Making a Connection

And the most difficult of Etsy’s points for marketing my shop:

  • They need a connection. In a screaming sea of marketing messages, they need to see that you’re a kind and interesting human being, and therefore worth listening to.
[Puppy. Click through for album of puppy images]

I’ve just taken a break from playing with my new puppy to try to deal with this stipulation of sincerity-on-demand. Well, half taken a break. My kitchen, bathroom and living room are all being repainted at the moment, so the house is extremely chaotic and there’s stuff everywhere. The 13 week old puppy is very curious about exploring, and very into exploring with his teeth, so I have to see where he’s gotten off to and make sure that the chewing I hear is his rope toy and not a power cable. I did catch him tasting the plug for my synthesiser last night. We have 220 volt power in the UK, so should he actually chew through a cable, that would be very bad news.
Last night he also got himself tangled in my patch cords, which is suboptimal and caused my audio interface to tumble, but fortunately, I caught it before it hit the ground. This is extremely poor timing on the painting, since the puppy’s vaccinations have not yet taken effect. I can’t just go tire him out in the dog park. He can run around the house or the smallish back garden (where he tries desperately to eat every ornamental plant in it). A relatively puppy proof living room with a kong toy is fine, but the bedrooms are less so. He also wants to show off his newly acquired ability to run up and down stairs. Anyway, it’s good I’m only trying to write things a minute long, because sometimes it seems like he’s interrupting me every 30 seconds, by racing past with my housemate’s underwear in his mouth or sneaking down to the rooms that are being painted. (note to self: buy a baby gate). (I could lock him in my room, but then he’d be eating my underwear. And seriously, if this paragraph seems scattered, it’s been interrupted 4 times. I know he needs better boundaries etc, but the painting is making it difficult.)
Anyway, back to the point- I’m not sure I agree with the point, actually. Milton Babbitt was well known both for his amazing compositions and his anti-listener screed, ‘Who Cares if you Listen‘. Even Lou Harrison, a benevolent and Santa Claus like figure who I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking Esperanto with, could be a wee bit of a jerk sometimes. He only thought music was worth his time if he agreed with the tuning system and was contemptuous of composers who used other systems, telling them that their 5th was two cents out of tune. On a musical level, I don’t think it really matters if composers are kind or are good conversationalists.The interestingness of their music matters a great deal.
I don’t think music is a special case in this. A few Christmases ago, I got my sister in law a very nice mug off of Etsy that has owls on it. I did it because I like getting something handmade, because it seems more special and because she loves owls. I communicated briefly with the artist and he was polite and prompt, but I just don’t know about the rest of this. Maybe other people feel differently? Leave a comment if you have a thought on artist personalities.
Whether or not I’m worth listening to, however, is easy to decide. My past commissions are available for your perusal, so you can make up your own mind on this. I’ve got two more underway at the moment! The music commissions are all handmade, and one of a kind. They make a very special gift. Order now and delivery is guaranteed in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. Act now to get the sale price of just £5 for one piece – there are only two left at that price point!

Noise Music for Busy Professionals

Continuing to work through Etsy’s guide to holiday marketing, let’s look at what else customers (that’s you!) need:

  • They need context. They need to know why, among all those other gift ideas threatening to bury them, your product is a good choice for specific people.

In my previous post, I wrote: ‘This is noise music for busy professionals, for people who are new to noise or for folks who just like miniatures.’
Consider for a moment that every culture of humans on earth makes art and music. No matter how isolated or remote, everyone’s got art and music. Music is a human universal. Indeed, it’s part of what makes us human. We all know we need music – that’s why mp3 players are so popular. But why noise music in particular? And why miniatures?
Well, what is noise? This gets into some deep philosophical issues! There are some great books on this that I can’t hope to summarise here, so let’s just say that noise music is made up of sounds not often currently used in music. Noise has sounds, textures and forms that are currently outside of established boundaries of most music – for now. But music is constantly changing and needs new forms, sounds and textures! Today’s noise sound is tomorrow’s pop sound. Noise music is, in fact, the future of music.
It’s not the immediate future. Indeed, noise music offers potential futures. But by listening to noise music, you hear the cusp of music before others. If you’re a busy professional, you know that those who get ahead are the ones who anticipate trends before they happen. So much capitalist success is realising what’s going to be in demand in advance, so you’re able to come up with the supply.
Obviously, for capitalists, there’s more to life for work – there’s also conspicuous consumption. But it’s good to be in practice on keeping ahead of things, inside and outside your fields. Your friends and colleagues will recognise your far-sighted views, when you share a commissioned noise music piece on your social media account – whether on the tried and true CIA-data-gathering of facebook or the trendy and exciting ello, your contacts will know that you’ve got your eye on the horizon!
Because the piece is short, it gives you a bite-sized glimpse into the future, without unmooring you from the demands of daily life. Yes, you’ll be transported, but still have plenty of time to make your train! And, indeed, your associates who are curious about your new work of art, will be willing to give the whole thing a go. Your cultural capital will increase as a result of your far-sightedness and the easily digestible length. What could be conspicuously consumed than a short musical commission!
Is someone in your life is a rampant capitalist, super busy or would just appreciate and extra bit of cultural capital? Short noise pieces make great gifts. Order now and delivery is guaranteed in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. Act now to get the sale price of just £5 for one piece!

