iTunes iSbogus

Again, sonic proliferation as strategy from “below”: check out the radically snazzy Down Hill Battle’s (as in, the RIAA is fighting an uphill one!) stylish manifesto: iTunes iSbogus
An excerpt from the warcry:

Steve Jobs says the Music Store is “revolutionizing music.” What an impoverished imagination he has. An expensive jukebox and a long-playing walkman aren’t revolutionary. A revolution in music will be when people stop buying music and start living it: when 25 cent donations support more musicians than CDs ever did, when payola’s dead and radio is commercial-free all day long, when every American highschool has a recording studio just cause they’re that cheap to set up. This can all happen right now.

The manifesto will send some extra adrenalin around the old bloodstream, whatever side of the file-sharing fence you are on, but it is also unusually well-informed and coolly analytical.

Open content and value creation

First Monday has an article by Magnus Cedergren that is related to the stuff about sonic proliferation I have been writing about lately. The abstract of his paper Open content and value creation says:

“The borderline between production and consumption of media content is not so clear as it used to be. For example on the Internet, many people put a lot of effort into producing personal homepages in the absence of personal compensation. They publish everything from holiday pictures to complete Web directories. Illegal exchange of media material is another important trend that has a negative impact on the media industry.

In this paper, I consider open content as an important development track in the media landscape of tomorrow. I define open content as content possible for others to improve and redistribute and/or content that is produced without any consideration of immediate financial reward — often collectively within a virtual community. The open content phenomenon can to some extent be compared to the phenomenon of open source. Production within a virtual community is one possible source of open content. Another possible source is content in the public domain. This could be sound, pictures, movies or texts that have no copyright, in legal terms.”

He ends ups with a model of the driving forces in open content “value chains”, (concerning both producers and consumers), in which personal motivations and social benefits are linked.

It’s official: blogs have genre boundaries too

I know I am a little late with this one, but it links up with recent (actually, probably more forthcoming) posts about genre containment – that is, to define is to exclude, to place in a relation of difference from some other alternative. And as anyone who has ever had to write an entry in a reference work knows, it’s a heavy responsibility, because definitions are often read as being prescriptive rather than descriptive. But I reckon jill has done an ace job with her final version of the weblog definition, for Routledge (what would we do without them)?

Everything I would expect to see in a 500-word entry is in there:

“A weblog, or *blog, is a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first (see temporal ordering). […]Examples of the *genre exist on a continuum from *confessional, online *diaries to logs tracking specific topics or activities through links and commentary. […]Most weblogs use links generously, allowing readers to follow conversations between weblogs by following links between entries on related topics.”

I particularly like the consideration of reading practices – of course, the fact that this is a reference work on narrative helps, but still –

“Readers may start at any point of a weblog, seeing the most recent entry first, or arriving at an older post via a search engine or a link from another site, often another weblog. Once at a weblog, readers can read on in various orders: chronologically, thematically, by following links between entries or by searching for keywords. […] Weblogs are serial and cumulative, and readers tend to read small amounts at a time, returning hours, days, or weeks later to read entries written since their last visit.”

Subcultures and Sonic Proliferation, Part 2 (A Work in Progress)

A Sonic Landscape of Epidemic Proportions

To start, some almost laughably obvious but nevertheless fundamental points about the impact of digital media on music consumption (and production): firstly, there is an enormous amount of digital music “out there” (here?) on the internet. Secondly, this music agglomerates, migrates, and proliferates in an apparently chaotic manner, at the moment really without any particularly effective gatekeeping economic or aesthetic “nodes” – not for the want of trying, but I’ll leave that for the moment. Thirdly, it is now almost ridiculously easy for anyone with a fairly new PC and some pirated or cheaply bought software to produce music all day and all night in their bedrooms, and to inject it immediately into the sea of digital audio. This has a kind of flattening effect as well, there is an unimaginable number of tracks, with no easy way of discriminating between them (As Sebastian points out below), or even of collecting them according to any kind of acquisitive logic (as music aficionados are used to doing with records and cds – more on that in a moment as well).

Once you venture away from the top 40 or even college or “community” radio playlist, it is difficult to determine a basis on which to choose any one artist or mp3 file over another, and this is particularly true in the case of genres where consumers have traditionally relied on “underground” (apologies for the naff term) networks (like the mid-1990s internet, about which early adopters are now nostalgic) to find new and noteworthy tracks from scenes aesthetically linked but geographically removed from their own – and this is why it is in traditionally underground subcultures that the flattening effect is felt most deeply.

By contrast, genres that are as much about individual stars and the visual (pop) or intensely localist scenes (hip hop) as they are about sound are unlikely to be confused about what to buy or download when they boot up KaZaa. And this is what has prompted the related discussions about packaging and about the politics of self-releasing CDs on the aus_emusic list, referred to in the previous post: not by coincidence, it is in electronic subcultures that the “problems” of mass production (i.e. production by the mass) are primary topics for debate.

What I want to do here is to explore two competing frameworks for “dealing with” this situation: firstly, the traditional subculture theory model, where proliferation of a particular genre’s sounds and structures is considered to be a diffusion and therefore dissolution into the “mainstream”, and secondly, the radically pragmatic and poetic model of viral warfare being propagated by Steve Goodman of Hyperdub (among others), whereby it is the subculture that contaminates the mainstream, rather than the other way around.

the following headings are placeholders for the moment – I’m typing as we speak, sweetie–but I freely admit this is hurting my brain…—>

Sonic Proliferation as Problem: The Rhetoric of Contamination and Containment

Sonic Proliferation as Viral Warfare: Strategies of Infection and Mutation

Mutant Subculture Theory

Subcultures and Sonic Proliferation, Part 1

Sebastian Chan, who is the editor of the snappy electronic music mag Cyclic Defrost and runs the Youth – Sound – Space forum emailed me today in response to last week’s blog entry Gatekeeping the Fruity Loops Revolution. Quite a vigorous email discussion ensued, which needs editing but I’ll post now as background to my forthcoming post about audio viruses, genres, cyberculture, and globalisation, among other things…

Sebastian wrote:

Hi Jean

I see you’ve quoted me (and my comments on Ausemusic) in your blog . . . . I agree that high cultures are subcultures too – I don’t think that that is ever contested in the literature even though it is not explicitly researched. Certainly whilst the CCCB research (and those influenced by it) peered into working class ‘low’ culture, I don’t think its ever been that this process couldn’t be reversed – just that its only recently that the workings of ‘high’ culture have come under examination – studies of informal business networking through leisure etc.

I’m not sure that it can be reduced to gatekeeping between professionals/amateurs or even producers/consumers, or high/low. Although on the surface that may be the case what I was arguing in the egroup was more complex. Its not about being ‘against Fruity Loops’, but about encouraging the development of a critical community into which works can be released in an active way. The current situation of music media (my own magazine included), and distribution etc is not condusive to mass scale production with no outlet for release. Should this change? Probably. Will it change? Probably not. Given the proliferation of low level information on the Net it is interesting to see the desire and need for aggregation of this bulk information. The drive now (both at a community and a corporate level) on the Net is not for information/data production but information management, structure, and the ability to verify/check/search. Likewise, global capital gives us in the middle class West a lot of choice, but little order to the choice and no reliable ability to choose. If you read the cTheory article on the Constellation’s packaging the themes of using labour intensive production practises as a means to struggle against the mass market, there are similar themes in it. This is more complex than condemning the mass market as ‘low culture’ (Frankfurt School etc), and recognises the changed global economics that underpin mass market production nowadays (hence my post of Jamaica).

Jean: Thanks so much for your reply – some great connections to be made there I think. I’ll take some time to digest it properly. For now, I’ll just say I don’t really mean to be reductionist, and I certainly need to weave some other threads in there – it’s all very complex, I know, and I guess that’s why I’m interested.

Sebastian: Likewise

Another thought on this is the swarming strategies that people like Goodman write about when discussing community-based production scenes (esp jungle and garage). Problem with applying that here is that our swarms are pathetically small. By that I mean if you look at the jungle producers in Sydney they are few in number and very geographically spread out over the city versus say the garage scene in South East London where you have crews of producers in a very small geographical space. I’m not sure the internet as a geographic space can be considered as having swarming potential. Except perhaps in DoS and other virus-style attacks etc. When I am talking about global politics I’m also not meaning it in that ‘glocal’ way Mitchell et al write about it – (on that point I fail to see how ‘glocal’ was anything more than obvious – yet people go on as if its something startlingly new which says more about their isolated state as researchers rather than anything else! To “reveal” a Icelandic hip hop scene is not remarkable but expected). I’m not sure the internet as a geographic space can be considered as having swarming potential. Except perhaps in DoS and other virus-style attacks etc.

Jean: a long and rambling, thesis-avoiding and yet thesis-related, reply to both emails:Do you think this is something to do with the “placelessness” of the internet? you need something to swarm over, a place from which to gather/swarm “out” from, etc.? But as a space that connects *places*, it certainly has been instrumental in spreading genres/innovations on genres (and the amen break?)…this is why it is deeply silly when people actually talk about “cyberspace” as if it is some autonomous, alternative place or “world” (some people still do!)

Sebastian:Exactly. You need physical space. And you need a close knit community – not one that is spread out over the (sub)urban sprawl of Sydney. Sydeny was the main motivation for the Perilous article that started this whole discussion on the Aus_Emusic list … that Sydney is not a good place for artists because of the real estate situation since the Olympics when compared to Montreal, Berlin or Barcelona. Likewise, I did an interview with Steve in Cyclic #2 where he talked about London as a centre as a result of media convergence and geographic density.

Jean: …you get what I have called a “quarantining of methodologies”: cultural studies tends to do exegesis and “high theory” on high culture, ignoring the material and social conditions of its production and consumption, while restricting work on popular culture to these very issues. A highly simplified version of this warped logic (which could equally apply to “popular fiction” and “literature”, or cinema and television in cultural studies) follows: The high-popular divide has broken down and we are all super-postmodern now. Therefore, we can now study popular music cultures in universities, and defend them from those nasty aestheticians. But because they are popular cultural forms (and not Art) and because we don’t believe in “art” anyway, we are only concerned with the way they connect to theories about identities/bodies, cultural politics, globalisation…we do not treat their producers as public intellectuals, and we do not try to develop aesthetic theories about them. We can write whole books on clubcultures without having to write very much about music or sound (Thornton, not Malbon).

Sebastian: Ahh yes . . . I see you like Theberge also – a vastly underrated book when it came out. Thornton – totally problematic. I think part of the problem with writing on subcultures is that once you step in to writing about the object that the culture revolves around it is hard to get back to writing about the culture as you get caught up in subcultural politics and micro-differences. (which may also be why a lot of music writers who do focus on the music do so at the expense of analysing the subculture from which the music emerges)

Jean: This is why you get all these banal articles/papers about hip hop that talk about it as “representing” place (of course it does) but far fewer about what makes good hip hop good (as opposed to authentic) for the people who make it. This is something Tommy DeFrantz [subtly] took issue with at sonics (hurrah): we need aesthetic theories (and not just social ones) of hip hop as well as social theories (and not just aesthetic ones) of local art music/avant-garde scenes. Plus, the boundaries between genres are so fluid when you look at the actual humans in actual cities making music (Brisbane is a particularly strong case for this). I’d like to see topics and questions researched between and through genres, and across the old aesthetic hierarchies – that would be far more dynamic and revealing of “what’s going on”.

Sebastian:Do you think that this might be because here in Australia we don’t actually get exposed to the formative stage of a sound culture like jungle or garage or techno? We get it after it is already globalised and deterritorialised?


Follow-ups: Subcultures and Sonic Proliferation, Part 2

Project Overhead Projector contd.

Of course, the OHP is an essential part of any psychedelic lightshow’s arsenal, particularly if it is 1968 and you are tripping to the moon. And the projector hasn’t been forgotten by the Retro Chic Army: just came across a little article about a couple of dudes who run something called the State Prison Light Show – their promo blurb describes it as:

a 60’s style psychedelic lightshow, featuring a variety of artists using their own secret techniqes to bring the audience into new dimensions of light and sound. Using classic liquid oil and film projection, SPLS creates a mind blowing visual roller coaster ride at festivals, clubs and theaters througout the New England area.

Their current stock includes 21 overhead projectors [!!go guys!!], six 16mm and 15mm projectors. [The projectors] come from institutions such as Dover High School, Horne Street School, Garrison School, Somersworth, the University of New Hampshire and even a black GTL projector (a brand that only sells to churches) that came from a Hampton church.

“We just try to beat them to the trash can,” says one of the dudes in question. Now these guys are Down with OHP.

Blowing air to move around a special mixture of water oil and “special ingredients’ which sits on top of an old projector.

Urban Life: The 73Bus

This is one of those “Oh, I wish I’d thought of it!” projects. If, like me, you believe in the poetry of the everyday, then have a look at the 73bus blog and website. I love it because it is poetic, funky, and sociologically informed at the same time.


“ is designed to explore, experience and capture textual, visual and sensual narratives of a mobile London urban experience. By focusing on the No. 73 Routemaster bus, I aim to collect and publish 73 stories about everyday urban journeys. Each story, up to 73 words in length, documents experiences or observations on the No.73 bus, in the bus stop or on the route. You can read other people’s stories and add yours as a comment on the blog. The site also features longer writings and interviews, history about the bus and its place in the city. builds upon the work of INCITE, at the University of Surrey, which aims to increase an understanding of the ways in which place, technology and social relations intersect.”

NewWavePunkPowerPointArt – David Byrne Loves PowerPoint

Meanwhile, David Byrne has been Learning to Love PowerPoint, subvertively using the tools to seriously renovate the master’s house, at least art-wise: “Although I began by making fun of the medium, I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful. I could bend the program to my own whim and use it as an artistic agent.”

“This is Dan Rather’s profile. Expanded to the nth degree. Taken to infinity. Overlayed on the back of Patrick Stewart’s head. It’s recombinant phrenology. The elements of phrenology recombined in ways that follow the rules of irrational logic, a rigorous methodology that follows nonrational rules. It is a structure for following your intuition and your obsessions. It is the hyperfocused scribblings of the mad and the gifted. The order and structure give it the appearance of rationality and scientific rigor. This appearance is easy to emulate.”