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WRONG NOTES: a blog of ear reverence

Wrong Notes collects posts on music, art, culture and fun stuff. Also included: news about the Ear Reverends.

World is music, but the brain figures itself

Interrupting this post to pay my respects to the greatest of Americans, who just died: the all-time great ambassador of the beautiful, Ray Charles. I love Ray and am very sad to hear of his death

I also just learned that Elvin Jones died a few weeks ago. Learning of these two deaths in one day, I'm basically in shock. I don't have anyone to jam with tonight, so I'm holding a blue wake here by myself (6/10, late).


Ok, some linkage. Followed by some of my music philosophy.

I just started reading Rhythm Science, by Paul D. Miller aka Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid. So far, I love it and am finding it inspiring and important. (It's a beautifully designed and printed book as well.)

(Also, check-out the Dj Spooky website, and Lisa Rein has these audios and videos of Dj Spooky speaking at the Creative Commons launch party—look for files with djspooky in the filename).


Monolith is a software project that (intentionally) reveals some very weird properties of digital music, especially in relationship to copyright.

If you've got some tolerance for computer technicalities, the project description is a fascinating look at the relationship between music and sound recording and the digital representation of sound and sound files and what gets copyrighted. (I also posted some similar words about this on the iCite net blog.)


Anatomy of a Song with David Byrne is a cool interview in which David Byrne describes his song writing, arranging, and recording process for the song "Like Humans Do" (which I like—Look Into the Eyeball, the record it's on, is one I enjoy a lot).


The article How Copyright Law Changed Hip Hop is interesting, and some good comments on it appear on the Creative Commons weblog in and after the post Copyright and the death of Public Enemy's sound. I added some comments myself.


In my final comment there, I talk about smoke and mirrors illusions created in the recording studio that make overdubs appear like musicians playing together in the room. The thing is though: music itself could be said to be a smoke and mirrors illusion that makes physical sound waves appear as invisible worlds.

That is: music is actually an invisible world. The physical sounds we create aren't the music, but are the smoke and mirrors trick through which we experience the actual music.

(Our world, while physical and visible on the surface, is also music and invisible at a deeper level. And, we deeply desire the direct experience wherein our physical / visible / flesh world and our music / invisible / feeling world are commingled.)

So, because this is all a kind-of sleight of hand, real music can be made from sampling, random sounds, and means other than by traditional musicianship. Traditional musicianship is just a (very powerful) traditional way to do the trick—but there are other ways to do it (and, it can totally happen without humans: you know you need to give the birds some props today, OK?).

Part of the art is the surprise at new ways the trick is done and still works its magic.

Part of the art of the sample / remix is the surprise at going over the old tricks that everyone has already figured out, slipping in that slightly different spin right before everyone's eyes, and whamo!, something else: the trick is new again, and you've never figured it out again.

The future of music playback

Some future junk I needed to get off my brain:

The future playback of recorded music will not be tied to physical media (e.g., compact discs) or singular virtual players (e.g., iPods), but to many objects with shapes and sizes designed to appeal to our tactile relationships with music and, at the same time, to have the features of a virtual music device. I imagine these being called Playbacks (not really, but just to give them a name).

(So, this post follows on my earlier notes on physical music, the business of music, more than CDs, and CD symbolism.)

Playbacks may look like CDs. Many will cost about the same cost as a CD. But, Playbacks will be everywhere, appearing as all kinds of things. Some will look like traditional recorded media (CDs, tapes, LPs), but some will look utterly different.

Imagine something that maybe looks like a CD, costs $10, but has most or all of the features of an iPod, radio transmitter and receiver, and more. But, because it's cheap and compact, it can be molded into all kinds of shapes and sizes.

Playbacks will have three important sets of features: 1) physical style and symbolism. 2) wireless receive and transmit. 3) virtual music libraries and playlists.

The physical design of Playbacks will be focused on either the symbolic value of an object, or the utility of a user interface, or both. If you want to listen to music when you are going to sleep, you may well use a Playback that looks like, and actually is, a pillow. If you want to listen to mid-1950s rock n roll, you might use a Playback that looks like a 45 rpm single.

People will collect Playbacks because they are nice, physical, objects to associate with music. Some people will have what looks like a CD collection of ten CDs, but each will be a Playback with massive storage of digital audio (and, why not, video too).

Playbacks will appear in all different shapes and sizes to match all kinds of rituals associated with listening to music. These will be both personal / individual rituals and social / community rituals.

People will produce "branded" Playbacks—you'll be able to play Spinal Tap on any Playback, but when all of your friends get together, you'll want to bring out the 18" Stonehenge Playback. Musicians and artists make some money designing and selling Playbacks to go with specific music.

People will have more than one Playback because each one's physical difference will make it easier to organize one's music collection. All of your Polynesian music might be on a Playback that looks like a hibiscus, while your funk Playback might look like a pair of Bootsy's glasses.

Individuals and communities will evolve shared meaning in these kinds of symbols. We'll create things that remind us of the music we enjoy, and those things will represent our own categories of music.

People will not simply trade files / songs, they will trade whole Playbacks with tens of thousands of songs on them.

Of course, any Playback will be able to play any music, and people will have music "libraries"—these just won't need to be tied to either a physical media collection or a singular music player.

Not all Playbacks will have amps, but they will be able to broadcast digital (wifi, Bluetooth, etc.) signals to other units with amps, including personal players listened to with headphones and large, "public address" systems.

Playbacks will function as peer-to-peer radio stations, and people will also take multiple Playback signals, mix them, and transmit their mixes in both playlist and mash-up styles.

Concerts will mix live music and remixes of local Playback broadcasts, including everyone singing along (imagine a recording of your favorite concert with you signing along, ala karaoke). Concerts will be instantaneously recorded and transmitted to every playback in the room.

Musicians will release incomplete music to be remixed. But, the ever increasing pervasiveness of recorded / digital music will continue to spark interest in live and even specifically acoustic music.

Having the latest recording will be so commonplace, that what will be exciting is being the first person (or among the first people) to record a performance, get it on a Playback and broadcast it to others. And, ironically, the less digital and less pre-recorded a performance, the greater value in being the first to add it to a Playback and broadcast it.

We can look at our role as musicians and see a quantum shift eighty or so years ago with the popular embrace of recorded and broadcast music (which, of course, killed the music business of prior eras). Playbacks will be another such shift: at last, there truly will be no physical connection between the mediums through which we hear music and how that music was made.

And so, we will re-create the physical connection by making Playbacks specifically physical. We will find ways to project the subtle abstract dimensions of music to aesthetic and evocative physical symbols of our desire to playback. And, we will relish and share those symbols as our portals to worlds of music.


While I've been dribbling this post out over the past couple weeks, I've also seen some things that I thought were relevant to all of this:

The Digital Music Weblog on a new wireless music hub (via Marc Canter).

An article on Promiscuous BluePod file swapping (via BoingBoing.)

Think of it as Radio Simply Sydicated from Doc Searls, and Jeff Jarvis' response, Explode your radio.

(In case it isn't obvious, I think CDs and the current record and radio businesses are literally history—at least from the near future!)

Monty Python the FCC (and Suw on CC)

Eric Idle, the bringer of so many Monty Python ditties great and small, has delivered a new and oh-so timely sing-along for all of us kids at heart: The FCC Song (mp3).

I've been humming it all day, occasionally singing the chorus quietly outloud on the elevator and train and such. It is just a matter of time before everyone is singing along.

I came across this via On Lisa Rein's Radar, where she also has the song lyrics and this mirror download (mp3). Lisa is someone whom I've had the pleasure to meet and see rock on!—check out her music.

Basically unrelated, but I wanted to mention it: Suw Charman (whom I've observed in online chat rooms offering insights on the Welsh language) just posted a great article, Something for Nothing: The Free Culture AudioBook Project (via BoingBoing). It's about why it makes sense (and business sense) to use Creative Commons licenses and freely give away creative works online. Check it out!

Sites of interest

I haven't quite finished the follow-up to my previous post, but I wanted to note here some of the sites I've been looking at lately that I think are interesting.

Weirdo Music is a great resource. I also have recently gotten hooked on a local record store and their regularly updated website, SF's Aquarius Records.

(Speaking of record stores, another good source of good stuff is NYC's Downtown Music Gallery. Stores like these are perfect for those times when supreme lord Amoeba is just too overwhelming or you'd like a rarer record buying experience.)

Just a one-off of interest: The Electro-Acoustic World of Philip Glass is a good Electronic Musician interview with Glass from 1996. Coincidentally, earlier today I watched (an amazing film) The Fog of War which features a Glass composed score.

OMG, did you see this article on Wired about CDs and DVDs deteriorating: CDs, DVDs: Human After All? Um, we'd better preserve our rights to copy our collections before they fall apart.

The Digital Music Weblog consistently has interesting stuff. And, getting more copyright specific, Copyfight is a site I'm starting to read regularly.

A little more specific: New Spin on the Music Business is an interesting Wired article about ideas for changing the copyright system.

The Killing Fields: Copyright Law and Its Challengers is a good article by J.D. Lasica, whom I coincidentally met the other night. I'm looking forward to reading his upcoming book, Darknet: Remixing the Future of Movies, Music and Television.

For really serious reading, Copyright's Communications Policy, by Tim Wu looks seriously interesting.

Also, this must read article for anyone who can dig basic accounting: Nielsen Rating System At Odds With RIAA's Claim Of "Lost Sales" by Moses Avalon (great name, right?).

Finally (whew!), the Golan v. Ashcroft submission site, as part of the Golan v. Ashcroft case, is collecting examples of how people have been harmed by the removal of works from the public domain (see site for details—it's an important case).

Physical music making in the virtual age

I finally received my Mackie Control Universal, which I'd ordered several months ago but which Mackie had some problems getting out the door to my local gear dealer of choice, Computers and Music. I also picked up a copy of the Minimoog V software instrument, which I instantly gel'd with.

As I've been reflecting on the physical "symbol" of CDs in the age of MP3s, this new gear has me reflecting on the symbol of physical instruments (interfaces) in the age of software instruments (including the virtual studio).

The simplest thing to say and to note is: having physical instruments around affects how I make music. At the very least, they remind me of ways I want to make music, and goad me to make music.

I find it interesting to imagine music before music recording: music must have been much synonymous with physical locations and their peoples. Japanese music wasn't something one picked up anywhere: it was something heard in Japan, or coming out of physically present Japanese people.

So, music recordings disconnected music from the physical geographic provinces and their people. (I also think this is interesting in light of how North American regional music styles started to disappear and / or blend together after the 1930s—this Interview with Terry Zwigoff about his being a collector of 78s from the 1920s has relevant stuff.)

Now, with digital music, music is being further disconnected from the physical. One need not have a physical object (e.g., an LP or CD) that represents the music. We no longer have to associate the music with specific physical devices, media, people or places.

But, we are physical beings, and the emotion of music registers in us physically—we have physical associations with music, and we remember music in terms of the space and time of our lives. Also, we relate to our musical experience through senses other than hearing—even with albums, besides seeing them, we enjoy the way the LP or CD feels in our hands, and even may relate to the smell of the CD booklets or LP liner notes.

So, I relate to the physical music making instruments I have around me through all these physical associations that have a kind of "weight" in my life. They give me a physical extension of my physical experiences: they give me a physical way to translate those experiences into music.

But, I think most importantly, these instruments have little utility for anything other than making music! That's their weight—they are there for music. I think we need physical things in our life that are for music, even if we could use other things to make / play music.

(So, I'm not saying that we need the CD to stay or be replaced by some other physical medium. But, I'll say more about this specifically in my next post.)

Eno from 1986 on the artist as re-mixer

I've been meaning to post this quote for a while. I found it in a book I recently read and enjoyed, Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound, by Eric Tamm.

In 1986, Brian Eno said that the artist:

"re-mixes"—he perpetuates a great body of received cultural and stylistic assumptions, he re-evaluates and re-introduces certain ideas no longer current, and then he also innovates. But the "innovation" part might be a much smaller proportion than we usually think. Consequently, I started to suspect that the palette of the painter or artist was incredibly broad—that it was the whole history of art. There's nothing linear about evolution at all: it is a process of trying to stay in the same place, of trying to maintain an identity in a changing landscape.

Along these lines, one of the things I've been thinking about lately is how the contemporary lock-down on free culture in the U.S. (and elsewhere, described more here and here) blocks artists from bridging the divides between cultures in the world.

OK, that is a whopper statement, but this is what I mean: outside of the cultural context in which creative works are created, it is, in some ways, easier to misunderstand those works. Artists who can re-mix (i.e., in any way, directly, artistically comment upon) recent works can respond to these misunderstandings in new works that directly quote / reference / comment upon the misunderstood ones.

(I haven't read it myself, but Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone: A Novel might be a good example of this.)

I think copyright protection of less than one generation of artist (e.g., around 14 years) would be ideal: the young "students" of the current generation of artists would be able to freely create derivative works by the time they were themselves adults.

But, regardless of copyright law, I think it is worth considering how our own cultures are misunderstood, how existing creative works (think popular culture, first of all) perpetuate that misunderstanding, and how our own art can open new channels of (at least, artistic) dialog across boundaries.

Music blogging motifs

For those of you who know my alter blog at the iCite net, you might have wondered if what I am building over there has any connection to what I am doing here at Wrong Notes. The simple answer is: sort-of. Over there, I am looking to create a new way to interconnect things on the web, and one of the things I want to interconnect is online music. So, the way I am releasing my music here is meant to hook into that.

As is often, amazingly, the case with these kinds of ideas, others are also working on similar things. People want to share music and connect with other people who like similar music—and so new ways to do this online keep being created.

In an earlier post here, I mentioned Lucas Gonze and his Webjay site. I think Webjay has really struck a chord with people (so go check it out if you haven't), and, in response, there have been a number of interesting experiments and comments and reflections on online music that I wanted to note here.

Jon Udell's Active Résumés is and links to a number of interesting comments, including Collaborative playlists by Alf Eaton. Sébastien Paquet is talking about and demonstrating Musiclogging and is also pointing people to the Internet Topic Exchange on Playlistlogging.

Marc Canter also often posts about this. I know and enjoy Marc as a fellow Harry Partch loving / Eno digging / synth building / tech visioning guy.

(The accompanying musical notes are my "Joi vs the Burtonator" blog-themed song, which was my first experiment in "blonging".)

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. . . the new music player is very coming soon and such . . .