(Live) Music disappearing?

As submitted to the NSW Government.

preface

The role of music in culture has always been significant.

Prior to recorded music, personal performances, and the passing down of songs through generations was normative, whether solo, or ensemble, parent to child, or community based.

With the advent of recorded music, and the adjunct of radio (et al), music reached even wider audiences, and became an even more contributory part of people’s lives. “Reproducibility” added a significant element, especially the on-demand element, and music reached into every corner of most people’s lives, as it still does. However, “live” music is a different domain.

live performances

The two broadest categories of live music are best described as *concert* environments, usually seated, and the opportunity to experience music in a three dimensional way. The other is *live music* as an adjunct to social activities, such as meeting people in venues where food, drink, and social interactions occur, be this pubs, clubs, music festivals, functions, events, etc.

dance

Music is an inextricable adjunct of most dance forms.

Although quite diminished from earlier periods, be this ballroom, the jazz age, rock and roll from the 50’s, the 60/70’s era, the vital element remains, being the interaction of the musicians and the dancing audience.

composition

Music scores are paramount in film, and just about every media enterprise. Music jingles, theme songs, background music, etc, and of course, in orchestral (and other compositional areas) for performance and interpretation. In the live music sphere, composition is threatened.

social

Music has a number of social elements, including musicians being part of an ensemble, an orchestra or band, an accompanist, etc, and incorporates the “tribal” element of bringing like-minded people together for concerts, parties, dances, etc, and the musician/audience interaction.

These interactions are a different outreach from work, family, business, etc, and have a valuable role in professional, semi professional, and amateur spheres, where music forms a part of people’s lives that transport them away from the more usual daily pursuits.

benefits

Music has undeniable psychological and physiological benefits:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/258383.php

and this is hardly groundbreaking news.

From using music to soothe babies, to an adjunct for the elderly, there are few stages in life when music doesn’t play a vital and significant role.

monetisation

It is difficult to argue for a simplistic model, such as “how much revenue can (live) music generate for the economy?” Whilst modelling and statistics will reveal some direct numbers, from attracting people to large concerts, revenues from transport, accommodation, food and beverages, etc, it is important to take a longitudinal stand (see later in this submission).

In Australia, and elsewhere, it is hard to imagine just how big the live music scene was during the “heyday” periods. Personally, I recall playing at venues such as the UNSW Roundhouse, to crowds of hundreds of people, who came to dance, from perhaps 8pm – midnight. At my chosen university, every Friday and Saturday night saw “dances” also with hundreds of attendees.

Promoters recollect the halcyon days when even mid-week venues would attract huge crowds, and the “pub music” scene in the era of Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil (et al) attests to the power and scale of the live music scene when at full tilt.

Information on monetised returns are available:

http://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2015/05/article_0009.html

This article lists five requisite elements:

• the presence of artists and musicians;

• a thriving music scene;

• available spaces and places for music;

• a receptive and engaged audience;

• and record labels and other music-related businesses.

From that article:

“In Melbourne, Australia, the 2012 census found that the live music sector alone generated over AUD1 billion in spending and supported the equivalent of 116,000 annual full-time jobs.”

It would be clear that revenues in the contemporary era do not compare well to the golden days.

Nevertheless, in a hard-headed discussion, it is still evident that music, and live music, are capable of being economic contributors, but I would imagine that it is in decline.

the perennial chestnuts

As governments at all levels increase the regulation of everyday lives, the well trodden paths of “noise” and local amenity always dominates the sphere of live music, and mostly those smaller venues in urban areas. Parking becomes another issue.

  • This is not going to be the subject of this submission, other than to add my cynical view of those who move close to such venues, then agitate to have them closed down or limited.

For one thing, even a “ruly” crowd existing a venue at closing time, will often be enthusiastic and hopefully somewhat adrenalin fuelled from an exhilarating gig, this is hardly a social ill.

  • The association with music and alcohol (and other possible stimulants) may exacerbate the enthusiasm, or indeed foster “unruly” behaviour, and that too is not part of this submission.

longitudinal monetisation

More than the immediate revenue streams, governments must take a much more longitudinal perspective, including these strands:

  • the financial social benefits and savings: if music is *therapy* then there are savings in social costs, medical costs, other therapeutic modalities, etc, all of which would otherwise factor into taxpayer funded enterprises.

Whilst I am unable to quantify these costs as they relate to music, in the US, it was found that for every dollar spent in pre-schooling, twenty two dollars was saved in later social costs.

Taking away “the music” would indeed ramp up costs to society, via both financial and personal enrichments.

  • lateral monetisation: such as the allied services that go towards supporting music, and will  include inputs such as the “music backline” services; equipment, lighting, audio, staging, administration, music mixers, etc.  Then the adjunct services such as taxi/uber, food and beverage, accommodation, sightseeing and tourism by visitors to music venues, etc.

Whereas these financial and social factors are readily seen, (albeit not always easily financially quantified), there is a much more insidious and deeper threat that will significantly contribute towards the long term decline of music.

Two key factors below need consideration and government support.

performers

The enjoyment and social factor of being a performing musician will survive to a degree, but without a financial remuneration, being a performing musician will become a less desirable pursuit. Diminishing audiences are not helpful. There is a “race to the bottom.”

