Erik-Dardan Ymeraga

Brown University

December 2012

 

Towards a Community-Oriented Platform for Archival Live Recording

The intent of this project is to envision, working directly with musicians and concertgoers in the Providence, RI musical underground, a web-based platform for local amateur performance recordings; while such a space would be open to the public at large it would ideally serve primarily as a living community archive. The ever-increasing fidelity and declining consumer costs of handheld digital recording technology have lowered many barriers for amateur recordists including myself, yet while live recordings are increasingly available on blogs, filesharing services and even mainstream news sites, few attempts have been made to frame them in a localized, community-oriented manner. Based upon my interactions with the Providence underground, a small, tight-knit musical scene where the relationship between audience and performer is only minimally mediated, it seems to me that any adequate documentary project should reflect and serve that locality. There is certainly no want for opportunity: Providence performances frequently occur in small, unlicensed spaces with no restrictions on audience recording, and musicians are almost always enthusiastic about recording of their performances and interested in hearing them, whether to examine the state and success of unreleased material currently being live-tested or simply to briefly step into an external perspective on their own work. Some have even expressed interest in officially releasing the results of these recordings on cassette, but even in these cases few have raised any objection to their somewhat open dissemination on personal social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, often reposting recording links themselves. Many musicians and listeners alike in this community have encouraged me to establish some sort of archive for this accumulated material, now in excess of 46 hours, and it is the aim of this project to do just that, drawing on the successes and drawbacks of current platforms such as Bandcamp, Soundcloud and the Free Music Archive as well as previously existing online audio archive initiatives. It is my hope to create something that will encapsulate the best of these existing outlets while functioning primarily on a localized, community-oriented level; if successful, such a platform could serve as a template for other local communities with resonant archival concerns.


Attali, Jacques. 1985 [1977]. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Attali's work, while extremely thorny, is potentially applicable to the specific functions and properties of noise when interpreted as music, as in the work of many Providence musicians.

Auslander, Philip. 2008. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. London: Routledge.
To adequately discuss the practice of live recording it is necessary to first treat the question of liveness itself, a task for which Auslander's work is valuable.

Bennett, Andy. 1999. Popular Music and Youth Culture: Music, Identity and Place. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Bennett's work speaks to both my intended focus on locality and the frequently youth-driven scene I've been working in in Providence.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong & Thomas Keenan eds. 2006. New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader. New York: Routledge.
Ernst's chapter on the archive should address many questions raised by the practice of audio documentation.

Cohen, Sara. 1995. "Sounding Out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 20(4): 423-433.
Through a series of discussions with 88-year old Jack, a lifelong resident of Liverpool, Cohen shows the "production of place through music to be a contested and ideological process" (434), identifying at the same time a scholarly focus in discussions of place-making on the purely visual aspect to the detriment of the aural. Cohen begins by pointing out Jack's keen ability of recall, through which music calls to mind images of place and physical presence calls to mind in turn the sounds that in the past marked a place. Initial examples refer to gramophone recordings of Jewish religious music which first invoked a country of origin but quickly began to construct a neighborhood in which Jewish immigrants would gather to listen together; she also discusses the manner in which musical education and especially the imposition of a patriotic repertoire can serve as an aid to assimilation. She then conflates music and space in their properties of being embodied and enveloping, developing a "view of music and place not as fixed and bounded texts or entities but as  social practice involving relations between people, sounds, images, artifacts and the material environment" (438).

Doğantan-Dack, Mine ed. 2008. Recorded Music: Philosophical and Critical Reflections. London: Middlesex University Press.
Of particular interest are Gracyk's chapter on the transformative quality of documentation and Frith's examination of recorded improvisations – especially this latter will be of use in discussing the challenges and rewards of recording performances in a genre (for example, noise) where the performance often has no relation to any present or future "studio" recordings or composed, released material.

Hill, Leslie & Helen Paris eds. 2006. Performance and Place. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hill and Paris' discussion of place will be extremely useful in mapping out a framing mechanism for live recordings that highlights a sense of their locality.

Kibby, Marjorie D. 2000. "Home on the Page: A Virtual Place of Music Community." Popular Music 19(1): 91-100.
Kibby discusses the potential for the online formation of "local" communities for groups with delocalized interests, via the example of Oh Boy! Records' John Prine chat page. "When recording technology disrupted the physical line between performer and fan," she writes, it became necessary to "develop symbolic links to maintain a sense of commonality between performer and listener, and create a community among fans" (92). Kibby argues that Prine's position as a musician in the folk tradition perceived as "of the people" made his music an effective galvanization for an online community impossible to replicate offline on account of geographical diffusion of his fanbase. As her survey of chat users reveals, while all members shared a love of Prine's music as a "means of connection", most cited general conversation as their primary forum usage; it "gave fans a sense of place, and with it an identity" (94). However, fractures began to emerge in this community as Prine's own activity began to slow and discussions grew less and less related to the man and his music: newcomers would often criticize the lack of "relevant" information, and coupled with the chat site's ease of access and unfiltered nature, it eventually devolved into "flaming" and was shut down by the label. Kibby concludes by reiterating the problem of Prine's own absence from the community supposedly crystallized around him, as well as asserting that "anonymity dissolves community", presenting potential lessons for envisioners of similar online communities.

Koomen, Maria. 2011. "#heapsong1: sharing music on SoundCloud." Newmediastudies.nl 4. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://www.newmediastudies.nl/magazine/heapsong1-sharing-music-soundcloud>.

Kruse, Holly. 2010. "Local Identity and Independent Music Scenes, Online and Off." Popular Music and Society 33(5): 625-639.
Kruse's tension between overlapping online and offline spaces speaks to a similar relationship to that between the musicians and audiences I have been documenting and the potential space to engage with those documentations in a permanent online location.

Leyshon, Andrew and David Matless & George Revill. 1995. "The Place of Music." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 20(4): 423-433.
Leyshon, Matless and Revill's introduction is a useful primer on various conceptions of place as it relates to musical performance, playback and practice.

Marshall, Lee. 2003. "For and against the Record Industry: An Introduction to Bootleg Collectors and Tape Traders." Popular Music 22(1): 57-72.
Marshall identifies bootlegging and tape trading (activities he assigns to "collectors of unauthorised music") as "involved in a complex relationship with the official industry, reinforcing the industry's main ideological tenets while at the same time challenging its control" (58). Marshall then attempts to profile the "collector", identifying them as "die-hard fans who want everything" (60), engaged primarily with "the prioritisation of live performance within popular music culture" and "creat[ing] an ongoing, meaningful relationship between artist and fan" not necessarily possible within the span of officially-released recordings. These views are rooted in a perception that "the legitimate industry cannot successfully document the continually changing nuances" of musical practice (61). The potential for error on live recordings is essential to their air of authenticity, as is the frequent presence of the musician as speaker and direct mediator in between songs. While tape traders, who rarely charge for their disseminated material, claim an opposition to the commodification of recordings, Marshall argues their dispute is in actuality with "the commodification of music by large corporations" "prioritis[ing] profit at the expense of music" (66-7). In this attempted rebellion, however, Marshall perceives the effect of an "intensification of authenticity" for recordings that ultimately supports the ideologies that ascribe commodity value to official releases – and rare, unauthorized material receives its value through its positioning outside of the sphere of officially available recordings.

Neumann, Mark & Timothy A. Simpson. 1997. "Smuggled Sound: Bootleg Recording and the Pursuit of Popular Memory." Symbolic Interaction 20(4): 319-341.
Neumann and Simpson's examination of bootleg tapers' "document[ation of] their participation in mass cultural events on their own terms and for their own uses" is essential in attempting to imagine a space for those terms and uses to be publicly manifested on a collaborative and community level.

Nikolić, Mirko. 2012. "Sound as Social Object. Caroline Drucker of Soundcloud at Share Conference 2." PointLineFlow. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://www.pointlineflow.net/p/sound-as-social-product-caroline.html>.
Nikolić presents a report and analysis of remarks made by Soundcloud's "Partnership Marketing Manager" Caroline Drucker at Belgrade's Share Conference 2 in 2012. First, he reminds that, while its most visible usage has been that of musicians, "Soundcloud" reveals in its name its intention as a platform for all branches of sound, musical or not. To this end, Drucker suggests that our relationship with sound and hearing differs from that with image and sight in that it has not yet become instinctual to use preexisting technologies to capture sound as we do with photographs and video, advocating a keener awareness of the reasonable recording qualities of smartphones and other portable devices (and implicitly suggesting that, much like with cameraphone photographs, even a mediocre documentation is superior to none at all). She also positions sound recording as less obtrusive and thus less mediating than video recording or photography, ideologically positioning sound as closer to "real" experience than its sensory peers. Nikolić ties this concept to that of memory and of a sense of place, citing Drucker's assertion that through SoundCloud sound becomes a "social object", "leav[ing] the trace of its production open" through the visualized waveform, one of the platform's primary features. Nikolić concludes by arguing that "the act of sound sharing has regained some of its ritualism thanks to the waveform" in that "waveform demands creative response".

Reason, Matthew. 2006. Documentation, Disappearance and the Representation of Live Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Reason addresses the "ideological, practical, moral and representational implications of knowing performance through its documentations", an unavoidable issue here. This will be useful in addressing the deficiencies of live audio recording as well as in presenting a defense of its value as documentary material.

Shelemay, Kay Kaufman. 2011. "Musical Communities: Rethinking the Collective in Music." Journal of the American Musicological Society 64(2): 349-390.
In a project so centered upon a musical community, it becomes valuable to carefully consider precisely what is meant and contained by this term. Shelemay's work will be of great use in this aim.

nyctaper. 2007-2012. (Various archives.) 16 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nyctaper.com/category/nyctaper-posts/>.
NYCtaper offers an illuminating example of past and continuing practices in bootleg recording and recording dissemination. Beginning in 2007, the blog almost immediately encountered substantial setbacks, facing accusations of piracy for the posting of live recordings without previously obtaining permission from the artists, a situation which led to the institutionalization of an exclusively pre-approved recording practice. This can to some extent be identified as a side effect of NYCtaper's situation within many relatively large and decentralized New York music communities in which interaction with musicians is often difficult, and initially limited the range of potential recordings to those performers easily accessible by email (or, indeed, inclined to respond to unsolicited queries). Still, through persistent contact and recording practice and commitment to quality sound, NYCtaper's profile rose in New York and elsewhere, generating over time a social capital that opened doors for higher-profile recordings and an expansion of the project's scope to the booking and promotion of "sponsored" concerts. Much of NYCtaper's trajectory cannot be directly applied to a smaller, tight-knit musical community but it presents a useful case study of a successful experiment in institutionalizing and sustaining a position within a community as recordist and at least begins to point to certain possibilities for the storage and presentation of those recordings.

(Various local musicians, Providence, RI.) 2012. Questionnaire responses.
Ideally responses from the musicians whose work will be featured in the proposed archival space will play a central role in the shaping of that space. Questions will focus on current use of existing platforms, potential benefits and drawbacks of those platforms, features or qualities that are not currently reflected in music hosting services, and the role such an archive would play within the community.

Wilson, Brian. 2005. "Rave and Straightedge, the Virtual and the Real: Exploring Online and Offline Experiences in Canadian Youth Subcultures." Youth and Society 36: 276-311.
Again, these case studies of the interactions between physical and online manifestations of the "same" or roughly parallel communities serves as a preview of the ways in which a physical music community could engage with a live recording archive.