Posts Tagged “Reich”

“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

– Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

For the past several election cycles, a cottage industry of fact-checkers emerges from their pumpkin patches each fall to assess the credibility of candidates’ claims.  One of most-quoted of these,, is affiliated with my alma mater.  These groups’ findings are not only cited by the media but are also used by partisans of both Presidential candidates.  And while neither the press nor the candidates are free to plagiarize the articles produced by fact-checkers, the facts themselves are fair game.

In fact (sorry), it seems fact-checkers have themselves become the story. Yesterday, CBS Sunday Morning dedicated an entire segment to the role of fact checkers.  It seems these trufflers of truth have become pawns in the political chess game of electoral politics, with each campaign’s spinmeisters trying to use the checkers to “king” their candidate by persuading the voters that their opinions are facts.  In keeping with the non-partisan nature of my posts and this forum, I’ll not comment on which candidate appears to have racked up the most misdemeanors from the fact checkers – but I do have my own opinion!

As it turns out, the late Senator Moynihan is absolutely right from a copyright perspective. Section 102 of the Copyright Act not only states what is subject to copyright, including various forms of musical works and sound recordings, but also sets out many things that are not subject to copyright protection. For example, there is no copyright protection available for any “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery.” And while the statute’s list doesn’t explicitly include facts, the FAQ on the Copyright Office’s web site does state that “[c]opyright does not protect facts…” More importantly, the Supreme Court has said that facts are not copyrightable.

Facts are either ideas or concepts (e.g., 1+1=2) or discoveries (e.g., it’s a fact that the earth revolves around the sun).  So, the candidates and their minions, along with the media and everyone else can freely use the findings of fact-checkers as to what a particular candidate said or didn’t say and whether his proposals are better than the other guy’s.  As I said in my last post, as with fair use, the exclusion of facts, concepts, discoveries and ideas  — as opposed to the individual expression of them, reinforces our First Amendment freedom of speech as nobody can monopolize an idea.

These concepts apply not only to political discourse, but to musical expression, as well.  Section 102 states that copyright applies to “original works of authorship.” It is the individual expression of an idea or concept, not the concept itself, that is subject to copyright protection. So, what does this mean in a musical context? Imagine if C.P.E. Bach had been able to get a copyright in sonata form. Or if Bach and Vivaldi had sued each other over the exclusive right to use a circle of fifths?

It would be absurd to think that Jerome Kern couldn’t use that chord progression  in “All The Things You Are.”  Structural forms (such as a 32-bar AABA song or a 12-bar blues) and chord progressions are among the things that are generally considered to be non-copyrightable concepts or ideas.  You’d probably be justified in having the opinion that they’re musical “facts.” Just think of the all the songs and standards written on “blues” or “rhythm” changes.  Or consider the thousands of symphonies, concertos and sonatas that use sonata form. Steve Reich has copyrights in his works,  “Piano Phase” and “Violin Phase” but he can’t prevent another composer from utilizing phasing techniques in their own works. The same principle would apply to performance techniques: there’s no copyright for wind players playing double stops or practicing circular breathing.

So, feel free to marshal as many facts as you can to support your opinion as to which candidate “won” tonight’s final Presidential debate.  Or write and perform a new work on the topic using whatever forms and techniques you like. I only ask that you not post any politically-oriented comments in response to this piece. That said, your opinions as to copyright and music are most welcome, either here or at my web site.

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Last night Steve Reich, the Bang on a Can All-Stars and red fish blue fish appeared in front of a full Disney Concert Hall as part of the LA Philharmonic 2011/2012 Green Umbrella series of contemporary music. Steve Reich was warmly greeted by an enthusiastic audience and performed the first piece Clapping Music along with percussionist David Cossin.

Clapping was followed by Video Phase an updated version of Reich’s 1967 Piano Phase. This was created by David Crossin in 2000 by playing the piece on MIDI percussion pads that trigger piano samples of the notes. A prerecorded video of this was projected onto a screen while Cossin played the percussion pads live, varying the tempo and pattern. A video feed of Cossins’ live playing was then superimposed onto the recorded video in such a way that the movement of the mallets could be seen going in and out of phase with each other as the piece progressed (see photo). This was particularly effective in showing how Piano Phase unfolds and the playing was brilliant, bringing out all the detailed complexities and cross-patterns that make this piece a classic. The appreciative audience demanded a curtain call from the breathless Cossin who had clearly put in a heroic effort.

The Los Angeles premiere of 2X5 followed. Composed in 2009 and scored for piano, bass guitar, electric guitars and drums, the piece can be played against a recording by a single group of 5 instruments or, as in this performance, by two identical 5-piece groups. The rock band scoring represents something of a departure for Reich but the piece contains the rhythmic structure and materials we have come to expect from his music. I first became familiar with 2X5 when Reich generously made the recorded elements available for a re-mixing contest on the Indaba Music website. The careful mixing of the full recorded version has doubtless spoiled me – the live performance to my ears lacked a certain sharpness and punch. The bass guitars sounded muddy and the listening was always improved when the drums entered, giving the texture some welcome clarity and pop. But the groove inherent in the piece broke through and I could see many of those in the audience around me clearly enjoying the interplay between the musicians on the stage.  A long and cheerfully noisy ovation preceded the intermission.

Music for 18 Musicians closed the show and here the sound issues became more distracting. I have listened to this piece dozens of times through headphones and I hear something new in the details each time – it is a landmark piece and has withstood the test of time. I love this piece – and Bang on a Can obviously knows how to play it – but somehow the experience I had in Disney Hall seemed out of balance and uneven. At each transition the change in texture seemed to put the ensemble sound into confusion. The players worked hard to sort it all out, but from where I was sitting the overall result was inconsistent. I have heard Music for 18 Musicians performed live before, achieving a realization on a par with the recording, but sadly this was not the case this time. All of the instruments were playing into microphones, so perhaps the decision to use a sound system in a concert hall should be revisited next time.  Music for 18 Musicians makes me want to tap my foot, bob my head and sing along – it has that kind of groove – but as I looked around most of the people listening were frozen still. A long and loud standing ovation followed, no doubt in appreciation of the fine music that Steve Reich and Bang on a Can has given us over the years.


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