Very few performing musicians are without significant costs, such as buying instruments, amplifiers, PA, stage clothes, lights, etc, then the potential costs of tuition and learning, sometimes rehearsal costs, then adding the transport costs of vehicle ownership, registration, repairs, and insurances, petrol and tolls, and sometimes accommodation costs.

Being a guitar player in a band will, at very least, probably cost you a minimal $4,000 in your own gear (excluding the other costs cited above). For most gigs, this takes, say, 40 – 50 gigs just to recoup the basic outlay. Very few gigs will be “petrol and toll free” so perhaps add another 10 – 20 gigs to recoup these costs. If you pay for a PA, lights, etc, and tally the expenses, in real terms you may never even recoup costs, let along “make money.” It usually *costs you to perform.*

In the halcyon days of live music, the top musicians and bands were capable of making a living from music. Personally, in the 1980s, I worked two nights a week at a regular gig, and that paid my rent. I would imagine that this would be a rarity today.

I am frequently paid no more than $50 – $100 per gig, for what usually amounts to a 5 hour enterprise, resulting in an hourly remuneration rate of $10 – $20, before costs.

The key factor here is that being a professional, or semi professional musician is really no longer valued as a career, or is a financially viable pursuit. That is not a fair position, particularly accounting for the social benefits that a musician can bestow.

songwriting as a career

My view is that the most insidious factor in the decline of music, particularly live music, is the inevitable decline of songwriting.

Whether as a *covers* band, or an *originals band,* the songs are the pivot. Without new songs, music is singularly reliant on old material, and that is not a healthy or desirable position.

Pretty much the entire audience of a live concert has come to hear favoured songwriters/artists performing their original music (clearly less so in classical spheres). If there are no new original artists/bands, then the live concert industry will atrophy.

There is no doubt that many artists are compelled to compose and perform, even without the prospect of financial returns, and sometimes with limited career opportunities. The rise of the “bedroom musician” is positive by way of opening up opportunities, but also negative in the lack of the “old filters” of record companies, A+ R departments, music producers, and radio playlists.

The on-line music pool is awash with songs, but little in favour with filters and monetisation.

An increasing trend is the solo artist, as the viability of steering a band down this career path is far more challenging. Another downward spiral is the use of technology and social media, where the “cult of personality” and visual musical genres favours form over substance. 

Many newer songwriters (and certainly not all) have quite limited “musicality” and we would argue that even in this vastly oversupplied technological age, musicianship and musical production in the traditional sense is severely diminished compared to the prior eras in music.

The solo artist also misses out on the collaborative benefits of being in a band, or indeed, working with music producers.

Even a well received on-line song earns the composer/performer just a few cents based on download remuneration.

reality bites

Take this scenario: you wish to become a doctor. In lieu of six (or more) years of intensive education, training, and interaction with peers, you are told: just study medicine part time, say, on weekends for a few hours at a time, and during the rest of the week, get a job “flipping burgers” (etc) to keep yourself financially viable.

Being a musician (composer, performer) is an art honed over many years, and indeed a lifetime. Yet someone wanting to pursue music as a career today is inevitably more aligned with the scenario above. “Do something else to make a living, pay the rent, and do your music in your spare time.” And the cost of living does not give a lot of latitude for *spare time.*

If you are in today’s situation, and you are also paying for a musical education as a career choice, you have the added costs of the tuition, as well as your existence costs. A difficult position.

In previous eras, you could indeed make a more considered choice, work at your craft (music) for very long hours, even days, and with just a small amount of part time work, meet your expenses. As previously quoted, you could even play a few nights a week to meet your fixed costs, leaving time to work at your musical craft, rehearsing and writing with a band, recording, promoting, etc.

These circumstances are the realities facing aspiring musicians.

I believe that the greatest damage is being done in the original songwriting sphere, especially for bands, where the needs of multiple individuals becomes even more limiting than the needs of an individual.

Australia has traditionally “punched above its weight” via music, with proportionally more talented solo artists and bands per population percentage than many other countries. Not all were directly financially successful, but the entire spectrum of original music had a very high profile.

A part of that success was the ability of musicians (songwriters and performers) to make a living from music, and this included the widespread network of live music venues, and the promotional aspects of radio, and then tv.

loud music

Two factors co-exist.

1. For many, just being able to hear a musical form that they dislike, is enough to generate complaint.  I did an experiment at university that suggested that this is an important bias in “perceived loudness.” If you hear an accordion, and you have a dislike for accordion music, you will probably dislike hearing one at any level. This concept has repercussions for live music venues.

Many forms of music (including classical) do have a loudness threshold which is quite important in the appreciation of the performance. Classical music often has a wide dynamic range, and the contrast between the loud and soft passages an important part of the presentation.

Clearly, rock has the highest decibel quotient, and in particular, the visceral appeal of the “bottom end” which is usually the bass guitar and the bass drum. Rock is felt as well as heard.

2. Without a certain level of power in these frequencies, you can effectively argue that this defeats the best experience of live “rock music.” Personally, I agree that many concerts are too loud, and unbalanced in terms of the dispersed audio spectrum, but I stick by the principle that there is a need for a minimum degree of loudness for live rock to express its power and attraction, particularly the “bottom end.”