How Noise Commissions are Made

I’ve just read the Etsy Guide for building one’s shop, including a section on what customers (that’s you!) need:

  • They need a story. They need to hear how your product is made, and what brought you to create it. They need a reason to become attached to you and what you make.

The making of a minute of noise starts with material gathering. For acoustic pieces, some of this may have already happened! When I was sat in the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, waiting for the hour to strike so I could record the bells ringing in 2011 or just last month in St Augustine’s Tower in Hackney. Or, I might go out to acquire sounds, sticking microphones to clothes washing machines, or in refrigerators, or to get the squeal of breaks at Tower Hill Station. Perhaps, even going further afield for your composition, dangling microphones just into the edge of active volcanoes, to get the sound of it melting! I don’t re-use sounds, so whatever sounds I’ve gathered for your piece will only be in your piece.
For analogue sounds, I’ll probably start plugging cables into my synthesiser, but might try a zero input mixer going to a chaotic filter bank. No to patches are alike. It’s nearly impossible to recapture a patch once it’s unplugged, even if I wanted to. For folks after digital sounds, I’ll fire up SuperCollider and start creating a timbres and a tuning to go with them – based on a bespoke tuning algorithm. (Which I should really publish a paper about, actually. If you want to try it yourself, its in the TuningLib quark.)
Once I have a base layer of sounds, I’ll start manipulating them, either varying their sounds for the minute duration or finding extra sounds to go with them. Obviously a minute is not very long, but well over a hundred discrete events can happen in that time, all of which must be related to each other in order to make musical sense, but different from each other in order for progression. What features will vary over the minute and by how much? What sonic glue needs to hold the thing together?
Usually, for a one minute piece, I’ll have three major sonic ideas, all of which will be closely related to each other.
Every piece comes with program notes explaining how it was made, where the ideas came from and how it was assembled. For digital pieces, the source code to create it is also available! You can find examples of past commissions, including recordings and program notes on my podcast.
I started making one minute pieces in 2007, when I was in a bit of a rut and bored by everything. I didn’t want to listen to anything for very long. I ordered my iTunes library by duration and only listened to stuff that was less than two minutes long. If I only wanted to listen to such short pieces, it stood to reason I should only write such short pieces. But while working on them, the possibilities of the duration just began to expand. I was spending about 4 hours to write a minute and that time investment was getting longer and longer, as more and more subtlety and opportunities for expressiveness became clear.
I took a break from writing shorts, not because I wanted to, but because my supervisor told me that my PhD could not be all one minute pieces. so, reluctantly, I began working on longer pieces again.
Why have I come back to this short duration? Not just because of the wealth of possibilities, but also because of extreme personal grumpiness. Your music is handmade by a curmudgeon in Hackney.
But why should you want a minute of noise? Because it’s the best duration for grumpy people! Even somebody with an attitude that could sour milk will find a minute to enjoy a hand crafted piece of noise. Your friends and associates will all be happy to listen for one minute. A minute is accessible on many occasions! You can spare a minute to listen to something. This is noise music for busy professionals, for people who are new to noise or for folks who just like miniatures. Short noise pieces make great gifts. Order now and delivery is guaranteed in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. Act now to get the sale price of just £5 for one piece!

Music comissioning is back!

Folks, I’m offering up to 30 commissions this November of 1 minute long noise music pieces. You as the commissioner get to name the piece. Your role as titler and commissioner will be mentioned in the program notes. If you commission a piece as a gift, or in honour of another person or of an event, the person and/or event will also be mentioned in the program notes. A new piece of music will be created, just for you! Within a week, you will get a copy of the piece emailed to you in the audio format of your choice (MP3, AIFF, WAV, Apple Lossless, AAC) and have one week in which to come up with a title (I reserve the right to nix titles that I deem offensive). I retain copyright, but the piece will be released under a Creative Commons Share Music License, so you (and the honoree) can share the piece with friends via CD or the internet.
As a special feature for this burst of commissions, you can optionally specify if you want your piece to be acoustic, analogue or digital. Also, optionally, let me know if you might use the piece as a ringtone to ensure it gets composed to sound good and loud coming from a mobile phone. All commissions will be delivered in time for Christmas or Hanukkah.
The introductory price for the first 5 is £5. This will go up shortly, so act now to get it. This is for digital delivery only. You are free to burn your piece of music on to CDs and give them away to friends, but if you want a signed CD from me, that’s also possible for an extra £3 + postage.
Get it from my Etsy shop!

Why restart this project?

I still need a few more short pieces before I can put out the long-awaited CD of shorts. And also, the last time I did this, I was in a bit of a rut where I hadn’t really written anything for a while and it got my composing again, so hopefully, that will also work again now.

Dissertation Draft: Copyright, Social Networking and Commissioning Music

When I started at Birmingham, I was in
the midst of a project where in I was soliciting commissions of
pieces of music around one minute in length. My plan was originally
to compose 45 of these in total and release an album at the end. I
intend to pick up where I left off and finish the project after

This project was an attempt to get a
bit of attention and to address some economic and political issues of
music distribution. The amount of music available to listeners only
continues to rise. Every day, somebody records something and makes
it available in a digital format. The cost of providing copies to
consumers is practically nil. Any composer can upload an mp3 to or bandcamp at no cost. (“Bandcamp Pricing”)

Because copying and distribution is so
cheap and easy, consumers often share files without paying for them.
The Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA] struck back
against this by suing fans (“For Students Doing Reports”), an
idea which seemed poorly thought out and which has made them
extremely unpopular. (Reisinger) At the same time, the duration of
copyright keeps being extended, seemingly so that Mickey Mouse will
never fall into the public domain. (Springman) What used to be a
system to make sure that creators got their fair share is
increasingly perceived as a way for big companies to control culture.
(Lessig 61) Rather than adapt to new conditions, media companies are
lobbying for new laws to force the genie back in the bottle. (Lessig
48) Some of these, like the Digital Economy Act are fairly draconian
in that households may have their internet switched off if only one
member of the household breaks copyright law. (Digital Economy Act s.
10) Despite the severity of this crackdown, many are skeptical it
will make any difference. (“Q&A: The Digital Economy bill”)
Rather than adapt to changing conditions, powerful,
politically-connected media companies are abusing state power. Their
position is morally bankrupt and their claims of victimhood are
laughably overstated. The RIAA tells students that sharing an mp3 is
worse than maritime hostage-taking: “It’s commonly known as
‘piracy,’ but that’s too benign of a term to adequately describe
the toll that music theft takes . . ..” (“For Students Doing

It seems clear that copyright is in
crisis and in need of a major reform. However, the crisis of
copyright does not diminish the notion of authorship. Those engaged
in online music sharing still are deeply invested in who

created the work they’re copying. Artists that chose to
participate in Open Culture models, such as Creative Commons are not
ceding their work to the public domain, but instead protecting the
rights of their fans. (“Frequently Asked Questions”) An artist
choosing this model may be potentially sacrificing some forms of
revenue, but for most emerging artists, getting heard is far more
important than protecting rights which may
one day generate income. Even for successful artists like Bob
Ostertag, this income has failed to materialise. He writes,
“[S]elling recordings in whatever format has been a break-even
proposition at best.” (Ostertag)

However, artists
still need to eat and pay rent. Sustainability is a major concern,
but, economic support for non-mainstream composers will not be coming
from record labels. Indeed, they have historically worked against
the interests of composers. In 2001, composer Judy Dunaway wrote:

Of course, the recording industry does not care at all about
contemporary and experimental music. The sales figures on such CDs
are miniscule compared to popular music. In the words of Foster Reed
at the New Albion label, "The corporate recording industry lives
in a completely different world, of commodity and markets, than the
independents do, who make and publish work that is near and dear to
them." But accessibility to innovative music on the internet may
be blocked by the record industry’s rush to protect and maintain
total control of its own high-profit intellectual property.

Composers are thus
left to their own devices when it comes to both generating revenue
and attracting listeners. Without a budget for publicity, one of the
best ways to gather attention is by word of mouth “buzz.” Social
networking is one venue where this can happen, which has the
advantage of the possibility of fast transmission and direct links to
online content. I suspect people may be motivated to share music they
like or find interesting because it gains them cultural capital. They
would thus take on a curatorial role and hope to gain the respect of
their friends and social contacts. A musician interested in using
this as a path to wider recognition would need to create music that
works in an online context. For example he or she might want to
include video content, so it can be uploaded to YouTube or create
music that the sharer will identify with in some way. They may also
produce music with the goal of having it sound good in stereo mp3
format out of home speakers. The music should be engineered for the
playback environment in which it is expected to be heard. The music
created must also be accessible in some way, although, obviously an
artist wishes to remain interesting.

In my case, I chose
duration as my most accessible component. All of my pieces in this
project are around one minute long. I strongly suspect that if you
ask most people to listen to ten minutes of noise music, they would
refuse unless they were already fans of the genre or the composer.
However, in my experience, people are much more willing to sacrifice
a minute of their time. Many more people are going to be willing to
listen to very short pieces. However, just because people will
listen to something does not mean they will share it. I thought
sharing would be more likely to occur if listeners felt connected to
the music in some way. One way to get that feeling of connection was
to get a listener to commission me.

The commissioner
gets their name attached to a short piece of music, which becomes
integrally linked to them. The piece of music would not exist if it
were not for their financial involvement. This, in return gives them
cultural capital. They are the proprietor of a new piece of music.
This also solves the dilemma of sustainability. The commissioning
amount should cover costs, at least. The commissioner would be
motivated to share their new piece of music as far and wide as they
can, as every re-sharing increases their own cultural capital.
Instead of fighting the online sharing that people seem inclined to
do, this model requires it and does not require coercive action on
the part of the state.

