This is the text from a performance at last week's Reboot conference in Copenhagen, by Magnus Eriksson and Rasmus Fleischer. It mainly circles around the question of the meaning of "live performance" in a context of universalized reproduction of recorded music.
- - - PERFORMANCE: COPIES & CONTEXTS IN THE AGE OF CULTURAL ABUNDANCE We are both co-founders of Piratbyrån, a Swedish group that has been around for four years. Piratbyrån explores how file-sharing and other copying technologies interact with creativity and change how people relate to everyday culture. We analyze tendencies and cases and discuss possible future scenarios and opportunities. Internationally we are mostly known for starting up the The Pirate Bay, which we no longer run but are in close contact with. By this and many other projects, campaigns, performances, talks and media appearances, we have intervened in the discussion known as "the file- sharing debate". Almost exactly a year ago, at the time of the last Reboot conference, The Pirate Bay was taken down in a controversial raid that involved about 180 confiscated servers and pressure on the Swedish government from US officials and lobby groups. Still today, over 100 servers remain in custody and the prosecution is just about to be delayed for several months more. The raid was followed by demonstrations just three days after co- hosted by Piratbyrån and other piracy organisations as well as political parties from different sides of the Swedish political spectrum. At the very same day, The Pirate Bay came back online. Since then, a lot of light has been put on the alleged Swedish "pirate safe haven" and we have had an extensive public debate in Sweden on file-sharing issues. Although it's great that we have this debate, it is often stuck in pre-internet frameworks, copyright abstractions and outdated perspectives. Piratbyrån is often perceived as being primarily anti-copyright and we often have to answer questions on how artists should make a living if there was no copyright. On this topic we have very little to say for several reasons: Talking about that implicates that we have (at least until now) a perfectly working copyright economy that has somehow provided wages for artists, an economy that would be nullified by a future removal of copyright laws. What we instead prefer to talk about is the present: The concrete and complex workings of cultural economies, the cracks and grey zones in contemporary copyright, and the massive sharing of files that is already going on. In fact, we got so tired of answering the questions of right versus wrong, that this spring on the last night of April, we climbed Stockholm's highest mountain in order to perform a kind of ritual. There we burned and buried the very same file-sharing debate that we had initiated four years ago, read a communique, and celebrated the ancient Walpurgis festivity around a fire. It's all documented in a video, that we will now show some brief clips from. [[[ VIDEO DOCUMENTATION WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES: http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnaol8QQruw ]]] As I said before, we buried the debate by performing this ritual since we felt that the debate was stuck in the same frozen positions it had been for years. Still discussing if file-sharing was right or wrong, if we should allow it or stop it, if it was good or evil. But to us the consequences of file-sharing, or rather the general accessibility of culture today, is much more far reaching than just another way for consumers to get access to content. Today we are going to talk about how it shapes the very ways we use, value and experience culture, especially music. Since we used The KLF as a soundtrack for the film, and since we built a fire, we sent this video to Bill Drummond from the KLF. He sent us a very interesting response, saying that he enjoyed and understood the message. Then he attached this letter: - - AN INVITATION A time has arrived where we can (in theory and almost in practise) listen to any recorded music, from the entire history of recorded music, wherever, whenever while doing whatever we want. This has meant our relationship with music is rapidly and fundamentally changing faster than it has done for many decades. This is good for numerous reasons. But a by-product of this is, recorded music will no longer contain the meaning it once held for us. This will entail it no longer gives us what we need and desire from it. Once a music has lost its meaning it has no value. Thus as we edge our way deeper into the 21st Century we will begin to want music that can not be listened to wherever, whenever while doing whatever. We will begin to seek out music that is both occasion and place specific, music that can never be merely a soundtrack. We will demand music where we are no longer just the consumers, unwitting or otherwise. The era of recorded music is now passing and within the next decade it will begin to look and sound like a dated medium. Recorded music will be perceived as an art form very much of the 20th Century. The above notions excite me. This excitement has brought about The17. The17 rejects all that the era of recorded music had to offer and attempts to embrace the unknown opportunities of what lies ahead. Please accept my invitation to embrace the unknown opportunities of what lies ahead in whatever way excites you. Bill Drummond www.the17.org - - This is not only due to file-sharing but the general presence of free music. You can't walk around the city, enter a store or café without hearing music. Today, free music is omni-present. All this decreases the value of recorded music, perhaps of music-in-itself in general. We will probably no longer hear a new song, a new sound or a new style of music that will turn our world upside down as music has done many times in the past. The pop-star Momus touches upon this when he summarized the music year of 2006 on his blog: "If music didnt exactly die in 2006, it certainly felt sidelined, jilted, demoted, decentred, dethroned as the exemplary creative activity, the most vibrant subculture." Are Momus (born 1960) and Drummond (born 1953) just getting old and bored? Maybe, but there seems to be more to it. Momus concludes by quoting his artist friend Anne Laplantine, who expresses similar feelings towards the uncertain state of music with these words: "I think were also living now in a transitional period which Im not sure I can define. All I know is that I feel the need to wait a bit." We agree with Drummond, Momus and Laplantine that we are in the middle of some kind of transition. Something that has been fundamental to humans is losing its meaning, and only the active destruction of it may open up ways to create new meaning the philosophical term for such an ambiguous process is nihilism. Ernst Jünger once wrote about overcoming nihilism, that optimism and pessimism should not be considered as opposites, but can rather be complementary ways of moving forward to new possibilities. Thus, disgust and enthusiasm are both feelings which have their legitimate place when we assess the contemporary state of music and what digitalisation does with it. What clearly stands in the way of a successful transition is, however, copyright-centred reasoning with its extremely biased idea of creativity. As long as we limit our discussion to the rights or wrongs with copyright, we will continue to reduce cultural processes to the end products they leave behind. Because the only things that count, from the standpoint of copyright, are these end products which were once called "artworks" and today usually goes under the disgusting name of "content". Books, records and pictures are all end products. But not performances, communication, festivities, or anything else happening in the moment, in real time. These more volatile or ephemeral aspects of culture basically falls outside the scope of copyright. The copyright industry wants us to mentally reduce culture to content, while ignoring the context. They want to define "creativity" as the ability to create as many reproducible end products as possible, while everything performative is degraded to an instrumental status. That perspective is not only boring and sterile, it is also dangerous for the very idea of internet as a communication medium. Sadly, that perspective is also getting very popular on the top political level of the European Union. The recent so-called "Strategy for a creative Europe" concludes with the simple equation that using bigger weapons in the war against piracy will naturally lead to more creativity (that is, more "content"), which will in turn lead to economic growth, and save us all when the factories move to Asia. Record companies want to rechannel our musical passions, from the excess of the living moment, into stockpiling of dead objects. George Bataille brilliantly analysed, 60 years ago, how such denial of sacrifice will only lead to its much more fatal return in form of war. However, we'd like to emphasize that not only the copyright industry is guilty of copyright-centred reasoning also many copyright critics fall into the trap, by taking a "consumerist" standpoint. It's all too easy to polemize "for" file-sharing (as if that was needed) with arguments about broadened access to copyrighted material, something which will only strengthen the abstracted and reductive idea of culture as accumulation of content. Avantgarde composer John Cage who was otherwise reluctant to make any value judgements, once presented a clear hierarchy of musical activities. Basically, he put participation over passive consumption: "It is better to make a piece of music than to perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment or acquisition of 'culture'". This quote works on two levels. On the one hand we can agree, and applaud, Cage for creating this scale, for daring to value different uses of culture differently. His argument is in line with Gregory Batesons definition of information as "difference that makes a difference". But we also want to pose a question to Cage about the hierarchy: Can really making and performing a piece of music be seperated; and in the case of your music, performing and listening? And can one musical experience only fall into one category? Copyright based as it were on literary text and not musical experience built its own peculiar world of abstractions, where the composer, the performer and the producer appeared as three different roles, each represented by their own copyright collective. But today they converge into the singular figure of "the bedroom producer". A convergence driven by the development of recording and mixing technology, from the multitrack tape recorders of the 1960s, to the contemporary average computer able to simulate what only some years ago demanded very expensive studio time. What does technology do with participation? Today, it should be obvious that such a question is wrongly put. Different technologies affect musical cultures and habits in different ways. But during large parts of the 20th century, many music professionals and especially their unionist representatives assumed the opposite: that all sound recording, editing and transmission technologies basically were parts of one singular tendency, usually named "mechanization". Thus technology was understood as the opposite of performance, in a very pessimistic way. Synthesizer players and discjockeys were initially not allowed into the narrow definition of musical performers, but were rather seen as something external, threatening to displace genuine musicianship altogether. We can exemplify with the following words, written by a music sociologist as late as 1989: "As the rationalization of technique continues to its logical conclusion, a specific musician is no longer necessary. Technology can create a simulated musical world without performers. /.../ Through technology, music can be removed from the web of human relationships in which it has been traditionally rooted" We must remember that live performances were though of as the way to make money as an artist, up until the CD came into the picture. Then, during the golden age of the CD which in retrospect looks like a short historical parenthesis record companies in their reasoning reduced live performances to marketing spectacles, which did only exist in order to sell more recordings. Thinking of reproduced recordings as the core product fitted well with the discourse about so-called creative industries, popularized around Tony Blair's election victory in 1997. Creative industries were defined as businesses which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. Clearly, what that politics favoured in the area of music was not live performances, but end products. Relegating real-time experience to such a secondary position, as was increasingly the trend during the end of the 20th century, was something unique in the history of music. But since year 2000, when the file-sharing explosion began, the pendulum has turned the other way. Turnover for concerts and festivals have went up to the same extent that record sales has gone down; as has been demonstrated with hard data from Danish copyright collectives. And more and more managers and artists are confirming that the pendulum is swinging back; many has already started to regard recorded music as mainly a way to market performances, where the real money are. Beyond doubt, we witness an economic shift, to some extent, from reproduced objects to real-time experiences. Such a shift inevitably brings a move of resources from the hits towards the long tail, as each artist can only be at one place at a time. To us, this is great news. It promises greater diversity and less conformity. To the record industry it's obviously bad news, and when this topic is brought up, they typically start arguing on behalf of all the poor songwriters who supposedly do not perform at all. However, we shouldn't spend too much energy trying to prove that the changes are benefiting a majority of all musical artists (if only because it's impossible to quantifty the abstracted group of "the artists"). A more interesting question regards what we mean with "live". Why is it so hard to discuss live music's role in the music economy, without always falling back at the image of an rock band standing on a stage in front of an audience, with someone selling ugly t-shirts in the back of the room? According to rock ideology, live music authenticates the recorded object, and the recording is imagined as a document of something that once happened live. But the recorded object may not be re-performed, according to this ideology. (Just think about the silly character of the air guitar player...) This dualism between live and recording is pure mystification, and an obstacle for any serious attempt to reconsider the role of the performative. Obviously, examples from DJ culture works a lot better. For the dub DJ, the sounds produced by operating echo deks or turntables are not less "live" or real-time, than the sounds produced by a human voice, a trumpet or whatever. But this is not about putting different musical genres against each other. Culture, including end products like music recordings, always gets its meaning from humans, in real-time and contained within the limits of a certain context regardless if the context is a physical or virtual space, or if it includes just a couple of persons or millions of them. It is not so much about a return of living music on behalf of the dead, recorded object. Instead, what happens is that the concepts of live, communication, interactivity and performability in themselves become transformed by technology. The main challenge is about how to widen our definition of the "live". How can music as a real-time experience be re-thought, as an aesthetic and an economic activity? Our experience from the copyfight is that the discussion has focused entirely on the production of new culture, while ignoring how culture is used and by whom. So the real question should be: How do we create meaningful contexts around music? Let's try to define what a live performance is: Something that happens in real-time, a specific time and place. Something establishing an relation between different people sharing a similar taste for something. An experience you are part of creating. These features can also be observed in the actual uses of recorded music; in the domains where people share music, meta-data, tags, ratings and stories. Think about sharing musical taste with Last.fm. The most significant effect it has on us, is that it suddenly makes listening to MP3's a two-way activity: While music is streaming from our loudspeakers, metadata are sent back to a central server, continually building on your personal profile, which you know will be used not only by the system for calibrating you personal radio, but also by other humans to judge you. In short, that makes listening to MP3's a performative act. Listening overtakes traits from artistic performance, to some extent. Do we actually want this? Let's leave that question open. Maybe it would be nicer to keep a more ephemeral way of listening, less focused on producing visible metadata, while letting the will to perform take other outlets. Anyhow, this is something we should talk a lot more about. The time and place of culture today is dictated by digital media. Culture, as human communication par excellence, is as it were technical. A live gig, a club or a conference today can hardly be imagined without internet buzz, friends coordinating online, blogs writing it up, digital cameras and mobile phones documenting it and users commenting afterwards. So what we have here is not so much, or at least not only, technology being humanized but new domains of the human experience being subjected to a new technology. What we are looking for now is something completely different from the imaginary utopia of a perfectly working copyright economy, that all coordinates remain the same, only shifted to a new map. What we are looking for here is realistic utopia. From an analysis of the present condition think the unthought. There are still hidden performativities remaining to be discovered! MAGNUS ERIKSSON & RASMUS FLEISCHER [EMAIL PROTECTED], [EMAIL PROTECTED] Copenhagen, 1 June 2007 http://www.piratbyran.org/?view=articles&id=114 http://www.reboot.dk/artefact-2318-en.html http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1098484580210269821 http://copyriot.se/reboot9/Reboot9.pdf http://www.piratbyran.org/walpurgis/ http://nettime.freeflux.net/blog/archive/2007/05/05/nettime-four- shreddings-and-a-funeral.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnaol8QQruw # distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission # <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism, # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets # more info: [EMAIL PROTECTED] and "info nettime-l" in the msg body # archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: [EMAIL PROTECTED]