Tag Archives: Authenticity

Does This Sound Like the Real Thing or What Is Real?

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership.” —Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1935

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One of the things that is absolutely taken for granted is the ubiquity of the arts in our daily lives. Music comes from everywhere and while much of it doesn’t necessarily rise to the levels that one would imagine would have required the invocation of Euterpe, think only of the situation of someone 200 years ago:

One of the least expensive, most common instruments, the harmonica, wasn’t invented until 1821.

While we associate harmonicas with blues performers and hobos, it is a pretty good bet that back in the first half of the 19th century Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann’s instrument wasn’t an inexpensive item.

Hearing music–which we don’t even think about–was certainly something special for much longer than it hasn’t been.

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Sounds Like. . . ?

Apparently there is a museum in France dedicated to the works of a late 19th- early 20th century painter, Étienne Terrus.

The museum, located in Elne, France, in the Pyrénées, is full of paintings by Terrus.

Or at least many of the 140 paintings are by the artist.

And even more of them are, as has recently been discovered, fakes.

Experts have come in and determined that 82 of the paintings were not executed by Étienne Terrus, who died in 1922.

One of the clues in one of the landscapes: buildings that weren’t built until after the artist died.

You would think that something like that might be noticed.

But you often don’t see something unless you are looking, even if you’re looking right at it. And arguably there have been hundreds of people looking at those paintings, thinking to themselves, “That’s a nice Terrus.”

As the tagline for this site is not “Gouaches Can Change Your Life,” you are probably wondering what the Terrus Museum has to do with anything.

It got me to wondering about how we actually know whether music that we think has been recorded by an individual or a band really is aural evidence of that.

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To a Musician Not Dying Young

Recently I was with a few people from southern California who had come to musical maturity in the ‘70s. I learned that there is a robust “tribute” or “cover” band scene there. One of the women I was with had been a backup singer in a Segar tribute band. It seems, she explained, that many of the people in these bands are unsuccessful in getting their own music to break and so they perform—or could that be “pretend”—as others.

So there are bands like the Dark Star Orchestra, the Australian Pink Floyd Show, The Fab Four, Nervana, and multitudes more.

In many cases it is not enough to have a note-for-note rendition of the original band in question, but some of these tribute bands cover themselves in the clothing and the hairstyle of the individual musicians making up the bands in question.

(Of course, the Iron Maidens have a look that doesn’t duplicate the original for obvious reasons.)

We will not see the Beatles again. Not Pink Floyd or Nirvana. And while the situation with the Dead is uncertain, Jerry’s not going to be on stage.

And the music created by the originals is often so good that it exists independently of the people who made it in the first case, so it could be the case that there are several people who go to the clubs who have no idea of what’s being covered and when they leave they go home and download “Katmandu.”

Which is certainly a good thing for all concerned, be it the tribute band, the listener or, in this case, Seger.

But there was a comment that one of the people made that struck me as being odd and in some ways unsettling, a comment that was agreed to by the others in attendance: “Well, we can’t see the originals any more so this is just as good.”

Is it? Really?

Without going all Walter Benjamin and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical [Digital] Reproduction,” doesn’t authenticity matter?

Continue reading To a Musician Not Dying Young

Manufactured Happiness

What if they were really Milli Vanilli?Several weeks ago a suitcase was picked up at a flea market in Australia that could have potentially been the sort of thing that would have caused the guy on Antiques Roadshow to gush from every orifice: It was thought to contain Beatles memorabilia, including heretofore unheard recordings. The speculation was that the suitcase had been the property of a man who had worked as a roadie for the band, as well as had spent time working in some capacity in the recording studio. He was reportedly killed by police in 1976. In L.A., not Sydney. Subsequently, a “Beatles expert” came to the conclusion that the contents of the case were not “authentic.” While aspects of the story would lend themselves to novelization by, say, Kinky Friedman, it raises another point, this about how musicians are generally perceived by listeners.

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Is This Website Real & How Do You Know?

A front-page story in a recent edition of the LA Times looked into the creation of web sites for entertainment products—films—by alleged fans. As the story, “Fake Fans, Fake Buzz, Real Bucks” by Dana Calvo (20 March ’01), opens: “The 34-year-old computer whiz in Silver Lake got a phone call from the friend of a friend—the head of publicity for a movie studio. The offer as $10,000 a week for an Internet ‘project.'” The project was to create an indie-appearing website to flak a movie.

The story of the generation of the enthusiasm for The Blair Witch project is well known. And because of the usefulness of the Internet to create interest (Blair cost about $1-million to make; it grossed, according to Calvo, $128-million in just five weeks), this is becoming a marketing strategy. And let’s face it: movie companies are record companies. The names are different but the suits are the same.

Calvo writes: “The hired enthusiasts don’t reveal that they are on entertainment company payrolls. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to verify which Web pages are by genuine fans and which aren’t even by tracing the registered owner of the site.”

Which strikes me as somewhat disturbing.

Take this site, for example. How does someone know that those of us who post to this page aren’t really in the thrall of some anti-Sting cabal? How does someone know that there is actually more than one person writing this stuff? I don’t want to get into some sort of riff on solipsism here (“Hmm. . .I haven’t been to France for a while: How do I know Paris exists?”), but to simply muse on the fact that those who participate in the creation of bona fide sites about stuff really need to concentrate on providing authenticity of voice, a reality that can’t be bought by corporate suits. I suspect that if you were to go to Yahoo and search for a pop artist, beyond the “official” sites there are more than a few that are nothing more than genuine-for-hire. It may be dismissed as just a matter of the unenlightened not getting it (“So what?”), but it seems to me that this is sort of a slippery slope to the world described in 1984, where the Government (or in this case, the Industry) creates the entertainment for the proles. And there are one hell of a lot of proles whose spending affects what gets elevated and what gets quashed.

There could be an argument raised that this is done only for the “name” acts, but isn’t it posible that given the comparative low cost of creating sites (the guy from Silver Lake obviously got one hell of a deal; I imagine that Jake may be wondering at this point. . .), it would be the marginal artists who are more likely to be the ones for whom Internet crypto marketing is done. The budget may be low, but the Internet is infinite.

The truth may be out there. It’s just hard to find.

(Next time: Man on the Moon? Fact or a bad movie shot at Area 54?)