California-based composer, radio host and computer music guru Carl Stone
At the American Music Center
October 17, 2000, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Filmed by Jenny Undercofler
Transcribed by Lisa Kang
- Formative Experiences
- The 20th Century and Pre-Recorded Sound
- Intellectual Property
- Getting Sampled vs. Getting Plagiarized
- Free Downloadable Music
- Home Taping, Trading and Bootlegging
- New Distribution Models
FRANK J. OTERI:I want to thank you for taking time out from your very busy concert trek around the world to talk to us about intellectual property and the creative experience, and the murky areas in between the two. In much of your work, you are crossing a very thin line between what is yours in the traditional sense and what somebody who might not perceive of the process of how sound is put together as being belonging to someone else. I read in an essay by you which stated that the thing that really got you excited about music and composing and creating was archiving a bunch of recordings and it was a very wide mix of music, so I wanted to begin by talking with you about that.
CARL STONE:Sure, I had some very formative experiences when I was a student. I studied at CalArts and it was in their first 5-year period where the philosophy was “a curriculum for every student”, and as a music student there I had exposure to not only western classical music, but also a lot of contemporary and avant-garde music, non-western music and jazz. There was an African music program, there was a Javanese music program, and there were all these ensembles that came through. I heard Gagaku for the first time, I heard music of Iran live, Bulgaria, and much more, all of which I had never heard before. So certainly this was very important as part of a formative student experience, but what happened to me that had the biggest impact was actually outside the music school per se. I had been assigned a work-study job in the music library, and remember this was like 1973-1974, and the library had, I don’t know how many, but tens of thousands LP recordings that reflected the broadness of the music curriculum there, music ranging from the Renaissance up to the late 20th century, and not only Western music but music from all over the world.
FRANK J. OTERI:And pop music as well?
CARL STONE:Well actually not that much pop music, but some. But a lot of folk music and vernacular music, but outside of pop and rock and roll, which wasn’t a component. And my job was, in principle, to take all the recordings in the music library and to back them up onto cassette, which was the medium of storage and long-term archiving of the day.
FRANK J. OTERI:(laughs)
CARL STONE:(laughs) Again, this was 1973. So they set me up in a dark room, windowless, kind of like this only smaller, with 3 turntables and 3 tape cassettes recorders, and a small monitoring system – a mixer and a couple of speakers – and so what I was supposed to do was continuously record all the LPs in the library, 3 at a time, and I discovered that I could monitor by mixing all of the recordings together and it wouldn’t effect any of the taping process, but I could listen to what would happen if you combined Machaut with Ussachevsky, or the music of the Babenzele pygmies with… I don’t know… a Berg chamber piece, up to 3 at a time. And I began to experiment and notice the connections and re-contextualizations that would happen as these things played together. And I would mix them, and explore, and it was kind of play at that time. I didn’t think of it as composing.
FRANK J. OTERI:Now you had been composing…
CARL STONE:Well sure, I was studying composition and electronic music composition with Morton Subotnick and James Tenney. And I worked with Barry Schrader in the electronic studios there. And I was using these big Buchla synthesizers, and so I was making a kind of classic electronic music using tape recorders and making tape music.
FRANK J. OTERI:Cuts and splices?
CARL STONE:Cutting and splicing to be sure. But even in those days I began to experiment with some appropriated materials, such as if I found a record that really attracted me, I might take it and use it as a kind of starting point for an experiment in the studios. But it wasn’t until I finished at CalArts and I took a job as the Music Director of a radio station in Los Angeles, which was KPFK, the Pacifica station there. So there I was, a fully matriculated composer, but without a studio a of my own, and once again just with a couple of tape recorders, a couple of turntables, and a big music library. And I asked myself, “Well, what can I do, how can I make my piece now?” And that was the beginning of my professional work with found or appropriated musical material, in what I consider a sort of breakthrough piece (for me anyway), back in 1979. This was my piece piece Sukothai which took just a 1 1/2 minute performance on the harpsichord of a Rondo by Henry Purcell who a lot of people might know because it was the theme that Britten used for the Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra. So I took that and I recorded it onto my tape recorder in stereo, and I rewound the tape and I mixed the two channels to mono and I recorded them onto the left channel of my second tape recorder and I rewound again, and then I recorded the same harpsichord playing onto the right channel, on the same tape recorder, displaced a little bit in time. So we had this kind of very simple canon when you played it back. Then I rewound again, and now mixing my 2 copies of this harpsichord piece to mono, I re-recorded onto the left channel of the other tape recorder, and rewound again and recorded on the right channel, again displaced in time but by a different interval, so now my 2-part canon became a kind of 4-part canon with a somewhat more irregular rhythm. And then I thought, “Well, let’s just keep going here” so I rewound again and I took my 4-mixed tracks to mono, doubled them to 8, 16, 32, 64 all the way up to 1024 layers of the same harpsichord material. I just kept going. It’s 2 to the 10th. And what was interesting to me was – first of all the rhythms became more complicated, that was sort of the musical interest, but then I noticed as things became denser, you actually lost the sense of rhythm altogether. The sound massed, and the smaller in-time details of the harpsichord completely disappeared. And what you were left with at the end, by the time you got up into the 512 or 1024, was just this broad harmonic expanse of the musical material itself. It sounded more like a very ethereal organ, like Rameau playing in a cathedral in heaven somewhere.
