T. Bone and Henry

image courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/HammerMuseum

Recently at the UCLA Hammer Billy Wilder Theater, T Bone Burnett, a Grammy Award winner and Henry Jenkins, an American media scholar and Provost of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at USC. moderated by Ian Master, discussed the pros and cons to online, free music streaming. Mr. Jenkins with clear articulation presented a compelling argument for a need for a new model driven by and designed by the needs of both the artists and the fans. What Mr. Jenkins communicated with his precise explanations, Mr. Burnett, while lacking in articulation, made up for ten fold with his abundant passion for artist’s representation, both in quality of sound and compensation for product. Whereas one held onto nostalgia the other embraced the future.

T Bone Burnett kept voicing a desire for a walled garden for artists, where fans must find the door and key to gain access to this musical Eden. In his idealized walled garden the artist controls all quality of sound and access to those who enter. The artist’s Eden is not a free domain; it is an audio utopia. I do admire and respect his ideological aspirations, the purity of his vision. Will the new market, which has become accustom to cheap or free, support a system where there is a premium for access to the best quality audio? I believe every fan supports paying the artist directly and getting rid of the gatekeeper middlemen.

T. Bone is also an advocate for the object: the vinyl record and the CD. He likes analog and he likes his equipment. For instance, I, a tech Luddite also like the object; yet, I enjoy the freedom, mobility, and options of digital music. I love that I can swim laps while listening to my iPod, I love that I can run to the beat of my favorite songs, and I discover new bands and musical performers streaming music through Rhapsody and Pandora. I almost never turn on the radio, except to listen to NPR while driving in my car. I have my playlists programmed into my car audio system. Although I have CDs and vinyl LPs, they mostly sit on a shelf as I stream music throughout my home via a Sonos system. I agree with T. Bone that today’s digital quality may not be as good as the analog recordings from yesteryear; however, I find with great earbuds, headphones, and speakers, sound quality can vastly improve.

Indeed, who can argue against his assertion that the best audio quality is within the artist’s recording studio, or perhaps his, as he asserted and wished the entire audience could wonder over to his studio after the conversation. The entire millions of fans cannot come to his studio, nor can they afford his equipment. I know he realizes this. I believe this is why live concerts are still popular. Besides offering great acoustics (some venues have great acoustics while other live venues offer something experiential), concerts bring the fans into contact with the artist. It becomes an experience, a memory. Concerts cultivate an emotional connection transpiring into advocacy for the artist. Today, one can choose from many music festivals both in the United States and Internationally as a way to hear a lot of favorite bands and to discover new music. In fact, the live performance has become the main way for the musician to make their money.  This last summer I went to two Beck concerts, one at a small venue with great acoustics and another at a large outdoor music fest with great energy – both memorable experiences.

T. Bone’s nostalgic ideals reminisce about ‘the guy and his guitar’, using examples such as, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Willie Nelson (I imagine Willie Nelson as he portrayed Johnny Dean Wag The Dog, wondering around while strumming his guitar). These guys and their guitars did not and can not exist in a vacuum, they were discovered in clubs, they needed producers, and managers to gain access to their public – today a musician can leave the producer and manager behind, if he or she so chooses. You Tube, provides a forum to discover ‘the guy and his guitar’. T. Bone doesn’t realize this. As I went for my run along the beach the morning after the talk, I noticed a ‘gal with her guitar’ and I couldn’t help but think that if I were to stop and video her strumming her tunes and then post it to You Tube, share it with a few of my friends, who would then share the video with a few of their friends, and so on and so on, this gal strumming on the beach is bound to get more fans from this than from the few passerbyers on their morning jaunt along the beach and more exposure than playing in a club.

Henry Jenkins understands this. He, too, is an advocate for free use or free sharing. He understands that it is essential and that the customer is the new creator and the fans are curatorial, creating new content. He distinguishes between remixes and repurposing that add to artistic exposure and pirating that steals from artistic labors. He understands the benefit to the artist for quick and vast online exposure; and, he agrees that a new market must be developed, one that considers the demands of the fan-based market while also the need to fairly compensate the artist. This is the new transactional system, a moral economy where the fans directly support and respond to the musicians. He believes pirating, where one is purposefully copying, not creating something new or original, and making money off another’s creative labors should be punished and banned. Nobody, yet, has found the solution.

After listening to both sides, I have an idea for a solution. If the technology exists for better quality digital recordings, but it isn’t being used due to cost, then it can be an option for fans. For example: there are those who are content with iTunes quality, yet if someone wants a better digital audio quality it can be a separate product offered at a higher price – let’s call it eTunes – for enhanced tunes. Also, using this same model of optional upgrade, a better quality Rhapsody, perhaps called Audio Ecstasy can be bought at a premium.  And, as was previously mentioned, just as there remains a market for hardbound books, I believe there will still be a market for the analog with CD box collections and vinyl record products sold as editions to collectors for a premium. This is what I see as the new market.

Creativity and ideas should be public domain and not owned by corporations. I think when Lars Ulrich fought Napster, he may have had the interest of the artist in mind, but it has resulted in manipulation for profit and the greed has stopped progress. We should ask, for what and for whom are the copyright and intellectual laws protecting; for me, it seems to be for BIG business, not the ‘guy and his guitar’.

