Anarchy and Economy  
  A few years ago I met in Tokyo a young composer and engineer, and asked him of his upcoming projects. He said he had accepted a job at Toshiba. He was placed with a small group of engineers who worked full time on the design of a certain class of components. At the end of the week they asked him what he would do on the weekend. He said he would work on his motorcycle, a hobby. They told him that they too spent their weekends working on motorcycles, and they invited him to join them.

Many Japanese companies pursue a strategy of historical reversal. They carefully place their workers in cohesive self-contained groups where almost all activities except the most private can be performed. A village environment is provided were one works and plays, matures and grows old. Perhaps the goal is to abate the ill effects of the electronic global village through the creation something more like a preindustrial village.

We have reached the age of anarchy and we need look no further than the economic strategies being implemented today to be assured of it.

  The ideas outlined in this text serve to introduce a series of articles to appear in Musicworks over several issues, under the banner "Anarchy and Economy". The first co-text is a beautiful letter Esther Ferrer wrote to John Cage in response to his query: does anarchy have a future? He used it extensively as source material in his last long mesostic poem Overpopulation and Art (in John Cage, Composed in America, Marjorie Perloff and Charles Junkerman, editors, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1994). You will find Esther's text elsewhere in this issue. In future issues you will find others, some of which I have in mind, some of which will come out of the blue, that is, from you.

Overpopulation and Art contains a rich panoply of Cagean topics, including Duchampian perception, Fullerian social design, Cage's own earfullness, and Suzukian emptynessfullness. It resonates with an intensity that is rare in his writings. There is an urgency and a hint a fatigue to the usual optimism, in a line that traces the poem from its beginnings in overpopulation to its open ending in anarchy, and the recurring letter 'O' on a line by itself which Cage read half-voiced in quivering inhale. It can be summarized in a phrase Cage first uttered to me in Kassel, 1987, in the back of a minibus on the way from the train station to hear his Essay installation. The phrase is a call from which Cage was unable to become detached, in spite of its echo of politics and the past. Safe for poverty. As in, what we need now is to make the world safe for poverty.

Roosevelt began the chant that justified the cold war; it was to make the world safe for democracy. The job apparently is nearing completion. The victory, however, was not political but economic: the motor and motivation not the right to vote but the right to consume.

  Economic entities in competition today compete not for resources but for consumers. The military model of competition, which is based on the control of resources in depletion, no longer applies, because today's resource -- the consumer population -- is in augmentation. The intellectual dynamics of business have been reversed, no longer concerned with capturing (resources) but with attracting (consumers).

What model does apply? I think its the artistic model. Words, syntax, notes, harmonies are free. Expression is the currency. Copyright and mechanical rights, concepts developed by the music recording industry, now form the legal substructure of the entire information economy. Scientists may have invented the tools of the information age, but musicians invented its economic viability.

Friends of the impoverished new music community: isn't that an irony?

  Anarchy and Economy. The conjunctive is working both ways: an increasingly anarchic economy nurtures a newly arising economy of anarchy. Let's look for a moment at the law. Here is something I just found on my hard disk:  

In the vast majority, laws exist to protect ownership, to give confidence that the thing one needs to survive will remain available in the future. This reliance on the protection of property applies to anyone who owns anything, whether a huge fortune or an old rusty automobile: every owner is among the rich, wishing protection from the poor. But when the threat of deprivation is removed, ownership is no longer necessary and laws become obsolete. A good example of this is the grocery cart: nobody feels the need to own one since they are always available in plenty as soon as needed, and each user unthinkingly relinquishes the cart when it is no longer needed. Use, as opposed to ownership.

It is frequently argued that ownership is necessary as a means of personal competitive self expression--keeping up with the Jones's--self identification through what one acquires and displays. This only works if the object is scarce: at one time the ownership of a toilet was announced with great pride; now it is taken for granted, the contemplation of a return to the good old days of toilet glory idiotic. If a fine, fast, safe and comfortable automobile is an object of prideful ownership, the meaning is clear: we all need access to one, and immediately. Furthermore, the satisfaction of competitive instincts through material acquisition is a poor substitute to its satisfaction through more creative means--the beauty of one's speech, music, athletic ability or grace, for example--as well as the ability to think for oneself, which is the other more potent and essential kind of creativity, the one we associate with anarchy.

