Buying the Dip

Writing music right now is buying the zeitgeist dip.

Well, sir, this whole music business? It’s a greasy spoon on a heartbreak highway. It’s like peddlin’ snake oil down at a carnival fire. You gotta hawk your wares while the rubes are rubin’ their eyes clear of smoke and wonderin’ if that bearded lady really is part swan.  (gruff chuckle) 

It’s a peculiar game, like bobbin’ for eels in a sewer on a Tuesday night. You dangle your melody down there, hoping to snag something halfway decent that ain’t already nibbled on by a thousand other hacks. But these days, the whole damn zeitgeist’s on sale. Marked down, bin clearance. Everyone’s hawkin’ their version of the same tired tune. Makes a fella wonder if there’s anything left down there but catfish and disappointment.

These folks, they got their pockets lined with that shiny new Depression dime, and they’re lookin’ for a distraction – somethin’ to take the edge off the hollowness in their bellies.  (strums a dissonant chord) That’s where the likes of us come in. We’re talkin’ about sellin’ dreams by the bucketful, dreams as cheap and fleeting as a barker’s spiel.

You ladle out melodies, hoping some jaded angel with a buckshot cough throws you a dime for your sorrows. It’s a fool’s game, sunshine. But hey, at least the rent don’t pay itself in dreams, no sir. So you write your tunes, sing your blues into the cracked mirror, and hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a soul out there missin’ the same beat-up rhythm you are.

Now, this “zeitgeist dip” you mentioned, that’s a fancy way of sayin’ you’re tappin’ into whatever’s got the crowd riled up. Maybe it’s war jitters, maybe it’s a love scandal that’d make a whorehouse madam blush. Doesn’t much matter. You gotta bottle that energy, that collective unease, and pour it into a melody that’ll stick in their heads like yesterday’s rotgut. (slams the piano shut) Sure, it ain’t poetry. It ain’t gonna save the world. But hey, at least it puts a buck in your pocket and a smile on a face that’s seen too damn much.  (mutters under his breath) So you go on ahead and peddle your zeitgeist, kid. Just remember, the carnival leaves town eventually, and all you’re left with is the stink of lighter fluid and the echo of laughter that turned sour.

But hey, maybe that’s the ticket! Maybe the people are ready for a ballad sung by a busted harmonica and a heart full of gravel. Maybe they’re tired of the sugar-coated pop tripe and the auto-tuned wailin’. Maybe they crave a taste of something genuine, somethin’ that speaks the language of the gutter and the alleyway.

So, yeah, maybe buyin’ the zeitgeist dip ain’t such a bad idea after all. If you got the stomach for it. You gotta crawl down there, elbows deep in the muck, and rummage around for somethin’ real. Somethin’ that resonates with the hollowness in all our souls. Just remember, son, whatever you pull up, best make sure it ain’t gonna bite you back.


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Ric Amurrio Jun 19


Coltrane’s notebook showing his reharmonization Fifth House

“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

Albert Einstein

Creative inspiration reveals itself through the diligent study of previous generations and the mastery of established skills. Schools of thinking must be studied, styles are to be imitated, and techniques will need to be ingrained creating the new from the old. This idea of continual reinvention and self expression is prevalent throughout the history of this music and you’d be hard pressed to find a lasting piece of music or style that didn’t have a direct line back to the creative work that came before it.

Deja Entendu”. You know that “deja vu” (French for “already seen”) is that strange feeling that you’ve experienced something in the exactly the same way before. Over the years I’d noticed a number of distinct similarities between one jazz composition and another. Some of that is intentional, and there’s even a word for it; the term “contrafact” refers to a piece of music in which a new melody is played over a familiar chord progression.

There was a territorial struggle in the 1940s between the performing rights societies, ASCAP and BMI; they collect royalties and distribute them to artists when their music is performed live or aired on stations, it’s a way to ensure that artists are compensated when their music is used. ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers) was founded in 1914, and pretty much had a monopoly on licensing until 1939, when it demanded a 100-percent increase in fees.

The National Association of Broadcasters responded by creating BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated), both to offer an affordable alternative to ASCAP and to license emerging genres of music that ASCAP wasn’t interested in — namely, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, country, folk, Latin, and, eventually, rock and roll. Radio stations essentially banned ASCAP recordings from the airwaves, giving BMI a huge win and making it a major player overnight.

But this posed a serious problem for recording artists. When they realized that the vast library of ASCAP-licensed songs were off-limits, the more creative artists circumvented that obstacle by taking advantage of a loophole in the laws then governing intellectual property. This proved to be a windfall for beboppers, who simply applied new melodies to the chord changes of familiar songs, changed the titles, and registered them as their own compositions.

The opportunity to create new work using existing harmonic material was attractive to musicians and record companies, as chord progressions are not subject to copyright infringement law. It enabled bands to record songs that could exploit the popularity of older ones and increase sales; but among more creative and innovative musicians, developing new work on older songs re-cast the song in a contemporary context, but expressed in the idiosyncratic style of the artist.

It even can be said that this development did as much to put bebop itself on the map as it did to launch BMI, because it played right into the bebop mindset. In swing and other kinds of music up to that time, improvisation was modular, relegated to pre-ordained sections, similar to the (usually short) cadenza passages in classical music. Bebop, however, reversed that model — musicians would play the head, or main theme, of a piece, then break out into extended, exploratory, melodically complex soloing over the tune’s harmonic foundation, before finally returning to re-state the head.

In informal jam sessions and club dates these pop tunes were used as proving grounds for new musical ideas.

“I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes, I could play the thing I’d been hearing.”

Charlie Parker

The most famous contrafact is Rhythm Changes, which is based on the chord progression of I Got Rhythm. So why not get 10 for the price of one? By learning just a couple chord progressions, you’ll actually have memorised progressions to lots of different tunes.

In this way, the musician has a chance to “own” the work, both in terms of royalties and individuality. In earlier recording history this was done through the solo, as Coleman Hawkins did on Body and Soul in 1939. As record labels developed rosters, they focussed more on “The New Thing” ― invariably this meant a soloist or band leader with an strong improvisational voice, and for the composing musician this meant creating new forms and harmonies, or disguising the old ones.

Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm harmonic structure, along with its numerous variations, has spawned thousands of contrafacts. Composers from Duke Ellington to Ornette Coleman have written new melodies over this venerable set of chord changes.

Two famous I Got Rhythm-based compositions are Charlie Parker’s Dexterity and Crazeology by Parker and Benny Harris. .

And that is the origin of many of the contrafacts of the 1940s, including “Ornithology”, written by Benny Harris and Charlie Parker and recorded by Parker in 1946, six years after Morgan Lewis and lyricist Nancy Hamilton wrote the song, “How High the Moon”, for the 1940 Broadway revue, Two for the Show. The songs share the same chordal movement, with Bird’s overlaid melodic materials differing from the previously established tune enough to preclude legal problems.

What is a contrafact?

Contrafactum is the term for a Medieval era process of applying new texts to older melodies. This was connected to the practice of troping, where new words were added to pre-existing song texts. There are two results from troping: the trope, where the additional words had some context or shared meaning with the older lyrics; and the sequence where the new words did not refer to the original work.

However, the contrafact is not an exclusively jazz phenomenon, the tradition of taking an existing song and altering it started in the 16th century. During this time the lyrics for secular songs were often replaced with religious text. In doing so the harmonic backdrop was preserved while a more “meaningful” text was applied.

Within jazz itself, sometimes the more popular contrafacts can become better known to musicians than the original composition: calling Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies or Bob Carleton’s Ja-Da sees people rooting for fake books (and perhaps not finding them), but calling Thelonious Monk’s In Walked Bud or Sonny Rollins’ Doxy is less problematic in a modern jazz jam session.

The best known contrafacts in jazz are the many versions of the blues. The blues has no true “original” melody: it is an eternally unfinished song form. The blues have a few distinct harmonic and metrical forms of their own, of which (simplistically) the most common in jazz is a twelve-bar structure in duple or compound time that moves from tonic to subdominant, then usually to the dominant before returning to the tonic. Each musician creates a new melody within this framework, sometimes with minor alterations to the harmony, but almost always with a different melody.


By rejecting, modifying and replacing elements of the lingua franca, members of small groups and communities were able to communicate subversively. This can certainly be seen in the advances in American jazz, where rhythmic and harmonic innovations divided some musicians and critics into various factions or schools, somehow apart from the main body of jazz (for example, perceptions of the “Tristano school” of players being unemotional and detached; Parker and Gillespie playing music that was too complex and designed to not entertain the audience

Coltrane being described as “anti-jazz” by someone, somewhere at almost every major stage of his career.

The second take of Ko Ko and Byas’ version of How High The Moon were released on the same single by Savoy in April 1946; Ornithology was released by Dial, but Parker didn’t record a studio version of this song until 28th March 1946. It is unclear how parts of a “newly-written” song came to appear in an improvised solo that preceded it.

Parker expresses this musical sentiment referring to his experimentation over Ray Noble’s standard Cherokee. Take a listen to Parker’s contrafact KoKo on Cherokee:

Check out this NPR story on KoKo for a little more insight.

Tunes like Ornithology, Koko and Donna Lee were the natural result of the experimentation and study of these standards.

It’s important to keep in mind though, that an effective contrafact is not just another blues head or rhythm changes tune or haphazard melody over a familiar progression. For the greatest improvisers, the contrafact was a way to explore a new harmonic, melodic, or rhythmic concept — to instantaneously stick with tradition and move it forward.

Here are a few common jazz contrafacts that you’re probably encountered.

In contrast to the original melody of I Got Rhythm, the melodies of Dexterityand Crazeology have a classic bebop identity. The complexity of each of these melodies evoke the sound of an improvised solo. Dexterity contains greater chromatic content melodically, while Crazeology combines chromatic harmonic content with simpler diatonic melodic content.

Another important contrafact is Lennie Tristano’s Ablution, which is based on the chord changes of the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein tune, All the Things You Are. While Tristano stays true to the original chord changes, the first eight measures of the piece. First, there is a great deal of chromaticism in the melody, much more than contained in Dexterity. Parker’s use of chromatic tones is limited to conventional chord extensions while Tristano employs notes beyond those typically found in chord/scale relationships.


In a radio interview Parker said

Ever since I’ve ever heard music, I thought it should be very clean, very precise — as clean as possible, anyway, and more or less tuned to people. Something they could understand, something that was beautiful, you know? Because definitely there are stories and stories and stories that can be told.

Parker’s solos on the song always depart from the main theme radically, communicate directly to the listener, but using the musical language he created for himself. Parker’s improvisational performances were in fact a form of pre-composition, which might be an overstep if we take “pre-composition” to mean that he wrote entire solos out (although there is no reason why he may not have done this). Charlie Parker’s ideas around the placing of his phrases and ornamentations in musical time are more revolutionary than the harmonic and melodic devices he used. Because of this, Ornithology hides its ancestor very effectively: the influence of Parker is so pervasive that the only reason we know they are related is through the chord progression. From a compositional standpoint, Parker and Harris troped on How High The Moon to create a sequence, obscuring the rhythm, stress, melodic contour and meaning of the original to express the new language.

Lennie Bird: homage to the present time

In a short amount of time, there were already many musicians emulating Parker’s style. One person who did not was Lennie Tristano. Tristano was a pianist who had very definite ideas about how the music should go, and how be-bop was formed: he thought that bebop should be “cool, light, and soft”, and saw the new form as an evolutionary step in jazz. He formed a school of players like Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, who through his teaching methods learned a way of improvising and composing which has an intelligent focus on the line, contrapuntal collective improvisation and advanced harmonic substitutions. Tristano encouraged his students to write solos on existing songs ― essentially contrafacts ― as part of musical development.

Tristano met Parker in 1947, and saw him as both the most talented progenitor of bebop. Each man respected the other’s skill and musical ideas, with Tristano teaching his students to transcribe solos by Parker so as to study his innovations closely: whilst decrying many other musicians as superficial copyists of Parker’s original style.

Examining Tristano’s song Lennie Bird there are some signs of this admiration.

Unlike OrnithologyLennie Bird remains faithful to the transposition of the first musical phrase that occurs in How High The Moon: but other than that, it is more closely bound to Ornithology, and it could be declared a contrafact of its contemporary.


The second technique of reinventing the standard songbook used by improvisers is reharmonization — altering a chord or sequence of chords in a song’s progression while retaining the original melody and structural outline of the tune.

After experimenting with altering the melody through the contrafact, the next logical step is to actually change the chord progression of a tune — reharmonization. For example, take a look at the normal 12 bar blues progression and Bird’s reharmonization of the blues:

12 Bar Blues

Bird Blues

Certain chords have been altered or substituted to create a more dense harmonic motion, yet the overall form of the tune remains the same. You can also check out this article, Basic Bebop Reharmonization, for more on this concept.

Here are a few common reharmonizations that you’ll probably encounter at some point in your musical journey:

Blues = Blues for Alice

Rhythm Changes = Eternal Triangle

How High the Moon = Satellite

Rosetta = Yardbird Suite

Satellite: going different places

“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”

John Coltrane

By the time Charlie Parker had died in 1955, John Coltrane’s career seemed to be on an ascending path: the trumpeter Miles Davis formed a critically-acclaimed and popular quintet with him, and he was seen as one of the up-and-coming young tenor saxophonists along with Sonny Rollins. At the same time, his life was in free fall — his dependence on heroin and alcohol affected his ability to work, eventually forcing Davis to disband the group in 1956.

During this time, Coltrane had a dream in which he says Charlie Parker had told him to keep on those progressions ’cause that’s the right thing to do― something he certainly took to heart at this time: his writing around this period involved different harmonic configurations relying on alterations of sequences based on seconds and fourths, and creating the instrumental and musical agility to create many alternatives on the same sequence. It’s rarely pointed out, but evidence of this work can be seen as early as on the septet album “Coltrane” with the song Straight Street, where the rhythmic pattern of functional v-I progressions creates a descent in the tonal harmony of a major second each measure:

We were sleeping at their place at 103rd and Broadway, and we knew John was awake when we heard him playing tenor sax for an hour… John explained that he was playing the intervals to his recent composition, Giant Steps; he even showed us the voicing on the piano.

Along with that landmark song, he conducted his harmonic experiments using contrafacts, as shown in Countdown (based on Eddie Vinson’s Tune Up — which was popularised and then attributed to Miles Davis), Fifth House (on Tadd Dameron’s Hot House, itself a contrafact of Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing called Love), 26–2 (Charlie Parker’s Confirmation), and his contrafact on How High The Moon called Satellite.

In the late fifties John Coltrane began to experiment with reharmonization and the concept of non-diatonic or chromatic third relationships. Below is an example of this reharmonization technique he created on a ii-V7-I in the key of C.

In Coltrane’s reharmonization of the standard ii-V7 -I progression shown above, the new key centers are Ab, E and C. The basic outline is still D-7 to G7 to C, but he doubles the harmonic motion and introduces new key centers moving by chromatic thirds.

Additionally, related dominant chord (V7) is then placed before each of the key centers to accentuate its arrival.

Apart from being a trope on the original title, Coltrane’s contrafact puts the original melody in plain sight from bars 10 to 14, showing its roots. The rest of the song is typical of Coltrane’s writing in this period of his development; like Giant Steps and all the contrafacts mentioned, the melody of Satellite is tied to the minim of each bar, and the chord changes are also mapped to this duple rhythm. This has the effect of removing the structure of the melody at the fourth level.

With Satellite, Coltrane is not just expressing his language through melody, but more through obscuring the old harmonic progression and adjusting it to fit his own needs, all the while keeping hold of the root of the original.

Below is a list of tunes that Coltrane tunes and reharmonizations that utilize the above chord relationship:

  • Body and Soul
  • But not for Me
  • Fifth House = Hot House
  • Countdown = Tune Up
  • Spring is Here
  • Satellite = How High the Moon
  • 26–2 = Confirmation

Going Beyond Contrafacts
In the realm of 1960s post-bebop composition, Wayne Shorters contributions are of major importance in conceptual and historical terms. Of the 35 compositions recorded on Miles Davis E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Water Babies, and Miles in the Sky albums, 17, or nearly half, were penned by Shorter.

Musical quotation is the practice of directly quoting another work in a new composition. The quotation may be from the same composer’s work (self-referential), or from a different composer’s work (appropriation).

Sometimes the quotation is done for the purposes of characterization, as in Puccini’s use of The Star-Spangled Banner in reference to the American character Lieutenant Pinkerton in his opera Madama Butterfly, or in Tchaikovsky’s use of the Russian and French national anthems in the 1812 Overture, which depicted a battle between the Russian and French armies.

Sometimes, there is no explicit characterization involved, as in Luciano Beriousing brief quotes from Gustav MahlerClaude DebussyMaurice Raveland others in his Sinfonia.

From Wiki

Quotation vs. variation

Musical quotation is to be distinguished from variation, where a composer takes a theme (their own or another’s) and writes variations on it. In that case, the origin of the theme is usually acknowledged in the title (e.g., Johannes Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn).

In the case of quotations, however, an explicit acknowledgment does not generally appear in the score. Some exceptions are found in Robert Schumann’s Carnaval:

  • in the section “Florestan” he quotes a theme from his earlier work Papillons, Op. 2, and the inscription “(Papillon?)” is written underneath the notes (he quotes the same theme in the final section “Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins”, but without acknowledgement)
  • in the final section, he also quotes another theme first used in Papillons, the traditional Grossvater Tanz (Grandfather Dance), but this time the inscription is “Thème du XVIIème siècle”.

Where are the contrafacts now?

Tristano, Parker, and Coltrane were applying contrafactum on a popular song: A quick look at recent jazz releases shows that it’s more common to cover a song than apply contrafactum.

The context for working with popular material shifted from one black Amercian art-form (jazz) to another — the rap and turntablist elements of hip-hop culture. Through the process of sampling and mixing, turntablists and DJs pay homage to the pre-existing song, even as they manipulate its form for their own musical structures.

In early hip-hop the sources of material were just taken from anywhere they could be found: but as hip-hop-influenced pop music and hip-hop itself has become globalized and commercialized, it has had to deal with the consequences. Where jazz rarely asked permission to borrow even in its popular phase, hip-hop and pop are now constrained by law and economics.

Some of the key contrafacts are:

I Got Rhythm

Anthropology ~ Parker

Moose the Mooche ~ Parker

Cotton Tail ~ Ellington

Daphne ~ Reinhardt

Don’t be That Way ~ Goodman

Lester Leaps In ~ Young

Oleo ~ Rollins

Rhythm-A-Ning ~ Monk

The Eternal Triangle ~ Stitt

All the Things You Are

Ablution ~ Tristano

All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother ~ Mingus

Bird of Paradise ~ Parker

Boston Bernie ~ Gordon

I Want More ~ Gordon

Jahbero ~ Dameron

Prince Albert ~ Dorham

Back Home Again in Indiana

Ice Freezes Red ~ Navarro

Ju-Ju ~ Tristano

Lex ~ Byrd

Donna Lee ~ Parker

Cherokee Apache Dance ~ George Coleman

The Injuns ~ Byrd

Ko-Ko ~ Parker

Warmin Up a Riff ~ Parker


26–2 ~ Coltrane

Denial ~ Davis

Doujie ~ Montgomery

Juicy Lucy ~ Silver

Meteor ~ Farlow

Striver’s Row ~ Rollins

Weeja ~ Elmo Hope

What Is This Thing Called Love?

Barry’s Bop ~ Navarro

Hot House ~ Dameron

Subconscious Lee ~ Konitz

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am ~ Mingus

What Love? ~ Mingus

Stompin’ at the Savoy

The Kangaroo ~ Les Paul

Relaxin’ With Lee ~ Parker

Sweet Georgia Brown

Bright Mississippi ~ Monk

Dig ~ Davis

Sweet Clifford ~ Brown

Teapot ~ J. J. Johnson

Just You, Just Me

Mad Be Bop ~ J. J. Johnson

Spotlite ~ Coleman Hawkins

Evidence ~ Monk

Lover, Come Back to Me

Bean and the Boys ~ Hawkins

Bird Gets the Worm ~ Parker

Quicksilver ~ Silver

Oh, Lady Be Good!

Dewey Square ~ Parker

Rifftide ~ Hawkins

Fats Blows ~ Navarro

Hackensack ~ Monk

Out of Nowhere

Casbah ~ Dameron

Jayne ~ Ornette Coleman

Nostalgia ~ Navarro

317 East 32nd Street ~ Tristano

How High the Moon

Lennie-Bird ~ Tristano

Ornithology ~ Parker

And countless others…

But do keep in mind that the chord progressions of contrafacts, while based on other songs, may have been reharmonized — so they won’t look 100% the same. But they are, nonetheless, based off the original song so it’s still worth learning the original chord progressions.


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Ric AmurrioMay 15


How Your Favorite Song Starts to Irritate You

Music gives pleasure because your mind keeps predicting what comes next,” writes Loretta Graziano Breuning. And it’s simple: each correct prediction triggers dopamine. If the music is unfamiliar, you don’t get the chemical. When it is somewhat familiar — you feel as if you want to tap your feet. However, when it is too familiar, your brain predicts what happens next effortlessly. And this doesn’t get you dopamine either.

So, as Loretta Graziano Breuning says, “to make you happy, music must be at the sweet spot of novelty and familiarity.” We’ll put it a bit differently: stop playing that song on the repeat! You’ll start hating it in few days.

The appreciation we have for music is related to our ability to learn the underlying structure of the music we like—the equivalent to grammar in spoken or signed languages—and to be able to make predictions about what will come next. Music is organized sound, but the organization has to involve some element of the unexpected or it is emotionally flat and robotic.

The Melbourne psych-rock septet have fed the past 50 years of rock history through a paper shredder and seamlessly taped the strands back together in intriguing new patterns. It’s never clear from the outset exactly which path they’ll explore or what sounds they’ll plop into the mix along the way. Horses neighing, xylophones, and instruments of unidentifiable origins have appeared in their songs, and, King Gizzard always manage to wrangle killer tunes.

The thrills we experience from music are the result of having our expectations artfully manipulated. If the ascending musical partial octave “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-…” is heard. Listeners familiar with Western music will have a strong expectation to hear or provide one more note. Margulis’s model describes three distinct types of listener reactions, each derived from listener-experienced tension:· Surprise-Tension: · Denial-Tension: · Expectancy-Tension:


An important way that our brain deals with standard situations is that it extracts those elements that are common to multiple situations and creates a framework within which to place them; this framework is called a schema.

Schemas inform a host of day-to-day interactions we have with the world. For example, we’ve been to a Concert we have a general notion — a schema — of what is common to concerts. The concert schema will be different for different cultures (as is music), and for people of different ages.

Schemata (pl. of schema) are “stock musical phrases” (Gjerdingen 2007, p. 6) that act as melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic/metric skeletons for passages of music in the Galant style. We can apply the term schema in three specific ways. First, a schema is a prototype — an idealized version of a common pattern. Second, a schema can be an exemplar — a single pattern that resembles the prototype. Third, a schema can be a theory — an explanation of a commonly occurring musical event. We understand an individual pattern (exemplar) as a version of an ideal general pattern (prototype), and that relationship helps us understand how that pattern is functioning within a particular passage of music .

Gjerdingen, Robert O

Our musical schema for Western music includes implicit knowledge of the scales that we be able to hold in memory. This latter memory may not have the same level of resolution as notes we’ve just heard, but it is necessary in order to establish a context.

Schema begin forming in the womb and are amended every time we listen to music. This is why Indian or Pakistani music, for example, sounds “strange” to us but it doesn’t sound strange to Indians and Pakistanis, and it doesn’t sound strange to infants. By the age of five, infants recognize chord progressions in the music of their culture.

Style is just another word for “repetition.”. We recognize when we are hearing something we’ve heard before. The standard popular song has phrases that are four or eight measures long, this is a part of the schema we’ve developed for late twentieth-century popular songs.This include a vocabulary of genres and styles, as well as of eras (1970s music sounds unlike from 1930s music), rhythms, chord progressions, phrase structure (how many measures to a phrase), how long a song is, and what notes typically come after what.

Take, for example, the opening 12-minute chunk comprising the four song stretch of “I’m in Your Mind” to “I’m in Your Mind Fuzz”. The rhythm section — bassist Lucas Skinner, drummers Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore — stay locked in the same groove across all four songs while the guitars, harmonica, and Mackenzie’s vocals explore various melodies within that structure — different movements operating in the same theme.

Deceptive Cadence

Deceptive cadences refer to a particular pattern of chords in which the chord built on the fifth scale degree, which usually resolves to the first scale degree, instead proceeds to the sixth scale degree. This may be expressed in roman numerals as follows:

Authentic: V-I
 Deceptive V-vi (or, less commonly, V-bVI)

One of the defining characteristics of a deceptive cadence is the aural anticipation of tonic following the dominant chord. That expectation is then thwarted, thus the term “deceptive”. King Gizzard’ “Crumbling Castle” ends on the V chord (the fifth degree of the scale we’re in) and we wait for a resolution that never comes—at least not in that song. But the very next song on Polygondwanaland starts with the very chord we were waiting to hear.

The setting up and then manipulating of expectations is the heart of music, and it is accomplished in countless ways. King Gizzard does it by playing songs that are essentially the blues (with blues structure and chord progressions) but by adding unusual harmonies + Phrygian scales to the chords that make them sound very unblues.”

Like the euphoric peaks of 1970s-era Yes or the melodic sections of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s, a solid first impression and a memorable farewell. Syncopated drumming and clean guitar scales part ways for bandleader Stu Mackenzie and his gentle voice. The song’s rumination on fragility parallels the backing guitars harmonize with one another, a flute solo fades in, and barely-discernable keyboards whirr in the distance. Then, in the song’s final minute, the band trades that for a wall of stoner-metal sludge.

Miles Davis and John Coltrane made careers out of reharmonizing blues progressions to give them new sounds that were anchored partly in the familiar and partly in the exotic. On Sketches from East Brusnick they have songs with blues/funk rhythms that lead us to expect the standard blues chord progression, but the entire song is played on only one chord, never moving from that harmonic position.


Research on which this is based was performed on right-handed people. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, people who are left-handed (approximately 5 to 10 percent of the population) or ambidextrous sometimes have the same brain organization as right- handers, but more often have a different brain organization.

When the brain organization is different. Such that functions are simply flipped to the opposite side. Left-handers have a neural organization that is different in ways that are not yet well documented. Writers, businessmen, and engineers refer to themselves as left-brain dominant, and artists, dancers, and musicians as right-brain dominant.

The popular conception that the left brain is analytical and the right brain is artistic has some merit, but is overly simplistic. Both sides of the brain engage in analysis and both sides in abstract thinking. All of these activities require coordination of the two hemispheres, although some of the particular functions involved are clearly lateralized.

Mckenzie often played guitar parts that are entirely novel, avoiding clichés. King gizzard’s guitar parts are unlike anyone else’s, and they wouldn’t even fit in anyone else’s songs. “The Wheel” from their album Gumboot Soup takes this rhythmic play to such an extreme it can be hard to tell where the downbeat even is.

Modern composers such as Schönberg threw out the whole idea of expectation. The scales they used deprive us of the notion of a resolution, a root to the scale, or a musical “home,” thus creating the illusion of no home, a music adrift, perhaps as a metaphor for a twentieth-century existentialist existence (or just because they were trying to be contrary). We still hear these scales used in movies to accompany dream sequences to convey a lack of grounding, or in underwater or outer space scenes to convey weightlessness.

Daniel J Livitin


When the sounds reach the eardrum they get segregated by pitch. Not much later, speech and music probably diverge into separate processing circuits. The speech circuits decompose the signal in order to identify individual phonemes — the consonants and vowels that make up our alphabet. The music circuits start to decompose the signal and separately analyze pitch, timbre, contour, and rhythm.

The output of the neurons performing these tasks connects to regions that put all of it together and try to figure out if there is anything in our memory banks that can help to understand this signal. Have I heard this particular pattern before? If so, when? What does it mean? Is it part of a larger sequence whose meaning is unfolding right now in front of me?

As tones unfold sequentially, they lead us — our brains and our minds — to make predictions about what will come next. These predictions are the essential part of musical expectations. But how to study the brain basis of these?

The structural processing — musical syntax — has been localized to the frontal lobes of both hemispheres in areas overlapping with those regions that process speech syntax, and shows up regardless of whether listeners have musical training. The regions involved in musical semantics — associating a tonal sequence with meaning — appear to be in the back portions of the temporal lobe on both sides, near Wernicke’s area.

The brain’s music system appears to operate with functional independence from the language system — When portions of his left cortex deteriorated, the composer Ravel selectively lost his sense of pitch while retaining his sense of timbre, a deficit that inspired his writing of Bolero, a piece that emphasizes variations in timbre.

Daniel J Levitin

The close proximity of music and speech processing in the frontal and temporal lobes, and their partial overlap, suggests that those neural circuits that become recruited for music and language may start out life undifferentiated.

Babies may see the number five as red, taste cheddar cheeses in D-flat, and smell roses in triangles

The process of maturation creates distinctions in the neural pathways as connections are cut or pruned. What may have started out as a neuron cluster that responded equally to sights, sound, taste, touch, and smell becomes a specialized network. With increasing experience and exposure, the developing infant eventually creates dedicated music pathways and dedicated language pathways. The pathways may share some common resources.


Like The Dark Side of the Moon, Nonagon Infinity is constructed as an infinite loop, meaning its final notes connect perfectly with the album’s opening. The record is mixed to feel like a continuous 41-minute live performance, complete with recurring musical and lyrical passages. Nonagon Infinity is an energetic, fast moving nonet of songs which constantly picks up speed that never takes a single break that, at the end of the final song, “Road Train” seemingly loops back into the first song “Robot Stop” thus forming an actual Nonagon (9 songs) Infinity. Weaving in and out of different melodic motifs while remaining locked (for the most part) into a propulsive, breakneck rhythm that sounds like Devo riffing on Hawkwind’s “Motorhead.”

Mackenzie’s psych-pop accessibility, as he spits out a stream of fragmented hooks like a jukebox of hook singles on an Autobahn of a record. The band also possess an innate sense of knowing just the right moment to switch things up, like with the loose Krautrock boogie that introduces “Mr. Beat,” or the twinned Allman Brothers leads dropped into the “TV Eye”-style surge of “Evil Death Roll,” or the Yes-worthy contoro-riffs that overtake “Invisible Face”.

In “Mr Beat,” the main melodic phrase is seven measures long; King Gizzard surprise us by violating one of the most basic assumptions of popular music, the four- or eight-measure phrase unit (nearly all rock/ pop songs have musical ideas that are organized into phrases of those lengths). In “The River,” King Gizzard violate expectations by first setting up a hypnotic, repetitive ending that sounds like it will go on forever; based on our experience with rock music and the classic fade-out. Instead, they end the song soloing in 4/4.

King Gizzard have made a career out of violating rhythmic expectations. The standard rhythmic convention in rock is to have a strong backbeat on beats two and four. Gizzard music turns this around by using 3/4, 5/4, 6/4, 6/8, 7/4, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8, 13/8 putting the snare drum on beats one and two, and a guitar on two and four. It’s a new sound that fulfilled some and violated other rhythmic expectations simultaneously.

We were talking about this the other day — our minds are in seven, so that feels like the normal time. 4/4 feels weird.

But I remember a huge change or shift was definitely [2016’s] Nonagon Infinity — learning the stuff live was like, Holy shit, I’ve got to get better. For me, the endurance thing of having to do 16ths the whole show was, like, impossible. I definitely struggled in the first couple tours, but then you just get better from touring, I guess.

Eric Moore

During the song “Nuclear Fusion,” and Altered Beast Part IV Eric, holds down the 8th notes on the hi-hat, and Michael, plays the off beats.

Eric: I always make Cavs play the inside out [off] beats, and I play straight. [laughs]

Eric Moore


The brain constructs its own version of reality

The brain constructs its own version of reality, based only in part on what is there, and in part on how it interprets the tones we hear as a function of the role they play in a learned musical system. In Language there is nothing intrinsically catlike about the word cat or even any of its syllables. We have learned that this collection of sounds represents the feline house pet.

Similarly, we have learned that certain sequences of tones go together, and we expect them to continue to do so. We expect certain pitches, rhythms, timbres, and so on to co-occur based on a statistical analysis our brain has performed of how often they have gone together in the past.

So what is the brain holding in its neurons that represents the world around us? The brain represents all music and all other aspects of the world in terms of mental or neural codes.

Flying Microtonal Banana (2017) recalls Krautrock. The standout feature of this album is the use of microtones which is a music interval that’s smaller than a semitone that are rarely, if ever heard in Western Music. To use microtones, special instruments have to be made. The album opens with the repetitive but strangely hypnotic Rattlesnake and then

“Melting” combines rhythms from ’70s Nigeria with observations on the present-day Arctic (“Toxic air is/Here to scare us/Fatal fumes from/Melting ferrous”). “Open Water” channels anxieties over disappearing coastlines into a marauding, seafaring-fantasy epic, like an updated “Immigrant Song” for Vikings who drive their ships to new lands only discover they’ve been swallowed by rising ocean levels.

But as the record rolls on, it starts to resemble an FM dial spun awry. Brief blasts of spaghetti-western balladry (“Billabong Valley”), acidic Southern blooze (“Anoxia”), and gritty Afro-funk (“Nuclear Fusion”) that are connected only by the chaotic harmonica and zurna bursts. And it becomes increasingly clear that the only difference between a three-minute King Gizzard track and a seven-minute one is where they arbitrarily decide to fade out (sometimes mid-chorus).


We have to reject the intuitively appealing idea that the brain is storing an accurate and strictly isomorphic representation of the world. To some degree, it is storing perceptual distortions, illusions, and extracting relationships among elements. It is computing a reality for us, one that is rich in complexity and beauty.

A basic piece of evidence for such a view is the simple fact that light waves in the world vary along one dimension—wavelength—and yet our perceptual system treats color as two dimensional

Similarly with pitch: From a one-dimensional continuum of molecules vibrating at different speeds, our brains construct a rich, multidimensional pitch space with three, four, or even five dimensions (according to some models).

Life presents us with similar situations that differ only in details, and often those details are insignificant. Learning to read is an example. The feature extractors in our brain have learned to detect the essential and unvarying aspect of letters of the alphabet, and unless we explicitly pay attention, we don’t notice details such as the font that a word is typed in. Even though surface details are different, all these words are equally recognizable, as are their individual letters.


Melody is one of the primary ways that our expectations are controlled by composers. Music theorists have identified a principle called gap fill; in a sequence of tones, if a melody makes a large leap, either up or down, the next note should change direction. A typical melody includes a lot of stepwise motion, that is, adjacent tones in the scale. If the melody makes a big leap, theorists describe a tendency for the melody to “want” to return to the jumping-off point; this is another way to say that our brains expect that the leap was only temporary, and tones that follow need to bring us closer and closer to our starting point, or harmonic “home.”

On “D-Day,” for example, Brettin, Mackenzie, and multi-instrumentalist Joey Walker all play microtonal instruments on a musical theme that blurs the line between fusion, Moroccan folk, and Southern rock in the vein of the Allman Brothers. At several other points — “Countdown,” “The Spider and Me,” “Cranes, Planes, and Migraines” — Brettin and the band walk a slippery tightrope between blue-eyed soul, bass-popping funk, and swooning, sun-kissed indie rock.

Like its mouthful of a title, Polygondwanaland delivers songs that seep into one another for an immersive listen. The stirring, quiet percussion of “Inner Cell” tiptoes into “Loyalty” for a slow buildup, before it splashes into the punctuated vocals of “Horology,” a sea of guitar tapping and rich, warm woodwinds. As usual, transitions are key in King Gizzard’s work, Closing track “The Fourth Colour” opts for the same dazzling effect. After endless, bright guitar trills and a rhythmic drone, a risible drum fill prompts the band to wreak havoc in the song’s final minute, exploding with the psych rock frenzy of Flying Microtonal Banana or I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.

This is an illusion made possible by the many layers of translation and amalgamation going on, all of it invisible to us. This is what the neural code is like. Millions of nerves firing at different rates and different intensities, all of it invisible to us. We can’t feel our nerves firing; we don’t know how to speed them up, slow them down, turn them on when we’re having trouble getting started on a bleary-eyed morning, or shut them off so we can sleep at night.


When we say a neuron is firing, it is sending an electrical signal that causes the release of a neurotransmitter. Neuro-transmitters are chemicals that travel throughout the brain and bind to receptors attached to other neurons. Receptors and neurotransmitters can be thought of as locks and keys respectively. After a neuron fires, a neurotransmitter swims across that synapse to a nearby neuron, and when it finds the lock and binds with it, that new neuron starts to fire. Not all keys fit all locks; there are certain locks (receptors) that are de- signed to accept only certain neurotransmitters.

Generally, neurotransmitters cause the receiving neuron to fire or prevent it from firing. The neurotransmitters are then absorbed through a process called reuptake; without reuptake, the neurotransmitters would continue to stimulate or inhibit the firing of a neuron.

Because, well, you have millions of additional neurons which don’t really know what to do — so they invent themselves tasks.

Try to understand them: they got the way that they are by alarming you whether running away from lions is good for you. And now — there are no lions to run away from.

But, which are these happy brain chemicals?

Well, there are four.

First of all — dopamine. Or — the “I can get it” hormone. In the animal’s world, this is the chemical released when a tiger sees an eland it can catch. In your world — it’s the excitement you feel when you reward yourself a chocolate bar for dieting few hours.

