#Writing #MusicMonday: Live at Blues Alley by U.S. Army Blues

coverOK, before we get to the album, a few things.

Yes, I am aware that I’m weeks behind on my Writing Music Monday posts. Seventeen weeks, to be precise.

The weird thing is, I’ve had albums selected for the entire time, with fifteen permanently recorded on my WMM 2016 playlist, and several more lined up but not transferred over to it yet.

I don’t know exactly what the problem has been. Partly, it is depression, which saps the motivation to transition from having made a decision to actually completing a post. But it feels like there was some kind of a mental clog adding to that lack of motivation. Whatever it is, I’m finally pushing through it. I hope.

So, for the next almost-three-weeks, there will be daily (or mostly-daily) music posts, to catch back up to where I am supposed to be as quickly as possible.

This album should have been posted on 4 July 2016.

Meet U.S. Army Blues, a part of the U.S. Army Band (“Pershing’s Own”). This live performance recording is all I currently know about them, but it’s more than enough — these cats swing! They even have a certain amount of the requisite cheese and too-polished sound of the swing bands that survived the forties, such as Ellington’s and Calloway’s. Not too much, but enough to know that it’s there by intent.

The performance is noted as a particular tribute to Duke Ellington, and most of the original compositions absolutely put me in mind of Ellington recordings from the mid to late 1950s. Loud, brassy, exuberant, and sophisticated.

In fact, my only real complaint about the whole performance is that I, strangely, have just never cared for Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”. That puts me in a minority of one, perhaps, but there it is. The band’s orchestration of “Stardust” is very good, but even so, I tend to skip that track when listening.

Apart from that, it is excellent, and mostly original, big band swing. Of which there is vanishingly little in the Creative Commons, so it’s nice that this one, at the least, is so very good.

Download Live at Blues Alley free from the Free Music Archive, or get just the public domain tracks from the U.S. Army Blues site itself.

You can also find pictures taken at the event on the US Army Band’s Flickr account.


To the extent possible under law, U.S. Army Blues has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to Live at Blues Alley.

The tracks that are not public domain are “Main Stem”, composed by Duke Ellington, “Stardust”, composed by Hoagy Carmichael, and “Barbra”, composed by Horace Silver. Those tracks are probably best treated as if they were CC BY-NC-ND licensed.

#Writing #MusicMonday: The Open Goldberg Variations performed by Kimiko Ishizaka

Kimiko Ishizaka - J.S. Bach- -Open- Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (Piano) - OGV-CD2-0It might seem a bit odd that I’ve not shared much in the way of classical music for Music Mondays.

It isn’t that I don’t like classical, because I do. Not to the depth and extent that I love jazz, I grant you, but my appreciation of Verdi, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff is boundless, and I also generally love Mahler and Beethoven, and others. I need to be in a receptive mood for it, which is not every day, but there is plenty of music I’ve shared for which I am much more rarely in the mood.

No, there have been two basic problems that have hindered my sharing much in the way of great classical works.

First, part of my mission with Music Mondays is to seek out the new and unknown, to share things with you that you all but certainly would not have encountered otherwise. That’s not a hard and fast rule, mind, but it’s the way that I lean when I search out music to share here.

Second, while virtually all music thought of as “classical” is in the public domain, recordings of it are definitely not. Even when Creative Commons artists take on classical pieces, they largely release them under unfree licenses, with Non-Commercial and/or No Derivatives restrictions. Which, to me, is passing strange, but that’s how it tends to be.

There are, however, a few exceptions to that rule.

Meet Kimiko Ishizaka, classical pianist. In 2012 she ran a successful crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter to fund the recording and release of her performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Goldberg Variations, with the full recording being released directly to the public domain through the use of the Creative Commons Zero license.

This project became The Open Goldberg Variations, and if you’ve never invested the time or money needed in exploring classical music, it’s a very good starting point. If you’re already a fan, listen to the recording anyhow. I’m not an expert in classical piano, not at all, yet it strikes me as an excellent recording and personal interpretation of one of the standard sets of works.

