Friday, March 12, 2010

Another Brick in the Wall

Obviously, I'm an artist and I believe that artists should have some say over the legacy and life of their work. Still this feels...wrong to me.
The band, whose albums include "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall," went to court to challenge EMI's right to "unbundle" their records and sell individual tracks online.

Judge Andrew Morritt accepted arguments by the group that EMI was bound by a contract forbidding it from selling records other than as complete albums without written consent.

The judge said the purpose of a clause in the contract, drawn up more than a decade ago, was to "preserve the artistic integrity of the albums."

H/T The A.V. Club. Where they make this excellent observation:
So, yeah, there you go: Listening to "Money" or "Comfortably Numb" sans those songs' original contexts is doing Pink Floyd an aesthetic disservice. Now would Roger Waters please call every classic-rock radio station in the world and tell them that?
I've never really understood the urge of some artists to go around and control exactly how their work is enjoyed. Isn't the enjoyment the point? Not to wax nostalgic too much or anything, but I first heard The Wall on classic rock radio, most likely driving around in a friend's car or in a basement somewhere, out of order, out of context. It took me forever to understand why you can't have any pudding if you don't eat your meat. Or what the hell The Wall was anyway. But I dug the music and watched the movie (and have been kind of freaked out by Bob Geldorf ever since, Live Aid and all) and love the whole thing. Did it matter when I was in my best friend's Buick Skyhawk that I didn't know where "Comfortably Numb" fell in the storyline of The Wall? Not at all.

This is one of those artists vs. accessibility things that are so popular these days, I suppose. Does an artist have an absolute right to control their work at all times? Should that get in the way of enjoyment? Should anyone have to listen to ALL of The Dark Side of the Moon because they like "Money?" (Who doesn't like "Money?")

23 comments:

joshcon80 said...

Especially since "the context" is mostly made up anyway. I had both of those albums as a teenager and I very clearly remember thinking, "Oh. This is supposed to tell a story?"

99 said...

I know! It's not like they're based on a beloved novel or something that actually happened. Honestly, most of the context is "We had this really crazy guy in the band this one time."

Adamflo84 said...

Musicians are especially bad about micromanaging their work. The whole Napster thing, as an actor I remember thinking "I'd be totally excited if people were willfully breaking FEDERAL LAW to see me do my thing!" Musicians just have a different view on how much control they should have. But I don't blame them no one wants their work to be misinterpreted. And music, especially in modern downloads and Youtube videos of random Missouri natives lip singing to your stuff. But we still need to as artist at certain points let it go.

ukejackson said...

I'm just guessing, J., but it's possible that this is as much about sound quality as anything. MP3s suck as far as sound quality. Of course, the entire world has had its standards lowered by the internet, as far as quality expectations in regard to music, and video for that matter.

All sorts of aspects are lost in the brightness and compression of the MP3 format. To a band like Pink Floyd that means alot, I'm certain. Consciously or subconsciously, it could be a stance that discourages downloads.

This is pure speculation on my part, based on a lot of the scuttlebutt I hear among musicians. T Bone Burnett has developed a new process which he claims does away with the problems of MPs listening quality.

Again, just guessing.

Mark said...

*I* do not like "Money" -- it is a truly terrible piece of music.

Jack Worthing said...

Agreeing that this is probably a sound quality issue, and if so, well, more power to their elbows. It's their work. Artists should be reasonable about this stuff (Simon allowed a female Odd Couple, because it doesn't really change the work; but you can't do a female Godot, because it does); but post-Barrett Pink Floyd have always been sanctimonious enough to think a pop song is devalued outside its intended eighty-five-minute-long-blah-blah-blah-Moog-spaceship-drug-shoegaze context. Let them have their way.

99 said...

I have to say there's nothing in the original piece about sound quality as an issue, or that they were denying EMI the right to sell their songs in a particular format. It seems to be based much more in the idea that, since they were intended to be part of an album, the individual parts shouldn't be separated. That's the part I disagree with. I don't think that's a sound position (no pun intended), business-wise or artistically. Like the A.V. Club says, does this mean that they would like to revoke all singles? Ban radio stations from playing parts of these albums? Is that really making a change to the work, akin to casting? I would think a cover version would be a cleaner comparison. This is more like saying a playwright saying, "I never want to see an excerpt from my play in an anthology." I'm not saying that's not a legitimate position. It's just one I disagree with.

isaac butler said...

Jack,

How exactly does a female godot change godot more than a female odd couple changes the odd couple?

Mark S. said...

I have to side with the boys of Floyd, here. A single is an advertisement, in this case, a part which points to a whole. In the case of a concept album that has been designed to be listened to in a particular way, it makes sense to release singles (as their purpose is primarily mercantile, not artistic) but makes less sense to individually package all the songs that make up the album, thereby compromising the album's artistic integrity.

What's at issue here is how we read an album, if that makes any sense, and who, in a Roland Barthes sort of way, is actually in control of the text--the reader or the author (assuming that the Author still exists...). On the one hand, a play, for instance, is generally written to be performed in a certain order. Mixing up that order--say performing Hamlet in reverse--is an interesting exercise in deconstruction, but is it Hamlet or a reading of Hamlet? Which may lead one to wonder...is there a difference between what Hamlet is and how Hamlet is read?

Anyway. Rambling now.

-M

Cioara Andrei said...
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Jack Worthing said...

Isaac:

I'm no expert on THE ODD COUPLE but the engine of the play is two opposed personalities. Maleness has little to do with it. The female version is not terribly different from the original. Didi and Gogo, I think, are clearly men: from their music hall origins, to their speech patterns, to what they actually say ('It would give us erections!') I'd no sooner cast women in those parts than I would cast a woman as Lenny in The Homecoming, or a man as Ruth. Of course the final word comes from Beckett, who wrote the characters as men and didn't believe they could be changed. None of us has any standing to argue with him.

99 said...

I agree with you, and since you're not familiar with THE ODD COUPLE, I'll give you a bit of a pass on it, but the same basic thing holds true. It's about two guys sharing an apartment. They chase women, do a bunch of stereotypically male things (one's a sportswriter), behave in a male way. What Neil Simon is okay with is that the story could be adapted for two women. So he wrote an adaptation. The intention isn't to do the same script, just with women. It's an altered version. If Beckett had been okay with it, there would be a version of GODOT for two women (or four women).

Still, Shakespeare and the Greeks and lots of other classics are often cast with no concern for gender. It hasn't been 600 years, but just because they use male language that doesn't mean an audience can't make the leap with them. Hell, in one of the world's great terrible action movies, Geena Davis exhorts the world to "suck her dick."

RVCBard said...

Hell, in one of the world's great terrible action movies, Geena Davis exhorts the world to "suck her dick."

Wait, wait, wait. I cannot allow this flagrant error to remain unchallenged. Clearly you have not examined the sources as carefully as I have, thus eradicating the credibility of every single statement on every single blog post you ever made since the history of blogging began.

It was DEMI MOORE who said, "Suck my dick!" in G.I. Jane.

And Lil' Kim.

99 said...

Do not mess with my love of the films of Renny Harlin.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116908/quotes

99 said...

FYI: That came out in 1996, before Demi Moore tried to get in on the action.

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joshcon80 said...

I think comparing albums to plays in this debate is a logical fallacy. The intent and process and the ways in which an audience absorbs them is completely different.

99 said...

That's a damn good point. It's an apples-oranges thing. But I do think there's value in discussing where does the artist's control over the work ends and the enjoyment of the audience take over...

RVCBard said...

FYI: That came out in 1996, before Demi Moore tried to get in on the action.

I demand that you produce 5 sources to prove your point.

RVCBard said...

where does the artist's control over the work ends and the enjoyment of the audience take over...

Pragmatically speaking, when the artist can't do anything about it (aka - DIES).

Mildred Ratched said...

I've been a Pink Floyd fan longer than I care to admit and one memory that comes to mind is walking along the beach in Biloxi, Mississsippi many, many years ago just as the sun was setting and the night was slowly approaching. I came upon a large group of people and ss I grew closer to the group, I realized it was a church group. They were listening to gospel music and singing along with each song while standing around a huge bonfire. Just as I reached the group, someone in the group switched the gospel music to Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall. One kid started wildly dancing around the bonfire as if he was possessed by some demon. I stopped and watched and still to this day I remember the utter joy the boy had on his face. I think this was someone who tasted the pudding before eating his meat.

Mark S. said...

I think comparing albums to plays in this debate is a logical fallacy. The intent and process and the ways in which an audience absorbs them is completely different.

Josh, I don't think it's so fallacious, and the analogy, for my part, is based on the relationship of a part (a song, a movement, an act) to a whole (an album, a symphony, a play). Yes, they're different media, but the real difference between a play and an album on this analogical level is only that we've learned to separate the part from the whole more easily with the one than with the other--we've learned that we can listen to the songs on an album in any order we like. In the heyday of the concept album, an album which was conceived as a complete dramatic gesture, I don't think this idea would have had as much currency.

But our current time is much more given to a post-structural or deconstructionist mindset: we know that the Author is dead and that all the texts (conceived of in the widest possible sense of the word) are ours to do with as we please. I bought the text, I own it, I write it while I read it. I can rearrange it however I like. My text is different from everyone else's text, and my intentions are the Author's intentions because, in part, the Author does not actually exist.

In other words, we know that what an artist intends is qualitatively indistinguishable from how we perceive the art. That is, they both have everything and nothing to do with it and are both purely subjective. An artist's insistance on their own intention is actually a subtle form of oppression as their intention and my perception are both equally valid and should be able to comfortably co-exist together without either of us having to insist on anything (although in fact my perception may be more accurate given the artist's closeness to their work and their inability to see it properly, though "accuracy" in this context is purely relative).

Granted, no artist can assume their intentions will be understood by their audience. But does that mean that artists should give up having intentions entirely or should forego creating something or making a gesture that is intentional? If we do want artists to create something with intention, do we owe it to them to at least consider what that intention is--insofar as it has been communicated to us and insofar as we are able to understand it--in relationship to the work? Is it possible for us to respect an artist who says, "This is what I have to say. Hear me out before you ignore me"? Is it possible to create a space (a work of art) in which meaning can be created, discovered, or argued without intending to participate in the meaning-making?

But all of that assumes that there is at least some value to meaning: that it can be shared or participated in. Not that that value is transcendant or objective--only that it can be articulated and shared. In our post-everything virtual culture, that might not be the case after all.

Anyway...

-M