Creative Commons, and Music in the Age of Its Digital Reproduction

Bob Ostertag last night at a Creative Commons event at Shine made an interesting reference to Walter Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproduction. His point was that in the age of digital media consumption, we have moved beyond the distinction between original and copy, a distinction near and dear to critics of mass re-production. Beyond the distinctions between copies, even (!). I think it’s clear that electronic consumables, downloads in particular, offer no “original/copy” paradigm. An in fact what would the original be, of, say an Indie band’s studio session? There’s no “original performance,” as long as there are 4 guys, pedals, amps, and a mixing board in the mix. Overdubs have been in use since Jimmy Page and gang punched out Led Zeppelin I during a 24 hour session that was the maximum studio time they could afford.
What’s changed, I think, is the notion of ownership that has normally gone hand in glove with consumption. The intangible nature of downloadable files does make them seem less permanent, present, and durable. We dont really think of owning them so much as the computer or iPod on which they reside. The files themselves can come and go. In fact we’re comfortable losing the thing itself as long as we have an “alias” that points to it. Delicious and music…
If we consume music, use music, by having access to it and not by pulling a record off the shelf, a record that only I can play and that I cannot play if I have loaned it to a friend… if in other words music is becoming information, and our consumption of it involves finding and playing, then the value of music will indeed come under serious threat. Because we relate to information as knowledge, not as object. If it’s possible that we relate to music as something we know, and if playing music does not require holding it in one’s hands, a transformation of enormous significance is under way. Music companies will be able to make money only at the gate, charging for admission to the musical event, as if music were an ongoing performance and we can either be within earshot (paid) or not…
As if we were dialing all the way back to the days before recordings were possible, when concerts were live an live only. And indeed, some distinctions made by the DRM involve the consumer’s ability to play, fast forward and rewind: streaming music is far cheaper than controllable music. Music is consumed over time; it takes time to listen to music, to experience music. The industry can withold control over the playback, then, and charge for that. Again, a sign that we have drifted far away from the ownership paradigm. And when music goes the way of social networking, and is enjoyed by listeners tuned in to hear their dj friends and compatriots? We’ll give the control over to the producer, shelve the remote, and hand over our ears. What will we be willing to pay for then? Perhaps the friend’s right to dj/broadcast–more than the music…
There is one more thing about music, a quality that we’re all willing to pay for. Memory. Music accrues memory with each playing. Each time we listen to a track, we are hearing and recalling at the same time. That’s why we experience music we know as a recognition, a recognition of the tune/sound itself and of our attachment to it also. There’s money in the memory bank.

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