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Is the free dissemination of music on the Web helpful or harmful to the economics of new music? Mark A. Fischer, Intellectual Properties Attorney, Palmer & Dodge LLP, Boston MA

Mark A. Fischer
Mark A. Fischer
Photo courtesy Palmer & Dodge LLP

Ultimately, the answer is that dissemination of music on the Internet is not just good, it’s wonderful. But reaching this ultimate stage will take some time and there will be considerable pain getting there. Right now, the economics of so-called serious music, where numerous performers (and sometimes orchestras) are required for recording, are going to be even more challenged. This is because “record companies” (someday they’ll be called something else) who cannot sell enough CDs to justify the price of recording this music will, in the short term, provide even less financial support for recordings.

But the long term is very promising. As composers and performers learn to be more adept at using the new technologies, they will reach a wider audience. It’s important to note that these new technologies include not only the free distribution of music, but the free access to information about new music, and free access to sampling music on demand. The Internet represents a new way to easily distribute music to people who love it, but getting the creative, technological, and economic pieces to work together in a way that is viable in all senses will take some time.

Soundtracks: November 2000

The only “borrowed music” this month comes in the form of “arrangements,” and, unfortunately for our ‘theme’ this month, the source music was all borrowed properly! Guy Klucevsek’s adaptations of two Burt Bacharach tunes, “The Blob” and “One Less Bell to Answer,” on his CD Free Range Accordion, are both entertaining and strikingly original. If you haven’t heard Klucevsek before, this disc will entirely reshape your perspective of what the accordion can do. Free Range Accordion also contains three of Klucevsek’s own pieces, plus substantial works written for him by Lois V Vierk and Aaron Jay Kernis, and others.

Arrangements are frequently something of a necessity for woodwind quintets, although this necessity could be diminished by programming interesting new pieces like Roger Zahab’s your offending kiss, recorded by the Akron-based group Solaris on their new CD American Quintets. And appropriately enough, for this centenary month, The Prairie Winds’ new CD, Gale Force, includes a transcription of Copland’s arrangement (!) of the song “Simple Gifts” for the ballet Appalachian Spring.

Having accompanied my share of music arranged for winds, I am happy to note that this month has also brought two new CDs of original solo wind music. The Music of David Maslanka features his lyrical music for saxophone, including the “Song Book,” scored for the unusual combination of sax and marimba. The CD of Matthew Bennett’s chamber music is impressive, not just for the breadth of the music, but because the composer himself solos on flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet.

An intriguing group of CDs this month invite the listener into entirely personal sound worlds. Carter Scholz’s Eight Pieces.are experiments with tuning systems and the harmonic series: “Rhythmicon,” for instance, is based on the first seventeen members of a harmonic series, organized in meters from 1/8 to 7/8. Overtone Music.is a collection of electronic improvisations by Hubert S. Howe, Jr., all slowly-evolving, swirling explorations of the acoustic components of different sounds. Rodney Oakes’ Music for Midi Trombone features some pieces with explicitly political motivation, my favorite being “Erotic Rhapsody,” which describes a meeting of political figures and television evangelists that devolves into an orgy. Slybersonic Tromosome is the name of both the disc and the group formed by Peter Zummo, on trombone, and Tom Hamilton on synthesizer. Their compositions make use of a variety of other instruments, as well, like the “beat thing,” the “irrigation hose” and the “super funnel.”

A retrospective disc of the late Lucia Dlugoszewski’s music, Disparate Stairway Radical Other, includes her “Exacerbated Subtlety Concert (Why Does a Woman Love a Man?)” for the “timbre piano,” her own invention. Basically, the composer plays the inside of a conventional piano with objects ranging from paper to baby food jars, producing a stunning array of different effects. If this is somewhat reminiscent of Cage’s work with the “prepared piano,” then Randy Hostetler’s forty-five minute all-spoken tape piece Happily Ever After is reminiscent of Cage’s text pieces. The whimsically-conceived Conspirare: Chamber Music for Solo Flute.features Patti Monson – both in solo and in ensembles of herself – in pieces that “expand” the instrument, either through the use of tape or through extended techniques.

Worthy of inclusion in the “personal sound worlds” collection, though no electronics or “super funnels” are involved, is the new CD of Lou Harrison’s dance score Rhymes with Silver, commissioned by Mark Morris in 1997. The influence of Turkish music is particularly evident in three of the movements, but there is also a funky “Foxtrot” that combines the spirit and rhythms of the familiar dance with percussive clusters in the piano.

Hale Smith’s music of the past fifty years is represented on a new disc from CRI. Two new recordings of recent works are included along with reissues of the powerful Innerflexions of 1977 and the In Memoriam of 1953. George Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Lilacs has finally been recorded and released on a new Summit CD that includes a performance of the Violin Sonata No.2 by the composer and his son.

Another premiere recording issued this month is Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 5. commissioned by the Salzburg Festival as a celebration of the millennium. The two-CD set comes with twelve earth-toned pieces of folded cardboard, each inscribed with a song text; unfortunately, given its absorbency and pretty design, I am really inspired to use the libretto as a set of drink coasters! Also in the strange packaging department comes the Albany release of The Rollicking and Boisterous Music of Don Gillis: Music inspired by the American Southwest. The cover features a sepia-toned photograph of two young women with violins, one of whom has the phrase “Yeeehhaaaa!!!” issuing forth from her obviously closed mouth, and is adorned by a star containing the words “Music that’s really fun!” Well…to their credit, the music is fun, in a full-bodied, forthrightly American kind of way.

