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by Corey Dargel


In a recent article written for Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, Greg Sandow claims that the non-profit arts world doesn't have a good enough argument for its own economic relevance.

He raises legitimate concerns about the NEA primarily supporting symphonies and opera companies, institutions that pay obscene salaries and charge obscene admission prices. Overall, though, the article is a smug, shallow critique that offers no suggestions or solutions, much like the current Republican strategy of contentious obstruction.

I read the Sandow article just before I started reading Remix, and it colored my experience of the book. I was thinking about why people are hostile or apathetic toward the arts and what, if anything, can be done to change their attitudes.

One of Lessig's goals in reforming copyright laws is to make it easier for the average person to create remixes. This, he argues, will not only make the average person's life richer; it will also expand her understanding of what's involved in the process of making art. Now more people than ever have access to tools like GarageBand, iMovie, Wavelab, etc., which allows them to experiment with manipulating content in a creative way. In doing this, they become better acquainted with both the playful and logistical/technical aspects of creating something original.

Before recordings existed, amateur singers and instrumentalists would regularly get together and play through musical scores for entertainment. They knew from experience how difficult it was to play or sing well, so they truly appreciated the work and talent it took to be a professional musician or composer. Lessig believes remixing can work the same way: the more amateur remixers there are, the more appreciation there will be for professional artists, especially those who use technology.

Does this hypothesis ring true to you? If so, do you think this is a possible step toward more public support for the arts?

March 19, 2009 10:43 PM | | Comments (19) |

By Alex Shapiro

Marc Weidenbaum's post below, "Bach to the Future," reminds us that floating among the myriad of issues Lawrence Lessig raises in Remix, from copyright concerns to aesthetic ones, there is also the topic of psychology, and the resistance many have to to embracing any new, paradigm-altering technology.

Often when a new technology arrives, people immediately become fearful that it will replace all that came before it, rather than simply seeing it as one additional tool in an ever-expanding toolbox.

It's been exactly thirty years since the invention of the LinnDrum and subsequent drum- and sample-playback machines, and its arrival has yet to stop people from banging joyously on hard objects just as they've done since cave days. More is more. More is good. More is fun, and breeds more access to creativity and thus, breeds more creativity.

This one small example--electronic drum sounds--raises an important discussion of two distinct issues. First is the complete joy of having more tools. Fun, fun, fun. Bang on a skin head, or bang on the rubber pad of a DrumKat that triggers samples, or hit a button or key to trigger those samples, requiring no banging at all, and all of them result in drumming sounds. Nifty.

Next is the economic truth that yes, unquestionably, the arrival of new tools sometimes means that the old tools are instantly obsolete. Often cited is the buggy whip: once the automobile took over and people no longer traveled in horse-drawn carriages, the buggy whip industry went down the tubes. The downside of new technology. Not so nifty, if you were an expert at making buggy whips.

But in its place were millions of new jobs in a completely new industry. The upside of new technology. Might be nifty, if you could enjoy a career that's... uh... riveting.

When the LinnDrum became popular in the very early '80s, it began an enormous sea change in the recording industry and literally put many fine musicians out of work. At least, out of work doing the kinds of studio gigs that paid their bills. I can tell you: I was there, working as an engineer in a rock studio in Hollywood when one of the first retrofitted MIDI LinnDrums came in (they were invented pre-MIDI), and we all learned how to program it. That synthetic sound aesthetically defined over a decade's worth of pop music. Interesting times for music--all these huge sounds (to go with the huge shoulder pads and the huge hair)--and a bad time for drummers. On a session, we'd sometimes use a drummer to trigger the box by playing an actual drum set, thus melding the old technology with the new, but just as often we'd simply program a track and have the band play along with it.

Nonetheless, lots of percussionists were resourceful and found new ways to ply their craft and their art. Some went with the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach, and made money recording their own sample libraries. Others continued to work as drummers by becoming "triggerers" and programmers themselves, since no one can create a MIDI drum track more convincingly than a real drummer. But neither of these examples has the drummer being able to purely work as an artist. For that, they created their own ensembles, and also did what we all need to do in our careers: they created need. It became clear what the enormous differences are between synthetic sounds and real ones, and a new class distinction was made (often due to budget) between the use of sampled musicians, and that of living, breathing humans dripping beads of sweat onto the drum heads.

Despite all the impressive drum samples out there now, there have never been more percussionists playing in thousands of wind bands, orchestras and small concert, jazz, and rock music ensembles around the globe. The advent of the drum machine technology did not stop people from being drummers. It just added drum machines.

There persists an irrational fear that if just anybody can have access to the tools to make art, it lessens the standards for art. Since the beginning of time, everybody has had the same access to something as simple as a drum. And yet miraculously, lots of great drummers have managed to create great careers.

New digital tools are no different. The newfound ability to create mash-ups from existing material initially recorded by others simply means that sound and visual artists have yet another medium from which to choose as they create their own statement (I am ignoring the obvious debate on copyright issues for the moment). The availability of technology to allow us to do remixes will not stop the flow of new string quartets.

Most importantly, quality does rise to the top, more than many realize. The economy of art is largely based on the public's desire to experience something. So the difference between an amateur and a professional is as simple as supply and demand: the latter will almost always be in more demand. And demand creates the viable economic market for an artist.

We're in a world in which sampled drums and live ones coexist, often on the same tracks. We are also in a world in which art is made of original material from the efforts of one artist, as well as made from original material culled from many other sources, thus creating a new original work. Adaptability is why our species has been so successful, yet we are resistant to it. Many people fear change, especially when the status quo is working for them. This is human nature, and still, it's also human nature to explore and invent. Ultimately, we each invent our own balance. If we can avoid being fearful of the new and instead, ask ourselves how we can use it to our advantage, we'll see technology as a gift and not a threat, and we'll view most advances as positive opportunities. Fun, fun, fun!

March 19, 2009 9:33 PM | | Comments (1) |

By Matthew Guerrieri

Marc's post yesterday made the not insignificant point that Lessig's argument is mostly focused on popular culture. I agree with Marc that "popular" is a bit of a fishy term--maybe it's better to say that Lessig is concerned with culture that seems to be important in relation to its popularity. That's another can of aesthetic worms, but it does hint at why the hardcore classical repertoire rates barely a passing mention, and why even someone like Andy Warhol doesn't get mentioned at all. In turn, that may be feeding into the other imbalance in the book, which is towards amateurs, as opposed to professionals. My initial sense was that Lessig was far more concerned with permissive space for amateur remixes than with economic space for professionals. And, I realized, that includes professional remixers as well as professional RO culture creators.

Lessig admits (p. 291) that some forms of creativity require a traditional copyright regime to be properly incentivized. What he doesn't consider, though, is how his proposed regulatory shift towards amateur RW culture might affect the ability of that copyright to economically function. If companies are trending towards hybrid-style leveraging of freely-created content, and we're altering the regulatory structure to encourage that, then I can't help thinking that professional creativity, both RO and RW and everything in between, becomes a less viable option for those who might be considering it. Lessig's licensing solution--electronically monitored royalty micropayments to RO creators--shifts the economic incentive for RO creation to a long-tail back end. His spotlight economic model--leveraging amateur RW culture--freezes out a market for professional remixers.

I don't think this is a zero-sum game. But Lessig drives right by where his argument should be going right around page 230, when he briefly discusses spillovers and externalities. A spillover, in economic terms, is that part of the economic value of an innovation that accrues to somebody besides the innovator. Lessig says, correctly, that spillovers create public value, and, less correctly, that we thus shouldn't worry so much about them. In fact, there's an entire branch of economics that is very interested in spillovers from innovation--New Growth Theory. (I've been delving more and more into New Growth Theory because it seems to match up with my own experience of how the market treats the arts: that is, with a certain amount of bewilderment. When one of New Growth Theory's leading lights, economist Paul Romer, says things like--

In the physical economy, with diminishing returns, there are perfect prices; in the knowledge economy, with its increasing returns, there are no perfect prices

--that rings true to me.)

New Growth Theory traces its ancestry all the way back to noted apocalyptarian Joseph Schumpeter, but really took off in the 1990s when some economists started getting their hands dirty with problems of technological innovation and human capital. The oft-cited jumping-off point was Romer's 1990 paper "Endogenous Technological Change" (JSTOR link) which contains much of the point of the new theory in its title: classical and neo-classical economics regards innovation as exogenous, an externality that affects the economy from the outside, but New Growth Theory says no, innovation has to be a variable within the equation. The implications are commonsensical but economically novel--economic growth has more to do with the creativity of human capital than with simple raw labor force, and spillovers are a bigger problem than previously thought, because excessive spillover can actually be a drag on the economy by discouraging the innovation that it needs to keep running.

That includes artistic innovation as well, which is why I think that Lessig's under-incentivizing of both RO and RW creativity is a bigger deal than it seems. While much of New Growth Theory is concerned with technological innovation, there's been some attention to non-technology IP and copyright as well: Romer himself took a look at music and file-sharing in a 2002 paper ( JSTOR link), in which he pointed to work done by Steven Shavell and Tanguy Van Ypersele (JSTOR link) that proposed a different sort of licensing scheme, an "optional reward" system: a creator/inventor could opt either for traditional copyright protection, or an up-front tax-funded reward payment (based on estimated future royalties), in return for which the creation would immediately go into the public domain. In fact, according to Shavell and Van Ypersele:

Our main conclusion is that the intellectual property rights system does not enjoy any fundamental advantage over the reward system. Indeed, an optional reward system--under which an innovator can choose between a reward and intellectual property rights--is superior to the intellectual property rights system in the model we examine. These findings derive from the primary virtues of reward systems: that incentives to innovate are provided without granting innovators monopoly power over price and that the magnitude of research incentives may be selected by the government.

If you applied this model to music (as Romer recommends) you can see how it would increase the upfront incentives for professional RO culture, while eliminating some disincentive for professional RW culture (with more innovation in the public domain, the burden of licensing samples decreases). It's not perfect--professional remixers still lag in upfront financial incentive--but it's better than Lessig's model, I think, and a sign that the economic possibilities are more varied, and, for professionals and would-be professionals, more interesting than they might seem.
March 19, 2009 1:00 PM | | Comments (0) |
By Brian Sacawa

Everybody has their vices. Mine is listening to pop radio in the car. (And watching Law & Order.) I like to do this for two reasons: 1) I genuinely like some of the songs, and 2) out of curiosity, since I am often puzzled by what pop culture deems "good" music and think that repeated listenings will reveal the reasons for its popularity to me. Anyhow, on a recent drive I noticed some striking similarities between "The Way I Are" (feat. Keri Hilson and D.O.E.) by Timbaland (released July 9, 2007) and "Circus" by Britney Spears (released December 9, 2008). I made a mashup of the two tracks to better illustrate these likenesses. Here's what you'll hear: Timbaland Bridge--Britney Bridge--Timbaland Chorus--Britney Chours.


Ummm... Let's compare. Same tempo, though we can let that one slide since successful pop songs only work at certain tempos. Similar, almost identical, melodies and melodic contour. But what I found most exceptional was the cadence and rhythm at which the lyrics are delivered. These songs were not written by the same person, nor did they have the same producer, though Britney did work with Danja, who produced "The Way I Are", on her Circus album. And she apparently used samples from "The Way I Are" for a mashup with her track "Gimme More" for an interlude during her 2009 The Circus Starring: Britney Spears Tour.

(For the record, I don't know if Timbaland has a serious musical agenda or artistic vision or what his views are concerning ironic references, but I think he's a slick sampler and pop music semiotician: semi-buried in the background of "The Way I Are" is a sample of "Push It" by Salt-N-Pepa, while the recurring "Yeah!" and "Talk to me, girl" that precedes the bridge sound suspiciously like the "Yeah!" and "Take it to the bridge/chorus" in "SexyBack" (released July 7, 2006) by Justin Timberlake (or is it Timbalake?).)

This is nothing new for pop music. And as Lessig points out, this kind of "sampling" is the norm in jazz. In fact, "building on the creativity of others before" (p. 103) is how an aspiring jazz artist is often measured. Have they absorbed the language of the art form's innovators? Can they play Coltrane's "Giant Steps" solo verbatim not because it's the only way they know how to blow on the tune but simply because they've paid their dues? Can a trumpet player play like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Randy Brecker, and Tom Harrell and still have their own distinctive voice? In jazz improvisation, a sly reference to the past in a contemporary solo speaks volumes about the artist who was creative enough to work it in.

I've always thought that the amount of "copying" in pop music greatly exceeds the amount of innovation. The few innovators there are--say The Beatles, 1980s Michael Jackson, Nirvana, or Dr. Dre, to name only a few--do their thing and then have to watch as the rest of the industry emulates them. Is this imitation done out of reverence to these ground-breaking artists like a jazz musician paying homage to the greats of his instrument in an improvised solo? Maybe for the high school kid in a garage band, but in general I think it's mostly driven by economics. The innovators innovate and then everyone else files in behind their sound to capitalize on what's hot. I just wonder why Britney is allowed to be so blatant while someone else might get sued? Where's Joe Satriani when you need him? I guess in a different way, this also speaks volumes about the artist.

March 19, 2009 12:30 PM | | Comments (3) |


As these things tend to happen, I read Kyle's post on leaving the baggage of scores and recordings behind by going digital, and then a couple hours later while flipping through the New Yorker, I stumbled upon an observation from Sasha Frere-Jones pointing out that what was once conjecture is getting closer and closer to plain old truth: "recordings have become advertisements for shows." Sure, sell what you can, but then don't sweat the illegal downloads. Digital copies don't mean anything when they are essentially infinitely reproducible. The copy costs pretty much nothing to generate, so monetizing the copy itself is probably a losing game. Raising an army to protect it is often even counterproductive. Ding, ding! It's time to wake up and move on.

Both of these concepts relate to some of Lessig's ideas: the real game is not the copy and we're just spinning our wheels deeper into the mud (intellectually and practically) the longer we pretend it is.

When anyone can have pretty much anything, getting people's attention will be the challenge. Many probably won't even look for what little is sucessfully kept from them.  However, when media is a vast sea, most of us will be looking for some sort of beacon to cling to; a place where we feel at home and maybe even serve as a productive part of the club. What this suggest to me is that rather than trying to plug the dam and protect the precious copies, the smartest among us are experimenting with positioning their content as close to the front lines of their community's public conciousness (and in the best cases monetized--even if the $$ won't happen for a while--access) as they can mange. It's dangerous out there, sure, but it's the place to be.

As the celestial jukebox of digital content moves from concept to reality, the tastemakers will be key, and who will those powerbrokers be? I doubt it will be the usual guest list. A new guard is coming down the pike, and when it comes to the fine and performing arts, I'm dying to see who will take that crown.

March 18, 2009 8:18 PM | | Comments (2) |

By Marc Weidenbaum

Matthew's previous post got me thinking about a lot of different things, starting with the possible illusion that remix-based music production is inherently simple to accomplish. While the effect of a turntable can be approximated with a mouse click, to equate the two is to miss the qualities inherent in vinyl manipulation (and other such means of working with recorded sound, from John Cage's sliced tapes, to CD mixing, to real-time digital synthesis). A turntablist actively working with the vinyl is very different from someone using a "reverse-LP" effect, and just because someone can add that preset flavor to a track doesn't mean they really can cook. (I'm a big fan of Paul's Boutique, too -- the 20th anniversary just came out. The Dust Brothers are an incredible team, and I prize my MP3s of the instrumental versions of those tracks; they're eminently listenable to in their rap-less form.)

I agree that Lessig doesn't focus on those implications. I think, in the end, he's really talking about "popular" culture in its myriad forms, and most specifically popular culture (1) as a product and (2) as an activity. When it comes to popular music as a product, my sense is he isn't -- and probably needn't be -- concerned with the manner in which it is produced, because that would fall into his "professional" bucket, which is mediated by legal systems of creative attribution and publishing agreements and so forth.

It's popular culture as an activity that's really where he's doing his thinking. (That is, popular culture as it's consumed, and especially as that consumption becomes a form of creativity -- the "W" in "RW.") That's the realm where digital literacy is key, both as an interactive-creativity opportunity for a new generation (and old ones, if they wanna play along), and as a necessity in education. I think the closest he gets to this is in his discussion of that video literacy program in Houston.

When it comes to less-popular music (I'm kind of avoiding the term "art," or at least I was trying to and have now failed), me, I'm not particularly concerned that some percentage of kids who might have picked up a violin will now fiddle, instead, in digital synthesis software. I do get the concern -- the atrophy of physical production of music as computerized tools make realization of musical ideas a more fluid and easily accessible opportunity. I'd be hard put to see the result as anything but positive. But as for the atrophy part, I guess I'm not expecting that to happen. I mean, I saw the Pixar movie Wall-E, yeah, but I don't think we'll all be floating around on hovercraft synthesizers, and shooting each other our casual remixes via Bluetooth as we slowly lose the ability to walk or even move our previously nimble fingers. (Sorry to overstate it. It was just kinda fun to run with the image.)

When I fear the future, I look to the past for precedent. (Yeah, not always with comforting results, but it's a good reality check.) A hundred-plus years after the rise of photography, painting is still in full force. I have never walked into a gallery and seen a photo of a tree and bemoaned the artist's loss of necessity to have used a paint brush to realize it -- no more than I think any less of impressionist painters who had the benefit of train tracks to get them to those lovely natural seaside scenes they so loved to paint.

I also take pleasure in the reverse -- transporting the past into the present: imagining what my cultural heroes of the distant past would do today. Would Bartók appropriate folk songs as raw field recordings (and be something of a rival to Steve Reich and Scott Johnson)? Would Tallis compose motets for near-infinite voices, and work with producers Manfred Eicher or Brian Eno? Would Bach have a day job at Google, and spend his time working on advanced algorithms that perpetrate wild varieties of melodic and rhythmic transformations?

In each case, I think the answer is yes. But those individuals today just as likely might, despite the tools available to us that they didn't have, take comfort in the more traditional materials, techniques, and technologies. Again, the art gallery is a good reality check. Today, handcrafted art is everywhere. Galleries are full of soft sculptures, and drawing is taken seriously as an art unto itself (a peer to painting, rather than a step in the process) as it's never been before -- in part as a reaction to the rise in digital technology, but also because despite the availability of 3D modeling and Photoshop and so forth, yarn and pencil are the tools these artists have found speak to them.

March 18, 2009 11:00 AM | | Comments (1) |
By Matthew Guerrieri

I wanted to delve a little deeper into the whole question of what remixing means for aesthetics and culture; Lessig doesn't talk about it much (I didn't expect him to, it's not really the point of the book), but for me, perhaps predictably, it's one of the more interesting questions around the whole topic.

Part of the usual defense of remix culture involves citing one or more salutary remixed works, but I'm going to be contrarian and start off with a particularly inane example: director Zack Snyder's use of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" as background to a Vietnam War sequence in his film version of Watchmen. Tom Service, the classical music critic for the Guardian, blogged about it last week, making the connection with Francis Ford Coppola's famous use of the piece in Apocalypse Now, and, I think, rather misguidedly complimenting Watchmen for a similarly trenchant use of the piece. Service was pretty handily pilloried in the comments for his suspect characterization of Wagner's original Valkyries, but one commenter cut to the quick of the larger point:

Personally, I doubt Zac Snyder has ever heard of Wagner or The Ride of the Valkyries. It's just that helicopter piece from Apocalypse Now, innit?

Now, I don't know how much Wagner Snyder does or doesn't know--though I'd bet he didn't sit down with Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft. But at the very least, it's fair to say that, thanks to increasingly available modes of distribution, the number of people who have seen the "Valkyries" scene from Apocalypse Now vastly outnumbers those people who have actually seen the entire movie, and that group probably vastly outnumbers those who have seen the entire movie in a movie theater, as Coppola originally intended. For most viewers, Snyder's use of "Ride of the Valkyries" is a reference to a reference, and a fairly contextually disconnected reference at that.

Again, this is kind of a worst-case scenario, and I'm not trying to condemn remix culture. But I think there's a lesson for the way contemporary RW culture transforms the RO culture it's using. Coppola's use of Wagner is a gloss, but a fairly sophisticated one. (A while ago, I got into it at length.) Snyder's use of it strikes me as a more one-dimensional moment of semiotic recognition--comparatively less of Wagner's mythology is in aesthetic play. And I think that's a universal phenomenon: as cultural artifacts are more easily accessed, there's a certain amount of contextual impoverishment that comes with it--maybe not inevitably, but that is the path of least resistance.

Here's another way of thinking about it. I spent most of yesterday sitting at the piano practicing. That sort of performance--taking music on the page and realizing it--is, in one way, an exemplar of RW culture. But, of course, there's a fair amount of work that goes into it. (Which is why I have to practice.) In technological terms, sheet music is an extremely lossy compression format, and it takes an awful lot of contextual and algorithmic knowledge to convert it into something aesthetically usable. Digital video and audio, on the other hand are, by comparison, virtually lossless, and can be converted into something aesthetically usable with almost no knowledge of either context or the needed algorithm. It's almost an inverse relationship--digital culture gets rid of the generational loss in sound and picture quality, but in a way, introduces a generational loss in context.

I will reiterate that I'm not trying to portray contemporary remix culture as good or bad--like any format/medium/practice, the results can be both. (In certain circumstances, the mass accessibility of culture can force originality--as Paul Schrader once said about movies, "Before video, it was a lot easier to knock things off because no one had seen them.") But I am suggesting that the analogy that Lessig makes with Sousa's RW culture--amateur singing societies and the like--is nowhere near as solid as he would have us believe. Post-digital RW culture is vastly different than what's come before. (This is, for example, why my BS meter started blinking on page 104, when Lessig calls sampling "a modern equivalent to jazz"--without taking anything away from sampling or jazz, that's stretching the category beyond the point where I find it has useful meaning.)

The remixed cultural artifacts I find rewarding range from the sublime (Jonathan Lapper's superb "Frames of Reference," or film critic Jim Emerson's inspired 2007 10 Best List) to the ridiculous (DJ Party Ben's "Single Ladies (in Mayberry)," which still makes me laugh harder than an essentially one-note joke probably should). In fact, I would say that, for me at least, the best remixes are the aesthetic equivalent of a well-told joke, which is not to say that they need be funny, nor should that be read as a backhanded compliment--I have a great appreciation for well-told jokes. But it's indicative of the conceptual nature of remixes--as the art form stands now, I respond more to the skill and cleverness with which the concept is executed than to any transcendent artistic purpose. An example: Kutiman's much-celebrated YouTube mash-up Thru-You--"The Mother of All Funk Chords" is technically amazing, but independent of its concept, is it musically on par with, say, the Famous Flames or Parliament/Funkadelic in their prime? Not really. Given the nature of its construction, should we hold it to that aesthetic standard? If not, what becomes of that aesthetic standard?

Where this ties back into Lessig's argument, I think, is that his bias towards RW culture--you can almost hear him gritting his teeth whenever he tries to say something nice about RO culture--leads him to gloss over the fact that the hybrid economy he describes, at least to my reading, significantly disincentivizes the creation of new RO culture. (If Strong Incentives Will Increasingly Drive Commercial Entities to Hybrids, as the heading on p. 228 puts it, then RO culture will increasingly only be economically rewarded in as much as it can be remixed.) If all culture starts to take place "Within the Context of No Context" (in W.S. Trow's noted formulation), that's a significant change, both aesthetically and economically, from the pre-digital framework that Lessig references. But that's probably another post.
March 17, 2009 2:47 PM | | Comments (13) |

A lot of Remix rests on questions of access ("Not necessarily free access. Access." p. 46)--access to content and then the freedom to use and alter that content.

Related to that, then, one item that kept nagging at me as I read Lessig's book is how fast we're approaching a basic literacy that requires computer literacy. And that means not just that you can Google and send an email, but that you can edit media with real fluency and that you are comfortable organizing and processing a large portion of your life through your computer. Or at least a committed and powerful group of people will be focused there, creating and consuming the culture that results. It's exciting in its massive potential to rouse people from their couches and get them thinking and expressing, but isn't there a danger that goes unmentioned for all those (and I suspect this could become an even greater issue in the short term as families look to cut expenses) without computers and internet access in their homes? How will that widen the gap between socio-economic groups? Will technology provide lower-cost options quickly enough and public schools be able to keep up for this to be something of a non-issue?

On the other side of that access coin is the issue of higher education. There was a father in the book who noted that his son was having trouble getting into graphic design school until he was able to demonstrate the impressive media-editing knowledge he already possessed by showing administrators his anime music videos. (Page 77, for those playing along at home.) How long then before the importance of traditional higher education as opposed to other forms of training shifts as well, opening career doors to a different group of people who were perhaps previously shut out?

March 17, 2009 2:43 PM | | Comments (2) |

By Brian Sacawa

As Lessig explains in the preface to Remix, a central motivation for his crusade calling for the reform of current copyright law is a concern for his children and the fate of their generation. In the current digital climate, certain activities that have become completely natural to kids, including many creative processes made available by digital technology, are deemed criminal acts. What will be the outcome, Lessig wonders, in a society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?

By relieving copyright's firm grip on portions of digital media and promoting a freer "Read/Write" culture--a return to the time of the amateur--Lessig hopes to save the children. Though I'm whole-heartedly in favor of the majority of what Lessig argues for, this raised a question which went largely unanswered: What will perfect access--getting whatever you want whenever you want it--do to culture? Patience, that once-prized virtue, may become extinct.

March 17, 2009 12:43 PM | | Comments (2) |

By Marc Weidenbaum

By and large, I don't merely drink but regularly swim in the brand, flavor, and vintage of Kool-Aid that Lawrence Lessig serves up.

