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Musica is a Museum

Musica is a Museum

by Brandon Edmonds, image by Black Koki at Love and Hate Studio / 09.03.2010

The Waterfront is a re-purposed commercial zone. It used to be exclusively about ships and shipping, and now you can shop, date and see movies there. (All made possible by a dubious Dubai consortium, of course). Anyway, commercial re-purposing of surpassed industrial sites is universal. San Francisco, New York, Singapore, London. Cape Town. Not Detroit. Poor Detroit.

These are places where work happened that’s no longer viable thanks to the international division of labour – global investment (remember that?) logically chases ‘opportunities’ in countries where the workforce is oppressed into reproducing itself on a pittance. We’re looking at you, China. Hello, Mumbai. A unionized labour supply up to date on its rights costs more than rural adolescents new to the big city, with zero awareness of the tangled, rousing history of labour battles and victories won in their name. So capital flows to those far flung locales where bodies and minds are cheapest. This is the basic engine of the global economy. How those far flung States negotiate and control what’s extracted and what multinational corporations put back is the reality behind most every debate you’ll hear at the UN General Assembly. Thank god for Bono.

So while buildings are built in swarms in Beijing, a construction boom unrivalled in modern history, places and communities where work used to be done are dying. Michael Moore’s only film really worth seeing remains Roger & Me which details the devastation de-industrialization wrought in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Shutters go up. Streets die. The marginalized make do with what’s left. A ghost town emerges. If a place is ‘lucky’, new social types move in with disposable income.

Re-development ensues. Warehouses become galleries. Workshops become hip sub-lets for urban professionals. A factory becomes an organic market. Entire neighborhoods morph from meatpacking, say, to couture. And on it goes, until cities the world over take on a homogenized, same-same quality, studded with brand outlets and consumption nodes, designed and intended for carefree shoppers who know who the 3 tenors are and have very strong opinions on Windows Vista.

Commercial re-purposing of surpassed industrial sites. Remember? Well, I’m suggesting the advent of P2P file-sharing and its mass global use now means we, as consumers, must re-purpose surpassed commercial outlets for ourselves. Anything downloadable free, ought to be treated nostalgically when sold offline, in ‘reality’.

We can think of Musica as a museum!

Allow me to explain. I dissed Korea in an article recently (the one with the Tokyo nurse who got away), and it is an awful place to live, but for chronic down-loaders like me, it’s the Promised Land. Unlimited broadband is around R80 a month. I ran a speed test on my connection over there and it came in at just under a megabyte per second. This means a movie at 800mb took around ten minutes to download on a good torrent platform. Ten minutes.

I remember reading about The Dark Knight online and started downloading (an admittedly shitty camcorder copy) – I had it before finishing the article. It was bedazzling. Music was instantaneous. I’d raid the Pitchfork “best new music” section and swallow it whole! My iPod heaved with painfully hip bands. Youtube was immediate. I do not remember waiting for a single page to load in Korea.

It was internet as it ought to be. (I still can’t believe the shit we put up with here. If Telkom operated like it does in Korea, there’d be violence. It is an extortionate, wasteful drain on our resources and directly stifles our developmental potential every single second it exists).

Anyway, I downloaded every quality film I could find. Obscure 60s new wave titles from Czechoslovakia. Everything Luis Bunuel ever made. The entire Tarkovsky canon, all of Satyajit Ray, everything by Wenders, Pedro Costa, Costa Gavras, Paulo Sorrentino, Antonioni, Fellini and Godard: that was just for starters. I checked out every Cannes winning film going back to the 50s. Got them all. The whole Criterion Collection. Classic American TV like the Honeymooners and great Japanese films, everything by Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa. Everything HBO ever did. I enjoyed hundreds of hours of great television, downloading entire series, from Arrested Development to Cracker to The Mighty Boosh. Classic 70s Italian ‘giallo’ horror, rare sexploitation flicks, everything by Jacques Rivette and Robert Bresson. I was my own film-school. It was great. It’s all online if you seek it out.
You simply need to be deaf to the claims of copyright and have more bandwidth than NASA. I filled 500gig portable hard-drives on a weekly basis. It was cinephile heaven. Then I came home. Where bandwidth is outrageously over-priced. You simply can’t build a purloined library here. It costs the same to torrent a film as it would to go and buy it. Online life is slow, slow and set at a price severely curtailing our surfing. There was recent media babble of new fiber cables and faster speeds at lower cost but who knows when? For now they’ve got us by the tender bits.

Wandering Musica knowing its entire inventory is a few button squashes away is a very 21st Century experience. You’re almost nostalgic for the act of buying a tangible CD. It feels quaint. Let me exaggerate. You have no muscle memory of the gesture. Buying a CD is akin to basket weaving or dialing a phone. It is an antique behavior like butter churning and doffing a cap. It’s how I feel around typewriters, Rubik’s cubes and old people. There’s a dreamy, cancelled quality – a sense of redundancy, the sadness of a lapsed vitality.

Musica is a museum.

We should treat it as such. Walk in with our mouths open. Ask questions, like what is he doing? Oh, he’s buying a CD. Pardon? Take pictures of it. Maybe buy the T-shirt. Look on people who work there with pity and embarrassment. Don’t they know!

Hey what other examples of surpassed commercial outlets can you think of now that content is ostensibly free? What else should we memorialize as spent behavior?

Image © and courtesy BlackKoki at Love and Hate Studio

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  1. zaneadams says:

    i don’t know but that’s a lekker idea and u write well.

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  2. for free says:

    Great, all that genius for free. All other people’s hard work for free. Someone that actually lift their behinds, come up with great ideas and overflowing with talent – for free. I’m all for sharing but somehow and somewhere the scale will tip. Appreciate and give back for a change. Reward the bastards doing all the work that is sitting on your iPod. For once.

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  3. so now what? says:

    Whether we, musicians or record company executives like it – this is the way that the world is heading. This is where technology is taking us. Contrary to Brandon’s scathing comments on internet quality in this country, the speed and cost has improved dramatically in the last couple of years and this will improve exponentially again in the near future. It’s just a matter of time, and the more people who co-opt this new and faster infrastructure, the more affordable it will become. That’s the dirty capitalist “economy of scale” that Brandon coyly fails to acknowledge when he trumpets Korea’s superior internet service. That and the fact that we now have a more competitive telecoms environment in SA that will soon put the hegemonic ol’ Telkom to bed.

    But back to the core issue – technology is ensuring that our previous notions of “intellectual property” and “copyright” will soon become redundant. These are things that were invented by business when technology first made recording and reproduction techniques possible. And lets be honest, it is not the artists who have benefited the most from these laws since then – it is the exploiters who do not have much creativity of their own. So if we are going to do right by our musicians and creative thinkers, lets imagine what the world was like BEFORE recording and duplication technologies existed. How do we reward creativity to the point of making it sustainable without relying on album sales? Fact: most of the world’s musicians have historically made more money from live performances than they ever have from album sales. That’s because they don’t need an entourage of CD pressing plants, distributors and widely scattered retail outlets to perform in front of an audience. That’s the way that it was and it’s the way it will continue to be.

    Recordings will in future be nothing more than promotional material – from a business perspective at least. Artists will reach a much wider audience than before due to the removal of economic constraints and music lovers will have access to a much wider variety of material than ever before. This is a very good thing if you value art above commerce. And besides, greedy businesspeople are so “inventive” when it comes to revenue generation they’ll find a way to make a quick buck somehow, no matter how much “illegal” downloading we do.

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  4. This town needs an enema says:

    Check out Chris Anderson’s book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”, as well as “The Long Tail” (also by him) – lots of info relevant to Brandon’s piece.

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  5. bill botes says:

    also check out Gerd Leonhard’s Music 2.0 available ‘FREE’ for download on the net somewhere or ask me and i’ll mail you a copy. viva museums.

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  6. Jesus Mannix says:

    “All made possible by a dubious Dubai consortium, of course”

    What absolute twaddle.

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  7. Bonzo says:

    Both watching and playing sport are becoming redundant as we passively consume 15 channels of Supersport from the couch while carbo-loading ourselves into fat little lab rats.

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  8. DeepSht says:

    so now what? says: “And lets be honest, it is not the artists who have benefited the most from these laws since then – it is the exploiters who do not have much creativity of their own…greedy businesspeople are so “inventive” when it comes to revenue generation they’ll find a way to make a quick buck somehow, no matter how much “illegal” downloading we do”

    SoWhatNow seems to have it all figured out, and thank god for that. It’s such a convenient and well constructecd idea to be able to buy into: a century of evil capitalists abusing technology to rob poor creative musicians. And now “Let’s go back to the era before recorded music technology” what a great f*!kin idea – so we’ll jut download whatever / whenever and pass the hat at the live gig?

    “Fact: most of the world’s musicians have historically made more money from live performances than they ever have from album sales.”

    A highly dubious claim at best.

    The whole situation is more complicated than SoWhatNow would have us believe and right now there doesn’t appear to be a clear solution.

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  9. so now what? says:

    DeepSht, if you’re going to disagree with my statements at least try to offer some evidence to the contrary. “A highly dubious claim at best” is not a solid argument. You come across like a desperate lobbyist for soon-to-be-extinct record companies, not someone with any useful insight into this wonderfully complicated scenario that you would have us all believe is so relevant.

    Revolutionary change brought about by technology is usually very simple in its effect. It makes certain devices and rituals irrelevant to the point that is plain for all to see. The only subtlety about the fundamental shift in music distribution is that the change has been quite gradual, largely due to the inconvenient internet speeds of a few years ago. Today this is a no-brainer. You can now download an album with lossless compression (ie, CD-quality files and better) in a few minutes. Visiting a shop to pay good money for a hardcopy does not make sense.

    My remarks about thinking of what happened before technology were an attempt to say this: imagine that digital technology and fast internet arrived overnight 120 years ago. Would record companies and their punitive contracts ever have existed? Clearly not. Artists would be making direct deals with cost-efficient digital studios and then using the internet to get their music to as many people as possible. That way they could travel from city to city across the world, knowing that an appreciative audience would be in waiting – thereby growing their established business of playing live for a living. Anything else would not have made any business sense – no one would be willing to pay for the stuff if it’s so easy to copy and distribute to everyone.

    Given the slower pace of technology over the last century, the naysayers would have us believe that free-downloading is an immoral and counter-productive approach. Standing back and viewing the facts that now confront us, adherence to a previously workable business model is nothing short of illogical.

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