University of Massachusetts Press

Science, Technology, and Culture

Carolyn de la Pena, Siva Vaidhyanathan

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

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Science, Technology, and Culture

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Mashed Up

Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture

Aram Sinnreich

From ancient times to the present day, writers and thinkers have remarked on the unique power of music to evoke emotions, signal identity, and bond or divide entire societies, all without the benefit of literal representation. Even if we can’t say precisely what our favorite melody means, we know very well what kind of effect it has on us, and on our friends and neighbors. According to Aram Sinnreich, this power helps to explain why music has so often been regulated in societies around the globe and throughout history. Institutional authorities ranging from dynastic China’s “Office to Harmonize Sounds” to today’s copyright collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP leverage the rule of law and the power of the market to make sure that some musical forms and practices are allowed and others are prohibited. Yet, despite the efforts of these powerful regulators, musical cultures consistently devise new and innovative ways to work around institutional regulations. These workarounds often generate new styles and traditions in turn, with effects far beyond the cultural sphere. Mashed Up chronicles the rise of “configurability,” an emerging musical and cultural moment rooted in today’s global, networked communications infrastructure. Based on interviews with dozens of prominent DJs, attorneys, and music industry executives, the book argues that today’s battles over sampling, file sharing, and the marketability of new styles such as “mash-ups” and “techno” presage social change on a far broader scale. Specifically, the book suggests the emergence of a new ethic of configurable collectivism; an economic reunion of labor; a renegotiation of the line between public and private; a shift from linear to recursive logic; and a new “DJ consciousness,” in which the margins are becoming the new mainstream. Whether these changes are sudden or gradual, violent or peaceful, will depend on whether we heed the lessons of configurability, or continue to police and punish the growing ranks of the mashed up.

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The Piracy Crusade

How the Music Industry's War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties

Aram Sinnreich

In the decade and a half since Napster first emerged, forever changing the face of digital culture, the claim that “internet pirates killed the music industry” has become so ubiquitous that it is treated as common knowledge. Piracy is a scourge on legitimate businesses and hard-working artists, we are told, a “cybercrime” similar to identity fraud or even terrorism. In The Piracy Crusade, Aram Sinnreich critiques the notion of “piracy” as a myth perpetuated by today’s cultural cartels—the handful of companies that dominate the film, software, and especially music industries. As digital networks have permeated our social environment, they have offered vast numbers of people the opportunity to experiment with innovative cultural and entrepreneurial ideas predicated on the belief that information should be shared widely. This has left the media cartels, whose power has historically resided in their ability to restrict the flow of cultural information, with difficult choices: adapt to this new environment, fight the changes tooth and nail, or accept obsolescence. Their decision to fight has resulted in ever stronger copyright laws and the aggressive pursuit of accused infringers. Yet the most dangerous legacy of this “piracy crusade” is not the damage inflicted on promising start-ups or on well-intentioned civilians caught in the crosshairs of file-sharing litigation. Far more troubling, Sinnreich argues, are the broader implications of copyright laws and global treaties that sacrifice free speech and privacy in the name of combating the phantom of piracy—policies that threaten to undermine the foundations of democratic society.

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Underground Movements

Modern Culture on the New York City Subway

Sunny Stalter-Pace

For more than a century the New York City subway system has been a vital part of the city’s identity, even as judgments of its value have varied. It has been celebrated as the technological embodiment of the American melting pot and reviled as a blighted urban netherworld. Underground Movements explores the many meanings of the subway by looking back at the era when it first ascended to cultural prominence, from its opening in 1904 through the mid-1960s. Sunny Stalter-Pace analyzes a broad range of texts written during this period—news articles, modernist poetry, ethnic plays, migration narratives, as well as canonical works by authors such as Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, and Ralph Ellison—to illustrate the subway’s central importance as a site of abstract connection, both between different parts of the city and between city dwellers who ride the train together. Writers and artists took up questions that originated in the sphere of urban planning to explore how underground movement changed the ways people understand the city. Modern poets envisioned the subway as a space of literary innovation; playwrights and fiction writers used it to gauge the consequences of migration and immigration; and essayists found that it underscored the fragile relationship between urban development and memory. Even today, the symbolic associations forged by these early texts continue to influence understanding of the cultural significance of the subway and the city it connects.

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