Friday, June 7, 2013

Lou Harrison on UbuWeb

I was surprised to discover that one of my favorite composers, Lou Harrison, is heavily represented on UbuWeb, the Internet archive for avante-garde and hard to obtain material.

A page on the website has links allowing visitors to download MP3 files for five Harrison albums.

A FAQ on the website has the following answer to the question, "What is your policy concerning posting copyright material?" Here is the answer in full:

A. If it's out of print, we feel it's fair game. Or if something is in print, yet absurdly priced or insanely hard to procure, we'll take a chance on it. But if it's in print and available to all, we won't touch it. The last thing we'd want to do is to take the meager amount of money out of the pockets of those releasing generally poorly-selling materials of the avant-garde. UbuWeb functions as a distribution center for hard-to-find, out-of-print and obscure materials, transferred digitally to the web. Our scanning, say, an historical concrete poem in no way detracts from the physical value of that object in the real world; in fact, it probably enhances it. Either way, we don't care: Ebay is full of wonderful physical artifacts, most of them worth a lot of money. 

Should something return to print, we will remove it from our site immediately. Also, should an artist find their material posted on UbuWeb without permission and wants it removed, please let us know. However, most of the time, we find artists are thrilled to find their work cared for and displayed in a sympathetic context. As always, we welcome more work from existing artists on site. 

Let's face it, if we had to get permission from everyone on UbuWeb, there would be no UbuWeb.

The posting of the Harrison albums would appear to push the envelope a little bit on UbuWeb's own stated policy. I looked for Lou Harrison albums at Amazon's MP3 store. Four out of five of the posted albums were available for purchase (the exception being the album of Harrison's piano music.)

On the other hand, Harrison died more than 10 years ago, and as with any serious American composer who isn't named "Philip Glass," "Steve Reich" or "John Adams," I worry about whether Harrison will find and sustain an audience over the long term. (Yes, many people reading this blog will know who Lou Harrison is, but let's face it -- you're a small minority of a small minority.) I wouldn't mind at all if the UbuWeb posting resulted in many more people discovering Lou Harrison's music.

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