Tag Archives: Music

Guitar Sweatshops

via Another Line of Flight

Musicians usually show up at rallies to protest labour rights but it is very rare for that protest to be at a guitar show! If you own a Cort, Fender, or Ibanez guitar you will want to read about labour relations at their Korean factory.

Embarrassingly, I have never thought about labour conditions in Asian guitar factories. I reflected a little on this after hearing about this action. I think I can boil it down to a blind-spot: because it is music, there couldn’t be anything truly negative surrounding it” I mean guitar making, what could be more pure a pursuit than that? But of course there are always material conditions associated with the creation of things, and thus why should large scale industrialised guitar making be any different than shoes? I own one custom made instrument, I know the maker personally, and I saw the guitar emerge from pieces of raw lumber to become the instrument I now play. I also own an excellent Korean made guitar, a G&L “Tribute” Series. I have now learned that this guitar was very likely manufactured in a Cort facility, I now find this embarrassing. I also now have to question all of the other guitar accessories I own. One thing is for sure, I can use the guitar as an entry point into discussions of labour conditions in guitar factories, commodity fetishism, ideology, and labour more generally — as I pull it out of the case, or if someone remarks on it, for example. In this way, perhaps the workers can speak through the instrument? I dunno.

There has always been a highly racialised discourse about the supposed superior quality of American made instruments over their Asian made counterparts. This is part of a far reaching discourse that characterises the American labourer as a craftsperson, working with his/her hands to extract a beautiful instrument from a block of carefully chosen wood. This is contrasted with the common perception (and realistic) of the Asian factory, with all its attendant “Toyotaisation” (just in time shipping, hyper-Taylorist factory organisation, etc.), and the suggestion that it is impossible for anything truly beautiful to come from such a technologically sophisticated organisational paradigm. Perhaps this perception of the Asian factory has aided in dehumanising the labour process. But it turns out that there are still actual people at the end of that line, working to bring instruments to aspiring and accomplished musicians alike. We need to think beyond the commodity fetish and acknowledge the chain of events and human actions that bring us our products, perhaps we need to do this even more so for things like instruments, to which we attach such mythologies of purity and beauty that further mystify the material conditions of their makers.

What you can do: http://axisofjustice.net/how-to-support-the-cort-workers-namm/

Music

I’ve just put up free full versions of my two albums. It will be a little while before there’s anything new, and it’s been nine years (!) since the last new stuff! You can find them on the Music page. Enjoy!

O Canada

The Harper government has suggested this week that it might take a look at revising the lyrics of “O Canada” in order to make them more gender neutral. Specifically, they are looking at replacing Robert Stanley Weir’s line “in all thy sons command” (to my recollection, this line is often rendered as “in all our sons command”), with the line from Adolphe-Basile Routhier’s original poem “thou dost in us command.” I think that in an ongoing effort to recognise the centrality of music in social and cultural life, this deserves comment.

This, of course, is a pretty valuable discussion to have, and one with at least a twenty year-old history. Indeed, why should patriotism only be associated with sons and not daughters? While we’re at it though, we ought to take it further and ask important questions about the music that is supposed to represent the people of this country. Let’s look at the French version, and begin the process of eliminating its gender specificity (“nos aieux” = “our forefathers”). Moreover, let’s ask ourselves whether a country whose indigenous population was largely polytheistic, and whose contemporary population is a grand mixture of people of many religious and non-religious backgrounds, needs an anthem that so prominently features the Christian deity, in both languages—they are, after all “His” sons. One step further.  Let’s acknowledge the troubled history of national anthems themselves as emerging out of a violent, colonial, oppressive nationalism, a violence that is reflected in “Car ton bras sait porter l’épée” (“As in thy arm ready to wield the sword”). And finally, we might just take this opportunity to re-examine the term “patriot” itself, and acknowledge its Latin and Greek roots: pater =  father. [1] I’d say that this is one way to harness the debate and hold the Harperites to the letter on this move. Then we can have a proper discussion about the notion of national political and cultural representation.

In a move sure to cause a vivid debate, I certainly don’t take this as a signal that the Harper government has all of sudden put gender issues on the table as part of its message. No. This is the same party and leader who have objected to same sex marriage and benefits for same-sex couples, who advocated disallowing women to appeal for pay equity, oppose national childcare, cut funding to Status of Women Canada, who wage a vicious war on the poor that disproportionately affects women, and who generally espouse conservative “family values”…the list goes on. Changing a word is unlikely to have material effects on the lives of Canadian women or anyone else.

But what is perhaps most subtly disturbing about this is that it comes at the very same time as a federal budget. As politicos are fond of calling it, this is an example of “deflective” or “deflection” politics. DeBord called it spectacle. The idea is to seed a story so perfectly well-suited for “person on the street,” populist “analysis” that members of the mainstream media simply cannot help themselves; they simply HAVE to cover it, it’s news. It’s also much easier to get a reporter out on the street with a microphone to ask people if they think nouns or pronouns [2] ought to be replaced in the national anthem than it is to ask people what they think about, say, a $3.25 a week increase in Child Tax Benefits ($3.25!?), continued promotion of “corporate welfare,” increased efforts in securitisation (which is, interestingly, also included in a chapter about “Supporting Families and Communities”)…and this list goes on. Especially after the Olympics, this is the perfect topic to deflect attention away from the budget; it is downright entertaining to see people speak passionately about “owning the podium” and how much it meant to “us” to have the national anthem played more times than any other host country had theirs played. It’s significantly less entertaining to have dry economists point out the failings (or successes) of a budget.

