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In Support of the SONUS Project

Background

by Kevin Austin and Steven Naylor

SONUS is the next stage in the long-term development of the CEC and its web site.

For some time, an important resource has been missing for EA audiences and researchers: a 'repertoire' source, where a large number of people can readily reference the same pieces.

For example, with the exception of some of the early classics, the development of EA, as reflected through creation, was not available to the public.

Similarly, around 1998, an attempt to start an internet list to discuss a vocabulary for analysis/description of EA fizzled, for want of a large enough common base of information or pieces.

In response to this need, the CEC designed its web site to be able to have, at its core, a vast collection of pieces which could be accessed in a variety of ways, e.g., general access via a web-radio / juke box, or access by topic through eContact!.

Early in the process, we began to collect pieces built around specific 'topics', using the themes of our eContact! webzine as a focal point.

SONUS is another way of accessing this core of pieces - but, more importantly, it's also a single focal point for building the repertoire source that the EA community has missed.

As the collection grows, it will become a primary research source; and as this happens, its value will increase almost exponentially with the number and breadth of works available.

To help launch this project, we asked the Patron of the CEC, Al Mattes, to help us establish some context for it. In response, he wrote the essay below.

(Al Mattes co-founded and directed the Music Gallery in Toronto for close to 20 years, and performed regularly with the CCMC. He was instrumental in the creation of both a Toronto and Canadian electroacoustic community.)


SONUS - A New Paradigm in EA Music Distribution

Preamble and Context

The CEC has always been at the forefront of innovative uses of computers and the web, using evolving technology as tools that can be applied to further the interests of our members. From the earliest days of email, the Board quickly adopted it as an essential communications tool to keep in touch.

I can remember an interchange in the early 80s with Kevin Austin in the years when I was still active as a musician and producer when at one point during a series of emails that included Kevin, David Keane, myself and others, when all of us were on line and all exchanging emails that Kevin pointed out that it was close to being in the same room. Of course, with ICQ, Net mail and other open forum networks this is old hat and so commonplace as to be unremarkable. But, in the early days of community use, we were amongst those who were quickest to exploit this interconnectivity to stay in touch.

In the mid 90s we used land-line digital technology to set up the "first-ever" non-profit radio network to broadcast a live festival of EA music. Journées électro Radio Days (JERD) in 1993 was a remarkable achievement allowing listeners in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and elsewhere to present live concerts of EA from their cities and broadcast them, through a central link at the Music Gallery in Toronto, to other cities

When the Canada Council cut our operating funding in the mid-90s citing a decision that so-called arts service organizations (ASO's) were no longer to receive funding, the CEC responded by designing a series of email lists <CECdiscuss>, <CECpanel> and <CECboard> so that we became a virtual organization. Keith Kelly, then Director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts and now Assistant Director of The Canada Council for the Arts, held up our achievement to other members as a significant innovation in the use of digital technology to overcome funding limitations.

We have frequently used the web to promote our members' music, presenting concerts (électroWEB, in 1995), accessing the CBC site at one time when it was offered, and now as an integral part of our own CEC web site.

Much has been done and we seem to be continuing to pioneer new ways to use this technology. As changes take place and new potential opens up, we collectively explore it and create new applications on behalf of both our members and of EA practitioners in general.

Of course, as EA composers, computer use was second nature and it stands to reason that we would recognize and use the communication potential. I remember also a time before the operating funding cuts in 1995 when an article was circulating in music circles that described the threat that the web was going to impose on the dominant position of the recording industry and their monopolistic control of music taste through the virtual stranglehold they had on record production and distribution. This amazingly prescient article forecast a technological revolution in which these dominant recording companies would lose control of distribution because individual composers and small record companies would be able to distribute their music using the web as a delivery tool.

The recording industry is suffering a third consecutive year of declining sales of individual CD units. As the reality of the new distribution paradigm is recognized, where it has the most commercial impact is on the bottom line with many companies responding by introducing special coding features in their CD's and downloadable MP3 files to prevent copying, or by allowing only specified limited copies to be made. In a recent article that I read in New Scientist the writer noted that there was a noticeable reduction in digital sound quality, a statement denied by the inventors.

A well known hacker said at the time that the first such modification was introduced, that it did not matter what they did, throughout the world there were so many individuals who felt that free distribution should be the norm that any change would be hacked and defeated.

In some instances methods are much more draconian. In the film industry to prevent bootleg recordings of their new releases Hollywood studios have recently resorted to having metal detectors at preview screenings to ensure that no cell phones, pagers, PDA­s or cameras are allowed into movie theatres where preview screenings take place and that during screening security guards constantly roam the audience to ensure that no surreptitious copying occurs.

The Project

SONUS is a new project of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) to promote the dissemination of electroacoustic music worldwide. With the ubiquitous World Wide Web providing the essential backbone, and the experience and expertise of CEC staff designing and maintaining the site, the project will soon (early summer 2003) be accessible. An interactive website has been designed and constructed that will make it possible to access and download entire EA works from any composer who wishes to participate. Submission requirements and specifications are available that describe in detail what needs to be done to be included. A release form has been set up to ensure that everyone's rights are respected.

To my mind this open distribution system offers unparalleled opportunities for each composer and performer to access a central site that will become known as the place to go for new, innovative and exciting music. A site where downloads do not come with hidden coding that prevents additional copies being made. A site where the primary purpose is to provide a worldwide distribution network where music can be listened to and shared.

I know that as composers and performers that a main objection to such free distribution is the fact that everyone deserves and needs to be paid for their work. When the market place dictates what is worthy of payment the fallback for artists historically has been either the state or a patron. For EA composers this is an option that is generally unavailable. The problem, in my opinion, has always been that EA music is not widely heard, and therefore, not understood and supported. Since there is such a small audience there are few, if any distribution systems that promote and present EA music in an appropriate context. SONUS can tackle both of these problems simultaneously and, at the same time, possibly provide a route whereby royalties can be paid.

In Canada for the past several years there has been a Government mandated tax collection system that adds a small fee to each blank CD and tape sold. This tax is designed to be distributed to composers for unauthorized use of their works. The monies have been collected and are held in trust by CIRPA. The last article that I read about the funds was that CIRPA was struggling with a way to distribute the money. Whose music is copied? How many times? How can individual composers be registered? Should SOCAN members alone be allowed to access the funds? Perhaps decisions have been made since last I read about this and if so, are EA composers collecting their share?

If SONUS can track the number of downloads from each composer and use this to establish a database that can be accessed by those in charge of distributing this designated tax, then a strong argument can be made for payment.

A second potential route for payment might be modeled on the Canada Council run royalty payments to writers for photocopies made of their works in libraries and elsewhere. If it can be demonstrated that through SONUS a mechanism has been established that accurately records the number of primary downloads from each composer, then we have a powerful tool that can be used to argue for similar treatment for EA composers. If the site could possibly be augmented by a voluntary questionnaire check box that would indicate that the site user was willing to assist further by providing additional information on the number of copies made so that projections could be made on total copies then this would make the lobbying and potential end use argument even stronger.

By pioneering this for EA we might also establish an operational arm of the CEC that could generate funds for our organization by offering the same service on a fee for inclusion basis to composers of all contemporary music. Once the software and site design is completed, then expansion is easier than initiation.

So, I would like to suggest that each of you submit your works as soon as possible, that you encourage others to do so and that you advertise this as much as possible in any way you can. Add a section to your personal web page, talk about it to your friends, fellow musicians, students and other composers. Make your music accessible through SONUS and let everyone know where it can be found.

Al Mattes
Patron of the CEC
May, 2003

 

SONUS is a project of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC). The CEC wishes to recognize the financial contributions of the members of the CEC and the Canada Council for the Arts (Music Section).