Song Division Preamble

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Text originally read at Song Division at Camden Arts Centre on 16 November 2011

Song division preamble.jpg


Cherish derelict spaces, forgotten works, dates of expiration.

Find loopholes, test boundaries, check motives.

Mired by unsustainable models of economic growth, we look to the archive and its potential future.

To affect change we participate in alternatives. Seek out public spaces; rediscover generosity; value sharing.

We love pirates! Their lawlessness is inspirational. But beyond rebellion – we seek to expose antiquated systems of control – to build active resistance and test new models.

The public domain is not a safe zone. It is a mistake to ignore its potential as a site of political invention.

We oppose the dominant system of the artificial limitation of the flow of ideas and concepts, re-enforced by a market that seeks to profit from restricting access to cultural materials.

Tonight we invite you to be part of a temporary experimental zone – where sonic legal boundaries are negotiated, tested and expanded.

On 6th October 2011 here at Camden Arts Centre during the opening of the Haroon Mirza and Nathalie Djurberg exhibitions an experimental DJ set was played and recorded. The set was a compilation of music selected, not for its eclectic sound or rareness of recordings but primarily for its legal status. Gleaned from the edges of the public domain, songs from early commercial releases, currently subject to a conflict in copyright status between lyrics and musical composition, were edited, redacted, cut-up and processed to suppress copyright-secured elements and to enable, for the first time, the release of public domain layers from the proprietary control of commercial publishers.

The 1920s, 30s and 40s recordings - many of which you’ll hear this evening – have been dug out from record company back catalogues and retrieved from the recesses of the British Library and beyond – through a process of meticulous and labour intensive research.

Lyrics have been ripped from manuscripts and recordings altered and encoded using digital processing techniques ported from R&B and HipHop. Autotune has been applied to voices to remove melodic phrases, and lyrics have been flipped and reversed. In addition basslines have been stretched and intensified and beats swung and looped – to bypass legal frameworks and enable playback.

Phonetic reversal and backmasking – techniques conventionally used to censor words or phrases in rap recordings for radio broadcast or historically used to encode subliminal messages on vinyl releases, are here used to redact recordings whose lyrics are still under copyright control. Elsewhere, re-edits have been made – to strip the vocal content out of a recording – intros, outros and instrumental sections re-spliced to open out and free melodic layers.

In contrast, sonic production techniques of vocoder and auto-tune are folded back into their original military functions of speech coding and encryption in order to suppress controlled melodic elements and release copyright-expired lyrics.

This processing means compositions such as the 1923 Any Place Will Do With You, not scheduled to return to the public domain until 2022 – perhaps to a future world as depicted in the 1973 film Soylent Green, one suffering overpopulation and depleted resources; Or the 1930 song Sentimental and Melancholy, whose copyright is due to expire in 2047 – the same year the rescue vessel Lewis and Clark is dispatched to answer a distress signal received from the starship Event Horizon – can be released, in part, right now in 2011.

We must remember that the legal frameworks that define the limits of the public domain are not fixed. The future of the public domain is precarious – the field of culture is increasingly colonized for private interests as proprietors of intellectual property continually lobby for the extension of their control. We are well aware that IP has been declared ‘the oil of the 21st Century.’

On 12 September 2011, the Council of the European Union adopted an extension of the term of copyright in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. Two decades worth of recordings currently held in common will retro-actively return to proprietary ownership. Music on the threshold of escape, forced back under control for a further twenty years.

The source manuscripts and recordings for this event are currently scheduled for full release into the public domain between 2019 and 2070 in the UK. Audio has been hacked for the present legal reality.

Tonight we present a series of pre-release leaks, assembled by Open Music Archive, Leafcutter John, Beatrice Dillon and Mechanical Bride for free distribution.

The event is being streamed live and recorded under a copyleft license for future reuse.

DATE: 16 November 2011
LOCAL JURISDICTION: The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland
PLEASE NOTE: Terms for other jurisdictions may differ. Please refer to your local legal frameworks for your current date and location.