8 Theses on Music as Commodity and the Time Space Continuum

Here’s a níche subject, about how art and culture might be wrestled away from a monstrous mass culture industry and restored to everyday people, and local life. It’s all about reclaiming the space/time continuum. Part of an ongoing dialogue with local artists Vincent Gould, John Napier and Lizzy Piffany, amongst others…


Popular Music is an appealing commodity business for the peoples of nations producing tertiary domestic products (nations that are poor in natural resources and that don’t really manufacture things, they just manage things instead), because, unlike coal or oil or gold, it’s not a finite resource, nor is its availability geographically determined. It can be infinitely produced and reproduced, or so it seems. The more gold is mined, the less gold there is to mine, but new music can be written every day, regardless of how much has already been written. And it plays well to the strengths of the West that new music isn’t mined from the hills or collected in the forests or seas, but from out of the self – which is undoubtedly our favourite place to be. So, it’s a very appealing commodity business for the consumer economies of the West.


It passed us by until recently that, like any other commodity, the value of music is increased by its scarcity and decreased by its abundance. In a land where every other person under the age of twenty-five is marketed the dream of being able to create capital out of the musical fancies of their beating hearts, the value of music has plummeted to an all time low.

We musicians who lament this are always in danger of being like drivers who lament that there are too many cars on the roads, but will of course never give up our own car for a bicycle.


The over-abundance of music and its plummeting value means that many people feel quite justified in not paying for it. To some it is barely worth the labour of downloading it at all.


Despite the over-abundance of the commodity, the record industry has not accordingly lowered its prices. They are in part compelled to keep prices high because they actually sell less music. This being because so few consider it worth paying for anymore, and because so much of the music flooding the economy comes, not from them, but from non-proffessionals (like me). And so they rely on developments in mediums and promotional trickery to keep things moving.


Point 5 was just not very empirical so I got rid of it for the time being…


In its over-abundance we are all sick of recorded music, but we still continue to have it played everywhere, partly because the culture industry will continue to make what it can out of the situation by putting it everywhere, and partly because of the same phenomenon by which we continue to watch soap operas for a good while after we’ve lost all interest in them.


Each party looks to point the finger at another for this unworkable situation, but all hold to the same self interested dogma of the invisible hand, which sits at the root of it all. It is the combined self-interest of all parties, accentuated by the internet – that marvellous megaphone of human nature – that has brought all this to the tiring and boring present.


And so the ABH embarks on musical endeavors partly in the spirit of public service… or of local bards… or town criers: Music as cultural conversation between the people, not as commodity or capital to be monopolised, centralised and rinsed to valueless nonsense by the capitalist warlords of the record industry, nor as freely produced fodder for websites to create footfall and increase advertising revenues for the Web 2.0 elites.

Our response is two fold:

Firstly, the manifestation of our music will be localised – it should be for and to the people it comes from amongst. This might be best understood in the spirit of distributism, or in the lost ideal of the local music scene. The music of greatest importance to us ought to come from our own time and place in history, that is, from our own community, and from the people we share ordinary life with. So we want to break free from both the centralisation of the music industry and also the valueless soup that the internet makes out of the oceans of music it contains (music divorced from time and space!? How normal, and how absurdly strange…). A localised approach limits music enough for music to matter to human beings, and even more importantly, for human beings to matter to it. Note that this doesn’t exclude music from being a profession. It just means a local musician operates more like a local butcher or barber than an international deity.

Secondly, the manifestions of music should be actualised – a living human experience over the lifeless and solitary consumption of files. We don’t reject the idea of records. We only say that records should be records of the actual things – and not the things themselves. Records may play an important role, being bought and sold and considered as part of local cultural developments, local economies and local dialogues. But to keep the scene from dissipating into the meaningless dehumanised soup of the culture industry, records should always be seen as subservient to the actual song which is made alive in a particular time and place… in time and space, as everyday people experience it.


3 thoughts on “8 Theses on Music as Commodity and the Time Space Continuum


    “We don’t reject the idea of records. We only say that records should be records of the actual things.”

    – I think this is a bad idea. The twentieth century elevated the actual recording of music to an art-form rather than just a “record” of a performance. To simply revert our ideas of records to this former view would be to undo decades of creative progress and stifle the creativity of future generations. Either we maintain and build on the idea that records can be artworks in themselves or we abandon the whole idea of recorded music entirely.


    “A local musician operates more like a local butcher or barber than an international deity.”

    The problem is that local butchers do not sell the latest recipes from Michelin star chefs. He has to appeal to the tastes of his local clientele or go bust.

    “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.”

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