I started by using
eBay as my sales platform. This allowed me to control how many
commissions I might sell at a time, handle the monetary transaction
and the platform itself made the commissioners feel engaged and
interested some music press. (“Music Commissioning on eBay”)
Much to my surprise, a bidding war erupted on one of my early
offerings, despite the promise of many more to come. However, before
that bidding war could conclude, eBay terminated my account, banning
me from the service. They refused to tell me why they had done this,
so I don’t know if it was because they suspected fraud or because
they objected to my business model. I moved to Etsy, a much less
exciting web store where users sell craft items and resumed.

the course of my project, several people did share their short pieces
via their blogs, facebook or another online medium. One person used
her piece as her ringtone. In 2008, I approached a popular blogger,
Josh Fruhlinger of The Comics Curmudgeon
and asked if he would trade me advertising space for a free
commission. His blog had been ranked #13 by PC Magazine’s “100
Favorite Blogs for 2007” (Heater) and won a Webby Award in 2008 for
Best Humor Blog. (“Best Humor Blog”) His blog was also popular
with composers and was mentioned on Kyle Gann’s blog (Gann) and
others. Fruhlinger agreed to this plan and I composed a short piece
related the the American comic strip Gil Thorp. In order to cope
with the expected server traffic, I created a very simple video of
the face of the titular character slowly zooming in with the piece as
soundtrack and uploaded it to YouTube.
( My small advertisement
ran for a week and then Fruhlinger made a post specifically about the
piece. He was very positive, using words like “stunning” and
“masterpiece.” (Fruhlinger) The video got 4000 views in a very
short period of time. However, despite how happy Fruhlinger was and
some positive comments from his readers such as, “I stand amazed,”
(commodorejohn) this got me no new

Does this mean that
the model fails? I had predicted that I would get some new
commissions out of such a high profile endorsement, but didn’t.
There are a few possible explanations. Consumers may be unused to the
idea of commissioning a composer. In my brief stint in marketing, I
was told that consumers do not absorb an idea until they encounter it
multiple times. This was just one post. Or, conversely, it could have
been their lack of familiarity with me. A better known composer may
have fared better. It may also have been the economy, which was not
doing well at the time and has since gotten worse. Commissioning
music is a luxury and one that might seem eccentric and easy to

Marketing this
project is actually quite difficult. I found I could do three
commissions in a week. There is no way I could cope with the volume
that mass-market success would imply. Therefore, going after
high-profile general subject bloggers is not the way to draw in new
customers, as success could be as much a disaster as failure.
However, it is a way to draw in new listeners. Most of the visitors
to the blog would not have heard my piece otherwise. My attempts at
an accessible duration did pay off, even if social media buzz didn’t
gain me new customers. Making a piece for one person motivates that
one person to share it, but it does not motivate his or her friends
to share it also.

Musically, I was
interested in very short pieces because of the 60×60 Project, in
which I had participated. I found it very frustrating to make a pice
so short. While my piece Clocker had been accepted, I did not
feel happy with it. I started listening to very short pieces, for
example, tracks from the albums Haikus Urbanis and Snakes
and Ladders
, to get into the right mindset.

When constructing
my very short pieces, I’ve found that it’s best to have three closely
related ideas, and three overdubbed mono tracks. A minute is too long
to only have one idea, but too short to go through a lot of material.
There is also not a lot of time for major density changes, unless
that is the focus of the piece. As I worked on this project, I found
that a minute began to seem longer and longer. A composer could
easily fit over a hundred discrete events in a minute.

In my portfolio, I
have included several of these pieces, listed here with their
programme notes:

Shorts #29: Raining Up

and titled by Autumn Looijen

This piece was created using a MOTM
synthesiser and mixed in Ardour.
There were several false starts. I had been doing field recordings of
storms and for a while, every artificial sound I made seemed to also
sound like weather. The title Autumn chose seems to indicate that I
didn’t quite get away from weather-related sounds.

Shorts #28: Untitled
by Cecile Moochnek

I wasn’t looking for a
commission when I walked into the Cecile
Moochnek Gallery
on 4th Street in Berkeley, California. I was
looking to do Christmas shopping. But I got talking to the gallery
owner about art and music and she asked me to write her a short
piece. This was in December of 2007. I wrote the piece in 2008.

I made this piece with a Evenfall MiniModular Synthesiser. This
was an all-in-one box modular synthesiser from the 1990′s. It’s a
great little synth.

Shorts #27:
Gil Thorp
and titled by Josh Fruhlinger

Josh gave me the title before I
started the piece. Gil Thorp is the name of a surreal American
newspaper comic which is supposed to be about high school sports.
Josh runs a blog discussing newspaper comics, called the Comics
I recorded (British) football from my TV, which included my
housemate clapping after a goal. Then, I decided to use white noise,
because it’s very similar to crowd sounds. I filtered it a lot to
make sort of screetchy sounds. The football announcers didn’t
exactly have the accent that I would expect Marty Moon to have, so I
kept them in the background. My girlfriend said that it struck her as
very Mark Trail-like, so I raised the volume of the background at the
end, to make the sports connection clearer.

Bird-like sounds remind me of high school sports, but that’s
probably because my high school had a terrible seagull infestation.

Shorts #26: Ecstatic Rivulet
and titled by Clyde Nielsen

For this piece, I wanted to use a
field recording that I made while camping over the summer. Visually,
the campground looked like it would make a suitable set for a horror
movie. The animals were correspondingly loud and screetchy at night
and so I made a recording with my cell phone.
I listened to the recording a few times and it made me think of
a project that I had intended to abandon. Everything I do with this
always sounds kind of rough and unpolished, which is why I stopped
working with it. But it seems to fit well with my memory of that

Shorts #25: Untitled
by Scott Wilson

approached for a title for this piece, Scott
noted that the piece has a “flatulent quality,” but it would be
better to resist referencing that in a title.
To make this piece, I recorded myself playing a bovine signaling
horn and a didjeridu, both of which I ran through a Sherman
filterbank to use as FX. There’s also a little bit of feedback,
especially the very last sounds. Processing a didgeridu turns out to
be much more straightforward and easy than processing a cow horn.

Shorts #24: College Promo

and titled by Jean Sirius

wanted to something that started out serious, but got more playful
further in. The opening is square waves, which are pulse-width
modulated and slightly frequency modulated. While I was recording
them, my dog was sleeping nearby. She started barking in her sleep.
The almost never barks when she’s awake, but when she’s asleep,
she barks quiet, air, high pitched barks which cause her snout to
slightly inflate, since she doesn’t open her mouth. Maybe she’s
actually dreaming of chasing pigeons? The sleep-barking sounded
really great with the music! I couldn’t record my dog without
accidentally waking her, so instead I tried to mimic the sound with a
Sherman filterbank. I failed miserably, but I like the sounds that I
got. Every time I use this instrument, I have a little more fun with
it and like it a little bit more. It’s frustrating at first, but
the effort is paying off.

Shorts #23: Gamut
and titled by Devin Hurd

piece was made with a MOTM analogue synthesiser.


“Bandcamp Pricing.” Bandcamp.
Web. 12 August 2011. <>

“Best Humor Blog.” The 2008
Weblog Awards.
31 December 2008.
Web. 11 August 2011.


comment on “Metapost: I sing the body beefy.” The
Comics Curmudgeon
. 15 April
2008. Web. 11 August 2011.

Digital Economy Act 2010 s. 10. UK.
Web. 11 August 2011.

Dunaway, Judy. “The MP3 Phenomena and
Innovative Music.” ZKM. 9
April 2001. Web. 11 August 2001.


“For Students Doing Reports.” RIAA-
Recording Industry Association of America
Web. 11 August 2011. <>

Asked Questions.” Creative Commons. 28
July 2011. Web. 11 August 2011.

Fruhlinger, Josh.
“Metapost: I sing the body beefy.” The Comics Curmudgeon.
15 April 2008. Web. 11 August 2011. <>

Kyle. “Seriously Off-Topic.” PostClassical: Kyle Gann
on music after the fact
. Arts
Journal. 29 April 2007. Web. 11 August 2011.

Haikus Ubranis.
Cavel2Disks, 1997. CD.

Brain. “Our 100 Favorite Blogs.” PC Magazine.
15 October 2007. Web. 11 August 2011.

Lawrence. “Free Culture – How Big Media Uses Technology and the
Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity.” SiSU
information Structuring Universe
University of Oslo: The Faculty of Law. 2004. Web. 11 August 2011.

Commissioning on eBay.” PodComplex.

14 April 2007. Web. 11 August 2011.

Ostertag, Bob. “The
Professional Suicide of a Recording Musician.” 9 April 2007. Web. 11 August 2001.

The Digital Economy bill.” BBC News.

9 April 2010. Web. 11 August 2011.

Don. “The RIAA speaks – and it gets worse.” Cnet.
14 January 2008. Web. 11 August 2011.

Rubin, Neal and Whigham, Rod. Gil
. Web. 11
August 2011. <>

Slaw. Snakes and Ladders.
Doubtful Palace, 2002. CD.

Springman, Chris. “The Mouse that Ate
the Public Domain: Disney, The Copyright Term Extension Act, and
Eldred v. Ashcroft.”
FindLaw. 5 March 2002.
Web. 11 August 2001.