Minus the potential coasters, Philip Glass’ music made another appearance this month in the form of a new CD of solo piano works. UC San Diego professor Aleck Karis has recorded not only the ever-popular Metamorphosis, but also the less familiar Wichita Vortex Sutra. Another West Coast pianist, Tanya Stambuk, who teaches at the University of Puget Sound, has recorded another new CD devoted entirely to Dello Joio’s piano music. Stambuk’s playing is perfect for this music, and the “Short Intervallic Etudes for Well-Tempered Pianists” are really worth hearing. Alan Mandel has accomplished the impressive feat of recording, on two CDs, the major solo piano works of Edward MacDowell: all four of the difficult sonatas, the “Woodland Sketches” and the “Sea Pieces.” Allen Brings’ chromatic music for piano, harpsichord, and organcan be heard on a new Capstone disc; his six Praeludia for organ are powerful, because the instrument itself highlights both the intimacy and the thunder inherent in the score.

I am definitely rushing out to find the music for Edward Smaldone’s piano pieces “Scenes from the Heartland,” part of the CD of the same name devoted entirely to Smaldone’s music. Like his Rhapsody for piano, the Scenes represent a rich combination of free atonality, Mahlerian lushness, and jazz. An interesting companion to this recording is the new CD of Alec Wilder songs – not just his snappy jazz tunes, but also his “art songs,” in particular the moving “If You Are Happy (Covenant),” based on a poem by Tennessee Williams. On a personal note, I should add that the bassist on that CD, Aleck Brinkman, taught me almost everything I know about computers when he was a professor of theory at the Eastman School (he is now at Temple). Here’s to versatile musicians!!

Intellectual Property Rights and the Dissemination of Dot.Org Music in a Dot.Com World

Frank J. Oteri, Editor and Publisher
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard

No issue has been more divisive to people in the music community than the current debate over the free dissemination of music over the Internet and that dissemination’s inherent violation of the copyright laws governing intellectual property. We’ve decided to jump into the fray ourselves this month.

Intellectual property was the theme of my conversation with Carl Stone, a composer whose sample-based music is largely promulgated on the Web. We also offer comments about downloadable music by Richard Danielpour, Amy Knoles, Amy Scurria and Jeff Harrington, composers from around the country who create music in a wide variety of styles and whose music has received varying degrees of public exposure. For balance, we also offer some thoughts by Mark A. Fischer, a leading intellectual properties attorney, and for context, we offer Heidi Waleson’s HyperHistory of intellectual property legislation. We hope that you will share your thoughts with us as well.

For people in the pop music record business, the issue would appear to be pretty cut and dried. The pop music record industry makes most of its money from the short-term sale of the latest hit. People hear it on the radio, or in a store, or wherever, and hopefully millions of them run out and buy it. There has always been and will probably always continue to be artistically conceived pop music that succeeds financially as well; but the way pop music is negotiated, packaged, and marketed is a business first and foremost. This is “dot.com” music: music that is expected to make money. Allow people to freely distribute virtual-soundalike copies of the latest hit single and chances are they will never buy the record. (In the minds of record executives, this is like offering people a free three-course meal and then expecting them to still be hungry enough to pay to eat at a restaurant an hour later.)

The issue is much more complex, however, for the “other music,” the music that almost never shows up on the radar screens of the big record companies, whether it be new so-called classical music (from new orchestral works to electronic experiments), jazz, or any kind of specialty or fringe musical genres (from bluegrass to experimental rock). This is “dot.org” music: it rarely makes money from the sale of recordings and survives by people’s exposure to it which leads to commissions, ticket sales at concert venues, etc. Dot.org music doesn’t get much radio airplay and almost never gets on television. In fact, the more truly alternative or “more dot.org” it is, the less exposure it has seemed to get. Until the advent of the Internet…

The Internet has been a great equalizer of music. In fact, it is the only medium where the music of Milton Babbitt, Meredith Monk or Cecil Taylor can compete with the music of Britney Spears or ‘N Sync or whatever is currently being thrust at us as the “must-have” music of the moment. The recent rise to the Number 1 Billboard position of an album as experimental as Radiohead’s Kid A, an album widely available for complete download online, proves of the power of the Internet as does a recent report in SonicNet which states that 30% of online CD sales are for classical music and jazz. If people discover something worth hearing more than once, they’ll eventually want to have access to it in a tangible format.

A frequent problem with “dot.org” music in the past has been the amount of time it takes for it to become widely available and an even wider timeframe for it to catch on and get repeated hearings. Sometimes it takes years for a record company to release a recording of a new piece; by that time, it’s no longer new. (For example, it has taken four years for the 1996 Pulitzer-Prize winning composition, George Walker’s Lilacs to become available on a commercial recording!) In a competitive, “hot-off-the-presses” marketplace, it’s hard to call something new that’s four years old.

What, you may be wondering, does any of this have to do with intellectual property and free music downloads? Plenty, because if our music is to be relevant in today’s society, it must be more widely available than it has been. Until recently, a great deal of the vital music being created was not generally available to people, and what was available was hard to find unless you already knew where to look for it. Music downloads, however, are allowing people to discover a much wider range of music than standard media outlets lead you to believe is currently going on. Unfortunately, the way things are currently operated, composers who make their music available for free download may end up angering companies, musicians’ unions and the industry at large. This needs to change, as it is in all of our best interests to work together to create an environment where everyone can succeed.

We cannot allow the infrastructures of record companies, publishers, performing rights societies, service organizations simply erode, given their history of promoting “dot.org” music in a “dot.com” world. In the past, many of the greatest recordings of music by contemporary composers and avant-garde jazz musicians were prestige ventures financed by the wide profits from those companies’ pop music recordings. If those revenues are gone, so is the ability to re-channel those funds. There needs to be a balance and many of these organizations are still trying to find it.

The organizations that nurture “dot.org” music need to be encouraged and supported! Metallica and Dr. Dre are against Napster and other peer-to-peer sharing Web sites. Of course they are. Plenty of people know who they are and repeatedly buy their CDs. Many composers and players of “dot-org” music, however, have mixed feelings about Napster or even support it as a way to get their music heard. Does this make it ethical for “dot.org” music aficionados to break copyright laws? Rather, my advice to the would-be Napster-ite is to ignore Metallica and Dr. Dre and discover the infinite array of truly alternative music that is out here on the Web in formats that respect the rights of all the players in this drama. Check out the sound samples that sites like NewMusicBox have to offer. And if you like something, “do the right thing”: buy it or go to a concert.

Is the free dissemination of music on the Web helpful or harmful to the economics of new music?

Mark A. Fischer Mark A. Fischer
“…dissemination of music on the Internet is not just good, it’s wonderful…”
Richard Danielpour Richard Danielpour
“…I do not believe that a composer’s work should automatically be public property…”
Jeff Harrington Jeff Harrington
“How can we be worried about the economic impact of this or that technology when we don’t even have people’s ears?”
Amy Knoles Amy Knoles
“I think of Napster as radio for the Zeros…”
Amy Scurria Amy Scurria
“Will I be on mp3.com forever? I hope not…”

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?

Heidi Waleson
Heidi Waleson
Photo by Melissa Richard

Intellectual property has been a locus of debate for centuries. The difficulties of establishing standards for its ownership and exploitation stem from the fact that such property is not tangible, but rather the expression of the human mind and spirit. What is more, most creations of this kind can only be shared if they are given physical form by some means, and if that physical form is duplicated in some way. Music is even more problematic than other art forms in that anyone’s experience of music is ultimately an experience of a duplication of a musical work, whether via an actual live performance or some form of transmission of a performance. So who reaps the financial benefit of that duplication?

The development of copyright law (and its related areas of trademark and patent law), reflects attitudes toward such property that vary from culture to culture, but is concerned with balancing the rights of creators with the utilitarian needs of consumers. In some minds, copyright exists to compensate and protect the artist; in others, to stimulate the artist to produce more art, but not at the expense of the marketplace. Rapid technological advances have made the marketplace a more and more open area.

The current battles over music and the Internet are the most recent step in the struggle of copyright law to keep up with technology, a race that has been particularly intense during the 20th century, with its constant advances. Think about sound recordings, radio, movies, television, the photocopier, the DAT player. Rights that come into question with each new development tend to be fought out in the courts — and often decided in favor of the consumer, rather than the copyright holder. This leaves the US Congress to devise revision of copyright legislation to take new issues into account, and the Congress has tended to be a decade or two behind each of these developments. The following is a brief timeline of the development of copyright in the US, particularly as it applies to composers, offering a bit of historical perspective on an issue that never seems to be entirely resolved.

Copyright provides protection for original creative works. Its basic provisions are set out in the Copyright Act of 1976. It is actually a “bundle” of rights. Copyright owners, or those they designate, are the only ones who may exercise these rights which are: the right to reproduce the work in either copies or phonorecords, the right to prepare derivative works (new arrangements, for example), the right to distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public, the right to display the work, and the right to publicly perform the work.

These rights are secured automatically upon the creation of the work in a fixed form. Publication is not required, nor is registration with the Copyright Office, though such registration makes fighting infringement easier.

These rights may be assigned to others; composers, for example, often give publishers the right to publish their works and administer their copyrights. Copyright law also provides for the recovery of copyrights that are assigned to others after a certain amount of time has elapsed. The copyright owners, or those they designate, may extend various licenses to users. These include mechanical (recording), non-dramatic performance (also known as small rights), grand rights (for use in dramatic performance; opera and ballet are included here), synchronization (use in a soundtrack), print (sheet music), and commercial licenses (use in advertisements).

There are various limitations to the copyright owner’s exclusive control over the work. Most important is the concept of “fair use,” which provides for use of the copyrighted work in such activities as criticism, commentary, parody, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. The limitations of fair use have been developed through court cases. The factors used to determine if a fair use defense applies are: the purpose and character of the use (is it commercial or non-profit?), the nature of the work, how much of the work is used in relation to the whole, and the effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the original.

 

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

The printing press was the first technological advance that forced recognition of the question of who would benefit from the mass distribution of an artistic product. The first law that addressed this, the Statute of Anne, was passed in England in 1709, enabling the Stationers Company, until then a publishing monopoly, to protect their rights in the works they purchased from authors against other printers. The term of the protection was 28 years; the author could get back the rights after 14.

The first US copyright law was passed by Congress in 1790 as “an act for the encouragement of learning”; it extended a 14-year copyright to books, maps and charts. In 1831, music in notated form was specifically protected; until that time, it was often copyrighted as a book or engraving. The term of copyright protection has changed over the years. The 1976 Copyright Act protected new works for the life of the author plus 50 years; the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension extended the term for works still covered by copyright by 20 years, making the term life of the author plus 70 years.

In the 19th century, problems raised by new uses and technologies required new ideas about the extent of copyright. In 1853, for example, when Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was translated into German without authorization, the court allowed it. But in 1870, a comprehensive revision of copyright by Congress prohibited unauthorized new uses of literary works, such as translations or dramatization. In 1865, photographs were protected for the first time. At the turn of the century, when Thomas Edison sued over the unauthorized duplication of a motion picture, the trial court ruled against him, because movies were not specifically protected. In 1903, that decision was reversed on appeal, and in 1912, movies were added to the copyright domain.

 

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

At first, music copyright holders derived most of their income from print rights. The 19th century saw a huge market for sheet music — ten thousand songs were published during the five years of the Civil War alone — and by the end of the century, cheaper production and transportation made it even greater. However, there was nothing in the copyright law about recorded music, and new inventions like piano rolls and phonographs were starting to erode the publishers’ income — you could buy the record instead of the sheet music in order to play it yourself.

As usual, a court case came first, with a music publisher [White-Smith Music Publishing Co.] suing the Apollo Company, which manufactured player pianos and piano rolls. In 1908, the court decided for Apollo, but the revised copyright law of 1909 recognized the need for some regulation in this new area, and prohibited unauthorized “mechanical” reproduction of musical compositions, which included phonograph recordings and piano rolls.

In order to prevent monopolies on the part of single manufacturers, however, Congress also created a compulsory license. Once the copyright owner had authorized one company to make a recording of a song, any other company could make its own recording of the song, on payment to the copyright owner of two cents per record.

The provision remains, though the amount has changed over the years. Most mechanical licenses are issued on behalf of publishers through the Harry Fox Agency, which was founded in 1927 and is part of the National Music Publishers Association. The agency also collects and distributes royalties. In 1972, a copyright in sound recordings, one that protects the performance rather than the work, was added.

 

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

In 1897, Congress gave composers a public performance right — that is, the right of the copyright owner to collect a fee for public performance. This right was difficult to enforce, because hundreds of dance halls and restaurants all over the country had musicians giving unauthorized performances of music, and it was impractical for the copyright holders to collect fees for so many performances. What is more, the 1909 copyright law specified that such performances had to be “for profit” if royalties were to be collected for them. In 1913, nine composers and music publishers formed ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, to come up with a way to protect the performing right. Once again, a court case led the way: in 1914, ASCAP filed two suits, against a hotel and a restaurant, for performing music by John Philip Sousa and Victor Herbert. The defendants contended that because the patrons had not paid for the music, the performance was not for profit, and the lower courts agreed. But an appeal to the Supreme Court overturned those decisions in 1917. The Court argued that the performances were part of the experience in the restaurants, for which the patrons were paying. “If music did not pay it would be given up,” the decision said. The copyright owners were thus entitled to their share.

This point having been established, ASCAP organized a royalty collection and distribution system. Composers, authors and publishers became members of ASCAP, and gave the society the right to license non-dramatic performances of their works. (This excluded “grand rights,” or the use of the work in a theatrical performance, a right that was retained by the composer, author and/or publisher.) ASCAP issued a blanket license to dance halls, hotels, restaurants, and other entities that performed live music, giving them the right to play anything in its catalogue. ASCAP distributed royalties to its members based on a formula of the relative popularity of their works that was derived from sampling the licensees.

Nowadays, the three performing rights societies (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) issue various types of licenses. Other entities (such as radio) have been added to those who must license the music they use, and the new ones just like the old ones continue to resist it. Most music consumers would really rather not pay for music — consider how fans justify the circulation of pirated recordings — and don’t see why they should have to. The intermediaries, from taverns to TV stations, still try to avoid it.

 

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

With the invention of radio, a new method of distributing music began to supplement and eventually replace the prevalence of live performance. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) got busy licensing radio stations as well, winning several legal battles to establish its right to do so.

In the 1920s and 1930s radio burgeoned enormously, as did ASCAP’s expectations for license fees, and since it had a monopoly, it could name its price. Radio broadcasters decided to take matters into their own hands, and set up their own licensing operation. BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) was established in 1939, and signed up its own composers. ASCAP’s license agreements were due to expire at the end of 1940, and the big radio networks refused their steep new terms.

On January 1, 1941, ASCAP music went off the air, except on a few independent radio stations that had signed new agreements with ASCAP. By the end of the year, ASCAP had come to an agreement with the networks, and ASCAP music was back on. Composers now sign with ASCAP or BMI. Publishers have differently named entities so that their composers can sign with either of the two licensing societies. A third society, SESAC, fo
unded in 1930, also licenses music and collects and distributes royalties.

 

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

The next new technology to threaten copyright owners was the photocopy machine. With this invention, every user became a potential copyright infringer, and the question of fair use got a workout. The first significant legal battle pitted a publisher of medical journals against US government libraries, and after a protracted battle up to the Supreme Court, which gave its decision in 1975, the libraries successfully defended their right to make copies of journal articles. If libraries could do it on a large scale, then what about individuals? The 1976 revision of the copyright act gave copyright owners the exclusive right to control reproduction of their work (with a specific exception for libraries), but the prospect of policing individuals raised both practical and privacy concerns. It was even difficult to police the sort of large-scale copying that was clearly illegal: Music publishers, for example, had to contend with the copying of music by choirs.

Easy private copies were soon to have counterparts in the audio and video areas. The next fight centered on the videocassette recorder. In 1976, a movie studio, Universal, sued Sony over its Betamax machine, claiming that home taping would cut into its profits. After seven years in the courts, the Supreme Court finally held for Sony in 1983. It would take almost another decade before creators got any kind of relief from consumers making private copies. That was kicked off by the introduction of digital audio taping technology in 1986, which raised the threat of machines that could make copies of copies with no deterioration in the sound. Another long wrangle finally produced the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. This law required that Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) controls be incorporated in digital audio equipment sold in the United States, so that the machines could make a copy of a prerecorded tape, but not a copy of a copy. What is more, manufacturers of blank digital audiotapes and digital audiotape equipment paid a statutory levy, which was to be distributed to the creators, artists, and record companies who made the recordings. Several funds were created for this purpose.

 

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

The last decade has seen new legislation in the copyright area, once again in response to a new technology — the Internet. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recording (DPR) of 1995 gave copyright owners of sound recordings (that is, the record companies) the right to authorize public performances, such as certain digital transmissions, including interactive audio transmission, of their work. Traditional radio and television were exempt. Next, the ‘No Electronic Theft’ Act criminalized sound recording copyright infringement occuring on the Internet regardless of whether there was financial gain.

The Digital Millennium Act (DMA) of 1998 implemented the international treaties signed in December 1996 at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) conference in Geneva. These treaties raised minimum standards for international copyright protection. The DMA amended the 1995 DPR to cover cable and satellite digital audio services and web casts. It also made it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures in software, outlawed code-cracking devices, and limited the liability of Internet service providers for copyright infringement in the information transmitted on their networks.

As the DMA requires webcasters to pay licensing fees to record companies for use of their sound recordings, another licensing system was required. The Recording Institute of America (RIAA) represents sound recording copyright owners in these negotiations. In September 2000, the RIAA and Yahoo agreed to parameters and conditions for music broadcast via Yahoo. In October 2000, the National Music Publishers Association and the RIAA agreed on procedures to facilitate licensing of musical compositions in recordings for Internet distribution. Like other “mechanical” licensing, this would be done through the Harry Fox Agency.

In the freewheeling world of the Web, the old arguments about who owns what are being played out once again. Technology innovates, and consumers take free access to the intellectual property made newly available for granted, until someone puts up a fight. The Napster controversy has echoes of much older ones. And while Internet technology has the real potential to actually charge consumers for the intellectual property they acquire through cyberspace — think of the ultimate pay-per-view — the legal history of this area indicates that getting there will not be easy.

 

Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

Soundtracks: December 2000

Many musicians and hard-core music lovers will swear to you that they never ever listen to music “in the background” while they work. Only some of them are lying. For me, music in the background generally has the same tantalizing effect as the smell of food coming from the kitchen — I just have to stop what I am doing and check it out. Then again, I am one of those people who derive perverse pleasure from devoting analytical attention to music specifically composed to be played in the background — outwitting the Muzak people, I like to think. Seriously, however, with the way all of our lives keep getting busier, most of us will probably admit that some of our most intense listening experiences may be not at home, sitting in front of the stereo, but at the dinner table, or in the car, when we are forced to sit still…

Given the season, if you are stuck in the car traveling or shopping, it might be a good idea to bring along the new CD of Ned Rorem songs, recently recorded by Suzanne Graham and Malcolm Martineau. The songs are all short — none longer than a couple of minutes — and each one packs an emotional punch. If your trip is a little longer, instead of listening to the Mendelssohn Op. 49 one more time, you could listen to one of the Arthur Foote piano trios. You could re-acquaint yourself with Copland’s masterful opera The Tender Land, released by Sony as part of a 3-volume set celebrating the composer’s centennial. If you like Copland, you would also certainly enjoy listening to the composer himself, rehearsing the chamber version of Appalachian Spring at a rehearsal in 1973.

There are also a few CDs I would recommend saving for the morning commute; perhaps listening to one of these recordings will save you that fourth or fifth cup of coffee. Peter Schickele’s String Quartet No. 5 is an energetic piece that demonstrates the composer’s strong love for diverse kinds of music, including fiddling and jazz. Three of Morton Gould’s orchestral works have been recorded by the National Symphony of the Ukraine for Naxos, including the Foster Gallery of 1949. And included as part of the Sony Copland commemorative is Oscar Levant’s enthusiastic performance of three movements from Billy the Kid, in an arrangement by Lukas Foss.

If you aren’t in traffic, however, try putting Ezra Laderman’s Duo for Violin and Violincello on your car stereo. Laderman’s music is full of intriguing changes of affect, from grand to playful to melancholy. Herbert Bielawa’s organ music is a fascinating mix of the old and the new: the Monophonies, for instance, are single-line pieces cast in medieval and renaissance forms, but written in a modernist melodic style. His Pipe Organ Adventures, on the other hand, are full of playful jazz touches. Jazz and modernism also meet in Bob Nieske’s CD called Simplicity, recorded by his group, the Bob Nieske 3, and the Lydian String quartet. According to Nieske, the combination of trumpet and strings was inspired by Charles Ives’ On the Pond and The Unanswered Question.

For staring out the window during an early winter sunset, I would recommend the stunning choral music of Morton Feldman, released on a disc that also contains some overtly political pieces by Stefan Wolpe. Then there is Clint Mansell’s score to the movie Requiem for a Dream, a melancholy mixture of rock and minimalism, featuring the Kronos Quartet. Also for quartet is Augusta Read Thomas’ passionate Fugitive Star. However, the ultimate “brooding” disc this month is Silencio, recorded by Gidon Kremer’s group Kremerata Baltica. This disc includes Philip Glass’ Company, along with pieces by Martynov and Pärt.

When you sit down for a nice bowl of hot winter stew, you might try listening to film composer’s Elmer Bernstein’s Guitar Concerto, written for and performed by Christopher Parkening, or John Biggs’ lushly-scored Cello Concerto. I wouldn’t advise pouring a martini, however, without a copy of Monika Brand’s new CD, Love. These are really catchy, sophisticated songs, all original material from the pen of the singer herself. And speaking of shakers, there is a particularly suave arrangement of Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night” for strings and shaker on Tom Wopat’s In the Still of the Night.

When it gets right down to it, though, there is some music that is destined to stop whatever it is that you happen to be doing — pieces like Terry Riley’s In C, featured in a rousing new performance by the Ictus Ensemble. If you love words, I would advise setting aside an evening for Stephen Sondheim’s first musical, Saturday Night, which has finally been released in its fully-orchestrated version — the lyrics are witty, and full of references to 1920s Brooklyn. You might also enjoy Jon Deak’s The Passion of Scrooge, a wonderfully inventive treatment of the Dickens classic. Most of the characters are played by the baritone, but the instruments in the ensemble also contribute musical “commentary” that is specified in the libretto.

Electronics also have a way of capturing my attention, even when they are used in a neo-Romantic context, as in Jerry Gerber’s Symphony No.3, for MIDI orchestra. The American Composer’s Forum Sonic Circuits VIII is a compilation of a wild variety of electronic pieces; two of them share the strange distinction of including Coke bottles in their “instrumentation.” Another CD of electronic music, Transmigration Music, includes a piece by Mark Trayle that at times sounds intriguingly “wet,” being based on sounds drawn from the “animal, mineral, and vegetable kingdoms.” There is another piece on the same disc that evolves in real-time according to the interaction of a computer with the brainwaves of one of the performers! A fourth electronic disc this month is a CD issue of a 1970s German radio broadcast: a live performance of John Cage’s Mureau and David Tudor’s Rainforest II. The recording features a combination of pre-recorded electronics and Tudor’s on-the-spot “processing” of Cage’s rendition of the writings of Henry David Thoreau.

There are also some works for acoustic instruments that might as well be for electronics, the use of the instruments is so sonically interesting. John Cage’s microtonal work Two4< /sup> was written for acoustic instruments, but you would never know it. The violin plays within a microtonal system of 84 notes to the octave, and in one of the two interpretations on the disc, is accompanied by the traditional Japanese sho. Aaron Bachelder’s Nomos was written for violinist Sarah Johnson and an ensemble of percussionists with developmental disabilities. Mark Engebretson’s The Bear was written for an appropriately “growly” combination of four baritone saxophones (but only two players). Roger Reynolds’ music for strings is ear-catching for its brilliant, icy display.

Lastly, I really think that regardless of Gary Lucas’ association with NewMusicBox, his solo guitar cover of the Ride of the Valkyries will make the most apathetic music lover sit up and take notice. His reason for including this on a disc of music with Jewish associations: “to defeat thine enemy, sing his song!” Another NewMusicBox In The First Person alumnus, Don Byron, has devoted almost an entire CD to covers of everything from Stevie Wonder’s Creepin’ to Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. And given the season, I would recommend the new Christmas Album simply because every piece on it is American (including a piece by Charles Ives’ 10-year-old daughter!), but also because there is one piece on it that is simply stunning: Carlisle Floyd’s Long, Long Ago.

Presser Company Releasing Historic Archives



The Presser Archive

After 51 years in Bryn Mawr, the Theodore Presser Company will move its entire operations to nearby King of Prussia in January. The present facility houses historical archives of the Oliver Ditson Company and The John Church Company, as well as Presser and newer companies including Merion, Mercury, and Elkan-Vogel. In preparing to move to the new, smaller facility, the company has decided that to offer a large portion of these archives to one or more libraries.

“Theodore Presser Company is essential to the development of the music publishing business in America, and much of the material that we have on our premises reflects the history of this company and its interaction with other companies, from the infancy to the present day of the American music publishing business, ” commented President Tom Broido in a telephone interview. Presser was founded in 1883, but its subsidiary Oliver Ditson dates back to 1783, making it the oldest music publisher in the United States.

The offered materials are mainly publications and supporting information of Presser, Ditson, and Church, from the late 19th century through the 1960s. This includes metal and wood printing plates from the 1930s and 40s, financial records, and correspondence between the company and musicians. In addition, there are piles of out-of-print sheet music, much of it solo music for piano and voice. “That was the heart of what Presser published at that time,” Broido pointed out.

However, there is no existing inventory or catalog of the materials being offered. “We don’t necessarily know every little thing in every box, that’s one reason we want some one to catalog it,” Broido commented. “As a reward, they will get the lion’s share of it.” Broido feels strongly that the materials in the archive will be much more useful when housed in a library. He explained that Presser does not have the facilities to serve as a “destination” for viewing such a collection. Once the archive is properly stored, “if somebody wanted a copy of an out-of-print title, we could refer them to that library.” Also, if the inventory turns up an item of “historical value,” Broido wants to make sure that researchers have proper access to it.

Since the company made it known that this archival material is available, they have received inquires from approximately twenty institutions, most of them libraries. Broido wants to make a decision about who will house the collection “soon,” but stated that no official deadline had been set.

In an interview about their archives from the last century, the question came up about whether or not the company is currently accumulating similar material that will form an archive for the next century. Broido mused that “it might be nice to see a letter from Rochberg or Persichetti a hundred years from now,” but added that “saving a lot of paper has become a luxury in business.” They save letters from composers that make direct reference to publications, and discard thank-you notes and letters containing news of premieres. At the same time, the whole notion of archiving has changed with the advent of technology. They do save emails, but Broido feels that these are of “very little historical interest.” Broido is also ambivalent about the value of manuscripts produced using Finale, Sibelius, or similar computer notation software. In Broido’s opinion, “every copy that comes out has equal value, except the attributed value of the composer signing.”

New Music and Politics

In the fall of 1992 I was in Washington D.C. to serve on a panel at the National Endowment for the Arts. The day our panel convened, Pat Buchanan declared a “cultural war” in America. The principal battleground of that war was the NEA. The next morning a staff member informed our panel that President Bush had just fired the chairman of the Endowment.

Clearly, politicians think the arts have some influence on politics.

The most prominent objects of Mr. Buchanan’s wrath were visual and performance artists such as Karen Finley, Andres Serrano, and Robert Mapplethorpe. But if Mr. Buchanan, Senator Helms and their allies had ever heard and understood the music of Cage and Oliveros, composers might have drawn even more rhetorical fire and brimstone. The vision of society embodied in this music is one that many people in political power would find threatening.

Although composers were never a primary target in Mr. Buchanan’s war, we were among the earliest casualties. Composer Fellowships were one of the first NEA grant programs to be eliminated in the ensuing assault on public funding for the arts.

Obviously politics can have a direct influence on artists.

Like many artists, I wrote my members of Congress. My representative in the House, Congressman Don Young, wrote me back stating his view that the arts should not receive government funding. The Arts, he said, should make their own way in the free marketplace of ideas.

Soon afterwards, I learned that Congressman Young was supporting legislation that would allow restaurants and other establishments to use recorded music in their businesses without paying performing rights to the artists who created the music.

I wrote Congressman Young again. I reminded him of his contention that artists should make their way in the marketplace, and told him that as a working composer performing rights royalties are an important part of my earned income. He never responded.

Artists in the United States are caught between the rock of vanishing public funding and the hard place of mass-market economics. If the business of America is business, where do people who dedicate their lives to creativity fit into the politics and economics of this country?

What role, if any, is there in American society for music that doesn’t have entertainment or commerce as its primary objective? And what impact can the new music community have on politics?

Is the most effective political action for composers and performers the creation of new music that inscribes change and contributes to the gradual transformation of society? Should we vote and actively participate in electoral politics?

What is the dominant musical style of today and what will be the dominant musical style of tomorrow? Martin Bresnick

Martin Bresnick
Martin Bresnick
Photo courtesy ASCAP

Concert music today is influenced by such a wide and powerful range of sources – audio technology, computers and the Internet, popular, folk and world music, conceptual art, film and theatre, among others – that it is impossible to isolate a single dominant style. Despite, or perhaps because of that pluralism and the associated lack of a recognized, authoritative style, neither the previously dominant academic modernism nor the now aging minimalism and newer rock-based concert music has been able to achieve a stabile, decisive hegemony. And that’s fine with me.

I am quite happy to let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend, since what I fear most is any concentration of power and influence that might inhibit free and autonomous musical activity. The smothering, centralized influence that has so blighted French music since the 70’s and that tends to grow wherever protected elites are given refuge by governments or the robber barons of commerce is a far greater danger than the disorder and confusion of today’s pluralism. So open the windows – I’m eager to hear both what has been and what’s to come!

Jazz Composers Alliance Announces 2000 Hemphill Award Recipients

The Jazz Composers Alliance recently announced the recipients of the 2000 Julius Hemphill Composition Awards. A total of $2500 was awarded.

In the Jazz Orchestra Category, first prize went to Kari Ikonen of Helsinki, for a piece entitled Luoto. Tied for second place were two Americans: Adam Lane, of Oakland, with his Blues for Richard Davis, and Deborah Weisz of New York City. Other finalists were Jurgen Friedrich of Germany, Hazel Leach of the Netherlands, and Jeff Raheb of Brooklyn. The music of Kari Ikonen and Adam Lane will be performed by the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra in 2001.

In the Small Group category, three awards of $416 were given to Fred Hess of Erie, Colorado for Journey to Sentosa; George Schuller of Brooklyn for Mosh Pit, and Tom Varner of New York for Strident. Other finalists were Mark Helias of New York, Kari Ikonen, and Mark Nodwell of Boulder, Colorado.

George Schuller
George Schuller
Photo by Joanne Krivin

George Schuller is a drummer, composer, arranger and producer. In 1984, he co-founded the twelve-piece ensemble Orange Then Blue which has recorded several acclaimed albums, including the most recent release: Hold The Elevator on GM Recordings.  A new recording of Schuller’s music, Tenor Tantrums, was released in August 1999 on New World Records with the Schulldogs featuring George Garzone, Tony Malaby and George’s brother, Ed Schuller. His compositions and arrangements have been recorded by Orange Then Blue, Ed Schuller, Mike Metheny, Your Neighborhood Sax Quartet, the Wilder/Woodman/LaPorta Sextet, Mili Bermejo and Lisa Thorson.

“I know that some heady musicians submitted their tapes to this competition,” mused George Schuller in a phone interview. “I am very honored to have come away with something.” Mosh Pit is a reduction for 8-piece band of the original 12-piece version he composed for his band Orange Then Blue. “The whole idea of people coming to a mosh pit, a punk kind of concert, very chaotic, with people being passed over you – you can imagine that the piece is pretty crazy,” Schuller commented. The piece is written in three sections that get “progressively more intense.” “The only punkish element is that there is a barrage of sound – it’s very ‘in your face,’ Schuller went on. “There is no heavy rock beat, and it’s not a punk tune.” To give the effect of the piece getting faster and faster, Schuller has built metric modulations into the composition, although much of it is freely improvised. “There are backgrounds to keep the intensity up,” Schuller noted, “to keep the soloist trapped in the feeling that he can’t go anywhere, that he has to come back to the tune.”

Tom Varner
Tom Varner
Photo by Frank Tafuri

Tom Varner is considered one of the pioneers of jazz French horn. He has recorded nine CDs as leader on the OmniTone, New World, and New Note and Soul Note labels. A DownBeat and JazzTimes poll winner, he has performed as a leader at the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Moers, Groningen, and Rotterdam Jazz Festivals, as well as countless appearances in the New York area. Tom wrote the music for the feature film Saints and Sinners, and has played on over 60 additional CDs.

Varner’s composition Strident was written for his CD Swimming, released in October 1999 on the OmniTone label. It is scored for a sextet of trumpet, French horn (played by Varner), alto and tenor saxophones, bass, and drum set. “Strident explores shifting time signatures, free harmonic counterpoint, and a searching, swirling, group dynamic,” he writes. “The piece aims for a rhythmic urgent insistence, with a feeling of anticipation, perhaps better expressed as an ‘in your face’ joyful directness.”

“I am very happy to receive the Julius Hemphill Award,” Varner noted in an email. “This was my first award for an individual composition.” Varner feels indebted to the Blue Mountain Center, where he had “four weeks of quiet in a beautiful setting” to compose the piece, and to his sidemen Steve Wilson, Tony Malaby, Dave Ballou, Cameron Brown, and Tom Rainey. Varner thinks that the actual award money went to “studio rehearsal rentals, a Finale upgrade, and a couple of dinners. It was much appreciated!”

This year, the JCA received 150 applications featuring music from twenty-four states and eleven countries. Scores and recordings were reviewed by Laura Andel, Dana Brayton, Darrell Katz, Dave Harris, Warren Senders and Rebecca Shrimpton.

“I’m amazed just by the diversity of the styles represented, and the high quality,” commented Katz, who is Director of the Jazz Composers Alliance. “We’re looking for music that stakes out what it’s doing and accomplishes. We’re looking for music that does something new – anything that you could easily put a label on, well, that’s less likely to win,” he explained. “On top of being fine compositions, these were really good performances,” Katz continued. “With some jazz pieces, it’s tricky, because the composition can be weak but the performance really good – but these were instances of both being strong.”

The Jazz Composers Alliance is a composer’s collective that, in the words of Katz, “mainly exists to put together ensembles and concerts.” The JCA has both an Orchestra and a Sax Quartet. Eight years ago, they started a composition contest, and four years later changed the name to honor the alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill, one of the founders of the World Saxophone Quartet. The Jazz Composers Alliance is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.