Attenuation via soundproofing is quite effective in limiting transmission, (mostly external transmission) but the principle outlined in (1) above needs consideration.

The sound waft from live music concerts in outdoor settings is another difficult area to address, but it would be imprudent to impose any sort of blanket ban on these events.

role of government

Bringing the discussion back to the NSW (and other) government involvements, my submission is summarised as follows:

  1. The genesis of a long term healthy music industry is songwriting.

I believe that government has to recognise songwriting as a vital social and cultural element.

This brings monetisation via performances, and by longitudinal social benefits. Songwriting needs to be elevated to the same status as other professions. Implementation strategies might include scholarships, subsidies, provision of amenities, public awareness and perhaps tax (or other) concessions, allowing musicians to flourish.

2. Live music must be supported.

This is frequently the domain of state and local governments, allied to licensing, noise laws, zonings, etc, and a vital underpinning of the entire music industry.

Recent, and current generations, are significantly disinterested in live rock music, and the reasons include:

  • stay-home entertainment options (Nexflix, etc, on the couch is easier than going out.)
  • music is easily obtained via electronics
  • never attending a live rock gig and having the experience
  • the music being promoted is less band-based, and more “feature and cult” driven, meaning that the more likely concert going activity will be an arena type show from a touring performer, or a music festival.
  • the entire spectrum of going down to a local venue to see live music is largely generationally divided.

The unfortunate reality is that many younger people have not experienced the exhilaration of music via a live rock show. I do not believe that today’s teenagers would not be lifted and engaged by the kinds of musical experiences that were well known to their parents and grandparents. Both as “listening” and “dancing” experiences.

Dancing is a great mind and body tonic.

Whether this is now a bygone part of history remains to be seen, but it would be a significant cultural loss to know that, perhaps, for the first time, a very long history of live popular music (in its varied forms) will no longer be a part of our society.

I would imagine that smaller acts (solo, duo, backing tracks) will still survive in the pubs and clubs, but without new songs, and without the larger band formats, this is largely a shadow of the optimal performance situations. Jazz seems to have a small but dedicated following (and venues that still support the format), and classical music will also continue down a traditional path (but my experience is more in the rock sphere, so I leave that to those with better knowledge).

Our urban environments are invariably noisy. This requires compromise.

Many new buildings are generating long and tiresome noise elements during construction periods.

Traffic noise can be debilitating. We live in close proximity to our neighbours.

The sound of children playing can be both welcomed and unwelcomed.

Music should not be diminished because it is perceived as “urban noise,” in fact, it should be afforded higher status and importance, as AC-DC postulated, “rock and roll ain’t noise pollution.”

Less parochially, music must be supported by governments, and be considered as worthy of potential subsidising and promotion. Short term benefits may, or may not be monetising, but the long term survival and thriving of music is essential, and must also be seen through the prism of longitudinal benefits to society and culture. It is on precarious ground right now.

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Music in decline (as submitted to the NSW govt).

preface

The role of music in culture has always been significant.

Prior to recorded music, personal performances, and the passing down of songs through generations was normative, whether solo, or ensemble, parent to child, or community based.

With the advent of recorded music, and the adjunct of radio (et al), music reached even wider audiences, and became an even more contributory part of people’s lives. “Reproducibility” added a significant element, especially the on-demand element, and music reached into every corner of most people’s lives, as it still does. However, “live” music is a different domain.

live performances

The two broadest categories of live music are best described as *concert* environments, usually seated, and the opportunity to experience music in a three dimensional way. The other is *live music* as an adjunct to social activities, such as meeting people in venues where food, drink, and social interactions occur, be this pubs, clubs, music festivals, functions, events, etc.

dance

Music is an inextricable adjunct of most dance forms.

Although quite diminished from earlier periods, be this ballroom, the jazz age, rock and roll from the 50’s, the 60/70’s era, the vital element remains, being the interaction of the musicians and the dancing audience.

composition

Music scores are paramount in film, and just about every media enterprise. Music jingles, theme songs, background music, etc, and of course, in orchestral (and other compositional areas) for performance and interpretation. In the live music sphere, composition is threatened.

social

Music has a number of social elements, including musicians being part of an ensemble, an orchestra or band, an accompanist, etc, and incorporates the “tribal” element of bringing like-minded people together for concerts, parties, dances, etc, and the musician/audience interaction.

These interactions are a different outreach from work, family, business, etc, and have a valuable role in professional, semi professional, and amateur spheres, where music forms a part of people’s lives that transport them away from the more usual daily pursuits.

benefits

Music has undeniable psychological and physiological benefits:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/258383.php

and this is hardly groundbreaking news.

From using music to soothe babies, to an adjunct for the elderly, there are few stages in life when music doesn’t play a vital and significant role.

monetisation

It is difficult to argue for a simplistic model, such as “how much revenue can (live) music generate for the economy?” Whilst modelling and statistics will reveal some direct numbers, from attracting people to large concerts, revenues from transport, accommodation, food and beverages, etc, it is important to take a longitudinal stand (see later in this submission).