Next — endorphin. Or — the “I’m feeling no pain” hormone. It’s the chemical which masks pain. So, when a gazelle is bitten by a lion, she is still capable of fighting back, because her brain releases endorphin, telling her “that bite mark’s not so serious now…” Of course it’s going to hurt afterward.

The third one — oxytocin. Or — the “I trust you” hormone. This one’s released when an animal is among its own kind. It feels protected — and knows that it can rely on those around it. But, you know this: you’ve felt its effect best that time your mother patiently took care of you when you were sick as a child.

Serotonin is the final chemical on our list. It’s the “I’m top dog” hormone. Or, in other words, the one which makes you strut so proudly!

Some neurotransmitters are used throughout the nervous system, and some only in certain brain regions and by certain kinds of neurons. Serotonin is produced in the brain stem and is associated with the regulation of mood and sleep. The new class of antidepressants, including Prozac and Zoloft, are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) because they inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, al- lowing whatever serotonin is already there to act for a longer period of time.

The precise mechanism by which this alleviates depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and mood and sleep disorders is not known. Dopamine is released by the nucleus accumbens and is involved in mood regulation and the coordination of movement. It is most famous for being part of the brain’s pleasure and reward system. When drug ad- dicts get their drug of choice, or when compulsive gamblers win a bet— even when chocoholics get cocoa—this is the neurotransmitter that is released. Its role—and the important role played by the nucleus accumbens—in music was unknown until 2005.

As is probably already apparent from these descriptions, all of these chemicals come with a caveat. For example, serotonin may make you feel isolated and result in frustration about your own uniqueness; oxytocin may result in herd behavior, and that helps no one.

Even if you’re an endorphin-addict causing yourself pain may debilitate you in a much more physical sense. Finally, dopamine is habituated pretty quickly, leaving you with a “been there/done that” feeling even about things you really like.

However, once it teaches you that something is good, it doesn’t bother to release the hormones anymore. Leaving you with a habit — but taking away the happiness from it.

There Are Unhappy Chemicals as Well

For example, cortisol. It’s a sweet little chemical which has helped you survive, by telling you what you shouldn’t do. However, nowadays, there are no risks — so it’s basically obsolete. But, it still transforms into stress — over utterly irrelevant matters.

With Quarters they didn’t drop a 30-minute improv jam and called that an album. Whether it was released by a ATO, a small Aussie indie like Flightless, or, well, you, each of their 2017 releases is an elaborately constructed, carefully considered statement that opened up new vistas to the multiverse for the listeners and the band to explore.

Where the vocals in a given King Gizzard song tend to mimic the pattern of the main guitar riff/rhythm in mantric repetition, here, it’s the other way around. Keyboardist Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s tries swinging cocktail-lounge pop of “The Last Oasis,” gently engulfing the song in an aquatic whirl. What’s more, the fantastic, hallucinogenic delicate“Begginers’s Luck” is so captivating, you could be excused for a celebration of greed, as opposed to a preventative moral story for unchecked avarice.

“Great Chain of Being” verges on heavy-metal parody (“I usurp the precious stones/I have come to take the throne/I transcend the natural flesh/I will lay your god to rest”) like dispatches from the Oval Office.

The appreciation we have for music is related to our ability to learn the underlying structure of the music we like — the equivalent to grammar in spoken or signed languages — and to be able to make predictions about what will come next. Music is organized sound, but the organization has to involve some element of the unexpected or it is emotionally flat and robotic.

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Ric Amurrio

Aristotle’s Frets: The human condition is a function of what machines cannot not do

Throughout human history, economic behavior has been largely defined by the notion of rival goods induced scarcity, which posits that resources are finite and individuals must compete for them. This concept has become so deeply ingrained in our collective mindset that it has become a persistent habit of the mind, creating an intellectual inertia that has proved difficult to overcome.

However, with the advent of non-rival goods, such as information and ideas, this paradigm is being challenged. Unlike rival goods, which are scarce and can only be used by one person at a time, non-rival goods can be shared freely and can be used by many people simultaneously without being diminished in value. This presents a new challenge for the traditional economic model, as it struggles to incorporate non-rival goods into its framework.

As a result, we have resorted to using intellectual property (IP) to create artificial scarcity, in order to fit non-rival goods into the existing model. This approach has its roots in the Industrial Revolution, when the concept of private property became a cornerstone of the economic system. The idea was that individuals should be able to own and control the resources they produce, in order to incentivize innovation and increase productivity.

However, the use of IP to create artificial scarcity for non-rival goods has led to unintended consequences, such as the monopolization of certain industries and the stifling of innovation. This is because IP laws often limit access to information and ideas, preventing individuals and businesses from building upon existing knowledge and creating new ideas.

A new paradigm is needed to fully incorporate non-rival goods into our economic system. This new paradigm must recognize the value of shared knowledge and ideas, and the importance of collaboration and cooperation. It must also be able to accommodate the inherent differences between rival and non-rival goods, and find ways to optimize their use in a way that benefits society as a whole.

Aristotle directly addressed the role of people in a hypothetical high-tech world: If every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.

The human condition was in part a function of what machines could not do.

Throughout history, humans have grappled with the idea of machines and their relationship to the human condition. Aristotle, one of the most influential philosophers of all time, was no exception. In his work, he explored the notion that machines could not do certain things that were essential to the human condition, while also recognizing that there was a possibility that machines could do more. This led him to consider the synthesis of these ideas, and the potential impact it could have on humanity.

On one hand, Aristotle recognized that there were certain aspects of the human condition that were beyond the capabilities of machines. For example, machines could not experience emotions like humans could, nor could they possess the same level of creativity or intuition. Aristotle believed that these qualities were an essential part of what it meant to be human, and that they could not be replicated by machines.

However, Aristotle also recognized that there was a possibility that machines could do more than they currently could. He believed that if humans continued to innovate and develop new technologies, machines could eventually be capable of things that were currently unimaginable. This idea was revolutionary for its time, as it challenged the prevailing belief that machines could only ever be limited by their programming and design.

The synthesis of these two ideas was also a topic of interest for Aristotle. He believed that while there were certain aspects of the human condition that could never be replicated by machines, there was also a potential for machines to enhance certain aspects of human life. For example, machines could be used to automate mundane tasks, freeing up more time for humans to pursue creative endeavors. Additionally, machines could be used to extend the lifespan of humans, or to improve their physical and mental capabilities.

Overall, Aristotle’s exploration of the relationship between machines and the human condition was groundbreaking for its time, and continues to be relevant today. His recognition that machines could not replicate certain aspects of the human experience, while also acknowledging their potential for growth and innovation, laid the groundwork for future discussions on the topic. Ultimately, Aristotle’s synthesis of these ideas suggests that the relationship between machines and the human condition is not one of opposition, but rather one of possibility and potential.


Moore’s Law means that more and more things can be done practically for free, if only it weren’t for those people who want to be paid. People are the flies in Moore’s Law’s ointment. When machines get incredibly cheap to run, people seem correspondingly expensive. It used to be that printing presses were expensive, so paying newspaper reporters seemed like a natural expense to fill the pages.

When the news became free, that anyone would want to be paid at all started to seem unreasonable. Moore’s Law can make salaries – and social safety nets – seem like unjustifiable luxuries.

We’ve learned that the Internet is not like a Walmart. It can’t be locked up at night and therefore controlling the distribution of music has become virtually impossible. As economists know, distribution affects supply and demand, scarcity and finally pricing. When an industry loses its ability to control distribution, its pricing usually drops.

To understand the problem, recall that in previous times in history inventions of new things created high value occupations by automating or eliminating those of lower value. This led to a heuristic that those who fear invention of new things do so because of a failure to appreciate newer opportunities. Software, however is different

Musical recording was a mechanical process until it wasn’t, and became a network service. At one time, a factory stamped out musical discs and trucks delivered them to retail stores where salespeople sold them. While that system has not been entirely destroyed, it is certainly more common to simply receive music instantly over a network. There used to be a substantial middle- class population supported by the recording industry, but no more. The principal beneficiaries of the digital music business are the operators of network services that mostly give away the music in exchange for gathering data to improve those dossiers and software models of each person.


We’ve decided not to pay most people for performing the new roles that are valuable in relation to the latest technologies. Ordinary people “share,” while elite network presences generate unprecedented fortunes. Whether these elite new presences are consumer-facing services like Google, or more hidden operations like high-frequency-trading firms, is mostly a matter of semantics. In either case, the biggest and best-connected computers provide the settings in which information turns into money. Meanwhile, trinkets tossed into the crowd spread illusions and false hopes that the emerging information economy is benefiting the majority of those who provide the information that drives it. If information age accounting were complete and honest, as much information as possible would be valued in economic terms.

Making information free is survivable so long as only limited numbers of people are disenfranchised.

We can survive if we only destroy the middle classes of musicians, journalists, and film makers. What is not survivable is the additional destruction of the middle classes in transportation, manufacturing, energy, office work, education, and health care. And all that destruction will come surely enough if the dominant idea of an information economy isn’t improved.

The illusion that everything is getting so cheap that it is practically free sets up the political and economic conditions for cartels exploiting whatever isn’t quite that way. When music is free, wireless bills get expensive, insanely so. You have to look at the whole system. No matter how petty a flaw might be in a utopia, that flaw is where the full fury of power seeking will be focused.

An economy where we sell each other PDF’s or MP3’s is no more viable that the debt based on we have now. (Banks create money by issuing loans) And while yes, new jobs will be created they won’t be able to make up for the massive efficiency driven job losses.

This means a real good chance of a demand cascad High unemployment and very high underemployment may well result in a non functioning state. This means building new models for the distribution of necessary rival goods and as future persons are likely to have less to spend, new models to leverage smaller amounts will be needed.

It may well mean either the state takes the means of production to sustain itself (i.e seizes say a bitumen plant to keep roads) or simple hollows out in time. Throughout history governments have taken steps to, “counteract the danger that public goods will be underproduced.

Apocalypse Now: The Superstar Economy

The ongoing collapse of the music industry has led to the extinction of many bands, solo artists, and music styles, primarily due to the shift towards free or near-free music. The devaluation of music recordings has resulted in entire generations of listeners who have never paid for music and will continue to resist any requirements to pay for it. This degradation of the music industry has led to the disappearance of bands on their second or third record, unable to evolve alongside industry parameters.

The decline in recording revenues has dismantled the label system, once the most reliable form of artist financing. The music industry failed to create its own platforms to distribute music or partner with others to harness the power to create antifragile forward-looking lines of revenue. Instead, the industry blamed everyone but themselves for their problems, while streaming services like iTunes and Spotify have given rise to another hardware-based, proprietary, walled-garden, non-music-centric, de-facto monopoly.

Web 2.0’s exaggerated perceptions of the evils of the old models of intellectual property have focused on controlling distribution, scale, and domination, and achieving hit-driven, repeatable mass-market success. Audiences have been a “captive audience,” and for many, sharing files is an act of civil disobedience that puts them in the company of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

The dinosaurs of the old order were given fair notice of the digital revolution to come, but they couldn’t adapt due to their own stubbornness, rigidity, or stupidity. However, blaming them for their fate is not constructive. The damage to our cultural capital from the ongoing collapse of the music industry is hard to overstate. It has led to the extinction of many artists, and the industry’s failures have contributed to the paralysis of the United States in the face of serious challenges at home and abroad.


Jaron Lanier made the case that we had a baseline in the form of the musical middle class that was being put out of business by the net.

We ought to at least have found support in the new economy for them. Could 26,000 musicians each find 1,000 true fans? Or could 130,000 each find between 200 and 600 true fans? Furthermore, how long would be too long to wait for this to come about? Thirty years? Three hundred years? Was there anything wrong with enduring a few lost generations of musicians while we wait for the new solution to emerge?

Jaron Lanier

He produced the answer as follows; One would expect is an S curve: there would be only a small number of early adaptors, but a noticeable trend of increase in their numbers. It was common on the net to see incredibly fast adoption of new behaviors — only a few pioneer bloggers for a little while , then, suddenly, millions of them — . The same could happen for musicians.

So twenty plus years after the widespread adoption of music file sharing, how many examples of musicians living by new rules should we expect to find? It would be nice if there were 3,000 by now. Then maybe in a few years there would be 30,000. Then the S curve would manifest in full, and there would be 300,000 thundering onto the scene. There must be tens of thousands already!


we always heard that more opportunities will be created than destroyed. Isn’t twenty plus years long enough to wait before we take a more scientific approach? Are we building the information highway for people or who exactly for? If it’s for people, someone is asleep at the wheel. Something like “We may not know where we’re going anymore, but we’re going to get there a whole lot faster.

Consider Mp3s. A purchase of an Mp3 is not as substantive for the buyer as was a Vinyl purchase in physicality. An Mp3 buyer is no longer a first-class citizen in a marketplace.

When you buy a Vinyl, you can resell it at will, or continue to enjoy it no matter where you decide to buy other books. It might become a collectible book and go up in value, so you might make a profit on your original purchase.

Every purchase of an old-fashioned vinyl opens an opportunity to earn money by enhancing provenance. You can get the author to sign it, to make it more meaningful to you, and to increase its value.

With an Mp3, however, you are not a first-class commercial citizen. Instead, you have only purchased tenuous rights within someone else’s company store. You cannot resell, nor can you do anything else to treat your purchase as an investment. Your decision space is reduced. If you want to use a different reading device, or connect over a different cloud, you will in most cases lose access to the book you “purchased.” It wasn’t really a purchase, but a contract entered into, even though neither you nor anyone else ever reads such contracts.


A decision was made to prevent or inhibit the negative consequences at the financial and economic layer by actually spending resources, or burning resources at the cultural level and occupying all available niches destroying the available ecosystems with all manner of tools more reminiscent of mining or oil extraction that have devalued music in a more pernicious way than the problems of hyper-supply and inter-industry jockeying.

The environmental impact of mining includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affects the health of the local population.

Art/discovery stories are subordinate to celebrity news at a systemic level. Industry metrics (chart position and concert ticket sales) becomes a staple of music “news.” In the age of measured clicks the always-on focus grouping has institutionalized the echo chamber stultifying and discouraging meaningful engagement with music.

As of today 10% of artist take 99% of streaming or 1% recent of artist takes 77% of market

The superstar economy is a term used to describe the phenomenon where a small group of high-performing individuals or companies earn a disproportionate share of the rewards in a given market or industry. The term “superstar” refers to those individuals or companies who have achieved an exceptional level of success and fame, often due to their unique skills or talents, network effects, or a combination of both.

The superstar economy is often associated with industries such as entertainment, sports, technology, and finance, where the top performers can earn salaries or profits that are orders of magnitude higher than the average worker or company. For example, in the music industry, a few top-selling artists can earn millions of dollars in revenue, while the majority of musicians struggle to make a living.

The superstar economy is driven by several factors, including increasing globalization, technological advancements, and changing consumer preferences. In the digital age, it’s easier than ever for superstars to reach a global audience and build a dedicated fanbase. Additionally, network effects can reinforce the superstar’s dominance, as their success can attract more followers or customers, further cementing their position as the top performer.

However, the superstar economy can have a number of negative consequences, particularly when it comes to income inequality and access to opportunities. Some of the key negative consequences of the superstar economy include:

  1. Concentration of wealth: The concentration of rewards in the hands of a few top performers can lead to extreme wealth inequality. In industries where the superstar effect is most pronounced, such as sports, entertainment, and technology, a small group of individuals or companies can earn a disproportionate share of the profits, leaving the rest of the industry struggling to make ends meet.
  2. Lack of diversity: The superstar economy can also create a lack of diversity, as new entrants may struggle to gain traction in the face of established superstars. This can lead to a homogenization of the industry, with a limited number of voices and perspectives being represented.
  3. Reduced innovation: The concentration of rewards can also reduce innovation, as new ideas and products may struggle to gain a foothold in the market. This can be particularly problematic in industries that are dominated by a few large players, as these players may be more focused on maintaining their dominance than on innovating.
  4. Increased risk: The superstar economy can also increase risk for those who do not achieve superstar status. For example, in the sports industry, a player who does not achieve superstar status may struggle to earn a living, despite having the same skills and talents as a superstar player. This can make it difficult for individuals to plan for their futures, and can increase the risk of financial instability.
  5. Reduced social mobility: Finally, the superstar economy can reduce social mobility, as those who are born into less affluent backgrounds may struggle to access the same opportunities as those who come from more affluent backgrounds. This can perpetuate existing inequalities, and make it difficult for individuals to move up the economic ladder.

Overall, while the superstar economy can provide opportunities for exceptional performers to achieve great success, it can also create significant challenges for those who do not achieve superstar status, leading to inequality, reduced innovation, and increased risk.


The clamor for online attention only turns into money for a token minority of ordinary people, but there is another new, tiny class of people who always benefit. Those who keep the new ledgers, the giant computing services that model you, spy on you, and predict your actions, turn your life activities into the greatest fortunes in history. Those are concrete fortunes made of money.

The largest streaming platform in the world, Google-owned YouTube, doesn’t think that music devaluation is even possible. “It’s amazing how often people invoke that word ‘devalue’ as if it means something,” Google executive Tim Quirk said in 2014. “It doesn’t. You know why? Because you can’t devalue music. It’s impossible. Songs are not worth exactly 99 cents and albums are not worth precisely $9.99.”

Worsening the situation is a circular ‘blame game’ between streaming giants and labels, with artists ultimately shorted. Spotify says they pay the labels, though this is often with huge, multi-million dollar advances and/or equity positions attached. But labels frequently don’t pay their artists, either for legitimate (ie, the artist is unrecouped) or illegitimate (ie, they’re screwing an artist) reasons.

The concept of the long tail seemed like a useful way of understanding how consumers interact with content in digital contexts, and for a while looked like the roadmap for an exciting era of digital content. In fact digital music services have actually intensified the Superstar concentration, not lessened it . The top 1% account for 75% of CD revenues but 79% of subscription revenue. This counter intuitive trend is driven by two key factors: a) smaller amount of ‘front end’ display for digital services — especially on mobile devices — and b) by consumers being overwhelmed by a Tyranny of Choice in which excessive choice actual hinders discovery.

The long tail does not increase sales, but it does create competition and squeezes prices. Unless artists become a large aggregator of other artists’ works, the long tail offers no path out of minuscule sales.

Not my problem, you say? You could derive value from ubiquity. The solution wasn’t to somehow try to become obscure, to get your song off the (digital) radio. The solution was to change your business. You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you could sell interactivity and souvenirs.” Interactivity couldn’t be copied. Don’t try to sell what was abundant — sell what is scarce.

But after ten years of seeing many, many people try, I fear that it’s just not working. We are all starving because of our failed digital idealism.

Often we talk about mining, oil extraction and fraking like the most damaging activities relating to the environment.


There’s now a downward technological progression, with vinyl only slightly breaking the chain. With every subsequent format, monetization deteriorates: streaming pays less than downloads; downloads paid less than CDs

In fact, former member of Cracker and current artist activist David Lowery feels that artists are worse off now than they were in the analog era. And, he points to lower payments, less control, a shift in revenue towards tech companies, and less secure copyright protections to prove his case.

Most artists are overwhelmed with tasks that go far beyond making music. That includes everything from Tweeting fans, updating Facebook pages, managing metadata, uploading content, interpreting data, managing Kickstarter campaigns, figuring out online sales strategies, and fixing broken-down vans.

Paid downloads are plunging, with massive declines surfacing this year. That is bad news for artists and labels, given that the payouts on downloads are far higher than streaming (thanks to an upfront payment and more predictable revenue cut.


Songwriters are often paid pennies for successful tracks, even top-charting songs on major streaming and internet radio platforms make just $5,679 for 178 million streams. Lower royalties are killing an entire generation of writers: Nashville has lost more than 80 percent of its songwriters since 2000.


Touring is fun, but it can also be extremely demanding and exhausting, especially when its the core revenue generator. Many artists are experiencing difficulties making a sustainable living out of touring, merchandising, or other non-recording activities like ‘experiences’

If you used to make all of your money selling music but now they have to tour the crucial difference there is if you’re making your money selling your your intellectual property well then then that is money that you can continue to make even when you stop working whereas if you were making your money touring you know that there’s a linear relationship between you know every gig and every dollar and once you stop touring you stop making money and that’s that looks very different in your old age as a rock star yeah

Of course if you’re young what you think about is it’s in my interest to not have to pay for this file oh you know right but then you will not stay young forever no matter what weird rhetoric comes out of Google spin-offs you know you will also grow old you will also have a biological body and you will have needs and you will not always have perfect days and this whole idea of intellectual property kind of like a lot of things in our society it you can think of it as something that only benefits elites but actually it was fought for by unions trying to support people who are not elites at all the musicians union battled long and hard to get these rights to create dignity for people who produce information in their lives and to have it lost by people who thought they were doing the right thing is just one of the great tragedies of our era.

Older, arena-filling artists are starting to die. And Many others are touring just to pay the bills, including medical bills. That includes Dick Dale, who remains on the road despite his advanced age to pay for treatment for rectal cancer, renal failure, and massive vertebrae damage.

When this music wants to be free things started happening we just started having weekly fundraisers for people like famous musicians who’d gotten sick in old age and had like no support me more and it was just so tragic recently John Perry Barlow passed away and he had been a songwriter for the Grateful Dead one of the most successful bands which had actually pioneered a lot of this idea by encouraging tapers at their concerts from a very pure feeling from a very generous feeling but then you know at the end even though he’d penned you know these songs and these huge selling records he just basically didn’t have income.

It’s like what I call it a singing for your supper for every single meal you never get to build up any life you know you can’t build up any reserve so that you can have a sick day or grow old or have a kid who needs to go to college you know it’s it’s a everybody goes into this geekycon a you’re basically this disposable element and somebody else’s fortune and that’s what that’s what making music free actually did.

Live Music

A large percentage of live music fans are frustrated with high ticket prices at concerts, not to mention wildly overpriced, in-venue items like beer. And, the secondary ticketing market is often fed before the actual market, thanks to bots, aggressive scalpers, or the artists and ticketing providers themselves.

All of which means that fans now regard live concerts as a one-off, infrequent ‘event,’ instead of a regular outing. In fact, the average consumer goes to just 1.5 shows a year (per Live Nation Entertainment). Meanwhile, service fees continue to outrage fans, even though artist guarantees and advances are often a culprit (then again, Stubhub recently found that ‘all in pricing’ led to fewer sales.)

Ric Amurrio

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