Download The Open Goldberg Variations free from the Internet Archive, or pay what you like (including nothing) to get it through BandCamp, and reward Ishizaka for her work and her dedication to freeing this music for everybody.

CC0 license

The Open Goldberg Variations performed by Kimiko Ishizaka is licensed under a CC0 1.0 Universal license dedicating it to the public domain, no rights reserved.

100. News from Nowhere by William Morris

coverA meeting takes place of some unnamed individuals, barely described, and hinted to be a meeting of socialists. After two leave the meeting, one laments to the other that if he could just see a glimpse of the future they are working toward, it would make his life much easier.

He goes home, falls asleep, and wakes up somewhere between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty years later. (The book is vague and occasionally contradictory on timeframe. At any rate, events seem to be post-AD 2000.)

The entirety of the book, absent the opening chapter, is then this character’s Utopian Tour, seeing just how gosh-darn nifty socialist anarchism will be in post-2000 Great Britain, and being reminded over and over (and over and over and over and over) that people in Tha Future! do not use “money”.

In the end, he meets a pretty girl who figures out when he is from, seems to fall in love a bit, then vanishes back into the past.

I started this book blind, because I wanted to jump into the 1898 Top 100 Project, and I didn’t want to prejudice myself against a book I’d never heard of.

Didn’t make a difference. Though reasonably well-written, News from Nowhere is stupid.

The first chapter is written in a difficult style, to no obvious purpose.

Our friend says that from that sleep he awoke once more, and afterwards went through such surprising adventures that he thinks that they should be told to our comrades, and indeed the public in general, and therefore proposes to tell them now. But, says he, I think it would be better if I told them in the first person, as if it were myself who had gone through them; which, indeed, will be the easier and more natural to me, since I understand the feelings and desires of the comrade of whom I am telling better than any one else in the world does.

The viewpoint shenanigans serve no obvious purpose.

Thankfully, the rest of the book is narrated in straight first-person, and the prose is reasonably readable and clear (considering that it’s a Victorian novel, I find it quite remarkable).

However, that is (almost) all that can be kindly said about the book. There are no characters, merely the author’s various mouthpieces explaining why socialist anarchy is the way to go, and sooooo much better than any other system, plus the narrator, who forgets new information so quickly and so frequently that the reader cannot help but wonder if he is meant to be a moron.

The Message is never, ever subtle.

In order to throw off suspicions about his origins, the narrator (briefly making a big deal about adopting the name “William Guest”, then basically dropping the idea for most of the rest of the book) lets his hosts believe that he has been abroad for a long time. They have no trouble believing this, because he is middle aged and wrinkled and gray, and so must have lived in “the unhappy lands”. That is, lands where socialist anarchy is not yet in place.

He spends chapters and chapters and chapters discussing “history” with one character who specializes in it. One chapter is even written in the style of a Socratic dialogue. I couldn’t work out whether this was the author attempting to show off, or simply that he got tired of writing out quotation marks for a chapter.

And the economics of it. Oy. I don’t even know where to start. Factories in the 1800s, you are told repeatedly, made things that nobody wanted, on top of destroying workers’ lives and polluting the nation. How were they able to stay in business, making things that nobody paid for? Don’t bother to ask, it’s never answered.

The ideal life for people, the author holds out, is to live an agrarian life, get transported by horses and carriages or rowboats (trains have been abolished because they were stinky and ugly), and work on whatever you want whenever you want, and otherwise not. Few people read, because that puts ideas into people’s heads and makes them unhappy. And so on and so on.

The entire society isn’t even remotely workable, even in some flight of fantasy way.

(It was unfair of me, because the author could not know what the twentieth century would hold, nor how communism would be put into practice in fact, but I could not read quickly, because I kept imagining all the mass graves the characters must be walking over or past or sitting on top of or near.)

And yet, this was the book that was just five books below Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment on that 1898 top 100 novels list.

This project might be far more painful than I had anticipated.

News from Nowhere by William Morris can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg and many other sites.

IP, copyright, and the real issue

We’re coming up on another copyright war in the next three or four years, and it’s time I start posting on the subject.

