Event review by Dawoud Kringle
“Google is in the process of systematically destroying our artistic future. If the creative community doesn’t intervene now, we will be bound to a multigenerational clusterfuck that will take 40 to 50 years to unravel.”
(Kurt Sutter; from a guest column in Variety Magazine).
With those words in the forefront of everyone’s minds, on October 18th, 2014, Brooklyn’s Roulette was full of supporters for the Content Creator’s Coalition (C3). Mark Ribot (guitarist and founding member of C3) spoke in the beginning. He mentioned how Google, in supporting ad piracy, is systematically destroying the financial and creative future of musicians.
Eric Slick, Brandon Seabrook, and Trevor Dunn performed first. Electronic noise and arrhythmic drums floated like leaves in a storm. The bass came in and pulled the elements together in an uneasy alliance between free jazz and punk: both of which threatened at every moment to break out into a fistfight. Eventually, the unease between the drums and guitar (both of whom were intent upon asserting the dominance if their own individual concept of chaos) were brought to a truce by the bass, and the piece ended on a light note. They continued in this vein; the bass occasionally getting rough with the other two, the drums driving the music toward a rhythmic
Steve Coleman, John Zorn, Ches Smith, and Trevor Dunn took the stage. Their immediate statement was almost a blues; the drums and bass formed a deceptively calm backdrop for the two saxophones which cried a bittersweet poem. This eventually built into a hysterical outburst which, after having blown off its steam, calmed and explained itself. Coleman and Zorn communicated with each other beautifully, as did the drums and bass; the two elements of the band producing a nicely balanced duality.
Ribot introduced Chris Ruen, the author of a book called Freeloading: How Our Insatiable Appetite for Free Content Starves Creativity, an analysis of the phenomenon of free downloads, and the fact that artists are not being paid. He pointed out that the digital downloads are an industrial black market that everyone except the artists are making millions.
Clarinetist Doug Weileman performed next. He employed a very creative use of loops and delay to augment the subtle and poetic beauty of his music. His second piece took the same concept into a different musical direction. This piece was dark and foreboding; like a terrifying children’s story manifest as a tangible reality.
Henry Grimes, Amir Elsaffar, Ches Smith and Ribot performed next. The music began as a delicate encounter between strangers in a dark place. Amir’s horn traded banter with Ribot’s angular guitar, while Grimes’ bass watched over them in an attitude of worldly wisdom. Their performance had a seriousness to it that felt almost like the kind of warning one gets in a life or death situation.
Jeff Boxer, the executive director of C3 spoke briefly about the importance of C3’s efforts to resist the oppression in a united and organized manner. He introduced an excerpt from an upcoming movie Unsound by Count Eldridge that addresses and analyzes the problem.
The Sarah Manning Trio (with Simon Jermyn on bass and Jeff Davis on drums) took the stage next. The sax and bass blended a few mournful notes, and then the drums came in with an implication of a groove that deconstructed itself. They engaged in a foray into all manner of abstract free form unfolding.
After Ribot spoke about the copyright reform process, Jen Shiu entered the stage. Her entrance, singing poetry and plugging in a two string Asian instrument (which, regrettably, I wasn’t able to identify; although it reminded me of a similar Vietnamese instrument of similar design) was executed in a ritualistic fashion. Her approach to the instrument blended east and west elements. Some of her lyrics were in English; and had a folk singer’s storytelling essence. The story was dark and sad.
Melvin Gibbs came on, and spoke about his involvement with CCC. He relinquished the stage to Satomi Matuzaki who did a duet with Ribot, and were later joined by Gibbs and Smith for a final performance.
The marvellous performances aside, the most important aspect of the evening was the activism. Ad based piracy is a clear and present danger to the livelihoods and art forms of content creators. All of the large corporations that sell ads to pirate websites such as Napster are, in effect, supporting this piracy. And to add insult to injury, everyone is getting paid for stealing something they don’t rightfully own, nor have the capacity to produce, except the musicians who actually make music. C3 (and those in solidarity with them) are asking the likes of Google and other tech corporations to join this effort and stop selling ads to piracy sites. Artists of all genres must stand for their rights in the digital domain.