What zombies can teach us about copyright and creation

These days, Zombies are just about everywhere. In addition to last’s summer series of strange events suggesting that a global attack of staggering cadavers was near, a a recently published philosophy paper (Petite philosophie du Zombieexamines the various meanings of this phenomenon. In the meantime, hordes of aficionados can hardly wait for the third season of The Walking Dead to be broadcast in mid-october — expect them to throw themselves on it as prowlers on some fresh brains.

As reminded by an excellent Arte report, one of the reasons why these monsters from beyond the grave have invaded popular culture is their ability to constantly reinvent themselves, ever since Georges Romero’s (“the Godfather of All Zombies“) founding movies introduced the archetype of the modern zombie.

After having colonized the horror movie genre, they spread on every field with astonishing ease : through music, with Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, through literature (Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide or Pride and Prejudice and Zombie, a parody of Jane Austen’s novel), or video games (Resident Evil among others, till the recent and crazy Lollypop Chainsaw).

Entire Conferences are now taking place in order to try and analyze the causes of this zombie-mania. In his essay Petite Philosophie du Zombie, Maxime Coulombe explains that these creatures echo our societies’ questioning on death, conscience or civilization. This is certainly true, but there is another explanation to all this, and it’s a legal one.

Georges Romero’s first movie Night of the Living Dead was never protected by copyright due to its distributor’s unbelievable screw-up… Released in 1968, the movie landed straightaway in the public domain, although theoretically it should have remained protected, as Romero is still alive.

This odd legal fate probably accounts for the fact that the Zombie Movie Data Base contains… 4913 entries so far, many of them directly inspired by Romero’s founding movie without fearing a possible trial or having to pay licences. This distinctive feature of the Zombie (which he doesn’t share with the Vampire, as will be discussed below) says a lot about copyright and creation : maximum protection is not always the best way to distribute a work and let it become part of the cultural heritage.

Right of the Living Dead

In the Internet Archive you will find Night Of The Living Dead available for free download or streaming, with a “Public Domain: No Rights Reserved” note, while most of the movies released at the end of the sixties will enter the public domain only in the second half of the 21st century!

The reason of this incongruity is the confusion associated with the movie release in 1968. At that time, a work was protected by copyright only if a Copyright Notice appeared in the credits, with the identity of the intellectual property rights holders. Just before the release, the distributor decided to change its title from Night of The Flesh Eaters to Night of The Living Dead. The decision was probably not bad, but in order to complete the modification, the distributor changed the credits and erased by mistake the Copyright Notice.

The movie was therefore never protected by copyright, and yet it had a great success and was considered as the most profitable horror movie ever made. The mishap later allowed many videotape distributors to spread the movie without having to pay for copyright.

Admittedly it was a bummer, however it somehow enhanced the popularity of the movie and made the propagation of the Zombie character easier.

Walking Public Domain

Cinema’s zombies existed long before Romero’s movie. They appeared in the United States in the 30s, in movies like White Zombie, inspired by Hawaiian tradition and the voodoo religion. Romero’s contribution consisted in developing in the Night of The Living Dead many characteristics that reinveinted the monster – zombies’ staggering walk, their taste for human flesh, the way they move in hordes, their vulnerability to head injuries, their fear of fire, the epidemic propagation, the post-apocalyptic dimension of the story, the gore scenes, etc. These elements certainly represent original contributions, which could have been protected as such by copyright.

But as the movie belonged in the public domain right away, these features were easily reusable for others to spread them widely. By the way, Romero himself was one of the first who benefitted from this creative freedom – as the American jurist Jonathan Bailey explains, Night of The Living Dead was the result of a collaboration between Georges Romero and co-scenarist John Russo. Following the first movie, an artistic disagreement arose between the two men about the outcome of their successful opus. The Night of The Living Dead being in the public domain, they couldn’t prevent one another from reusing the concept of zombie as it appeared in the movie. So they decided that they would both create their own sequels, and therefoire shared the legacy of Night of The living Dead : Russo made a series of movies whose titles included the phrase “Living Dead”, while Romero’s series were characterized by the phrase ”Of The Dead”. So the initial project experienced some kind of creative fork that could have happened with a free software.

From that point, Romero’s sequel (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead) broached a political dimension, which already permeated the first movie. Fas for Russo, he put forward a humoristic vision of the zombies in his productions (Return of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead Part II, Return of the Living Dead 3, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave).

These two approaches represent the two main zombie “traditions” in cinema, leading other directors to play with it by delivering their own variation from the original elements and themes. So zombie movies are appealing because somehow they are fun, elaborate remixes.



Later on, the staggering living dead left the movie theatres and invaded every field of creation. Its success illustrates in fact the fertility of the public domain, and its major role in the development of creation. It can be enlightened even better by a comparison with another great figure of horror movies: the Vampire.

