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jason on 10/13/2014 at 05:03AM

Player Piano: The First Digital Music Revolution

Using light to read player piano rolls at MakerFaire Detroit, CC BY Marty McGuire

I made a 2-part Radio Free Culture about the player piano's legacy on music, copyright and digital culture

Part 1 feat David Suisman, Lisa Gitelman and Michael Simon - The transition from sheet music to piano rolls transformed our understanding of copyright. 

Part 2 feat Nick Seaver, Aaron David Ross, Michael Connor and Nick Yulman - The player piano's influence on digital music, including MIDI, Disklavier Super MIDI, Black MIDI, MIDI-powered automata and mechanical pop.


Some classic player piano performances have been recorded and compiled by Kazoomzoom for the Frog Legs compilation. Below, enjoy one from Scott Joplin, a Ragtime legend who you can read more about in this feature story by Joe McG.


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ladymock on 07/12/2012 at 02:53PM

The Investigative Musicologist Radio Show: The Public Domain

What do you think of when you hear the term "The Public Domain" in relation to music?  Really old pieces?  Music that has no copyright?  Works in the Creative Commons?  Perhaps even one or two specific genres come to mind?  The label is a fluid one, to say the least, and complete consensus on it appears unlikely.  In this episode we'll explore some of the ways the public domain has been understood and misperceived, and listen to music that's not only representative of these ideas, but also delivers the usual multi-directional jumble of music heard on the show. 

Full playlist info and episode streaming options here.

CIUT show page.

And check out extra goodies related to the episode.

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katya-oddio on 11/09/2010 at 02:00PM

Hiss, Crackle, Pop

The release This Is The End, Beautiful Friend by File Under Toner is a public domain treasure trove of album noise for all artists wishing to add the authentic warm crackle of old recordings to their new works. These sounds were culled from the end of the groove of vinyl, acetate, and even cardboard records.

recording the silent final grooves of records. not so silent after all. playing them loud enough to capture the hiss, the pops, the clicks. adding a couple of digital delays, some EQ and filtering, a little reverb here and there… not much, really. it’s all in the records if you know where to listen....

if you have the means, stamp these tracks on a three sided LP. you will have three free extra end grooves, and a blank side to needle-surf.

Are the hiss, crackles, and pops on records protected by copyrights? This controversial project by File Under Toner (Anki Toner, founder of Hazard Records, the free public domain label) posed the question and got into some trouble.

photo: "Golden Turntable" by Neil Ian of Nimble Photography [license]

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stevenarntson on 10/12/2009 at 08:08AM

The Absent Second: An Explanation

In 1931, the Carter Family recorded a song called "Can't Feel At Home," a spiritual about storing up treasure in heaven in the face of the world's cruelty. The chorus contains the line "I can't feel at home in this world anymore." The catalog of copyright entries produced by the Library of Congress Copyright Office contains the following notice for A.P. Carter:

Can't feel at home ; words and melody by A.P. Carter. © 1 c. Aug. 25, 1931; E unp. 45219 ; Southern music pub. co., inc., New York. 21378

A.P.'s lyric and melody is substantially equivalent to another song called "This World Is Not My Home," by Albert E. Brumley, who copyrighted his words and melody in 1936, five years after Carter. Despite the suggestion of authorship suggested by these copyrights, the song is older than either of these versions. In his essay, "Roots of Bluegrass Music," Richard L. Matteson Jr. charts its history, which reaches back in print to a 1909 hymnal and likely long before that in the oral tradition. There are two recordings that predate that of the Carter Family. One is by Sam Jones, from 1924, and the other is by The Kentucky Thorobreds, from 1927.

Sometime in the late 1930s, Woody Guthrie heard a version of the song and penned a parody of it titled "I Ain't Got No Home," which considerably changes the tone of resigned worldly rejection of the original spiritual. The line "Angels beckon me to heaven's open door/And I can't feel at home in this world anymore," becomes "Rich man took my home and drove me from my door/And I ain't got no home in this world anymore." The earliest recording of "I Ain't Got No Home" that I know of is from 1940, made by Folkways chronicler Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress.

Sixty-eight years later, in 2008, I heard "Can't Feel and Home" and "I Ain't Got No Home," and felt the latter lyric connected well with some lyrics I was writing for what would become The Emerald Arms suite. I decided to arrange "I Ain't Got No Home" as the second movement. After creating the recording and sheet music of the entire work, I set out to discover whose permission I should ask before giving the suite away online as free recordings and a score.

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lizb on 04/14/2009 at 09:15AM

Creative Commons Lesson + Great Music from Weave!

Most of the songs offered on the Free Music Archive are licensed using Creative Commons, which is a more flexible version of copyright. The CC licenses used in the Free Music archive allow for non-commercial use with attribution (by-nc). This means you can download songs for free under two conditions:

1. You aren't making any money off of whatever you use the song for (listening on your ipod = ok, e-mailing the song to a friend or posting on your non-ad-driven blog/podcast = ok, using the song in your company's shoe commercial = not ok).

2. You credit the artist.

Some songs even allow for remixing (under the share-alike clause). Anyway, enough about the rules, go forth and explore!

As I was poking around on the site, I came across a great live set by the band Weave, which I found in Dublab's portal of the Free Music Archive. Since I originally hail from the northern sector of California, I am by nature skeptical of anything to make a peep from the state's lower half. I swallowed my pride and took a listen to Weave anyway, and loved what I heard: melodic yet slightly dissonant and hopping post-punk tunes with fun sing-along multi-lady vox. Fans of Liliput, the Slits, the Shaggs, Vivian Girls, and early B-52s, take note! Take a listen to Weave's live set right here, and download away!

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