Direct to Consumer

Well, I’ve been doing this commission project for over a year now. There were a few months of it that I wasn’t pushing it very actively. Most of the people who got commissions from me, though, were people with whom I already had a connection. This is not surprising. You wouldn’t buy a CD from a band that you’d never heard, so why would you buy a commission from somebody whose music you didn’t know at all.
Still, I wanted to get the idea of the project farther out. I think the best way to spread is organically, by word of mouth and via social networking. But the idea of direct-to-consumer advertising is also compelling. So I approached the writer of the Comics Curmudgeon, which is rated as one of the top 100 American blogs. His blog has nothing to do with music. I asked him if I could trade a week long banner ad for a commission. Josh was extremely enthusiastic about the idea, so I made a one minute piece for him.
So far, everybody that’s gotten a piece has been happy with it, Josh included. I think that people are more likely to like a piece of music that they feel a connection to. Personally, I’m more likely to think positively of music written by bands I already like or by my friends. Everybody has that. This seems to be especially true for people who commission pieces. In this case, Josh was happy enough that he dedicated a blog post in which he recommended me and embedded a YouTube video I made of the piece.
It’s been a couple of weeks and the banner ad has timed out. The number of people watching the video has slowed to a trickle. I don’t know how many thousands of people saw the post, or subsequently subscribed to my podcast, but I know that more than 3800 watched the video, which is a fantastic reach for me. I got zero new commissions.
This is exactly why my career in marketing was so short (no really). While it’s true that I want to reach everybody, a one-off ad in a totally unrelated medium is not the way to do it. So my failure to get any new commissions is not necessarily an indication that the project is doomed. Most people have to hear about something three times before it clicks. Commissioning music is a totally new idea to many people. So if I want to get people to understand the idea, I need to make certain they hear about it multiple times. This effort was, therefore, much too small to work. However, there’s another problem in that I can’t do 100 commissions in a week. I can do maybe three. If four thousand people suddenly understood what I was up to and thought it was cool, if less than 1% of them tried to commission me, I’d be swamped.
However, one thing that I learned when I worked in marketing is that competition is correlated with growth of the category. For example, if there was just one time of sugary, fizzy water, the manufacturer might have to explain to people why they would want to drink such a thing (I, for one, am unconvinced it’s a good idea). However, having multiple pop companies means that more people have heard of pop and the overall demand is higher. Is this cause or effect? Who knows. However, in the case of commissioning music, every other composer who starts doing this is also letting people know that such a category of goods exists. So I want more people to start doing this. I can’t say for certain that it’s going to work, but the startup costs are low.
I wonder, also, if I should retreat to a lower cost. At a time when people are losing their houses and the price of food is rising, commissioning noise music is definitely going to seem like a luxury.
Finally, while my advertisement experiment failed to gather me any new business, I’m still quite pleased with the number of ears that I reached. A number of them probably considered it to be a novelty, but that’s the path musical genres take to reach popular acceptance. One small step for noise music, one giant leap for my hit counter.


Yesterday, the first business day of my Birmingham residency, I got my student ID card and worked out how to get on the campus wifi network with my laptop, but, alas, not my n800. Given the way the network manager (doesn’t) work, I dispair of ever getting my n800 onto the network.

Then I went to the sole rehearsal for the John Cage piece Lecture on the Weather which I will be performing in on October 12. For those of you unfamiliar with this piece, it was commissioned by the CBC (Canadian National Radio) in honor of the American Bicentenial and premiered in New York in 1975. Scott, my supervisor, explained that the CBC New Music folks were a bunch of Vietnam War draft dodgers, which explains why Canada was celebrating the spirit of ’76. (America declared independence from England in 1776. “Spirit of ’76” refers to this declaration.)

The piece is made up of text and squiggly lines. The squiggly lines are treated much like Scratch Music. The text comes from Henry David Thoreau and includes random selections from Walden, Journal and Essay on Civil Disobedience. Cage points out in his preface that the last of those inspired Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The first of those names, especially, might explain why NONE of the Brits in the piece had ever heard of Thoreau.

One of the greatest philosophers in the United States completely unknown here. Good gods.

I don’t know how I feel about the piece. The text is ok. Actually, it’s alarming how much it continues to resonate. I just read the novel Affinity by Waters (author of Fingersmith) and it’s largely about mistreatment of women in prison in the UK, 30 years later than Thoreau. I can read that and think “thank gods they fixed those problems! It’s a great relief that it’s not like that anymore.” But when I read Thoreau, I think, “Arg, nothing has changed.” Constitutional originalists continue to plague the land. The US continues to wage aggressive wars. Our taxes are still used for evil.

But it’s just weird hearing it read in British accents. by people who have no idea what they’re reading. Who hear the phrase “Walden” and think nothing. Who say “Concord” and have no association with it.

Anyway, after rehearsal, I got access to the school studios and a bank account. Yes, a bank account on my first day here. I’d feel very proud of myself, except that they really bent the rules for me, but were unreasonably strict when it came to the many Chinese students waiting in line. Racist bastards. After I get my student visa, I’m switching banks. In the meantime, though, I need a bank.

I feel disappointed with myself. I should have probably told them to fuck off. But, complicating my perceptions, the gate keeper who was giving a hard time to the Chinese students was white, but the guy who actually opened my bank account was black and had Jamaican parents. He was wearing a wrist band praising Marcus Garvey, one of the 117 national heroes of Jamaica.

Today: cell phone unlock, household crap, make posters advertising music commissions.

I’m raising my prices to £10 ($20.25-ish). Order before the prices go up!

Run my ad, get free music

I want to start this with the offer that any new music or arts blog which runs my banner ad for the duration of my project will get a free commission. Email me or leave a comment if you run it.