Material acquisition has at this time one essential function: it is the motor of the consumer driven economy. The wealth of national, and of the newer supranational, free markets, is the size and diversity of their consumers. There seems little doubt that an eventual free market that embraces all nations will be the first truly global entity, and its organization will not be top-down, that is, governmental, but market-driven, bottom-up.

It at first appears that lawful ownership is essential to consumerism, but it is not so. The consumer economy is a dynamic system and ownership pulls towards stasis. It is not what one possesses that contributes, but what one consumes. This explains why the fastest growing sector of the consumer economy is information, a streaming intangible that cannot be owned; why the lease, from computers to automobiles, is rapidly replacing ownership. More and more our economy will rely on products that cannot be owned, and more and more ownership and its attendant laws and legal apparatuses will be recognized as obstacles.

It is more effective to think for and respect oneself, and consume accordingly, than it is to vote at the ballot box. In the nations with the biggest and most free economies, the smallest percentage of the population is politically active. The ultimate political freedom is the freedom not to vote.  
  Culture, and its principle agent technology, are also in reversal. Here is something else I recently found on my hard disk:  

To some composers, composition has become sampling and mixing. It is one of the musical manifestations of the most significant artistic form of the current century: collage. Collage completely removes from its source components all traces of their former locales in the time-space continuum. In a collage, everything has happened, nothing is happening.

New technologies create whole new human environments (McLuhan). Artistic works are built from within these environments, and in the case of performance artworks, they are continually rebrought to life in successive environments. In fact, as new environments come upon us more and more frequently and performance artworks self-transform to adapt, they become ideal pointers to the new environments. They become agents of the new environments. This is why the first successes of CD-ROMs have been in re-presenting material we already know from previous technologies (encyclopedias, Multimedia Beethoven), why in the early years of music CDs the most popular publications were re-issues of previously popular LPs, and it is what McLuhan was getting at when he said technology itself begins to replace art as revealer of the new situation. Paradoxically, technology is both revealing and creating the new situations, at one step removed; that is, each new technology reveals its predecessor. As new technologies come upon us faster and faster, their revelatory and creative capabilities virtually merge. This is something art has never done for its non-practitioners. It leads to a variety of partially true and partially contradictory perspectives: The first, that technology has usurped the role of art--art is in decline; another that the practice of using technology becomes more like the practice of art: everyone is an artist--art is in augmentation; a third that the artist, who in the past created awareness of environment, now creates awareness of technology.

We stand on the verge of implosion. It is interesting to note that a new theory of the universe (that is the physicist's universe) is a scenario of implode/explode oscillation, the Big Bang being the most recent point of implosion-to-explosion swing-through. Perhaps right now Universe is going through the moment of explosion-to-implosion swing-through. Instead of the Big Bang, call it 'a little silence'.

What if the whole film of human history really is about to run backwards (McLuhan)? What becomes of tradition, history, knowledge and art when the future becomes the past, and the past the future to be invented? Music, which began as a mnemonic for historic transmission and developed into a self-referencing tradition with an ever-decreasing past, now is timeless. Each moment is only of itself, each sound is without predecessor or successor, every style is contemporary. The vertical, historical dimension of tradition has decreased to nothing, all that remains is horizon. It is a beautiful moment (as I assume they all were).

What's next? We wont know till we get there. But here is one possibility: a reversal of the roles of future and past--history stretched out, not behind us, but before us--behind us, not a hazy recollection, but an absolute unknowing, the past as empty as the future once was.

  Safe for poverty. Does it mean more of same--a greater and more widespread right to consume--or does it mean freedom from expression, that is, from wealth in its current incarnation? Or both: is the final division between wealth and humanity acrumblin'?

I'm not sure these articles can answer questions such as those, but I hope they can pose them. And we will explore parallels between established economic practices in the artistic community and newly arising practices in the broader population. One of the reasons Gayle Young is publishing the series is that I was able to convey to her my enthusiasm for a suspicion I have, that the way we have been surviving as experimental musicians and composers is being taken up, by necessity, by a far greater number of people in all walks, even those who are "employed" ("employment" is a very lively term these days). It turns out that the artistic community has not only been a cauldron of ideas for expression; it has been a laboratory for economic survival.

  Andrew Culver
March, 1995
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