Monday, January 31, 2011

Celluloid Heroes #1 John Barry (The Beyondness Of Things)

There is an inescapable quietness, an unavoidable sadness that underpins today: the world is collectively mourning one of the compositional giants of modern music – John Barry.

There will, no doubt, be acres of prose written in the next however long in praise of his lush melodies and remarkable prowess with minor and major chords as well as his skill at letting notes just hang in the air like so much honeysuckle-scent on an evening breeze.

Yet – more often than not, it wasn’t (as I believe Miles Davis once said) the notes that were played that counted, but those that weren’t – JB created spaces within music in which one’s imagination was left to roam.

Above all, though, it is the sheer elegance of his music; exemplified by a series of unmatched film scores that were… still are… (and crucially) remain to be discovered by generations to come... his remarkable legacy.

Quite a few years ago (in 1999 to be exact), when a project involved a close working relationship with The English Chamber Orchestra, they played a couple of nights under JB’s baton at The Royal Albert Hall. This was a year of so after JB had signed to Decca and released his first non-soundtrack album for a quarter of a century, the timeless The Beyondness Of Things.

Not being on the ball as rapidly as I should have been, I missed out at the box-office. The shows were beyond sold-out; tickets were as hard to find as hen’s teeth – this being only the second time in many, many, years that JB had played a UK show and coming on the back of the critical acclaim that his Beyondness album had received. Thus, it was all about cadging a gigantic favour. So, it was after much grovelling and begging on bended knee, that a pair of guest tickets arrived in the post.

In the hall that night, as my pal Honest John (the financial adviser) and I settled in the side-stalls, the air was thick with expectation… could the maestro deliver; would these themes of his, these glorious and magnificent melodies translate to a space like this without the visual benefit of being set to celluloid?

The players took their seats, tuned up as they do – taking their cue from number one fiddler – then the lights dimmed. Smaller than imagined, a gaunt, somewhat insignificant-looking, grey-haired figure took to the platform…

He tapped his baton a couple of times and then… the distant thunder of kettle drums cracked the air; the strident shout of trombones marched to the beat as swelling strings added their own counterpoint to… the opening title-music to Zulu.

Three or so minutes later, as the final chords washed away, there was absolute silence for maybe five or six seconds (although it felt longer). Then the audience, as one, stood as an explosion of applause detonated throughout the hall.

Two and a bit hours later, the man who conducted by using his shoulders as much as his baton had satiated the five or so thousand people in the hall with music. As much as we’d been beguiled by the lushness of the Beyondness album, we’d been treated to a voyage through his soundtracks by way of symphonic sadness within the likes of Out Of Africa and Mary Queen Of Scots and the evergreen branches of enticement of a near-thirty minute James Bond medley.

It was one of the greatest shows (among countless hundreds) I’ve been luck enough to witness.

Was he a composer as important as (say) Puccini or Beethoven? Should he be revered as painter of musical sound-scapes as important as (say) Monet or Kandinsky?

Yes, I would argue that JB rightly occupies a pedestal alongside those who are rightly regarded as colossuses within their own field.

The world is a richer place for his music and a sadder one for his untimely passing.

Fare thee well then, JB… a lion of Africa sleeps tonight.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thieves Like Us

Woke up…
Dragged a comb across my head...

Yeah, you know how that song goes… part of the soundtrack to my youth as much as it is to this and every other generation that’ll follow.

And, this morning, I did exactly that… well, not really – took a bit of a squint in the mirror whilst gargling with the old Listerine Total Care (Cinnamint flavour since you’re wondering – I’ve become a bit bored with the mint only of late) and thought… hmm, ok, that’ll have to do… the bags under the eyes (which I thought’d look cool / make me look a bit lived in when I was younger than today but which, actually, are now permanent fixtures) aren’t gonna go away… time to get on with my day.

Then… the unmistakable sound of the Inner Terrier barking ferociously, straining at its leash from within its kennel.

Damn, whats got him so worked up… I’ve a load of research to complete, Skype calls with my lawyer later, masses of writing to do, dozens of emails to answer, designs to be getting on with as well as new designs to start and… just a whole shedload of… stuff… to be getting on with.

But the Inner Terrier is barking louder than before… interspersed with a strange kind of yowling sound. OK, best go see what’s up.

Aha… The headline (via was enough… RapidShare Accuses ‘Piracy Report’ Publisher of Defamation; Might Sue.

Ok… no wonder the Inner Terrier was way beyond just apoplectic yapping. This relates to the widely published story that was picked up by the likes of the BBC yesterday when RapidShare were ‘branded’ as being the leading digital piracy site.

RapidShare – for their part – have responded by emphasising that they are a legitimate company.

Well… it is clear that with such opposing viewpoints that one side or the other are trolling out Porky Pies.

