns your history?

So.. adding to the list of songs that are copyrighted and usually quite expensive to get the rights to:

Happy Birthday (owned by Summy-Birchard Music/AOL Time Warner) (this is one of the ones that has prevented EYes on the PRize from being shown) and

"There’s a pivotal scene in Hoop Dreams," recalled Peter Gilbert, “where it's Arthur's 18th birthday and his mother said, 'Isn't it wonderful that he made it to 18?' and they sing 'Happy Birthday.' 'Happy Birthday' costs. They’re brutal about it. You’re not going to get a deal on 'Happy Birthday.' It cost $15,000 to $20,000 for just one verse of "Happy Birthday."
quoted from the Center for Social Media
(and I'm sure countless other documentaries or movies where someone has a birthday. christ, the song is so commonly sung it's like they own a copyright on the public performance of a birthday!)

God Bless America (owned by Irving Berlin's Estate), not that I care, much, but a blow to anyone who wants to get patriotic like that

(Possibly) this Land is Your Land (if Ludlow music could make a good argument in a future case, since they settled with jibjab. But actually the eff says not)

and now....


THE INTERNATIONALE , a hymn to communism and throwing off the chains of private properrty

which you can download and play here, although I favor the Billy Bragg version myself.

okay, it's copyrighted in France, but maybe not here. Although with the Naxos case, who knows, maybe the interpretation of NY Common Law to apply to tunes written before NY State HAD a *@#$%* supreme court, also applies to tunes written a hundred years before, in another country! who knew!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

who has the right to judge you?

There’s a lot of talk, in public and in legal circles, about the impact of file sharing on the industry, and on artists. One result of the prevalence of p2p technology is people’s tendency to rely on it for things they used to do in other ways.

So for music, this includes things like sending a copy to a friend, making a mix, sampling a song or sections of a song for personal use or to perform as part of a larger work. Many many people have always done these kinds of things. Nowadays, at first the convenience of doing those same things online, with digital media, encourages people to switch to online versions of these activities. Of course, the difference which everyone goes on and on about is the amount of sharing and copying, and the geographical ranges involved.

So, much has been made of these "scale effects" of the use of new technology on the industries involved (i.e. your mixtape reaches millions of people all over the world) – and people try to examine the effects on publishers, and on the industry, and occasionally (but rarely) on artists.

However, I see far less attention given to the effects on our privacy of these, after all, normal and familiar and valued behaviors suddenly being “trackable” by the state and by the “rights-owners.” All of these behaviors are being subject to legal scrutiny, in part because it is possible to do so, not just because it is possibly more harmful. The law can interfere with us, can stipulate and sanction our behavior that before was at our own discretion, we can be sued and have to justify it on their terms...

What is the effect on us, on society, of this scrutiny on our own choices and relationships? is it worth conceding without a fight?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

More bad court decisions for the public and musicians

Seems like our access to music is being chipped away by the courts left and right. Now even sampling of music that wasn't protected at the time they were made, or re-releasing it, is illegal if someone subsequantly copyrights it! ludicrous!

Capitol Records v. Naxos of America is ANOTHER expansion of copyright "protection", this time the court says that New York common law 'protects ownership interests in sound recordings made before 1972 that are not covered by the federal copyright act.'

The result is that Capitol can continue to sue Naxos for copyright violation for records made almost 50 years before the federal copyright law.

"The answer to this question will have significant ramifications for the music recording industry, as well as these litigants," the court stated.

Copyfight quotes Ernie Miller, responds:
"Just the music industry? How about significant ramifications for the public? Seems like the Court forgot why it is called the public domain."

There's a cool thing for the legal nerds out there - a wiki for analysis of the case: