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(Dec 22, 13:13)




20
Jun 2012

The ethics of music downloads

I’ve just read a couple of articles which got me thinking about the ethics of downloading (this one by Emily White attempting to justify her massive music collection – none of which she paid for; and this one by David Lowery in response). It’s a subject I’ve thought about quite a lot over the years… I remember the first incarnation of Napster, and prior to that I can even recall swapping rare tracks person-to-person across the IRC network. So I was there right at the start of digital downloads. Before that, I put together plenty of mix-CDs for friends. I remember, for example, sometime in the 90s putting together a David Byrne compilation CD complete with a fairly lengthy companion ‘zine containing lyrics, facts about the songs and personal observations. It was a proper labour of love. And back even before that, I vividly recall spending hours making the perfect mix-tape… an often lengthy process for the music-obsessed.

And it’s fair to say that over the years I received my share of such mix tapes and CDs. They were an important part of my life. Sharing music with friends was hugely significant to me. Notably however, my circle of friends all had very large record (and later, CD) collections. I can’t speak for others, but in my case music probably represented my single largest financial outlay. Even back in the days when I was working in industry and earning a fair chunk of change, I was probably spending more on music than on rent, or food, or any other single thing.

Home Taping Never Killed MusicIn that respect, the sharing of music that I and my friends engaged in was – in a very real sense – promoting the spending of money on music. When my friend P gave me that C90 of Talking Heads songs back in the mid-80s, there’s no sense in which David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz or Jerry Harrison lost out. Since that day I have bought the band’s entire catalogue three times (first on vinyl, then on CD, then on the digitally remastered CDs). I’ve also bought everything Byrne has released as a solo artist (including all the mail-order only stuff); I’ve bought the Tom Tom Club records; I’ve bought tickets to see Byrne perform live on every European tour he’s done since the early 1990s; I’ve bought a t-shirt at almost all of those gigs; I’ve bought his books; I’ve bought his DVDs.

And all of that was triggered by that first technically-illegal mix-tape. “Home Taping Is Killing Music” indeed!

In fact when I first started downloading music through IRC or Napster or Limewire, it was only to get hold of tracks that couldn’t be purchased from the artist. A live bootleg of David Byrne performing Sympathy for The Devil… an unreleased studio out-take from Bowie’s Low… an early Legendary Pink Dots track from an out-of-print EP only available on long-deleted cassette… a The The b-side that was impossible to track down in physical form (and believe me, I searched… I was one of those slightly mad looking blokes in long black coats who would attend record fairs). Whatever you may feel about the ethics of downloading music for free, in those cases I just don’t see the problem. I’d already bought most (if not all) of the recorded output of those artists – including that 10″ version of ‘The Beat(en) Generation’ in the cardboard box with the postcards and badge. I’d rush down to my local record store on the day of release, in the hope of getting my hands on the red vinyl pressing of a Siouxsie and The Banshees single I would buy on standard black vinyl anyway. Hell I even used to scour those endless lists in small-print in Record Collector magazine and excitedly write a £30 cheque for a Japanese import of an album I already owned because it had a different sleeve and an extra track.

Sad. Sad. Sad.

So yes, when music began to appear for free on the internet I didn’t have a huge ethical issue with grabbing that live bootleg, or this rare b-side. It wasn’t that I felt the artist or record company owed me anything for my years of devotion and financial outlay… I just didn’t think they’d begrudge me (of all people!) the opportunity to get hold of those rare tracks.

Then however, things started to change. Broadband replaced dial-up and suddenly it was possible to grab entire albums for free. Today, a person can type “The Beatles” into a torrent search and download the entire back catalogue in a matter of minutes. And yes, I admit, there was a short period of time when I too found myself caught up in this madness. I’d already paid for about half of Bob Marley’s albums, why not just grab the other half? What could it hurt? And then… well I really like that one track off that one album by that bloke… let’s download his entire recorded output.

And then I thought… hang on a minute. What the hell am I doing? I still don’t see anything wrong with finding that rare deleted single and grabbing it if it’s not available on iTunes – though that’s an increasingly rare occurrence with so much stuff being available from legitimate online stores these days. And I still don’t think sending a compilation CD – or even a copy of some especially great new album – to a friend is a bad thing. It doesn’t happen that often any more, but when it does I honestly see it as an important form of promotion for the artist(s) in question… just like that Talking Heads C90 back in the day. Where possible I try to purchase directly from the artist’s website rather than iTunes of course (no need to give a cut to Apple if you can give it all to the artist) and I still like to browse the few remaining record shops and buy something physical – throwback that I am.

But the notion of downloading entire back catalogues is just wrong. There’s no sense in which that can possibly help the artist. They will never receive any compensation from you for whatever they’ve added to your life. And enough people are doing it now that it’s having a genuinely negative effect on the prospect of many artists. I’m not going to quote numbers or statistics, but I suggest you read David Lowery’s excellent article to set yourself straight if you’re one of those people who believe mass downloading is having no impact on artists.

But Illegal Downloading Still MightBesides, I want to pay for the good stuff because it means the artist is more likely to make more of it. No, I don’t want to pay for the bad stuff… but I don’t even want to listen to that, so why download it? There’s a case to be made for “try before you buy”… just like the long-lamented listening posts in record shops (or even better, the local record store where you knew the guy behind the counter and he’d gladly play whatever record you wanted to hear over the speaker system). But YouTube fulfils that function these days – perhaps to the annoyance of some artists – but there you have it. Want to know whether the new Kate Bush record is a return to form… listen to a couple of tracks on YouTube and then buy the record from her website if you like them (album available as a high bitrate lossless download, or as a lovely crafted package if you’re old-school). There’s no actual need to download the entire album for free just to check it out. If you don’t think you’d like it, then why do that anyway? And if you do think it will enrich your life, doesn’t the artist deserve to be able to make a living?

So yes, I did go through a brief phase of mass downloading. And I’m not proud of it. But ultimately I realised my actions were fundamentally unethical (and in my defence, I’d already paid my dues as far as music-purchasing was concerned, so maybe I can be forgiven my temporary lapse). More worrying though is not my generation – many of whom I suspect could tell very similar stories to mine – no, it’s the new generation of music-lovers who never experienced the genuine joy of buying that slice of wonderfully packaged vinyl and rushing home to be delighted by it. Even the CD didn’t kill that experience (though it was never quite as good). But the digital download? It just doesn’t feel like an “artefact” (because let’s face it, it’s not). As such, it’s difficult to place as much value on it. If limitless quantities of the finest champagne was available in every home on tap, for free, how long before it seemed vaguely worthless?

And that’s what’s happening to music. Even hardcore music fans of the current generation can’t help but hold the art-form in considerably lower esteem than those of us who had no option but to buy it. And who got something physical – something we could feel and pore over – in return for our money. The loss of that tactile experience is, I believe, directly related to the loss of value that seems to have beset the musical output of even the greatest artists. I know I sound terribly old-fashioned when I say that, but I do think it’s true. And no, I don’t know how to solve the problem. But I do feel it is a problem, and it’s one that needs to be solved if we want our artists to continue creating great music.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


18
Jun 2012

Paraguay is NOT Uzbekistan

Today, in economic news, Alex Banbury of Hamilton Capital has put together a list of countries’ denials:

“Spain is not Greece” – Elena Salgado, Spanish Finance minister, February 2010.

“Portugal is not Greece” – The Economist, April 2010.

“Greece is not Ireland” – George Papaconstantinou, Greek Finance minister, November 2010.

“Spain is neither Ireland nor Portugal” – Elena Salgado, Spanish Finance minister, November 2010.

“Ireland is not in ‘Greek Territory'” – Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. November 2010.

“Neither Spain nor Portugal is Ireland” – Angel Gurria, Secretary-general OECD, November 2010.

“Italy is not Spain” – Ed Parker, Fitch MD, June 12, 2012.

“Spain is not Uganda” – Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy, June 2012.

“Uganda does not want to be Spain” – Ugandan foreign minister, June 13, 2012.

(stolen from here)

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


6
Jun 2012

Ray Bradbury. 1920-2012

I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves – you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.

Ray Bradbury

Today I was saddened to hear the news of Ray Bradbury’s death. He lived to the ripe old age of 91 and – if I’m being honest – I was a little surprised to hear of his passing… half-assuming he’d ascended to that Great Library in The Sky many years ago.

Bradbury was one of writers who lit up my childhood and brought colour and wonder to grey 1970s Dublin. His novel, The Martian Chronicles is probably the first serious science-fiction book I can recall reading. I don’t wish to denigrate the fantastical space adventures penned by W.E. Johns, which were my initial introduction to science fiction, but they were essentially Boys Own Adventures that just happened to be set in space; whereas Bradbury was doing something entirely different. I’m sure even Johns would agree.
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)
Ray Bradbury’s prose was genuinely poetic. It was filled with wisdom, warmth and a rich humour. It was also deadly serious and – looking back – was probably the first “social commentary” I read too. Though of course, at the tender age of 9 or 10, much of the allegory went above my head. Even so, I can distinctly remember thinking that there was something important about Bradbury’s work… something I wasn’t quite grasping, but that I desperately wanted to. Later in my teens when I re-read The Martian Chronicles – along with scores (if not hundreds) of his short stories – I was pleased to have been vindicated. There was something important about Bradbury’s work. And there still is.

Something Wicked This Way Comes remains one of my all-time favourite novels. I’ve not read it in many years, but I intend to very soon. It’s a shame that my revisit to his books is being prompted by such sad news, but I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Mr. Bradbury; a man whose love of writing consumed him.

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.

Ray Bradbury

When someone has spent more than ninety years on the planet, it’s difficult to describe their death as “a tragedy”. For surely few of us can expect to have such a span of years, and those of us who do should feel blessed because of it. And yet, when such a wise voice as Ray Bradbury is silenced, the world is always the worse for it. Still, he left us plenty of that wisdom in the books he wrote. Wisdom, wit and some cracking good yarns. For those of you who never encountered his work, may I suggest a short list to track down and be amazed by. And for those who are already familiar with Bradbury… well, there’s no harm in a re-read. It’s what he would have wanted.

My favourite of his novels:

As wonderful as are his novels, the curious reader should – perhaps even more urgently – track down pretty much any one of his glorious collections of short stories… The Day It Rained Forever and I Sing the Body Electric are two of the best, but you really can’t go wrong with Bradbury short stories. And if you don’t believe me, then why not track down some of the ones that have made it onto the web (The Pedestrian for example). You won’t be sorry that you did.


2
Jun 2012

Takeshis’

Wow. Just… wow.

I finally got around to watching Takeshis’, the first of Takeshi Kitano’s anti-mainstream trilogy (and I do mean anti-mainstream as opposed to merely non-mainstream… there’s a whole bunch of deliberate subversion and outright mocking of mainstream movie tropes going on). The story goes, that after his mainstream international success with Zatoichi, Kitano became disillusioned and frustrated with himself. He’d become too safe. Too predictable, in his own eyes. And while I personally thoroughly enjoyed Zatoichi, it’s definitely a million miles from the existential meditations of Dolls, Hana-bi or even the earlier Sonatine.

And so, he set out to make a trilogy of films that would quite deliberately alienate the wider audience he’d garnered via his samurai action movie. Films that abandoned all notions of traditional narrative; that made no concessions to accessibility… instead placing a priority on artistic integrity. He would gather up all that existential angst, dream-logic and plain weirdness that passes through his mind as he’s lying in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness; and he’d dump it onto the screen with no explanation.

Take that mainstream audiences!

The result is mesmerising and more than a little startling. Certainly not a film for anyone who needs such trifles as “plot” or “sense” to hold their hand for an hour and a half while they watch a screen. At the heart of the film are two characters, both played by Takeshi Kitano. The first is “Beat Takeshi”, a successful actor and film-maker who specialises in gangster / yakuza movies. The second is “Mr. Kitano”, a convenience store clerk and failed actor who spends his days daydreaming about living the life of his idol – Beat Takeshi – when he’s not being rejected at auditions.

Early in the film, there’s a chance meeting between the two Takeshis and Beat Takeshi signs an autograph for Mr. Kitano. Afterwards, we watch as Mr. Kitano walks home to his small apartment above a mechanic’s shop and falls asleep. From then on, the viewer never knows whether the scene they are watching is a dream being had by one of the two Takeshis, or a convenience store clerk’s fantasy of being a successful actor, or a successful film-maker wondering what it would be like to live the life of a failed actor. Or indeed, a successful film-maker imagining what the fantasies of a failed actor about being a successful film-maker would be like. It’s no surprise that the original title of the film was Fractals.

Takeshis'

Characters from the director’s previous films show up in incongruous situations and it definitely helps the viewer if they’re familiar with Takeshi Kitano’s past work. There’s a huge amount of self-referentiality in the movie… scenes from previous films (most notably Sonatine and Hana-bi, but pretty much every movie he’s done gets a look in) are revisited in unexpected ways, with characters crossing over from one to the other. Indeed whole sections of Takeshis’ appear to be deliberate “self-iconoclasm”, with some of the most haunting and affecting scenes he’s ever shot being savagely undercut and turned into absurd parodies – most notably the final beach scene from Hana-bi (in my view, one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of cinema) is suddenly transformed into a bizarre action-film caricature with Kitano machine-gunning a whole range of characters from his past films (along with about 500 riot police).

There’s a great deal of wit in Takeshis’ and while it only made me laugh out loud a couple of times, I spent much of the film with a wry smile on my face. As with all of his films the humour veers from the ridiculously slapstick to the almost-too-cerebral, with plenty in between. And as ever, music plays a large role. Traditional Japanese folk music cuts brutally into high-tempo electronica and back again. Also, the tap-dancing interlude goes on for quite a bit longer than you’d expect.

It’s like a very weird remix of his past films, and at no point have you any idea who or what you’ll be seeing next on the screen. Personally I absolutely loved it and am looking forward to watching Glory to the Filmmaker! (the second film in the trilogy). But I suspect plenty of people who see Takeshis’ will hate it, and no small percentage will fail to reach the end. But for fans of the obscure, the odd and the original, Takeshis’ provides an absolute feast for the senses. And the imagination.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Reviews » Film reviews


1
Jun 2012

Was it fear or stupidity?

supplicationIn a development that has surprised many of their neighbours, Mr. Patrick Murphy and his wife Sinéad today announced they would be making a copy of their front door key and giving it to the burglars who have been ransacking local homes over the past few years. “We’ve decided to make the burglars co-signatories of our child’s Savings Account too”, said Mrs. Murphy, “y’know… just in case they’re still a bit short of cash after they’ve sold our telly and stuff…”

When asked for his opinion on this unusual tactic, one neighbour – Mr. Yannis Papadopolou – shook his head with a mixture of despair and anger. “Bloody fools!” he muttered, “we thought we’d try a similar thing a few months ago and invited the burglars in for a chat. We thought that maybe if they got to know us a bit better they might not be so willing to steal our possessions.” When asked how that worked out, Mrs. Papadopolou became visibly annoyed, “everyone knows how it worked out! That’s why I can’t understand what the hell the Murphy family are doing. The moment we invited the burglars into our home, they trashed most of the furniture and kicked the dog. Now we’re getting threatening letters saying they’ll burn down the entire house if we don’t invite them back.”

Everyone on Europa Avenue agrees that the situation is intolerable. But because the burglars are all either members of the local police force or have seats on the town council, there’s no obvious solution to the problem. Although Mr. Papadopolou, taking a short break from fitting bars to his windows, did have one final observation… “I don’t know exactly how we solve this mess, but I do know the solution is not to make life easier for these criminals. But I guess the Murphys will find that out the hard way. And they’ll only have themselves to blame.”

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion