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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?

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.

About Iancu Dumitrescu

You are more likely to have heard of Romanian composer Iancu Dumitrescu than to have heard his music. After Stephen O’Malley of Sunn 0))) dropped his name as a major influence in an interview with The Wire in April, 2009, he received his own full article treatment a few months later in October via Philip Clark. Unfortunately, his music remains difficult to acquire, available only through his mail order label Edition Modern and their distributors and in a few clandestine corners of the internet.

Unphased by his relative obscurity in the West, Dumitrescu has been doggedly pursuing his own thing for years. Born in 1944 amidst the turmoil of war, he discovered the harsh nature of dogmatic Stalinism as a child when his father, a philosopher and scholar, was arrested and imprisoned for supposed ideological infractions in 1949. Released three years later, the elder Dumitrescu was determined to protect his son from similar persecutions and encouraged Iancu to pursue the study of music. Fortunately, the intellectual bug had already taken hold and Iancu found himself drawn more and more to the forbidden and wild sounds of the avant-garde composers coming out of the Darmstadt Summer Courses and Olivier Messiaen‘s famous seminars and the ground breaking phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and his own mentor conductor/philosopher Sergiu Celibidache. Dumitrescu has disclosed the importance of those early influences in a moving statement:

The musics of Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, Messiaen, Berio, being prohibited, circulated clandestinely, from one hand to another, as copies of tapes which had become almost unlistenable. But imagination continued to hear what, in fact, did not exist any more for the ears. The spirit of modernism, of new worlds…

Because of his progressive interests, Iancu faced his own battles with censorship and the repression of Romanian communism. During the 1970s he had an increasingly difficult time having his compositions approved by the backwards Romanian Composers’ Union and performed in public. In 1976 he gave up working with official channels altogether and formed his own group, the Hyperion Ensemble, to serve as a workshop and stable of performers for his works. Likewise, fed up by Robert Zank’s refusal to switch from vinyl to compact disc during the ’80s, Dumitrescu split with his label Edition RZ and launched his own venture, Edition Modern. Today, he continues to conduct the Hyperion Ensemble and maintain a steady schedule of releases on his label with his wife and fellow composer Ana-Maria Avram.

Dumitrescu’s music is utterly his own. A unique and personal blend of his avant-garde and
texturalist influences from Western Europe and his own philosophical attitude. During his tutelage with Sergiu Celibache in the 1970s his music began to manifest the very ideas of phenomenological reduction and analysis, producing meditative works that seem to be pure studies in sound and perception. These developments have led some to describe his music as acousmatic in the vein of Pierre Schaeffer or spectral after the French school of composition. Many of these compositions are scored for soloists or small chamber ensembles, illustrating his dependence on the Hyperion Ensemble and personal connections. Gnosis for solo bass is characteristic of his chamber music for strings with
long droning passages and the prominent use of harmonics and varied timbres conjured forth by detailed bowing and fingering instructions.

 Later, as he gained access to greater resources, Dumitrescu began composing for large ensembles and using more electronic sounds in his work. These compositions are comparably bombastic and utilize a wealth of instrumental techniques and both prerecorded and live electronics parts. This performance of Étude Granulaire demonstrates Dumitrescu’s lively conducting and his proficiency with incorporating electroacoustic techniques into live performance.

 You can purchase Dumitrescu’s Edition Modern recordings and his book of collected interviews Acousmatic Provoker from awesome distributors like ReR Megacorp in the UK and Squidco in the USA.

Culture is Anti-Rivalrous – by Nina Paley

Economists talk about rivalrous and non-rivalrous goods, but Culture is neither rivalrous, nor non-rivalrous; it is anti-rivalrous.

 —

I – RIVALROUS

Rivalrous goods diminish in value the more they are used. For example, a bicycle: if I use it, it gets me from here to there, if you use it, it gets me nowhere. If I acquire your bicycle, you don’t have it any more. Only one of us can have the bicycle at one time. We can share it to a limited extent, but the more it’s used the less it’s worth; it gets dinged up and wears out. The more people use the bicycle, the less utility it has.

If I steal your bicycle, you have to take the bus

All material things – things made of atoms – are rivalrous, because an object cannot be in two places at the same time. Everything in the physical world is rivalrous, even if it’s abundant.

A commons is a rivalrous good. Hence the “tragedy of the commons“: the more people use a square of land, the less valuable it is to each of them. The grass gets eaten too fast to grow back, the soil can’t handle the incoming rate of sheep shit, and degradation ensues.

the commons

Fig. 1: a lovely day for grazing on the commons

tragedy of the commons

Fig 2: Tragedy strikes

Rivalrous and non-rivalrous are often confused with scarce and abundant, but they’re not the same thing. Air is abundant, but it is still rivalrous – some “users” could make it toxic for the rest of us, because air is not infinite. Land and water are so abundant in North America that Native Americans couldn’t imagine owning or depleting them, and look what happened. We treat the oceans as infinite, but they are not; human pollution and exploitation is killing ocean life. We also pollute the vast ocean of air – hence acid rain. Air and oceans are commons.

Commons are commonly-held rivalrous goods. Because they are rivalrous, some uses (or over-use) can poison them or otherwise diminish their value. For that reason, Commons(es) actually merit rules and regulations.

But Culture is not a commons, because Culture is not rivalrous and can’t be owned.

II – NON-RIVALROUS

Non-rivalrous goods, as their name implies, don’t diminish in value the more they are used. A favorite example of a non-rivalrous good is the light from a lighthouse. It shines for everyone. No matter how much you look at it, I can see it too.

Everyone can see the light from the lighthouse…

This is a pretty good example, but it’s not quite right. Theoretically, if enough tall boats are in the harbor, they actually can crowd out your lighthouse light.

…except when they can’t. Once again, too many sheep ruin everything.

Consider sunlight in Manhattan; yes, the sun shines for everyone, but if they build a high-rise next to your apartment you won’t see it any more. There’s only so much sunlight that hits a certain area, and that light is rivalrous. You can always move, of course – except land, while abundant, is definitely rivalrous and not infinite, so you’ll have to engage in some rivalry to do so.

The light metaphor has another problem: is light a particle, or a wave? If it’s a particle, then light is rivalrous. If it’s a wave, then it’s not.

Thomas Jefferson used the example of candle fire, writing “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Of course candles burn out but it’s not the light that’s diminished, it’s the candle. That’s a great metaphor for attention, which is scarce: once our attention is used up, the light goes out.

But Culture is not non-rivalrous either.

 —

III- ANTI-RIVALROUS

Anti-rivalrous goods increase in value the more they are used. For example: language. A language isn’t much use to me if I can’t speak it with someone else. You need at least two people to communicate with language. The more people who use the language, the more value it has.

Which language do you think more people would pay to learn?

  • English
  • Esperanto
  • Latvian

More people spend money and time learning English, simply because so many people already speak English.

Social networking platforms increase in value when more people use them. I use Facebook not because I love Facebook (I certainly don’t), but because everyone else uses Facebook. I just joined Google+, and will use that instead of Facebook if enough other people use it. If enough people flock to yet another platform, I’ll use that instead. Meanwhile I love Diaspora in principle (I was an early Kickstarter backer, before they surpassed their initial $ goal), but I don’t use it, because not enough other people do. When it comes to social networks, I am a sheep.

I'm surrounded by stupid sheep

A classic “Nina’s Adventures” comic, which I only realized was anti-rivalrous a few years ago. ♡ Copying is an act of love. Please copy and share.

Culture is anti-rivalrous. The more people know and sing a song, the more cultural value it has. The more people watch my film Sita Sings the Blues, or read my comic strip Mimi & Eunice, the happier I’ll be, so please go do that now and then come back and read the rest of this paragraph. The more people know a movie or TV show, the more cultural value it has. Monty Python references attest to the cultural value of Monty Python – we even use the word “spam” because of it. Shakespeare‘s works are culturally valuable, and phrases from them live on in the language even apart from the plays (“I think she doth protest to much,” etc.). The more people refer to Monty Python and Shakespeare, the more you just gotta see em, amiright? Or not, it doesn’t matter whether you see them, you’re already speaking them. That all culture is a kind of language, I’ll leave for another discussion.