In Australia, and elsewhere, it is hard to imagine just how big the live music scene was during the “heyday” periods. Personally, I recall playing at venues such as the UNSW Roundhouse, to crowds of hundreds of people, who came to dance, from perhaps 8pm – midnight. At my chosen university, every Friday and Saturday night saw “dances” also with hundreds of attendees.

Promoters recollect the halcyon days when even mid-week venues would attract huge crowds, and the “pub music” scene in the era of Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil (et al) attests to the power and scale of the live music scene when at full tilt.

Information on monetised returns are available:

http://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2015/05/article_0009.html

This article lists five requisite elements:

• the presence of artists and musicians;

• a thriving music scene;

• available spaces and places for music;

• a receptive and engaged audience;

• and record labels and other music-related businesses.

From that article:

“In Melbourne, Australia, the 2012 census found that the live music sector alone generated over AUD1 billion in spending and supported the equivalent of 116,000 annual full-time jobs.”

It would be clear that revenues in the contemporary era do not compare well to the golden days.

Nevertheless, in a hard-headed discussion, it is still evident that music, and live music, are capable of being economic contributors, but I would imagine that it is in decline.

the perennial chestnuts

As governments at all levels increase the regulation of everyday lives, the well trodden paths of “noise” and local amenity always dominates the sphere of live music, and mostly those smaller venues in urban areas. Parking becomes another issue.

  • This is not going to be the subject of this submission, other than to add my cynical view of those who move close to such venues, then agitate to have them closed down or limited.

For one thing, even a “ruly” crowd existing a venue at closing time, will often be enthusiastic and hopefully somewhat adrenalin fuelled from an exhilarating gig, this is hardly a social ill.

  • The association with music and alcohol (and other possible stimulants) may exacerbate the enthusiasm, or indeed foster “unruly” behaviour, and that too is not part of this submission.

longitudinal monetisation

More than the immediate revenue streams, governments must take a much more longitudinal perspective, including these strands:

  • the financial social benefits and savings: if music is *therapy* then there are savings in social costs, medical costs, other therapeutic modalities, etc, all of which would otherwise factor into taxpayer funded enterprises.

Whilst I am unable to quantify these costs as they relate to music, in the US, it was found that for every dollar spent in pre-schooling, twenty two dollars was saved in later social costs.

Taking away “the music” would indeed ramp up costs to society, via both financial and personal enrichments.

  • lateral monetisation: such as the allied services that go towards supporting music, and will  include inputs such as the “music backline” services; equipment, lighting, audio, staging, administration, music mixers, etc.  Then the adjunct services such as taxi/uber, food and beverage, accommodation, sightseeing and tourism by visitors to music venues, etc.

Whereas these financial and social factors are readily seen, (albeit not always easily financially quantified), there is a much more insidious and deeper threat that will significantly contribute towards the long term decline of music.

Two key factors below need consideration and government support.

performers

The enjoyment and social factor of being a performing musician will survive to a degree, but without a financial remuneration, being a performing musician will become a less desirable pursuit. Diminishing audiences are not helpful. There is a “race to the bottom.”

Very few performing musicians are without significant costs, such as buying instruments, amplifiers, PA, stage clothes, lights, etc, then the potential costs of tuition and learning, sometimes rehearsal costs, then adding the transport costs of vehicle ownership, registration, repairs, and insurances, petrol and tolls, and sometimes accommodation costs.

Being a guitar player in a band will, at very least, probably cost you a minimal $4,000 in your own gear (excluding the other costs cited above). For most gigs, this takes, say, 40 – 50 gigs just to recoup the basic outlay. Very few gigs will be “petrol and toll free” so perhaps add another 10 – 20 gigs to recoup these costs. If you pay for a PA, lights, etc, and tally the expenses, in real terms you may never even recoup costs, let alone “make money.” It usually *costs you to perform.*

In the halcyon days of live music, the top musicians and bands were capable of making a living from music. Personally, in the 1980s, I worked two nights a week at a regular gig, and that paid my rent. I would imagine that this would be a rarity today.

I am frequently paid no more than $50 – $100 per gig, for what usually amounts to a 5 hour enterprise, resulting in an hourly remuneration rate of $10 – $20, before costs.

The key factor here is that being a professional, or semi professional musician is really no longer valued as a career, or is a financially viable pursuit. That is not a fair position, particularly accounting for the social benefits that a musician can bestow.

songwriting as a career

My view is that the most insidious factor in the decline of music, particularly live music, is the inevitable decline of songwriting.

Whether as a *covers* band, or an *originals band,* the songs are the pivot. Without new songs, music is singularly reliant on old material, and that is not a healthy or desirable position.

Pretty much the entire audience of a live concert has come to hear favoured songwriters/artists performing their original music (clearly less so in classical spheres).   If there are no new original artists/bands, then the live concert industry will atrophy.

There is no doubt that many artists are compelled to compose and perform, even without the prospect of financial returns, and sometimes with limited career opportunities. The rise of the “bedroom musician” is positive by way of opening up opportunities, but also negative in the lack of the “old filters” of record companies, A+ R departments, music producers, and radio playlists.

The on-line music pool is awash with songs, but little in favour with filters and monetisation.

An increasing trend is the solo artist, as the viability of steering a band down this career path is far more challenging. Another downward spiral is the use of technology and social media, where the “cult of personality” and visual musical genres favours form over substance. 

Many newer songwriters (and certainly not all) have quite limited “musicality” and we would argue that even in this vastly oversupplied technological age, musicianship and musical production in the traditional sense is severely diminished compared to the prior eras in music.

The solo artist also misses out on the collaborative benefits of being in a band, or indeed, working with music producers.

Even a well received on-line song earns the composer/performer just a few cents based on download remuneration.

reality bites

Take this scenario: you wish to become a doctor. In lieu of six (or more) years of intensive education, training, and interaction with peers, you are told: just study medicine part time, say, on weekends for a few hours at a time, and during the rest of the week, get a job “flipping burgers” (etc) to keep yourself financially viable.

Being a musician (composer, performer) is an art honed over many years, and indeed a lifetime. Yet someone wanting to pursue music as a career today is inevitably more aligned with the scenario above. “Do something else to make a living, pay the rent, and do your music in your spare time.” And the cost of living does not give a lot of latitude for *spare time.*

If you are in today’s situation, and you are also paying for a musical education as a career choice, you have the added costs of the tuition, as well as your existence costs. A difficult position.

In previous eras, you could indeed make a more considered choice, work at your craft (music) for very long hours, even days, and with just a small amount of part time work, meet your expenses. As previously quoted, you could even play a few nights a week to meet your fixed costs, leaving time to work at your musical craft, rehearsing and writing with a band, recording, promoting, etc.

These circumstances are the realities facing aspiring musicians.

I believe that the greatest damage is being done in the original songwriting sphere, especially for bands, where the needs of multiple individuals becomes even more limiting than the needs of an individual.

Australia has traditionally “punched above its weight” via music, with proportionally more talented solo artists and bands per population percentage than many other countries. Not all were directly financially successful, but the entire spectrum of original music had a very high profile.

A part of that success was the ability of musicians (songwriters and performers) to make a living from music, and this included the widespread network of live music venues, and the promotional aspects of radio, and then tv.

loud music

Two factors co-exist.

1. For many, just being able to hear a musical form that they dislike, is enough to generate complaint.  I did an experiment at university that suggested that this is an important bias in “perceived loudness.” If you hear an accordion, and you have a dislike for accordion music, you will probably dislike hearing one at any level. This concept has repercussions for live music venues.

Many forms of music (including classical) do have a loudness threshold which is quite important in the appreciation of the performance. Classical music often has a wide dynamic range, and the contrast between the loud and soft passages an important part of the presentation.

Clearly, rock has the highest decibel quotient, and in particular, the visceral appeal of the “bottom end” which is usually the bass guitar and the bass drum. Rock is felt as well as heard.

2. Without a certain level of power in these frequencies, you can effectively argue that this defeats the best experience of live “rock music.” Personally, I agree that many concerts are too loud, and unbalanced in terms of the dispersed audio spectrum, but I stick by the principle that there is a need for a minimum degree of loudness for live rock to express its power and attraction, particularly the “bottom end.”

Attenuation via soundproofing is quite effective in limiting transmission, (mostly external transmission) but the principle outlined in (1) above needs consideration.

The sound waft from live music concerts in outdoor settings is another difficult area to address, but it would be imprudent to impose any sort of blanket ban on these events.

role of government

Bringing the discussion back to the NSW (and other) government involvements, my submission is summarised as follows:

  1. The genesis of a long term healthy music industry is songwriting.

I believe that government has to recognise songwriting as a vital social and cultural element.

This brings monetisation via performances, and by longitudinal social benefits. Songwriting needs to be elevated to the same status as other professions. Implementation strategies might include scholarships, subsidies, provision of amenities, public awareness and perhaps tax (or other) concessions, allowing musicians to flourish.

2. Live music must be supported.

This is frequently the domain of state and local governments, allied to licensing, noise laws, zonings, etc, and a vital underpinning of the entire music industry.

Recent, and current generations, are significantly disinterested in live rock music, and the reasons include:

  • stay-home entertainment options (Nexflix, etc, on the couch is easier than going out.)
  • music is easily obtained via electronics
  • never attending a live rock gig and having the experience
  • the music being promoted is less band-based, and more “feature and cult” driven, meaning that the more likely concert going activity will be an arena type show from a touring performer, or a music festival.
  • the entire spectrum of going down to a local venue to see live music is largely generationally divided.

The unfortunate reality is that many younger people have not experienced the exhilaration of music via a live rock show. I do not believe that today’s teenagers would not be lifted and engaged by the kinds of musical experiences that were well known to their parents and grandparents. Both as “listening” and “dancing” experiences.

Dancing is a great mind and body tonic.

Whether this is now a bygone part of history remains to be seen, but it would be a significant cultural loss to know that, perhaps, for the first time, a very long history of live popular music (in its varied forms) will no longer be a part of our society.

I would imagine that smaller acts (solo, duo, backing tracks) will still survive in the pubs and clubs, but without new songs, and without the larger band formats, this is largely a shadow of the optimal performance situations. Jazz seems to have a small but dedicated following (and venues that still support the format), and classical music will also continue down a traditional path (but my experience is more in the rock sphere, so I leave that to those with better knowledge).

Our urban environments are invariably noisy. This requires compromise.

Many new buildings are generating long and tiresome noise elements during construction periods.

Traffic noise can be debilitating. We live in close proximity to our neighbours.

The sound of children playing can be both welcomed and unwelcomed.

Music should not be diminished because it is perceived as “urban noise,” in fact, it should be afforded higher status and importance, as AC-DC postulated, “rock and roll ain’t noise pollution.”

Less parochially, music must be supported by governments, and be considered as worthy of potential subsidising and promotion. Short term benefits may, or may not be monetising, but the long term survival and thriving of music is essential, and must also be seen through the prism of longitudinal benefits to society and culture. It is on precarious ground right now.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Darwin and the ugly frog: bufo marinus a.k.a cane toad

“Bufo Marinus” is a wonderful name.

Indeed “buffo” is, apparently, “a comic actor in Italian opera,” and thus a person resembling one gets to be called a “buffoon.”

Despite the evocative nomenclature, the reality of the creature bearing this name is less appealing.

The Bufo Marinus is more commonly known as the cane toad.

Like a host of species beforehand, it too was introduced into Australia by
humans in a doomed attempt to do Something Useful.

They say that a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place.

Cute as they may be, rabbits are not welcome visitors, introduced by European settlers, they soon became animate “weeds.” Vast fencing was erected to contain these furry mobile weeds, but controlling them has been largely unsuccessful.

Many animal species were introduced for “sport” … (if shooting unarmed animals can be thus categorized). However, in the Big Picture, most of these moving targets have become the Goliath rather than the David via easy colonization of ecological domains where their presence has dominated over the indigenous species.

Despite valiant efforts by David and mis-aimed stones, Goliath still roams and conquers.

Bufo, originally a native of South America, was introduced via Hawaii by cane farmers to Queensland (Australia) in 1935 , in an attempt to control the greyback beetle, a critter that enjoyed a munch on this valuable crop.

The tourist toad took to the land with exuberance, plentiful food, great weather, and virtually no enemies, save but a handful of cane farmers lustily trying to eradicate the peripatetic guest.

Bufo has no frog-like toe pads, is generally larger than the average frog, and is not too handsome, sporting a brownish warty livery. Whilst the toad’s appearance is somewhat non-descript, Bufo’s real ammunition is its poison. Secreted in its sizeable parotid glands (on its head) is a toxic, milky secretion, which can be squirted up to three feet away.

This toxin is highly effective on native animals, as well as domesticated species, and thus the tough and well defended bufo has thrived and flourished with little rein on its spread.

It has expanded its domain rapidly and effectively, way beyond its introduced
home lands in the tropical cane fields.

Unless too cold or too high, most terrain is hospitable to the cane toad, who is also a catholic gastronome, eating almost anything it can fit into its not too petite mouth, insects, frogs, lizards, beetles, and even small birds.

Despite an energetic assault on its numbers, its 30,000 – 60,000 plus egg-laying propensity and its adaptability, means that little will stop its domination.

Enterprising folk have converted deceased bufos into purses and wallets, key rings, and a host of other quirky souvenir items.

Preferred control methods have included a vacation in the freezer (euthanasia) to the more brutal stalk and squash methods. Bufo can reach maturity within a year, and can survive in good conditions for perhaps 15 years.

Still, with well over 30,000 offspring launched at a time, manual control methods will be more of a novelty than a serious method of eradication.

Still, a degree of tourist revenue has sprung from the commercialisation of bufo, apart from the leathery souvenirs, cane toad racing has become an attraction, and having yet another controversial beast roaming the countryside can strike fear and loathing into the hearts and minds of visitors, already paralysed by the spectre of highly poisonous native snakes and spiders.

Let alone the prospect of being blinded if the toad toxin gets into your eyes.

In an quirky irony, the lethally venomous local snake may well have tables turned
by feasting on the introduced beast, who looks uncannily like a tasty frog.

Darwin was a great guy, and an intrepid explorer of the earth’s biodiversity.
Like many theories, Darwin’s has a lot going for it, and in magnitude, weighs in favourably against divine design.

Equally, like other postulations, the occasional spanner is tossed into the machine
causing an unexpected grind or hiccup.

One possible spanner is that natural selection occasionally exhibits a whopping time contraction in the behavioural adaptations of animals, which is contrary to the usual glacial speed that such changes usually exhibit.

Back in the day, one of the egocentric (anthropocentric?) views of man’s superiority was the consideration that only man used “tools” and adapted same.

This has frequently been debunked, from monkeys using sticks and stones as tools,
to birds that use enterprising ways to crack nuts or open oysters.

Chimps are very likely candidates, and we show only mild resistance to the notion that they use tools, due to their closeness to humans in many dimensions.

Then we find that the octopus is a clever beast too, building shelters from coconut shells and smashing aquarium glass with rocks.

The skills birds exhibit can also be quite unexpected, such as the rooks at Cambridge University using (and modifying) tools to get food, even on the first trial, and apparently, using techniques not seen in the wild.

Clever birds do challenge Darwin by showing how fast they can adapt to a new skill.

And Bufo?

In Australia, birds such as magpies and crows have decided that cane toads are perfectly tasty, but of course, the trick is to avoid the poison. The enterprising birds have been observed turning bufos on their backs and feasting on the belly innards without contacting the fatal components of the cane toad.

