sounds like trouble



Too Good to be Legal? Digitised Content, Control, and The Other Side of Copyright.

Some of the audio links on the site were hosted on Posterous, because I preferred the way it embedded audio, but Posterous has since closed down. I have not re-hosted all of the audio but some of it and some related pieces are hosted at

It is also important to note that the Beatles piece linked to below has been taken down with a copyright infringement notice from the SoundCloud bot, otherwise known as SoundCloud’s automatic content protection system. I have left the link as it was. The evolution of this particular piece continues to be logged, as it has taken on a life of its own.


1. Thesis: Too Good to be Legal? Digitised Content, Control, and The Other Side of Copyright.
2. 7” Vinyl: All Together Now – Everything The Beatles Ever Did.
3. Audio CD: Threshold – A selection of audio from the exhibition.
4. DVD: Volume@Currys – Video documentation of the event.
5. Audio CD: Appendix D – Supporting audio files.
6. Data CD: Appendix E – Photographic and other documentation.

Introduction 3
The Digital Spring 4
Mirror Neurons 9
Too Good to be Legal 10
The Origins of My Practice 11
Threshold Exhibition 13
Volume@Currys 15
Toward ‘The Other Side’ 18
All Together Now 19
Conclusion 23
APPENDIX A: How a selected two minutes from Threshold was made 25
APPENDIX B: Threshold Exhibition System and Method 26
APPENDIX C: Supporting Web Links 30
APPENDIX D: Supporting Audio CD 31
APPENDIX E: Supporting Data CD for Threshold and Volume 32
APPENDIX F: Additional Documents 32
Bibliography 35
Online References 35


My sonic art practice incorporates sounds from our digital environment and engages with Internet streaming technologies, focussing on creating new dialogues between multiple streams. My recordings reveal taboos associated with ownership, since even sounds we may hear in passing are owned before they reach our ears.

Enabled to stream or download anything we like, we do, and since it is simpler to engage with a piece of music than it is to read the 17,462 words of the iTunes terms and conditions , we tend to consider the former our priority over the latter. Altering what we hear to suit ourselves, and distributing our alterations, leaves us on what the president of the Recording Industry Association of America called “the other side of copyright”. (Sherman, C. 2011. [online]) What we may be able to do contrasts with what we may be inhibited from doing, which makes the borderlines very interesting areas in which to work.

Sounds in unlistenable quantity are available from an industry desperate to sell and from a global community of sharers determined to give it away. On demand and en mass, tariffs, usage caps and disk space seem our only ceilings plus, of course, our own capacity for information.

In this submission I will look at the regulation associated with sound carried by digital media. I will channel my approach using an ideological and art-centred argument, based on perceptions and examples from my creative practice, rather than an argument based on a conventional study of law or politics.

I will discuss what lies behind the contest between the content industry and the Internet. I argue that corporate engagement in digital media persists with a counter-productive philosophy. I will observe, that with liberating technology on one side and restrictive legislation on the other, the Arab Spring of 2011 is a related parallel of self-determination and territorial control.

During the same year the content industry, represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), lobbied for a bill in the United States Senate and another in the House of Representatives, to introduce laws ostensibly to combat digital piracy, but they are more realistically an attempt at disempowering the Internet and its successful industries, Google, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube, Amazon, and many more. Their rise coincides with the waning influence of the established content industry, which in its decline cites piracy rather than progress.

Since researching the U.S. SOPA /PIPA bill, referred to in the text of my research, it has become current news across the Internet. I have attempted to keep this important part of my research up to date. The bill is scheduled for its first reading in the U.S. Senate, on the 24th January 2012, during the week following my submission.

My perspective in both my written and my practical work is informed by my own relationship with digital media, which began with my acquisition of a digital sampling keyboard in 1988. Although my current practical work is not placed within the conventional bounds of the music industry, it touches some sensitive borders of its domain. One piece entitled ‘All Together Now – Everything the Beatles Ever Did’ is made up of 226 Beatles songs, the entire collection as released in ‘Beatles Box Set’ on iTunes. Documenting this and two other very different pieces of my practical work provides a broad context for my argument.

A live sound art event entitled Volume@Currys, held in a local electrical retail superstore and a sound art installation entitled Threshold, held in the Usurp Art Gallery in West Harrow, are documented with audio, video and photo files presented on CD and DVD. All Together now is documented by the submission, in duplicate, of a 7” vinyl dub plate, cut on one side only .

The Digital Spring

The power held within the Internet can be measured in the multi-billion dollar values attached to what have become known as tech companies. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay and Facebook, show the potential and rapid growth of tech power, though it is not confined to Silicon Valley, or to entities that measure themselves in business dollars. The change is multi-dimensional.

Digital media affects the way we publish, who owns what is published and of who can do what with it. The individual is enabled with more communicative ability than ever before, with the power to create his or her own media and transmit it globally. The emergent world of alternative news sites, bloggers, posters and status updaters utilise expanding networks, accompanying itself with rich media; graphics, audio and video. Public communication bypasses the established conduits of newspaper, television and radio. We no longer need the old media’s projected opinion or worldview. We can find other voices, on location from Tahrir Square in Cairo to St. Paul’s in London. From Wall Street to Damascus, via Google, Twitter and Facebook, web sites aggregate information from them all, producing independent statistics, charts and demographics. We can see, from anywhere in the world, news from the BBC, CNN and Fox and assess that against news from Russia Today and Al Jazeera. Now we can understand the world for ourselves.

In 2011, digital media enabled the political movements across the Middle East. Social network sites circulated information locally as well as internationally, the global visibility being effective in mobilising international political support. During the Egyptian Spring, photographs of street graffiti circulated around the Internet. The messages ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ sprayed on Cairo walls, told the people where to get the news and where to share it with the world. State television statements became laughable when compared with information aggregated from thousands of sources around the country.

The Arab Spring demonstrates the clear view held by the population across North Africa and the Middle East, of what the western populace takes for granted every day. The privileged few who were able to exit these countries in the post WWII period and make a living in Europe and the USA could return with tales of freedoms impracticable in their home countries, but there was no way to channel or focus a movement to change the structure of power, so infamously guarded by ruthless and brutal governments. How else were the freedoms and economies the West communicated to the repressed Arab population with such a revolutionary outcome other than by digital media? Digital communications were essential to the success of the Egyptian protests. Tweets from Tahrir, mobile phone camera footage, photos and first hand accounts from family and friends were posted on Facebook and YouTube, instantly distributable worldwide, unfiltered by state, unfiltered by corporation.

Or so it would seem, until you realize that a corporation is still the carrier of the news. Google and Facebook, in particular, are the new corporations to whom we turn to carry this kind of data. Since everything digital is a copy, what is carried must also be stored. If what is stored is accessible by the corporation, it is also accessible by the government of the country in which the server is stored. Is the government a bigger or lesser threat than the corporation? Since the latter is not removed from power periodically and a corporation is likely to be a constant factor through consecutive elections, the more powerful and influential a corporation becomes, the more responsibility it bears, and the more the public look to it for integrity in it’s practice.

Google’s core value, ‘Don’t Be Evil’, was established before the company sold stock to the public in 2004 and became valued at billions of dollars, 192 billion at the start of 2011. In his book, “I’m Feeling Lucky, Confessions of Google Employee No. 59”, Douglas Edwards discusses the borderlines of the celebrated ethos as practiced by Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin:

“We were willing to walk up to the edge of evil to get a closer look, but ultimately, Larry and Sergey were unwilling to cross certain lines. “Don’t be evil” is not the same as “Don’t consider, test and evaluate evil”. (Edwards, 2011 p.310)

Within a Western socio-political structure, the uninhibited public sharing of our thoughts, politics and many personal details is a mark of belief in our values and faith in the system in which they are placed. It also acts as a measure and a flag of independence, daring anyone to attempt to take it down. Nevertheless, to imagine that your individual privacy is secure is ridiculous when you have already published most of it yourself on Facebook and left your Internet surfing trail on Google.

The 2002 Patriot Act sacrificed privacy rights of U.S. citizens in the name of national security in the paranoid and fearful atmosphere left in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist atrocities in New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Things can happen quickly. Lobbyists from a corporation or a digital or human rights pressure group would not expect such rapid results. The inspiring achievement of the Arab Spring has been to demonstrate to western activists that success of some very tangible degree can be achieved by coordinating, via even the most simple of digital communication channels, and again, simply, by refusing to go away. It remains to be seen what the Occupy movement can achieve, but it cannot be disputed that this form of protest has been coordinated in the inspiring wake of the Arab Spring and would not have been possible in the first place without the Digital Spring.

Alternative news networks carried the story of Occupy Wall Street around the world while the media corporations ignored it, perhaps hoping that it would disappear in the usual sort of time and into the usual sort of apathy. Mainstream media critics are polite but patronising, asking for everyone to go home now having made their ‘very important point’. With independent digital media streaming from the demonstrations, the mainstream media is itself being reported on, and so treads with a little more respect. If the economy, the police or the government turns seriously dysfunctional, the populace will, as seen in Egypt, coordinate using new technologies to organize their resistance. Both government and citizens must take a long-term view in this game of digital chess, which favours the rapid dissemination of information over any attempt to control it, other than a heavy handed censorship.


“In the Homebrew Computer Club, right away, everyone was willing to tell what they knew…this club was about showing people, when you can design things, share it with others, and if you need help, you’ll find people that will help you…the whole idea was, if you help other people learn how you’ve done something, they’re going to take to from there, one step further…Nobody knew this was going to be an industry worth billions of dollars. In the Homebrew Computer Club, there would be a lot of talk about social revolution; we’re going to shake up how the world works…we were inspired that we were on top of one of the greatest changes in the history of mankind.” (Wozniak, S. 2006)

Digital media is a theatre of control and resistance, exposing the conflict of interest between innovation and regulation. Sharing culture (digital files plus the Internet), liberates information previously controlled within an economic structure harnessing information as power. Ownership of digital property is hard to regulate, and digital media is situated within in a shifting framework of opportunity and restriction. The democratisation of information established by the altruistic innovators of the computer revolution, like Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak, is at odds with the established corporate economy.

On January 18th 2012, some of the world’s busiest and most significant websites ‘blacked out’ their home pages, in an unprecedented action noticeable across the Internet, drawing attention and registering their opposition to proposed legislation in the United States, named the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA (HR3261), which threatens still, at the time of writing, to reverse the progressive nature of the Internet. Forbes publishing and Media Company reported at least 10 million signatories to various petitions against the bill. The SOPA bill commences with the brief summary:

“To prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.” Govtrack 2011

The other purposes are most pertinent. I argue that they are malicious, motivated toward a fundamental shift of power in the unprecedented control of the Internet by large companies, at the expense of small companies. That may sound just like good old-fashioned aggressive business practice, but there is more at stake in this strategic manoeuvre.

SOPA requires ISPs to block Internet domain names hosted outside the US, accused, but not necessarily proven, of infringing copyright. It puts the burden of censorship directly onto the ISP Company, which can face statutory fines for allowing the content to be available from within the U.S. The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls SOPA “Disastrous legislation.” The popular Boing Boing blog website said:

“Boing Boing could never co-exist with a SOPA world: we could not ever link to another website unless we were sure that no links to anything that infringes copyright appeared on that site. So in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we’d have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits.” (Cory Doctrow, 2012. [online])

If SOPA is passed, the US will transform, through its litigious culture, into a closed internet system like China’s, Syria’s and Iraq’s, creating a top heavy internet economy where small businesses and start-ups will give way to corporate ISPs. It would also force the US internet user into a corporate corral whilst the rest of the world (minus China, Iraq etc) would continue with the open model, leaving the US years behind in internet progress, but under the control of a very few powerful corporations.

The power of the Internet having been so usurped, it could then be remodelled to a shape suiting those few controlling interests, no longer bearing the open minded positivism of the technology’s originators such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who shared their inventions without patents, so that the technology and the ethos of the open internet, could spread without the inhibitions of acts exactly like SOPA.

Criticism of the bill has been circulated via the Internet, simplifying the complex wording of the bill into the apocalyptic summary of the end of the Internet. Leading technology news web site Tech Dirt published a more astute assessment of SOPA:

“This isn’t about one bill. This isn’t about one issue. This is about an entire process. This is about the public – not the big corporations – finally saying “enough is enough” and making Congress recognize that crony capitalism, where subsidies and protectionism are doled out willy-nilly to favourite campaign contributors, is not acceptable to the people they’re supposed to represent…This is about recognizing that the internet and the massive amount of new innovation and services – and the worldwide ability to communicate with others – is a game changing innovation for everyone.” (Masnik, M. 2012 [online])

The waves emanating from tightly controlled copyright protectionism crash hard upon technological innovation. The implications go beyond sampling and piracy into the culture of creativity. Those on the ‘other side of copyright’ will not be held back from the opportunities in front of them. Piracy is not the issue. Art is the issue. The two should not be confused. However benign the real issue of anti-piracy may be, parallels with censorship are brought by the authors of the bill, and they paint their own motives as somewhat sinister. Blaming technology, artists and even the public for piracy seems more akin to the paranoid and ranting state television broadcasts of a failing dictatorship, than to a modern business consortium. The criticism of SOPA coursing through the Internet demonstrates how out of touch its authors and supporters are, and though the latter are visibly in decline , the authors will remain at large.

“Get ready, because more is coming. SOPA is simply a re-version of COICA which was proposed last year, which did not pass, and all of this goes back to the failure of the DMCA to disallow sharing as a technical means and DMCA goes back to the Audio Home Recording Act, which horrified those industries…The hard thing to do is be ready. Because that’s the real message of PIPA and SOPA. Time Warner has called, and they want us all back on the couch, just consuming. Not producing, not sharing, and we should say no.” (Shirky, 2012 [online])

The blackout protest saw some sites unavailable for the day whilst others blacked out only a part of the site. Google blacked their logo but were searchable. There is further to go with protecting the internet, and those companies that did not go offline held back valuable potential to escalate future protest if SOPA or any other legislation gets any closer to threatening it.

It is important that artists produce content in spite of the challenges of piracy and retarded copyright. Censorship, be it through corporate lobbying of politicians or through repressive government, generates resistance. Art does not depend on industry and online, “Content is King.” (Gates, B. 1996 [online])

Mirror Neurons

We are in a transitional period of developing technologies where decisions are now being made on policies of re-structuring the digital balance. The question of who owns what is changing how we receive that which is produced, affecting who produces it and how it is paid for – if at all. Since the digital copy can bypass a digital payment, Copyright law, the determining legislation of intellectual property, has become the arena for an urgent contest of control over technological innovation. But three hundred years of Copyright should be viewed in a wider context. Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran states in his Reith lectures collection from 2003:

“One of the hallmarks of our species is what we call culture. Culture depends crucially on imitation of parents and teachers and the imitation of complex skills may require the participation of mirror neurons. I think that, somewhere around 50,000 years ago, maybe the mirror neurons system became sufficiently sophisticated that there was an explosive evolution of this ability to mime complex actions, in turn leading to cultural transmission of information which is what characterizes us as humans.” Ramachandran, S. 2001 p.44

Human memory banks are full of data created by people and, only in the last three hundred years, have our ideas been published in a system of ownership. Copyright defines ownership when an idea is made tangible, so do we own what we think? I argue that only the individual can have ownership of thoughts, though we are made up of our influences. We learn by copying and we copy what is important to us, from our first words and intonations, to sentences and songs.

As musician Brian Eno, in an interview published in 2011 at, said:

“The very idea of recording – of saving experiences in some way so that they become available to others – is, after all, the basis of human culture: namely, the way in which humans can pass information to each other and thus escape their purely genetic destiny.” Eno, B. 2011 [online]

We simply manifest our surroundings. In a world of digital technology, it is unimaginable that we should not manifest that world by using its tools and expressing its nature and our own in relation to it. The freedom and connectivity this offers has ramifications beyond the content industry, as people the world over realise the potential of their creativity and their liberty through digital networks.

Too Good to be Legal

“The major labels did not prepare themselves for the future. As a result they will be marginalized. Do not buy their disinformation campaign.” (Bob Lefsetz 21/12/11 [online])

On the RIAA website page titled ‘Tools for Parents’, aimed at possible recipients of a copyright notice sent to them by their internet service provider, there is some alarming language. The following dramatic advice is aimed toward the unwitting parent of a file-sharing child:

“If you have any P2P software on your computer, delete it, if you have a legal reason to use the software, delete any unauthorized files in your ‘shared’ folder. You should immediately take the following steps in order to prevent further infringing activity and to prevent serious legal and other consequences: Discontinue downloading…Permanently delete… safer to assume its not legal…secure your internet connection…Visit the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team website… talk with family members.” (RIAA, 2012 [online])

It reads like a crisis for the family, particularly the ‘other consequences’ which might imply to an increasingly fearful reader, that a lack of immediate family action will result in a shoot out with the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. In an emerging scenario reminiscent of a Monty Python comedy sketch, US-CERT’s stated mission is “to improve the nations’s cybersecurity posture.” (US-CERT 2012 [online])

It continues, revealing, perhaps unwittingly, the very heart of the true intent behind the web page, the policy and the philosophy of the RIAA and the content industry, encapsulated in the SOPA bill:

“Who pays when music is stolen? Singers, songwriters, musicians, album producers, audio engineers, sound technicians, recording studio managers, and many others that contribute to creating the music we love, and who depend on a healthy industry for their jobs and their families’ income…If you downloaded the file from a P2P service or a website that seems too good to be legal, then it’s safer to assume it is not legal.” (RIAA, 2012 [online])

The success of digital media is ‘good’. People want it. To Peer to Peer is aptly named for it represents a popular global movement of self-determination. ‘Too good to be legal’ is a proposition that we should accept that the interest of a handful of lobbying corporations should take priority over the interest of society. It asks us to accept ‘good’ as ‘bad’. It also supposes we should accept punishment if we should actively disagree. If something is ‘too good to be legal’, surely the imperative is to change the law for the better.

The music business’s failure to establish a working alternative to illegal file sharing has resulted in a desperate policy of intimidation. Its legacy is a liability to creativity, evidenced by its attempts to re-enforce out dated copyright laws at the exact time when they need modernising.

The Origins of My Practice

The ideas for the practical work, submitted here, came through a process, originating while simultaneously streaming a number of audio and video files. The broadband speed limitation of the domestic Internet service affected the separate streams in certain ways, which made the harnessing of the outcome a rewarding endeavour.

The more media that was simultaneously streamed, the more fragmented the playback became, as some media buffered whilst another successfully played. The stopping and starting between each stream orchestrated the playback, with no influence from me other than to add more streams to the queue.

One audio stream tells its own tale. Two simultaneously combine in dialogue, offering a variety of attributes dependent on the material. These can include rhythmic and harmonic tension, relationships of subject matter, and coincidence, relying on momentary timing. Choosing a start point for one stream to commence after another has started is a matter of great consideration, especially when relying on the unedited flow of both pieces to provide the essential attributes of the finished work. In some pieces a fraction of a second’s difference can add meaning. One attribute may be sacrificed for the betterment of the entire piece.

Three simultaneous audio streams can involve all the above, but also add interference from something unrelated to events happening between two of the other streams. The subjects of two may relate more than the third, the combination asking larger questions, with the answer lying in the success of the piece. Four adds depth and texture and is more likely to cause buffering if streamed live. The dialogue becomes fragmented and coincidence becomes more remarkable.

More streams produce a richer texture, deeply layered, prompting an effect achievable only by the combination, one which loses conventional listening patterns and expectations as the texture builds, demanding the listener shift their focus from the usual mode of attention to a song, it being impossible to identify one any more. This can apply to any number of audio streams, depending on the material. Compared with a mash up of over 30 solo piano pieces, several recordings of a multi instrumental pop group will have a very different frequency range, so the number of pieces mixed together is not always an indicator of intensity. With more frequencies emanating from more instrumentation, the original content becomes less audible, in an inverse relationship between quantity and definition, the sum eventually approaching white noise given enough recorded information.

This is particularly well illustrated by my submission piece ‘All Together Now’ , a mash up of 226 Beatles songs. Each song commences in order of length, with the longest first and with all 226 ending together. The ear has time to assess the arrival of each of the first songs to commence playing, but after some minutes and more rapidly arriving songs, the ear changes gear to accept the accumulation of component sounds as a single sound on which to focus. Attempting to pick out any one song or individual features of a song becomes impossible. The content is transformed.

The basic feature of forcing the bandwidth limitation by repeatedly adding more audio streams is that one will play whilst another buffers. This is a feature of streaming live from the Internet, which I was able to emulate by using noise gates. The Beatles’ piece and others mentioned above did not employ either technique. When one that was playing halts to buffer, another that was buffering has an increased chance to recommence. One starting can prevent another from playing.

Rather than concentrating on the mathematics of how this happened, I focussed more on the outcome affecting the chosen material. However punctuation was achieved, it was the effect of the conversation that I was interested to harness. Re-creating this was possible by editing, but I settled on noise gates as a technique in order to allow the material to interact according to its own dynamic content. Having established the technique, experiments with material expanded to encompass any source, so a synthesiser or a news report could interact.

Having created a working system to record and reproduce the phenomena, I was able to develop and co-ordinate recorded pieces, editing sections and reprocessing several recordings together; twice as many streams through the same system. Variable parameters and automation through software enabled me to evolve more sophisticated dialogues between all the components. This led to the expansion beyond audio files and towards mash ups of live material.

The ‘Mashup’ is a simple equation where one plus one equals two, but where two, the sum of the parts, has its own definition and meaning. I rather like the equation 1+1=3 to describe it, though the sum cannot truly be called independent figure, since it does depend on the component parts. However, its importance may be equal to either element, just like a musical instrument working in combination with another, each capable of a solo performance but uniting to create energy unique to the combination.


Threshold was conceived as a public interaction where visitors to the Usurp Art Gallery in West Harrow, could experience and interact with an installation creating a continual mash up of multiple audio streams. Engaging with the exhibition’s various interfaces, visitors could manipulate or influence the material, re-aligning their relationship with the sonic environment.

The installation consisted mostly of recording studio equipment, patched and configured to play as many sound-making machines as was practical, generating large amounts of transient sounds. A digital mixing desk acted as the hub for all the sounds, distributing them to four loud speakers around the gallery.

A patch bay enabled visitors to attach their own instrument or media player. The installed sound-making devices included a radio, various synthesisers, a CD and a cassette player, a MIDI drum kit and two drum machines.

The exhibition revolved around noise gate inserts, applied on each channel of the mixing desk, each with a patchable side chain, enabling one sound to trigger another, or to respond, according to the amplitude of the former, and the variable threshold level of the latter.

The exhibition produced a continual mash up of sounds originating from instruments inside the gallery, the synthesisers and drum machines, and also from sounds originating outside, via radio and the Internet. The interdependency of the audio channels allowed the audio to mash itself up via the noise gates and also respond to sounds generated or altered by hand, both processes taking away the post production nature of mash ups and placing them into a living environment of instantaneous disconfiguration and reconfiguration.

The distinctions between sounds from inside and outside the gallery are usually distinguishable when listening to the recordings, but there are periods when it is impossible to tell what is from where. Some recorded selections contain a gradual emergence of music from the radio CD or cassette, having previously been unrecognisable. Sounds interacting via the threshold settings are rhythmically interlocked and may play against the rhythm of another pair. A chain of sounds could fade in and out in sequence via the variable attack and release settings on the noise gates. Mixer channels were periodically muted and unmuted so recordings may develop with audio channels becoming audible one by one. Individual controllers of the various machines were also periodically manipulated, altering the character of the interactions over time.
Triggered by a random noise generator, a radio signal may momentarily emit white noise or big band jazz, news and travel or an orchestral symphony. Fragments of sound and passages of music lock together, in a reconfigured, co-ordinated assemblage of everyday sonic chaos.

Our ordinary day is accompanied by so many sounds, over which we have little control; passing cars or passing a shop, bleeps from handsets or home appliances, the noise is not abating. Using digital controllers we may choose to hear only a fraction of a larger sound, a sound bite or an abbreviated melody for a telephone ring-tone. Even an Mp3 is a fraction of an original sound file, having discarded some of the data.

The soundtrack to our lives may not be the album we think it is, but by taking control of it, we can reshape our passive hearing into active listening. How we hear and listen may be considered on a spectrum encompassing intent, partial intent, acceptance – reluctant or otherwise, and rejection, which would require audition however momentary. We can choose a play-list on our computers and iPods, but between the wind, the piped music and the radio commercial, what we get by chance maybe greater than what we choose.

When composing music, contemporary musicians use digital fragments to construct their material. The sources originate from a chartable spectrum of their own, from the digitally synthesized and the recorded to the pre-recorded, sampled, edited, re-edited, remixed, re-contextualised and catalogued, before choosing to do any of the same with them. When sounds entered the exhibition through its loud speakers, they had already been assimilated by the noise gates controls and mixed with other sounds, to which they formerly had no relationship. The mixed up, partial nature of the entire mashup makes a mockery of pre-meditated ‘sampling’. Nothing was ‘tried’, it was beamed in from far away at the instigation of another someone somewhere and blended with whatever happened to be happening in the gallery at that moment.

Locating the equipment in an art gallery enabled a workflow quite different from a studio environment. When the gallery was quiet it was possible to evolve prolonged, considered, interactions from the equipment, but with a busy gallery expectant visitors prompted shorter, more apparent and dynamic performances. The gallery’s opening hours dictated a set of rules which gave form to the exhibition. There was a tangible relationship between an interactive exhibition and a live performance.

Recordings made at the Threshold exhibition range from quiet and occasionally punctuated, to full orchestral echoes, dictating the appearance of all other sounds. A selection of recordings can be found on the accompanying ‘Threshold Audio’ CD submitted with this module. The recordings include periods of interaction between audio channels that are initiated at each moment by performance. They also include the results of an established calibration left to perform by itself.


“Noise itself constantly dissipates, as what is judged noise at one point is music or meaning at another. As well as this disruptive element, noise must also be thought of as constantly failing – failing to stay noise, as it becomes familiar, or acceptable practice.” (Hegarty, P, 2007, p.ix)

A shopping experience in an electrical retail store is also an audio experience, an opportunity to hear the amplified sounds of multiple audio-visual units, and to initiate latent but potent speaker power in situe, but not one unit at a time; everything all together. I am assured that I am not alone in the temptation to add more volume to more units as I walk through the aisles of these stores. Through my practice of crafting audio pieces from disparate sources and working with multiple audio streams, capturing chance moments and re-configuring the content, my ears naturally focus on what presents itself in passing circumstance and most particularly during my shopping visits to my local Currys superstore.

In collaboration with the Usurp Art Gallery and Currys, I arranged a public event inside the store, on a Saturday afternoon in November 2011, titled Volume@Currys, the volume commencing during the last hour of business. I made several planning trips to the store, which is the size of a small aircraft hangar, situated away from built-up areas where noise pollution might have been a problem. The South Ruislip branch where Volume@Currys was held had almost 250 sound making devices available.

Considering the event as a piece of music, with the players controlling instruments by volume and by timing, the duration of the piece would depend on the number of players and the speed with which they were able to locate and manipulate the volume controllers for each ‘instrument’.

The work of jazz musician and educator John Stevens provided me with a benchmark and several tools for approaching Volume@Currys. Having studied with John in 1987-8 and worked along side him for much of the year before his death in 1994, I regard Volume@Currys as a piece he would have been able to relate to his own work, as explained in his music workshop handbook ‘Search & Reflect, published in 1985.

“When we are making music the aim is to be aware of silence as a positive element in the music. Both of these elements (sound and silence) have various properties and usages, one of which is duration. All sounds that can be either made or heard must have length – a beginning and an end. In order to register on the human ear, even the shortest possible sound (a ‘click’) must have some length (duration). Likewise, the longest possible sound (a ‘sustain’), which could be produced or imagined, will be of infinite length. If a machine was built to produce an everlasting sustain, it is unlikely that it would function eternally, so even that sound would have an end.” (Stevens, J. 1985, p.5)

Search & Reflect group pieces usually start by finding the silence of the room, achieving an awareness of the only remaining sounds coming from outside the room or those incidental noises within the room (such as draughty windows or noisy radiators) before the piece can commence. Attention to this discipline can reveal surprising detail. Immediately the ‘relative silence’ is observed or recognised, the piece can begin.

“Silence, like sound, has the property of duration. The interaction of these two elements produces music. Silence can also be viewed as the canvas upon which sounds are ‘painted’. The absence of sound serves to separate and clarify musical statements, which would otherwise be impossible to differentiate and identify.” (Stevens, 1985, p.61)

Creating relative silence in Currys took one and a half hours, but demonstrated a tangible coordination helping to find and define the beginning and end of the piece. Having established the preparatory quiet, I was able to improvise, changing the beginning of the piece, in a spirit of fun, to commence with the sound of three vacuum cleaners, the only items from the household appliance isles that we were otherwise unable to use.

This meant that the exercise was no longer a clinical procedure from quietest to loudest. The decision was vindicated when the volume of various ‘quieter’ units were much louder than expected, leaping ahead in the volume queue. The event took on its own form, and was steered with minimal use of the public address system, which I attempted to employ in the spirit of the event, and was best kept to a minimum.

To sequence the event I also drew on my experience composing Mashup oriented material. Experimenting with collections of music to be played ensemble, the sequence in which component parts commence is an important decision, affecting the success or failure of the piece. Considering the amount of equipment involved and given an unknown number of participants on the day, I chose to present the different groups of units, largely organised by aisle, in order of volume, starting with the quietest first, so that each layer could be heard entering, culminating in a palpable sonic apex, before commencing with the silencing of each unit in the opposite order to which they were activated, leaving the quietest units to play at the beginning through to the end. The louder the unit, the shorter time they would sound.

Breaking the silence, Volume@Currys was a way of engaging with and embracing sounds more commonly categorised as unwanted sound, or noise. The staff members I spoke with did not express any problems with listening fatigue during their working day, nor stress related to the sonic environment. Their complaint was that with too much noise it became hard to converse with customers. During the Volume event, over 30 enthusiastic volunteers were tweaking the controls of every noise-making device in the store whilst customers were still shopping and in dialogue with Currys staff. Several members of staff spoke of frequently turning the volume down on the units tuned up by customers and left up. This revealed interesting insights, which I will refer to again shortly.

During one preparatory visit, the sound of a thunderstorm overhead resonated inside the building so I expected a strong reverberation during the event. Video recordings reveal the sound emanating from each machine maintained a strong localised focus and during the louder moments, voices had to be raised, to be heard.

Arranged in groups of equipment types, each aisle presented its own sonic character. Walking through an aisle presented a sonic tale with a beginning a middle and an end. The dynamic sounds from each individual unit lead to an epicentre, then trailed, when leaving the isle, to a palpable dissipation of energy, almost an anti climax, like having stepped out of the magic ring.


In the video of the event, Currys’ staff members seem to be either engaging with the event or pursuing their usual habit of turning the volumes down. Several volunteers said this was actually the case. In an oblivious irony, this simply served to prolong the event. Volunteers had been instructed only to turn items up until otherwise directed. Units found to be silent were soon returned to full volume by the volunteer team.

Control of noise was an issue at the heart of the event and an element running through the different types of pieces I create in my practice. Volunteers at the Volume event were motivated by an opportunity to engage in an authorised noise making activity in a location usually controlled to the contrary. In Volume@Currys, the reversal of convention was an opportunity for the ‘musician’ volunteers but a challenge to the store’s staff members.

I received a hint of this when expressing gratitude for the support of the staff in the build up to the event; I was assured by my liaison at the store that this was not uniformly the case. The endorsement of the area manager was the trump that enabled the event and his decision was not reversible by anyone else in the staff team. They all assisted politely with my queries and gave me valuable information which I was able to apply, but staff members delegated to help before and on the day of the event seemed to relate to the event only as a temporary and somewhat strange part of their job, masking a reluctance or a lack of the enthusiastic engagement, which was so contrarily evident amongst the volunteers.

The recording of the event by numerous cameras, large and small, was another reversal of convention. The store is usually the source, not the subject, of such equipment. For shop staff patrolling the aisles daily, controlling the sound and directing the customers, a loss of the usual control was evident. The reversal of convention was part of the excitement of the event, but the reaction of the staff was unexpected. My motivation and that of the volunteers was in no way antagonistic to the staff in the store, more a metaphorical and political statement for liberty through sound. However, it would seem that in the sonic arena that was Volume@Currys, staff members became defenders of their territory, in another, different contest over who controls our sound and who controls what.

The Currys staff work in an environment they must engage with for a modest wage, at a position close to the bottom of a corporate structure beyond their control. My presence, my approach to the area manger and the subsequent invasion of their territory was not something they were able to wholeheartedly engage with. Resistance was their way of retaining a sense of control within their habitual environment. The untapped power evident in each Currys store seems, to people like the musician volunteers at Volume@Currys, appear as a metaphor for the issues of control we all face in our political structure.

Toward ‘The Other Side’

“Trout did another thing which some people might have considered eccentric: he called mirrors leaks. It amused him to pretend that mirrors were holes between two universes. If he saw a child near a mirror, he might wag his finger at a child warningly, and say with great solemnity, “Don’t get to near that leak. You wouldn’t want to wind up in the other universe, would you?” Sometimes somebody would say in his presence, “Excuse me, I have to take a leak.” This was a way of saying that the speaker intended to drain liquid wastes from his body through a valve in his lower abdomen. And Trout would reply waggishly, “Where I come from, that means you’re about to steal a mirror.” And So on. By the time of Trout’s death, of course, everybody called mirrors leaks. That was how respectable even his jokes had become.” (Vonnegut, K, 2000, p.27)

The usually muted audiovisual units sit in line in an electrical retail store, patrolled by staff intent on volume repression. Replicated in towns and cities nationwide, worldwide perhaps, each electrical retail store has a collective purpose; to sell units. But like Trout’s mirrors in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions novel, they are also leaks; holes to a parallel universe, if only given the imagination, or the chance. Regulations restricting creative practice require responsive opposition metaphor is as good a tool as any.

Volume was the exact opposite of a tied down compromise. It was celebratory, random, and free flowing, dynamic, spontaneous, collaborative, and adventurous and unrestricted, stating exactly the opposite of the industry behind the marketplace, the equipment and the sound emanating from it. That there was an arguable absence of copyright infringement taking place is to miss the point. The video recordings of Volume@Currys demonstrate the dynamic joy in free tuning. Amongst the streams, the sound of stampeding wildebeest and a lion roaring, in free association with the neighbouring crowd at a slow-motion rugby match, the combination echoing ancient Rome as the intent of a demo DVD is slaughtered. Robotic aliens crash their way through the debris, analogous of the surrounding environment. Circumventing industry, this is nevertheless it’s sound. A non-commercial event tuning into the hard sell.

Another aisle reveals another theme. CDRs, loaded into midi Hi-Fi units pour out moments in personal music development, five years old and more. Friends are taken aback to hear their own music as they pass by or turn up a volume control. An over-processed tabla beat, long abandoned as unlistenable, sounds custom made for the event. Another CDR burned with a distortion error, tricks the ear to believe the speakers cannot cope. Customers, not volunteers, three young men play air instruments to death metal at full tilt from a powerful home entertainment centre. They could not have chosen a better day to try their luck at Currys.

In another aisle, commercial radio streams commercial music, Hip-Hop and Amy Winehouse, the latter in memoriam, a mark on the time stamp. Dial-surfing proves the randomness, as there is no selection when every transient is a part of the whole.

Locked by security cables, each unit released from its patient latency, realised its individual potential, catalysed during a half hour of swarming electrical mayflies. The building found its own rhythm, rich with freely coursing sound. Four static microphones document the industrial unit gradually taking voice. Mobile recordings reveal a travelogue, each sound fading in and out in passing, and each aisle describing a different scene, each person bearing a different tale.

The accidental sound of Volume incorporated what ever passed through a loud speaker. Compared with the careful and deliberate produce of industry, Volume was carefree and, although designed, was allowed to reveal its own truths, uncensored, unrestricted and unofficial.
All Together Now

Speaking at the Rethink Music Conference in Berkley in 2011, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, Cary Sherman, described his organisations controversial policy of “going after” individual copyright infringers as having, at one time, been supported by those “on the other side of copyright”. The two sides he referred to hold different agendas for copyright, the RIAA very much concerned with protecting their existing catalogue and the ‘other’ side arguing for its liberation.

Despite being interested in art and not at all interested in copyright, I have found myself compelled toward issues of ownership through copyright, since it is the system through which my art is increasingly ratified. The subject has circulated back into my work in a form of observational critique. In order to contextualise my work, I look at copyright from the perspective of an artist, but not a as a copyright holder. In both my practical and written work, I am researching surrounding issues and investigating “the other side of copyright”.

The RIAA’s high profile litigation policy has become the public face of the RIAA, a legacy making the recording industry, and the music companies’ side of copyright, objects of mistrust and a focus for contempt in a political climate mobilising against corporate greed. This makes certain aspects of my work readily accessible to many people, particularly in a piece entitled All Together Now.

‘All Together Now – Everything the Beatles Ever Did’ is an audio Mashup of all 226 Beatles songs as released in the iTunes Box Set in 2010. It is an idea not entirely reliant on knowing the Beatles material, but its evident popularity is. This would imply that it does actually bring something new to the informed listener, similar in manner to the use of Beatles material in the unreleased but virally distributed Grey Album by Danger Mouse.

These works cannot be published in the traditional sense. It is noteworthy that the Grey Album, being a mix of the Beatles White album and Jayze’s Black Album, utilised acapella recordings publicly released by Jayze, encouraging transformative interpretations of his work, acknowledging the potential for positive publicity through the viral networks.

All Together Now (ATN) does not attract listeners simply to hear more Beatles music. Like any Mashup or sample, the attraction is in the difference; the new context and perspective created by the transformative work and it becomes endorsed by the listener, the value being measurable in listener numbers. Statistics displayed on the host page, SoundCloud, show that it was linked to on Facebook approximately 9,000 times and on Twitter over 1850 times. These statistics are only the ones shared from the host page, and do not include statistics from embedded re-hosting or links on other web sites, the total number of plays has exceeded 200,000 in less than two months.

Part of the listening experience includes a natural attempt to pick out and follow one, whilst momentarily recognising some others. The tambourine from Hey Jude is particularly prominent to the ear but it does become harder to discern with the addition of each new song. There comes a moment when it is no longer possible to discern any individual song. The summary sound bears a more universal timbre of white or pink noise, but technically is neither. It is evidently the sound of the Beatles.

After a decade of litigation between the Beatles’ Apple Corp and Apple Computer, the release of the Beatles Box Set on iTunes symbolised the a modulation of the old music industry to the new. Old format to new format – old business model to new business model – old power to new power. iTunes is the dominant legal music download portal and the Beatles were conspicuous by their absence. Built from the iTunes Beatles Box Set downloads, ATN is the sound of the music industry itself, in 2010. ATN captures that moment, in 8 minutes and 22 seconds of contemporary commentary.

Most of the Beatles recordings were made at Abbey Road Studios in London, using famous equipment. Now emulated in software, the same sonic properties are sought after the world over. ATN condenses these sounds, the processing and the location, just like any recording, capturing the momentary shifting air, through vibration and displacement of particles, in a time-stamped magnetic geo-tag. A time capsule. ATN blends 226 individual time capsules into one concentrated compilation, a sonic compound. The piece allows the listener to witness the chemistry step by step, in an information rich, multi-dimensional listening experience.

All Together Now – Everything the Beatles Ever Did was uploaded to the SoundCloud audio web site on March 1st 2011. It received relatively few plays until the publicity surrounding the two events also documented in this submission, (Threshold@Usurp and Volume@Currys), reached Hi-fi specialist Mike Trei in New York, who wrote about it on the DVICE blog on November 20th. Mike made contact to tell me to expect a few thousand plays. Cory Doctrow, blogger at the busier Boing Boing re-posted it and it received many more than a few thousand plays as the piece ‘went viral’, being re-posted and embedded on other sites across the world.

Date Plays per day / Number of Countries Played From

1st – 19th November 2011 0-3 per day 15
20th November 2011 16893 n/a
21st November 2011 36256 142

During the subsequent weeks, the play count varied between several hundred to several thousand per day, with unpredictable resurgences as new networks encountered the viral news.

Total Plays by Date Grand Total / Number of Countries Played From

19th January 2012 205175 162
The statistics are a testimony to the Internet sharing. The file is not downloadable. Its transmission around the Internet has been largely in the form of embedded links, where the audio file is playable from a blog or links page, primarily DVICE, Boing Boing, Reddit and the Japanese Digital DJ Network.

SOPA (see p.4 above) would make the ISPs of sites such as these prosecutable. The 200,000 plus listeners of the piece have no file on their computer to make them liable for statutory fines, unless their internet logs can be used as evidence, perhaps under the Patriot Act of 2002 in the U.S. Invoking anti-terrorist legislation to combat a wry Mashup would beg serious questions about the integrity of a law designed to safeguard national security in the wake of the killing of 3000 Americans, or the integrity of those invoking it. But this is a fantasy, serving simply to illustrate some ludicrous considerations impacting on twenty first century art.

“(But) copyright law was written with a particular form of industry in mind. The flourishing of information technology gives amateurs and home recording artist’s powerful tools to build and share interesting, transformative, and socially valuable art drawn from pieces of popular cultures. There’s no place to plug such an important cultural sea change into the current legal regime” (Rimmer, M. 2007 p.134)

The argument for modernisation must be seen in context of aggressive use of the current regime and the current lobbying to reinforce it with legislation based on the outmoded model. This elastic effect between the cultural sea change and the current legal regime is bound to recoil. Works of art that provoke questions about change make a valuable contribution to the debate.

As the number or producers increases, ever approaching the number of consumers, the impossibility of being noticed amongst the multitude is one of the ironies of accessible technologies. ‘All Together Now’ proves that it is possible to be noticed in the digital ocean, though it is not the transformative or mashup artist or as the blogs, reported, a DJ who will be remembered from this piece. It would take more for my name to be remembered, perhaps in the publicity surrounding a lawsuit. The primary reference to this piece will forever be the Beatles.

Whether there remains a market for digital files or not, All Together Now demonstrates that there is an interested public and an enthusiasm for sharing interesting things. The medium for sharing is enthusiastically employed. When there is something interesting to share, the medium demonstrates ample capacity to rapidly distribute the information.

I purchased the Beatles Boxed Set from iTunes specifically to make All Together Now. The idea had taken seed some nine or ten months earlier. During that period I experimented with simultaneous playback of various collected works. Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations, collected versions of Varese’s Densities and Debussy’s Syrinxes amongst them.

Considerations during the process centred on how to lay out the assembled collection. Differing in duration, how or when during these pieces should each component part begin? Experimentation with different permutations helped to find the best result in each individual case. Finding a point of convergence in the body of about 20 versions of Debussy’s Syrinxes was a gratifying alternative to starting or ending all parts simultaneously. Once the layout has been decided, other beautiful things reveal themselves. The material is powerfully synergised from relatively simple format.


The audio file for All Together Now, which I posted on SoundCloud, received very few plays in the first 8 months. I made little effort at distribution or publicity, it being more a matter of consideration and observation. Reading Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction led me to think about digital distribution in relation to art objects:

“Even with the most perfect reproduction, one thing stands out: the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in the place where it is at this moment… The here and now of the original constitute the abstract idea of its genuineness.” (Benjamin, W. 2008 p.5)

A digital file is difficult to define as an authentic original. It exists within any computer to which it is copied, but there are issues of format; is it an AIFF original or an Mp3? The latter is not the original. The original can only be found by dating the first stereo file rendered from all the 226 component parts loaded into the compiling software. This could be verified against the date of the software’s song file, providing it was saved and therefore time-stamped on the same day as the original file was rendered. The original file could easily be deleted, leaving another identical file with a different date. Only administrative documentation could verify the original.

These thoughts resulted in the decision to press the All Together Now file, original or otherwise, to a vinyl disc. The instant this decision was made, the issue of an original object became accompanied by issues of copyright beyond the Internet. Issues of bootlegging the entire Beatles catalogue were no longer about a digital download but in the realm of old fashioned piracy of hard copy.

The search for a pressing company willing or able to cope with the entire Beatles catalogue on a 7” record was a valuable trail of discovery. I encountered refusal from Mobineko, one of the largest companies in the UK since, like most pressing companies, they require a declaration of ownership to be signed before they will proceed with the pressing. Once my contact there heard the material, I was only able to get one more email response before he discontinued our correspondence. Searching Jamaican companies told a story of decline in the business there, just as vinyl is having a return to popularity.

My approach to GZ in the Czech Republic was more discreet, enquiring about technicalities without disclosing the nature of my project. Their computer modelling system provided fascinating information, which I hope to utilise in a future project, however, I found two companies in Europe who were willing to press the material and who could fit 8 minutes and 22 seconds on to 7 inches of vinyl, usually considered at capacity after 5 minutes of playing time.

Speaking by phone with Sony-ATV publishing department, owners of over 90% of the Beatles publishing catalogue, I explained my context and reasons for pressing the records and included the idea for an edition of 226 vinyl copies, one for each Beatles song represented in the piece. Since I have not heard back form the office with their considered response, as promised, I cannot assume any permission has been granted for my fair use of this material so I have pressed only three copies in a dub plate format. The playback is successful, though lower volume than most other records.

Whilst hoping to pursue the edition of 226 records, perhaps encasing them in glass so they cannot be played, I have made another version for commercial release on the Bandcamp website, for sale at $226 (one U.S dollar per Beatles song). The file has been digitally silenced so it contains no Beatles material whatsoever.

Volume@Currys engaged over 30 volunteers, with staff and customers boosting the numbers toward 100. Threshold brought 300 visitors to the gallery, most interacting with the installation. The people who have engaged with both projects have brought their own contributions to the pieces and taken from them a sense of engagement, asserting their own control. All Together Now has engaged over 200,000. Listeners declared their interest and their appreciation of the piece by sharing it further around the global network. The figures say something about the potential of digital content.

The digitisation of every image or sound ever made represents evolution for creativity and measures the waning control of the established distribution networks of an industry built on a structure now in decay. Like a brutish dictatorship lashing out at its people as it cedes more control, it tries cruder and more dangerous attempts at control. The SOPA bill is the most recent and dramatic of the entertainment industry’s attempts to legislate creativity away from the hands of the public, back into its own. The enormous response against the bill from companies and millions of individuals across the Internet was the very latest expression of egalitarian action for which the Internet was designed.

In this context, the apprehension and manipulation of sounds released into our environment has become an act of subversion and resistance. By asserting control of our environment we help to secure it, which of course is exactly what the industry is attempting to do and why they will continue try. In his book ‘Program or Be Programmed – Ten Commandments for a digital Age’ Douglas Rushkoff says:

“It is really simple: Program or be programmed. Choose the former, and you gain access to the control panel of civilisation. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.” (Rushkoff, D 2010. p.8)

This is a matter of self-determination, using art as programming and using our history and our present to build our future. Computer pioneer Lee Felsenstein was one of the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club along with Steve Wozniak in 1975. In the Steven O’Hear’s 2006 documentary about Silicon Valley, ‘In Search of The Valley’, Felsenstein said:

“In 1973 the first event of what I call the personal computer revolution occurred with the publication of an article and it showed a picture of hands on a keyboard and a television screen with with [the] words ‘Build your own TV typewriter’…it was irresistible…the sub-textual message was, ‘You, individual you, can control these technologies, you can use the digital technology to put your message on the TV screen…we were raised in a video soup. Nobody had any input to it…here are these mythic technologies. If you are good enough, you can actually get to control them.”

If we are fed nothing but the content industry’s programming we will remain in it’s economy, financially and culturally. Rushkoff and Felsenstein suggest that through digital technologies we have the means to write our own futures. I particularly like Felsteins use of the phrase ‘Individual you’ in this context. In the contest for content where anything can be freely downloaded, what we upload becomes most important. It is a kind of programming, in the Rushkoff sense. If there is no good stuff up there, how can it come down? Content has become revolutionary.

To imagine that we cannot do without the old content industry, the music business, Hollywood and even news channels, is preposterous and highlights an addiction, our habitual reliance on something we should never miss. The public have already been archiving old content and new for over a decade and can play it back on demand. The public is ahead of the industry. The extraordinary excellence of the cultural highlights brought to us via the entertainment industry during the last century is self evidently in the past. Future content must adapt to the new medium, in form, in distribution and in economy or it will, with the caveat of nostalgia, become redundant.


A description of how a selected two minutes from Threshold was made:

Submission: Threshold CD Track 4: Saxoflute
In this piece, musician Eva Brandt plays a saxoflute, a hybrid instrument comprising of a bamboo flute with a saxophone mouthpiece. The Saxoflute is a non-tempered instrument, although Eva says it approaches a diatonic split scale, “but not exactly.” She describes the instrument as playing her, rather than her playing it. The instrument triggers the radio, tuned to classical music, playing a piece I cannot name.

The flute triggers the radio only when its volume passes a threshold set on the radio’s gated mixer channel. The gate is set with a slow attack and fast decay, allowing the flute to play above the threshold for about a second before the classical music on the radio can be heard. The release is very fast, so as soon as the saxoflute note stops or sufficiently reduces in volume, the radio channel promptly cuts out.

The glitch-like sounds are fragments of Roland TR626 drum machine sounds passing through a Korg ER-1 Rhythm Machine’s step time sequencer (via an audio input) with the note length control set to minimum. The tempo dials are set to “slow” on both machines.

The mixer channel from the ER-1 sends a side chain signal to a slowly modulating Korg MS10 monophonic synthesiser, which the gate allows through momentarily with a release setting longer than attack. When the gate is manually toggled to duck, the MS10 can be heard clearly for several seconds, sometimes modulating clearly, sometimes quieter.
The selection ends with a natural drop in volume from the radio channel, the orchestra having just peaked and continued diminuendo, still revealed by the volume of the saxoflute. The variations in volume from the transient material complement the dynamic responses from the noise gates, enriching the musical activity.


Threshold Exhibition: System and Method.


The master outputs to a pair of studio monitors were supplemented by an auxiliary pair of outputs connected to a second set of speakers. The four speakers spanned the gallery in an overlapping formation:

A-Left B-Left A-Right B-Right

Mixer and gates:

Each sound-making device was patched into a digital mixer and could be routed so as to have an impact on another sound. With a noise gate on every channel of the mixer and each gate with a patchable side chain, it was possible to accommodate any desired combination of relationships between audio channels. The side chain enabled the peaks from one channel to enable or block a sound on another. Additional Drawmer DS201 analogue noise gates across the master outputs of the mixer and before the speakers, enabled the combined sound of the entire exhibition to be controlled via an impulse from any individual sound making device, since they all arrived in the mixer via a physical patch bay, routed to the side chain input of the Drawmers.

Panning was applied from the mixer as a way of utilising the physical reach of the gallery and to clarify and feature sounds. Echoes and reverberation effects were also place-able and could also be routed to the side chains. A repeating but fading echo could have a dynamic effect on other sounds. If the echo was triggered for example by a drum, the diminishing echo could momentarily close another channel, returning a little more audio with each repeat. Attack and release settings on the gates combined with delay lengths and times produced subjective variables. Setting these parameters to match the material meant frequent calibration, but a stimulating balance could be achieved relatively quickly. If attempts to balance these parameters proved fruitless there were other channels with which to propose a relationship.

The installation was designed to have some sounds interrupting or interacting with others in a chain of related events, controlled and designed through the patching of the side chained gates, creating a dialogue between several sounds at once. The triggers could be initiated by dynamic and transient sound sources such as a radio or CD player, and by interaction from visitors to the gallery taking control of the available interfaces. Options included playing the drums, or a synthesiser, retuning the radio and interfacing with some of the variable parameters on the equipment available to them. Visitors could also plug their own device into the patch bay and have whatever sounds they chose to contribute routed into the matrix. iPods, laptops and synthesisers, a guitar, flute and vocals were all engaged during the 12 days of the exhibition, sometimes with multiple players contributing simultaneously.

Whether the material was fast and busy, or slow, quiet or intermittent, the person interfacing with the audio streams could search for the positions with the controllers that proved most effective with the other transient material at that moment.

Settings were saveable on the digital mixer, but since the sources of the material fed to the channels were volatile and may have involved some patching and calibrating to accommodate a particular transient circumstance, it was easier to neutralise the matrix. Each new day offered an opportunity to construct a new balance.

On the final day of the exhibition a microphone was placed in the street outside the gallery entrance, picking up the sounds of an angle grinder and passing traffic. This signal was dependent on a side chain from classical music playing on BBC Radio 3, which was, in turn, dependent on being triggered by playing the drum kit. If I played slowly, all sounds would start and stop with me, whereas if I played continuously, all channels would be open. If the radio played solo piano, the microphone channel would pass a more intermittent signal than if the radio played busier orchestral music. The character of the intermittent signals was variable by attenuating various settings, including the threshold of the side chained noise gates.

By altering the attack and release parameters on the noise gates, sounds could be triggered in sequence, one beat of a drum pad unleashing a radio, the sound of which would release, half a second later, a drum machine, which would slowly fade out until the radio triggered it again. The drums reverberated with a one second pre-delay, creating a copycat single echo effect. The echo was triggering the CD player by side chain control. The CD Player faded out after the echo.

Playing the drums controlled this entire chain of events, dependent on the thresholds set by the receiving noise gates. I could therefore play quietly and hear only drums, louder and hear radio and microphone, or louder still and hear echo and CD. These three layers were cumulative, so the harder I played, the more simultaneous sounds built up:


MICROPHONE Gate: Long Attack Radio
Short Release

RADIO Gate: Short Attack Drum Kit
Short Release

V-DRUM KIT Send: Echo None (Source: Child)

ECHO Pre-delay: Long None (Source: Drum Kit)

CD Gate: Long attack Echo
Long release

A different configuration included the audio output from a Roland 626 drum machine, which was patched to the audio input of the Korg ER-1 drum machine. This 16 note step sequencer, equipped with a variable audio release-time, was able to effectively gate the audio input from the first drum machine, which was set to play at an independent tempo. By altering the tempo on either drum machine, variable amounts of the 626 became audible. The combination of tempos fractured any sense of rhythmic cohesion.

The result was sent to the side chain input of the CD player channel, with a noise gate inserted and set to duck, allowing a signal to pass only when no audio was present. Since the combined signal from the two drum machines presented a very busy sonic plane, the CD could be heard only when the tempo control of the drum machines were significantly reduced, allowing a tangible difference initiated at the maximum and minimum range of the ER-1’s tempo dial.

In the same configuration, a second audio chain ran simultaneously but was unconnected to the first. A cassette player was gated via a side-chain taken from the Roland SH1000 synthesizer, set with the Filter Cut-off controlling the LFO rate.

With two audio chains now independently controlled by tempo related potentiometers, two visitors could commence a dialogue through the application of just a few simple controllers. With this configuration, anyone engaging with the exhibition would need only minor instruction. The most significant parameter controllers were positioned directly in front of the user as they stood at either the synthesiser or the drum machines, the latter close to each other:


TR626 Audio output into ER-1 input
Manual tempo control

ER-1 Manual tempo control


SH1000 FC > LFO Rate


Over 300 visitors came to the gallery during the 12 days of the exhibition including audio professionals as well as artists, local residents, parents and children and passers-by. With different levels of engagement, the visitors brought a variety of contributions, some unexpected and unpredictable. Experts in the control of analogue synthesisers found themselves using the parameters to control transient sounds from multiple sources in both rhythmic and arrhythmic formations.

A singer, using the microphone to trigger the radio, found herself pitching her voice toward the orchestral music. Not knowing what the next pitch from the radio might be, she searched with her pitch as she listened to what was triggered by her voice, in a sort of chicken and egg situation, not knowing where to pitch but having to pitch to hear a sound to pitch to. A long way outside of her usual singing parameters, she found it both exhilarating and rewarding:


MICROPHONE Sophia singing

RADIO Into Echo Microphone

Echo Tape style echo

Equipment installed (no particular order)

Mackie D8B Digital Mixing Console
Drawmer DS201 Noise Gates x 2
Lexicon Alex Multi-FX unit
MOTU 828 Audio Interface
48 way patch-bay
Dansette record player
SM57 Microphone
Steim Cracklebox
Metal Doorbell
Roland SH1000 Monophonic Synthesiser
Korg MS10 Monophonic Synthesiser
Radio, CD Player, Cassette player
Custom Noise Generator x 2
Roland TD-6 V-Drum Kit
Toy Theremin
Korg ER-1 Drum machine
Roland TR 626 Drum machine
Soundbeam with beam x 1 and foot triggers x 3, Computer with Ableton Live

Soundbeam triggered sounds from Abtleton including; a doorbell sample, speech, a cowbell, some music and recordings of several newsreaders speaking simultaneously. The computer was also connected to the Internet and able to stream audio.

Equipment brought to exhibition by visitors:

Acoustic guitar with Boss RC30 Loop Station foot pedal
Casio DH100 MIDI saxophone Hand made Saxoflute
Doepfer Dark Energy (Analog Monophonic Synthesizer)
Boss RE-20 Tape Echo (simulation) pedal
Android phone with “Ethereal Dialpad” and [Casio] “VLTone” apps
Aria DD-X10 Digital Delay
Laptops and various mobile phones.

Supporting Web Links:

All Together Now – Everything The Beatles Ever Did: SoundCloud Page

All Together Now – Everything The Beatles Ever Did: DVICE blog & comments

All Together Now -Everything The Beatles Ever Did: Boing Boing blog & comments

All Together Now: Digital DJ Network blog & Comments

All Together Now – Everything The Beatles Never Did: Bandcamp page

All Together Now: Renate Nikolaus’ Artwork for record sleeve

Threshold Exhibition – Usurp Art Gallery Web Site

Threshold Exhibition – An audio recording of Volume@Currys made with 4 microphones positioned near the centre of the store.

Volume@Currys – Event Listing at Usurp Art Gallery Web Site

Newspaper Article and Interview in the Watford Observer

Collected selections from Threshold, Currys and other works

NB. Various sites refer to Ramjac, a stage name of mine since 1989.


Please see supporting CD titled ‘Appendix D: Audio’. This CD documents the working process surrounding All Together Now, referred to in footnotes 11,12,13,18,19 and 20.

Track list and description:
1 – Answers for Questions
Charles Ives The Unanswered Question and Sonny Boy Williamson Fattening Frogs for Snakes.
2 – Goldberg Variation
Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations played together starting in order of length, all ending simultaneously.
3 – Ten Densities
10 versions of Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5, commencing simultaneously and unfolding as they tumble out of time.
4 – Twenty Syrinxes
20 versions of Debussy’s Syrinxes played together, timed to meet at a pivotal moment in the piece, giving a staggered start and end point.
5 – All Together Now
226 Beatles songs played together starting in order of length and all ending simultaneously.


Please see supporting CD titled ‘Appendix E: Data’ which contains the following:
1 – Images from the Threshold exhibition in the Usurp Art Gallery
2 – Internet response to All Together Now
– Statistics from SoundCloud
– Reposts on Blogs with listeners comments
– Images for All Together Now record sleeve by Renate Niklaus, vinyl pressing and artwork specialist in Hamburg.
3 – All audio files from the submission CDs: Threshold and the appendix audio CD. Each in Aiff and Mp3 formats.
4. – Thesis in pdf format.

Additional documents (below).
Page 33. Usurp Art Gallery press release for Volume@Currys event.
Page 34. Volume@Currys – information handout sheet for volunteers.




1. Make sure each unit is switched on and in the appropriate mode to playback the media.
2. Prepare media
3. Test the volume control to make sure it is functioning
4. Press pause and/or turn the volume down.


1. Proceed with unit running order below.
2. We are going to try to generate a white noise type buzz before going really loud. try to balance the volumes in the room before we lift off.
3. Lift off
4. When max volume is reached switch down in reverse order.

I have been allowed to include the public address system so may be able to call the changes from there. We will make it work together. Enjoy the volume.

Running order:

1. Walkman x 25 (Anything with a headphone).
2. Satnav Systems x 15
3. Laptops x 43
4. PC Speaker systems (plug in your phone, laptop or ipad) x 15
5. X Box station x1 Wii station x 1
6. Docking stations (bring your iPod) x 18
7. Micro Hifi x 20
8. Spider & cupboard alarms
9. Mini DVD x 15
10. Surround DVD x 9
11. Home Cinema x 15
12. TVx 76
13. Bose home entertainment Systems (LOUD!) x 2


Barrett, M (2008). Intellectual Property. 1st. ed. New York: Aspen Publishers .
Benjamin, W (2008). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Translated from German by J.A. Underwood 1st. ed. London: Penguin.
Crosby De Wolf, R (1925). An Outline of Copyright Law. 1st. ed. Cambridge, Mass: Murray.
Edwards, D (2011). I’m Feeling Lucky, Confessions of Google Employee No. 59. 1st. ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt .
Hegarty, P (2007). Noise Music: A History . 1st. ed. London: Continuum.
Ramachandran, S. (2001). Copyrights and Copywrongs. 1st. ed. New York: New York University Press.
Rimmer, M (2007). Digital copyright and the consumer revolution: hands off my iPod . 1st. ed. Massachusetts: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Rushkoff, D. (2010). Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commandments For A Digital Age. 1st. ed. New York: OR Books.
Stevens, J (1985). Search and Reflect: A music Workshop Handbook. 1st. ed. London: Community Music.
Vonnegut, K (2000). Breakfast of Champions. 2nd. ed. London: Vintage.
Wozniak, S. 2006. In Search of The Valley (2006) [DVD]. London: ISOTV Media.
Online References

NB. Dates formatted m/d/y [online]. (2006) [Accessed 1/7/12]. Available from: .
Chivers, P. (2012). Bandcamp [online]. [Accessed 1/12/12]. Available from: .
Coodoo (2012). Digital Dj Network [online]. [Accessed 1/17/12]. Available from: .
Doctrow, C. (2012). Boing Boing [online]. [Accessed 1/17/12]. Available from: .
Electronic Frontier Foundation [online]. (2011) [Accessed 12/12/11]. Available from: .
Eno, B. in Mitchell, R. (2011). [online]. [Accessed 10/27/11]. Available from: .
Gates, B (2010). Craig Bailey [online]. [Accessed 1/17/12]. Available from: .
Govtrak PIPA [online]. (2011) [Accessed 12/12/11]. Available from: .
Govtrack SOPA [online]. (2011) [Accessed 12/12/11]. Available from: .
iTunes Store [online]. (2011) [Accessed 1/15/2012]. Available from: .
Masnik, M (2012). Techdirt [online]. [Accessed 1/16/12]. Available from: .
RIAA Tools For Parents [online]. (2012) [Accessed 1/17/2012]. Available from: .
Shirky, C. (2012). TED [online]. [Accessed 1/18/12]. Available from: .
Trei, M (2011). DVICE [online]. [Accessed 12/17/11]. Available from: .
US-CERT [online]. (2012) [Accessed 1/17/2012]. Available from: .



Volume, Threshold and Release: some earlier descriptions.


Currys is our high street conduit for the technology that enables us to participate in the Great Conversation. Volume is the idea of celebrating this en mass, in a sonic extravaganza we can relate to in our daily life in spite of our more common rejection of such a mashup as noise. The human brain has the ability to focus on a local conversation amid the noise, so walking around the Currys/PC World Superstore in Ruislip it was possible to focus on one ‘conversation’ out of the many happening in store, as one by one, we switched on and turned up the volume of every noise making device in the store. The listener could also step back and listen to the whole. Hearing a crowd chatter at a party or public event is not unpleasant. I hope the recordings of Volume@Currys carry a similar feeling of joy in human activity.


Audio recording

Short Video

Documentary Part 1

Documentary Part 2 – Volume@Currys


Threshold was a hands on sound-art exhibition held in The Usurp Art Gallery in West Harrow. Multiple audio streams formed a mashup in motion, via a variety of sound sources playing off each other. A series of changeable thresholds interacted on initiation and control by gallery visitors, via front end interactive instruments such as foot triggers, drum pads and keyboards, a record player, tuneable radios and other noise making devices and a back end using side chained noise gate technology.


Audio recordings



The challenges presented by this particular idea resonate beyond the discussion surrounding mashup culture, ownership and originality. A strange flotsum atop the ocean of digital media, aura as Walter Benjamin would regard it, is perhaps unexpectedly fashionable again. Music as prophecy as Jaques Attali would regard it, is perhaps worrying in the light of the collapse of the music industry under the pressure of the digital media revolution.

Pressing vinyl copies of a mashup containing every song released by the Beatles to a 7″ record has lead to discussions with artists, fans, record companies, lawyers and pressing plants across the world; the latter existing in surprising diversity during the digital tsunami; commercial, cottage industry and hobbyist vinyl experts run thriving businesses, changing hands and indeed closing down, but all displaying a passionate level of craftsmanship and diversity of technique, which spotlights the previous mass production of the golden era of vinyl; remarkable in ways beyond simple quantity. What remains is a passion surrounding technique and sonic outcome.

Release focusses on one piece entitled All Together Now. The b-side is the same piece, only inaudible.

All Together Now: Everything the Beatles ever did

B Side


Filed under: Mashups, originals, Sounds, The Mashup, Words

Revolution, Innovation and Resistance to Change brought about by Digital Culture in the 21st Century.

“[Music] heralds, for it is prophetic. It has always been in its essence a herald of times to come.” (Attali, 1999 p.4)


Remarkable Observations

There have been repeated articulations, be they observations of the past or present, or predictions of the future, on the subject of the sociological changes brought about by developments in our technologies. Much discussed, many of these remarkable observations concern the arts as the visual and audible embodiment of cultural change, utilising and manifesting, as they do, the character of the tools with which they are made.

Progress commonly has positive associations but change is often resisted. Old habits die hard and more so a way of life. If music is a herald of times to come as Jacques Attali passionately claimed then something has been brewing since digital technology became commonplace. For as the digital progeny create new paradigms, the establishment struggles to cope, whilst an overwhelming tsunami of innovation in cultural form, bypasses the embedded codes of society’s established structures, creating resistance as the incumbents are undermined. If music is the prophet, then society is being remixed.


In this essay I will discuss Paul Valéry, Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Attali and other theorists, looking at the publications and speeches in which they have made significant observations that are viewable in the context of today’s digital culture, its obsession with recycling the past and at some of the implications this has for our society today and for tomorrow.

Digital Culture.

This includes a continuing copyright conundrum, for if everything digital is by definition, a copy , our laws of copyrights, and definitions of ownership formerly associated with the concept of an original are redundant, and in the 21st century, when a comprehensive, high speed global digital infrastructure is prioritised by government , and its capacity, user base and creative flexibility are so wide and expanding, it is perhaps surprising that essential legislative infrastructures are not being quickly updated. If anything the outdated conventions have been reinforced. When culture truly moves, some established institutions resist change. This essay looks at some implications of this change and resistance, and at some alternative pathways.

Mash-up culture, stemming from sampling and the idea of remixing, is an important part of what comes under the umbrella of digital culture. It is as a result of digital technology, that this configurability has become a new intellectual currency, complete with communication networks and with new opportunities and new models for creativity and for the sharing of that creativity. This is central to the crisis of how our creativity impacts on who owns what and how our economy adjusts to it.

By looking at the 20th century theorists and at some from the 21st century, I aim to explore their theories, their interrelationships and by dividing them into two separate eras, illustrate the imperative that is with us now, of the crisis our digital culture presents.

Methodology & Approach

I have been using sampling technology since it became affordable in the late 1980s. Writing sample-based music enabled me to draw from diverse genres. Inspired by the boundary stretching music of Sun Ra, and under the tutelage of Free Jazz educator John Stevens and self styled ‘Ambient Guru’ DJ Mixmaster Morris, the further out I reached to colour my palette, the better.

Engaging with the acid house and rave scene and the chill-out or ambient room by giving live performances from a sampler and Atari computer, I improvised from sequences triggering samples using a variety of techniques, from the palette which included Yoruba singing from Cuba, Welsh male voice choirs, Turkish flutes, American hip-hop, English progressive rock, West African drums, Canvey rhythm & blues, be-bop, prison songs, reggae, electric pianos, drum machines, kitchen utensils, hand percussion and acid house records.

Motivated by my own practice, my research has focussed on the progression of sampling techniques enabled by the increased power afforded by the improving technology. The creative developments, their place in society and the controversy born of intellectual copyright has led me to trace sampling’s contextual history and its trajectory. This essay reflects my research as I discover significant documents and theorists. Discovering wider implications to their work has revealed patterns and decision-making beyond just my own practice and beyond music, to be found at large in the digital creative diaspora.

On reading Jaques Attali for the first time, I was immediately struck by some surprising similarities in philosophy and approach with Sun Ra. I will compare some of their statements to investigate the connections further.

I will approach the key theorists in a chronological fashion, and in relation to each other, describing a continuum of logic, in the developing context of the day or era in which they wrote whilst placing their theories into a context of today’s digital culture.


I have begun a line of research called the Sample-Remix-Mash-up Spectrum and will include some of it here, but it is not yet a complete set of observations. I intend to include updated writings on the subject in my research continuum. In this essay, I will focus mostly on the sample end of the spectrum.

Online references.

Culture moves, but it isn’t waiting, and when researching and pursuing its trajectory, it becomes clear how quickly things need updating. Quoting and citing sources can mean transcribing important speeches from a video or audio stream made as little as a day or two ago, or from a news report from an hour ago and referring to a URL, since no other available format yet exists. Accordingly, I include an index of online references.

Whereas the open internet is regarded as a fallible information source, Wikipedia being a commonly cited example , the availability of original film, music, video and television footage hosted on the internet, is an invaluable tool for finding out what people actually said, did and recorded at the time. These documents are, despite being a digital copy, the original information, performed as intended by the subject. I have found much value and gained much information from this type of research and include quotes directly from it. A difficulty arises in the poor quality of accompanying information pertaining to the date of origin, the source of the document and the original publisher. My citations accommodate this as best as I can on a case-by-case basis.

The Prophecy

“Music is prophecy. Its styles and economic organizations are ahead of the rest of society because it explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given code.” (Attali, 1999 p.11)

Even if it’s economic organizations are shifting, music remains able to explore faster than material reality, but the same is arguably true of alternative modes of composition, in a new digital reality. Art emerges from software scripts; the code as well as the music and images produced by it are reaching forward irrespective of old boundaries, and are changing perceptions of what art is and where creativity lies. We are well down the road toward the day predicted in the 1960s by culture theorist Marshall McLuhan, when he said:

“Where advertising is heading, is quite simply into a world where the ad will become a substitute for the product and all the satisfactions will be derived informationally from the ad, and the product will be merely a number in some file somewhere.” (McLuhan, M. [a]).

With observations on change seeded in history from Plato to Confucius (Sinnreich, 2010. p.18), more recent history has consistently offered us an updated enlightenment and awareness in the context and language of the day. Walter Benjamin in the 1930s, Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, Jacques Atalli, and Sun Ra in the 1970s, John Oswald in the 1980s, and in the 21st century, a growing number of theorists and activists of which I will focus on just two. Lawrence Lessig and Aram Sinnreich.

Pre Digital

“The thing that hath been, is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, see, this is new? It hath been already of old time which was before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 King James version).

The printing press, photography, the telephone, the phonograph and magnetic tape, film, television, radio and the computer; each gave rise to changes in the way society has looked, listened and behaved. The technological evolution of the 20th century has accelerated into the 21st. effecting even more rapid change. The sharing of one idea can travel around the world at an unprecedented speed.

In addition to the speed and saturation levels of digital information, much of the creative expression being shared uses the last hundred years or more of recorded content as its raw materials as its starting point, recycling and re-examining our past in the context of our new environment and new technologies and thus creating clear implications for our future. More recent sages than King Solomon bear out his ancient wisdom, each adding insights from the environment of their own eras. One of the re-occurring themes is the recyclable nature of culture. Another is the way our technologies impact on our society, which in turn, become shaped by our tools.

Paul Valéry and Walter Benjamin

The computer may be the defining object of the age in which we now live, but some of the inventions in the lifetime of Paul Valéry and Walter Benjamin would have been equally game changing. Born before the turn of the 20th century, they witnessed a period of some extraordinary discoveries and developments in science, industry and the arts.

It is unsettling to think that such revolutionary modes of communication as flight, photography, radio and other inventions became a part of two world wars, as society reshuffled and re-configured itself, but the imperatives of war doubtless led to an acceleration in technological advancement. By the 1930’s there had been enough time for the social structures to settle around the common use of the motor car, the telephone, the radio, gramophone, film and photography. It is in this context that Valéry measured the trajectory of such development when he predicted:

“Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.” (Valéry, 1931)

This foresight, born out in television, has the internet is it’s modern manifestation. Valéry’s ‘simple movement of the hand’ carries another significance in the age of high-speed data. The sheer volume of content available now via the internet, both archived and new, being continually produced and uploaded every day by an increasing global engagement with digital creativity, means that the vast majority of it has very little use for most people. The celebrated exceptions are viewed millions and millions of times, but it is impossible to keep up with such huge amounts of information, even within the realms of interest of an average consumer. But we get used to it. We become accustomed and even indifferent toward it. The simple movement of the hand could be a nonchalant, effortless wave of dismissal, in an easy come, easy go regard toward such common fare.

The hard drive on a typical domestic computer can hold many thousands of MP3s, but to receive them all in one go is just as easily done as it is to delete them; ‘with a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign’. The value placed on that number of records on vinyl or CDs would be conceived differently. Firstly in storage space, then in resale value and then in cherished value. If they are not cherished and there is no space to keep them, someone somewhere might pay something for them, especially, for example, the rare Brazilian 1970’s Jazz.

When you have stored them for a year and still haven’t played any of them and you realise you are not likely to trawl through them either, these amazing and unique recordings, moments of frozen time, once fragile artefacts, now digitized and existing only as data on your hard drive, have a completely different value. Possibly measured only in megabytes of used space. Which brings us directly to Walter Benjamin, who quotes Valéry in the opening statement to his touchstone Essay, The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Benjamin’s 1936 essay, introduced theories that have strong relevance today, and though some of his ideas may be disproved or outdated, his insights on the change in relationship between an original work of art and a mechanically reproduced copy, via photography, film and the phonograph, remain fundamentally correct in the digital age, despite these technologies having moved beyond the technological limitations of his day.

“Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. For the study of this standard nothing is more revealing than the nature of the repercussions that these two different manifestations – the reproduction of works of art and the art of the film – have had on art in its traditional form.” (Benjamin, 1936)

It is vital to the understanding of Benjamin that the political dimension to his theory is not overlooked in favour of the simple and seductive association of his predictions with the digital technology of today. He makes this absolutely clear in one paragraph where he makes particularly strong associations with the 21st century;

“An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever-greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.” (Benjamin, 1936)

One of the keys to the context of Benjamin’s opinions in ‘The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ is in it’s epilogue, where the discussion of aesthetics can be viewed in the context of his location in Berlin during the rise of Fascism. By the time the essay was published, Benjamin had fled Germany for Paris, concluding his essay with a condemnation of Fascism in aesthetic and human terms;

“Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics, which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.” (Benjamin, 1936)

The importance, to me, is that the political dimension of his work carries a message that translates into today’s environment, not in the context of Nazi Fascism of course, but in the capitalist structures, challenged by the new democracy of the internet.
Andrew Keen, a Silicon Valley based Internet entrepreneur is scathing about this type of democracy, in the context of journalism versus blogging, invokes the famous theory about monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare:

“In the pre-internet age, T.H. Huxley’s scenario of infinite monkeys empowered with infinite technology seemed more like a mathematical jest than a dystopian vision. But what had once appeared as a joke now seems to foretell the consequences of a flattening of culture that is blurring the lines between traditional audience and author, creator and consumer, expert and amateur.” (Keen, 2007)

Noam Chomsky takes a different view, reflected in a spectrum of activists who embrace this new type of democracy to effect a change on the existing one;

“Democracy is tolerable only insofar as it conforms to strategic-economic objectives. The United States’ fabled “yearning for democracy” is reserved for ideologues and propaganda.” (Chomsky, 2011)

Thus lines are being drawn across creativity on the grounds of politics and definitions of democracy. In a time of mistrusted politicians and high profile corporate greed, Internet piracy has become a political tool. The reconfiguring of more than just music or videos is at stake.

Marshall McLuhan

“Archimedes once said, ‘Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.’ Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said ‘I will stand on your ears, your nerves, and your brain, and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose’” (McLuhan, M. p.68 1964)

Using the combined mediums of mass communication to air his insight into the very subject of itself, MucLuhan’s emergence as a popular and celebrated media theorist in the 1960s has reoccurred in the new century. His message has amplified in significance since the analogue to digital conversion of what he called the information age. His prophecies have matured and for the globally networked Internet generation, McLuhan is a natural, if not a Pop icon.

In the 21st century, it is easy to be seduced by the accuracy of his prophecies. His understanding of his own time was not limited to it. He could see it’s trajectory and talked about it in neat, ready to time-travel packages. For example, he observed exactly the situation of his own day, echoed King Solomon’s words, and foresaw the situation today:

“The old medium is always the content of the new medium, as movies tend to be the content of TV and as books used to be the content, novels used to be the content of movies and so every time a new medium arrives, the old medium is the content and it is highly observable, highly noticeable.” (McLuhan, [b] Uploaded 2009)

Having created copy-able visual and audible content since the end of the 19th century, we are now using over a century’s worth of creativity to feed today’s digital mediums. In the case of music, Mixmaster Morris pointed out:

“We’ve had sixty, seventy years of making records, now we sample them”. (Gould, 1992 in Toop, 1995 p.52)

McLuhan made predictions, but he was assessing the situation around him from the outset and suggesting we do the same. His more famous statements already applied at the time he made them. The public did not have to wait for the “Global village”, (McLuhan, 2002), they were already in it. “The medium is the message” may be harder to grasp, but the remarkable thing about McLuhan is that whether people got it, or not, with each year that passes, many of his statements become more relevant and therefore easier to understand.


McLuhan reads like a survivors guide rather than a political manifesto, and deliberately so. Suggesting no particular start point for studying his message, other than a multidimensional approach, he declined to offer a fixed viewpoint. (Gordon W.T. 1997 p.11)

His refusal to fix or extend an argument enables his audience to put the pieces together themselves, allowing access from a multitude of reference points to a multitude of approaches, avoiding partisan politics and inviting attention from the multitude of existing doctrines.

The two quotations I have used above are easily accepted as classic McLuhan sound bites. The former is used, complete as quoted here, for the opening page of a book entitled ‘McLuhan For Beginners’ and is actually taken from McLuhan’s own book, Understanding Media. The second quote is self-explanatory and relevant to the point I am making at that moment. Both quotations however, omit something important.

The first quotation I used, when seen in full, reads thus, with the omission in bold type:

“Archimedes once said, ‘Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.’ Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said ‘I will stand on your ears, your nerves, and your brain, and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose. We have leased these ‘places to stand to private corporations.’” (McLuhan, M. p.68 1964)

The second quotation, now unabridged, reads as follows;

“The medium does things to people, and they’re always completely unaware of this, they don’t really notice the new medium that is wrapping them up, they think of the old medium because the old medium is always the content of the new medium, as movies tend to be the content of TV and as books used to be the content, novels used to be the content of movies and so every time a new medium arrives, the old medium is the content and it is highly observable, highly noticeable, but the real roughing up and massaging is done by the new medium, and it is ignored. “McLuhan, M [Online].‬

Prophetic, even in the edit, McLuhan cautions about the hypnotic effect of the medium, rendering people incapable of resisting rise of the corporation and their own mental enslavement. Though his language is subtler, the first page of his first published book is a warning. Quoting selectively this time to highlight the politics:

“Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best-trained minds have made it a full time business to get inside the collective public mind. To get inside in order to manipulate, exploit, control is the object now.” (McLuhan, 1951 p.v)

He continues:

“[Since] so many minds are engaged in bringing about this condition of public helplessness…Why not assist the public to observe the drama which is intended to operate on it unconsciously?” (McLuhan, 1951 p.v)

As an intriguing TV personality who said interesting things, McLuhan was harmless enough, but if the public engaged with him and did actually think about what the implications were of what he was saying, then he did pose a political threat. He was the proverbial spanner in the works.

Republican politician Newt Gingrich, in an attempt to play McLuhan at his own game, condemned him as a “countercultural McGovernik”, a perjorative, referencing Democrat Senator George McGovern’s anti-Vietnam war politics, the beatnik counter culture and the protesting of the refuseniks. The ‘–nik’ suffix was taken from the Russian satellite, Sputnik. This was a condensed condemnation in sound bite form, from a right-wing Cold-War American Conservative politician.

Alan Ginsberg, preceding McLuhan’s invention of the term ‘Mass Media’ illuminates the context for Gingrich’s verbal assault, in a very McLuhan-like letter to the New York Times, in 1957 in defence of Jack Kerouac:

“But the “beatnik” of mad critics is a piece of their own ignoble poetry. And if “beatniks”, and not illuminated Beat poets, overrun this country they will have been created not by Kerouac but by industries of mass communication which continue to brainwash Man.” (Campbell, J 1999)

McLuhan is saying, much same as Benjamin, that your choice of aesthetic, is a political choice.

Jacques Attali and Sun Ra

Attali is a different kind of visionary. His statements on music as prophecy (above) relate to the subject of music in society and his coupling of noise and politics bears relationship to the context into which I have placed McLuhan, Benjamin and Valéry.

He is different, not because he says things that contradict these theorists; he insists that music is the true language of mankind and through reading it, we can understand ourselves, which is somewhat McLuhan like, but also like the extraordinary jazz musician Sun Ra. Despite Attali’s in depth discussion, consideration and great deliberation on music in his 1977 book ‘Noise, A Political Economy’, he is as dramatic as an orchestra. I find a poetic beauty in what he says about music, which is why I have quoted him at the head of this essay and again at the head of the Prophecy chapter.

Attali and Sun Ra share a view of the musician’s role and the importance of music in society beyond the historical narrative. With politics as a mid way point, it is through philosophy, if not cynicism, that they are akin. (Attali 1977 p.103-104)

Anyone who claims to be from another planet, yet remains to be taken seriously can only be living a metaphor. There is something about listening to Sun Ra’s music that is akin to stepping away from something in order to view it better. Since his subject is the human on planet earth, space travel provides a natural vantage point, better to see ourselves:

“The chaos on this planet is due to the music that musicians are playing, that they are forced to play, by some who just think of money and don’t realise that music is a spiritual language, and it represents the people of earth. When musicians are compelled to play anything, it goes straight to the throne of the Creator of the Universe and that is how He sees you, according to your music, because see, music is a universal language and what you call musicians should play, its what goes to the creator as your personal ambassador and your personal nemesis.” (Blount, H. 1980)

With echoes of Sun Ra, Attali is direct, offering the problem and the solution in a devastating opening to his book:

“ For twenty five centuries, Western Knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible.” (Attali. 2009 p.3)

Whereas Sun Ra created extraordinary and unusual music, which illustrated his philosophy, music stimulates beyond the capacity of words, so it becomes quite a simple equation to seek meaning in the actual music rather than the words, especially when the music is uncommonly different or influential in the long term, ergo, according to Attali, music as prophecy.


“Sampling live, that’s the clubbing of the future, vinyl is on the way out, soon we’ll have totally computerised … a real techno club” (Gould, 1991)

The turn of the 21st century is a pretty good watershed for defining a difference between what digital technology (and hence culture) can do that it couldn’t do before. Initially it was about memory capacity but computing power and the infrastructure enabling the global transfer of huge amounts of rich data have meant that the changes have been occurring with exponential rapidity. Music has been profoundly affected, initially, more so than other mediums. Because video files, common today, carry much more data, the revolution really started with music. The new era began with the arrival of the affordable digital sampler.

In the late 1980s, Computer screens were in black and white, images were compromised with less than 200 pixels available both vertically and horizontally on a monitor. An Atari computer came fitted with either half a megabyte of RAM or a whole megabyte. An affordable digital sampling keyboard, or stand alone sampler by Emulator, in 1988 might have only ½ megabyte of memory, delivering under 15 seconds of sampling time at a rate 42,000 samples per second. Neither of these technologies, which represent the average computing power of the day, could offer enough memory to record a multi-tracked vocal or guitar track. Analogue tape was still commonplace.

Despite the limitations, which seem crippling by today’s standards, a budget sampler by Emulator or Akai with less than 1 megabyte of RAM would be used in conjunction with an Atari computer, popular because of it’s inbuilt MIDI capabilities, in an increasing number of recording studios, to produce music that either did not need any orchestration that might require multi track tape, or utilised the stylistic idiosyncrasies of sampling that were rapidly becoming the new musical dialect, as an instrumental or vocal based track. Sampling a short vocal phrase and repeating small moments of the feature, became a popular compromise between using just sampled and sequenced tracks or synchronising with tape. Sampling rapidly became the norm in a proliferation of new musical styles, built on the technology and increasingly using the unique and new characteristics and idiosyncrasies offered to define a new set of languages and intellectual exchanges.

The Sample Remix Mashup Spectrum.

Sharing samples in 1988 by taking a box of floppy discs to a friend’s house, I imagined that the medium of vinyl for sharing music would soon be redundant. I imagined that the new medium would be the floppy disc, plugged into sample playback machines, which would naturally enough to me, have the ability to view the piece in its’ component parts. I Imagined that these could be remixed at will, and passed on again in their new form. I imagined that people would want to do it and that it would be a natural cultural development.

Despite the naïve nature of the predictions, they were essentially correct. The medium is not the floppy disc but the Mp3 and there is a remix culture manifest in various forms, across a spectrum from the sample to the remix and the mash-up, the sample being the lowest common denominator.

Some samples were used clearly, as taken from their source, and sometimes the choice of artist or track to sample was essential to the concept of the piece. Other times the sample was not so obvious, buried unrecognisably in a filter or by transposition, by playing only a moment of it, or by any number of techniques in the emerging language of the sampling artist. The range of options as well as the nature of the sound and playability of a sample, really were essential parts of the creative process and outcome. Legitimacy amongst peers was far more important than legality. It really was not important to think about who owned the copyright of a sample or perhaps many samples in one tune, until you sold enough records to warrant the attention.

I once worked in a studio where a friend had previously left some ready edited samples. The producer suggested I used one. When my friend heard what I had done with what he had edited, he said “Oi! That’s my sample!” To which I replied; “Well, you must’ve taken it from somewhere.” His reply was; “Oh, I suppose so.” And left it at that. This illustrates three points. One, the irony of a sense of ownership of someone else’s intellectual property, two that it had become his intellectually property in the sphere of the sampling artist, not in the sphere of copyright law, by virtue of his identifying it as a good sample and choosing to demonstrate his prowess as a sampling artist by taking it. Thirdly, he conceded the idea that anyone can take a sample and it is not exclusively theirs to take and not even theirs to claim in the first place. His initial complaint to me was based on the sense of ownership over the idea. This was indeed intellectual currency.

It became commonplace to think of a good sample to take, identifying the moment in a piece of music or speech, and then to hear it already on a record within a day or two, perhaps on the radio or perhaps even on someone else’s sampler in a studio. Samples became held in high value and cherished as an idea and were consequently kept secret from peers until release, when the head start was as far ahead as you could get before someone else had time to exploit the same idea.

The stronger the idea however, the further it would be exploited. Samples would do the rounds of the new tunes and quickly gained names, particularly since they were traded or stolen, ready edited and named, directly from a studio’s library by a visiting producer. It was also possible to book into a studio and request samples as readily as a requesting a synthesiser sound, a session musician or an echo effect.

The musicians union grudgingly defined a category for sample based producers and chose the term computer composer. They also sent out stickers, which said ‘Keep music live’, which could soon be seen ironically displayed on samplers and floppy disc boxes.
A new business grew around the sampling scene and evolved, along with new licensing laws to cover the samples used.

Again in my naivety, I believed that this was the end of the rock star and the start of a new democratic equilibrium in the relationship between the artist and the audience in music. It was disappointing to see prancing figures miming on stage to a sequence or even to vinyl.

Within the boundaries of the technology’s limitations, ridiculously small by today’s standards, Artists were able to sculpt sound with digital sampling and analogue synthesis in one unit, improvise arrangements, filters and appreciations live on stage so composed and performed. To the artist, the differences between a sample of a record or, a sample of a fruit bowl being hit with a wooden spoon, in terms of intellectual copyright made little or no difference. Sound was catchable in the laboratory. Often the laboratory was in a bedroom. Now anybody could do it. 20 years later, household computers arrive fully loaded with a digital recording and editing suite far in excess of the power available then. Now everybody is doing it.


In describing the societal and technological changes that are at the centre of this essay, I had avoided the word mutation, unsure of it’s appropriate use in this context, but I find Attali saying “Music makes mutations audible.” (Attali, p.4) And it makes so much sense. Any composer, consciously influenced or not, will host, in their own work the residue, the DNA of what came before. Combine this, with the societal change impossible for a previous composer to conceive of, and you have a potential mutation, invisible, but audible.

Listening to the rapid progression of electronic dance music from the mid eighties to today, it is easy to hear the building blocks of twisted samples, shapes and forms, conventions and references direct and unconscious in practically every change of style, of which there are many. In 2011, dubstep by its very name acknowledges its parentage, though many of the young generation of new producers will be oblivious to either dub, techstep drum & bass, or two-step garage. They may not be clearly audible, and the music may contain acid house, gabba and soul, but these changes happen quickly like a mutating virus. Some of the DNA remains.

As a mashup artist combines existing tunes, in combinations two three or more at once. A new energy is created that is unique to the combination. Take one out to replace it with another and many things will change, from the sound, the feel to the meaning and the magic. There is something unique in the mutation that is necessitated to make them fit, to have them exist in this form. It cannot happen in a vacuum, it must come from somewhere and that place is the here and now.


“Those in charge… must guard as carefully as they can against any innovation in music and poetry or in physical training that is counter to the established order… for the guardians must be aware of changing to a new form of music since it threatens the whole system. As Damon says, and I am convinced, the musical modes are never changed without change in the most important of a city’s laws.” (Plato in Sinnreich, 2010 p.7)

According to Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, legislation surrounding Intellectual Copyright, the field of law dedicated to protecting the rights of and providing an income stream for artists, is over ten years out of date. He calls it a hybrid economy, inhibited by ”a regime of copyright built for a radically different age.“ (Lessig, 2008 p.xvi)

“Politics offers yesterday’s answers to today’s questions” (McLuhan, 1996) offered Marshall McLuhan.

In a speech given at the Re-think Music conference in Boston in April 2011, Lessig stated his case for the introduction of an alternative compensation scheme for artists, to solve the stalemate between the music industry and the prevailing file sharing culture . In it he illustrates Plato and McLuhan:

“I like this title Alternative Compensation schemes because it points directly at why we are facing this problem…This is a battle between those who make money under the old system and those who might make money under the new system; the alternative compensation system. And the problem with that battle is that the people who make money under the old system have all of the levers into the existing structures of decision-making powerful enough to block transition to the people who might make money under the new system. Every industry in the world has this problem of the government conspiring with the incumbents to protect themselves against the new innovators…(Lessig 2011)

Now, if had taken any of these ideas that we knew about more than 10 years ago, if we had adopted any of these ideas, how would the world be different today?
1. More artists would have money.
2. Companies…that want to innovate using new structures to identify rights and be able to it more efficiently, would be more profitable and more prevalent.
3. We wouldn’t have waged a war for 10 years against our own kids, telling them, they are criminals and pirates and inculcating in them the idea that this is the way they are, they are just criminals and pirates.
So there can be no argument in favour of what we did. So why did we do it? Because the alternative compensation systems always have to fight against this conspiracy, by governments and incumbents, to protect themselves against this change.” (Lessig, 2011)

The Recording Industry Association of America’s infamous prosecution of individual file sharers produced fines as high as $1.92 Million for 24 songs shared by one user. (Harvey M 2009) At the same ‘Rethink Music’ conference attended by Larry Lessig, President of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Cary Sherman, also spoke. Although at a different seminar, Sherman gave answer to some of Lessig’s questions:

“Could we not have sued Napster?…No I think we would have had to do that… there were clearly people saying go after the people that are abusing copyrights and we did that and everyone regards that as very controversial but if you look at that in the context of why we did it, when we did it and the impact that we had in terms of clearly indicating to the public at large, what was legal and what was not and actually changing some behaviour constraining the growth of p2p for a long period of time , there was an immediate drop and then it basically levelled off, it increased over time but was no longer growing at the same rate as broadband penetration .

It ran its course, the educational benefit has basically worn off, you have traction now…You have to wonder whether people would have paid 99 cents for iTunes if it was completely risk free to take anything you wanted from a peer to peer service so its hard to look back and say what you would have done differently given what you were facing at the time.” (Sherman 2011)
Of file-sharing and remix culture, Andrew Keen thinks inside the box; “…it foretells the death of culture.” (Keen. 2007, p.57) Keen represents the old way of thinking. It is rational and hard to argue with its obvious simplicity; the professionals need to get paid for their work.

But file sharing is not the same as piracy. Piracy is illegal file sharing. If you were for example to legalise file sharing, piracy would be redundant. But why would anyone want that? Because of an equally simple, but exponentially liberating idea.

A file is information, therefore file-sharing is information sharing. If everyone in the world has all the information and in terms of music film art and literature, that means access to culture at their own fingertips , the benefit to mankind can hardly be measured. Freeing music, freeing culture, is not the end. It is of course only the beginning. Keen would disagree, but is it not ludicrous to withhold the greatest cultural leap in history for the sake of the profit of a few? Could we take one this one small step for man in order to release one giant leap for mankind?

It is perhaps more idealistic to imagine that file-sharing and copyright abuse can be successfully legislated out of existence.
The Prosecution in Sweden of peer to peer website The Pirate Bay found four people guilty of sharing copyrighted material. Since the site itself was never on trial, it was able to continue. The publicity and support for the Pirate bay ultimately lead to the foundation of The Pirate Party and the foundation 26 Pirate Parties internationally with the idea of reforming copyright law. The stated aims are simply to “get rid of the patent system and ensure that citizens’ rights of privacy are respected.” (Piratpartiet 2011)

Clearly, labelling and dismissing file sharing as just piracy is a misconception. There are other issues at stake. Sampling has come a long way.


We cannot possibly be in any doubt, that the nature of our technologies has a direct effect on our society and that we become moulded by the technology we have ourselves moulded, and that these effects bring significant, if not revolutionary change. The balance of economies, societies, jobs, careers and ways of life will come and go and we should be prepared for it. So with this much warning, and our desire for modernity, we surely should have an infrastructure prepared.

The opportunity is here for society to learn from the culture it has created and to liberate it. Dramatic as the change will be, we are already en-route.

Sun Ra is not really from Saturn and a mash-up of two existing pieces of music is not really music written by the mash-up producer. It is a metaphor and held within it is the answer to a previously un-answered question, greater than the sum of the parts.

1 Bibliography
Attali, J. 1999 Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Trans B. Massumi. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press
Benjamin, W. 2008, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Trans J.A. Underwood. Penguin, London

Gordon W.T. 1997, ‘McLuhan for Beginners.’ Writers & Readers. New York, London.
Campbell, J. 1999, ‘This is the Beat Generation’ Secker & Warburg London.

Keen, A. ‘The Cult of the Amateur,’ 2007 Doubleday, New York
Lessig, L. 2008, ‘Remix’, Penguin
McLuhan, H.M. 1951, ‘The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man’ Routlidge & Keegan Paul, London.
McLuhan, H.M. 1995, ‘Understanding Media’ MIT, Cambridge Mass, London
McLuhan, H.M. 1996, ‘The Medium is the Massage’ Hardwired, San Francisco)
McLuhan, H.M. 2002, ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy’ University of Toronto, Canada
Plato. 1991. ‘Republic.’ Trans. A.D.Lindsay, Vintage, London.
Sinnreich, A. 2010 Mashed up: Music, Technology and the Rise of Configurable Culture Amherst & Boston: University of Massachusetts Press
Toop, D. 1995. ‘Ocean of Sound’. Serpent’s Tail, London.
Online References

Blount, H. 1980 (Uploaded 2011). ‘A Joyful Noise – Part 1 (1980) Sun Ra – Robert Mugges’ [Online]: accessed 7/05/11
Chomsky, N. 2011 (Uploaded 2011) ‘The Cairo-Madison Connection’. [Online]: Accessed 6/05/2011
Clinton, H. 2011. (Uploaded 2011) Internet rights and wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked world. [Online]: accessed 5/05/2011
Gould, M. L. 1991 (uploaded 2008). Mixmaster Morris interview Tongue & Groove TV. [Online]:, accessed 4/05/2011
Harvey, M. 2009. ‘Single-mother digital pirate Jammie Thomas-Rasset must pay $80,000 per song.’ [Online]: Accessed 11/05/2011
Lessig, L. 2007. (Uploaded 2007). TED Lecture. Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity. [Online]: accessed 5/05/2011
Lessig, L. 2011. Models – Alternative compensation schemes. [Online]: Accessed 5/05/2011
McLuhan, M. Date Unknown[b] (Uploaded 2009). Marshall McLuhan clip.‬ [Online]: ‪ accessed 6/05/11
McLuhan, M. [a]Date Unknown (Uploaded 2011). Marshall McLuhan Speaks – Centennial 2011 – part 7. [Online]:
Piratpartiet (2011)“Introduction to politics and principles” [Online] Accessed 11/05/2011
RIAA 2011 ‘For Students Doing Reports’ [Online]: accessed 11/05/2011
Sherman C 2011 “Rethink-futureofcopyrightlaw“[online]: accessed 29/4/2011
Sinnreich, A. 2011. TEDxUSC: Aram Sinnreich – The Next generation Internet. [Online]: accessed 6/05/2011
Waldman, S. 2004. (Uploaded 2004)Who Knows? [Online]: accessed 7/05/2011
Sun Ra, 1980, Strange Celestial Road, Y Records
Sun Ra, 1973, Astro Black, Impulse.

Filed under: Essays, Words

Calling out the Mashup.

“I asked a man what was right. He answered me the assurance of the full exercise of possibilities. I ate him. Only Cannibalism unites us. Socially, economically, philosophically. From the french revolution to romanticism, to the Bolshevik revolution, to the surrealist revolution, we’re movinhig right along.” Oswald de Andrade Souza, The Cannibal Manifesto 1928.

This critical essay discusses the contemporary musical mashup and asks questions relating to its potential evolution toward a wider contribution to music than its paradoxical limitations suggest it might achieve. The mashup seems at once a self contained idea and one based on inherent mutation. Does this mean it has taken a flexible concept only to set it in stone? How can it develop?

I will discuss, in the light of my own practice, how new possibilities for the mashup are demonstrated by the model of free jazz, which contains poly-metered, poly-chordal and micro-tonal elements. I will discuss the resistance free jazz encountered, at odds as it was with the swing and bop formats from which it originated, but which it could have never existed without. With this in mind, and with recycling at its heart, can the mashup bypass today’s reactionary attitudes and outdated copyright legislation and follow the creativity proliferating in the web 2.0 and application mashups to which it gave its name?

The musical mashup.

The contemporary musical Mashup, despite some variety, is a self limiting genre defined simply, by mixing two pieces of existing music together to make a new recording. This appears similar to a DJ mixing two tunes, but there are some well defined differences. The mashup is achieved by careful preparation via digital manipulation. Like a DJ or a band, this can then be presented live but is more commonly presented as a complete re-arrangement of the two pieces, interlocked to become one new piece and shared as an mp3 or video file and distributed via the internet to a large global community, including many consumer-producers. The mashup is an art form you can do at home and is very much a musical expression of the Web 2.0 age.

Bastard pop is a less used name for the mashup genre (as well as bootleg, remix and blend) sometimes used by those wishing to defame the genre for political reasons, (although it has to some extent been reclaimed by common usage) but it describes very well how the un-sanctioned union of two pieces of music begets an offspring with its own character, whilst retaining the DNA and characteristics of its parents. These parents are invariably popular tunes, from a variety of genres, eras and styles. Recycling something familiar is an important part of the mashup, containing a modern or a nostalgic resonance, depending on the content, but with an inevitably contemporary outcome. Thus the title of a mashup describes both the tunes in one phrase, an often humorous, surreal or otherwise stimulating mashup in itself.

The mashup has the potential to match pieces of music that could not be matched by a DJ because the differences in tempo, pitch and arrangements would be challenging to resolve live using ordinary DJ equipment. The slogan of live mashup act Girl Talk is “I am not a Dj”, since the techniques and creativity involved are distinctly separate and especially the sonic outcome.

Historical precedents.

Composers as far back as the 15th century, copied down popular melodies of the day and reconstructed them simultaneously. This would involve, with the technology of the day, a harpsichord or clavinet, since the piano was not invented until about 1700, or more than one musician to play the parts. There have been several names for with this idea over the years, including the fricassee, ensalata, pot-pourri (Maniates 1966 p.169 ) and most enduringly, the quodlibet which has remained in the composer’s toolbox and has continued to make appearances throughout the following centuries. Whereas some quodlibets are successive, like a medley, the form most related to the mashup is presented in classical music as the Simultaneous Quodlibet. Maniates could be describing the mashup when it describes the quodlibet as; “…usually quotations of well-known tunes, played or sung together, usually to different texts, in a polyphonic arrangement.” (Maniates 1966). Bach, Mozart, Kurt Weil and John Cage have all written quodlibets.

Humour is a theme common to the quodlibet and the mashup. the following description of the quodlibet could just as easily be written about the mashup; “While the art of combining citations remains an indispensable component of the quodlibet, it functions merely within the realm of technique. Quodlibet technique, however, must be infused with quodlibet spirit – the delight in merry and nonsensical buffoonery.” (Maniates )

An alternative historical reference point for the mashup, similar to the quodlibet can be found in some of the compositions of Charles Ives. Listening to the second movement of his Three places in New England, there appear to be two orchestras playing at once, sounding at some moments, as if they were two separate recordings mixed by a Dj struggling to keep things in the tight tempo-lock essential for a good mix. In Ives’ music, this ambiguity is an attribute and is a device reflecting the dissonance of The Unanswered Question, only here, it is asked of the rhythm as well. Is this something that mashup artists can look toward, to help relax the rigidity of their format? At least one Ives piece, Symphony No. 4 requires two conductors and for an unusually large scale orchestra. One of the possibilities of a conventional mashup is to have such a large ensemble orchestration from the combined instrumentation of the two chosen pieces.

In the ‘post war’ years of the 20th century, there has been mashup activity on a progressive scale, some relating to the digital sampling era of the 1980s and 1990s, along with DJ culture based on mixing two records together at once. This is a very close relative to the mashup both in it’s principal and in time. Dj culture is alive and well in the 21st century, using predominantly CDs and mp3s, but still beat matched and sometimes in key. The dance floor oriented DJ music, that is to say house, drum & bass, jungle and techno etc tends to be separately grouped by genre, with DJs blending entire sets of one style. Mashup producers tends to avoid these genres and although they may mix two R&B or hip-hop records together or two records by similar artists, a mashup is just as likely to put two unconnected pieces together, with the aim of a new epiphany each time, brought about by the sum of the parts.

In 1975, John Oswald’s ‘Power’, combined Led Zeppelin riffs with a radio recording of an evangelist preacher edited to be largely in time with the beat. The medium used was tape, editable with a razor blade and out of sync. Both Oswald and Negativeland continued to make edit based music, Oswald calling his Plunderphonics, after his 1985 essay ‘Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative’. David Byrne and Brian Eno recycled Oswald’s preacher idea several times over on their 1980 album ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’.

Grandmaster Flash’s Wheels of Steel, was a 1981 medley type mash of several tunes with overlaid scratching. In 1982 Adrian Sherwood produced Mark Stewart and the Mafia’s stirring dub-version of William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’. A tight reggae drum and bass steppers rhythm made a solid platform for an overdub from a separate recording of a brass band playing Blake’s anthem. The brass band was not edited at all and runs out of time with the rhythm, creating a dynamic tide and adding to the irreverence of the piece.

In 1985, inspired by all of this and particularly the emergence of hip hop and world music, Mixmaster Morris broadcast the Mongolian Hip-hop Show on Pirate Television and radio station Network 21. The shows were named after one particular piece he had created which mixed a hip hop track with mongolian throat singing. The tape was made simply by dubbing one record at a time onto a porta-studio. Two years later and using similar technology, with the addition of a Casio sampler, Coldcut made a record from many other records, some overlaid, some in succession. Beats & Pieces is very close in approach to a Girl Talk mashup of today.

In 1991, Negativeland’s ‘U2 Ep’, layered cut ups of pop presenter Casey Casem ranting about U2 record he was failing to cue correctly, over the record itself.

There are other precedents to the mashup, of course, but the sense of adventure in these particular pieces are of value in the search for context and new directions for the mashup to take.

The mashup today and tomorrow.

United in a philosophy of non-commercialism, mashup fans are defensive of the art form, decrying its detractors, especially those in the music business and in journalism who belittle the creativity involved, arguing its invalidity and illegality. (Gaylor 2009 ) A typical accusation is that mashup artists and their audience are partners in piracy or copyright crime or both. But a record company still knows a hit when they see it. Mark Vidler’s 2005 ‘Rapture Riders’ produced under the name Go Home Productions, is a blend of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ from 1980 and the Doors ‘Riders on the Storm’ from 1971. It was not only approved by both bands, but was remixed using the original studio recordings. It was officially released both as a single and as a track on Blondie’s ‘Sight and Sound’ Greatest hits album in 2005 . It was a worldwide top 40 hit and was number 1 in the US Hot Dance Club Play chart in 2006. (Un-cited,Wikipedia) Record companies have over the last 20 years notoriously refused to follow up and invest in new talent and are more likely to swoop on a single product rather than an artist, so it is no surprise that in combination with their innate distaste for bastard pop, the mashup remains largely underground.

Gregg Gillis, the artist behind Girl Talk, mixes many more than just two mashups in a piece. His live shows run continuously for over an hour and contain multiple samples of many tunes, pre- edited in a variety of ways to make a complex and flexible presentation. His performances have put him on the same stages as some of the artists he samples. In 2010 he has undertaken a large tour of the United States. He is the focus of the 2009 documentary entitled ‘RiP! A Remix Manifesto’, directed by Brett Gaylor, about remix and mashup culture in the context of counter productive copyright laws. It emphasises how beneath the surface of our originality, lies the past, and how the present and future will always build upon it.

Girl Talk shows that the mashup can grow beyond the fixed form with which the movement started ten years ago. Even by 2002, Gillis’ album ‘Secret Diary’ featured heavy editing and bit crushing effects which abstracted the sound, but cleverly maintaining the comprehend-ability of the mashup. Despite Gillis’ daring, the mashup genre remains un-moved and perfectly self contained. Fed regularly and in perpetuity with releases of new music, delivered in digital format ready for mashing, the mashup ‘need’ never change. But with precedents based on tape overdubs sampling and turntable-ism, surely the mashup genre holds great potential for music of the future.

Can a mashup be more than a neat and tidy idea being endlessly reworked? Because it is so closely related to other sample based music of today it can well be viewed from the perspective that because so many avenues have already evolved, the mashup is in fact simply another tangent for sample based music rather than a platform for its own evolution into a wider art and therefore the mashup will do nothing new. In addition, the mashup community has been so prolific and within the convention, that it is no surprise to see, after nearly a decade, that the novelty is wearing off and the attention waring a little thin, as these comments from the blogosphere demonstrate;

“And in 2010, four years after Girl Talk exploded, I’m wondering if it’s even a legitimate genre anymore. It all feels a bit clichéd at this point.” Nick Meador

“A couple of years ago I kinda got off the ‘mash-up / bastard pop’ crazy train cos the journey wasn’t much fun anymore. The initial vibe that drew me in back in 2002 had all but evaporated and it was becoming far too ‘work-like’” Mark Vidler (Go Home Productions homepage)

Every music style has its traditions and makes its own progress. If the mashup has become a boring medium then is now not the time for mashup artists to move the form somewhere more exciting and challenging? Girl Talk’s music and performances do show that there are directions for the mashup to open into. Can other artists find their own new directions too?

Vidler continues; “At the beginning of this year however, I got the bug again and created a few 
things that have since become ‘favourites”. His “Smells like Rockin’ Robin” is a mashup of Nirvana and the Jackson 5 and in less than 6 weeks is just short of half a million Youtube views. It is however a very conventional mashup, accompanied with a straightforward video mash of the two bands’ promo videos of the day.

One mashup ‘band’ at least profess some ambition, stating on their blog site: “The Kleptones understand that recycling music is a pop tradition that’s older than the blues, but times have changed. Never before has a band taken as many chances in the studio as The Kleptones.” Even if they don’t really live up to it, they have at least declared their preparedness to conceive beyond the usual convention.

Mashup band Soulwax, showed a new kind of mashup scene creativity in 2009 when on BBC Radio 1 they delivered a one hour sequence of just the introductions to 420 songs. This is remarkable not only because the idea lay beyond the mundanity of yet another basic mashup session, but for the fact that it achieved mainstream exposure. This sort of creativity is clearly a step beyond the mainstream mashup. So how far can the mashup actually go, be it commercially or artistically? What ‘rules’ can be broken, and what might the results be?

In my own practice, I have made what I call mashups, but I have had the validity of that title questioned. That is exactly the kind of response I seek as it means that the pieces are stimulating some debate about what a mashup can be. These mashups take existing pieces of music, or any audio file, be it speech or soundtrack and mixes them together using a variety of techniques. Some pieces consist of three tunes starting almost together and simply running their course. They are not in time or in key but they create a depth and a texture not achievable easily with conventional meter and harmony.

Two pieces mash different versions of the same solo flute piece played by different artists at different times in different locations. My mashups arrange them them all together for a united statement about the composition, re-orchestrated for a larger ensemble. Other mashups have their arrangements determined by the bandwidth limitations of my domestic broadband pie that the audio is travelling down. When there is no more room, at least one audio file will stop playing. With some buffering, they return but another may cut out. Having recorded the final outcome I can then edit if I need to. Decisions are made so that each piece works to my satisfaction. Some pieces are easy to finish and others are not. Some do not achieve anything worth sharing, others are popular.

There are various outcomes from the successful pieces. As with any music or mashup, associations and relationships can be gathered from the content. They are surprisingly varied and include unexpected musical associations as well as contradictions. One such contradiction is the conceptual and textural counterpoint provided by one tune that is culturally at odds with a well matched pair it is mashed with. On the one hand it ‘shouldn’t’ be there, but it is and it works. The same piece deceived my ear into thinking a fourth piece was playing. Different levels of association are illustrated by the broadband pieces, which reflect on the consumer’s relationship with the service provider.

As a sampling artist over the last 20 years, the power of taking a sample has always been in the reference, either culturally, personally or musically. A piece made of samples that were not even obviously audible gave a power to the artist in composition, a confidence like swallowing a magic potion before carrying out the intended act. My own pieces transposed and fragmented samples from their original form but still they contained the atmosphere of they day they were originally recorded. The tonal colour might be deeper or brighter after the change, but that is merely an accentuation of something already there.

When DJs Chris “C.J.” Mackintosh and Dave Dorrell sampled the Last Poets in the 1987 MAARS pop chart hit ‘Pump up the Volume’, it was not that sample that popularised the hit, but it was a subject of some importance to other artists and aficionados who recognised the reference. It was other samples and indeed the sound created by the techniques used in sampling that helped to define the track to the record buying public. What the Last Poets sample did contribute, was, on the surface, a relevant lyric and beyond that, the band’s credentials for the record’s political and historical context.

In a similar way to taking a sample, playing a blues riff or a jazz swing gives the player a sense of context and security. That they may be churning out an overused cliché applies to sampling and mashups too and leaves the artist to sink or swim by the attributes of the context of the sample or the mashup and by what the artist achieves themselves with their statement. That is why the mashup formula is getting boring and why it must evolve. The simple genius of the idea is no longer enough. In the words of the Cannibal manifesto, “we’re moving right along”.

Free jazz; free the mashup.

The free-rolling beats of my own mashups have lead me to look beyond sampling and remix history to find a deeper historical context to the future of the mashup. One of these areas is free jazz. In addition to the connection with poly metered rhythms, there is in free jazz, a historical precedent for a change more dramatic than many jazz lovers at the time could comprehend. In pushing forward the idea of change, I anticipate a reactionary response as well as a positive, which is in keeping with the politics of change.

“Culture always builds on the past, the past always tries to control the future.”
The Remixer’s manifesto (Gaylor)

The history of Jazz music provides a good view on short term periodic evolution in music and it’s culture and wider context. In my opinion, looking at Jazz gives possibility to the idea that the mashup might evolve into something, anything at all.
“Jass”, as the music was becoming known by 1915, was branded the devil’s music. In short, it was a threat. Across many a social and cultural activity, the established balance supports an infrastructure periodically under threat from the new and it’s implications, so a reactionary, defensive response is to be expected from some quarters, even if what is now old was once new and challenging in itself, to those who held what came before.

30 years later, When bebop emerged out of swing, the bop vanguard suffered defamatory abuse from some many of the old guard. The “King of Jazz”, Louis Armstrong made his point, referring to the be-boppers as “little black sheep who have gone astray.” a quotation from The Whiffenpoof Song (Max Jones and John Chilton n.d.). Bebop musicians wrote many of their ‘original’ pieces by taking the chord changes from older swing numbers, writing a new melody based on their new harmonic ideas and change the tempo, sometimes so dramatically that any connection between the two songs would be obscured. Charlie Parker’s Koko was Cherokee but payed at breakneck tempo of about 180 beats per minute. Ornithology was based on How High The Moon. The departure was not so radical underneath after all. The connection with the old songs was absolutely inside the new ones and the framework and context for bop was the music the bop musicians had grown up playing, but they were now making their own interpretations They had taken ownership of the jazz present and its immediate future.

But by the early 1960s, Ornette Coleman had moved jazz from its moorings in running the changes of the jazz standard repertoire. Many titles from Coleman’s recordings speak of the change he propagated: ‘Something Else!!!!”, “Free Jazz”, “Tomorrow is the Question” and “The Shape of Jazz to Come” are like a manifesto. Coleman’s music moved between collective improvisation and organised movements of what amounted to two bands playing simultaneously on the same stage. Some pieces featured musicians crossing from one ensemble to the other mid-piece.

The Cry of Jazz in 1959 was a film made by director Edward O Bland, featuring Sun Ra’s band. The film centred around a scene titled ‘Jazz is dead”. One of the central points made in the scene, is that the rhythm and the harmonic changes that define jazz are restricting it’s growth. The film seems prophetic, for despite the illustrative conformity of Sun Ra’s score, it was not long after, that Albert Ayler’s music left behind entirely the tempered scale.

“Before AlbertAyler, jazz artists accepted – as they accepted the need to breath – that music was founded in rhythm and scales. No, said Ayler; music begins with sound itself, and from there you can create what relationships you wish without the baggage and the theory.” Litweiler

Along with the tempered scale, went the drummer’s role as time keeper. The legend ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” was a tower made to fall. Three drummers in particular were the purveyors of this dramatic change in jazz. Sunny Murray took his role as ensuring the soloist was free from the restrictions of the drummer’s timekeeping. This meant that not only was the swing gone, but so was any mark of tempo. Strangely, the jazz idiom remains audible in his playing, with both tempo and swing present, but they are not maintained in the old manner, they are more broken up, weaving a texture for the other musicians to feel rather than as a metre to adhere to. (Wilmer 1977).

Rashied Ali, later associated with John Coltrane, performed a similar role “creating an essential element of the ensemble atmosphere, without motivating the performers rhythmically.”

Milford Graves evolved what he calls ‘poly-meter playing’, that is playing different tempos and different moods simultaneously, playing one feeling on his one side and another feeling on his other. Graves describes it as being “like a contradiction that you set up within-side…its multi-fold”

As with jazz, if there is one element that would instantly change the character of a mashup and provoke new outcomes, it would be to play them out of time, perhaps just to let them run in their own tempos and bask in the glory of a multi-metered poly-rhythm. Further still, the punctuation and dynamic possibilities through editing individual tracks would offer more musical control, for as with free jazz, the randomisation is a technique, not an aim. With the added complexities of cross harmonies in addition to the cross rhythms, different and simultaneous keys, rich new patterns and textures can be achieved.

The poly metered music of Albert Ayler and the polyrythmic jazz – rock mashup brought about by Miles Davis were built directly on the existing art forms but looked outwards and forwards. When Miles Davis played his Isle of White festival concert in 1971 one of his keyboard players was Keith Jarrett. Talking in 2004 about the concert in an interview about the film of the event, Jarrett said:

“I believe that on this little 37 minute film, is a micro history lesson in jazz and its just coming out of Miles’ horn. There are these little moments when he’s playing – theres even a dixieland moment in the thing and when I heard that, I thought this is compressed into this one set; people are hearing almost where the whole thing came from, where everything thats happened up to that moment, in that moment in time, came from – including all the modern stuff.”

The concert was the most advanced state of Jazz, that there had ever been up to that moment. Despite its total departure from the formal school of jazz, Jarrett says it was still jazz from top to toe. Miles’ ethic was not to repeat the past, but to build on it. References to the past can be found in Ayler’s expressive music, right back to the Dixieland marching bands of 1900’s New Orleans and back even further, to a time before slavery brought Africans to America, before they knew of the tempered western scale.

“Young musicians first becoming acquainted with their instruments make freaking sounds through lack of instrumental control, and they are taught to discipline those sounds out of their playing. Ayler, though, chose to play in nothing but ‘noises’, from huge deep honks through middle register multi-phonics to long, high overtone squeals…Ayler’s discoveries have nothing to do with parallel developments in Western music – minimalism, aleatory music, Partch’s many noted scales, electronic composition. These practices tend to result from musical theories, whereas the source of Ayler’s music was playing a saxophone with hands and breath and nerves and mind.” (Litweiler p.170)

The ‘free’ musicians were already experienced professionals in the bop idiom and some earned money jobbing in r&b jump bands. Sometimes referred to as ‘The new Thing’, they knew how to play the ‘old’ music extremely well and there was nothing random about their choices, though an uninformed listen to their music might suggest the contrary. For this and other reasons they were either misunderstood or simply not tolerated by established networks of venues and record labels. Their response was to create their own networks. To embark on a free jazz path meant the commitment, certainly in Ayler’s case, to wash dishes to pay the rent rather than play music he no longer wanted to play.

The journey to the avant-garde was a gradual process, not something that happened overnight. The land mark recordings, do provide a timestamp, but those recordings were made after many months of developing the music and some years building build relevant dialogues and finding the new language they were seeking. What they achieved with free jazz was such a leap that the music still suffers criticism today from those who’s intellect it challenges and who’s reasoning it threatens. To those reactionaries who criticised his music and his thinking, Sun Ra had this to say;

“I think some people on this planet are going to wake up to realise that it is the unknown that they need to know in order to survive.”

Like the jazz band in the pub knocking out Tiger Rag and Hello Dolly there will surely be a place for the classic mashup, perhaps for a long time to come. In the meantime, can the we take the mashup seed and grow something from it, be it a revolutionary new genre or art form or simply what we might call progress?

Mashup technology.

The skills required to make a mashup are becoming decreasingly niche practices, especially to subsequent generations inheriting the benefit of software advancements. Skill and adventure will soon lie beyond the current approach. As always with technology, our methods will be altered by the interfaces written for us to use.

Throughout the 1990’s as a teacher of music technology (mostly a sampler and sequencer) I was frequently asked if it was possible to extract one element, for example the vocal, from a sample of a band playing ensemble. My answer was always no, with an analogy like ‘ just because the sampler lets you ‘drive a car’ it doesn’t mean it can fly too’. It made sense at the time. It did not seem close to being possible. Today’s technology has moved on. Now the sampling car can fly. Melodyne is the application currently most capable of separating component audio parts. It can re-pitch, time stretch and transpose any given part or all, within one piece of music. It is only a matter of time before these attributes could be changed automatically, perhaps taking it’s aggregating instructions from application protocol interfaces or from metadata attached to the audio file.

So like the flying car, a vision of the future is imaginable. I think we will see applications that can not only automatically source mp3’s through aggregation but mash them together, making producer’s decisions automatically on determinators such as dynamic measurements (detecting song arrangements) and sonic properties (bass lines, melodies, vocals etc determined perhaps by pitch & frequency or drum parts as distinct from tuned instruments) thus delivering a ‘perfect’ mashup. The imperfections it could produce, however, using variable input controllers (sliders) for each of the auto-determinators, could also render unexpected and rewarding outcomes. It is always the way, in my experience, that extreme or even sometimes moderate experimentation with a set of parameters which have variable input options available, can produce extraordinary outcomes.

During the run up to affordable domestic computers powerful enough to spawn the birth of mashup culture, there were artists, some listed above, producing mashup related material before the advent of digital studio technology and during the 1980s when the sampler became the essential studio tool. The sampling boom started in the second half of the decade but even at the end of the decade a studio standard computer, had less than 1.5 megabytes of RAM and could only just manage stereo editing of a song file. The Atari ST series of computers had become the ‘industry standard’ computer for studios, largely because it had MIDI ports built in, enabling simple integration of outboard synthesisers drum machines, samplers and tempo-synchronising units. The Atari was far better suited to handling MIDI information, a mere fraction of the size of audio data, and so made an ideal partner for the samplers by Akai, Roland and EMU Systems, which rapidly became the most essential of the producer’s creative tools.

The technology that lead directly to the current mashup culture was

1. Software capable of appropriately manipulating large enough audio files and more than one at a time, with controllers capable of adjusting parameters effecting time and pitch, of such sophistication as to be able to rectify particularly, time discrepancies throughout a sustained period of time, i.e. the duration of the whole piece.
2. A processor fast enough to read and play back two stereo tracks of audio simultaneously at a workable rate.
3. Enough RAM to operate the above functions
4. Hard drives big enough to run the operating system, the software and store all the data required.

This specification is so hugely surpassed by todays off the shelf computers that facilitate the proliferation of the mashup. It also illustrates the impossibility for a domestic computer user to attempt a mashup, as we now know it today, before the turn of the 21st century. Prior to that, the only technologies with such power were the first digital audio workstations, the Fairlight, which in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980s, cost between £20,000 – £60,000 and the Synclavier which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. For their price, they were powerful enough with which to produce and entire piece of multi-tracked music.

Many pop hits were made with these workstations and by 1982 the cheaper Emulator series by EMU Systems cost as ‘little’ as $8000. These became essential tools for a commercial studio and for professional producers, despite their relatively short sampling times compared with the Fairlight and Synclavier.

The technology that became the ‘people’s sampler’ was the affordable Akai S900 available for under £3000, which gave rise to a whole new era of technology based music genres from House music to all of the dance floor oriented genres that we have today and more besides. It was the limitation of the technology that gave rise to much of the character of this music and certainly to the method, which is still current today. Now that tape has been entirely replaced by digital recording, the computer power required to make a mashup, even a multiple-mashup, is negligible.

The software mashup.

A computer’s operating system accesses its various key programs via coding known as an Application Protocol Interface or API. A computer’s operating system is built of API’s for controlling the fundamental ‘low level’ operations which include such basics as the mouse, the keyboard and the display. The API has now evolved beyond the operating system and onto the internet and mobile technology and is at the heart of the Web 2.0 interactivity. Today, the relative simplicity in developing software that integrates aggregated data from two independent APIs has led to what web and application developers call a mashup.

Mashup websites are now the state of the art of web design and application development. Having taken their name from the musical mashup, they provide innovative new facilities by combining separate existing ones. There is however, a sizeable difference between the computer application mashup phenomenon and that of the musical mashup. Despite the name and concepts which they share, the software mashup represents an exponential explosion of creativity and importance in todays technological paradigm, whereas the musical mashup is, at worst seems a fad and at best a launch pad for the producers of tomorrow.

Mashup watchdog website reports an average of just under 4 new mashups listed every day. Some website mashups exist which serve the musical mashup extremely well, providing accelerated distribution outlets. Aggregating websites like The Hype Machine, trawl ‘mp3 blogs’ for new posts and gather music from around the world onto one website. By February 2009 after 4 years on the web, The Hype Machine was receiving 1.5 million unique visitors per day, and aggregating over 1500 music related blogs. (Rollo & Grady 2009). As more APIs are released, more mashups are being developed. The proliferation is now the fastest growing data eco-system and has been for several years already. (Berlind 2007) The Hype Machine is simply an example of a mashup website that serves the mp3 community but obviously the concepts for web mashups are restricted by nothing other than the possibilities in the developers mind. My question is, does the musical mashup producer have a mind to develop too?

The latest developments in API mashup culture is in mobile phone applications. With the proliferation of Apple’s iPhone and iPad and Google’s Android handsets, along with Symbian, Java ME and Windows Phone handset based operating systems, applications, or apps, are the great creative opportunity of tomorrow. Handsets are becoming remote controllers. With wifi connecting them to both the web and to the real world. Is the musical mashup doomed to be just a name synonymous with the same old idea, as opposed to the software mashup, which is associated so much with the future of creative technology?


I think it would be a shame if the musical mashup, like the ‘punks not dead’ epitaph became merely a slogan of it’s former genius. With some distinct heritage and a future linked with the creative technology boom in which we are only just at the beginning (O’Reilly 2004) the musical mashup should be an exciting oeuvre seeking outcomes beyond the safety of its present containment. I am looking to mashup producers to re-invent and recycle their own genre and for mashup producers to emerge with startling and surprising creations and I will, in my own practice, search for progress in and beyond the musical mashup genre. It may lie beyond music software and in web and application technology. Why should it remain in only one dimension?

John Coltrane was a willing figurehead for the avant-garde jazz movement in the early 1960s, who I see as an inspiration to those experimenting with music and pushing the boundaries to find what lies beyond. Despite not always being well received, he was un deterred and un-apologetic.

“It reminds me of the French audience that booed him in the Olympia in Paris a few years later. The producer Frank Tenot apologized for them to Coltrane after the concert. Tenot said that the public did not understand what he was doing. He had gone too far for them.

“No.” Trane replied. “I didn’t go far enough.” (Zwerin)


Author Title Publisher

Maria Rika Maniates Quodlibet Revisum Acta Musicologica Vol. 38, Fasc. 2/4
(Apr. – Dec.,1966), pp. 169-178 )

John Litweiler The Freedom Principal – Jazz Blandford Press (1984)
After 1958

Val Wilmer   As Serious as your life. Quartet. ISBN 0-7043-3164-0. (1977).

Mike Zwerin Sons of Miles JazzNet

Rollo & Grady Interview with Anthony Volodkin Rollogrady

David Berlind What is a Mashup? Zdnet


Title Year Director

The Cry of Jazz 1959 Edward O. Bland

RiP! A Remix Manifesto 2009 Brett Gaylor

Miles Electric – A different 2004 Murray Lerner
Kind of Blue

In Search of the Valley 2004 O’Hear


Artist Title Year Label

Girl Talk Secret Diary 2002 Illegal Art

Glenn Gould Plays Bach 1999 Sony

John Cage String Quartets 1992 Mode

Charles Ives Three Places in New 2001 Deutsche Gramaphon

Negativeland These guys are from 1991 SST
England, who gives a shit?

MAARS Pump up The Volume 1987 4AD

Albert Ayler Witches & Devils 1978 Freedom

Milford Graves Nommo 1967 SRP

Mark Stewart Jerusalem 1982 On-U

*Note: Copyright issues prevent many mashup artists releasing albums.

Filed under: Essays, Words

The Mashup

Basic History

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a mashup as: “A mixture or fusion of disparate elements” and quotes: “1859 D. BOUCICAULT Octoroon I. 13 He don’t understand; he speaks a mash up of Indian, French, and Mexican.” The reference to “Octoroon” was a play first performed in 1859, making mashup a term at least 150 years old.

Mash is variously defined as mixture, ground, grind, and crunch, twist, squeeze, pulp, press and ironically, fragment. The suffix ‘up’ in this context can be compared to make up, as in something from separate component parts, eat up, drink up, finish up, screw up etc, all of which are terms that can be used without the suffix and yet continue to make sense in ordinary use of language.

Today, mashup sounds a very modern term, being applied to both music and to software and also being associated with urban slang, deriving from Jamaican parlance, meaning aggrevation or violence or a more transferable term meaning anything from a mess or disaster to a remarkable and positive experience, often musical.

Today’s technology has given rise to musical ideas, styles and genres, which, even if based on an established musical form, are born of the inevitable absorption of the technology into our culture. The musical mashup is a phenomenon of our time with its origins in the late 1990’s. Born of some basic audio editing software and a digital music collection, either on CD or mp3, spread via email, the school and college computer network, Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, The Pirate Bay, P2P in general, Youtube, memory sticks and now Web 2.0, a music mashup simply takes two existing and often well known tunes and plays them simultaneously.

Example 1: The Beatles vs Asian Dub Foundation DJ Moule

In a natural progression from DJ mixing where two pieces of vinyl or more recently CD’s and computer audio files, are mixed together in sync, the mashup, takes two completely different pieces and plays them in sync and in key, using simple audio editing software to make the necessary changes to the arrangements.

Where as only a few years earlier a new tune may have sampled a hook line or a vocal from a past classic, the mashup takes the best part or even the whole tune to juxtapose it atop a completely different piece and generally though by no means always, using the vocals from one tune and the instrumental sections from the other.

Unlike DJ mixing, where conventionally, largely instrumental tunes from the same genre are mixed together in synch and tunes are written with this kind of performance in mind, the mashup celebrates the combination of less likely, dissimilar tunes, perhaps from different genres and different decades, perhaps from the current music charts, but with tongue in cheek and the eureka moment in mind.

Example 2: Not My Smoke Tonight – Marc Johnce

In contrast to the simple production of the earlier example, this mashup demonstrates, the level of sophistication in production of the contemporary mashup. With added effects and processors, the blend can be made flawless and it can be hard to tell that this is not a full studio original, especially if you are unfamiliar with the originals.

The crude technique of the early mashup happily exposed the simplicity of its own production, with sudden changes and abrupt endings to sections, showing not only it’s throw-down, tongue in cheek side, but also its raw energy.

As technology has improved and advanced, so has the Mashup, but the rudimentary skill level required to make a basic combination, abetted by talented and inspired enthusiasts armed with a cracked version of Acid Pro and a modem, made the art form popular amongst young music and computer lovers worldwide at the turn of the century, the very people most likely to be involved in file sharing and therefore the spread of the form. As the networks increased, not only could the tunes to mash be more readily sourced, but also the very tools for making mashups could be accessed and for free and in the same places.

Fresh, raw and ideal too for the club land dance floor, the mashup was also being produced on ’bootleg’ vinyl for Dj’s. The timing of the genre fell exactly at the crossing point between vinyl culture and the advent of accessible digital technology. The combined energy of these two flowing rivers soon brought the mashup to a high tide.

By the early 2000’s, with a budget and the charts in mind, a record company could not only capitalise on the popularity of the mashup but by releasing a product containing two tunes already in their catalogue, they could cash in twice by releasing music they already owned.

In 2002, combining not just two songs by other artists, but by singing one of them themselves, pop group the Sugarbabes took the mashup into the pop charts, with their cover of Adina Howard’s 1995 “Freak Like Me’, mixed with the instrumental sections of Gary Newman’s 1979 “Are friends Electric”. This was a hit for Island records, born of the viral popularity of the mashup, and one in particular. The original mashup was by Richard X, released on vinyl under his Girls on Top project. The piece was then entitled ‘We don’t give a damn about our friends’ and mashed the original Adina Howard track with The Gary Numan hit.

Island offered Richard X a deal to produce the Sugarbabes replacing the Adina Howard vocal. Motivated by his existing desire to shake up the club scene with his bootleg and mashup output, he agreed. “I was very keen to do it as long as it remained what it was. It was raw, it was against the grain and it was still pop music.”

Another landmark was Brian ‘Dangermouse’ Burton’s the Greay album of 2004, a mashup album taking tracks from the Beatles White Album and mashing them with a cappella tracks from Jay-Z’s Black album.

Burton subsequently went on to found a duo called Gnarls Barkley, the name being sculpted from several stages of mashing up ‘Prince Charles’ and ‘Bob Marley’, nicknames for the one black and one white member of the band. Again, the witty combinations illustrate the humour in the mashup genre, in which the titles of the two pieces are usually mashed too, sometimes making more sense than others but always making the point.

When reading titles and listening to mashups it can help to know at least one of the tunes to get the joke. Mashup sites are full of pop and rock stars and their hits in combination. But it is not all about getting a laugh and indeed the new dimension can be an attribute beyond the quaint title and concept, delivering a progressive piece of art that arguably improves on the originals, the sum of the whole being greater than its parts.

The increasing inclusion of mashing the promotional videos that accompany the tunes is taking the genre to a new level, though the principal remains the same. Mashup website and video sites are now plentiful along with mashup net-radio stations, ‘how to’ books for sale on Amazon and philosophy statements claiming global revolution through mashups and the principal thereof.

Software mashups and the extension of the mashup philosophy.

Emerging from the file sharing culture, the philosophy of the mashup has spread into software. Inspired to take its name from the musical version, software mashups are a more tangible vehicle for change on a global scale as they lie at the heart of the free culture movement and the Internet.

As web sites are mashed up in a variety of ways, copyright has given birth to copyleft. Limited licenses are granted rather than sales made. The groundswell for change clashes in principal with the customary desire for financial profit and whilst not denying the need or desire to make money, new software developers see profit measured under a different value and are finding income in less obvious ways than at first glance.

Google created an almighty mashup by engineering their search engine to search all others. Other mashups are less ambitious or dramatic but are now the cultural norm in the Web 2.0 world.

A simple but very effective site for lawyers, activists and journalists entitled Supreme Court Zeitgeist ‘A Mashware production’ feeds itself information about the subject of the US Supreme court directly from Google News as it comes in. uses Google maps to geo-tag recordings, assisting searches for copyright free sounds posted from around the world. ChicagoCrime uses it to mix with crime data released from the Chicago Police department, giving citizens and I daresay local realtors a constantly updated crime map of the city.

Sites publicly release Application Programming Interfaces (API) to facilitate the integration of information to enable just this type of activity, the idea being to create a new service that was not directly provided by either source. This can apply to business or social networking sites, but the move is across the board as the usefulness of sharing outweighs the exclusive philosophy of old.

Rupert Murdoch is in dispute with Google, complaining that it gathers updates form his news sites and yet his own sites link to other sites content, as Murdoch says, “Because it’s useful to readers, and if it’s useful, then readers will come back to the site more often, generating ads, generating revenue and so on.”

Websites about software mashups, the philosophy, the law and ‘how to’ are many. Releasing API’s or mashup ware on a creative commons license or GNU license means it can be used and passed on without payment owing to the maker but with restrictions such as acknowledgment and fair use agreed. The key, with intellectual copyright is to ask the question, do we want to make creativity illegal?

Business is not slow to follow the lead of the left: for Enterprise Mashup Solutions’ slogan is “become the mashter of your own domain!”


In relation to music mashups, the software mashup is a driving force behind the progress of the Internet. The musical mashup is only the name giving part of a cultural mash including video, film, design and anything else you’ got. Mashups have been around in one form or another for many a year, since it is about the integration of ideas, so it is important to make a distinction between certain kinds of integration.

A cover version is not a mashup. A medley is not a mashup. A remix is a close relative, but the quodlibet however, is a mashup.

As far back as the 15th century, composers have been writing down popular melodies and playing them simultaneously, in what has become known and presented in classical music as the Simultaneous Quodlibet. defines quodlibet as “A humorous composition consisting of two or more independent and harmonically complementary melodies, usually quotations of well-known tunes, played or sung together, usually to different texts, in a polyphonic arrangement.” By the 18th Century the quodlibet was a particular form of musical humour and a genre to which both Bach and Mozart made contributions.

The original use of the word quodbilet was a medaeval literary form of argument or proposition for discussion or debate, a disputation, often on the finer points of a religious or philosophical doctrine. “Quodlibet question proposed in scholastic disputation; scholastic debate or exercise. XIV. — medL. quodlibetum, f. L. quodlibet, f. quod WHAT, libet it pleases.”

Humour is a common thread between the Mashup and the quodbilet. Maria Maniates, in her article Quodlibet Revisum, sets out that: “It is customary in musicalogial writing to discuss the quodlibet in terms of the absurd and the bizarre.” She quotes Apel who defined the term as “a humorous type of music characterized by the quotation of well-known melodies or texts in an advisedly incongruous manner.” She points out from another definition by Gudewill that “broad humour emerges as the salient feature”, and that “While the art of combining citations remains an indispensable component of the quodlibet, it functions merey within the realm of technique. Quodlibet technique, however, must be infused with quodlibet spirit – the delight in merry and nonsensical buffoonery.”

Various online resources quote a definition, origin unknown, which says that “the name became the usual term for facetious combinations of tunes haphazardly combined” While this seems to contradict the art and technique referred to by Maniates, the deliberate conscious and willful bending of time and pitch conventions can only add to the quodlibet spirit, to which she also refers.

In the French language, the word Quodlibet remains in a phrase describing the ability to have a quick witted response: ”Avoir le quodlibet.

Not a mashup

There are many references made to influences and fore runners of the mashup. There are clear connections for example between the mashup and the 1950’s break-in records of Goodman & Buchannon. They took short pieces from many well-known records of the day were sequences together with a connected dialogue recorded between each clip.

but they do not run simultaneously like a mashup. There are many kinds of music and many artists, connected to the evolution of the mashup in a variety of ways. Steinski & Double D, Coldcut, Grandmaster Flash, Negativeland and John Oswald ‘s 1975 Power, took Led Zepplin tape edits mixed with the voice of an evangelical preacher. A similar point of reference in the next decade would be Byrne and Eno’s ‘My life in the bush of ghosts’ where voices recorded from the radio were laid over rhythm tracks created by the artists in the studio, but Oswald’s is pretty close to a mashup.

Closer still might be Psychic TV’s Cosi Fanni Tutti who played a bank of 6 or was it 9 cassette players sometimes many simultaneously while the band played in yet another tempo. I remember Elvis songs mixing with an impenetrable soup of sound. As disorientating as that intentionally was, that was proper mashup.

This essay is to be continued but in the mean time I would like to post some of my reading, particularly because these three links contain the best collections of information I have found and tried very hard not to plagiarise. They contain a lot of what I would have liked to have said, but overall, I would like to say something new, hence to be continued as I feel I have just made a basic introduction so far to what I want to say.

This is a great article on the mashup,

an excellent wikipedia entry on the subject

and a splendid essay by a law student available as a PDF

Filed under: Essays, Words

Music Workshops at the Wonder WAC Project

A personal look at the continuing music workshops for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities in the unique setting of the Wonder WAC project at WAC performing Arts & Media College. Paul Chivers. February 2010





4.Musical Activities & Technology

5.Case Studies

6.Percussion Workshops

7.Proposed Workshops


The Wonder WAC project is for young people with learning disabilities, funded by Camden Council, catering for young people with special needs who live in the borough. The aim is for the students to have fun, socialize with their peers, be creative, and develop communication and independence skills. Workshops are run by WAC Performing Arts & Media College, an organization now in it’s 30th year, located at the old Hampstead Town Hall building in Belsize Park, NW3.

Term time sessions are held on a Tuesday and Wednesday evening and are augmented by half term projects lasting 3 days and by residential trips, usually lasting either for two nights over a weekend or 4 nights during the week. These all involve different activities, of which music is always one. This document describes the unique setting and context within which the group engages musically, using acoustic instruments and electronic technology.

This document considers the musical content of the workshops in the unique context in which it must operate. Without consideration of the circumstance, the form, content and delivery of the workshops would differ significantly and their success become untenable. It also addresses work approaching a 10 year period and can be supplemented, in time, by a more focused look at individual types of workshop, although it should be noted that circumstances tend to dictate direction and the most consistent and successful music workshop formula primarily involves drumming and head switches for some students. Most workshops are based on or deviate from that central theme in one way or another.


Wonder WAC staff members tend to be recruited by invitation from the senior administrator Melanie Ancliff and are recommended through the existing staff network rather than recruitment by advertisement and interview. There is a ‘family’ atmosphere and despite what may appear on first view to be an informal and sometimes even chaotic approach, there is a solid structure and procedure in place. Wonder WAC has been running for 20 years. Qualifications and experience are welcome in staff but aptitude, flexibility, patience determination; a sense of fun and an ability to cope with the absurd prove the primarily effective qualities. Evening sessions have a structure of Group Leader, a ‘Qualified’ (usually with a Degree), a Youth Worker (certified), an Assistant, (often recruited from students on other courses run at WAC) or a Volunteer. The motto “expect the unexpected is frequently invoked.

There have been three staff who over the last few years who have focused on music. They are, apart from myself, Charles Matthews and Chas Mollet. We all use drums and percussion in our sessions but often collaborate to bring in technology, facilitating in particular, those who cannot physically drum and often for the group at large to experience some different ideas and interfaces.

Students have learning difficulties and disabilities ranging from mild to severe; from immobile non-verbal and tube fed students, to those with harder to detect issues such as mild Aspergers. I have in the past, asked ‘what is your disability?’ detecting none until informed. On the other hand, behavioural issues can include biting punching spitting or self-harm. Recent medical history may include epilepsy and medication. Most students are keen to engage with the activities and although various incidents can be disruptive and interruptions are frequent, the group is capable of working hard and achieving an excellent standard of work.

Many students have known each other since early school days, are old friends. Most have been coming to Wonder WAC for several years now and know what to expect. This atmosphere helps new group members integrate quickly. There are students who need practical assistance from staff (sometimes from students) to achieve anything at all other than observance and with a combination of this assistance, workshop techniques and the employment of technology, we are able to facilitate and engaging experience for most of the students. A few will engage only on their own terms and sometimes exclude themselves or in some cases excluded by the group leader in order that the workshop may proceed unhindered. This inevitably reduces accompanying staff levels simultaneously but enables the remainder of the group.

The technology we use in music sessions tends to be readily utilized by group members although it requires a higher level of patience and co-operation from the group as a whole. We tend to keep aims simple and build on them as we progress at the group’s natural and variable pace.

There is a high student to staff ratio approaching 1:1. The students needs can be high and sometimes take priority over workshop activities. Proceedings may grind to a halt momentarily but usually progress is made and workshops tend to continue even if they are several group members down for any given period of time while anything from toilet breaks to behavioral disruption are accommodated. Other challenges might simply be the nature of accommodating such a mixed ability group and trying to include or not exclude group members from activities. This however is an exciting part of the musical and technological challenge.


I joined the project in 2003, getting involved through working as the Colleges recording studio Training Manager. Passing through the atrium on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening I would see the group’s art session in progress and was invited to look and say hello from time to time and was surprised that I was often remembered by name or waved to by students as I passed by. Mel asked me one evening if I would like to do a percussion workshop with the group soon. I was delighted to be asked but simultaneously unsure, having never worked with a Learning Difficulties and Disabilities group before. What transpired was a defining experience and has directed my approach ever since:

Trying to give instructions on how to beat noisy objects to an already loud group of over 20 people, I ended up standing on a chair, cowbell and stick in hand, belting out rhythmic ‘calls’ and getting responses, some on target some off. Eventually, when we ended up singing Elvis songs, I really thought I had lost the control needed for the session to successfully conclude. After the session was over, when I saw Mel coming down the corridor toward me, I thought  – “Oh no. What’s she going to say?”

Her reaction was; “Paul that was fantastic, they loved it!” I was amazed at first, but looking back, I learned something crucial, that with this group, I had to let go of my plan at a certain point and allow the session to go with the pull of the tide. As long as the group can head for shore and land successfully, the journey can become the greatest adventure and need not, should not and cannot be over managed if it is to succeed. It is about setting the correct goals in the first place, knowing what the group is and is not capable of.

I could see no other path for the workshop to succeed other than to abandon my original lesson plan. It turned out to be the right thing to do but I was, until Mel’s words to me, admonishing myself for losing the tight control I would normally expect to keep in a workshop situation and to at least deliver what was asked of me, in this case, a percussion workshop. We did use percussion, but there was one group member with a guitar who, I wasn’t sure at the time, was staff, student or possibly Elvis himself and who, with the will of the wind, seemed to steer our sails his way. He was neither student nor staff but did have learning disabilities and in his capacity as a volunteer and his experience in these workshops gave him confidence to take some of the direction away from my intended path. Rather than battle with him, I joined with him and included both his and my direction as best I could. The outcome was a new energy for the group and a successful session under the official terminology of Wonder WAC, which as stated earlier, is for the students to have fun, socialise with their peers, be creative, and develop communication and independence skills.

Art and drama are also used and we have a sensory room and a parallel project, which involves blogging, so from time to time we venture into these other areas, but the usual run of a Wednesday evening is split between art and music. We have the option to split the group between the activities and swap over half way or to keep the group together and do one activity at a time. Each activity is lead by a different member of staff, usually the same one for each activity. We are however starting to introduce new staff members or experienced staff members into new roles to keep things fresh and expand their talents and the group’s experiences.

We have other smaller activities each evening such as the welcome, register and a warm up, usually taking the form of a game, the most popular being duck duck goose, resulting in chase around the room on the perimeter of the chair circle in which we all sit. Sometimes we have one member of staff who is a fitness instructor give us a warm up dance or movement session and sometimes a warm down. When we had drama specialists in the group we would emphasize story telling, and other dramatic devices for workshops. The energy is usually quite high and intense, particularly with the noise generated by the drumming and electronic sounds but also added to by the noise of young people, particularly those who do not engage in the group and who are non-verbal by very vocal nonetheless. Sometimes workshops continue through both noise and actions which can range from people being taken to change a pad or even clothes, go to the lavatory with a staff member or as has been happening recently with a new group member, urinating on the floor and the subsequent clear up operation. The flexibility of a session must therefore be enormous and be able to turn in an instant to facilitate any situation.

The entrancing nature of a group drumming session, again, proves its worth in these circumstances and its popularity is one result. Another reason why drumming is so good for this client group is because you do not need to have great instrumental skills to play. Even if your timing is not good, there are enough players both staff and young people usually to hold down a rhythm, sometimes we sing on top of the rhythm. Introducing electronic drums has maintained this energy whilst introducing a range of new sounds. Continuing in this direction will slowly unfold more opportunities for diversifying into new sounds or ways of using sounds & ways of playing and interacting.

4.Musical Activities & Technology

By the time I joined the group, it had already several years of experience with percussion workshops lead by Zedakiah Morgan. His workshops laid out a foundation for the group’s discipline today because there was a certain system and discipline he had worked into the group over the years. Percussion therefore remains an essential weekly activity. Even when focusing more on technology such as Soundbeam or recently, the Wii-mote, percussion tends to be integrated into whatever we do.

The group can start together, stop together, play in time (most students), and go loud, quiet, faster, and slower, on just a word, signal or a sign. The group is really together on this, though of course some days are more together than others. If we skip a session we are quickly asked to resume next time. It is the core of our group’s discipline, which we can and do transfer to more progressive ideas and technologies. However, when the group discipline or the flow of a session breaks down due to any manner of disruption, drumming is the easiest solution for a flexible workshop and so is often resorted to and often, ambitious plans have to be patiently postponed.

There are several reasons for conventional musical instruments being less favoured by workshop leaders at Wonder WAC. Primarily, the motor skills needed to play a guitar or keyboard in an ensemble or indeed solo, are beyond many group members abilities and beyond staff’s ability to teach or indeed have time for in a session. We have used electric guitar, bass and a drum kit on occasion and cranked up the volume for fun and made some kind of musical arrangement to work with, but this kind of adventure is better suited to a longer project such as half term when there is more time to set up and take down equipment and it avoids the expectation and then frustration of the limitations for the group which usually numbers above 10. Again a drum is much better, with minimal (but important) technique to learn and a great musical dividend for the group.

Technology used in workshops:

1. Soundbeam with sonar beams and switches

2. Jazz Mutant Lemur

3. Headswitches

4. Roland V-Drums and Roland Pad 8

5. Wii remote controller

6. Laptops with Ableton Live

With these various tools we have been able to generate and affect amplified sounds and projected visuals whilst moving around the room or from a static position. Sounds might simply be a percussive noise with which to engage in a drumming workshop or a sound effect or contrasting longer tone to the short sounds made by a drum. The different tools, however, are useful for different group members, suiting their abilities in different ways:


Soundbeam is a device built on sensor technology facilitating MIDI information controlled by movement and proximity. It can be set to trigger sounds by moving around a large space or over a smaller zone of a meter or so. It is great for group activities or close up on an individual. We have used it in a variety of ways, one example being with two beams placed parallel, pointing the sensor beam down the length of the room. The signal could be interrupted on approach to and on walking away from the sensor. Moving in a circular motion around the room caused MIDI notes to trigger pitched instruments such as piano and saxophone sounds, at differing points on a musical scale. These were set to harmonize with audio loops triggered by floor switches, creating a layered groove with variable melodic or ‘soloed notes improvised by the motion.

After a period of demonstration, one student at a time, we were able to engage the whole group to trigger all the sounds by moving around the room, with the students being cognizant of their notes and their overall contribution. The result was a fruitful dance and movement workshop with a party atmosphere as the footswitches triggered dancey drumbeats and bass lines. We were able to adapt this idea to integrate with a drama workshop. Some triggers were also used to switch projected images as scenery for the drama piece. Wheelchair users were engaged in a similar fashion to able-bodied students as they were able to use wheels to trigger switches and being moved around the room would trigger notes as with anyone breaking the sensor’s beam.

2. Jazz Mutant Lemur

Lemur is a touch screen remote control technology designed to trigger and control sound. We connected it to a laptop and used Ableton for triggering loops, which can be faded and panned. Co-worker Charles Matthews wrote a MAX patch to interface with Ableton and another to have a simple synthesizer with a simple X/Y controller or just one slider to control oscillators.

Lemur can be a great instrument for more able-bodied students who have learning difficulties but who have the ability to understand and engage with the technology at this level, for example those who enjoy using a computer but can only get so far with it un-aided. Charles’ MAX patches were ideal especially in the context of the variable group dynamic, where simple is good and instant control is even better.

3. Head Switches

Head switches and similar triggers provide simple on/off information. We have used them to trigger samples and tones, to start and stop sequences and to change colours and shapes on the projected images. Samples can be advanced progressively with a switch, or the switch can send to a randomized outcome, but usually the workshops have put the head switch user in the position to play alongside acoustic instruments so that it is always apparent which noise is by the user. We have recently introduced the possibility of multiple head switch users, having usually just worked with one at a time.  I try to place speakers near the users have recently discussed utilizing a mono speaker for each switch user.

4. Roland V-Drums and Roland Pad 8

Drum pads are popular and need rotation of users in a workshop, as it is easy to sit down at them and dominate the session. As with an acoustic drum kit, which has occasionally been brought in, each student can ‘have a go’ or it must be integrated into a session, usually involving djembe drums and percussion using and elaborating on well-established rhythms such as the Heartbeat. The advantage and potential of these instruments is that they can be assigned to play any sound, so a narrative can be built around them and ideas developed beyond drum sounds.

5. Wii Remote controller

Both Charles and Chas have developed software applications enabling the students to use the familiar Wii games technology in a variety of ways during music workshops. Using a computer or a sound module, Max/Msp/Jitter and Pixelshox/Quartz Composer softwares.

Computer generated visuals can be changed in size n shape: The movement of a Wii-mote controller sends cc data to ramp parameter changes on a given scale which can be used to change the image or pattern displaying on the screen. We have developed very successful workshops this year and last which integrate the projected visuals with the music. Shapes and colours respond to frequencies received by a microphone, so the workshops have become known as ‘Painting with Sound’. Drummers and percussionists can control the shape size and colour of abstract images whilst another student can control the location of the updated image using the Wii-mote.

The Wii has also been used to control sounds and often features in this capacity in the same workshop as above, either controlling the filter on a sampled sound or a synthesizer with a simple x/y controller and a trigger for the note. It can do volume changes and has potential to be set to control many other parameters.

6. Laptops with Ableton Live

Laptops are frequently used to facilitate or augment the above technologies. Ableton Live is the sequencing software of choice for its speed and flexibility. It is usually operated by a staff member simply to set up and facilitate the user of a physical interface be it Soundbeam, head switch or Lemur etc. Using a MIDI and Audio interface, it is connected to a small pa system or sometimes even a guitar amp for convenience, thought that produces a pretty grim sound. When there is time in a workshop to set things up nicely the computer brings a dimension to the session which is flexible and open to development with the correct staff available to not only operate it but set it up in a suitable manner to give an uncomplicated experience to the group.

5.Case Studies

Catherine had been in the group for about a year with me. She is in a wheelchair and cannot move out of it herself. She cannot speak and is highly dependent. When she is energized, she rocks in her chair enthusiastically. She will clap her hands together though inaudibly. This particular communication can mean a lot and significantly, during a Chinese Whispers session where we passed a rhythm around the room, one by one, Catherine, un-aided on this occasion, moved her foot when it was her turn, in a small kicking motion. I held a tambourine in front of her foot and each time it was her turn, she played it. She stopped when it was the next persons turn. It can take a while to read these communications, if indeed they are happening at all, but once realized they can be worked with. It was quite a revelation since Catherine can communicate so little compared with other group members.

There are many reasons for this kind of progress to become apparent. The group dynamic can involve some activities from individuals that require such monitoring and attention that the quieter members of the group can be overlooked. The attention of the staff can be distracted by the managing of other group members, some wanting the toilet, some needing to be changed, some disengaging, running out of the room, behaving in appropriately in a manner of ways, fussing or chatting, whatever the distraction may be. It sometimes means that some group members will get less attention than would otherwise be possible. Ideally, the workshop will include everyone. Wonder WAC staff have to remember from week to week, term to term, which student is capable of what. However, attendance may vary and a young person attending only from the middle of a term that has been spent working with the strengths of a much more able group, presents a challenge to the staff and sometimes the group, in order to include them. There are so many challenges for the group members, both staff and clients, that the path of least resistance is often the path taken (a better word than chosen) in these sessions.

Each individual client has their own needs their own abilities and disabilities. There are seldom similar in outcome or in needs unless generalizations are made. This means that ideas for inclusion are tailored specifically to the higher needs group members individually.

Michael, for example can engage with the group in a number of ways. He has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair. He has some communication abilities but is non-verbal other than some clear utterances such as “Dadadada” He will grin hugely and clap, rocking with great force in his wheelchair, into which he is strapped. Occasionally he will blow raspberries, though I still have not discerned whether this has a particular meaning. These reactions are often displayed to music, to his name being called on the register or to comments about his favourite football club. He can understand everything you say, but will choose when to engage or ignore. Michael has been a group member for several years and for a long while his contribution to music workshops was to rattle a small shaker momentarily until he dropped it or to simply to rock in his chair. Staff working with him would hold an instrument such as a tambourine with him but left alone, he would, more often than not, throw it to the floor and laugh.

At first I thought this was a rejection of the instrument and so discouraged the activity. It was only when he was given cymbals because they were less breakable that it became evident that we could include his contribution of throwing them to the floor in the composition of our music. Since Michael cannot resist the temptation to throw them immediately, staff or students hand him cymbals, them at the right moment in the piece, often an otherwise silent moment written in especially for him. Lately he has been given a switch, triggering a percussive sound. He triggers it when he rocks back and forth, though his aim is not accurate.

Jason has engaged with switches more than any other student, not least because all three music staff have worked as his personal assistant and have been able to develop ideas with him, particularly with Charles Matthews developing bespoke Max patches for his utilization in Wonder WAC sessions and indeed outside of WAC too. Jason is usually the one to start a sequence, to play a sound effect, or to join in with a percussive sound or bass note, something distinctive and audible. Jason has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair bound, strapped in, and communicates with a kiss for affirmative, a poking out of the tongue for a negative and a few other signs with multiple meanings depending on the context. The most important thing to realize is, as it says first on Jason’s card, is “I can understand everything you say”.

Jason has developed a clear understanding of the possibilities of the technology presented to him. He is anxious about trying new things, which require less favoured or unfamiliar body movements. My suggestion of an auxiliary head switch on the other side of his head to his existing one was met with anxiety. With rational and reassuring conversation and a little time however, Jason can be encouraged to try some more adventurous maneuvers. This bodes well for the future and Jason continues to experiment and work with Chas Mollet on his bespoke software developments.

Maegus engages well with the Lemur, which suits him, as it is suitable for one person to use at a time and he is not always keen to engage in the musical group activity, preferring the art sessions, or conversation. Maegus’ is able bodied, has a learning disability but engages in enthusiastic and relevant conversation, which he will readily initiate. He has derived much satisfaction form fading audio loops in and out and from controlling sounds with his finger on the Lemur screen.

Charlotte P can use a switch with encouragement and a lot of attention, but is more preoccupied with what is going on around her.

Nazia would simply ignore a switch, leaving her fingers in her mouth and her thumbs in her eyes. She is wheelchair bound, non-verbal and does not seem to engage at all with our activities. Interesting now to think that I assume this, with much reason, but it would at least be better to say that I have tried her with a switch. She has been involved in Soundbeam sessions, being wheeled in and out of the beam by a member of staff. It is hard to tell if she enjoyed or even dislikes this activity.

Johti will not engage at all with a switch, she would rip it from its Velcro patch on her wheelchair and throw it to the floor. In her case it is more obvious not to try.

Sabia will press a switch but it is hard to say that she is aware of the consequence of that action.

Joanna very is very aware and goes hammer and tongs at the switch. This is quite remarkable because she is a student who, if left, will simply sit in her wheelchair through a music session, even if accompanied by a staff member playing an instrument in their hands together, giving little sign of engagement.   Joanna is one of the students who until recently has fallen below the radar, due to her dislike of loud noises and the groups propensity for making them.

Manju is immobile, strapped into a wheelchair, tube fed and nil by mouth. She clearly smiles when music is played and unlike Joanna, enjoys a good cacophonic experience. She is fully aware of the Soundbeam. When Chas placed the sensor pointing at her head, within clear sight for her and explained to her that if she moved her head she would trigger the sounds, Manju began to move her head repeatedly and smiled with the resulting noises. This was a surprise to me however, as Manju is easily overlooked in the melee of a Wonder WAC session as she is so self contained and apparently happy with it all.

Iona is a new group member. She doesn’t like using switch but enjoys music. At her school they use switches in a way we have not thought of at WAC, for switching things on and off such as lights, or a computer. We could perhaps utilize these ideas and apply them to amplifiers keyboards or anything else that empowers the user in a new way.

Non-wheelchair users include Dean, able bodied and partially verbal with a limited vocabulary but who understands much. Dean engages only momentarily with Lemur, which presents too much of a challenge for him to realistically utilize, but enjoys using a footswitch, though is happier in general with a drum, which he can increasingly play in time.

Much more able and cognizant are Charlotte H and Shanice, both of whom have mild learning difficulties and can enjoy the Lemur, the electronic drums and Soundbeam and are able to fully engage with them. So can Kayliegh, who has Down’s syndrome. Her lack of rhythmic skill is made up for by her enthusiasm in everything she does. Fatima is a new group member who will most likely engage with and enjoy all our technology options. James will engage sporadically with the Wii-mote, has not tried switches but loves drumming. When the energy levels get too high however he can become over-excited and tends to lash out at people within his reach. The energy usually has a positive effect on students, some of whom, like Dean and Hilda, may spontaneously get up and dance.

6.Percussion Workshops

Including young people with physical difficulties and disabilities in a mixed ability group is a challenge that has found unfolding solutions as time has gone on. It is great to even have a shared energy as an audience member sat in with the group, even with no participation. I have led various workshop pieces that involve everyone however, despite an often apparently impossible involvement through motor disabilities. Often a staff member will sit next to a student and hold a hand percussion instrument in their hand. Some workshops involve taking it in turns to play. This could be a solo, passing on a phrase like in Chinese whispers, or a conversation between two people, sometimes more, and each on their instrument.

Over the years I have introduced non-metric ideas in order to work better with young people who have difficulty paying in time with the group. Sometimes their playing can be completely disruptive and spoil a huge effort by the rest of the group, but it remains important to include them. There are one or two members of the group that are ever excluded form the group. These are people who will not play, for example john who will take the instrument offered into her hand and immediately throw it to the floor in displeasure. Some do not like the noise of the workshops. The non metric ideas have crystallized now into a piece called  “the weather: where we play the sounds of rain and thunder on djembes and hand percussion including tambourines woodblocks shakers etc.

Here is how the Weather workshop usually runs:

The weather forecast first, where I talk the group through the moves one by one. We start with our hands in the air and slowly, waggling our fingers drop our hands down to the surface of our instruments and let the rain gently fall on them tapping gently at first, and building harder as the rain sets in. the fingers turn to hands on the drums and we introduce thunder by playing bass notes in the centre of the drum skin. I add lightning with a slap technique. Not everybody attempts this part of it but they do increase their vigor when they hear the cracking sound. We go back to rain. What after the rain comes? I ask the group… drips.

Sometimes the silence in the group is so good that you can hear the quietest drips being made until inlay we lift our fingers, raise out hands back up into the air sat he sun comes out and the water evaporates back where it came form. When this part of the workshop is done, we move into part 2, which is that actual weather itself, not a forecast, not a practice run. We star with out hands in the air and when the rain comes down, no words are said. If the piece lasts 20 minutes, so be it. 30 seconds, so be it. Both have happened. We stop when we all stop. Hands go up one by one and then all together. In between, it may have been rainy on one side go the room and thunder and lightning on the other. It’s not always all at once. Often you think the rain has cleared and the sun is going to come out again but the rain starts up again ands there is another full storm, or just a shower, we don’t know till we try. Its great to contrast a piece like this with a rhythm based piece in the same workshop.

Before I began working leading percussion workshops at Wonder WAC, Zed had already established several rhythms with the group, namely the heartbeat and the rumba. The heartbeat remains the most useful.  We are introducing new rhythms too, the train in 6/8 time, with an emphasis on the one. Another similar 6/8 rhthm is based on the words “Boom boom shake the room”. “Shaka shaka” is a new 4/4/ beat based not the Ghanaian horse rhythm or Latin tumbau. We have a call signal on the drum, which is well understood and observed by the group. It is a major unifying statement and identity for the group and gives our performances a strength that will surprise many a new audience member.

7.Proposed workshops.

The Rainforest. Incorporating the switches with the Weather Workshop and using the techniques encapsulated therein, we can have a multi dimensional piece using technology to trigger the animal sounds in the rainforest. The rain and thunder will be provided by the drummers and percussionists basically repeating the rain in the weather workshop but there are other elements that we can bring in to make not only an interactive experience with a conductor and technology, but also a great performance piece.

Recently we have discussed the idea of working just with the switch users and focusing on them to improve our understanding of the young people, their abilities, and the appropriate nature of what we can facilitate them with alongside developing their skills and understanding of the equipment. After this process, we can reintegrate them into the larger orchestra once more but to much better effect. WAC has this month, secured significant new funding for equipment and has also been granted funding for the continuation of a web based project which can include performances either live or recorded, to be streamed from the website dedicated to young people in Camden with mild learning difficulties, at

Filed under: Essays, Music workshops, SN/LDD