Value and price in experimental music

Just after I uploaded the last entry, there was a flurry of Facebook posts, mostly from one person complaining about the price of The Great Learning, and suggesting a price point of £3-5, especially because it is now in PDF format. These have been removed and forwarded to the people in charge of pricing where they will be considered properly. But it does raise a question: what constitute the value of a musical work? We’ve just added a couple of Michael Parsons’ pieces and John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine to our Freebies page with the composers’ permission. You can also get pretty much all of Chris Hobbs’ text pieces on that page. All for free. Other pieces cost money.

How does the EMC price music? It depends upon the situation: whether we have control over the item or not. It may reflect the work that went into the composition or the production of the item. It may reflect the composer’s idea of where value lies. Chris Hobbs, for example, lowers his prices dramatically if he can send the customer a PDF, because it means that he doesn’t have to wrap up the item, address it and schlep down to the post office. Other composers prefer to create their own material; if so, they price it, we take a bit off the top, which is ploughed back into the EMC. The money pays for our domain name and host — after using free internet sites from supermarkets and the like, we’ve got something more stable, and more pricy —and for the cost of printing real pieces and other projects.

As we can see, some of the EMC composers put their value into other areas than price, at least on some of their pieces. But composers actually produce a product, and they sell it at the price they set to reflect not only its intrinsic value, but also the hours spent in crafting it. Cardew spent over three years on The Great Learning. It’s an orchestra piece in all senses of the word, except for its instrumentation. It’s incredibly carefully crafted and artistically beautiful, both in the physical notation of the score itself and in the artistry of the music that results from its performance. The Great Learning is certainly comparable to orchestra pieces by Stockhausen, whose current pdf price list can be found here: . Here you can see that most of Stockhausen’s orchestral pdfs are priced in three figures.

So here’s the thing, as they used to say on Buffy. Here’s a point that should include all music of all kinds, but I’ll limit it to Cardew and Stockhausen for simplicity’s sake. Is it legitimate to protest the price of Cardew scores and Stockhausen scores? Of course it is: it’s an argument about price point and accessibility. However, protesting the price of Cardew scores and not protesting the price of Stockhausen scores (or vice versa) is an argument about value: you ask for Cardew to be cheaper, but not Stockhausen (or vice versa) only if you think Stockhausen is greater than Cardew (or vice versa).

If you’d like to comment on and debate this issue, please reply below.


New PDF Version of Cardew’s The Great Learning

A few of you may have noticed that our supply of what is arguably the greatest British experimental piece, Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning, has been a bit patchy: sometimes in stock, then out of stock, then in stock again. Well, this has been fixed, thanks to Walter and Horace Cardew at Danny Dark Records, who have decided to issue a high-resolution pdf version of the score. We have this pdf version, which you can order from the EMC by visiting our Classic EMC Catalogue page. When you order it, we will send you the pdf. Just print it out on A3 paper (or the US or other equivalent), and Bob’s your uncle (well, you might not actually have an Uncle Bob — it’s a metaphor!): The Great Learning without postage and packing and waiting in for the postie, who never arrives….

There are many of us who would rather have the real thing, and some of us who say that we can get it all on line for free. So why should you order this piece in pdf? Here are some reasons:

  • It’s The Great Learning. Some may argue for Treatise to take the title of Cardew’s greatest work, or point to Cardew’s later, more politically engaged music. That’s fine; we don’t hold with the old Western-canon greatness beauty pageant. But The Great Learning sums up every experimental technique in the previous fifteen years before its writing. There are graphic, common-practice and text notations; there is minimalism and hard-core indeterminacy, dance and visual components.
  • It’s incredibly rewarding, even just to study. Even if you can’t get the 30-100 enthusiasts together to play it all, you can perform some of the Compositions from Paragraph 5 and the whole of Paragraph 6 with only a small group. If you can’t get anyone together, this piece will give you hours, days, weeks, years of delightful study if it takes your imagination. I still come back to this piece after writing about it, directing it and playing it more times than I can count (including the first complete performance in Britain at the Almeida Festival in 1984 and for Philippe Regniez’s film, Cornelius Cardew, in 1985) —and I still find new things.
  • No, really — it’s The Great Learning. I’m currently writing a blog entry on the performance of The Great Learning (upcoming), so I’ve been looking at the score facsimiles that appear on the web, which some people have been using for performance. Just a few weeks ago I found two sites that had put up what they claimed to be paragraphs of The Great Learning. For some reason the words had been altered on one of the Paragraphs on one site. Presumably the other site just copied the inauthentic version without knowing it was altered. Do you really want a cheap knock-off of The Great Learning or a bootleg version of the knock-off? To get the real deal for free or not much, go to a library that holds The Great Learning. Or order from us, or from Danny Dark Records. It’s your choice. The EMC doesn’t make any money from the sales; they are ploughed back into the running of the EMC, getting the odd piece or CD out when possible, and royalties are paid to the composers whose music is sold. 