The issues that are central to Remix, and to Lessig's work in general, are fairly core to my own understanding of cultural consumption and of the roles of artists and consumers, and the institutions and technologies that mediate the relationship between them.

If what he's getting at is that the 20th century was an anomaly in the way that music (for the sake of our conversation here at, as well as other culture, is produced and enjoyed--that the direct association of a piece of "content" (some music or writing) and its physical manifestation (a CD, a book) was something that didn't exist during life before piano rolls and vinyl recordings, and won't exist after the Internet/MP3s/etc. has fully supplanted CDs/DVDs/etc. ... well, then, certainly, I agree.

But, of course, agreement isn't enough. That's just preaching to the choir, which isn't exactly what Lessig's talking about when he gets nostalgic for Sousa's concern about people gathering in communal song.

Plans for what to do about this transition--how to navigate it--are necessary. And despite the book's orderly three-part structure (status report, economic context, legal proposal), I didn't come away feeling newly prepared to negotiate what's necessary to decriminalize casual/amateur sampling, let alone to convince a corporate entity to change its long-held sense that intellectual property should be protected at all costs.

In regard to the latter, there are fine examples in the book of companies that have woken to the value of their readers/users/constituents' role as something other than pure consumers--from the experiences at Warner Bros. in regard to fans' curation of the myth of Harry Potter to (and I would have liked to read more of this) Microsoft's shepherding of the user-monitored technical-support groups. That kind of learning on the part of a large company arguably could have been the sole subject of the book. The focus may have worked in its favor.

It's the former area, though, where Remix really didn't seem to fulfill the promise of its subtitle, because throughout the book, Lessig draws a pretty clear distinction between moms who have posted video of their kids dancing to Prince songs, and large businesses protecting their intellectual property. My issue with that is the distinction itself, which I think is getting foggier and blurrier and more ambiguous, and will get all the more so. People are spending increasing time consuming casually produced content, from the broad realm of home videos to more specific subcultures like machinima--time that traditionally has been spent consuming mass-produced, mass-distributed culture. In effect, this amateur/fan-produced content has become a kind of long tail, to use the de rigueur term that Lessig does to describe the narrowly popular realms of culture that, all combined, in fact account for much of cultural consumption. As that kind of consumption of music (and film, and writing) becomes a bigger slice of the media-consumption pie, then even if the individual examples are casual the overall phenomenon no longer is.

Anyhow, for starters, that's the key issue that I came away from Remix wondering how to reconcile. I look forward to reading everyone else's take, and discussing further.

March 16, 2009 9:32 PM | | Comments (4) |

Blogger Book Club IV

November 15-19: Curious about the cultural impact of the technological explosions rocking our 21st-century lives? The Mind the Gap book club is back to read and reflect on Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants.

- What Technology Wants: More Seats At the Table
- What Technology Wants: Muss es sein?
- What Technology Wants: It's Alive!
- What Technology Wants: Unstoppable
- What Technology Wants: It's All How You Look at It

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Blogger Book Club III

July 27-31: The MTG Blogger think tank reads The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business by Tara Hunt and considers how the performing arts are embracing technology and social networking for better and worse

- Blogger Book Club III: The Take Away
- Blogger Book Club III: Everyone in the Pool, it's an e-Swim!
- Blogger Book Club III: Holding Back the Flood
- Blogger Book Club III: Classical Music vs New Technology
- Blogger Book Club III: Little Boxes

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Blogger Book Club II

June 22-26, 2009: The bloggers start in on this summer's non-required reading list and discuss The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty, Revised and Expanded by Dave Hickey

- Blogger Book Club II: Beautiful Meaninglessness
- Blogger Book Club II: Wrestling With Beauty
- Blogger Book Club II: Musician in the Middle
- Blogger Book Club II: Painfully Normal and Incredibly Sincere
- Blogger Book Club II: Something I Liked

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Blogger Book Club

March 16-20: Bloggers discuss Lawrence Lessig's Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy Participants: Marc Geelhoed Steve Smith Alex Shapiro Matthew Guerrieri Marc Weidenbaum Corey Dargel Brian Sacawa Lisa Hirsch

- Blogger Book Club: We Love Amateurs
- Blogger Book Club: Bangers and Mash-ups
- Blogger Book Club: Taking What They're Giving, 'Cause I'm Working For a Living
- Blogger Book Club: The Art of Imitation
- Blogger Book Club: Dust In the Wind

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Me Elsewhere


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