Follow the headlines and you can hardly be blamed for thinking that we're on the cusp of a monumental renaissance, one that'll usher us into a renewable energy paradise and allow us to maintain our profligate first-world standard of living for... well, forever!
My favourite recent headline indicative of this supposed renaissance came via the website Ecowatch (by no means a lowly-ranked website), which proclaimed in one of its article's titles that "California Generates Enough Solar Power to Meet Half its Energy Needs".
Well kinda half – "haaaalf." For as the article's second paragraph states,
Recent data shows California coming through. The state briefly generated enough solar power to meet nearly half of the state's electricity needs, according to data from the largest grid operator in the state, California ISO.
Let's break down this paragraph and the title of the article from which it came from:
As I stated in part 2, I'm all but certain that I discovered Taraf de Haïdouks by stealing their music in a shot-in-the-dark gesture on Hotline, something that led me to discovering Fanfare Ciocărlia in a rather roundabout way more than a decade later. For undescribed reasons I also questioned in part 2 whether I had aptly stolen Taraf de Haïdouks' music, which I'll now try and explain.
As recently stated by Costică “Cimai” Trifan, one of Fanfare Ciocărlia's four trumpet players and two lead vocalists, "we have a saying in Gypsy language: 'A good musician is stealing everywhere whatever is possible.'" If I understand this correctly, a good musician is someone who soaks up the array of different sounds they come across, eventually adapting and integrating those sounds into their repertoire. If I'm also not mistaken, there's probably no other musicians that have done this more effectively over the years than travelling Gypsies.
Somewhat similarly, it's been pointed out to me while writing this series that the practice of copyrighting music is a rather recent one, and that in times previous to when even sheet music was around the traditional way in which musicians made their money – i.e. living – was via giving performances. It was then suggested to me that since copyrighting music stems the traditional free flow of music ("stealing" music) and since by these traditional standards charging over and over again for the performance of a particular piece of recorded music is absurd, ripping music off of YouTube is therefore justified. Can the aforementioned Gypsy saying be interpreted to justify this theft of recorded music? As far as I can see it, absolutely not.
As put by Ioan Ivancea, the late patriarch of the Romanian Gypsy brass band Fanfare Ciocărlia,
Our ancestors were serfs for the local Boyar from Dagița [a neighbouring village] and were living on the steeps of the surrounding mountains. This was such a harsh experience, people struggled to carry water and firewood to the camp, so one day the tribe elder approached the Boyar and asked for a space in the valley. The Boyar was a good man and gifted them ten fields in the valley to live. Zece Prajini's name translates as Ten Fields. Since then all the families have farmed and played music. And always will.
Unless the young generation of Gypsies turn to shit... The new music, it's bullshit.
Back before I'd discovered Fanfare Ciocărlia and was (almost contently) listening to nothing but Taraf de Haïdouks, Kočani Orkestar, and their Band of Gypsies combo act, I spent some time doing a bit of research on them all (if bouncing around the Internet counts as research) and came across a Romanian event called the Balkanik Festival which the Band of Gypsies was headlining the following month. As the festival's website stated, "Both bands will join their instruments and forces in a never-before-heard repertoire". I took that to mean an upcoming Band of Gypsies 3 album and tour, and although I was rather intrigued about such a possibility there was of course no way I was going to fly all the way to Europe to catch a sneak peek (I'll catch them in Australia if they return here).
But on top of that it was also stated that the Band of Gypsies' new music was "meant to demolish all prejudice, walls between people, countries, ethnicities and continents." That I couldn't help but roll my eyes at a bit, what with it essentially being the musical equivalent of the rather flaky lament of "I understand it now – all we have to do is love one another!" As if that weren't enough, having discovered Fanfare Ciocărlia a few months later I was quite surprised to find out that the Band of Gypsies weren't the only band of Gypsies associated with bringing peace and harmony to the world.
When I finally made the first steps to end my abstention after more than ten years in the "musical wilderness" – where I of course overheard music on many occasions but didn't actually own any myself nor even so much as turn on a radio – there really wasn't any doubt as to which was the only group of musicians I'd heard in the past that I had any interest in listening to again: Taraf de Haïdouks. And in particular, their (2001) album Band of Gypsies.
