NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture


I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas.
I’m frightened of the old ones.
John Cage

In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the
slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued
started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.
–Aristotle, Physics, VI: 9, 239b15


Warning: This text contains uncredited samples. The smart
reader is advised to search for terms in various sentences to find out the
context. Simply copy and paste them into a decent search engine, and see what
else pops up in the browser.


These days in the beginnings of the 21st century,
we’re faced with a kind of social entropy. Whenever one is exposed to the
financial world there’s a kind of surrealism to the situation. Credit default
swaps, futures markets, financial instruments: these are terms based on
complex, expensive loans that most people don’t understand. But what makes all
of this converge on the topic I’m writing about – “economics” as it relates to
cultural production — is a kind of pro-forma switch between artististic
practice, and how the world is represented. Think of it this way: economics,
the “dismal science” is for most people the “real” of the real, the financial underpinnings
of modern life in an information based economy. Let’s take a look at the root
word of economics:

“Eco” is derived from the Greek term “oikonomia” (oikos – “house” and  nomos
– “custom”). It’s resonant with the later Latin derived term “credit” derived
from creder which simply means simply
“to believe.”

This is exactly what the founder of modern economics, Adam
Smith, meant when he said “all money is a matter of belief.” Or even more when
he said “on the road from the City of Skepticism, I had to pass through the
Valley of Ambiguity.” What kind of music comes out of these statements? Here’s
the basic scenario: when you face the idea that digital reproduction equals
infinite abundance, the result is basically that you have so many options available,
that the normal business model of scarcity simply no longer applies: and so
music should be free. It’s that simple. Infinite amount of copies equals zero
value. The abundance of music, its low cost, wide spread availability,
contributes to the sense that all musics from every part of recorded history
are equally available, and can be mixed together into new forms. In the
simplest of terms, anything that can be digital, will be. And that scenario, in
turn, fosters the end of normal economics in the “culture industry.” Basic
vibe: if you’re a musician, you need to update your business model, and think
about many, many, many different ways to earn an income.

In the 21st century we face so many variables
about what it means to “believe” in a system: a computer operating system? A
church? A “lifestyle?” I love to play with these kinds of conjunctions,
because, put simply, that’s about all that makes any of this make sense: it’s
all a kind of theater, a place where we create roles, and read from a script made
of numbers that many of us don’t understand. Ask your average person on the
street – we in the U.S. face a scenario from Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s
film “Wall Street” where he sneers at the belief of the audience in morality;
he simply says “90 percent of Americans have no net worth.” Almost true…

If we go back a little ways, and
think this idea through, we come up with some different issues. What some
economists are calling “social capital” comes into play, it gives a sense of
dynamism to the way we think about “intangible goods” and comes into direct
collision with the norms of a capitalist society based on scarcity. Got it?
It’s been a while since 1989,  when
the Berlin Wall fell. If we turn things upside down and think about the “values
system” of American capitalism versus, say, what’s going on in post-Mao China,
we can see things looking like this: in 1989 the claim was made that what had
been defeated was not an enemy — the Soviet Union — but rather the entire
opposition to capitalism. Neoliberal author Francis Fukuyama argued that the
world had reached “the end of history,” because from that point on
there would only be capitalism and continuous growth, unrestrained by annoying
things like Federal regulation, etc. You can see where that got us. Ask Goldman
Sachs, Bernie Maddoff, or anyone else involved with the financial fictions of
the Bush era.

Recall and rewind: the script of our era is what theorist
Arjun Appadurai likes to call the “social life of things” or what philosopher
Alain Badiou simply called “theory of the subject.” We reflect, we generate
intangible links and connections between tastes, styles, and above all, the way
we combine those tastes and styles. That’s the catch with digital media and
music; there is no “there” — everything is routed between connections, and end
points are material for the scrapheap of post-modernity.

Post-everything music asks this: why pay for anything? Why
not just create the gift economy that we all live in and call it quits. The way
the law is written, and the way we live, simply part ways. The old world
production model – scarcity always seemed annoying and physical. I want to see
people’s imaginations take flight, create their own values, and a soundtrack to
go with it, to inspire new forms for new ways of living. To get rid of the 20th
century’s old physical forms, and to become an emotive, free space. That’s the
basic idea for 21st century aesthetics – here and now, is always.

Finance of fictions. Fictions of finance. How does music
factor into this entertainment industry? What’s the matter with finance? Start with the fact that the
modern financial industry generates huge profits and paychecks, yet delivers
few tangible benefits. Remember the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” in which Gordon Gekko
declared: Greed is good? By today’s standards, Gekko was a piker. In the years
leading up to the 2008 crisis, the financial industry accounted for a third of
total domestic profits — about twice its share two decades earlier.

These profits were justified, we were told, because the
industry was doing great things for the economy. It was channeling capital to
productive uses; it was spreading risk; it was enhancing financial stability.
None of those were true. Capital was channeled not to job-creating innovators,
but into an unsustainable housing bubble; risk was concentrated, not spread;
and when the housing bubble burst, the supposedly stable financial system
imploded, with the worst global slump since the Great Depression as collateral

For most of us these days, the fact is that much of the
financial industry has become synonymous with the term “racket” — a game in
which a handful of people are lavishly paid to mislead and exploit consumers
and investors — but which also comes from a humorously resonant term that
simply means “to make a lot of noise.” I love to think about credit, finance,
and noise as terms that lend themselves to systems of belief – tuning systems,
harmony of markets, and utopian derivatives. Stuff like that. And if we don’t
lower the boom on these practices, the racket will just go on. That is what I
mean when I say free music. Bring the noise. NOW.

The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem
to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you
discover that there is no reason.
–John Cage

you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego.
You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off
from a good deal of experience.


 Image by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³, courtesy of Creative Commons license.


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