And, this little Voltaire out on its windswept knoll would like to tell you who, precisely, is being untruthful. Yes, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen – readers of this little Voltaire as far flung around the globe as you truly are… it is RapidShare who are about as illegitimate a company as trades as makes no difference.

Indeed… of late, courts in Germany have ruled (that’s confirmed legally to the likes of you and me) that RapidShare runs a perfectly legal business.

However… that is absolute and utter CRAP. They don’t.

For the hard of hearing, I’ll repeat that… the people who runs these sites are deluded at best – they’re simply offering a service that rips off creatives.

Because… RapidShare (along with MegaUpload) are the leading conduits for any piece of music that you care to think of… the channel or means or… route (however you care to term it) … to download whatever you feel like listening to (or viewing) FOR FREE.

Which, basically, means that creative person X does not get paid.

Please, therefore could someone explain how that is legal?

Its not… is it?

Nevertheless, apparently RapidShare’s big-wigs are so incensed at being labeled the world’s largest ‘digital piracy site’ that they’re considering legal action on the grounds that this ‘statement’ by MarkMonitor – culled from a report via the RIAA and others – is defamatory.

Indeed, RapidShare have gone so far as to offer up their own statement… “This defamation of RapidShare as a digital piracy site is absurd and we reserve the right to take legal action against MarkMonitor. RapidShare is a legitimate company that offers its customers fast, simple and secure storage and management of large amounts of data via our servers.”

Defamatory… my arse… its not! It’s the truth…

And, for the disbelievers (and I fail to see who could fail to grasp this)… here’s how it works. This is how easy it is to download any piece of music you like / fancy – FOR FREE – via the likes of RapidShare or MegaUpload.

Step 1… Log on to your favoured internet browser… type in (for example) the album title you’re looking for and search for it using the ‘image search’ function.

Step 2… Scroll down a bit – past all the links to the likes of iTunes and HMV digital and so forth… down a bit further and you’ll find the blogspots that ‘purport’ to ‘write’ about particular Album X.

Step 3… Click on the image link and that’ll (generally) take you to the blog page so illustrated. Scroll down a bit, past the album cover… and you’ll find the track-listing and, more often than not, a box marked links.

Step 4… Hit the link – sometimes it’s not even hidden away in a box but there, in plain sight for anyone to see… and, that link will open up a new page.

Step 5… That new page will offer you your download and more often than not, you’ll find that page hosted by… yes, you’ve guessed it… either RapidShare or MegaUpload.

Step 6… Click on ‘download this file’ and, depending on the speed of your connection, you can be listening to your own copy of Album X – FOR FREE – within five minutes or so.

(for exactness, this isn’t a precise science… from time to time you have to kiss a few internet frogs along the way… but, ultimately, it shouldn’t take much more than ten minutes of searching to provide the link you’re looking for).

And… that is legal?

Nope… I don’t think so…

And… can it be stopped? On balance I’d say no… it cannot. The likes of RapidShare will not be shutting the doors to their zillion-times terabyte servers any time soon – after all, they’re making a small fortune acting as conduits.

Equals, this form of filesharing ain’t gonna go away.

So... is there a solution?

Fuck yeah… With the technology available, how hard would it be to enforce a methodology that makes this new form of distribution a legal way to dole out music (and film / games etc etc)?

And… via that methodology – which would mean the likes of RapidShare / MegaUpload etc paying a form of royalty based on downloads – it would mean that the creatives – the song-writers… the copyright holders… the people who invent games… the authors... the film-makers… are FAIRLY PAID.

Enough… I need to take the Inner Terrier out for his walk; he's howling like a banshee. However, I’ll end this by appending a few pithy sentences from the noted author, David Thomas (aka Tom Cain). Not much more needs to be added (other than to state he granted permission for his words to be used here).

One of these days, the entertainment industry will find the form of words that explains a few very simple ideas to the people who steal copyright material and the theorists who dispute the very meaning of copyright itself.

Such as, for example ... when you rip off a music file you steal the musician's work and deny them the means of earning a living ... no one would expect a plumber to work for free, why should a pianist, an actor or an author? ... if you larcenous fuckwits keep stealing stuff, then eventually no one will be able to afford to spend the tens or even hundreds of millions it costs to make a movie, or the months and years it takes to write a novel, and then where will you be?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Broken English

It is the time of the year when those who’ve made their New Year resolutions start to break ‘em: you know the kind of thing… awash with Champagne on New Year’s Eve, gazing unsteadily into the eyes of the one you love, you pledge daily visits to the gym, self-discipline that equates to a pumping iron regime that’ll make you all the more attractive by… oh, Valentine’s Day latest.

