Thursday, February 11, 2010

An international cultural exception?


EMI's record - in more ways than one - £1.75 billion loss raises important questions. There is now a real possibility that the company will breach its loan agreements at the end of March, causing control to pass to financial conglomerate Citigroup. Which means many of the great classical (and rock) recordings of the 20th century could be in the hands of American bankers. This may only be marginally worse than leaving them with EMI's current owner Guy Hands, but it is, nevertheless, a terrifying prospect.

English Heritage operates an invaluable listed buildings scheme which recognises that -
From Stonehenge to the mills of the Industrial Revolution, and from Norman castles to the site of the first TV transmission: in each generation, a small number of exceptional places mark and celebrate human architectural achievement, define an era, mark an important struggle or push new ideas to the limit. It is appropriate and necessary to make careful decisions about the future of these places and their protection.
Internationally UNESCO World Heritage acknowledges that -
Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.
English Heritage and UNESCO have established the principle of protecting great physical properties for future generations. EMI's current predicament will surely be mirrored by other businesses trading in intellectual properties. Are we prepared to see the master tapes of Jacqueline du Pré's Elgar Cello Concerto, Karajan's great opera interpretations and countless other 'irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration' thrown in the trash can by the bankers together with their cashed bonus cheques? Or should we not be protecting great intellectual properties from the ravages of the free market and safeguarding them for future generations by establishing some form of international cultural exception?


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11 comments:

Pliable said...

EMI's current situation also provides an interesting perspective on the trend of extending the copyright period on intellectual properties.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+IM-PRESS+20090422IPR54191+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN

Extended copyright periods only work if there is a degree of stability among the commercial owners of intellectual properties. EMI's current situation suggests this may not be the case.

The Wound Dresser said...

Nothing wrong with american Bankers.Just ask all the folks who were foreclosed on, laid off,on food stamps,while the CEO's get multi million dollar bonuses.Ah,the beauty of the free market...I am certain they will do to EMI what they did to the economy.Nothing to worry about

Pliable said...

Email received:

But this is an old story. DGG was sold to Vivendi Universal, losing it’s German heritage (though, ironically, the major owners of V-U are Canadian!)

Cheers

David Cavlovic

Pliable said...

David, I don't think the DGG and EMI stories are quite the same.

DGG/Polydor was sold to Vivendi, a company that was planning to continue to exploit its intellectual property in the form of back catalogue, even though they have arguably done a lousy job with it.

If control of EMI passes to Citigroup it will simply be because that is what the loan agreement dictates. Citigroup have no interest at all in exploiting the intellectual property and are likely to dispose of the assets in some kind of fire sale.

The Beatles catalogue is the prime attraction in any fire sale. What will happen to the classical catalogue in such an eventuality I shuddder to think.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8411741.stm

Pliable said...

Email received:

Fire Sale

Well, here is a possible connection of the DGG/EMI stories.

Before DGG was put up for sale, it was rumoured that Naxos would buy the catalogue (though no word on whether or not that included DECCA and PHILIPS titles).

Maybe, just maybe, the same might happen with the EMI Classical back-catalogue, except this time Naxos (or even Brilliant Classics, who have actually issued some EMI material) might go through with it.

One can only hope that is so, but the loss of EMI from the English cultural fabric is a stunningly depressing turn of events.

Cheers

David Cavlovic

See

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2006/01/even-more-brilliant-classics.html

Boydell and Brewer said...

Given the V&A's cavalier attitude to the musical instruments in its collection, many of which were given in order to protect 'great physical properties for future generations,' would handing over EMI's master tapes to such an organisation be any better?

Pliable said...

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article7010483.ece

B & B, It is a very fair point you make. I do not know what the answer is and my question about some form of international cultural exception was not rhetorical - it was simply me thinking aloud.

But, the risks of doing nothing are very real. Or reel, as in this short video -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTUhGlH8OS4

Pliable said...

There are interesting links between the V&A disbanding its musical instruments collection and l'exception culturelle.

La Cité de la Musique in Paris, which I visited recently, has a quite exceptional (culturelle?) collection of musical instruments housed in a new purpose built arts complex, and there is no sign of it being disbanded.

France has its share of problems. But its treatment of the arts via L'exception culturelle is thought provoking.

See

http://www.cite-musique.fr/anglais/musee/coll_permanentes.aspx

Scott said...

Despite the depressing actions being discussed here, it's not quite the End of the Civilized World.

Music recordings are an interesting class of "cultural artifact." Take the two recordings pictured. I have CD versions of each, as do many others. If the master tapes are taken out into the parking lot and burned, what has been lost beyond the ability to go back to those tapes for any future remasterings? In most (all?) cases, I suspect this is a small loss.

Now, not everything in the archives has been put out on CD, although I suspect it's true to say that most of the truly valuable stuff has been. It's the other stuff that is in danger of being lost.

In other words, there may be an irony here - the valuable material such as the two recordings pictured is really in no danger of being lost, but the less valuable material may well be.

Pliable said...

Scott, I agree totally with your point that the less valuable material may well be in danger of being lost.

You are also right in saying that CD quality copies of most works will be available. But there are considerable differences between CD and master tape quality. And those differences will become more apparent in the future as lossless file formats gain acceptance.

If we had been having this debate thirty years ago we might have said there will be no problem remastering these great recordings because state of the art vinyl LP pressings are available. And how wrong we would have been.

Pliable said...

Email received:

I really wonder how good lossless files will sound.

The irony of recording technology is that it’s usually at it’s best AFTER another format has appeared on the market that supplants it.

This goes for the CD player. A handful of high end models now offer the sound quality promised almost 30 years ago! In fact, the sound quality is even better than originally hoped for.

I recently bought the Rega Apollo (back in my vinyl days, I had a Rega Planar 3: what a turntable!). Simply put, CDs sound like music again. Another interesting observation: after a couple of hours of listening, my ears no longer suffer from digital fatigue.

So, the old issue of re-mastering has little really to do with format, should you have the right equipment, and a lot to do with HOW the OM was remastered. Even high-end audiophile magazines, the last bastion of analogue, have pointed out that the major reason the first CD issues were so bad was that they were remastered (or mastered) in a hurry to get them to market.

And now, a shameful promo: I recommend anyone who has a half-decent system to invest in either the Rega Apollo, or it’s more precise cousin (for “better” systems), the Rega Saturn:

http://www.stereophile.com/cdplayers/606rega/#

http://www.audioreview.com/cat/digital-sources/cd-players/rega/apollo/PRD_347897_1586crx.aspx

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue29/rega_apollo.htm

David Cavlovic