Breaking Laws for Music

“Music as an art, our so-called occidental music, is hardly four hundred years old; its state is one of development, perhaps the very first stage of a development beyond present conception, and we—we talk of ‘classics’ and ‘hallowed traditions’! And we have talked of them for a long time!

We have formulated rules, stated principles, laid down laws; we apply laws made for maturity to a child that knows nothing of responsibility!

Young as it is, this child, we already recognize that it possesses one radiant attribute which signalizes it beyond all its elder sisters. And the lawgivers will not see this marvelous attribute, lest their laws should be thrown to the winds. This child— it floats on air! It touches not the earth with its feet. It knows no law of gravitation. It is well nigh incorporeal. Its material is transparent. It is sonorous air. It is almost Nature herself. It is free”.

-Ferruccio Busoni, Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music, 1907

Now hardly five hundred years old, music is still held down by laws.

Jurisdiction is especially strong in the Department of Music Presentation: “Thou shall perform music in a concert or recital setting”, “Though shall sell or give away one’s music for free”, “Though shall present one’s music in the form of an album or EP”. Even new technologies, avenues like Bandcamp and Spotify for instance, serve to uphold these laws, not upend them.

What is the basis for these laws? Well, think of the idea of a social contract: a group of people agree to give up certain freedoms in order to keep others. If we agree not to kill and pillage one another, we can expand on our property freely without worry. If we agree that concerts and albums are the means to present music, we can focus on making our music as awesome as possible.

With that in mind, there might not be an impetus to challenge the laws of Music Presentation. Yet what could happen if these laws were distorted, even destroyed? What new avenues of presenting Bach or putting music on the internet could be discovered?

If music is free as Busoni says, perhaps it would benefit it to explore down this seemingly anarchic path. What’s the worst that could happen?


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