Call him Dra©ula

The anecdote isn’t well-known, but F.W. Murnau’s movie Nosferatu the Vampire has also experienced a rather incredible legal adventure, due to a fight between the creators of the movie and the owners of Bram Stoker’s (author of Dracula) rights.

In the early twenties, film producer Albin Grau wanted to make an adaptation of the novel Dracula, but did not succeed in acquiring rights from Bram Stoker’s widow, who was particularly tough in business. The project was however maintained, but included notable dissimilarities with the novel so as to avoid plagiarism charges. The setting was moved from London to Germany; Dracula became a monstrous-looking “Count Orlock”, quite different from Stoker’s Victorian dandy. Murnau also introduced details which were not in the novel, i.e. the fact that daylight ravages vampires, or that their bite transforms their victims in blood-thirsty monsters. As explained by Techdirt, a certain number of characteristics we naturally associate to vampires actually stem from Murnau’s struggle to avoid conviction for copyright infringement!

Despite these measures, Stoker’s widow sued him in Germany in 1925, and won. This conviction led to Prana Film’s and Albin Grau’s company bankrupt, and the destruction of most copies and negatives of the movie, as ordered by the judges. The story could have come to an end if a film reel had not been miraculously spared and brought to the United States, where the novel had fallen in the public domain because of a recording mistake (again!). Stoker’s widow had no means to prevent the movie’s diffusion in this country, where it became very popular until the sixties. Then, the return to Europe was possible, when Dracula’s copyright expired.

This story shows what could have happened with the zombies movies, if Night of The Living Dead had not fallen so quickly in the public domain. The copyright would have most probably prevented directors from picking elements from Romero’s movie, and the zombie character could not have invaded the popular culture so easily.

Copyright is brain theft! Brrraaaaiiiiinnn!

The morality of these stories is that the relation between copyright and creation is a lot more complex than what we are usually indoctrinated with.

Undoubtedly, authors need protection so that they are able to create, but the creation dynamics itself implies that works should be reused, changed, extended and enriched – a trend which was amplified with the Internet.

Nowadays, not only do artists reuse previous creations, but the audience also appropriate their favorite works, remixing them endlessly. This is particularly true for zombies, who inspire an impressive and vast amateur movie production.

In comparison, other emblematic works have become a bone of contention between fans and legal assignees. For instance, Korben recently revealed that Warner Bros had acted against a group of net surfers who had rebuilt Lord of the Rings’ Middle-earth, using a map generator from the videogame Skyrim. They were forced by the assignees to remove all the references to Tolkien’s universe, such as names of places and characters, which were protected as such by copyright and trade-mark.

In the end, Romero’s zombies may be more repulsive than the creatures of Lord of the Rings, but they are perfectly adapted to digital culture.

This article is published under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence. It was translated from French by Tamara and Félicité.

Owning it.

Peddling a product that consumers can duplicate for free is a tricky business. With affordable consumer technology, you can now copy a song a hundred times, with no degradation in the sound quality—and most people seem to immediately recognize why that’s gonna make it harder to get paid for songs. But my first experiences with lossless, duplicable technology didn’t have anything to do with my career as a rapper. My first encounter wasn’t with a torrent site. Or a bootlegged disc. It was a tomato.

Seeds, quite obviously, are the mechanism of plant duplication. You drop a sunflower seed in wet dirt and, bang, you get a brand new one. Essentially, you just ‘burned’ a sunflower. The seeds of this new plant can then be harvested and planted to create an infinite, almost lossless supply of flowers and seeds. ‘Seed saving’ is the term for collecting seeds to be replanted.

So if farmers can just save seeds from previous crops, why would they still buy them from seed companies?

Monsanto is probably a familiar name to most readers. I know it’s often invoked by my generation as the archetypical hulking conglomerate, which regards ‘ethical concerns’ only as pesky hindrances to the bottom line. But I don’t have much interest in condemning agribusiness: people who know more about the industry than I do can speak to Monsanto’s record more credibly than I can.  Suffice it to say that Monsanto is a really big company. It sells seeds that are genetically modified to increase farmers’ yields. The genes in those seeds are patented. Without Monsanto’s express permission, it’s illegal to save seeds for replanting. You gotta buy new ones every year.

A lot of people are concerned about Monsanto. One of those people is my mom. When I was a kid she would take me to a summer conference called the Seed Savers Exchange. Although the nature of the event wasn’t completely clear to me, I knew it had something to do with her gardening. And I knew we were to stay in a tent. And I knew she would try to make me wear a bonnet (I later learned that this penchant for homesteaders’ costuming was idiosyncratic to my mother, and is not integral to any organic movement).

At these summer events, gardeners and naturalists traded heirloom seeds, which is perfectly legal because there’s no patent to infringe upon—it’s just a tomato. Some of the conference participants were motivated by the concern that the planet’s genetic and biological diversity was threatened by big agriculture, which tends to plant only a few varietals. So it was through Seed Savers that I had my first encounter with lossless duplication. These campers were essentially taking it upon themselves to copy and disseminate DNA. They planted heirloom varietals in isolated, uncontaminated gardens; saved their seeds; and met once a year to distribute the genetic codes around the country. You can’t quite download a tomato, but in sharing seed, you can sort of upload it.

Monsanto seeds, as I mentioned, you’re not allowed to save. While farmers buy the seed, they only license the the technologies inside it. And this is why Apple and Monsanto find themselves in such similar positions.

Rap fans and crop farmers are perfectly capable of duplicating the products that they purchase. To protect and maximize their earnings, Apple and Monsanto must find ways to prevent Rick Ross MP3s and Roundup Ready® sugarbeets from being copied at home in a way that would detract from future sales.

Both companies are employing similar strategies to respond to the challenge. Below, I’ve compared Apple’s iTunes Store Terms and Conditions with the Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement:

Both companies limit the way you can use what you buy.

Apple maintains a list of limits collectively called “Usage Rules.” Monsanto maintains a list of limits collectively called the “TUG,” or Technology Usage Guide.

Apple says, “You agree not to modify, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute, or create derivative works based on the iTunes Service in any manner.” Monsanto growers agree “Not to transfer any Seed containing patented Monsanto Technologies to any other person or entity for planting.”

It’s worth noting that both companies prevent you from transferring ownership of what you’ve purchased. Usually we’re able to sell the things we own: bikes, clothes, even used CDs can be traded, bought, or loaned to friends.

To buy their products, consumers must agree to be monitored.

When you use iTunes, you agree only to do so in the United States. As stated in their terms and conditions: “Apple may use technologies to verify your compliance.”

When growers sign up with Monsanto, they agree “To provide Monsanto copies of any records, receipts, or other documents that could be relevant to Grower’s performance of this Agreement,” and to ensure compliance, Monsanto may request “aerial photographs.”

Both companies aggressively limit consumers’ understanding of the purchased product.

Monsanto’s license states that a “Grower may not conduct research on grower’s crop…other than to make agronomic comparisons and conduct yield testing for Grower’s own use.”

Apple is known for making products whose parts are very difficult to access. Most of the iPhone 4 units, for example, are held together with pentalobular screws instead of standard screws. (Looking down at them, you’d see a little flower shape with five petals, instead of the classic plus sign of a Phillips head.) So for a while, you couldn’t open the thing without first finding someone to sell you a strange little screwdriver with a flower tip. Nancy Sims, an attorney and the Copyright Program Librarian at the University of MN, hepped me to the fact that there’s even a If-You-Can’t-Open-It,-You-Don’t-Own-It techie manifesto. (You can buy t-shirts and all sorts of stuff emblazoned with the phrase.)

By preventing crop research and by using “tamper-proof” screws, both companies make their products black boxes. You can’t look inside to see how the thing works.

These rules and regulations can undermine our fundamental ideas of what it means to actually own something. In most of our purchasing lives, we pay for product and then we can do with it as we like. As long as I’m not endangering others, I can throw the thing into the air, I can write in the margins of it, I can mail it, or strip it for parts. So If I’m only allowed to interact with my purchase in meticulously prescribed ways…it starts to feel less like mine. Like a pet I’m not allowed to touch or see.

But if you don’t abide by license agreements, bad things can happen. According to its own site, Monsanto has sued 145 farmers for saving seed. Hundreds of thousands of people have been sued for illegally downloading digital content (though not by Apple—movie makers are the busiest filers of lawsuits, mostly for films downloaded from torrent sites).

Losslessly reproducible technologies are just complicated things to own. And when you really think about what you’re buying (not the jewel case, not the disc, but a particular and incorporeal sequence of binary code) it’s easy to start sounding like a burnt-out stoner, pondering the impossibility of the whole transaction through a haze of weed smoke. “You can’t, like, own a song dude.”

Even as recording musician, I’m not sure you can actually own a song in the same way you own other stuff.

When I was an elementary kid, our American history lessons still had a good deal of the Noble Savage narrative in the curriculum. I remember learning that some tribes didn’t have a tradition of real property rights—land just wasn’t something you could own. So, according to our textbooks’ (rather hasty) explanation, everybody shared everything and generally got along. My little mind was blown by this alternate utopian paradigm.

I wondered then, and still wonder, what sort of things are okay to call ‘mine.’ Can you privatize water? Chile and South Africa think so, and the issue is debated here too. Can you own air? A gesture? An idea? What’s really ownable? isn’t as high-ass a question as it sounds; it warrants some rigorous consideration. Keep in mind that, historically, we’re not very good at recognizing what’s ownable. We tried to own people.

In many ways, the whole ownership model just seems poorly suited to duplicable technology. Square peg, pentalobe hole. When we try to force new technology into the old model, our contracts end up sounding really, well, creepy. In fact, some licensing contracts stipulate that the people who sign them are not allowed to talk about what’s written in them. That just doesn’t sound like our best work. Instead of asking, Whose is this, who gets paid for it, and how much?, the conversation might be better reset by asking What is this, who made it, who uses it, and what’s fair?

