Only in postmodern music can you find an entire album of someone raking their leaves.
To many of us, listening to postmodern music has significantly less appeal than walking, texting, and suddenly falling down an uncovered manhole. The genre is full of musicians who inhale, wistfully ask, “What is music, anyway?” and then stare off into the distance. And then they write and perform something that makes you wonder what the hell you’re listening to and why you paid for it. Postmodern music is all about breaking rules and maybe falling into a rhythm in the process, but the beat only happens by accident, and never stays for very long.
Precisely because it pushes the boundaries of what is considered “music,” postmodern music is hugely popular with one segment of the U.S. population – copyright attorneys. To them, postmodern music is the business opportunity that never dries up.
Case in point: John Cage, a postmodern composer, came up with the idea of silence. 4 minutes and 33 seconds of it. The piece, titled 4’33”, has attracted an ironic following, and achieved something as close to popularity that a postmodern “song” could ever hope for. The company that publishes Cage’s music, Peters Edition, copyrighted the work because copyright is broken.
Since Cage’s death, Peters Edition has relentlessly enforced its copyright, filing infringement claims against those who dare to perform nothing. In 2002, a music group called The Planets, led by Mike Batt, came out with an album called Classical Graffiti. On it, there was a track called A One Minute Silence. The song was credited to “Batt/Cage.” Peters Edition claimed copyright infringement, and sued. They demanded a quarter of the song’s royalties, possibly because the song was approximately a quarter as long as Cage’s. The case settled out of court for a figure reported to have six digits. Did we mention copyright is broken?
The chilling effect that this kind of success has had is tangible. SoundCloud has started issuing DMCA takedown requests to its users that it thinks are infringing on the 4’33” copyright just to avoid facing another lawsuit by Peters Edition. It’s unclear just how far this will go, or whether Peters Edition will also pursue those who pause to remember someone by taking a moment of silence if they don’t also give proper citation to the copyright.
Until it becomes clear where copyright infringement ends, and reality begins, we should all be prepared to make at least some sort of noise every few minutes, or risk being dragged into court for infringing the copyright on silence.