CARL STONE:Exactly, yes and I was very influenced by that, I have to say. I was influenced generally by minimalist tendencies at this time. The process pieces of early Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Alvin Lucier. And that particular process that Lucier did was I have to say very, very impressive to me. And the idea that where the process and the form are one, the form and the content become the determinant of the piece. Jim Tenney was also working in this way. Some of his pieces of that period were process oriented pieces, where nothing is concealed from the listener. The listener could follow the process and might even try to predict what the next step will be. And while they might predict correctly that I would double it again, probably they wouldn’t predict what the result would be.
FRANK J. OTERI:Right…
CARL STONE:And that’s kind of what interested me as well. And so the piece itself became just a serial assembly, you hear 1 to 2 to 3.
The 20th Century and Pre-Recorded Sound
FRANK J. OTERI:Well, what’s so interesting if you look at the 20th century; now we can actually get a little distance from it and say the 20th century as a unit, as a time in history… We began with this notion where pre-recorded sound mediums, first the cylinder, then the original gramophone spinning 78s and 33s, where before that people would play music in their home, and then all of a sudden you have this object that was the embodiment of other people playing music that you then listen to, by people who were allegedly better than you. So people stopped playing music. Then at the end century people realized that the very tools that can reproduce music were musical instruments in their own right.
CARL STONE:Cage was a very important part of that realization when he began to use turntables and radios, etc., as musical objects, as instruments in the Imaginary Landscape pieces and so on…
FRANK J. OTERI:Which is what your own radio show was named after…
FRANK J. OTERI:Right, because things no longer have a fixed beginning or an ending. You listen for as long as your ride is, and if you are in the middle of a song or in the middle of concerto it doesn’t really matter.
CARL STONE:Well it may have mattered, but it certainly changed the way you perceive music and eventually music itself changed to take into account the fact that people listen differently. I mean people stopped working in longer forms, not stopped completely of course, but the shorter forms grew up, I think because of that, in the same way television has changed a lot since the invention of the remote control.
FRANK J. OTERI:I would also dare say that with the longer form structure, they’re developmental in a much different way. There’s no longer a narrative development going on.
CARL STONE:Well, we have to be careful not to generalize too much because obviously there are still people working in these narrative forms, and I think actually to an extent that I do that too in many of my pieces. My pieces these days, although they may be sectional, work over a longer time frame that is not particularly appropriate to radio as most people listen to it now. But the other thing about radio is that not only that time has become compressed but also the circumstance of listening is so variable now. I mean we don’t know when a piece is broadcast on radio how people will hear it. Will they listen by their bedside, will they have a super duper 5.1 stereo system that they listen to in their living room, will they be washing up the dishes, will they be in their cars, etc., etc. And so music that may work in one way may not work in another and when I’ve done pieces for radio I’ve tried to find a way so that they can work under a myriad of circumstances.
FRANK J. OTERI:Washing the dishes…
FRANK J. OTERI:So this change from foreground listening to background listening… We talked about the functionality of music, of course music has always been around with people, both as foreground as well as background.
CARL STONE:That’s true.
FRANK J. OTERI:Music accompanied ritual, religious ceremonies. At any kind of political thing, it was almost always there. And I think that when we as a culture started emphasizing this foreground method of listening with western art music it became sort of detached and removed from everyday life to the point where it became a specialist form for a lot of people, not only for players, but a specialist form for listeners as well.
CARL STONE:True, although not necessarily an elite form. You really had to carve out a portion of your day in order to have a musical experience by going to the concert hall, or wherever. That’s true. But at the same time music could co-exist in other circumstances when you listened even in the 18th, 19th centuries you wouldn’t have background music in the mall but you could have musicians in the 18th century equivalent of a mall. And then when stuff like the pianola came out that also changed the way music functioned in our society.
FRANK J. OTERI:So, now for the loaded question, which is the theme of this month’s edition, what constitutes intellectual property in a creative work? Everybody who plays music, to some extent, is borrowing. When you’re playing on a piano or a violin, chances are you didn’t build that piano or violin. So you’re dealing with someone else’s sound world already, unless you’re Harry Partch and build your own instruments, you’re already dealing with borrowed sound. Now in the pop music world, there’s been this outcry of people who are older than the hip-hop generation. They say, “these hip hop people are not playing music, they’re just stealing other people’s music, they’re just taking riffs off of James Brown records and Funkadelic records. They are not playing these riffs themselves. They’re just stealing.”
