Artist / Producer / Distributor / Consumer

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POSTED: April 23, 2006

Once upon a time last October, Robert Sharl wrote a blog entry in which, quoting Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, the way you do, he talked about the breaking down of the differences between the roles of producers and consumers. I paraphrase. You can, of course, check out the original source yourself.

I emailed Robert, asking about references for the assertion that “we might reasonably expect them to be characterised broadly by a displacement of existing centres of power in the creative industries, by the further breakdown of the defined roles of artist/producer/distributor/consumer”.

It wasn’t that I disbelieved him. In fact, the opposite: I was hoping that this was true. What I was looking for was some clear evidence that it was true. I wanted this for a part of an ongoing discussion that I have been having about, and around, the Marinetta Ombro project.

I am old enough to have actively participated in the class of C86. No, I wasn’t on the tape itself but I was one of the ringleaders of the Contagious Collective, and the so-called “fifth member” of Negrava, the tape-band whose releases sold literally dozens of copies worldwide. Why do I mention this? Because, at that point, “we” thought that the role between artist and audience, between producer and consumer, was being dismantled. In fact those very sentiments are embedded in the Contagious constitution. We expected the PortaStudio to unleash popular creativity, and end the dominance of the big corporations. Or something like that, at least.

The fact was, or rather, the fact seemed to be, that (as it turned out) this was something that was happening at the margins, on the unpopulated far shores of the beach, and the main bathing area was left untouched. In other words, at the real centres of power, nothing was changing. The revolution, the dissolving and rearranging of roles, turned out to be happening only in the minds of Malcolm McLaren and a few “groovy” public relations offices with their eye on the next media trend.

The reason why I asked Robert my question was connected with this: are we sure that anything is actually changing now? Or will we just get this century’s version of BowWowWow, while the corporate world turns as it “always” has? So, in this context, his assertion that “each new technological conduit (the railways, telegraph, telephone, fax, sms, email) has increased the participatory potential of big media (from letters to the editor to the BBC turning R1 playlists over to the whims of SMS-equipped listeners), but the flattened, symmetrical landscape of the emerging media really takes this to a new level” is not, in itself, reassuring.

Sure, some playlists may have been turned over, as he describes, but how many, and to what effect? Has radio been changed beyond recognition? Has (brilliant though it is, as both concept and practice, in my view) changed the recording industry, and the relationship between player and listeners? Do we now all know about (for example) Centrozoon, as we all should, in my opinion?

This is not a criticism of Robert. Just a clarification of my original question. Now if only somebody can provide those references, or something like them, or a reason why we can’t have them but can carry on acting as though we do…