Copyright as it presently exists is broken. It is used as a tool of coercion, a weapon,a nd I will be posting regular examples of how it is abused — most egregiously, how it is used to abuse creators.

But it’s not just copyright, but the broader category of Intellectual Property. IP is in no better shape than copyright.

I travel in or follow three intellectual circles that concern themselves with this issue — Objectivists, Austrians, and indie writers (with a few traditionally published ringers in the mix).

Objectivists are generally pro-IP, in the sense of being pro-status quo or wanting the status quo to be the weak starting point for strengthening IP laws even further. I’ve known at least two who hold that IP should be eternal, the public domain eliminated. One even smugly accused me of “theft” for downloading public domain movies. (Yes, really.) This stupidity is in direct contracition with Ayn Rand’s actual position on IP, which is very good — I only take issue with some of the specific applications she suggested; the principles from which she argued were, in my opinion, pretty much spot on.

The Austrians (really Rothbardians, but let us not get into that just now) at the Ludwig von Mises Institute currently hold that IP is a “myth”. It is easy — too easy — to hear this conclusion and dismiss it and everything that lead to it as pure silliness, unworthy of any consideration. (It also does not help that one of the primary advocates of their position is a sneering, prancing jackass, at least in his online interactions.) Without going into detail at this time, I will say that the problems that this position means to address are very real, quite bad, and should be considered a source of shame by IP advocates. And while I (I hope obviously) don’t consider IP a fantasy, I think I see where the idea comes from — it follows logically from Rothbardian anarchism. I’ll explore it in more depth at a later time. But even if you dismiss the anti-IP position as silly, you do not get to dismiss the very real abuses and injustices it means to rectify. You must either own them, and try to rationalize them as moral goods, like Buddy Holly having to beg for the right to record his own music and being refused, or you must offer another way of addressing and correcting them, which I intend to do in time.

Indie writers don’t have any one particular position on the issue, but a few ideas are held by nearly everybody. What we write is ours. DRM (digital rights management) is evil. Traditional publishers are basically a cartel, and evil, or at best morally compromised and indifferent to authors. (Baen is an exception to this, and possibly so is Tor. They’re the only ones, though.)

I think framing the issue as IP is part of the problem. It allows for sociopathic rule manipulation, to the detriment of creators.

And there, I believe, is the real issue, the thing that most needs to be considered and addressed — creators’ rights. When you frame it as copyright or IP, as I shall document in coming weeks, the first thing most creators are required to surrender are the copyright and any and all claims to their ownership in the IP they have created.

The regular public doesn’t care much about IP. But they care very, very much when they learn that creators rights have been violated.

Oscar Micheaux

Oscar_MicheauxOscar Micheaux was born in the mid-1880s[1. There is some dispute about the year, apparently. Either ’84 or ’85.] in Illinois, grandson to former slaves. He worked in his teens as a Pullman porter in the railroads, then set himself up as a homesteader in or around 1904 in South Dakota.

Nine years later, he self-published his first novel, The Conquest, based closely on his own experiences as a black homesteader in an all-white community. Though he first published it anonymously, he sold it door to door himself, and its modest success encouraged Micheaux to write his next two novels, The Forged Note (1915) and The Homesteader (1917).

Apparently during the writing of The Homesteader, Micheaux saw D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, and was simultaneously appalled by its vile portrayal of blacks, and thrilled by its pioneering use of complex, novelistic storytelling in the film medium.

ExileSometime after the publication of The Homesteader, Micheaux was contacted by the newly-formed Lincoln Motion Picture Company, the first attempt at creating an all-black film studio. They wanted to make Micheaux’s novel into a film, but he wanted more involvement than just providing the source material. Instead of selling the rights, he formed his own production company (financed, in part, by investments from contacts he had made in his Pullman porter days), and made a movie of The Homesteader himself — the first black-produced film in America.

