Forthcoming on NMC – Rebecca Saunders: Skin

It is remarkable that Rebecca Saunders – by any measure one of the UK’s leading and most admired composers – has not yet been recorded by this country’s primary new music label, NMC (although her music has appeared on three discs by HCR, which are distributed through NMC). So the announcement of a first release this November is extremely welcome. Even more so is that it will feature one of Saunders’ finest recent works, the blistering Skin (2016), performed by its dedicatee, Juliet Fraser, with Klangforum Wien. Also on the recording is the double percussion concerto void, from 2014, performed by Christian Dierstein, Dirk Rothbrust and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Enno Poppe; and the 2017 string quartet Unbreathed, written for and performed by the Quatuor Diotima.

Here’s a short extract from Skin, a work that Paul Griffiths’ liner notes say ‘stretches its soprano protagonist across the feverishly alive body of instrumentalists. She is this music’s skin. Voice is this music’s skin.’ I await the full recording eagerly; release date is 18 November, be sure to check the NMC website for more details nearer the time.


Music copyright to be extended to 95 years in the EU

Bad news for copyleftists. The measure still needs ratification from the European Parliament and member states, but 95-year copyright terms in recordings look increasingly likely. A plenary vote will take place on 24–26 March. The Greens, at least, intend to vote against.

The Times have claimed this as a victory for musicians as go-ahead given for copyright to be extended to 95 years. But the pensions of Cliff Richard and Feargal Sharkey are hardly the whole story.

Here is Andrew Gowers in December explaining, once again, that “copyright extension has high costs to the public and negligible benefits for the creative community”:

In addition to the usual pleasantries about Britain’s creative industries, Mr Burnham set out a novel argument about the law of copyright protecting musicians’ work.

There was, he said, “a moral case” for performers – who often do their best recorded work in their 20s and 30s – to benefit from it throughout their lifetime. The government would therefore consider extending copyright for recordings to 70 years from the present 50.

As political speeches go, this is pretty silly. A moral case? You might just as well say sportspeople have a moral case to a pension at 30.

Copyright is an economic instrument, not a moral one, and if you consider the economic arguments – as I did two years ago at the request of Gordon Brown – you will find that they do not stack up. All the respectable research shows that copyright extension has high costs to the public and negligible benefits for the creative community.

Here is Cory Doctorow last month on why 95 years is a bad idea:

Independent and government experts from the UK and the EU agree: extending copyright will do little to remunerate recording artists (the majority of artists will receive between €0.26 and €26.79 each year for the first decade), but it will result in a gigantic windfall for a few multinational companies, taking £150m from the pockets of Europeans and transferring it to the record labels – after a tiny slice is shaved off for poor artists.

Here is a statement put out by the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management at Bournemouth University, in which the “aging artist” argument is particularly addressed:

Under the current 50 year term, a track recorded when a performer was 25 will be protected until age 75. If the artist continued recording throughout her performing life, the current term will most likely outlast the performer’s lifespan. Not a single artist has a life expectancy of 45 years at age 75 – yet this is the extension the Commission proposes. If the Commission really wanted to help performers, it would (i) limit the term to the artist’s life, (ii) make such a term not available to record producers (labels), and (iii) look at recording contracts during the existing term. Any independent assessment will show the “ageing performers” argument as a smoke screen.

The CIPPM are also sharp on the economic impact of the proposed measures on young musicians just entering the profession:

Minor beneficiaries are ordinary working performers. The bottom 80% of performers would each receive between € 4 and € 58 a year (calculation based on Commission’s own figures). [TR-J: Presumably Doctorow’s figures above refer to a smaller percentile of performers.] Some of these benefits however come at the costs of younger performers just entering the profession, as the same pot of money will have to be shared by more artists, many of whom are or will be dead.

The Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property Law has published a 22-page demolition [pdf] of the proposed changes, concluding:

The relationships addressed by the Commission in its proposal are complex. The Commission cannot be expected to have exhaustive legal or factual expert knowledge in this field. However, this is no justification for the blind implementation of specific commercial interests without consulting independent experts.

More links available at the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music.

Aural smoke

We are archiving our sounds faster and more comprehensively than ever before, even as copyright restrictions and the pace of technological change threaten the long-term viability of such archives. Yet in that same time, a 148 year-old recording made of paper and smoke has been played back and digitised. An audio recording made from smoke, people, that has already outlasted your iPod by around 14 decades. The recording may have caused Charlotte Green to corpse spectacularly on the Today show this morning, but this sounds like real-life magic to me.