By nature a deflective tactic is also presumed to be less important than the issue from which it is supposed to divert attention; one wouldn’t deflect with something more crucial, that would draw unwanted attention. There is rarely any intention to move forward on the actual substance of the deflection. In this case, I think it would be fair to say that there will be a 50/50 split amongst those people polled who care about the issue, it will gain no real political traction, and it will thus have served its purpose as an entertaining piece of theatre.

But I don’t mean to suggest that the issue is not actually important, in fact, I argue the opposite. Using gender as a deflection is further evidence of this government’s contempt for progressive social issues. They have cravenly manipulated the intense feeling of pride held by many who live in this country over the great successes of hard-working, talented athletes; they have instrumentalised the supposed sanctity of the national anthem; and they have trivialised gender issues as a means to deflect attention from a budget that appears at first to be business as usual, but which I am sure, upon further inspection, will yield further damages for people, and further gains for corporate Canada. For me, this shows ultimate disrespect for each of these important issues. In addition to playing classic divisive politics (they are ignoring people affected by the many other problematic issues in the anthem’s lyrics), it seems to me a typically chauvinistic approach to suggest that issues affecting women could be addressed by paying attention to “aesthetics” rather than to material concerns.

So, what do people think about this?

Links:

http://www.budget.gc.ca/2010/plan/toc-tdm-eng.html
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/
http://www.rabble.ca/columnists/2008-stephen-harper-vs-feminism
http://www.newstalk650.com/story/20100304/30241
http://www.thespec.com/News/BreakingNews/article/732997
http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/03/04/the-government-delivers-an-empty-almost-flippant-budget/
http://www.stephentaylor.ca/2010/03/stakeholder-reaction-to-the-2010-budget/
http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/symbl/anthem-eng.cfm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Canada#Proposed_changes_to_lyrics


[1] Thanks to Valérie Savard for bringing up this point.

[2] Interestingly, this is probably one of the only times we’ll see debate over grammar occupy a front and centre position in the mainstream media!

Michael Geist on the Canadian Copyright Reform Consultation

Michael Geist notes the rock and hard place situation in which Canadians who desire a sane copyright law find themselves. The strategies employed by powerful lobby groups in order to shut out the voices of educators and consumers of creative works are of particular interest. Those in support of strict copyright laws, including “three strikes” laws for Internet users

turned out en masse for a public town hall meeting in Toronto late last month, resulting in multiple interventions from record label executives (four from Warner Music alone).  Packing the room ensured that there was virtually nothing heard from education and consumer groups, many of whom could not even attend the town hall since all the tickets were scooped up in less than five days.

See the full post here.

Death Magnetic: Better, Shorter, Cut

This is just too much. Metallica can’t not cause an uproar when it comes to filesharing.  A Swedish writer wrote on their new album Death Magnetic, but he downloaded an altered version by someone who had decided to pick his favourite parts of the album and condense it to make it more “listenable.”  Fair enough.  However, the band canceled an interview with the paper as a result, and a Unversal Music representative had this to say:

The reviewer is referring to a BitTorrent where someone has altered the original songs. The reviewer explains exactly where one should go in order to download the file that totally infringes on a copyright. It’s not only an illegal file, but an altered file. The reviewer also writes that this is how the album should have sounded. File-sharing of music is illegal. Period. There’s nothing to discuss.

The best part here is that the label is clearly more upset about the “downloading” part than they are about the “music” part.  I think it clearly demonstrates where the priorities of major labels lie.  The lesser of the evils is clearly the fan’s alteration of the music.  I can see how this might annoy an artist, especially when the review is ostensibly of their work, and not the work of the person who remixed it.  However, it’s also cool that people are out there reconfiguring music, as they have always done.  The real offense is that the reviewer used a downloaded copy and not the “official” (read: paid for) release, and then pointed to a site where anyone else could download it.  There is, in fact, something to discuss: a really interesting debate could have been had if Universal’s beef was with the aesthetics of the remix. It would be interesting to know if the band has heard it too, especially given the grief that they’ve been getting over what appears to be a pretty poor mastering job. No, instead Universal kicks up a stink over how  the album was obtained rather than addressing what appears to be the more important issue, how the music sounds.  Because the fan’s motivation to remix was rotted in a dislike for certain parts of the recording, not only in a desire to reconfigure and make something new out of it.  The comment accompanying the torrent says it all: “an awesome re-cut of the new album – all of the dumb parts have been taken out. all of the thrash has been left in.”

I’ve heard the album, and I quite like it.  I agree it’s a “return to form” of sorts – at least there’s more guitar solos!