I emailed three different blogs asking about advertising. Two did not write back. The third one decided to stay ad-free.
Some of you who know me from California are probably remembering a few of my anti-advertising rants. Is advertising inherently bad? If not, when is it bad and when is it ok?
One day, when I was still a dot com worker, I was driving some of my 80 kM commute (160 kM per day, every work day, in a small car) and I saw that a new sign had gone up over the freeway. There is no shortage of advertising signs, but this one was one of the more dangerous, new, traffic-jam causing variety. It was a gigantic flat screen monitor, several meters across. Drivers stare at the moving pictures. They slow down to watch. Or they run into something from the distraction. I looked up at the sign.
It was showing an photo of a tropical flower, rendered in millions of colors and luminous over the traffic. I felt profoundly disturbed. It was the only beautiful thing that I had seen that day. I have woken up in the morning, driven 80 km to an office building, in a heavily polluted area, sat inside my beige cubicle, staring at my computer screen, gotten back into my car and driven 40 km back towards my house. It was already dark outside.
But there, thousands of times larger than life, there was a beautiful flower. I felt like crying. The next week, the flower still remained but with the text “your ad here” at the bottom. The week after that, I was informed of a 10% discount on new tires for sale at a nearby store.
Around that time, I went to an exhibit at the SF MOMA. It was about packaging and design. I had finally escaped from my corporate work week to go spend Sunday at a museum and it was full of advertisements and product packaging. I had been telling everyone around me how this experience with the billboard had shown me that there was no art in my life. But then the MOMA argued with me. There IS art in my life, it’s just corporate art. Corporate designers are still artists, but with a different purpose.
the purpose of art is ethereal and may differ from artist to artist or from piece to piece. The point of corporate art is to get you to buy something. So is it bad because it has a crass purpose? Are aesthetics part of a gestalt or can they be separated from economic purposes? How much does commercial intent color a work? Is there a moral difference between a cereal box or an advertisement poster for a concert?
Some concert posters and some album coverts are high art. But they’re advertising target is art. Does that change their moral stance? Ironically, my day job was in marketing. To prepare me for the shift from engineer to marketing, I was given a book to read. It said the role of advertising was to inform people of things that are available to them. So when somebody puts a flyer for an upcoming new music concert in my mailbox, that’s an advertisement. When somebody puts a flyer for a sale on pork cutlets in my mailbox, that’s also an advertisement.
So some of the judgement about advertising, for me, at least, is connected to how well targeted it is. I want to know about concerts. I don’t want to know about supermarket sales. Some is about how obtrusive it is. I don’t want advertising to get in the way of other information that I’m seeking. Some of it is the appropriateness of the context. I don’t want to see advertising in a museum – exhibits about same possibly excepted. I also don’t want advertising to mislead, lie, or pass itself off as something other than an ad.
Therefore, the primary issue is context. Do ads belong in metro stations? No! Maybe. Yes? When I lived in Paris, I saw on a metro ad that the Ensemble Contemporaine was doing a series of music by John Cage and Pierre Boulez. Interesting. I also saw that Bang on a Can was playing. I also saw Naiomi Campbel in skimpy gold lamé posed on a chair that looked like a hamburger bun. I don’t want to pass judgement, because all I can say is that I care more about musical announcements than I do for department store ads. Visually, the gold lamé and tiny dog were far more striking than the concert announcements.
I put a banner ad up on this blog about four years ago. It was for Dennis Kucinich, who should have gotten the Democratic nomination to run against Bush (yeah, well, Kerry lost anyway and the debates would have been a lot more interesting and actually talked about healthcare and peace and women’s rights and other things that you won’t hear discussed if you go for loser “safe” bets . . . anyway). I didn’t get anything in return for running it. Is it “right” for me to run ads or ask others to do so? Well, ads aren’t inherently wrong, so that depends. I don’t know if my answers are as satisfying as I’d like, but I feel some truthiness around this. I don’t think my banner ads contribute to the corporatization of the world. They’re not beautiful by any means, but I can only hope people care about music.
I had an idea, back when I was doing my overly long commute, to do a visual project. I wanted to rent billboard space and commission artists to do mural installations. My conspirators and I had extra ideas like running a tiny FM station from the billboard, playing music, like some car billboards broadcast car commercials over a short range. I wanted other commuters to see something beautiful in their day. To experience public outdoor art with an ethereal purpose, not trying to sell them anything at all.

On etsy / getting royal / advertising

While I work my way through the eBay appeals process, I’ve moved my eCommerce to Etsy. I exchanged a few emails with them before setting up shop, and they’re totally cool with hosting music commissions. Their fees are also less than eBay, but there’s no chance of anybody bidding up the price.