And the relatively short time frame in which this skill has become evident means that tinkering with the mechanism of natural selection is probably necessary.

Like the unobserved tree falling in the forest, how many other instances might exist where animals exhibit seemingly spontaneous talents that are not part of the slow moving natural selection process?

Perhaps there is common ground, maybe the inherent mechanism to develop new skills has become prominent due to natural selection.

Whatever the science, there is much delight and unexpected brain tickling when we observe these behaviors. I imagine that we need to get out the toolkit and modify the
Darwinian Machine to allow these new elements to enmesh with the existing componentry.

No doubt in time we will see Mark Two, and the Super Modified versions of the model. Darwin would be more than keen to see these intriguing instances, and no doubt, tinker with his own machine.

 

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happy new ..whatever…

As the shop windows prematurely display their obsequious range of Christmas decorations I am suddenly reminded that the Planet Revolution is zeroing in on yet another “360”… skidding as it always does towards the two punctuations of cheerfully wrapped “gift swaps” and (shortly thereafter,) “spectacular fireworks.”

Connected with these two end-of -year pit stops, we perform our ritual (and highly predictable) repeats of our Rites of Passage.

As Christmas brings the obligatory soul searching, we draw up the long line, at the left we notate those who “must be contacted” and on the right, “not any more.”

This is not as easy as it seems, because as we cogitate on the right-handers, we tussle between friendship and favour.

Does that old bank manager still smile congenially from behind his desk?

Has he been replaced with either a wet-eared junior, or more likely, a virtual manager who sits only at a cyberdesk …or worse, is “he” actually a bunch of electrons spinning digitally on a remote hard drive?

Do I really think that in the forthcoming year I will be in a position…to be in “a position”… prostrate before him, begging for pennies?

Does Mecca sit on axis behind his desk? Am I aligned?

What is my “return on investment” Mr Manager?

Is a bottle of Chivas going to shave half a percent from my loan?

Would something less costly be equally as efficacious in lubricating the deal?

Or would something pricier mean the difference between a handshake or a booted arse?

And as to other friends and acquaintances?

Have I paid sufficient attention to someone this past year to still be able to pigeon hole them as “friend?”

Do I become cynical, and apply some tight fiscal policy, like whether the person will add to my GDP, either spiritually, or in other tangible/assessable ways?

Have I become a “right-hander” myself, at the mercy of the Great Judgement?

Am I in danger of being schizophrenically (and perfectly) bisected “Solomon style ” for failing to respond to numerous “let’s catch-up” requests?

Do I apply the “reciprocity test,” which can take one of two forms; either wait until their un-burnt offering arrives (against which I can measure my response level) or do I just try to transmigrate my antenna to gauge how I reckon they write up my annual report card:

“ •  Has not paid sufficient attention to detail this year.”

“ •  Can do better, the potential is yet unrealised.”

“ •  Has risen above expectations and will no doubt continue to flourish in the forthcoming year.”

“ •  Academic results are pleasing, but needs to work on interpersonal skills.”

“ •  Needs the cane..?”

Or do I apply the “crystal ball” test? Do I think that I might need overnight accommodation, movie accompaniment, or other succour, in the year ahead?

Does my interstate acquaintance still hold me in sufficient regard such that a sleepover (or two) is not too much of an incursion into their personal space…

or better still, would we revive past glories with fondness welling and old photographs unboxed?

Of course, if we are in the business world, our calculator must be freshly primed with full-voltage batteries and set to “maximum accuracy.”

The sentimentality option must be switched to “off” and we must ensure that each numerical entry is perfect in every way. We must ensure that the critical chain-links are perfectly secure and that the sag exhibits only a minimal catenary.

We must ponder whether that new guy over at their office needs more glad-handing, or even some form of seemingly innocent gluttony and vinous imbibitions to seal the ongoing fate of our relationship. Can we gorge our way through such a repast without any reference to business, (which could somehow taint the proceedings with ulterior motive?) “How’s the canary George?”  “ Still water-skiing?”

Sadly my scorebook has shown me that the Bullshit Detector must always be on maximum clicks when someone outside of the social circle decides to spend their money feeding me. Let alone plying respectably vintaged wine.

Like the glorious Italian builder who once tucked me under his welcoming sweaty fat arm and led us to a wonderfully apropos Italian noshery with much laughter, alcohol, and ethnic character. Al Dente, indeed.

Some months after, the phone calls started from “his” subcontractors, none of whom had been paid, and were told to “contact the client” for payment.

Our meal was way cheaper than the quantum of unpaid bills that he had left in a disappearing wake. I can still conjure up his smiling moustachioed visage.

Of course, the client had faithfully met all of Mr Builder’s accounts.

I don’t remember if there was an exchange of Christmas booty with him that year.

My friend Dave refers to his “Doctorate in Discernment,” which sounds like a course that I often remind myself is worthy of completing…and which is certainly on the perennial “must do” list.

“The List.”

Which of course, is the other ritual activity we contemplate as the wall calendar flops over to the new sets of beautiful sunsets and cutesy animals that head up the forthcoming year. (Maybe make mine the “Miss Nude Felting Milliners of 2010.”)

Should we even validate starting on a process that history has repeatedly shouted “waste of time” and laughed mockingly as we metaphorically licked our pencil tips and smoothed out the virgin page?

Or perhaps we should more realistically see this as a “pre-programming” exercise?

Of course we won’t join a gym on the 1st January, or put in for the new job on the first Trading Day of the New Year …. but maybe we are starting on the psyching-up process such that the nagging will persist until such time as we, at least, check the annual specials for gym membership, or scour the Vacancy lists.

And equally, why do we measure so many of these things in such a predictable cycle? Why isn’t joining a gym on the 14th July just as appropriate?

I guess we need to hang onto a few of the tribe’s Rites, so we can, at very least, be primed with excuses when we sit with buddies who are berating themselves on the complete failure of every promulgated resolution.  Join The Club, mate!

I remember, wistfully, at the last Really Big Bang at the End of The Century where for some days on either side, I thought that this may just be the true turn of the flywheel, when we mark the grand event by taking stock and re-defining all those things that had been botheringly wrong for the last few hundreds of thousands of years. Now we lurch towards the decade/decayed afterparty.

Back then, we partied like it was 1999.

We illuminated the heavens with cascading firetrails and filled the air with expanding diamonds of spherical light. We trussed up the Coat Hanger with an ethereal tiara of golden sparkle. We shot laser beams at god and even gave Arthur Stace his (ironically) less-than-fifteen-minutes-of fame-by proposing “Eternity.”

After the show, and the remnant dark smoke contradicted the brilliance of its origins, we may as well have taken its sombre symbolism into full account.

Business as usual soon ensued: George W with his questionable concept of  “democracy” and his far more questionable concept (let alone grammar) of a “War on Terror.” I have not seen one dead Terror yet…not even on “A Current Affair.” And his glib comment “As Long As I’m the Dictator..”

Of course, we knew from previous “brief” skirmishes like the Vietnam War (check Wikipedia if you want to read up on the “11 + 18” years concept) that any new wars would be over by the time the kettle was boiled and normal transmission resumed.

Iraq was Awesomely Shocked and would soon be back to “Business as Unusual.”

For the main, “business” was simply the wondrous financial benefits that can ensue from stoking up the Machine with goods and services (mostly from the US of A) and of course, providing some American know-how and infrastructure for the necessary, and imminent, re-construction efforts.

We knew that Wars to End all Wars were a piece of cake, and indeed a cake with absolutely no birthday candles to blow out, (or blow up.)

Yup, we made good Resolutions that year, and when we got together with friends for that after-party, we knew that the guys at the Club of Good Intentions could back-slap each other and say we didn’t let the team down.

We failed: predictably, and consistently.

We would have been better off just throwing the money to the long suffering occupants of the besieged  territories.

Pragmatism to triumph over Patriotism, and so many mothers would no longer grieve at the loss of their most cherished possessions.

And to complete the circle of Things to Do at this tail-tip-of-the -year time, I thumb wistfully through the pages of the soon to expire diary.

I see embers of possibilities that will shortly be completely cooled and concluded.

Fossilised lava.

I see the names of the people I badgered to effect some project, and the dwindling diary follow-ups as the idea subsided into terminal stasis.

I see how that initial rush of enthusiasm and idealism soon smothered under the sludge blanket of practical incompletion, regulatory steel fencing, or lack of funding.

I see where Mr Positive slowly downgraded his forecasts from “fine and shiny” to overcast and, well, plain “impossible.” Sucky black hole.

I note how many government people had smiled at me proffering Motherhood Statements that glowed pearly white, but were actually just veneers over rotted and gummy-soft stinky decay.

I see where a conclusion was marked up as due merely weeks away, but in fact will need to be a diary entry for the forthcoming year…. on a page that has yet to be determined…if ever.

And the names and numbers of those you were completely convinced would soon become bosom buddies or joyous confidantes, but strangely had failed to keep up with the March of Months or vice versa, and had now become queries on the right hand side of the Christmas Line.

Still, maybe all this is just a show of Blinded Optimism.

If we don’t start with 20 unassailable business plans, a list of 20 potential new friends, 20 “must do” activities, and 20 pie in the sky-lark concepts …. how could we end up with the half -of -one -percent that actually get distilled through the reality pipette to quietly splash down into the landed position?

Maybe this year the Doctor Of Discernment might plug his stethoscope a little tighter into the ear canals, and perhaps listen more cautiously to hear whether the vital signs are regular, (and indeed vital), or just some spurious reverberance from another party happening next door, and just can’t migrate to the adjoining apartment without suffering from being Lost in Translation.

Maybe I should buy a thinner diary.

Maybe I should join up to a Procrastination Club.

Maybe I should become a member of a club that would have me as a member…… just to spite dear Groucho.

Last year I had befriended the people who call me on my “do not call” numberwith surprising and entertaining results.

Perhaps I might pay heed to one of the last diary entries I made when I was speaking with my lawyer recently.

He advised me that an item on my behalf that is presently before the Australian Taxation Office was “Not Susceptible to Proof.”

But I modified that phrase, and I am thinking that this will be my New Year’s determination. For the forthcoming year I’m:

“Not Susceptible to Truth.”

This will be an interesting year, dear dieting diary.

 

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