The album isn't a play on Jimi Hendrix's ensemble but reflects the fact that Taraf de Haïdouks are in fact a bunch of Gypsies, from the Romanian village of Clejani. Consisting of several violins, accordions, cimbalom, double drum, upright bass, flute and clarinet, what made Band of Gypsies a bit different from Taraf de Haïdouks' other (excellent) albums was that three of the fourteen songs – three standout songs – had an additional brass accompaniment. As I belatedly found out upon re-listening to the album in 2016, this brass portion was not performed by Taraf de Haïdouks members but rather by a group of guest musicians, that being the Macedonian brass band Kočani Orkestar (from the town of Kočani), also a band of Gypsies and hence the album's title.
Abhorring the "music scene" and not quite willing to venture out from my "safe space", I spent three or so months in mid-2016 listening to nothing but that single album until I happened to find out that a Band of Gypsies 2 album had been released during my abstention (2011), one in which Kočani Orkestar play the album's entirety. I of course instantly snatched it up, and as I prefer the music I listen to to be rather overwhelming I wasn't disappointed.
After two months or so of then listening to nothing but Band of Gypsies 1 and 2 I was finally willing to venture out a bit further, and after finding three of Kočani Orkestar's albums to be rather good (and a few others, well, not so good), it was upon hearing their album Neat Veliov i Kočani Orkestar (Veliov being the lead trumpet player) that I was so blown away that I couldn't help but get the impression that all that American brass I'd heard over the years was little more than a confidence scheme (and that brass without a Turkish marching band percussion could never be adequate again). Getting the impression from the latter album that there was something rather extraordinary to this... Balkan Brass?... Gypsy Brass?... I finally decided to venture out even further to see if there was possibly something lurking out there waiting – needing – to be discovered. My search (yes, on YouTube) was more miss than hit, until, and therefore pretty much directly following my ten-plus years of musical abstinence, I somehow managed to go straight to hitting the mother lode.
So for a guy like me who's making somewhat of a return to the world of music but who's fully aware of the already underway protracted collapse of industrial civilization, it should be obvious that putting myself at the mercy of a streaming service might not be the best idea if I wanted to retain a bit of access to some recorded music once the ability for streaming disappears once and for all (which for whatever reason[s] I believe will certainly happen at some point in my lifetime). So supposing I'm connected to a community grid and/or have the solar panels or whatever it be to power some kind of setup, owning my music – be it on CD, vinyl, or MP3s – would most certainly be the way to go.
That being said, and without being excessive, I could always do both (supposing I even have the money for any of this) – sign up to a streaming service to discover new music, then purchase what I want to keep for the long term. As the record label CEO quoted in part 1 put it, this is exactly what many people today are doing:
It used to be music discovery was mainly limited to the radio, but now people are free to look and listen to all sorts of music, so people are hearing so much more new or different music than they were before. They are finding music through streaming and if they love it, they are going out and investing in it in a physical format.
According to those in the know it turns out that while Apple's streaming service has the larger catalogue, it's horrible when it comes to suggesting new music to you: "Enjoyed XYZ band? Well guess what, you might be interested in listening to The Beatles!" On the other hand, although Spotify apparently doesn't have as extensive of a catalogue as Apple does its algorithms are purportedly vastly superior when it comes to exposing customers to new sounds.
Nonetheless, none of that is enough to convince me to subscribe to a streaming service, and that's not because of any fears of impending doom overriding my thinking. No. Because having previously owned roughly 600 albums (okay, owned about 150 albums and stole another 450 or so), it's the very prospect of musical abundance itself that makes me shudder, horrified at the thought of being swamped and overwhelmed by the "infinite" catalogue of a streaming service. If anything I'd be more interested in imposing limits to music rather than testing the limits to my sanity.
Although the world economy hasn't been booming lately this hasn't meant that the booming has been reduced to economizing, what with the boom booms having gone through such a transformation in the past decade that "streaming" – playing music on a digital device without actually storing it – has pulled the music industry out of the piracy-induced doldrums that saw its sales plunge by more than 70% since its peak in 1999. As put by Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, "I'm confident that music's future is bright. The popularity of music is greater than ever. Like never before, it drives our culture and commerce." However, while the music industry is busy championing its new-found success thanks to digital nirvana, it's not exactly surprising that what it doesn't notice is that the next decade is likely to see not its resurgence but rather its collapse. I'll back up a few decades to explain.
Like any (former) suburban-boy born in the late-70s in an affluent-enough family in an affluent-enough region of southern Ontario (which for years was North America's fastest growing area), a paper route and then a decent-enough part-time job were enough to get me the disposable income needed to adorn myself with a rather decent CD collection, probably 120 or so of the things by the time I got to university.
A much-more-than-decent summer job given to me on a silver platter was then enough to get me a shiny new Apple computer for video editing, the soon-to-be-released iTunes program eventually used to transfer all my CDs to MP3s. This all happened during the time that the pirating of music was starting to do a number on the music industry, beginning with "services" such as Napster, Gnutella and Kazaa. Being a "poor" university student I of course tried them all out a few times, but it was obvious that Napster-and-company's rinky-dinky method of having to search for and then download individual song by individual song wasn't going to cut it for me. I liked listening to entire albums, not the latest top-ten, which meant I ended up using Hotline.
Late-2016 I came across an article about Mars: The Live Experience, an event featuring Buzz Aldrin (second person to step foot on the moon) in a three-city tour of Australia, the intent being to drum up support for colonizing the Red Planet. As stated,
For the first time, National Geographic Live is bringing the world's leading authorities together for a unique major live event to discuss global space agency plans and the immense challenges awaiting humankind's next great space adventure.
If you've read even a single post of mine on this blog then you can probably guess that I think this notion that we're going to colonize Mars is a crock of Dr. Pooper. Nonetheless, I thought it'd be a hoot to attend at least the event here in Melbourne so I could write a blog post or two about it all, only to find out that the tickets were ridiculously expensive: about $100 each, with most of the event consisting of a video – and I don't even watch video. There was however the VIP event where one could hob-nob with – or in my case grill – "international speakers from global space agencies", but at $670 a pop there was absolutely no way I'd be paying for that. Unless... well, unless I could crowdfund it.
While trying to get to the bottom of the underlying reasons for geopolitical events has always been enough of a challenge, an unfortunate side-effect of the explosion of information that the Internet has provided us with is the even further erosion of the signal-to-noise ratio. The mainstream media can pretty much be ignored altogether unless the intent is to understand the context and/or see how current events are getting framed and spun by the powers-that-be, which pretty much leaves one with having to seek out more independent sources of media – such as blogs – if what is sought after is insightful and revealing material.
Supposing you've actually managed to make your way through the morass and have found yourself a few good blogs that aren't just charlatans trying to pawn off guides to buying gold or some questionable vegetable seeds, there's also the unfortunate fact that information on the Internet tends to come out in staccato bursts, not as an encompassing whole. To coalesce all this information into a proper narrative requires time and effort of course, to go along with the fact that virtually no one wants to scroll through and actually read 100,000 - 200,000 words on an Internet page. So although books can't possibly be as up to date as a blog, they can give the much needed "big-picture" account that tends to be anathema to the Internet. And that "big-picture" regarding global events of the early-21st century has fortunately now been assembled by blogger (Insurge Intelligence) and author Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed – Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.
Feeling in a bit of a masochistic mood a couple of Saturdays ago I decided to take a stroll over to the Donald Trump protest (which seem to be occurring like clockwork once every two weeks) outside of Melbourne's State Library, the place to be if you had the need of getting the wax cleared out of your ear drums. I managed to listen to the first couple of speakers, but the inanity of it all became way too overwhelming and I realized I had to get my apparently not-quite-masochistic-enough arse out of there before I did something stupid like turn around to the lady behind me and tell her "I hope you're hurting your voice as much as you're hurting my ears."
Not that I needed the protest to confirm things for myself, but there still doesn't seem to be all that many people in the United States – nor Australia for that matter – that appear to have much of a grasp of why it is that so many people managed to have voted for Trump, some pundits even dismissing the very reasons when they're staring them right in the face – that this was essentially the result of class warfare, not racism. Just before leaving office Barack Obama himself stated that had of he run for a third term he would have defeated Trump. If he's correct – and I think he is – then how is it that Trump won the election thanks to racism? Put a bit differently, how is it that Obama was able to win two elections in a nation that's supposedly so racist that it was able to put Trump into office? Answer: That's not why Trump got elected.