If you haven’t seen The Great Learning in a while, I’d suggest taking out the Dumb Show, the event that begins Paragraph 5. Turn to our newly uploaded video of Michael Parsons demonstrating the Dumb Show, and follow along with the score. If you’d like more on The Great Learning, you might try my article in Jems (Journal of Experimental Music Studies).

New addition to Recorded Music

Well, it isn’t recorded music, and, well, it is. (Ah, the wacky world of experimental intermedia)….

Michael Parsons has given us permission to upload his demonstration of the Dumb Show of Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning, Paragraph 5. Paragraph 5 begins with a ‘Dumb Show’, a series of movements describing the text of the paragraph in a gestural sign language developed from Native American sign language. Each performer is meant to ‘teach’ the gestures to another performer who, in turn, ‘teaches’ the gestures to the next, and so on. The video was directed by Christopher Hobbs and filmed by Martin Shiel at De Montfort University, and was only published in Virginia Anderson’s PhD thesis, ‘Aspects of British Experimental Music as a Separate Art-Music Culture’ (Royal Holloway, University of London, 2004).

New Pages for the EMC

There are two main sections on the EMC site that may be of interest.

1. The first is a new version of our famous Freebies page, which has offered little tit-bits from time to time. Now our Freebies are downloadable, including John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine, Michael Parsons’ Pentachordal Melody and Rhythmic Canons, Chris Hobbs’ Word Pieces and his clarinet piece Why Not? Plus the famous Aran ringtone.

2. The second consists of the first two entries in what we hope to be a series of historic recordings. The first is itself not that historic — Christopher Hobbs and Dave Smith playing British minimalist and post-minimalist music for two pianos in June 2013 — but the concert itself contains a load of pieces by Parsons, Howard Skempton, John White, Smith and Hobbs that have not been heard in thirty years or more (and in the case of Howard Skempton’s piece, No Great Shakes, may not have been heard before at all! We’re checking this…). The other entry is a performance of Chris Hobbs’ piece Second Doomsday Machine in 1997 in its ‘official’ four piano version.

Check them out, and if you like what you hear or download, let us know. We’ve been passing on your thoughts to the composers and performers.

Get a Michael Parsons piece — FREE!

Michael Parsons has given — yes, GIVEN — us a couple of his pieces from the late 1990s, with the idea that they should be taken up by as many people as possible. The first piece we’ve got is a pdf of a verbal piece called Pentachordal Melody. It’s really cool: the score reminds us of some of the pieces in Samuel Beckett’s systemic novel Watt.

For those of you who don’t know Michael Parsons, he’s one of the three founders of the Scratch Orchestra, and a major force in British experimental music.

To get this piece, go here — — and follow the instructions. It will be emailed to you.

And even better yet, we’ve got another one coming as well….

Cha, Cha, Cha!

Just uploaded today for your delectation — — are a couple of test recordings from the first rehearsal of our new group, CHA (for Bruce Coates, saxes; Christopher Hobbs, piano, percussion, laptop, and whatever he feels like playing; and Virginia Anderson, clarinets). There was a rather nice and well-received improv night by CHA at Fizzle at the Lamp Tavern, Birmingham; there will be more to come from this group, especially on the EMC label. But this is a free taster. We hope it’s your cup of CHA!

Hobbs Word Pieces 1966–1970

This should be fun. Chris Hobbs, the composer and founder of the Experimental Music Catalogue, has put together a collection of all of his Word Pieces, and is offering them in pdf format through the EMC. And for free.

This collection represents most of Chris Hobbs’ compositions in the years 1966–1970, and all of the ones that he wrote in verbal text notation (also called text or instruction pieces). Most of these pieces were published with pieces by Hugh Shrapnel, Phil Gebbitt, Gavin Bryars, and Robert Ashley, in the popular EMC Verbal Anthology.  Other Word Pieces appeared in the Visual and Scratch Anthologies. But the EMC in those days published music in typescript. But Chris decided to set his entire output from those years in computer fonts.

Chris first wrote One Note 1966 in common musical notation, but its finished version is in text notation. It has the same sparseness as La Monte Young’s early minimalism in its limited pitch and plentiful rests. As such, One Note 1966 is the first ‘minimal’ or static minimalist piece in British music. Other pieces, such as Song 1 and Song 2 — in which the text is presented as graphic, or pictorial, notation — benefit from the greater degree of precision offered by the computer typescript. There are pieces here for instrumental ensembles, for electronics, even those that are more conceptual.

If you like the historical feature of a facsimile document of the original publication, we offer the Verbal Anthology in our EMC Catalogue List. We have been unable as of yet to gain permissions to reproduce the entirety of the Scratch Anthology of Compositions and the Visual Anthology, so this is the only place to get these pieces. One piece, Can you hear me mother?, was written for the small journal Crab Grass, and is published here. One, Now, Karl, play some of your own music, has never been published before.

Chris specifically asked that we offer these pieces in this format for free. What he wants is to have some dialogue about music, and to get these pieces out to those who want to play them. All you have to do is to send us an email to questions** (for the **, substitute @), and we will send you the pdf. I’d also suggest that if you enjoy these pieces, and especially if you decide to play one, get in touch with Chris—chobbs** —and let him know!