CARL STONE:Well, it’s a big jump from saying that by using a violin you are somehow treading on the intellectual property of another person is similar to the debate that’s currently going on about sampling. Although I would accept the point that when you pick up a violin or play a piano you are accepting a whole range of assumptions about music which are inherent in the way those instruments work, and to an extent the way they have functioned in musical culture up until this point. But the debate over sampling, which has been an historical practice over hundreds of years, has suddenly become acute because of changes in the way we deal with originality versus copies. In digital theory, there’s no qualitative difference between a copy and an original.
FRANK J. OTERI:Well certainly in older times, composers based masses on bass lines derived from Gregorian chant melodies and popular song melodies like “L’Homme Armé.” Bach and others wrote quodlibets based on other people’s music, and Bach also arranged Vivaldi concertos for solo organ, and it would all become his.
CARL STONE:It would become his.
FRANK J. OTERI:And Vivaldi didn’t get a dime.
CARL STONE:And no one questioned that it was Bach’s music and not Vivaldi’s. Maybe with the arrangements there might be some fuzziness, but if a Bach or a Brahms doing his “Variations on a Theme by Haydn,” or when Berg used Bach. There are countless examples, Bartók, Dvorák, the list goes on and on.
FRANK J. OTERI:But people would say, and I get into these discussions a lot with jazz musicians, they would turn around and say, well O.K., they are taking this music because jazz soloists who are a big part of the jazz tradition take popular standards or take other people’s melodies and then create their own improvisations with that. But they would say these hip-hop guys are crossing a line here because they are not just taking someone else’s melody, or a chord progression, they are actually taking the recording.
CARL STONE:They are taking the recording.
FRANK J. OTERI:They are taking the performance.
CARL STONE:They are taking the performance; they are taking the sound. But it’s a logical extension of what people in jazz were doing and what Bach was doing. It’s just that now you can do that and it is intellectually a perfect extension of what was going on 300-400 years ago. I think it’s become fuzzy again because of the lack of any qualitative distinctions in a recording, and so there are certain issues about performance rights and so on, but if you want to question the integrity of the compositional act of using some other musical material as a starting point, I think the defenses are there, and not just in the music world. Let’s look at the visual art world if you want to see countless examples, and not just the 20th century, I mean the 20th century is full of them. The perfect example to me would be the Rauchenberg piece “Erased De Kooning.”
FRANK J. OTERI:Yes.
CARL STONE:As you know it’s a piece where he actually took a drawing of De Kooning‘s and applied a gum eraser to it. So I don’t think anyone could argue that that remained De Kooning’s piece and only De Kooning’s piece. It became a Raushenberg piece.
FRANK J. OTERI:But there’s also the thin line, there’s this wonderful Jorge Luis Borges story about a man in the 20th century who re-writes Don Quixote word-for-word, and it’s the exact same book, but it’s not the same book. It’s another book because it’s written in the 20th century and therefore the context is different.
CARL STONE:Sure and I think Cage would subscribe to that as well, as a cheap imitation or just his postulate that a recording of a Tchaikovsky symphony is not a Tchaikovsky symphony, it’s not a piece of orchestral music but it’s actually a piece of electronic music.
FRANK J. OTERI:I will dare say that the second time you’ve listened to the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony is not the same as experience as the first time you’ve listened to it, or the third or fourth.
CARL STONE:That’s true but that gets us into a whole other discussion, which I get asked about because I use a lot of repetition in my music, and I have my own pet theories about repetition and so on, and the fact that I think repetition, and I talked about this with my school chums at CalArts, that there is no such thing as true repetition in so far as each time you hear something that is repeated it is conditioned by each previous repetition. It’s a kind of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in music. And so given that, yes, the repeated act of listening causes an evolution which changes every time.
FRANK J. OTERI:Now to get back into the notion of intellectual property and your work. You create music that’s mostly derived from samples…
CARL STONE:That’s true.
FRANK J. OTERI:And it doesn’t sound anything like what it originally was in most cases.
CARL STONE:It may at some point in the course of the piece but at another point I would dare say it sounds very different. And that’s sort of a model of what my music is about. It’s taking something that’s familiar and making it unfamiliar.
FRANK J. OTERI:Now have you made it a practice to get permission to use this material…
CARL STONE:A lot of the music that I use has actually been in the public domain, at least the music, maybe not the performance. And there are certain practical barriers to getting clearances on every sample that I’ve ever used. In a piece like Mom’s which contains over 250 samples, as a practical matter it simply isn’t possible to get clearances on all of them. They are so short anyway, and they are, frankly, under the radar. In another case, my CD Mom’s which has the piece Mom’s which I just mentioned also has a piece Shing Kee where the entire work is derived from a very very short sample of Akiko Yano, a Japanese pop singer, singing Schubert in English. Yes, that small thing becomes the basis of an entire piece of music and so it’s reasonable to get a clearance for that. I think in my case the constraints are only one of practicality and not that I don’t want to make any acknowledgment or give just do to any musician or composer.
FRANK J. OTERI:Is there a line? When is it not fair?
CARL STONE:This is something that is obviously a matter of great debate that I don’t have an answer to. There are some people who take a position that all information wants to be free and the concept of intellectual property rights is unfair and outdated, and to hell with it all. And there are others who I think take a view that is closer to mine, which is that we cannot deny that art and music which uses materials of others is an important part of the world we live in. We have to find some way for artists to be able to create work without being constrained by laws that if not wrong are at least obsolete in a digital era. And that’s where I think we stand now. We are on the threshold of a very different world due to digital technology, and for better or for worse copyright law is very far behind in this regard.
FRANK J. OTERI:Now have you been following the copyright infringement case the courts threw out involving an artist using images of Barbie?
CARL STONE:It’s funny you should ask. I have a whole series of pieces which are based on Barbie. Mattel has been very aggressive in defending just the name Barbie. There have been several cases. There were some films that were done with some Barbie characters…
CARL STONE:Yeah, and they got into trouble. And I think there was this Danish group called Aqua who made a song called “Barbie Girl” which also ran into trouble from Mattel although it was a huge hit in Europe. And just to make things more confused, I actually have this horrified fascination with that song as material for some live performances that I’ve been doing.
FRANK J. OTERI:Have you talked to Mattel about this?
CARL STONE:I haven’t talked to Mattel. Let them try and get me. (laughs) Well, the words Barbie or Ken do not appear in any of the pieces that I do, so I don’t think Mattel should be particularly concerned.
FRANK J. OTERI:Well they can’t possible own the names of Barbie or Ken. I have a close friend named Ken.
CARL STONE:You may say that, and I may say that, but Mattel may assert otherwise. Or they may assert that maybe the name Barbie juxtaposed against Ken may somehow cause some trademark infringement. I don’t know. I haven’t studied that case closely. Actually, I just know just from the headline that the group got into trouble.
Getting Sampled vs. Getting Plagiarized
FRANK J. OTERI:Okay. I want to turn this upside-down. Let’s say it’s next summer and all the big summer hip-hop hits come out. There’s a new Eminem record, and new Snoop Doggy Dog record…I think he’s just calling himself Snoop Dogg these days…or Dr. Dre, who is totally anti–Napster, you know, one of these guys who basically makes music created from samples of other peoples’ music. What happens if one of these guys samples Mom’s? You know, an additional rhythm tracks gets thrown behind it, there’s a rap over it, and it becomes a hit record. They just takes a little hunk of your piece and they don’t ask your permission. The record goes platinum and they make millions of dollars. What do you do?
CARL STONE:As a practical matter, or what’s my moral…
FRANK J. OTERI:What’s your moral position, what do you do? It may not be the same answer.
CARL STONE:I thought about this only to the extent that some people from time to time have talked to me about sampling my music. I figured it would be certainly hypocritical if I refused anyone the right to sample my music. Even though, I must say, I don’t sample contemporary music or electronic music or any materials that are already developed or processed. What I’m looking for is something that is clear as to what the source is, that is sort of anti-electronic, and making it electronic. But if someone were to come along, like some people I know, or even composers out of the blue and asked to sample something, I cannot say no. It’s never ever come to the point where such sampling has turned into a hit record, and so I’ve never had a sort of moral versus financial dilemma on my hands. So I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about that. I think that probably that if Dr. Dre has the resources to clear any samples he wants, not only does he have the staff to handle the paper work but also has the money. Composers who work out of their basement or in their bedroom studio can’t go up against the big labels- when we want to sample a major artist, it’s almost impossible to go up against a legal machine, and anyway, the easiest thing for the big label is just to say “no”. Because as far as they are concerned, there’s no money at stake when a composer sells, if lucky, 5000 copies of a CD. For a big label, the financial upside is so inconsequential and the paperwork is so involved, they say no.
CARL STONE:Although he didn’t actually get into that much trouble over the music, he got into trouble the same way that Negativland got into trouble: both because of the cover art. The Plunderphonics album cover was a kind of PhotoShop edition featuring the head of Michael Jackson on the body of a Playboy model, and that’s what caused all the fuss. And in the case of the Negativland release it was the fact that the cover had a big bold U2 on the cover. I don’t even think it had the word Negativland on the cover.
FRANK J. OTERI:Negativland actually appeared in small letters on the bottom, and the argument by U2’s record company, Island Records, was that people would think it was a U2 record named Negativland because no one’s ever heard of Negativland.
CARL STONE:I think it’s ironic that in both cases it really wasn’t the music that caused all the excitement, even though when the lawyers went deeper into the whole thing, they found the music too had it’s own tangled rights problems. It wasn’t the music. The music was way too far under people’s radar.
FRANK J. OTERI:Right. It’s funny, I don’t know if you know but there was this incredible lawsuit back in the 1930s with a song called “And the Angels Sing” which was a pop song that Benny Goodman had recorded, and Ziggy Elman, his trumpet player allegedly had written it. Abe Schwartz, one of the leading Klezmer players in America in the 1910s and 20s, recorded a tune he claimed was identical, 20 years earlier. To me, listening to them back to back, the two songs sound very similar. In Goodman’s version, it is a little slowed down and it’s stripped of all the typical Klezmer inflections, but it’s basically the same tune. But the judge couldn’t hear it and threw the case out of court.
