Music News - Criticism: August 2008 Archives
A Harvard researcher developed a computer program that translates the genes of cancerous cells into music. What does it sound like? Well, Karl Stockhausen might like it, especially if they're malignant. The scientist, Gil Alterovitz, designed the program to play consonant sounds (that is, they sound good) when cells are healthy and to play dissonant sounds (they sound bad) when they are not. Here's what it sounds like. At the end of the article, note a local DJ wants to use the music. Click here to listen to the article from MIT's Technology Review.
This is from James Surowiecki, who writes the "Financial Page" for The New Yorker. This week, he writes about something called "the gridlock economy" -- when there's so much ownership of various parts of an industry that laws protecting innovation and investment actually end up stifling both. We're seeing this happening right now in the fields of technology, science, and culture. This cropped up last week when a musician named DJ Girl Talk continued to challenge copyright law by stringing together a huge assortment of pop songs and then charging people for the CD. He's claiming protection under the "fair use" clause of copyright law, but some legal experts challenge that claim.
From The New Yorker: The point isn't that private property is a bad thing, or that the state should be able to run roughshod over the rights of individual owners. Property rights (including patents) are essential to economic growth, providing incentives to innovate and invest. But property rights need to be limited to be effective. The more we divide common resources like science and culture into small, fenced-off lots, Heller shows, the more difficult we make it for people to do business and to build something new. Innovation, investment, and growth end up being stifled. Opportunities forgone aren't always easy to see. The effects of overuse are generally unmistakable--you can't miss the empty nets of fishing boats working overfished oceans, or the scrub that covers an overgrazed field. But the effects of underuse created by too much ownership are often invisible. They're mainly things that don't happen: inventions that don't get made, useful drugs that never get to market.
Just like the banking sector, the music industry wants it both ways. A free marketplace is fine unless we get into trouble -- millions and millions of dollars lost on bad mortgages or millions and millions lost on illicit downloading. The Feds should back off until we've fucked ourselves. In that case, we're all for government regulation -- a bail-out from the Federal Reserve for all the Wall Street goons, Congressional legislation putting the hammer down on college kids. There's this . . .
Congress Passes Law To Prevent Piracy On Campus "Congress this week passed a law to help curb piracy on college campuses. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed Wednesday by the House and Thursday by the Senate, promotes education, legal alternatives, and improved monitoring of campus networks. If signed into law by President George W. Bush, the bipartisan bill would require publicly funded universities and colleges to teach students and employees about illegal downloading, distribution of copyrighted materials, and related campus policies. The bill also requires universities and colleges to create plans to prevent piracy by using technology and to present legal alternatives. The bill would provide grants to support those efforts." InformationWeek, 8/1/2008And then there's this . . .
Music industry 'should embrace illegal websites' "The music industry should embrace illegal file-sharing websites, according to a study of Radiohead's last album release that found huge numbers of people downloaded it illegally even though the band allowed fans to pay little or nothing for it. . . . The study by the MCPS-PRS Alliance, which represents music rights holders, and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company, found that legal downloads were far exceeded by illegal torrent downloads of the album." Financial Times, 8/3/2008
Tossing old CDs, DVDs, jewel cases may be bad for environment Downloading is better for the environment: CDs, DVDs and jewel cases are "difficult-to-recycle materials [that] can pollute groundwater and, in turn, contribute to a whole host of human health problems. But the low cost of producing such top-selling consumer items means that replacing them with something greener is not likely anytime soon. . . . According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, digital sales now account for some 30 percent of all U.S. music sales and 15 percent globally. And most consumer analysts expect these percentages to grow steadily in the coming years, which is good news for the environment." *Arizona Republic*, 8/1/2008 [Cross-posted at *Charleston City Paper*](http://arts.ccpblogs.com)
It's hard to believe but the Metropolitan Opera's efforts to expand the profile of opera seems to be working. I'm kidding about the hard to believe thing, but not the results of two years of broadcasting high-definition signals of live Met performances into movie theaters around the country. According to a new study by Opera America and National CineMedia, more than 920,000 people paid to see the special Saturday afternoon broadcasts in the 2007-2008 season. That's more people than those who went to New York to see the opera firsthand. In one season alone, eight live broadcasts grossed $13.3 million in domestic theaters and $5 million overseas. For a long time, people said that the problem with opera and classical music was that they were opera and classical music. They'd never gain wide acceptance the way that popular music has, because they are inherently exclusive -- they require specialized knowledge beforehand to get any kind of enjoyment out of them. Solution? Crossover appeal. Dumb down the music to hit the coveted middle market. With $18.3 million in gross revenue, it's pretty clear that the product isn't the problem. Distribution was the problem. That's what critics like The New Yorker's Alex Ross have been saying for some time now. With this new means of getting the art into people's live, the whole elite versus the masses paradigm falls apart. Another way of putting it, the whole niche market versus mass market paradigm falls apart. Why bother aiming to that coveted middle market when you can aim more precisely -- getting the product to people who really want it, whether they are in Hollywood, Calif., or Hollywood, S.C. When we look back at entertainment innovations of the 2000s, we'll remember that it was opera that blazed the trail. Already big movie companies are looking at what the Met has done and saying they want a piece of that action. Why? People aren't coming to movie theaters like they used to. Bad movies, stellar home entertainment, and pristine digital products make going to the movies seem like a hassle. So movie studios and theater companies are trying to find way of getting you back. Regal's NCM Fathom has been offering special one- or two-night-only broadcasts of anime, sports event, and even the original Rambo lately. These were at the Regal Charles Towne Square 18. Sony Pictures launched last month a division called Hot Ticket, which will offer a live broadcast of Rent when it ends its 12-year run on Broadway. You can expect these to hit Charleston in the fall.
When I moved to Charleston, I had two huge bags full of CDs that were the result of years of record labels sending me unsolicited copies in the hopes that I'd do something with them as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Obviously, I never did. Anyway, I was intent on swapping them -- there must have been a couple of hundred, though I didn't count -- for an iPod at Millennium Music back when the now defunct retailer was offering its sweet deal. But then I felt guilty. Promo CDs were supposed to be used for promotional purposes only. I was informed by record labels that I could listen to them, I could review them, but I didn't own them. The companies did. They were merely licensing them. A sticker on the CD (like the one above) said so loudly, authoritatively, threateningly: The company could recall it at any time (though they never did) and selling it to a used record store or on eBay was a violation of federal and state law. It turns out I should have swapped them for an iPod after all. A federal judge in California ruled this month that recipients of promotional CDs have the right to do whatever they want with them. U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero said that, according to the first sale doctrine of copyright law, once copyright owners give away the item -- a CD, DVD, or book -- ownership is transferred to the recipient. The judge said:
"The promo CDs are unordered merchandise. ... By sending the promo CDs to music industry insiders, UMG transferred title to those insiders and the promo CDs are subject to the First Sale Doctrine."He's referring to UMG, or Universal Music Group, the largest music company in the world. It had sued a guy named Troy Augusto for copyright infringement after he sold a handful of promotional CDs, including a highly prized and hugely valuable recording of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, on eBay. Universal plans to appeal Otero's ruling and expects to win, according to this report by the BBC. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights lobby group that represented Augusto, said it was pleased with a ruling that affirmed that copyright law cannot override individual property rights:
"It was clear to the court that these CDs were the property of Mr. Augusto, and therefore he had the right to resell them," said Joseph C. Gratz, attorney with Keker & Van Nest, which worked with EFF on the case. "Copyright holders can't strip consumers of their first sale rights just by sticking a 'Not for Sale' label on a CD."All of this verges on the absurd. Paul McNamara, of Network World, notes in his blog that the practice of sending tens of thousands of CDs to journalists, radio jocks, and CD stores inherently precludes any attempt to exercise control over them. What's obvious the everyone else, McNamara writes, also happens to be the law. Of course, we'd never have gotten to this point -- that is, a huge conglomerate picking a fight and suing the pants off a solitary record collector with an unfortunate taste for tacky R&B -- if the music industry and UMG weren't already in a state of panic about the millions lost to illicit downloading and the near total lack of control over its products. In the past, record labels would have let people like Augusto slide. They were making so much money, there'd be no point in a lawsuit. Times have changed. There's too much at stake now. And that there's too much at stake may suggest that something had always been wrong with the music industry. It's just taken this long for us to see what was broken.