Fact of the matter is that out of the two most detested candidates in US election history, voters were more disgusted with the tried-and-tested corruption, and so rather than vote for the devil they knew who wouldn't release her Wall Street speeches and possibly would have started a war with Russia, they voted for the devil they didn't know who wouldn't release his taxes and might possibly start a war with China. As a result, and with many would-be Democrat voters deciding to sit this one out, Hillary Clinton received 3.5 million fewer votes than Obama did in 2008, and could very well have been the one person in the United States most unlikely to beat Trump.
Anyway, while Trump protesters couldn't be doing a better job of doing exactly what is needed to get Trump re-elected in four years' time, Australians might be doing exactly what is needed to get Pauline Hanson – dissenter of "multiculturalism" and leader of Australia's right-wing One Nation party – eventually elected as well, albeit with a bit of "catch up" required first. Because if Hanson can bide her time, it's only to her benefit that Australia happens to be a country populated by a significant enough amount of bigots which may one day be enough to tip the scales in her favour. And no, what I'm talking about isn't Australia's storied preponderance of racial bigots, but the astounding amount of classicist bigots it has. All one needs to look at for evidence of this is the tragic event that unfolded in Melbourne's CBD just two weeks ago to the day.
Three years ago I had the pleasure to attend a talk between Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson at Cooper Union in New York City (my first time in New York City as an adult, which was a story in itself), moderated by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. Wanting to quote a particular exchange between Berry and Jackson for a recent post here on From Filmers to Farmers I listened to the audio recording of the event to transcribe what I was after. While I was able to locate the sought after passage, I was aghast to find out that my favourite portion of the entire event was absent from the publicly available recording, something that was relevant to this post you're currently reading. So not only do I unfortunately not remember the lead-up to the particular exchange between Berry and Bittman, but I'm also forced to quote from memory. As I recall:
Bittman: You're a rock star.
Berry [quietly and sombrely]: No.
That got a bit of a giggle out of me. But as my sense of humour's fortune would have it, Bittman wasn't about to give up so easily.
Bittman: Yes, yes! You're a rock star, you're a rock star!
Eschewing an elaborate retort or explanation, and even more quietly and sombrely the second time around, Berry lowered his head, ever so slightly shook it, and once again simply said –
Well that was just too much for me, and as I kid you not that that was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen and heard in my life, I couldn't help but instantly burst out with an appropriately over-the-top boisterous laugh. Thing is, and as I just as quickly noticed, not a single other person in the entire audience was laughing as well – not even a peep. So just as fast as I started laughing I somehow managed to contain my convulsions, kind of clearing my throat and sheepishly hoping that my tiny outburst could somehow be disguised and confused for a weird sounding cough.
As readers of this blog may recall, nearly six months ago to the day I posted the fifth installment of the ongoing Dr. Pooper Papers series, Make America Poopable Again: The Great Toilet Debate That Wasn't. That piece worked off of the lacklustre transgender toilet debate that had been going on in the United States at the time, pointing out that the debate that wasn't going on was one over the usage of the modern, industrial flush toilet versus the ecological practice of using compost toilets. That post, unfortunately (albeit rather unsurprisingly), didn't quite catch on.
Nonetheless, American politics seems to have progressed from its ill coverage of doodoo to having its president-elect recently take the piss out of the entire nation, which in this topsy-turvy world of the fakery of faked "fake news" may or may not actually be true. That all being so, I realize that Mr. Shit Face's Dr. Pooper's depiction with Donald Trump and Barack Obama in the first "Great Debate" post six months ago didn't quite stir up the conversation about our human waste fiasco as I'd hoped, so here's to hoping that Mr. Please Don't Pee On My Face Dr. Peeper might have a different effect.
Yes, I've read the headlines, and once again – although perhaps a bit more so than previous iterations – the previous year (2016) was one for fawning over many-a-departed pop stars. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and many others. Pop stars aren't really my thing, but if that stuff floats your dinghy, well, all the best with that. In the meantime, 2016 was also the year that several luminaries with a more agrarian bent also bade their farewell, beginning with the co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison. Just a couple of weeks ago one of Permaculture's most respected and more recent practitioners and teachers, Toby Hemenway, also made an all-too-early departure. But along with these, 2016 also saw us lose an agrarian outside the world of Permaculture, that somebody being the aptly named Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon.