Audio Poverty

Music is currently undergoing a loss of value not only in economic terms, but also in ways that have an impact on the social and aesthetic structure of musical life, affecting forms of publication, the culture of listening, musical discourse, and the music itself. Music has become a commodity, delivered from all parts of the world. Audio Poverty will explore the consequences of these changes: what is the relationship of the musician to the disappearing market? What is the significance of the individuation of listening for music’s social importance? What does it mean when the music critic is silent? And does musical poverty have a sound? Audio Poverty explores the link between music and poverty, from impoverished musical material to the starving artist. Audio Poverty crosses genres in both global and historical terms.

Audio Poverty looks at music from the margins—the sounds of the viola da gamba and a chirping Barbie doll, between broken vinyl and Africa’s acoustic everyday life, between Philippine art music and Detroit trash. The concert hall and the club are given equal status in a musical discourse where poverty becomes musically concrete.

Kodwo Eshun & Steve Goodman: Beyond the Long Tail

The rise of electronic music triggered around the world a fantasy of a science fiction about to come true. Participants and fans associated techno and its various siblings with a departure towards a new world that would radically break with the existing one without forgetting its progressive and hedonistic traditions, the dream of a community that could free itself from the oppression of the triad race/class/gender and no longer be defined by a power narrative. The Internet thus naturally seemed to be the next step towards a globally virtual society. There would no longer be a fixed territory to block development and exclude others. In data flows across the continents, open networks would develop, hierarchies and the hardships of earthly existence would be considered overcome. A weightless community, technoid and clever, but always locally anchored in the sphere of clubs, bodily docking stations with branches around the world.

The concretization of this utopia also moved the focus towards economic foundations and possibilities. Sinking costs for production, distribution, and marketing on the one hand, fast, worldwide access to even the most obscure niche products on the other hand promised a pure win-win situation. Only the question of time and the media corporations pushing their way into the net caused some nerves to shudder. Then, in 2004 Chris Anderson from Wired magazine published his “long tail” theory. He convincingly argued that the Internet would be a guarantee for economic success, especially for independent producers beyond the mainstream. There were three primary reasons for this. On the one hand, sinking production costs and democratic access to the means of production, on the other hand affordable global distribution and access. Finally, the Internet would also provide a direct connection between producers and consumers, assuring a constant cash flow. Over the long term, this would mean secure yields for niche products, since the increasing spread of PCs and Internet access around the world would automatically guarantee an increase in demand. A comforting message, while outside one crash raced after the next, and the major labels began to plough the field.

But slowly, doubts are beginning to surface about the “long tail” theory. The failure of economic success to arrive is increasingly proving a threat to the existence of artists as well as corporations. Private bankruptcies and the failure of one label or distributor after another are scratching at the image of Anderson’s analysis. Finally, a study by Will Page (MCPS-PRS Alliance) struck another blow: according to Page, 85 percent of the pieces available on download portals have never been purchased.

In their lecture, Kodwo Eshun and Steve Goodman (a.k.a. Kode9) will analyze the current state of affairs of the global community and take a look at the future of music online.

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Audio: Kodwo Eshun & Steve Goodman: Beyond the Long Tail