Thursday, June 19, 2008

Free Music means Free Music

The dialogue in the United States about free music and open source tends to focus on worthy commercial targets--the entrenched corporate record-company culture and a system of payola, pay-masterism and patent pandering that blighted an industry dedicated to one of our most primal instincts--the instinct to share music.

We in the western democracies forget that the "free music" movement means more than defeating the digital rights management regimes, writing notation software in Linux, and getting inter-operable devices which maximize our ability to hear songs in FLAC and ogg, not to mention our ability to get everyone to be as heroic as Calendar Girl, Kristin Hersh, Trent Reznor and the entire cast of Magnatune.

Freedom is more than digital format. Ask the people of Chile. Pinochet's government
tortured and killed Victor Jara, a man who wrote songs of love and sought to preserve Chilean folk culture. Most Chilean folk instruments were banned, on the misguided, tyrannical and anhistorical belief that folk music somehow could only serve the interests of the leftists Pinochet opposed.

The suppression of musical expression proceeds apace even in this time after Pinochet and many of his ilk faded as gracelessly as imaginable into history. If there is one constant of authoritarian regimes of the left, the right, the religious theocracy, and the cult of personality, it is that musical expression is rarely free.

I'd like to introduce you to a Creative Commons netlabel from today's Chile. It's called Pueblo Nuevo. It's not a folk label, being more oriented to electronica, with a strong house nod. Yet Pueblo Nuevo helps remind us that when we speak of using technology to create "free music" and engaging in a sharing economy, we're not speaking merely of figuring out ways to fill our mp3 players for free or ways to get artists a fairer split on the purchase price of musical media, as worthy as those goals may be in their own right.
We're talking not only "free music" as in "free beer", but also "free music" as a force for truth in its own right, as a way to literally sing out in a world too full of waterboarding and not full enough of respect for the worth and dignity of every human life.

Pueblo Nuevo netlabel is about to celebrate its third anniversary, providing musical downloads of interesting artists under Creative Commons licenses. The folks who run that netlabel realize that "free music" is more than sample packs alone. As the English language version of their manifesto puts it:

"Welcome to Pueblo Nuevo,
rustic and lonely territory,
over and over again devastated by frightful nature forces, the ruthless
conqueror, or the servile and shameful compatriot.

Over and over again, our landscape has been erased and redrawn,
trying to eliminate every palimpsest, every fundamental sign.
Many have gone away, afraid by such an overwhelming and unspeakable
cruelty, or by the simple and pressing drive to keep going...
Over and over again our spirit struggles and deceives the wall of
silence and omission, reemerging unrecognizable, wearing new costumes
and disguises, just like Manuel Rodriguez cheating the oppressor,
we stand up to make ourselves heard.

Between the ancient voice and the cybernetic vertigo; between the
underlying past and the virtual future; Pueblo Nuevo is born to our
material world and to all those possible
worlds to come. Here today, our claim for freedom,
concurrence and brotherhood,
from Latin America to the world".

As we strive to live in a time when "civilized" men on the one side excuse atrocities with a straight face and an academic flair, and "populist heroes" on the other side
excuse the massacre of innocents, we can remember that our music, too, can be a claim for freedom, for a "free music", from CCMixter, to the world.

I wish Pueblo Nuevo netlabel all the best as its third anniversary approaches.


jp said...

brilliant G..I am cross posting to my blog.

Gurdonark said...

thanks, john.