Atthletic Duddes Whole discography (2008-2009)

(This is a translation of Rémi’s text. Original french version at the end)

The recording of François Virot‘s LP “Yes Or No” (Atelier Ciseaux‘s first release) took more time than expected, so instead of getting impatient and considering a perpetually delayed future, I decided to re-record some tapes.

The idea was quite simple. We recycled abandoned tapes by having bands record their own tunes on A sides while keeping the original songs on B sides.. The result was a series of unlikely splits between experimental bands and Top 40 stars, classical music, oriental music etc.
It came up to me during a discussion I was having with a friend (who took part in the premices of Atthletic Duddes) about ultra-limited releases. I couldn’t explain what it was exactly that motivated me. It had something to do with this quest of rare objects and my own questioning of it. This project shortly became very important to me, nearly obsessive and vital, like something I needed to do. Painting A sides, cutting out the sleeves — and my fingers — hearing the tape unwind — or break. Over and over. The relationship with the object almost turned intimate, yet tinged with a certain nostalgia. Like many others, I discovered Music when I was a teen, by trading mixtapes.

At first I created a myspace page. Back then, we could still consider myspace as a form of revolution, and it wasn’t as saturated as it is now. I got in touch with bands anonymously because I wanted to keep the project unidentified. What really mattered was putting forward the idea and the urge that fuelled it.

The first answer came from Blue Sabbath Black Fiji, that’s how Atthletic Duddes became a label. I didn’t expect to get so much feedback from people who wished to participate on the artwork. People like Neil of Astral Social Club  or Laurent of èl-g wrote me and offered to make a tape.

I always knew this project would be short-lived — that’s what I wanted anyway. I ran it somewhat urgently, probably because it was necessary for me at that point in time. The spontaneity I would enjoy then is hard to perpetuate while working on Atelier Ciseaux: dealing with manufacturers, sharp deadlines and the fact that financial reality always weighs on small structures one way or another. While talking with Olivié of Amour & Discipline I realized it was a shame that these tapes (limited to 30-50 copies) had had so few listeners. So I contacted all the bands from the project. Asking if it was ok to put the entire discography of Atthletic Duddes online for free download. And they were all up for it.

After my hard disk crashed I lost most pictures of the tapes. All that remains comes from the internet’s feeble memory. You can download and discover all releases here or in the website which we created for that matter.

I often find myself thinking back and having fond memories of this project. So I’m taking this opportunity to thank all the bands and everyone who did some artwork, gave away tapes, shared their recorders and supported me witg their precious hands. And I’d like to apologize to Motherfucking for never releasing their tape.


In a believer is still a liver

Deeked with feathers and shells, a grass-skirted yap woman leads a folk dance

Rat body

Sank stacks

Fuck off massive ocean

Le, la, le

Hangover Music

AD#08 | èl-g
Comme les américains
A collage of archives from different years/towns, of unreleased songs & new psychedelic “liants” recorded for the tape.

Pretending to be confused

Tutti i colori dei buio


 — Continue reading

If you really have nothing better to do than sitting in front of your computer during the week end

Why not watch the whole movie Sita sings the blues?

Sita Sings the Blues is based on the Hindu epic “The Ramayana”. Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina Paley is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this animated interpretation of the Ramayana. Set to the 1920′s jazz vocals of torch singer Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues is written, directed, produced and animated by Nina Paley.

“Sita Sings the Blues” was released in 2008 only after long negotiations with the copyright holders of the 80-year-old songs recorded by Annette Hanshaw. For more about how retroactive copyright restrictions almost prevented the release of the film, see this interview. Following the experience of almost having her film blocked from distribution, Nina Paley released it freely under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, and now devotes a significant portion of her time to free culture activism.

Nina said: “You don’t need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom“.

Donate to the filmmaker here:

Buy DVDs, etc, here:


Nina talking about intellectual disobedience and the future of copyright:

too bad too bad


Painless forsaking explained to you in one minute and eighteen seconds.
Note that it took Freddie Perren and Dino Ferakis (who wrote “I will survive”) about thrice the time.

Terorotua and his Orchestra – Elle Est Partie (click right + save as)

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These are the lyrics, in case you don’t understand French with a Tahitian accent :

She left while slamming he door
She left, may she go to hell
Running after her isn’t my job
That’s just for the neighborhood dogs
I hope that one day
I will learn that she died
That a big truck has mushed her up
My emotion would not overwhelm me
She left, too bad too bad too bad

Outrageously Out of Print – 1

All these records are, as the title says, out of print. To hear them entirely you’ll need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on Ebay (and the artists/labels won’t see a penny), or invoke Culture Sharing Powers of the interweb. As we don’t particularly like commercial cyberlockers, the whole A&D crew advises you to look for it on Soulseek.


Philemon Arthur & The Dung - Musikens Historia del 1 och 2 (1992 – Silence Records – compilation of 70′s and 80′s releases)

 Oh boy. Definitely in my top 5 records of all time. Again, there probably isn’t much out there that sounds like this. So fucking weird, yet they still won a Swedish grammy in 1971. I have no idea how that happened. It’s a odd, acoustic, folk mess. A Clanking, chanting, strumming pile of fun. This mysterious duo’s identity still remains unknown. But look at the art and tell me that that alone doesn’t make you want to give it a listen. What’s that baby doing with the telephone? It’s my favorite album art ever. Shame it made it onto the back:

Philemon Arthur & The Dung - Jag Vill Va I Fred (Right click/Save as)

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 Philemon Arthur & The Dung - In Kommer Gøsta (Right click/Save as)

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Philemon Arthur & The Dung – Lille Pelle (Right click/Save as)

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Philemon Arthur & The Dung – Jag Mar Sa Illa (Right click/Save as)

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Philemon Arthur & The Dung – Djurvisa For Barn (Right click/Save as)

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Rema-Rema - Wheel in the Roses (1980 – 4AD)

Although this was released on 4AD, don’t expect anything ethereal. Instead, this e.p. has swelling dissonance mixed with simple tribal drums. Featuring a pre-Adam & the Ants Marco Pirroni on guitar, this album (all they released) proved influential with both goths & punks though sounding like neither (well, maybe a little punk). Big Black even went on to cover “Rema-Rema.” See, post punk even had it’s Bad Company moments of bands singing about their name.

(editor’s note: It was 4AD’s first release. Although they reissued it in 2003, even the MP3 version is now impossible to buy on their own webstore, hmmm)

Rema-Rema  – Rema Rema (Right click/Save as)

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Big Black – Rema Rema (Right click/Save as)

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Clock DVA ‎- Thirst (1981 – Fetish Records)

 There’s really nothing like asking your student why he has been suspended for the past couple of weeks and hear that it’s because he brought a crack pipe to school.  And it’s even better when he, in a rather nonplussed manner, says that it’s going to add two more years to his probation.  What’s probably worse was my reaction when I told him that he probably should have left the pipe at home.  But it’s easy for me to say oh well and carry on.  I don’t say this to make myself sound like a shitty teacher, but I’ve done this long enough to know that I’m not going to talk a crackhead out of smoking crack.  They like crack.  And who am I to judge?  Just like I like this album and I’ve met a few people that just do not like this band.  But I don’t foresee how they are going to convince me of anything other than how much this album rules.  I can’t stand by all their work (especially the dancey stuff) but the early post-punk industrial cuts are aces.  Adventurous, yet accessible, these tunes continue to deliver even after all these years.

Clock DVA – 4 hours (Right click/Save as)

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Clock DVA – Uncertain (Right click/Save as)

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(editor’s note: Okay next song is from White Souls In Black Suits, their previous album, but God came out as Stevie Wonder and told me i had to post it too)

Clock DVA – Relentless (Right click/Save as)

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If you’re wealthy and fanatic enough, Vinyl on Demand records (specialized in late 70s and early 80s industrial, noise, avantgarde…) made a TOTAL DELUXE Clock DVA reissue (6 LP + huge booklet + DVD), “Horology 1978-80″. This reissue countains four tape-releases, plus an unreleased 1979 EP, plus additional 78-80 archive-material. Get it here.

R. Murray Schafer

As one of a handful of living Canadian composers to cause waves on an international level, Raymond Murray Schafer has pushed the boundaries of music, theatre, and performance through his explorations in environment and ritual. Born in Sarnia, Ontario in 1933, he studied music at both the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music before accepting a teaching position at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Finding himself increasingly disturbed by the city’s cacophonous backdrop of mechanical noise, Schafer founded the World Soundscape Project. During the late sixties and seventies the WSP dedicated itself to studying the ecology of soundscapes and the potential impacts of noise pollution, advocating for noise by-laws and acoustic design in urban planning. In a representative piece of writing from the era Schafer wrote:

A park or a garden is a place where nature is cultivated.  It is a humanized treatment of landscape.  It may contain human artifacts but they must harmonize with the natural inheritance – otherwise we no longer have a park but a highway or a slum. If synthetic sounds are introduced, if we venture to produce what I would call “the soniferous garden,” care must be taken to ensure that they are sympathetic vibrations of the garden’s original notes. The wind chimes of the Japanese, or the once-popular aeolian or wind harp, are reinforcements of natural sounds in the same way as the trellis reinforces the presence of the rose. (The Music of the Environment, 1973)


The score for “Divan / Shams / Tabriz”, by R. Murray Schafer


As some of the first to produce methodical soundscape recordings and publish treatises on soundscape ecology, including The Tuning of the World (1977) and The Handbook for Acoustic Ecology (1978), the WSP proved influential to environmentalists and artists alike. As a composer, the realization that the totality of environmental influences had such an impact on the perception and reception of sound would ultimately compliment Schafer’s interests in history and myth and his penchant for romance during the production of some of his most spectacular works.

Although Schafer’s musical output is diverse in style and genre, it can be roughly divided into two bodies of work: his concert music and his environmental works. The concert works include a series of eight string quartets (check out the great recording by Quatuor Molinari here), a number of orchestral pieces, a handful of concertos, and some chamber works. Check out this 1987 composition for guitar and tape titled Le Cri de Merlin for an example of Schafer’s instrumental writing. This work showcases Schafer’s expert integration of extended instrumental techniques, his interest in electronics and prerecorded sounds, and his fascination with myth and nature. The title of the work is a play on words, referring to both the Merlin species of falcon and Carl Jung’s analysis of Merlin and Parsifal myths. There is also a powerful allusion to Merlin the wizard’s powers of transformation.



Schafer’s concert works also encompasses his large body of choral writing.  Here is a fantastic recording of Snowforms (1986). Schafer composed the piece in his farmhouse in Ontario over the course of several winters, inspired by the snow covered landscape outside. The score for this work makes use of graphic notation and some improvisation on the part of the performers.  The text is based on a number of the various Inuit words for snow.


R. Murray Schafer – Snowforms

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While the influence of the natural world is evident in all of Schafer’s music, it truly takes centre stage in his environmental works. Compositions like Music for Wilderness Lake (1979) and some of the opera and theatre pieces in his grand cycle Patria transplant the performers and audience directly into the wilderness of North America. Music for Wilderness Lake is scored for twelve trombonists in three groups and an isolated wilderness lake. Schafer places the groups of trombones at separate locations around the shore and conducts from a raft or boat in the centre of the lake using coloured flags and cues. The work comprises the two movements “Dawn” and “Dusk” that are to be performed at those times and requires the performers and audiences to camp at the lake on the preceding night in order to be prepared for the early morning performance.  Similarly, The Princess of the Stars (1981), the prologue to his twelve-part opera cycle Patria, plays out at dawn on the surface of a lake. Based on Native American mythology, the piece tells the story of the Princess of the Stars, daughter of the Sun God, who falls to earth and interacts with a cast of characters including Wolf, the Three Horned Enemy, and the Dawn Birds. The instrumentalists are located around the shore and the singers and actors placed in costumed canoes on the surface of the lake.  The libretto of the work is written in an imagined language of Schafer’s own design and a medicine man narrator serves as an intermediary between the performers and the audience.

Due to their very nature, recordings of these works are difficult to find. There is a National Film Board of Canada production of Music for Wilderness Lake that is engrossing to watch, ask your local library to find you a copy of the DVD.  While there doesn’t seem to be any full video productions of the wilderness operas, there are a number of excerpted recordings and photographs available online and in print. Schafer’s own book Patria provides an incredibly in depth overview of the cycle and his philosophy and is well worth checking out if you can find a copy.  Here is a short excerpt of The Princess of the Stars that gives you an idea of how the costumed actors are conveyed in canoes and you’ll also get to hear a bit of Schafer’s original language. Also worth checking out is the following excerpt from Isis & Nephthys, part of Schafer’s sixth opera in the Patria cycle, Ra.



R. Murray Schafer – Isis and Nephthys

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The music, productions, and settings of these environmental works are beautiful and stunning, but they hold an even greater ritual significance for Schafer. Pieces like The Princess of the Stars compel an otherwise urbanite audience to undertake a pilgrimage into nature. The exceptional change in niche that the opera dictates compels the audience to pay attention to their surroundings, as does the actual content of the work. The immersion is absolute as the opera begins with the narrator paddling slowly across the lake towards the audience before informing them that they are about to witness the sacred actions of gods and animals and performing an incantation meant to turn them to trees so that they may not interfere in the proceedings. This opening act completes the transformation begun during the voyage to the site and sacralizes the setting whilst solidifying the audience’s identity with the local ecosystem. This ritualistic approach reaches a zenith in And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, Schafer’s epilogue to the cycle and ongoing project. Realized each summer, the epilogue has no audience and calls for sixty-four performers divided into eight clans to hike into the wilderness where they camp for a week. During the week time is split between routine camp work and highly ritualized performances.  Schafer provides the performers with music and ritual instructions to be realized during certain activities and at certain times of day. The week culminates in a highly involved ritual that marks the return of the Princess of the Stars to her home and Wolf’s reward in Schafer’s mythos. For an idea of what Schafer is trying to create in these works, one need only look to his own characterization of an idyllic pre-modern time:

Once ‘art’ made divinities out of trees, out of mountains, out of the sun and the sky, out of the sea and the moon and the stars. …  Then there was no art.  There were miracles. Then there was no music. There was tone magic.  Then there were no artists. There were priests and magicians. Then the whole world of nature was a continuous, evolving hierophany.  And man was dancing and singing and gawking at the heart of it. (Patria, 2002).


For more check out Schafer’s website and an overview of the Patria cycle.

Laurent Jeanneau’s Ethnic Discrepancies

Foreword :

Laurent Jeanneau aka Kink Gong is a Frenchman based in Yunnan, southern China, where he specializes in documenting and recording ethnic minority music. He also composes experimental music based around his enumerable field recordings. After contributing with recordings for labels such as Sublime Frequencies and a mind-blowing Ghulja mix for Touch Records, Laurent treats us with a fantastic soundcape journey through the heart of Yunnan.

Laurent Jeanneau – Soundscape Yunnan – Ghulja
(right click + save as)

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“On this special Yunnan mix, the acoustic recordings are on the foreground, without too much electronics. However, it’s still a mix, so even if you are listening to some pure beautiful women voices, chances are that it’s already been overdubbed and mixed. You might be listening to 3 voices at the same time, in perfect harmony, although in reality, the voices would be coming from three different villages in the Yunnan province, where they were recorded and then mixed at home for your listening pleasure. Most of the recordings come from ZHANG XING RONG – a music teacher in Kunming, the authority on Yunnan ethnic matters, as well as tracks from the KINK GONG ethnic recordings catalogue.”

Laurent Jeanneau 2010

From the moment Laurent Jeanneau’s collage work reached my susceptible ears a couple of years back on the Touch Records podcast series that my attitude to traditional ‘world’ music was to be changed forever. His soundscape approach to so-called ‘world’ music emitted something so unique and captivating that I couldn’t stop myself going back to it for months to come.

Laurent Jeanneau – Touch Radio 44 (from Touch Records Radio) (right click + save as)

By taking the listener to unknown remote regions of our planet and mixing it with contemporary electronic sounds, Laurent’s work as a collage artist becomes highly engaging, presenting an old world, an unknown world, and a place so far away from our cultural references that one has difficulty describing the sounds that they hear. Repeated listens only re-enforced the deep hypnotic vibes that, in my opinion, are unequalled in the so-called genre of ‘globe trotting psychedelia’.

By googling his name, I quickly found out that besides his work as a DJ and occasional contributions to Sublime Frequencies compilations, most of his free time is spent recording Ethnic minorities in South Asia- with remote villages of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos being the main focus of his work. Once back to his base in Yunnan, South China, Laurent meticulously compiles the recordings into several CD’s to be eventually released by his own label, Kink Gong Records. From recordings of religious ceremonies, gong rituals and compilations of loops coming from Buddha Machines, Laurent Jeanneau’s work represents unique records of the most remote people and tribes of our planet.

A lot can be learned about a culture by the way it sounds. Languages, instruments, melodies, all become indelibly part of our lives, whether we notice it or not, they shape our past, present and future. For this reason, Laurent’s work should be considered as a testament of highly cultural and historical importance. Some of the sounds and instruments recorded are often played by a very small and segregated group of people. Its unique approach and insight into these esoteric sounds is up there with works such Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music or Alan Lomax‘s ethnological studies. In other words, if governments have any interest in keeping records of their own cultures they should be sponsoring individuals like Laurent Jeanneau. Our planet is way too rich to be neglected.

DISCREPANT: How long have you been recording Ethnic Minorities and how did you come to it?

LAURENT JEANNEAU: It s been a long process, I only came to be active in the field in my 30ies and became a professional at it in my 40s, but I’ve taken interest in real world music in early 80s as a teenager, then started to travel to far away places in 1990, then did my first recordings in India in 96/97 mostly in Chennai, former Madras, with the exclusive purpose of remixing it my way, destroying the rigid musical Indian rules. The performers were horrified by the result and it never got anywhere. Then in 99/2000 in Tanzania a double CD of the Hadzas bushmen got released on French label ‘Musiques du Monde’. I eventually moved to Cambodia, and never stopped since, going through a lot of music in Cambodia , Laos, Vietnam and China.

DSCR: Do you see your role as a field recording/documentarian, keeping other people records to posterity, or more of a musician?

LJ: I guess those recordings, now 86 CDs will go through posterity, but let me remind you that the very first and essential impulse is not to pretend to do that work for preserving, but rather for the discovery of an incredible diversity of structures and textures in those unknown music fields that are fast disappearing. That to me has connexions to all kinds of different music created in western contemporary culture, like the first abstract painters of early 20th century had been influenced by African art like pygmies drawings as an example. It’s about giving a different aesthetic codification of music a chance to be heard, and in the first place influence me, for my ongoing process of being fed with new things.

DSCR: Name a few of your favourite places/people you’ve recorded over the years and why?

LJ: In north east Cambodia and southern Laos I became the specialist of gong ensembles, orchestras of tuned metallic percussions, hardly nothing has been done in terms of recordings, the Unesco can claim to add this musical culture as one of the master pieces of intangible patrimony to their list,but they do nothing at all to preserve it. Most gongs ensembles are a socio-musical interaction, one gong of different size per person, including nipple gongs, flat gongs, a pair of thick flat gong hit with long mallets, a single one hit by one fist, 3 or 5 nipple gong orchestra, 5 nipple gong + 3, 5 or 8 flat gongs, up to 13 gongs, hit different ways (fist, mallets, green wood) different techniques, different tunes, and different occasions totalize a great diversity of gong playing. Otherwise 2 other major musical expressions attract me very much, the various vocal polyphonies, the Hani of Southern Yunnan in China are an outstanding example,  and different mouth organs that I’ve recorded in Northern Vietnam, Northern Laos and Southern China.

DSCR: How difficult it is to locate and approach the different musicians all over the World?

LJ: Every recording has a different story, according to the country’s loose or rigid access, my ability to communicate, the time I spend there, who I’m working with, and lots of other parameters, but usually I know what community I’m targeting, so I get informations from locals mostly and read all kind of semi-anthropological content about it if they exist. Ask me one specific example out the 86 CDs and I’ll tell how I met them.

DSCR: Your work seems to be mostly based in South Asia with some spells in Africa? Have you got projects to record in other continents?

LJ: No, I just wish to continue in the same area, would be nice to extend further south west in Myanmar and more Eastern parts of India and Northern Bangladesh to find about non-Buddhist, non-Muslims and non-Hindus.

DSCR: Finally, are there any places/people you must record before it’s too late?

LJ: Different ideas, one is based on 2 unfruitful meetings with a French anthropologist in Northern Laos- I missed him in June last year and met him in Oudomxai, North Laos last November when he just got Dengue fever, so he could not move from bed. However, we’re supposed to get together again to finally reach villages of the small uncategorized ethnic groups of Phongsaly in North Laos. Basically there are 4 big ethno-linguistic families in South east Asia, in the north  (Southern China, Laos, Myanmar, North Vietnam, North Thailand)  the Tibetan-Burmese, the Tai, Thai Kadai, the Hmong- Mien (Southern China, Laos, North Thailand, North Vietnam) and the Mon ( Cambodia, Laos, Central Vietnam, Myanmar, India), so some guys are still not belonging to any category, not that I care, those classifications are actually meaningless to me, but it’s just the idea that those outsiders from the 4 categories are found in one area where those 4 ethnic categories all live: Phongsaly. That’s pretty unique! And like I’ve mentioned above, I wish to go to the very northern part of Myanmar, where there’s absolutely no information available but it’s a dangerous country home of all kind of ethnic military oppositions and drug mafias, not to forget a terrible military dictature that’s not going to allow me to hang with minorities. At the moment going there would mean to limit myself to Buddhist temples further south…

For more on Laurent’s work and label go to King Gong Records.
For Laurent’s Discrepant transmission click here.
Check the Xinjiang LP on Discrepant’s releases page.
All pictures (except first one) owned by China Life Magazine.

Grazhdanskaya Oborona


Гражданская Оборона (English: “civil defense”, or abbreviated GrOb “coffin”) is the most famous and probably the most influential of the 1980s Soviet punk bands. The only constant member was Egor Letov, who was active right up to his death in 2008 (many of his friends, bandmates, etc. ended up committing suicide in the ’80s and ’90s). I don’t speak Russian, but the songs seem to be about anarchism, running from the KGB (they had Letov committed to a mental institution in the mid-’80s), totalitarianism, depression, feelings of powerlessness, and all that kind of stuff you’d expect to hear from a punk band from a country with an overtly repressive government.  Musically, it’s lo-fi punk (most GrOb recordings were recorded to tape on boomboxes in various apartments and kitchens) with chord changes and melodies characteristic of Russian folk music. Letov has an extremely expressive singing voice, and, like a good deal of other Russian punk musics, he communicates a desperate pathos commensurate with the fucked-up conditions in which he lived. Complete and total outsider music.

Egor was seriously prolific in his lifetime, with most of his earlier work coming in the form of homemade tapes traded among the Russian punks. My own collection of his stuff doesn’t even scratch the surface, but here is Optimizm (1985), Poganaya Molodej (1985), and a double album of two live performances (which, you must understand, were risky and infrequent events) from 1988 and 1989 in Novosibirsk and Moscow, respectively. It’s as good an introduction to GrOb as any, and the songs are all great. If none of this intrigues you, I have no idea what would. I’ll finish by saying this band is one of the inspirations behind Pink Reason (you can hear Pink Reason covering a Grazhdanskaya Oborona song on Freakout zine).

And here is a WFMU show on which Kevin Failure of Pink Reason plays GrOb and a bunch of other great Soviet underground bands, and shares some knowledge. The Russian sites linked below are pretty readable using Google Translate, so have at it.

GrOb official site (Russian)
GrOb fansite (Russian)
Polish blog with more GrOb albums

Most of their albums are long out of print; You can download some here :

Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Optimizm

Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Poganaya Molodej

Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Svet & Stulja

(thanks to Jerry from Creep Scanner for the links)

Others albums can be found on Soulseek.