FRANK J. OTERI:Oh right, “He’s So Fine.”
CARL STONE:Right, “He’s So Fine” versus “My Sweet Lord.” Look, there aren’t that many chords in American pop vocabulary and there are only so many combinations and permutations, eventually, you’re going to run out of variations.
FRANK J. OTERI:Well the thing that I found so funny about the whole “My Sweet Lord” thing is that nobody ever said that it was produced by Phil Spector, and “She’s So Fine” was produced for a girl group called the The Chiffons by a man who in the early 60s was Phil Spector’s chief rival George “Shadow” Morton. Now, you know Phil Spector knew that original song.
FRANK J. OTERI:Poor George. But to get back to the issue of someone sampling your music, on a moral level you wouldn’t have a problem with it.
CARL STONE:On a moral level, no, no.
FRANK J. OTERI:But on a financial level, it would be nice to get something…
CARL STONE:Well, I would say that just as I would be willing to go to anyone and say look, I can’t pay you $10,000 up front, but I’m using this material, it’s a small section of your recording, but it’s a kind of important basis for my piece, so why don’t we work out some formula to figure sharing the royalties. That’s what I’ve done in the past. And that’s what I would want people to do with me. And just let it go at that. That’s kind of my position.
Free Downloadable Music
FRANK J. OTERI:The next step then. The dissemination of music, and the control of how it reaches audiences, whether it’s through a concert, radio, recording, and now we have this wonderful new tool called the Internet, the World Wide Web. There’s so much talk going on right now about what is at stake with the digital dissemination of music over the Web. Everybody is about to lose this bounty that we have. “Oh it’s the end of the world,” you talk to some people, “It’s a terrible terrible thing.” You know I look at it from the other end and see the Web as the greatest way to promote music that there has ever been. All this music that radio stations won’t play because they say people will turn the dial. With the Web all you need is a URL and you pay a fee and have a Web master and you can reach the whole world theoretically. I noticed that you have a number of samples, pieces of your music on mp3.com.
CARL STONE:Oh sure. Even though I’m not crazy about mp3.com as an entity, I’m very much of the mind to make my music available for people who want to download it for free.
FRANK J. OTERI:But then you aren’t getting that revenue.
CARL STONE:I’m not getting that revenue for those pieces, but just strictly from a financial point of view I’m much better off since I put those pieces up.
FRANK J. OTERI:Because more people know about you.
CARL STONE:Because more people know about me, more people hear my music, and more people buy my CDs.
FRANK J. OTERI:It’s very interesting, because I think we hit a turning point when Radiohead‘s new album went to No. 1 on the Billboard Chart. A week before I had some dinner with friends and we talked about the whole free downloadable music issue. My friend was livid: “This is terrible, the new Radiohead is available for download; you can have the whole album online. Gee, no one is going to buy it. And poor Radiohead; they are going to be losing all this money.” Well guess what folks, Radiohead’s album became the No. 1 best seller and this is a group that would probably not have made No.1 because radio stations won’t play them. And there was hardly any advance press, and they were very quiet about the whole thing, and album became No. 1. I dare say the Internet is partially responsible for that.
CARL STONE:I’m sure that it is. Again, looking at my own experience and practice, it has accrued to my benefit, not only just in terms of the exposure, the kind of intangibility of exposure, but also the tangible benefits of financial reward, and I guess I’ve been selective. I haven’t made my entire catalog available for downloading, only selected pieces. I suppose if I had enough rabid fans out there they’d pirate my CDs and put them up, and it would be a different thing to have to ponder.
FRANK J. OTERI:What would you do?
CARL STONE:I don’t know. I think at this point in my career I’d probably be flattered that someone took the time and the trouble. I don’t know. One thing is clear. The 20th Century laws about copyright just are not going to work anymore. The entire structure of copyright and of licensees are just not going to work anymore in the age of the Internet. And some kind of solution, a new kind of solution, has to be found, it seems to me.
FRANK J. OTERI:So lets talk about Napster for a bit. What are your thoughts about people being able to share their record collections online.
CARL STONE:Peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted material?
FRANK J. OTERI:Yes.
CARL STONE:I haven’t completely made my peace with it. I don’t see any way to stop it. I think that we have to recognize some realities there. And I don’t know. I’m not sure what the solution is. Maybe there is something lying in wait 10 years from now or maybe even less that will somehow figure a way that this can be handled so that, I mean, I kind of admire the impulse of peer-to-peer sharing. I don’t object to that per se. It would be nice if there were some kind of way that somehow through this sharing some accounting can be made and some payments can be due. And if it’s really substantial, even though a payment might be a penny or two, it would really add up.
FRANK J. OTERI:Where would the money come from to pay these folks.
CARL STONE:I don’t know. They’d have to figure out a way. It could look to the older European model where people have to pay annually a certain amount which is then put in a fund, then it grows.
FRANK J. OTERI:Here in America we’re shocked to hear that Europeans have to pay a radio tax.
FRANK J. OTERI:But radio is so much better in Europe.
CARL STONE:Although having just come from Europe there’s also a lot of bad radio out there, and bad television too. But yes, in France they send people out not only to count radios, but also computers. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. They also have to pay a tax on their computers.
FRANK J. OTERI:Well that’s how, I would assume, they would get royalty money for downloadable music.
CARL STONE:Well I don’t think that was their idea, I mean this was two years ago before downloadable music was really practical, especially in France where you were paying all sorts of extra costs. But anyway, yes, they count your radios and depending on how many you have you pay a tax and that tax goes to support culture and cultural programming, and ultimately composers.
Home Taping, Trading and Bootlegging
FRANK J. OTERI:O.K. You’re a composer, you’re a musician, you have friends who are composers and musicians, I’m a composer, a musician, and a music lover. We both worked in radio; we’re both addicted to music. If people ask you to tape albums for them, do you do it? Have people taped albums for you? I know I have taped albums for people, and people have taped albums for me over the years. And if there’s something I like that somebody has given me a tape of, I actually go out and buy my own copy of it eventually, because I want my own copy of it. Is this right or wrong?
CARL STONE:Well actually, believe it or not, I’ve had very few cases where I’ve done taping for other people, and other people have hardly ever done taping for me. I can’t say it’s never happened, but it was rare. Personal use? I would hope by now people would believe that taping for personal use is acceptable. And so I don’t think there need be much controversy about that. Different question. For example, bootlegging, pirating, mass reproduction for sale. That’s different.
FRANK J. OTERI:That’s a whole other issue. All right, an extension of that. I read in some interviews that you were a fan of a lot of rock music and that rock had a big influence on you over the years.
FRANK J. OTERI:A big part of the rock world is that there are these canonic albums that fans have put out, and then there are all these bootlegs of live concerts. Certainly the Grateful Dead had this policy that anybody could tape concerts and there was this whole tape trading. And a performance they would give of “Dark Star” on Thursday night would never be the same as their performance of “Dark Star” on Saturday.
FRANK J. OTERI:And you want to hear them all, but the record company is only going to issue only one, if any, of these performances.
FRANK J. OTERI:I own bootlegs of various bands, and I’m willing to say that, if the record company would issue them I’d buy them from the record company. It’s not hurting the sales of the catalog because I own the entire catalog as well. Right or wrong?
CARL STONE:I think it’s difficult because from my perspective as a composer, I would, again, be flattered if people took the time and trouble to bootleg and somehow make a secondary market for my music, but ultimately I would like to have some control over my own artistic product, and if someone was sitting in the front row of a concert of mine and made a tape, and maybe I didn’t think the performance was very good, but the tape was somehow put into circulation, and I felt it was sort of inferior because of production values, or just the musical performance, I might have a problem with that. I think that the Grateful Dead, they were somehow like the Cal Worthington of music. I don’t know if people know who Cal Worthington is but he was a high volume dealer of used automobiles in Los Angeles on late night television in the 60s and 70s. They just made so much music that it was almost impossible to control. And yes they sort of met the bootlegging problem head on by just saying we’re going to destroy a paid market, we’re just going to develop a market of just traders. I mean money never passed hands with the Dead tapers as far as I know.
FRANK J. OTERI:No, and they did very well. And as a result they had people following them from all over the country taping shows.
CARL STONE:And that was their bread and butter. I mean they didn’t get any radio play. I don’t think their recording sales were that high, their mainstay was basically through touring. The tapes were sort of a natural way to promote and to get people to go to concerts so they could tape and have more ammunition for their own trading.
FRANK J. OTERI:To continue this thought about the Grateful Dead and bootlegging, one could certainly make the argument for our kind of music. Well, we’re both interested in a very wide range of music, but for the music that we’re talking about and that the visitors of NewMusicBox are most concerned about, contemporary American, for lack of a better word, concert music… We’re going to get into the murkiness about that concept a little later in this discussion. For our kind of .org music, as opposed to .com music, record sales aren’t what’s fueling the income of this music. You said it earlier in this conversation that if you have several thousand sales of a CD, that’s a hit. We’re not competing with the Britney Spears or the Metallicas of this world. In a way, a Grateful Dead model where people are going around making recordings could work for us. This would obviously require a lot of details to be ironed out, but imagine if people were going around making tapes of the latest orchestral premieres and circulating those tapes, maybe some of these pieces would get some more play. It could actually be in the best interest of our community if this music got circulated more.
CARL STONE:Well it’s controversial, and I think there are arguments that could be made for that and also against that. I think that musicians have rights too, and what might be in the best interest of the composer in terms of promoting his or her own music might not be in the best interest of the musician, you know, the violinist who was slaving away in the first chair of that first orchestral performance. It’s not really easy to answer a question like that, I think it’s very complicated.