Radiohead set a precedent by releasing their music directly onto the Internet with options to purchase and to remix their music. In Brazil the exchange of culture is free and is called Creative Commons.  I think more artists should follow this example.

If you listen to digital music, you must watch, RIP: A Remix Manifesto, a movie about today’s music culture.

Here are a few you tube remixes to enjoy:

Moby – “In My Heart”

Max Richter – “Spring 1”

Girl Talk  – Feed The Animals “Play Your Part (Pt 1)”


Art and Athletics: Part II

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman. -Virginia Woolf

As I wrote about art and athletics, I realized that when it came to household names of artists, many people, including myself, came up short naming female artists, and it was the same with female athletes. It seemed that coming up with a universally known female artist was more difficult than a female athlete; and, interestingly, all the female athletes mentioned were tennis players.  This left me pondering, why?

Perhaps, the trouble in our biased male dominated recording of history lies in the “rules of the game”, where women did not have equal access to competitive athletics or professions in the arts as men had. Likewise, our histories were recorded by men, which intentionally or not favored men’s accomplishments.  I believe this exclusionary recording is outdated. The present will change the future by recognizing and acknowledging the great women artists, athletes, and citizens.

Image: courtesy of http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jun/22/olympic-games-ancient-modern (this link offers a well written historical reference to the Olympic Games).

In ancient Greece, the record of the first Olympic competition occurred in 776 BCE in honor of Zeus. At this Olympic Game the sole event, a running race, a cook named Coroebus won. In ancient Greece all the athletes competed in the nude, thus I gather this is why painted on vases and urns and in ancient Greek sculpture nude athletes are depicted. Married women banned from competing (and even spectating) in the main Olympics formed their own events in honor of Hera (Zeus’s wife). In this running event only unmarried virginal women could compete half clad in a tunic draped to their knees covering only their left shoulder and breast.

On the road to Olympia…there is a precipitous mountain with lofty cliffs…The mountain is called Typaeum. It is a law of Elis that any woman who is discovered at the Olympic Games will be pitched headlong from this mountain.  -Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2nd century, AD

Many years later after the Romans ended the ancient Olympic Games, 1896 marked the rebirth of the Olympic Games. In this first year of the Modern Olympics, which is more akin to Olympic Games today, women were still not allowed to compete. However, four years later they were allowed to participate in limited events, which included lawn tennis, golf, croquet, and equestrian sports.

Image: “The Tennis Player“, 1923 by Eric Gill.

Image:” Swimmer“, 1990 by Alex Katz.

Women athletes today have come far from those days and this was apparent in the 2012 Olympic Games where Missy Franklin, Nicola Adams, and Kerri Walsh became media favorites. Still, even with Billy Jean King breaking ground for women athletes to receive the recognition they deserve, they still are under recognized. Perhaps if they began competing dressed as the Herarian athletes they might gain more spectators.

Image of Hope Solo and Blake Griffin courtesy of http://www.espn.go.com

What about female artists? Truth be told, I do not believe the undiscovered works from a female artist will surface that equate the significance or masterly talents of Michelangelo, Tintoretto, or Poussin. The point is that women at that time were not given equal support to realize or develop their talents. I think, if the access and encouragement existed for women to pursue their artist talents then a woman who was a great homemaker might have been a master artist. Today, there is opportunity for women. Today, women are creating the change that will make history.

Image: “Some Living American Women Artists/ Last Supper“, 1972 by Mary Beth Edelson.

 Looking back at Antiquity to Modernity, beginning around 323 BC during the Hellenistic period, Greek women in the arts made ceramics, textiles, and played instruments, although most painters and sculptors worked anonymously. We owe our thanks to the historical recordings of Pliny the Elder, who noted many talented female artists from AD 23-79. Many were the daughters of artists; such as Aristarete, the daughter of Nearchus who some say was more accomplished painter than her father, or Timareto, the daughter of Mikon the younger. Yet, not surprising, these women painters are not household names.  And, who is to say that Neanderthal men created the paintings in the Chauvet Cave, it most possibly could have been Neanderthal women.

In the 17th century and into the 18th century Artemisia Gentileschi and Louise Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun became known for their painterly talents, although both still under recognized compared to their male peers.  A favorite female artist of mine from the 19th century, the Countess de Castiglione, preceded Cindy Sherman in portraying idealized female personas through photographic self-portraiture. Even though she perhaps was better known as Napoleon’s mistress.

Image: “One Sunday“, ca. 1861, Countess de Castiglione.

Image: “The Queen of Etruria“, 1864, Countess de Castiglione.

Image: “The Hermit of Passy“, 1863, Countess de Castiglione.

Almost fifty years after artists picketed in front of New York museums to raise public awareness to the underrepresentation of female artists in the museums’ collections, today many contemporary female artists have gained wider recognition and presence in museums. For example, most people have heard of Cindy Sherman (which may largely be due to her recent museum shows), and Georgia O’Keeffe, and some may know Louise Bourgeois and Tracy Emin.

Image: “Cow’s Skull on Red“, 1931-36 by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Recently a few museum exhibitions, such as WACK! at MOCA, Seductive Subversion at The Brooklyn Museum, In Wonderland at LACMA, and Elles at SAM exclusively highlight women’s contributions to the artistic recording of our cultural history. The ‘rules of the game’ are changing.