Nyckelharpa Project: Harpaphonics
Sonic Arts, Composition and Performance Projects
* New Methodologies for Insider Researchers
* Traditional Music Transmission & Copyright in an Online Environment
NEW METHODOLOGIES FOR INSIDER RESEARCHERS
Griselda Iseult Sanderson ©2004
(Presented at the British Forum for Ethnomusicology Conference
‘Ethnomusicology at Home’: Aberdeen 2004)
Before getting down to the main points of this paper I need to explain my background. I feel a bit like an impostor here. I am not an ethnomusicologist. I have not undergone an ethnomusicological training. I studied classical music from an early age, attending the Academy in Glasgow and obtaining my first degree in music from Dartington College of Arts in Devon in contemporary performance and composition practices. My background in this respect is firmly rooted in western classical music and academic traditions.
However, I am bi-musical, which I feel qualifies me as a legitimate participant at this event. I am a traditional fiddler, having participated for almost three decades in sessions and performing with various traditional music groups. I also write material in the traditional Scottish idiom. I use the term traditional (as opposed to folk) as it is used by practitioners in Scotland and Ireland, to indicate musics with their origins in indigenous musical practices.
My fascination with traditional music transmission goes back to my youth when I began participating in informal sessions, having absorbed a certain amount of material along with the social conventions that run alongside this musical tradition from a variety sources. came through school music and dance sessions, competitive festivals, recordings, and TV and radio airplay. Most importantly material was picked up through live interaction with other musicians, mostly young fiddlers from all over Scotland with whom I met up at musical events. My father (whose violin-making and repairing business in Alva attracted many local players such as Bill Cooke and the Frasers, Alasdair & Iain), though classically trained, also tried his hand at strathspeys and reels, and my brother became a keen fiddler and accordionist with ceilidh bands around the Edinburgh area.
Despite now being resident in England, I have kept up my interest as a player by regularly attending local sessions and making frequent visits to Scotland and Ireland in order to expand my repertoire, exchange traditional material and conduct my research. As an undergraduate I became fascinated by the link between the contemporary music scene in the UK and Ireland and the development of new technologies. In my work as a composer I had investigated new technologies as a platform for generating compositional and performative ideas, and I began to wonder how the traditional musicians with whom I interacted regularly were responding to the challenges of new digital media and cyberculture in a musical way.
As a result, my postgraduate research began as a musicological study into the contemporary performance and transmission practices of these islands’ traditional musical communities. My chosen area of study was musical material whose function was originally dance-based (jigs, reels, highlands, strathspeys, polkas, mazurkas, barn dances and so on) as well as some instrumental ‘listening’ music – airs, for instance. Since my youth there has been a huge increase in the quantity and distribution of recorded material, and technological developments have provided new platforms for interaction. Alongside this there has been an increase in teaching programs for traditional musicians. With my background in contemporary performance and composition practices I wanted to move away from historical studies and focus on how the latest generation of practitioners is taking the tradition forward into the new millennium. As a traditional music practitioner myself, I could not avoid noticing the emergence of certain new applications of technology that were creeping into our everyday musical practices.
My PhD thesis is a study of the performance, interpretation and transmission practices of traditional instrumental musicians in Scotland and Ireland in todays cyberculture. The research was undertaken over a period of four years; its aim to find answers to questions governing the mechanics of transmission and the definition of areas of conflict. The status of traditional music has moved on to a new level in terms of more broadly defining aspects of Scottish and Irish musical culture. This notion of definition- rather than preservation or the study of change - is now believed by some practitioners amongst the traditional musical community to be key to its survival in a world of mass communication. My investigations centred around changes that are occurring as transmission shifts to encompass the possibilities opened up through the use of the internet.
As an insider researcher I felt I could get a long way a lot faster in terms of predicting the outcome or interpreting the significance of certain events. However, I feel that those of us who are insider researchers working in a field within western European cultural societies have the additional problem of having to establish points of conflict where different value systems that exist within sub-cultures come into conflict with the hegemony. I became sensitive to the fact that the value systems of the two worlds within which I was working sometimes appeared to be contradictory - incompatible even. I think there is an assumption that because traditional music is located within a more generalised set of British and Irish cultural norms the same modes of representation can be applied. But this is only true to a certain degree.
For example, the academic world and the community within which I was positioned have different cultural value systems in relation to representing knowledge - one through text, the other via a communal understanding with its basis in a common memorised resource. Scholarly studies are reliant on western academic practices that have at their foundation text-based analyses. So how was I to represent a knowledge that is so deeply founded on the value of a common resource kept in a collective memory when the normal codes of academic practice expected of me seemed to go against this ideal?
I became concerned about who the beneficiaries of this research might be. As an insider researcher, I did not only want to present my findings to the academic world, but to ensure the musical community, of whom I am in some senses representative, also benefited from the fruits of my research. (Of course there are some within the traditional music community who do not see the value of academic studies that claim to represent ‘their’ traditions to an outside body at all; but we have also to acknowledge a self-policing, open system that respects individual opinion and cross-cultural interaction). So I had to ask myself; why represent, interpret and analyse traditional music in an academic way when that system already has its own modes of representation?
Of course, there is a benefit for both parties. Both the traditional musical community and the academic world will gain because the study aims to highlight areas of misunderstanding between cultural socio-economic value systems, specifically in terms of how knowledge is represented by different groups. In order for a sense of security, rather than one of threat, to permeate the traditional musical community and for its continued survival, it is necessary for its values to be recognised and respected for their otherness by the cultural systems – economic or otherwise- with which it comes into contact, and not to have to mediate the representation of knowledge through alien value systems. Once recognised, these areas can be better addressed by all parties when it comes to dealing with problematic situations through strategic thinking, negotiation and practical action.
I hoped I would find a solution as a scholar and practitioner by which I could conduct my research that was not antithetical to the subject matter. My aim was to give equal value to both internalised knowledge and textual analyses. My role would very definitely be subjective. My conscious experience as an individual would become extremely important throughout the study period. As a result, I would have to cite myself as an informant to a greater degree because, as a practitioner, I had no choice but to intervene, interfere and contribute within the field. This was almost inevitable as it is assumed that all who participate in the musical experiences of the community will contribute in some way (by not doing so, one would be automatically setting oneself in a position outside the group).
My approach as a researcher was to allow my research methodology to take its direction from live interaction and the free exchange of information that defines the system of traditional music transmission. I continued to impart and gain information orally. Through my practical participation I was able to use the same technologies, follow the same debates and observe how we reacted to and initiated changes alongside the rest of the traditional music community. As an insider researcher my understanding of the musical structures and concepts surrounding them as well as the social and cultural values set within that system stood me in good stead. My experience of the internet during this period was as a tool for which I could take part in musical discourse with other practitioners. Mostly this involved learning and using for a variety of purposes the abc language developed by Chris Walshaw specifically for TMT. This open source code had been picked up by many other practitioners who have created their own programs with a variety of useful applications from tune archives and composing programs to midi sound and notation converters. It is far too big a subject to go into here. Other internet use included a dialogue with other insider researchers working in a similar field who have chosen the internet as a platform for presenting their own findings. However, most sites are run by traditional musicians for traditional musicians.
As an academic, I was able to explain my understanding gained through practice in ways that adequately represented the lived experience. The difficulty was in ensuring in my writing that I identified myself in one of these two voices I was forced to use– a traditional musician or a researcher- making clear throughout my findings the position from which I made my representations.
As hinted at earlier, the incompatibility of value systems is not confined to academia and traditional musical cultures, but also between the economic systems of west-European society – a commodity-based system of exchange, and the gift-sharing economy that is implicit in traditional musical interactions.
For example, one of the main perceived threats that has arisen as a result of the growth of internet access and mass communication has come from the music industry, specifically in relation to copyright issues. From my own experiences of dealing with these issues directly as a tunewriter I have been able to gain further insight into this whole matter. In this area it is important to realise that for those musicians involved on a ‘professional’ or semi-professional level (increased professionalism being another perceived threat I don’t have time to go into now) is that two different economic systems are battling things out in the same new arena (with varying degrees of success) – the commodity-based system of our hegemonic economic system and the gift-sharing system of exchange that has traditionally existed for the transference of traditional musical information.
The platform of the internet, as a tool for speedier transmission, has been widely adopted by the traditional music community – 43% of all traditional musicians I surveyed during my research use the internet in some way in support of their practice. I believe that the shift to a platform where a similar network system of communication operates has been facilitated by the fact that the system of transmission in its live manifestation works in a very similar way. On top of this, the open access policy of many users has meant that websites containing tune archives, session information, instrument sales, listings of live events and so on, quickly became well organised and highly efficient ways of getting information passed around the community, enhancing an existing word-of-mouth culture. The development of the abc system, whose many useful functions I touched on briefly earlier were developed for the internet, but which also has live applications, is at the forefront of new ways of representing many aspects of the idiom of traditional music on the internet. In some ways it far exceeds the advances made by other genres of music, especially the commercial music industry, whose reliance on commodity-based transactions immediately runs into difficulties on this platform through the issue of piracy. For a common resource or repertoire that can be transmitted as information rather than commodities, the issue of piracy does not enter the frame to the same extent.
To elaborate, traditional musicians do not generally subscribe to the concept of intellectual property when it comes to the everyday transmission of tunes. Of course individual writers are recognised, but it is assumed that tunes are composed with the intention of adding them to the communal repertoire. This communal body of knowledge, of which we are all custodians, is free for all to take from and contribute to – the action is reciprocal. It is a common resource in that one person’s use of musical material will not deplete the source in any way – nor will his or her use of specific material make that same material unavailable to anyone else.
Contrast this with the music industry where the ‘individual creator’ owns their intellectual property, and you will see how difficulties arise where these two systems come into conflict. In this modern age it is possible for traditional musicians to opt in or out of these two systems, but a lack of a common value system can create huge problems for both the music industry and traditional musicians alike. The two systems simply do not share a common language. As more professional traditional musicians elect for a commercial outlet for their work, there is a fear that the imposition of values relating to the commodity-based sector of the economy will diminish the common resource by creating difficulties for ordinary players to perform copyrighted material at sessions, and so on. As Anthony McCann says, ‘the difficulty is a lack of a shared lexicon or consensus of concepts.’ The copyright laws have been forced to take account of the cultural values of traditional musicians. However the results are inadequate for both parties. In the case of PRS & IMRO assigning rights is confusing and complicated. In the case of the musicians, it leads to individualistic behaviour and encourages professionalism that is out of character with normal codes of conduct within the community.
It is common for musicians who are seen as professionals, or semi-professional to have dual sets of values that they can employ simultaneously – one to satisfy the music industry and our own recognition of our ‘works’ as commodities; the other that allows us to freely donate what we have produced to the community to be included in the common repertoire available to all, which allows live transmission to continue to take place, but also ensures we get some remuneration for our commercial efforts. Having been in this predicament myself I know that copyrighted works in the commodity-based sector receive no different treatment within the gift-sharing economy than other tunes. In fact, writers are more likely to feel honoured if their tunes are adopted as popular session tunes than to sue the miscreants – which would be impossible to police anyway. After all, it is acknowledged by all practitioners that it is in its live manifestation that this material truly exists.
However, in a public arena, the industry attitude can have a knock-on effect on online TMT as was clear from the following example when the website The Digital Tradition ran up against a publishing company who wanted to close it down for infringement of copyright. The site is well known amongst the folksong fraternity for providing free access to their collection of 5,600 folk songs and the tunes to 3,200 of them.
The dispute resulted in the site being closed down while the legalities were sorted out. This kind of site where information is being offered for free as a public good will keep on running up against this sort of problem until a clear way of dealing with traditional material on the internet is agreed upon, both by the traditional music community and the publishing industry. Spokesman Dick Greenhaus now encourages visitors to the site to take note of the sources, and warns that the music on the site cannot be used commercially.
However, the knock-on effects are not always negative. This example clearly demonstrates an awareness of the need to define the cultural practices of a gift-sharing community. By publicising the conflict, Greenhaus is helping the community in claiming the right to continue the cultural practices of an oral tradition in a new setting. As I discovered, the points of conflict between value systems direct one to the very areas that require clearer definition, and that can only be good.
In order to facilitate the formation of these definitions, insider ethnomusicologists need to find ways of presenting their findings in a non-exclusive way that reflects the traditions and the musical culture they represent without that knowledge being mediated through a different system of cultural values i.e. by keeping to oral transmission as much as possible through participatory practices, demonstrations and talks. They must present their findings to that culture in its own terms i.e. in social settings at sessions, festivals and other traditional music events. These presentations must reflect the open access ethic e.g. through websites, or by allowing participant access to abc code by making the software open source. For me, that means ensuring there are no copyright restrictions on my thesis so I can place it in the public domain where all can access it. Insider researchers must actively represent the values of the community when participating in debates concerning issues that affect the whole community (such as new live music legislation that may threaten sessions, or the application of unfair copyright law). This must all be done in a way that respects individuality and acknowledges our own nonobjectivist stance within a broader community with a diversity of opinions.
Threats come from a lack of understanding of certain basic tenets – despite a high level of literacy historically, and now web literacy too, traditional musicians, unlike classical musicians and those based in the commercial arena, do not depend on text-based representations of their repertoire in order for it to survive. It is a whole different mind set and should be acknowledged as such, not just in its day to day interactions with the rest of society, but within scholarly circles too. So, most importantly, in academia we need to encourage the voice of those practitioners who have an alternative means of access to musical experience to those with only a training in western theoretical concepts in order to advance non-objectivist scholarship. It should even be made possible for traditional musicians to gain academic recognition through researching their own individual practice, weighted heavily toward a performative submission, rather than a written one. Other scholars working in a similar field can then add to a picture made up of knowledge gained through practices that can support new views on identity and definition in relation to other cultural systems. In other words, we need to create a scholarly body that is not solely dependent on a western text-based academic tradition for representing knowledge. It is very important to validate alternative means of representation.
By empowering the community in this way, fears of misrepresentation, the encroachment of commercialisation and professionalism, standardisation, the removal of common rights and the enclosure of a common resource can be assuaged. My findings show that the community as a whole is very good at policing itself, and is in a better position now to define its values than it has ever been. This is partly due to the fact that it has successfully established practices on new platforms, such as the internet, where it can regulate transmission within its own set of parameters. That is not to say that some of the threats are not very real, but where two social/musical systems come into conflict, e.g. over copyright, we can now be more confident in defining exactly where the boundaries lie and where negotiatons need to be made. This change in thinking may also clarify for those from other musical, academic and economic cultural groups the importance of acknowledging differences between the values of disparate systems of exchange.
TRADITIONAL MUSIC TRANSMISSION & COPYRIGHT IN AN ONLINE ENVIRONMENT
An extract from PhD Thesis Transmission & the Internet: The Contemporary Response of a Traditional Musical Community
© Griselda I. Sanderson 2004
There are changes occurring in the practices and behaviour of the Scottish and Irish traditional music communities as a result of traditional music transmission (TTM) shifting to an online environment. This essay examines how emergent practices online could expose the system to threats, especially in the area of copyright.
It has been suggested that TTM is a gift sharing system of exchange exhibiting many of the features of a commons. In order for traditional music transmission to remain a gift-cycle system of exchange it must retain certain features. It needs to be unproductive in terms of market forces, it must retain amateur participatory performance practices and all this must take place in time and situation-specific conditions.
On the new platform of the internet - itself with an unstable system of regulation - cultural practices from outside the traditional music community can impose their own values, altering the balance of cultural practices within. By its very nature a common property resource is open to exploitation. It remains to be seen whether an imbalance between gift exchange and commercial enterprise on the internet could present a real threat to the structures that support TTM.
With different patterns of interaction now developing between newly established online communities it is here that TTM is thought by some to be at its most vulnerable. There is a risk that by placing musical material on the internet in an open access situation enclosure could occur. This is when an idea is taken over and ‘fenced off’ by an outside party and exploited for profit. For example, it can be seen to happen where issues such as copyright are concerned. The music industry, which assumes its language to be universal, can impose its own values once the music is separated from its original source. Features of the traditional music system that get lost in translation are deemed insignificant or inferior by the industry who, having claimed the musical material, presume to speak for the system it has enclosed. Without a common vocabulary, in this case a shared exchange system, the results of enclosure take on a different value for those who enclose and those who are enclosed.
Theorists who study the effects of globalisation indicate how the traditional music community copes with threats such as this. Krister Malm suggests an effect caused by ‘fields of tension between opposing power sources,’ which he calls ‘discordant trends’ . For example, where an increase in ‘global’ styles occurs, there is a corresponding increase in local styles. Similarly, where more homogeneity occurs, there is also an increase in diversity. In response to wider access, any swing towards the controlling of one particular area of music transmission elicits a corresponding swing in the other direction. For example, there appears to be a strong increase in live performance practices and oral learning despite the huge growth of digitally transmitted music.
Patterns of behaviour that have long been established in the oral tradition, such as gift-sharing, are coming to override other systems of exchange in an online environment, even infiltrating areas where it was not previously established. Certain forms of online cooperation such as the communal development of free software demonstrate this. These online behaviour patterns show that modes of operation once assumed by the hegemonic force to dominate interaction are proving to be weak in the face of new online practices that have their basis in the gift-sharing system of exchange.
The difficulty seems to be that this kind of online social behaviour is not often acknowledged. The more common view of the internet links it with globalisation as an economic force with all the accompanying negative fears such as homogenisation and commodification. In many instances cultural practices associated with TTM are often successfully transferred to an online environment without visible adverse effects. The trouble, as Anthony McCann points out, is that ‘embedded cultural practices and values of traditional music have not been defined which means they are being threatened.’
Up to a point this assertion is correct. However, it could be the case that the exponents of TTM are progressively defining their cultural practices. In some senses, the very act of representing traditional music in all its forms on the internet has forced the community to become more articulate in its attempts at definition. This is visible on sites like the Irish Traditional Music Archive website which opens with a definition of Irish Traditional music along with a description of some of the social structures that support it, and some of the abc tune-finding sites that cater for a specific set of users who have an understanding of this relatively new notation system.
But in what other way can this problem be managed? As Anthony McCann states, it is important to approach the subject ‘away from the goods-based analysis that has dominated Common Property Resources literature’. In addition, he insists that, paraphrasing C. A. Gregory, we must not prescribe cultural activity but assert the contemporary validity of traditional practices as a ‘contemporary response to contemporary conditions’.
His strategy for dealing with the wider problem is to ensure that a dialogue is maintained that will address issues of appropriation and under-maintenance at an early stage from within the community itself. One suggestion Anthony McCann makes that may assist TTM stand up to threats is a strong sense of a group boundary within the traditional community both on and off line. There is evidence of the existence of such a feature, encouraging the capacity for cooperation and self-regulation within all facets of the community.
Fears of homogenisation, loss of cultural identity and standardisation of traditional music expressed by traditional music practitioners in a survey conducted in Scotland and Ireland between 1999 and 2002 are most likely to come about through conflicts with agents that deal with issues such as copyright law and publishing (leading to increased professionalism and commodification), the world wide web itself (with globalisation bringing homogenisation, loss of cultural identity and standardisation) and the shift away from oral transmission and live performance towards a more textualised virtual replica of TTM. It is necessary to look in detail at each of these areas. Bear in mind Krister Malm’s ‘discordant trends’.
There are different processes of change at hand that seem to be completely discordant. You listen for a pattern but what you hear is cacophony.
Let us look first at online publishing and copyright. It is important to make a few points as a brief background to copyright law and traditional music. There follows an example that highlights the dilemma faced by the traditional music community by making a distinction between common property, common knowledge and intellectual property.
Common property deals with physical items such as roads, air, light, water, fishing stocks, etc. It deals with basic human rights. For the sake of argument, from the traditional musician’s standpoint, let us say that non-copyrighted musical texts fall into this category - the texts are a physical resource to which the whole community has access.
Common knowledge is to do with oral traditions, like local knowledge of the best place to catch fish or how to get to the train station. Oral musical sources fall into this category.
Both the above categories have the potential for being commodified, but because of the nature of the knowledge, they exist primarily within the gift-sharing system.
Intellectual property, on the other hand, is commodifiable information that exists in a commodity-based economy. It implies a physical manifestation of an idea, protected by legal rights. It is therefore a concept that is alien to the practices of the traditional music community. However, the distinctions between these categories become blurred where the two economic systems come into contact.
The problem is that in general, for traditional musicians, the collective repertoire is perceived as being in the temporary guardianship of the current living community. This concept is in conflict with the music industry’s idea of music generated by an individual composer or songwriter who is then assigned legal rights over that intellectual material. The organisations involved with drawing up copyright law (PRS & IMRO) make the assumption that all music can be commodified, and it is on that basis that the music industry exists. In copyright law music becomes a composer’s personal property until a deal is done with a publishing and or recording company.
PRS & IMRO have a certain category of material that is deemed to be ‘in the public domain’. In copyright law the term public domain defines anything that is left over after copyright has been assigned. The term is, according to Anthony McCann ‘synonymous with uninhibited exploitation of the music. It reinforces the anonymous dichotomy’. There has been an idea predominant in the music industry that all traditional music is anonymous, usually with ‘ancient’ origins.
For traditional musicians it is not that the communal repertoire consists of anonymous material but that the concept of a composer has a different significance. Traditional musicians are often well aware of the source of the material they play (i.e. the person who wrote it, who they learned it from, the book it came out of, the group who recorded it etc.), despite the large proportion of anonymous material. With more contemporary material often the name of a tune writer can be found out with little effort. All the material is in ‘the public domain’ in the sense that anyone has the informal right to perform any tune from the common repertoire in a live setting - at a session, say.
So why is this issue so fraught with problems for both sides? What is happening here is that, as mentioned earlier, the two systems do not share a common language. As Anthony McCann says, ‘the difficulty is a lack of a shared lexicon or consensus of concepts.’ The copyright laws have been forced to take account of the cultural values of traditional musicians. However the results are inadequate for both parties. In the case of PRS & IMRO assigning rights is confusing and complicated. In the case of the musicians, it leads to individualistic behaviour that is out of character with interaction based on gift-sharing within the community.
Before looking at how copyright is dealt with on the internet it is necessary to understand the background to how copyright currently works with recorded material. Where the recording of traditional material is concerned, the issue of what is possible to copyright and what is not rears its head. The industry supports copyright in order that the livelihoods of their members can be safeguarded. However, traditional musicians have different criteria for a system of safeguards. It is more to do with ensuring elements of the collective repertoire cannot be enclosed and claimed by individuals for financial gain. This in effect would restrict the use of a common resource to others.
When recording an album of traditional music, what usually happens is that the group will record an album with about 12 tracks or ‘sets’ of tunes, and perhaps songs, some of which may also include a tune or set of tunes. Let us take the album Sidewaulk by Scottish band Capercaillie as an example. Here we find ten tracks, six of which are songs, four of those being ‘traditional’ (i.e. anonymous) and two with an author assigned. Of the remaining four tracks, one is a set of three tunes, two of which are traditional and the other composed by a member of the band. The next is a set of five tunes, all traditional except one which was composed by a living musician not in the band. The next set consists of six tunes, one of which was composed by a member of the band, the rest being traditional. The last set is one of four tunes, two traditional and two composed, one by a member of the band and the other by a person not in the band.
All together there are twenty-four items to be taken into consideration, seventeen of which are traditional and seven original. But how do you assign royalties when both traditional and original compositions are included in one track? PRS & IMRO have recently decided that the ‘copyright-free’ status of traditional music (i.e. anonymous) should be upheld, but that musicians can claim 100% royalties on the ‘fixation’ of a particular arrangement. However, a composer can receive royalties for a composition in the genre, which ensures he or she will get royalties as a composer if it is included in an arrangement recorded by someone else.
As anyone can see, when the material on an album is similar in format to the above, filling in notification forms for PRS or IMRO is a complex matter in the extreme. Furthermore, when you consider that each basic tune lasts only a few seconds, the whole notification system seems farcical.
Online, new opportunities for claiming rights over sources are becoming evident while boundaries between publishing and free public information are becoming increasingly blurred. To get a taste of the arguments that those in the commodity-based music industry are currently engaged in with respect to the internet there follows a précis of a debate published in the PRS members’ magazine. Two PRS members discussed whether the owners of ‘rights’ should ‘get tough on the use of music on the internet’. Following that are some extracts from a pamphlet produced by the British Music Rights organisation. First, PRS member Andrew King:
Intellectual property is treated like property because it suits people to do so. Protecting copyright is meant to ensure that artists and performers earn a living.
Creators are encouraged to create, and society as a whole can reap the benefits.
The internet is not a good alternative to mail order business. 50% of all e-commerce transactions break down because of customer dissatisfaction. There is evidence that sites such as Napster complemented rather than substituted CD purchases. The only new thing the internet has brought is a downloadable ring for mobile phones. The important thing new technologies bring us is new ways of creating and experiencing music rather than new ways of distributing it. Global music/entertainment corporations only have one goal in mind - money. Napster was not closed down because it was infringing the rights of musicians but because it was taking trade away from big record companies. The web is not about changing the distribution of music, it’s about changing the experience of music. In response to Andrew King’s argument Dominic King wrote:
The difficulty with the internet is that we are not dealing with physical objects. ‘Inescapably, music is a product.’ There is a lot of illegal downloading of music files. It is a battle about values.
Corporations have fantastic potential to do good - let’s influence them to provide the best services, the best music they can. The question will always be, is music worth paying for?
Sending sound files on the internet can always be useful as a promotional tool. However, industrial sized copying has to be countered for the sake of the industry and the talent it serves. It is easy to minimise the effects of a something-for-nothing culture. We don’t want to offend the music corporations. They want to minimise their payments to me, but at least they do pay me. The PRS licences the right to make music available on the internet. Sites providing music all require a PRS licence. Licence fees are calculated according to the scale of music used. PRS aims to distribute licence money to members in respect of all the music made available on sites. Where this is not cost effective they will use samples of musical data.
British Music Rights is an organisation launched in 2000 that claims to represent the interests of composers and music publishers. Their aim is to raise awareness of issues related to copyright in the area of new technology. They say they are raising awareness of the value of music (for value read financial value).
In their publicity they talk of. . . the detrimental impact that unauthorised music sites and distribution of unlicensed music via the internet will have on the long-term prospects of composers, songwriters and publishers. . . Music is a £4.6 billion industry with export figures estimated at £1.3 billion and employment figures at around 122,000. The music industry is therefore as vital to the British economy as it is to our cultural well-being . . . We have the support of a huge cross section of music creators from a wide range of genres including pop, classical, film & media . . . We need to create understanding of the impact that new technologies are having on music creators at all levels and respect the fact that they should have a choice about their music. . . if you are accessing music on the internet then you could simply have something to say when colleagues or fellow students are using ‘free’ music sites.
The further from its origin traditional music gets the more likely it is to become commodified. On the internet this is even more likely to happen because it is easier. Music ‘products’ can be downloaded; abc can facilitate the compiling of tune books for publication, and online lessons can be set up for personal gain, and so on. If too many individuals with the motive of personal profit take advantage of traditional music resources that have copyright-free status, it could be argued that the common resource on the internet is endangered. As Kollock states ‘Individually reasonable behaviour leads to collective disaster.’
The issue of copyright is closely linked with the concept of commodification and the arguments put forward in the above examples from the music industry exhibit the conviction that music is a commodity that individuals and corporations can gain financially from.
In their eyes, a ‘creation’ becomes property that can be bought or sold. Society is divided into those who give and those who take. There is the implication that the opportunities promised by the internet have not lived up to the expectations of those in the industry. The impact new technologies are having is portrayed as negative because creators of music are losing control and cannot choose how, when and to whom their music is being distributed - and are losing out financially as a result. In reality, it is the big corporations who are losing out on potential profits. The industry is still trying to control physical objects when music is being passed on increasingly as digital information. The fear that a ‘something-for-nothing’ culture (i.e. people illegally dowloading pre-recorded music from free sites) is going to lead to losses for the industry is genuine. They are beginning to believe the internet is better at bringing new ways of creating and experiencing music than distributing products, as was initially hoped. Meanwhile, PRS is trying to control the situation by requiring that a licence be procured for every music site.
To return to traditional music the commons, in theory, does not produce commodities, but commodification has occurred in the traditional music community. If the situation becomes unbalanced, i.e. commodity transactions become dominant, the form of the ‘product’ begins to be dictated from outside the community i.e. by individuals driven by profit-making.
If a modern tune were chosen for a collection it would be considered intellectual property, and the author’s permission would have to be granted and a contractual agreement made. However, as soon as intellectual property enters the frame, a dilemma arises. Once a tune becomes individual property rather than common property, in theory it is excluded from the domain of the common resource and a certain type of individualism takes over as a result of it having become a part of a commodity-based system of exchange. The social value of traditional music is reduced as a result.
Conversely, a tune published on the internet as an abc file becomes common property. The social value of the music will be enhanced. These two processes are non-exclusive. Tunes can also become de-commodified. It is not a one-way process. A copyrighted tune may be picked up by the community and shared as if it has emerged from within the traditional setting of the session with little regard for its original commercial context. Frank Nordberg has gone as far as placing a notice on his abc site informing visitors that they may not use abc files as part of a collection that is to be published or commodified in any way.
However, the industry attitude can have a knock-on effect on online TTM as was clear from the following example when the website The Digital Tradition ran up against a publishing company who wanted to close it down for infringement of copyright. The site is well known amongst the folksong fraternity for providing free access to their collection of 5,600 folk songs and the tunes to 3,200 of them.
The dispute resulted in the site being closed down while the legalities were sorted out. This kind of site where information is being offered for free as a public good will keep on running up against this sort of problem until a clear way of dealing with traditional material on the internet is agreed upon, both by the traditional music community and the publishing industry.
Spokesman Dick Greenhaus now encourages visitors to the site to note the sources, and warns them that the music on the site cannot be used commercially. This example demonstrates an awareness of the need to define the cultural practices of a gift-sharing community. By publicising the conflict, Greenhaus is helping the community in claiming the right to continue the cultural practices of an oral tradition in a new setting.
Historically, common rights emerge in response to threats, dispossession or invasion. The legal rights that have been established emerged in response to threats - but were the threats an invasion of cultural territory, and exactly who is being threatened here - the traditional music community or the music industry founded on neo-classical economics?
The example of the dispute surrounding The Digital Tradition demonstrates the conflict between profit-making enterprises and free online services. Additionally, there is a movement to provide a huge free archive of traditional material online. As well as Dick Greenhaus’s folksong archive there are many collections of tunes in abc format.
However, at the same time there is evidence that at least one writer of abc files has held back material in the event that he may decide to publish it in book form, an activity that has a higher potential for financial gain.
Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, Lúnasa pre-empted the publication of their own soon to be published tune book by publishing pages from it on their own website as JPegs in standard staff notation for all the world to see. Perhaps they were working on the assumption that, given a taster of what is on offer online, people are more likely to want the material object - the book. Jerry Holland did a similar thing with abc files and staff notation examples from his book of material from Cape Breton.
It is difficult to tell from this set of examples whether a real threat from commodification exists. Anthony McCann, however is quite clear on the subject:
If commodification is allowed to go unchecked, a very precious resource, the domain of gift, will be diminished. The reason it has been allowed to go unchecked is because value systems are deeply embedded in the cultural practice of traditional musicians. The community is ruled by a set of rights that do not have to be explicit in each interaction as they are taken for granted.
It is true that there must be some form of monitoring commodity exchange of the musical resource. However, interaction on the new platform of the internet has precipitated the establishment of firmer codes of behaviour for exchange amongst traditional musicians that are open access by nature, leading to easier monitoring.
With globalisation comes a fear of homogenisation, loss of cultural identity and standardisation. The opposite of globalisation is ‘communalisation’, a term used by Richard Peterson in his essay on the links between these two processes. Peterson’s claim, like that of Krister Malm, is that as globalisation enters people’s awareness, a reaction occurs to promote processes that counteract its effect.
As evidence Peterson mentions research undertaken over the last fifty years on radio audiences. There had been an initial fear that mass media would create ‘dumb audiences’ who would simply accept what was served up to them without question. However, it has been shown that instead an ‘auto-production of culture’ took place, with audiences selecting from the whole broadcast output to suit their individual needs.
It has been seen that with the introduction of traditional tune books the fear of standardisation associated with mass production was voiced. When notation was first used by ethnomusicologists to represent traditional music they reinforced the idea that they were recording a ‘dying’ art form. As a result, the use of notation became associated with preservation. This association, along with the breakdown of social structures, may have led to the values of the processes of memorisation and the oral tradition generally to be reduced. The idea was that the repertoire could be safely preserved in a text-based form. However, many musicians embraced musically literacy, using books to their advantage as an aide-mémoire with no apparent detrimental effect on the repertoire itself or its modes of exchange. Musical material was more widely distributed, but numerous versions and variations of tunes continue to circulate. In turn, the live music scene benefited as material came more swiftly into circulation.
By a similar process, an increase in notated versions of tunes as a result of internet transmission (e.g. as abc files) has again led to fears of standardisation and the same arguments against notating material can be seen in discussions surrounding new transmission systems on the internet.
Musicians are able to boost their personal repertories from the vast selection of material available in a selective way and, as Peterson says, the fact that there is material available from such a vast number of sources on the internet ‘suggests globalisation, but it can be a communalising influence as well’. This is borne out by the fact that many traditional musicians use the internet to support local live music sessions with locally generated material. The oral tradition in many areas survives and material continues to be regenerated. What seems to be happening is that an increased fear of standardisation occurs within the community when a conflict emerges between those who only pass material on orally and those who trust the ‘authenticity’ of notated sources.
The continued resistance to sourcing material from the internet amongst the more conservative elements of the traditional music community is an important voice from within the community as a whole. It cannot be denied that a global resource seems to contradict any notion of regional identity. Some musicians fear that the value of musical material and local tradition is lessened as it is taken further from its original context.
When one semi-professional traditional musician from Northern Ireland complained to me of people recording or videoing sessions in which he was playing, he was expressing a commonly held fear that the music is being removed from its natural habitat into one in which it will make no sense. The music would become de-valued and the players could lose their status as its rightful guardians.
In contrast to this view, a young player who is not yet established on the scene described how, being of Irish descent but growing up in England in a place where there was no established Irish musical community, he felt a sense of displacement. His view was that it was all very well to have opinions that criticise the use of the internet for sourcing material, but he needed to build his own repertoire from these sources because there was no pool of local players from whom he could glean material that meant something culturally to him. His argues that if there is a dearth of local sources then you have to resort to recordings and other resources like abc to find what you want.
Both players are using a system of generalised exchange in which there must be reciprocation. This generalised exchange has been in existence in the traditional music community for a long time, and now it exists in a virtual environment. The musician in the first example (well established with a strong sense of regionality) cannot in his mind separate the concept of globalisation from cultural theft. However, the experience of the young man in the second example demonstrates the communalising effect that can occur as a reaction to globalisation. Internet transmission can never truly threaten cultural identity or displace cultural behavioural practices already in existence because it cannot meet live transmission on its own terms. By its very nature, online TTM cannot transmit those live social behaviours that are the manifestation of the cultural identity people like the older musician so fear losing.
Again, the pattern of a reaction developing in response to a perceived threat can be seen to be occurring as methods for representing music digitally are developed on the internet. There is, however, no evidence to support the fact that traditional music is becoming more prescriptive as a result. If anything, traditional musicians have learned from the lessons of the past and are defining their own parameters for representing their music.
Finally we come to the idea that online TTM threatens live performance. What we need to guard against is that, as a result of internet transmission, the balance shifts too far away from live participatory performance practices. Once again Richard Peterson’s idea of a communalising reaction comes into play. Certainly, from my own research it can be seen that, although there is an increase in the amount of ‘notated’ music as abc files, there is also more live music practice occurring. Traditional musicians who attend sessions share the same values whether they use online TTM or not and interact to promote a common goal - the continuation of the oral tradition. My research shows that 100% of abc users in the sample group also picked up music by ear in a live participatory setting, with most regularly attending a local session.
The traditional music community demands a degree of social interaction in a live setting that can never be replicated in a virtual environment. Where there is more global transmission, there is also an increased emphasis on the local scene. One must therefore conclude that he World Wide Web can enhance live music on a local level.
For a full copy of this thesis contact Dartington College of Arts and Plymouth University Libraries.