Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'm Just Going To Keep On Dancing (Dancing! Dancing!)

Diamonds are of very rare occurrence on the earth's surface, and hence their discover costs, on average, a great deal of labour-time. Consequently much labour is represented in a small volume...With richer mines, the same quantity of labour would be embodied in more diamonds, and their value would fall. If man succeeded without much labour, in transforming carbon into diamonds, their value might fall below that of bricks.

Marx, Capital, p. 130, 131

Is there a relation between value and excellence?

The recorded music of Lowell Davidson is of very rare occurrence on earth's surface. Does that alone--the rarity of Lowell Davidson's congealed labor--make his one record so completely valuable? And is that "value" the same as "excellence?"

What about Ken Vandermark? Would his music be any more valuable (or "excellent") if he had a total of 3 recordings to his name?

What would music (the sound of it, the experience of producing it, the experience of consuming it) be like if musicians could only release a total of 5 recordings? They could play live all they wanted, but only 5 recordings at the most.

Is anything happening to the "value" (or excellence) of music as a whole in light of the "digital revolution"--specifically said revolution's facilitating the self-release?

What would cars be worth if everyone could make their own in the back yard?

What would the experience of driving be worth if everyone on earth had their own car that they had made themselves?

(I really really really am asking questions here, and not trying to bate or "takedown" anyone or any industry. Honest.)

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Just as commodities have a dual character, possessing both use-value and exchange-value, so labour in itself has a twofold nature. Use-value is created by 'concrete' or 'useful' labour, defined by Marx as 'productive activity of a definite kind, carried on with a definite aim', whereas exchange-value derives from 'abstract' or 'undifferentiated' labour, which is measured purely in terms of its duration--and there is an inherent tension between the two. A tailor, for instance, may strive to make the hardest-wearing coat of which he or she is capable. If it is too hard-wearing, however, the purchaser need never return to buy a replacement, so jeopardizing the tailor's business. The same applies to the weaver who created the cloth from which the coat was swen. The need to create use-value thus finds itself in conflict with the need to continue creating exchange value.

...'Within its value relation to the linen,' (Marx) writes, 'the coat signifies more than it does outside it, just as some men count for more when inside a gold-braided uniform than they do otherwise'

Wheen, Francis. Marx's Das Kapital, A biography. p.41-42

What then, under capitalism, is the impetus for doing one's best? And why, under capitalism, are "we" disciplined and punished for not doing (the boss-capitalist's perception of) one's best?

Are "prestigeous" record labels a kind of "gold-braided uniform" that makes men (and their CD's) count for more when inside them?

Would John Coltrane still have made the music of John Coltrane (as we know it) if he was on the John Coltrane record label, distributed out of a garage somewhere on Long Island? Did Impulse or (ha! Prestige) ever artistically constrain John Coltrane due to extra musical, exchange-value reasons?

Holy crap I love that verysmallarray.com web site. Y'all have been right? I really love the graps comparing Pitchfork Media and Billboard magazine.

Question: what would "music" (and by extension, life) be like if Pitchfork had Billboard's capital? Would it be exactly the same?

The stark comparison of Pitchfork and Billboard via graphs and the like made me wish that CD's came with (and CD reviews consisted of) a graph that showed what percentage of the music was "exchange value music" and what percentage was "use value music"--because it is a zero-sum deal.

Is the Lowell Davidson recording (singular) an example of a music with a very high use value and a very low exchange value?

Can we think of any recordings with a very low use value, but a very high exchange value?

Is there a relation between a recording's use value, exchange value, value, and the number of copies printed?

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Only the products of mutually independent acts of labour, performed in isolation, can confront each other as commodities.

(Marx, Capital, p.132)

People under capitalism do not relate to each other directly as human beings, they relate to one another through the myriad products which they encounter in the market

David Harvey, video 2, ca. 57'10"

However glorious its apparent economic triumphs, capitalism remains a disaster since it turns people into commodities, exchangeable for other commodities. Until humans can assert themselves as the subjects of history rather than its objects, there is no escape from this tyranny.

Wheen, Francis, Marx's Das Kapital, a biography, p. 13

There is a phrase, one I'm about to mangle, related to the economic nature of "Jazz", and that phrase is that it, (the economic nature of jazz) is a bunch of, uh, "Jazz musicians" fighting over a chicken wing on the corner. Ever hear that one?

When creating exchange-value music--nay, when consciously incorporating the slightest concession to the exchange-value-aesthetic (and don't tell me there isn't one), are musicians commodities or are musicians human?

Bill Dixon has at times suggested the existence of two kind of music producers: Musicians and Personalities. If I had to guess, and this is only a guess, a Musician creates use-value music, where as a Personality creates exchange-value music.

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In itself, an increase in the quantity of use-values constitutes an increase in material wealth. Two coats will clothe two men, one coat will only clothe one man, etc. Nevertheless, an increase in the amount of material wealth may correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of its value. This contradictory movement arises out of the twofold character of labour. By 'productivity' of course, we always mean the productivity of concrete useful labour; in reality this determines only the degree of effectiveness of productive activity directed towards a given purpose within a given period of time. Useful labour becomes, therefore, a more or less abundant source of products in direct proportion as its productivity rises or falls. As against this, however, variations in productivity have no impact whatever on the labour itself represented in value. As productivity is an attribute of labour in its concrete useful form, it naturally ceases to have any bearing on that labour as soon as we abstract from its concrete useful form. The same labour, therefore, performed for the same length of time, always yields the same amount of value, independently of any variations in productivity. But it provides different quantities of use-values during equal periods of time; more, if productivity rises; fewer, if it falls. For this reason, the same change in productivity which increase the fruitfulness of labour, and therefore the amount of use-values produced by it, also brings about a reduction in the value of this increased total amount, if it cuts down the total amount of labour-time necessary to produce the use-values.

Marx, Capital, p. 137

Learned: One can accumulate a great deal of wealth by making things of very little value.

What if you were only allowed to release 5 albums in your life time...

I like the part that says "variations in productivity have no impact whatever on the labor itself represented in the value." Does this mean if Lowell Davidson was given a MacArthur grant and used it to produce dozens upon dozens of releases, he (Lowell Davidson/Lowell Davidson's labour) would still be great but his recordings would be of proportionately less value?

What would our culture be like if the music of Lowell Davidson was a prevalent as Justin Timberlake? What if those two were to do a capital switch-a-roo? Would Justin Timberlake suddenly assume the identity-as-exchange-value previously, uh, enjoyed by Lowell Davidson during his active years of musical labor, or would he remain be the Justin Timberlake we've always known and loved?

So many questions!

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copyright © 2009 Stanley J. Zappa