FRANK J. OTERI:What’s started happening around the country which I think is a very healthy thing is that orchestras are starting to grab the bull by the horns, and they are issuing their own recordings. The New York Philharmonic started it, and the Chicago Symphony. Issuing recordings from their own performance vaults, putting them out on their own CDs, which are essentially like some rock bands’ own “official bootlegs” on their own labels. They are live performance recordings of maybe not always the most optimal sound quality that have been doctored thanks to the latest technologies, which make available really important, valuable performances. And what they have done which I think has made all difference in the world for people in the orchestra, is that they have made sure that all the names of the every player is on those discs. How may records do you have even on the biggest labels like Deutsche Grammophon, or Columbia Masterworks, of an orchestra like the Berlin Philharmonic and it doesn’t say who’s playing. It’s ridiculous. It’s anonymous music. No wonder the musicians are upset. They have every right to be upset.
CARL STONE:Yeah. Well, it certainly is for obsessive people like you and I that these kind of details are really of tremendous value, and I think probably yes, I think for the musicians too.
FRANK J. OTERI:And to have the names of these players and certainly yes, for we who are obsessive collectors of musical information who realize that every person partaking in a performance is part of why that performance sounds the way it does, I want to know who everybody in that orchestra was. I want to know every player. But I think when you reward intellectual activity with credit, I don’t think there always has to be economic credit, but there always has to be artistic and intellectual credit given. And that’s the key difference.
CARL STONE:Well I think it’s part of a whole package of what an artist deserves. Credit and remuneration are both very important. I think that the most disturbing tendency in 20th century America – you can’t do this in Europe – but in America, you have the whole concept of work-for-hire where your work is essentially bought lock, stock and barrel by someone else who then owns it completely and doesn’t have to credit you at all. In Europe, and especially in France, you have the concept of the moral right of a creator which is that even if you were to sell your work to someone else if you were sculptor or a painter, you still maintain a certain control over how it is used, and your right to have credit, and your right to receive royalties if it were to be resold. Some of that has been tweaked into American law, but not all of it. You still have work for hire, which I think is a terrible idea, where the composer, or any other kind of artist, is just like a carpenter or a plumber, a crafts person who’s work basically is then commodified and then subsumed by some other entity who has paid cash.
FRANK J. OTERI:And then of course you have somebody who turns around and exposes this like Courtney Love, who says the record industry claims they’re fighting for artists’ rights, but they’re really fighting for their own economic interests because they bought recordings lock, stock and barrel and they’re losing the most money, not the artists.
CARL STONE:I don’t know about Courtney Love, I think she’s in a pretty good negotiating position compared to a lot of people, but certainly it’s true that most major label record contracts especially in pop music are really one sided, and horribly unfair to the artists.
New Distribution Models
CARL STONE:I think what scares the record companies the most maybe is not the loss of income, is that now people really have a control which they’ve never really had before about how their work is distributed, how it’s promoted, how it’s marketed, how it’s licensed, etc. Those were the “services” that record companies provided, but often badly.
FRANK J. OTERI:They were also giving you a way to spread the word about yourself. The same holds true of publishers.
CARL STONE:That’s right.
FRANK J. OTERI:Now that we have personal computers, and desktop publishing, and we can record CDRs. In a way the role of these entities has to change. It has to become more promotional. Obviously a composer who is with a big record label or a big publisher has the name of that company behind him or her.
CARL STONE:It’s like being recommended by Duncan Hines. You get a certain ratification. If you’re a composer signed to Sony Classics, you have that sort of imprimature of that corporate entity and all that comes with it. As opposed to being composer Jane Doe on the street… You may be able to press your own CDs and get them out there, but you have to cut through a lot of noise to get yourself heard and that’s what these companies are supposed to help do. And probably what’s going to happen, and it’s already starting to happen now, is that you have this kind of behemoth Internet site that people in general will turn to first to get some kind of guidance as to what to listen to or to what to read, and they’ll have a certain amount of power, but at the same time there will be all these small, independent, little brooks and rivers and valleys in the landscape that those of us who have a little more experimental bent, and taste, will probably spend our time wading around in.
FRANK J. OTERI:I certainly know that in terms of how I got exposed to your music, it was first through your one giant corporation release on the great huge company known as New Albion Records. (Both laugh) But you know New Albion has, in the new music community, an identity, and a profile, and I know if Foster puts out something, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be pretty damn great.
CARL STONE:Well, yeah, New Albion also provided an organized distribution system that I couldn’t do on my own that’s different from, let’s say, the distribution systems say for the releases that I have out in Italy or in Japan. And that’s why especially here in America you’re more likely to see my release on New Albion than anything else.
FRANK J. OTERI:And I did an Amazon search recently, we’re going to get into Amazon a bit, and I looked up your name just to see what they carry, and they carry Mom’s, and a record that you’re not even on.
CARL STONE:Ooh, that’s bad.
FRANK J. OTERI:It was orchestral miniatures, it was Carl somebody else, not Stone….
CARL STONE:I see. Well, Amazon is a problem because, I guess you did a search on classical for me. If you go to other categories you find other releases of mine. And there’s absolutely no reason why one would fall into one category versus another.
FRANK J. OTERI:Yeah. We’re living in a post-stylistic world, yet Amazon, this great arbiter of how people buy music, still divides the world into popular and classical. And if you’re jazz, you’re popular. Albert Ayler is popular music whereas Arthur Fiedler is classical. It’s very strange.
CARL STONE:Well, they shouldn’t do it. It’s very simple, they shouldn’t do it.
FRANK J. OTERI:They should just have music, and you look up a name, and there it is.
CARL STONE:It’s like the LA Times, I don’t think they do this anymore, but in the old days when they had all their calendar listings, they had this category called Music, which was all the classical music, and then there was Jazz or Rock as if those things were not music. But it’s impossible to categorize things now, there’s so much cross-over, and the kind of implicit high-art versus low-art distinctions between classical and popular music are completely irrelevant now.
FRANK J. OTERI:And certainly the sound world that you create in many ways is closer on some levels to things that Aphex Twin, Moby, or Beck does. There are even some elements of hip hop in your work, it certainly sounds closer to that than to what we normally think of as “classical music”: Mozart and the gang.
CARL STONE:Yes in sound. Right, in the sound world I think my music is closer to those artists that you mention, but my use of form is maybe closer to classical music, so I think I’m one of many examples where it doesn’t really work to create these categories.
FRANK J. OTERI:Theoretically somebody who’s listening to Beck or somebody who’s picked up DJ Shadow would love your stuff, regardless of form and theory. So how can you try to reach that audience?
CARL STONE:Yeah, well how do I try to reach these people? First of all by sending occasional tweeky notes to Amazon proposing that they either cross categorize artists, or do away with this artificial distinction all together. Aside from that, I don’t know, you just have to get the music out there somehow and hope that the people who like it will find it. I haven’t targeted an audience and then tried to reach it. I simply do the music that I do and see what happens. I think that audiences for music like mine exists, but again you cannot say there’s a particular demographic, or a certain age range, or a specific income bracket or anything like that. I don’t think those kind of marketing categorizations are possible with a lot of experimental music because experimental music is by it’s very nature very uncategorizable. The kind of experimental music that can be categorized is almost not experimental music anymore.
FRANK J. OTERI:It’s like the original concept of alternative rock. All of suddenly the term connoted a genre that was very specific and codified. But how could alternative rock have a specific sound if it’s alternative?
CARL STONE:That’s right. But you see how these things get subsumed. You see it became large enough to represent a certain commercial force and it got taken over. Look at all the examples of how terms which came basically from the experimental tradition, whether it was from experimental music, or contemporary music, alternative music, all got co-opted by commercial music. I remember Ron Carter, who was on the Board of the American Music Center reacted strongly to our use of the term contemporary music which comes from a long tradition going back to the earliest 20th century in classical music, but in popular music it now connotes a sort of easy listening music, adult contemporary, smooth jazz. All these terms have been co-opted.
FRANK J. OTERI:So how do you get your stuff out there? How do you cross those barriers? You were one of the first composers to be active on the Web. Do people find you through your Website? Do you keep track of your hits and your user sessions?
CARL STONE:Yeah I do, I have sort of kept in eye on that, although not deep analysis. At some point I would really like to sit down and see how people read through my site. Where they tend to go from the starting point, what paths they follow, when they exit, when they come in, etc. I wrote a little program that tracks whether people find my site because it’s hyperlinked to someone else’s site, or they search for Carl Stone, or maybe they are searching for some content that is not directly related to my own music and so that some people come in because they are looking for somebody else.
CARL STONE:Yes. So people come in that way, and I’d like to know how many of those people who come in looking for something else, find out about me through that and stick around or maybe listen to some sounds. There are a lot of tools out there, a lot of capability for doing that kind of research, and I’m also curious as to where my hits come from because, well it’s not easy, Frank as you know, but it’s possible to find out which country people are coming from and so on.
CARL STONE:Right. (laughs)
FRANK J. OTERI:What advise would you give people out there who are trying to establish a voice in doing an alternative music? What’s the best thing for them economically? What’s the best thing for them promotionally? Do these two areas have to be at loggerheads with each other?
CARL STONE:I think that in my own experience, they are not at loggerheads. The idea of using the Web as a promotional tool which may include free components and free music and so on is a very, very good way to get people to come in, to start coming to your concerts, to hear you live, to buy your CDs, etc. I think the two things can co-exist with great peace, peace with honor. I think that the Web and all the tools and technology such as what we talked about before, CD burners, and color laser jet printers, really made a great step towards the democratization of music, and self-publishing. I think that in a way we’re at the edge of a really great time for music makers, now may not be such a great time for publishers and record companies, but I think that composers are in a better position than they’ve been in a long time to make music, distribute it, publicize it and promote their own careers. It’s never been better.