Did I make one of these resolutions..? Well, not really – I certainly didn’t make futile promises to dust down my running shoes in a vague attempt at getting fitter.

Nevertheless, I did think to myself whilst quaffing a rather pleasing item from the Veuve Clicquot stable and watching the fireworks that perhaps 2011 would be the year when I became less of a perennial grump.

So, in between sips from the sippy-cup and as the clock turned, I decided that I’d let my Jack Russell tendencies off the leash.

And… you know what..? All was going swimmingly until… the inner Terrier bounded up and started snapping ferociously earlier today.

It had spied such utter hypocrisy it couldn’t be ignored.

Sadly, however, I can’t imagine that the little news item that the inner Terrier spotted will be among the front-runner on News At Ten tonight, nor would it fight for a place in the headlines on ABC News or France Soir or whatever the German equivalent is. Will it make the Antipodean equivalent of TVN 24 Horas in Chile…? I rather doubt it. Where will it be placed on RTPN in Portugal or will they ignore it just as much as CBC in Canada undoubtedly will? That, too, is highly probable.

So… what is this duplicity and double standards that have so incensed; what has raised the inner Terrier's hackles to vertical?

OK… here is the full quote from Daniel Raimer who is RapidShare AG’s lawyer (and spokesman). RapidShare have just overturned a court ruling where, originally, Atari (the gaming company) had said RapidShare did not take sufficient measures against copyright infringement.

“The ruling demonstrates once again that RapidShare is operating a fully legal range and has taken measures against the misuse of its service which go beyond the level that is legally required. We are confident that copyright holders will gradually come to accept this conclusion.“

This is absolute, total… BOLLOX.

This little Voltaire out on its grassy knoll has expounded on this before but, this latest court ruling – and the utterly contemptible accompanying quote - has started the inner Terrier growling as well as barking loudly.

Because… the simple fact of the matter is that RapidShare (and dozens of other similar ‘sites’) host files that are shared by ‘consumers’ from which the rights owners do not earn.

There is so much proof of the above being absolute FACT out there in wibbly-wobbly-web land that there is no requirement for further expansion or examples here.

File-sharing (in this manner) is, to all intents and purposes, the new distribution of music… (and film, tv, video and so forth).

And, no matter what all the worthy people at the tops of those respective industries say they’re going to do to stop it, they’re ignoring the incontrovertible fact that the stable door got left open long ago and… the horse went that-a-way.

So… while it is entirely galling to read the complete pack of lies that Daniel Raimer spouted earlier – and, being a lawyer he should know a lot better – isn’t it better to accept that Shanks’ pony has bolted over the near horizon and implement a practical solution whereby rights holders are paid?

I mean… its not difficult… is it?

IF music is to be freely available – and all the recently published figures detailing sales downturns point to that as an inevitable conclusion (cf recent editions of Billboard etc) – then these *new distribution channels* are going to have to contribute – otherwise the creators’ creativity will simply dry up… they’ll starve.

RapidShare (so it proudly notes) is one of the 100 most visited websites on the planet. It estimates that over 400,000 files are uploaded to its servers every single day. In any calendar year, that equates to more than 14.5 million. The company has over 1,000 servers with combined storage capacity measured in Petabytes (one unit being I million gigabytes). The bandwidth that their millions of visitors a day occupy means that the income they are generating is colossal. Oh, and lets not forget the subscription services they offer as well.

In other words, RapidShare are generating seriously huge sums of money and yet… as things stand… they do NOT make any payments to 'rights holders' for distributing those 'rights' as they do.

Hypocritical - yes, I would argue so... wouldn't you?

Limetorrents is another in a similar vein. However (and rather cleverly) on their web site they state that they are: a torrent search engine and directory which do NOT host torrent files but links to torrents hosted on other websites. We do NOT have any copyrighted or illegal content on Limetorrents, and we do NOT host torrent files on our servers.

Technically correct and very much holier than thou… But, straight out of the school of ‘nuttin’ to do with me guv’

One wonders how they manage to keep a straight face (other than laughing all the way to the bank) when simple random searches show them to be offering links to literally any film, game or piece of music one cares to think of.

And… for taking their place within this new distribution egg and spoon race, what do LimeWire contribute to the creatives? Jack shit.

With the kind of numbers that companies such as these two (of very many similar) reporting, it would be impractical to try to instigate internal systems whereby ever single file uploaded was pre-screened.

Nevertheless, since this method of distribution is gradually becoming the norm and to stop it becoming what it now is – the unacceptable – then methodology has to be put in place whereby these distributors of ‘rights’ contribute.

This Voltaire on its grassy, windswept knoll, therefore wonders what on earth organisations such as PRS are actually doing to protect their members from the rape and pillage being meted out by companies such RapidShare who are contentedly boating down the middle of the fast-flowing river of pure profit?