I’ve got 22 opportunities for commissions remaining. Well, 21, because I really want to get one from Queen Beatrix. To show my appreciation for her allowing my use of the Royal Conservatory, I will wave my fee. It’s the least I can do. And, of course, I’ll use her equipment to make the piece.
Since I attend the Royal Conservatory, there actually is some connection to the queen. She regularly exchanges letters with the head of my school. So, to reach the queen, I have to convince his secretary that I’m worth his time, and then him that I’m worth the queen’s time and then the queen herself. I’ve heard that she likes ballet and goes to the ballet performances at school, so I could wait for one of those and attempt to approach her. And/or, I can try going through the three filter approach. I really am quite fond of Stravinsky, so I think I will aim for something like Stravinsky-meets-IDM-meets-noise, with emphasis on the Stravinsky. There’s now some documentation to use the OSC->CV converters at school, so I can get the kind of tuning I need to make a (micro)tonal piece.
I’m not sure entirely how to pitch this. I mean, I really want to write something that she’ll like. And all my pieces are really short. If I write something a minute long and she doesn’t like it, at least I haven’t taken up too much of her time. I think I’ll leave that last bit as unspoken, since it’s not really compelling.
Anyway, if any of you, dear readers, has some connection to the Queen of the Netherlands (or, you know, any royalty, but other monarchs will need to pay the $14), please let me know.
Of course, there are still the other 21 unpurchased commissions. Apparently, it’s possible to buy metro ads in Rotterdam for 17,50€ / week. According to an ad I saw. I haven’t contacted them to see if I can really just get one. I haven’t put any effort into buying banner ads on the web yet, but I think I’ll approach some New Music blogs. I’m not sure what to put in a print ad. a picture of myself? A cool closeup of some synthesizer knobs? A picture of myself in front of some close-up synthesizer knobs?
Yesterday, I discovered a pocket notebook that I got in 2003 to jot down my musical ideas. This morning, I went to read it. What half-forgotten ideas could I return to and realize? The sole idea that I wrote down starts with, “Patron system: possibility of running a commission service” and continues like a Marketting Requirements Document. Ha ha ha. Awesome.
Composers, of course, have something called cultural capital. They help forge identities for their communities. American composers bolster the American identity. Gay composers bolster the gay identity. And so on. Many composers are slightly outside of the mainstream of their culture. By writing music, they gain additional access to the shared culture, while having a hand in forming it. The problem for the last several years has been how to turn cultural capital into monetary capital.
But I see the commissioning/gift economy as something more than just a capital-based solution. One of the huge problems of the current broken copyright system is that people do not own their own culture. Our shared myths don’t belong to us, they belong to corporations! The gift economy of music puts our culture back into our own hands. Furthermore, commissioning directly involves the community. Commissioners have a say in the formation of their culture. They share cultural capital with the composer. They directly participate in society and culture. Commissioners are catylists for cultural creation and change. They help build a shared identity and strengthen their culture. Commissioning music is the patriotic thing to do.
What is a country? Is it just a land mass? Is it a particular government? Is it a collection of people who happen to live within certain geographical borders? No, a nation is an identity. A country arises from the people. When somebody loves a country, they love the people, they love the art, they love the history, they love the culture. And if you love something, you don’t passively watch it, you participate. You vote. You hike. You create community and participate in institutions. Art is patriotic.
I, like most folks, have many different identity affiliations. I’m American. I’m queer. I’m Californian. I’m a student. I’m a composer. I live and learn in Holland. (I’m a manly man.) I have an exerimental asthetic. etc etc etc. When I make music, I am all of those identites making music.
So how do you concisely, pictorally represent the possibility of expanding cultural capital on the basis of music and identity and sounds? Maybe a screen shot of Ardour?

New Phone Number

Today I learned that if you lose a prepaid phone, you also lose your phone number. My new number is +31 (0)6 42 83 1440

Also, losing a phone means losing all your phone numbers. Please email me back with your number or send me an SMS, if you think you will want to chat with me.

My old phone is someplace in Birmingham. Alas. I hope somebody gets some use out of it.
In other news, Polly (who is awesome) took a sign up sheet with her to the 21 Grand thing last night and got 4 more names! Hooray. Only 22 to go.
I posted to friendster and Craig’s List and haven’t gotten anything from that. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of cachet by leaving eBay. I need to start looking at banner ads or adwords with google.
I think next week, I will start going to school again. I’ve been sorta, um, not going except to lab hours. I dunno about bea 5 (the giant room of analog synth of doom). It would take me years to master it. I’m totally into the bank of sixteen oscillators (16!! 16!!! It’s obscene!) and the sequencer and the VOSIM and the third octave filter and something called the VTQ and anything that does the same thing as a module I own in my own synth. But the other things – there are just so many of them and it’s going to take a lot of experimentation to use them in a non-cliched way. Like the plate reverb is super awesome, but it only gets like one sound and that sound is full of a lot of hiss. If I want to do something really interesting with the plate, I’m going to need to de-ess it and then either do some sort of feedbacky tape delay or pitch shifting because the sound of that plate does not change ever – it’s always the same pitch. So I think I’m going to concentrate on the things I already understand and see what kind of sounds I can tease out of them. Because playing with the new thing or the splashy thing or the 200 kilo thing is a lot of fun, but the resulting recordings are really hard to work with. It’s possible to pull out a good minute from the exploratory noodling, but it’s easier and better to do something immediately interesting and record that.
Also, I want to think more about post-processing. I’ve got 178461978461 Audacity plugins and I thin I’d like to subtly apply the same fx to all my recordings, so they sound like they go together. All my MOTM recordings mostly sound right together and the bea 5 ones have their own sound, but some signature should unify them. Like if I just got the perfect impulse response to convolve everything with. The IR of the gods.