The Guardian vs Brian Eno or the interviewer vs the interviewee

I was recently pointed at a Guardian interview with Brian Eno. The piece is perhaps most politely described as confrontational. At one point, Eno apologises for being ratty, but the write-up mostly showcases a writer slamming into a wall on discovering what an artist wants to talk about isn’t what he himself had in mind.

Often, it seems Simon Hattenstone, for whatever reason, has an obsession with Eno’s past. There are questions about Eno’s background, and of his many collaborations. Eno is not interested in discussing such things, at one point noting the journalist can find answers to such questions in countless interviews elsewhere (“But you can do research. That’s your job!”), and so a big chunk of what’s reported seems to paint him as controlling. Relatively little of the piece is about the things Eno’s currently interested in: art; ambient and generative audio; society.

It’s an uncomfortable read, not only as a typical reader, but also as a writer. I’ve interviewed plenty of people myself, and you’d perhaps expect me to side with the writer here, but I don’t. I always prefer interviews where I get out of the way. Once, I interviewed Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, but the transcript is closer to a lecture. I just sat and listened as he spoke about the things he wanted to and was interested in. The end result was far better for that.

Additionally, I find the notion of repeatedly revisiting the same old thing curious. If you’re going to get a short time to chat with someone like Brian Eno, why on the day dredge up his dad being a postman? Why waste time grilling him on working with Roxy Music, Bowie and Talking Heads, when he’s talked about that so many times before? Why not instead spend the time finding out something new, talking about ideas, thinking and projects that cement the interview in the present? That’s got to beat unnecessary confrontation, and trying to get someone to reword something they’ve said many times before, on subjects they’ve long had enough of discussing.

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Music, Opinions

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Dear music and telly industries: stop punishing those who buy your stuff

The BBC reported on Friday that it’s once again illegal in the UK to rip CDs to your computer. This might come as a surprise to you. First, you might not have been aware this was illegal in the first place. Secondly, you might be nonplussed that the pathetic changes to the UK’s fair-use laws have in part already been dialled back, but there you go.

About a year ago, I wrote for Stuff.tv about government changes to personal copying exceptions, and how they didn’t go far enough. My argument was (and is) that while companies should be allowed to weld DRM to released media, individuals should be able to circumvent it for personal use, as long as there’s an expectation of ownership with the purchased media. (In other words, you shouldn’t be able to ‘back-up’ music from Spotify or video from Netflix, but you should be able to make personal copies of CDs, digital books and comics, DVDs and games.)

The key sticking point is plainly noted in the BBC piece:

A judge ruled that the government was wrong legally when it decided not to introduce a compensation scheme for songwriters, musicians and other rights holders who face losses as a result of their copyright being infringed.

UK Music estimated the new regulations, without a compensation scheme, would result in loss of revenues for rights owners in the creative sector of £58m a year.

In other words, because you’re not rebuying again and again, rights owners potentially lose money, and so they want something for nothing. They should somehow be ‘compensated’ for you making personal copies of items, for your own use. I imagine they’re pretty angry about the portable nature of digital files, too, since they can be used across devices and platforms, without you having to rebuy for each new machine. Naturally, everyone ignores the fact people have finite money, and people still very much into music are still buying it, often on physical formats; they’re now just once again being punished for having the audacity of wanting to back-up this content.

At the time of the Stuff piece, given the craven and half-arsed nature of the changes in law, it never occurred to me that we’d go backwards and end up again at the status quo. The BBC adds in its story that it’s “unclear how the change will be enforced”, but then it’s almost never been enforced. What is clear is that once again we have industry representatives effectively punishing those who pay for things. All this does is piss people off. By making it illegal to rip your own CDs to your own computer and legally listen to the music you paid for, these organisations are hastening the decline of income from said purchases, not protecting their artists.

 

July 20, 2015. Read more in: Music, Technology

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Introducing 365 loops

My day job most often involves writing or design, but my underlying passion remains music. Unfortunately, a lack of time and any kind of commercial success in that area means I often find myself going for some time without creating any new tunes—and if that goes on long enough it can get me down. The thing is, although it doesn’t take me long to write a song, all of the associated bits and pieces—arrangement, vocals, editing, mixing, mastering—can see even a quick project stretch out to months or even years.

Because of this, and even though I’m still intending to release an entirely new album this year, I’ve hit upon the idea for a project that I hope will keep the fires burning regarding creating new music, inspire future work, and possibly lead me in new directions. It’s triggered somewhat by the notion of instilling some kind of routine, in much the same manner as people who take a photo each morning, or writers like Ian Betteridge who are committing to 500 new words per day.

My idea: one new loop, daily, for a year. 365 loops.

Each of these will be uploaded to my Soundcloud account, and I hope you’ll check in occasionally to see how things are going. The first one should be embedded below.


February 17, 2014. Read more in: Music

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Stallman: Under copyright law, I could even copy them

A curious piece on The Guardian today, by Richard Stallman. He mourns the loss of HMV, on the basis that what’s replaced physical music sales is a “disaster for freedom”. However, the arguments he makes are curious.

Once I had bought the records, I was free to give or lend them to friends. Under copyright law, I could even copy them, to audio tapes in the old days, and give those to my friends. All this without the state’s knowing anything about it.

Now, he was certainly free to give or lend records to his friends, and also to copy records to tape and give those away. However, he wasn’t acting within the law. Today, in the UK, you’re still not acting within the law regarding format-shifting; and even if copyright laws change in 2013, to introduce a measure of fair-use (as is fairly likely), it will be for purely personal collections only. In other words, it will no longer be illegal in the UK to rip a CD to MP3s (just as the CD format is dying off, usefully), as long as you’re making the MP3s for you, and not spreading them around the web or emailing them to your friends.

For those who love both music and freedom, today’s form of internet sales is out of the question, which leaves ever fewer opportunities for us to buy music.

From the previous quoted paragraph, the ‘freedom’ Stallman appears to be encouraging heavily involves rights infringement—unauthorised copying of purchased content. Such copying’s still perfectly simple with digital files, but that doesn’t make it any better. And if Stallman’s concerned about “fewer opportunities for us to buy music”, I’m more worried about fewer musicians able to make music, because people are making use of their ‘freedom’ to rip said artists off, copying their music rather than buying it—whatever the format.

January 21, 2013. Read more in: Music

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An interview with Murray Gold on 2020’s Doctor Who theme tune

There’s a piece on The Guardian today about Manchester honouring pioneering electronic music genius Delia Derbyshire. Her most famous work is the arrangement of the Doctor Who theme, where she crafted something genuinely otherworldly, using cutting-edge electronics well over a decade before the likes of Kraftwerk took to synths. Famously, her arrangement was so unique that the theme’s composer asked: “Did I really write this?” Derbyshire replied: “Most of it.”

Theme tunes are important. They set the tone. The original Doctor Who theme and at least some of the subsequent versions are spooky, chilling, ethereal compositions. They say to kids: prepare to be afraid. Compare that with the theme in the resurrected Doctor Who, which increasingly buries the beautiful electronics, piling on more strings and bombastic garbage. I’m not naive enough to think that the original theme could ever be used today as-is, but the new theme doesn’t say “this will scare you”—it just says “this will be noisy”.

The big problem is that current composer Murray Gold only appears to have one tactic when he’s asked to amend the Doctor Who theme for a new series: he just adds more stuff. There’s also a hint of subversion, in him adding orchestral elements that somehow make the theme ‘his’, with new melodies that distract from the original. Assuming the show survives, and Gold doesn’t move on, I’m half expecting an interview along these lines by 2020:

Interviewer: So, Murray, tell us the thinking behind the new Doctor Who theme.

Gold: Well, it needed more! It had to be louder! It just needed MORE!

Interviewer: But as far as we can tell, the new theme is now actually compressed white noise.

Gold: LOUDERRRR!

I’d love to see the reverse. Next time the Doctor Who theme needs reworking, they should strip it back. Make it something eerie again, and set the scene for a show that’ll have kids scuttling to hide behind the sofa, rather than making it yet another in a long line of dull, directionless cacophonies.

January 11, 2013. Read more in: Music, Television

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