open culture: sharing and worlding

Pete Frame is perhaps a precursor to the kind of worlding we write about. Frame's drawings, collected into books, trace family resemblance and inheritance through Rock and Roll. Frame doesn't create music, but he has offered an interpretive screen through which to see music. It is chronological and relational, a reinterpretation of existing data, painstakingly researched and lovingly presented. It is wholly derived from existing material—the music, the bands, the record albums—yet is also something wholly new, its own creation. Frame is a step towards a scholarship of pop music.

Fans, promoters, and even some bands themselves argue over which bands were related to other bands. More recently, we have noticed bands aggressively covering songs written by their contemporaries, in effect creating a structure of inter-band references. The Shins cover an Iron and Wine song, and the Shin's version gets used in the movie Garden State. Of Montreal covers that same song, each band re-interpreting the same music and lyrics to demonstrate their own sense of style and delivery. To create not just a different interpretation of the song, but to feel and expereince it differently. How could it be otherwise? Like Borges' Pierre Menand recreating the Don Quixote, no matter how identical or different they remake it, we are called upon to inhabit each uniquely. And yet, in covering such songs so quickly, they create a new kind of affective network, which thereby impacts how we expereince and inhabit these songs.

Interestingly enough, Frame's visual representations of the network of inter-band (trans-musical?) connections become an artifact that post-Frame bands reference as a means of establishing ethos: see, for instance, this fan site that asserts allegiance to the many incarnations of a band called Magazine.

Magazine is a study in the post-Frame popular music world: after the moment of the music's creation and sometimes long after individual musicians have gone on to other projects, other lives, and even their deaths, fans continue to argue over the meaning, value, relative importance, and cultural significance of each of their favorite bands and the songs they created. The music is important to people, to fans, and it lives on—outliving individual careers, and individuals. And often the music's impact outlives the corporations that claim rights to the intellectual property.

This web-based argument has played fast and loose with copyright, freely referencing and incorporating existing material online. We're creating our own network. We've made generous use of Wikipedia in full knowledge of the ongoing discussion between the online encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. The case is a similar study in the cultural battle over intellectual property. Cultural agents are arguing over the value, protection, and limits of intellectual property.

However, everything we describe, create, and offer here to our readers depends upon a more complicated relationship between auteur and audience than intellectual property law currently recognizes. There is feedback between producer and consumer, to the point that the distinctions begin to blur agents into prosumers. Failure to recognize and value the activity, the input, of fans and listeners, of technologies and contexts, that is, of ambient networks, leaves an incredibly productive site of cultural (and economic!) creation impoverished, and the stakes are high as Lawrence Lessig argues.


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