Cultural works increase in value the more people use them. That’s not rivalrous, or non-rivalrous; that’s anti-rivalrous.

 —

IV – SOME EXCEPTIONS THAT PROVE THE RULE

I know what you’re gonna say now: “what about my credit card number? That doesn’t increase in value if it’s shared!!” That’s right, Einstein, because your credit card number is not culture. Here are two things that aren’t made of atoms and are nonetheless rivalrous:

1. Identity
2. Secrets

Identity is some mysterious mindfuck that my very smart friend Joe Futrelle says no one has satisfactorily defined yet. But whatever identity is, it’s rivalrous. If more people were named Nina Paley and had my home address and social security number, I’d be screwed. But that should highlight that my name, home address, and social security number aren’t culture. They may be information, but they’re not culture. They don’t increase in value the more they are used.

Secrets have power as long as they’re secrets. They lose their power when they are shared. When I become conscious of some secret that’s weighing on me, I share it with at least one other person (even if they are a confidante also sworn to secrecy): I can feel the secret’s power diffused just by the act of sharing. Notice I use “power” here instead of “value.” Secrets may be of little or no cultural value – most people don’t really care who that guy slept with 6 years ago – but they can certainly have power, especially when used for blackmail. Which is why it’s important they remain secrets, so they’re not used for blackmail, or harassment, or any reason at all. Privacy is important. Because secrets aren’t culture. Culture is public. Secrets are, well, secret. Until they’re public, whereupon we get scandalous stories that are culture – humans love to gossip – but aren’t secrets any more. The story might gain value, but the secret loses it.

Money vs. Currency
And how about money? Money is scarce, right? It has to be, or it doesn’t work (thanks Wall Street & Federal Reserve for screwing that up). But currency has more value the more it is used! Would you rather have your scarce 100 Euros in Euros, or in giant immoveable donut-like stones on a remote island?

A large rai stone in the village of Gachpar

I remember when the US dollar was a valuable currency; markets all over the world wanted dollars, because they were so widely used and exchangeable. So you want your money to be scarce, but you want your currency as widely used as possible.

 —

V – CONCLUSION

It’s important to treat scarce goods as scarce, abundant goods as abundant, rivalrous goods as rivalrous, and so on. Wall Street treated money, a scarce and rivalrous good, as though it were infinite/non-rivalrous, and look what happened.  Power companies, and the politicians they own, treat the environment, which is a rivalrous commons, as though it were non-rivalrous, and we have dying oceans and mass extinctions and other events you don’t want to think about so much that you’ll just get mad at me if I point them out here so I’ll stop. The RIAA and MPAA, and the politicians they own, treat Culture, which is anti-rivalrous, as though it’s rivalrous. They are doing for Culture what Wall Street did for the economy. If you want to help make this better, treat Culture like what it is: an anti-rivalrous good that increases in value the more it is used.

DONATION CONSPIRACY – BETA VERSION

Well, yes, our donation platform is finally online.

DONATIONCONSPIRACY.ORG

It is a beta version, we’re gonna polish it during the whole summer, but it is already possible to send donations to any indie band and label in the universe.

Go test it, and don’t hesitate to report bugs !

Ps : The collective webzine will resume in a few weeks, we’re focusing on the donation platform for now.

Pps : Hail to David and Patrick, we will worship you forever.

News from the front – 2

 

1) What a surprise! Two more studies confirm that people who share files illegally actually spend more money on culture than the rest of the population.

- The first study is a new extract from the much-awaited Copy Culture in America and Germany, made by Joe Karaganis and Lennart Renkema. The study focuses on music and notably shows that people who are illegally sharing culture (online or offline) buy 30% more music than those who don’t. It also reveals that large parts of people’s music collections come from friends and family, and that for the younger generation, most of culture sharing is made offline, through Hard Disks, Usb Keys and Dvd-Burning. Of course, The RIAA (via their survey firm) and IFPI has been trying clumsily to discard the study, but Joe Karaganis is a very kind and patient dude and you should also read his answers here and there.

- The second study comes from the Dutch Institution for Information Law and expands the scope to movies, books, games, concerts and box office tickets with similar results: yes, file sharers are the biggest culture consumers, and illegally sharing culture doesn’t prevent people from supporting financially what they like.

The survey also looked at the effect of the court-ordered Pirate Bay blockade in the Netherlands. Results show that among the customers of ISPs who already enforce the block, only 5.5% say they have stopped downloading or now download less.

2) Down with Panama, Hail Portugal

- Panama is about to pass the worst copyright law ever. The 510 Bill grants the Panamanian copyright office the right to pursue filesharers directly and fine them up to $100,000 USD, with the money flowing directly back into the copyright office in the form of bonuses for the officials! And none of the money flows to the rights holders (artists and labels)! Infojustice.org reports that Bill 510 has been approved by the Congress and is now awaiting approval from the executive branch. Crafting of the bill was unknown by Panamanians and there is still no space for public debate over the topic.

- Non Commercial Culture Sharing have been declared legal in Portugal!
Last year, local anti-piracy organization ACAPOR reported the IP-addresses of 2,000 alleged file-sharers to the Attorney General. The Portuguese prosecutor came back with a ruling and decided not to go after the individuals connected to the IP-addresses. “From a legal point of view, while taking into account that users are both uploaders and downloaders in these file-sharing networks, we see this conduct as lawful, even when it’s considered that the users continue to share once the download is finished.” The prosecutor adds that the right to education, culture, and freedom of expression on the Internet should not be restricted in cases where the copyright infringements are clearly non-commercial. I want to marry him.

3) The Pirate Cloud

The Pirate Bay have first stopped using trackers, then switched to Magnets instead of Torrents. Their new step is now to get rid of servers and operate from cloud-hosting providers around the world, to frustrate attempts to take The Pirate Bay offline. They stated on their blog: “Slowly and steadily we are getting rid of our earthly form and ascending into the next stage, the cloud. Our data flows around in thousands of clouds, in deeply encrypted forms, ready to be used when necessary. Earth bound nodes that transform the data are as deeply encrypted and reboot into a deadlock if not used for 8 hours.  All attempts to attack The Pirate Bay from now on is an attack on everything and nothing. The site that you’re at will still be here, for as long as we want it to. Only in a higher form of being”. Lofty words, right ? More pragmatically, a TPB member told the TorrentFreak website: “Moving to the cloud lets TPB move from country to country, crossing borders seamlessly without downtime. The hosting providers have no idea that they’re hosting The Pirate Bay, and even in the event they found out it would be impossible for them to gather data on the users. If the police decide to raid us again there are no servers to take, just a transit router. If they follow the trail to the next country and find the load balancer, there is just a disk-less server there. In case they find out where the cloud provider is, all they can get are encrypted disk-images”. TPB says it will retain control of the technology – transit routers and load balancers – which allows to distribute file-sharing requests across multiple computers, and also hide the identity of both the cloud-provider and its users.

Field Hymns Tape Trade

The history and function of tape trading is something we’re very interested in at Decoder Magazine. To that end, using the stock from our tape label Crash Symbols, we’ve been conducting a series of “guided trades” with other cassette imprints. Part of the advantage we perceive in this treatment is the ability to identify and talk clearly about a more structured notion of “eclecticism” – the idea that many beautiful things can work with and enhance one another so long as they are all beautiful. In the case of art objects or furnishings, they needn’t be made in the same style or by the same craftsman. The same can apply to albums. A record label’s catalog might draw more or less from one or more particular genres, but it need not of necessity. As curators, many label owners would sooner maker their catalogs a reflection of themselves. Considering that a fair number of these people are avid collectors of experience, information, and tapes or records, their imprints begin to share in the same academic and operational rigor that motivates their other passions, so it seems meaningful for us to talk about their catalogs comprehensively.

More importantly, trading tapes underscores a positive way to cultivate coherent and self-sufficient communities, independent of the kind of praise that we admittedly make every effort to lavish on labels in our recurring Tape Trade feature at Decoder. To some consumers, labels are a thing worth reaching out to, and for some label owners, an imprint is something to communicate with; this sometimes plays itself out in the common perception of imprints as too aloof, but also too friendly, depending on what angle you use to scrutinize “the scene”. The difficulty with really evaluating tapes and tape culture is the extent to which it has become a fundamentally voluntary and participatory culture. Paradoxically, many cassette labels have distinguished themselves through an honest and effective leveraging of support through social media.

So, that’s the big idea. This is our fifth tape trade – you can check out some earlier ones here and here) – but more than being your requisite 1,000+ words worth of random music reading today, we hope that this will inspire you to reach out to friends, bands you love, or labels you admire and offer to trade. If you hit us up at Crash Symbols, God knows we’d be psyched to arrange something.

Without further ado, Field Hymns of Portland, an imprint focused on experimental electronic music, with significant helpings of kosmische, prog-rock, and even a little bit of skwee (which I for one can always use is greater quantity than I’m getting).

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Sightings – The Art Of Noises

 

“Let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.”

Luigi Russolo – The Art Of Noises (1913)

 

Noise, Noise Rock, Experimental Rock, Avant Rock, Industrial, No Wave, Avant Punk, Post Punk.
A trawl through the internet produces the above genres to describe Brooklyn based trio Sightings. They are all these and more. Let’s add some Minimal Techno, Electronic Music and even a touch of Funk to the mix and you’re getting close to the sound Mark Morgan (guitar/vocals), Richard Hoffman (bass) and Jonathan Lockie (drums/electronics) have been producing since their inception in 1997 (Hoffman joined in ’98). I’d prefer not to pigeonhole them at all as Sightings are a beast that stand alone amongst their contemporaries like every great band should. Ultimately they have, over the course of 15 years,  taken the traditional rock trio format and ran it through a future sound blender, consumed the contents, shat it out and made neo-glacier sized ice cubes from the stuff they couldn’t flush away. These modern shit cubes make the perfect addition to a glass of  sub-standard beer served up at their frequent boiler house shows in North Brooklyn.

I first came into contact with Sightings in 2003 when my group Volcano The Bear opened for them at their first ever European show in Nottingham, England. We really didn’t know what to make of them and found them a daunting and confusing prospect. To be honest we didn’t like the music at all. A few years later I moved to Brooklyn and became friends with them. They are now my favorite NYC band by far and I try to see them as often as possible.

 

To witness Sightings live is an incredible sonic experience. Although they are very different musical personalities they each combine to create a singular monster of industrial proportions and I’m talking ‘Industrial Revolution’ size proportions. They sound like the future portrayed in the film Blade Runner but paradoxically like a vast piece of agricultural machinery from the mid-19th century, ploughing the living hell out of the land to make way for the planting and harvesting of forked lightning. A recent Brooklyn show I attended started with Lockie’s electronic drum pads producing what sounded like the crackle and hum of a menagerie of electric geese – then CRASH! – tight as my shoes feel after a transatlantic flight – Lockie’s convulsive machine gun drums and Hoffman’s helicopter blade bass pound out a dyslexic rhythm that’s almost impossible to figure out. Morgan starts to weave a tapestry of guitar textures and loops with finger work like a patient tailor sewing a suit of steel for Robocop and begins to vocalise. A narcotic drawl leading to ferocious vomit barking and back again (at times Morgan’s singing is reminiscent of Nick Cave). It’s manic but at the same time strangely therapeutic. There’s something undeniably sexy about Sightings live. Lockie’s pounding rhythms set the heart beating faster, pulses racing. Morgan’s pole dance with the mic stand as he shoots bolts of electric bliss and piss from the guitar. His sultry voice leads you on, teasing, while Hoffman’s unique fluid as fuck bass lines and ejaculatory facial expressions tempt you further. It’s stunning that a sound so caustic, fractured and violent can also be so erotic and strangely camp (great examples of Sightings campy eroticism can be discovered via their cover version of the Walker Brothers ‘The Electrician‘ from the ‘Though The Panama‘ album and their sleeve for their debut album ‘Michigan Haters’ which features Lockie in full drag. Tight red sleeveless dress, white framed mirror shades, fright white afro wig and a cigarette hanging from his pouting lips. Contrary to that on the reverse of the sleeve Hoffman and Morgan stand together in black t-shirts, arms folded, serious as hell and as hard as nails. Perversely, if they were each sporting a leather biker cap they could be auditioning for a Village People video! A Sightings concert is like a soundtrack to some fucked up cyber sex party from an x-rated Star Trek episode. Don’t get me wrong on that one. It’s camp like Iggy Pop, Lux Interior or Nick Cave is camp. You definitely wouldn’t want to cross any of these boys in a dark alley and pet their poodles.

 

The depth of Sightings mission becomes much clearer on their albums. From the all out mud and punk noise assault of their early releases, recorded by the band themselves on a 4 track machine, to their more recent albums produced in the studio to thrilling effect. Their discography tells the story of a band in pursuit of a brand new way to play music. The first 2 self-produced albums, ‘Sightings‘ (Load Records) and ‘Michigan Haters‘ (Psych-O-Path / S-S Records) , both released in 2002 are completely raucous, distorted affairs. Incredibly noisy and energetic with both feet knee deep in a thrash punk field. Difficult listening but you can hear echoes of the group’s future sound on the tracks ‘ Chili Dog‘ from Michigan Haters and ‘Don West’ from the self-titled predecessor. ‘Absolutes‘ (Load Records / Riot Season) from 2003, self produced and recorded on 4 track again is a compositional step up from the first 2 albums. Part of the album still contains the riotous hardcore noise onslaught of the past but there’s a definite move to a more spacious industrial racket. The drums are different, more machine like. The guitars are more angular and controlled. It reminds me a little of early Chrome and despite it’s distorted nature it has a groove. I know the band are fans of minimal techno from labels like Kompact and Basic Channel and you can just start to hear that sound having an influence.

Sightings – Chili Dog (from Michigan Haters - Psych-O-Path / S-S Records – 2002) (right click + save as)

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Sightings – Reduction (from Absolutes‘ – Load Records / Riot Season – 2003) (right click + save as)

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By 2004′s ‘Arrived In Gold‘ (Load Records) that minimal techno influence is much more apparent. There’s a much more industrial feel about this album, in parts comparable to Einsturzende Neubauten’s more abstract work. Entering a studio for the first time and relinquishing some control (the engineer is Samara Lubelski who also contributes some violin) Sightings were at last able to hear what they could potentially sound like. It shows! ‘Arrived In Gold‘ is a fascinating record. Remarkably different from their previous albums in it’s minimalist approach. It’s such a spacious record and very bold and successful because of that. The distortion and full on chaos of previous albums is replaced with a calm, mannered almost polite division of sounds. This division gives an order to the drums, guitar and bass as they move in and around each other to create one unified cell, no longer a trio but a combined futuristic sound machine. Subtle as fuck and an album any budding (or old in the tooth) experimental musician/experimental music fan should hear. The same year saw the release of ‘Gardens Of War‘ (The Smack Shire). A collaborative album with Tom Smith (To Live And Shave In L.A.) using a lot of post production with strange edits and digital fuckery. The music is great and typical Sightings with Smith taking over vocal duties. His voice is an acquired taste, sleazy but filled with character. ‘GOW‘ is a successful album and worth tracking down.

Sightings – Internal Compass (from Arrived In Gold - Load Records – 2004) (right click + save as)

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Post ‘AIG‘ Sightings hit a difficult period of a personal nature with Morgan moving out of New York to his home state of Michigan for a while. This is reflected in their next album ‘End Times‘ (Fusetron) from 2006. Featuring 3 tracks from a limited EP (2005) on the En/Of label and filled out with new 4 track recordings. ‘End Times‘ is a deranged and raucous affair, much like a combination of all their previous albums but lacking the subtleties of ‘AIG’. It’s angry and obnoxious with a quality fuck you attitude. The production is rougher than ‘AIG‘ and it’s a long haul at 52 minutes though it definitely has it’s energetic moments. One of the highlights is the stoned monster ‘Carry On‘ which sounds like The Birthday Party slowed down to a nihilistic crawl. Another is the epic  Chrome-like ‘Only Below’.

Sightings – Carry On (from End Times - Fusetron – 2006) (right click + save as)

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The work ethic of Sightings is admirable. For most of their existence they have rehearsed 2 or 3 times a week. Constantly honing their sound and exploring their instruments and sonic ideas together. They are constantly composing and each time they play they always have new pieces to perform. They definitely don’t play the hits. This tireless approach to experimenting with their format reaped it’s rewards on their next 2 studio albums. In my opinion their finest works.

Through The Panama‘ (Load Records / Ecstatic Peace!) from 2007 was their most ambitious studio recording to date produced by long time friend and associate of the band Andrew WK. It’s a step up from the minimal ‘AIG‘ with much more electronics courtesy of Lockie’s electronic drums (he plays a mixed acoustic/electronic kit). The minimal techno feel is back and coupled with Hoffman’s bass they provide some serious grooves for Morgan’s searing guitar work. But the major difference with this album is Morgan’s vocals. At last they are at the front of the mix and surprise, surprise, he’s a great lead vocalist!  Up to this point all the previous releases had the vocals way down in the mix or were performed in such a way as to make them indecipherable. Now installed higher up and clearer in the mix the band is raised to new heights and the songs achieve greater depths and significance. The sounds on ‘TTP‘ are so clear and precise you can hear every nuance. The bass throbs like a WWII bomber plane while the crisp drums and electronics fire rapid machine gun crackle through the air raid guitar. Electric pterodactyls do battle with airsick helicopter techno typewriters as the disturbed vocals lure you like a siren to perish on those metal teeth the police use to burst the car tyres of villains on the run . Perfectly executed and sexy as an alien invasion surfing in to the sea shore on a tsunami wave. ‘TTP‘ is Sightings matured. The album means so much. I don’t know what it means but I believe it without doubt.

Sightings – A Rest (from Through The Panama – Load Records – 2007) (right click + save as)

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City Of Straw‘ (Brah Records) from 2010 is almost as good as it’s predecessor. Again it’s a studio recording. Recorded by Shahin Motia and Kid Millions from Oneida at their studio in Brooklyn. It’s in a similar vein to ‘TTP‘ but a little more dirty sounding. The drums are less powerful and precise in the mix but on tracks like ‘Tar And Pine‘ and ‘We All Amplify‘ Lockie’s electronic percussion add another level to the sonic interference. It’s still a superb album with some of Morgan’s best guitar work featured.  A claustrophobic album, very dense and humid in parts. Like being trapped in a steel room floating on a boiling lake. Through the small porthole window you can see the desolation of a post-apocalypse world outside.  

Sightings - Sky Above Mud Below (from City Of Straw – Brah Records -2010) (right click + save as)

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Sightings last album, 2011′s ‘Future Accidents‘ (Our Mouth Records) is a vinyl only release. A collection of tracks left over from the ‘City Of Straw‘ sessions. Side 1 is typical of later Sightings but with less electronic rhythms and more acoustic drum work. It’s not as immediate as the previous two albums but still excellent. Side 2 is a very different beast altogether. ‘Public Remains‘ at almost 20 minutes in length takes up the whole of the side. It’s quite unlike any Sightings track. It’s a very meditative piece, looping and droning. It could be an old Faust jam. It’s definitely got a krautrock vibe. Pat Murano (NNCK) guests on this track on keyboards (he’d played keyboards with the group on a couple of ‘COS’ tracks and has recently played with them live).
Like a lot of Sightings material the album is futuristic sounding and highly unique. A post-apocalyptic future. As an over populated world comes to terms with a perpetual energy crisis feeding environmental disasters and oil wars Sightings provide the soundtrack to our decaying industry and infrastructure. Luigi Russolo would have been proud.

Sightings - The Knotted House (from Future Accidents – Our Mouth Records -2011) (right click + save as)

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