It was a hit, both critically and with black audiences. Micheaux next made two strong answers to Birth of a Nation: Within These Gates (1920) and Symbol of the Unconquered (1920). With that out of the way, he embarked on the most successful career of any black filmmaker in the first half of the twentieth century, maintaining his independence right through his last film in 1947, and becoming one of the few filmmakers to jump successfully to talkies.

He did all of this without help, without any outside guidance, and with a fair amount of competition for a limited market.

He was his own studio, financing, writing, producing, directing, shooting, editing, and even distributing his films himself — literally, he drove each film, one print only, around the midwest and into the northeast in the trunk of his car, to each theater.

BetrayalIt wasn’t all success. The Depression and World War II eventually made making movies untenable for him, and he returned to novel-writing, putting out four more books in the early and mid-1940s. His final film, The Betrayal, was ambitious, a three-hour epic (based on one of his own books, again) shot with his usual budgetary, technical, and scheduling restraints. Alas, it flopped. Critics hated it, and the first audiences were so negative toward it that Micheaux pulled it from ever showing again. It is now a lost film.

You don’t hear about Oscar Micheaux much. There are a couple of reasons for that.

First, he had the wrong politics. The first half of a twentieth century in black America featured the clash of two separate and opposing ways of viewing race in the country. Booker T. Washington advocated individual self-improvement, “uplifting the race”. W.E.B. Du Bois, to over-simplify quite a bit, advocated reparations and a victim mentality. Du Bois won, eventually, and Micheaux was a strong advocate for Washington, which makes his work uncomfortable, at best, for those who continue to use race and racism as an excuse and a license.

Second, Micheaux was passionate, but he was not an artist. (Or, if he was, his extremely limited budgets defeated his vision pretty thoroughly.) His silent films are quite watchable, but once you get to his talkies, his movies can be rather tough going. You are unlikely to watch any of his sound films and declare that you have just seen a forgotten masterpiece.

However, he remains an important figure in film and American culture, even if he is mostly unknown today.

GirlFromChicagoOne reason we can gauge his importance is because copyright law in the first half of the century was not nearly as crazy as it is today.

Stop for a moment, and imagine how things would stand if copyright in Micheaux’s time was exactly what it is now.

Micheaux died in 1951, leaving no heirs as far as I know. His film production companies were all shuttered with the failure of his final film, The Betrayal.

In other words, no person or entity would clearly have inherited his intellectual property (IP). (At that point, in fact, it would appear that nobody would even have wanted it.) But by the terms of present copyright law, his copyright would endure for nearly a hundred years, even without anyone owning it.

Prints of his films went into vaults and storage warehouses, got left in theater projection booths. And if somebody found one, he could legally do nothing with it unless he wanted to risk getting sued or prosecuted. Because an orphaned work that suddenly appears to have value suddenly finds itself claimed by scoundrels and lawyers who have little or no connection to the original creator or owner. (See, for example, Wade Williams’s spurious, legally refuted claims to owning several 1950s films that the courts have found to be in the public domain. It doesn’t stop him from claiming copyright and suing, no matter how many times he’s been smacked down in court.)

Micheaux’s films would all be orphaned works, mouldering unseen because of the dark cloud of legal uncertainty hanging over them. Given the stock they were on, they would decay rapidly, and be lost to humanity, more likely than not.

SwingLuckily for us, copyright law in Micheaux’s time was quite different. Copyright did not attach automatically, and it was not functionally indefinite.

Although some of his films have copyright notices on them, only a few were ever actually registered (quite possibly because Micheaux could not afford the price of an extra print to be archived with the registration — recall that his potential market was very small; his budgets were almost all under $10,000, tiny even adjusted for inflation), and those which were registered were never renewed. Under the law at the time, those never registered were public domain immediately, and the rest lapsed into the public domain when they were not renewed.

That means that every one of them is free of legal shenanigans by unscrupulous IP parasites. If you find one of his lost films in your attic, you can restore it, or simply digitize it, and share it with the world, for a price or for free, with no fear of legal consequences.

This freedom means that all of Micheaux’s surviving films are available.

Because of the public domain, his legacy is preserved. It’s that simple.

Oscar Micheaux films on the Archive:

On Youtube: