A very quick update. Since my last post, the (SCENE)metrospace online accounts have, I believe, officially been transferred to AAHD hands. I mention this because, on July 17, it was finally announced that the space is closed for renovations until September. That, and the contact information has been updated on the main website. And yesterday – possibly earlier, but I saw it via social media then – the call for submissions for the gallery’s next/first exhibition was posted. A couple thoughts:

For “hitting the ground running” (the phrase I heard used in meetings this spring), I’m a little surprised that the call for submissions for the first show is now, in the latter half of July, two months out. Although, I’m guessing that’s partially why the opening’s date has been pushed back a week to September 18.

Second, there’s a financial concern. I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised to see an entry fee for submissions. However, I’ll concede that that’s the way it often goes for applications for exhibitions, conference, college and grad school admissions, and the like. So, while I’m a bit surprised by this, it doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. AAHD’s reasoning, when pressed via Facebook: “Project-related expenses range from the professionally designed full-color catalogs created for our open call juried exhibitions to the recently upgraded lighting and flooring in the gallery.” My immediate thought upon reading this was that in-house printing of promotional materials was touted as one of the cost-saving virtues of having MSU’s AAHD run the space instead of the City. This was highlighted more than once. I wonder if the City charged submission fees? If not, it’s just one more financial avenue not explored before claiming financial stress…

Although, that’s not what really caught my attention. What did is a new facet of the lease agreement slipped into the submission call (emphasis mine):

“(SCENE) Metrospace is free and open to the public, with the exception of some special programing [sic].”

Now that’s a surprise. All discussions and debate centered around the venue remaining free and open to the public with no mention of “special programming.” Rereading the operating agreement last night, the relevant part is even highlighted:

“MSU is operating the gallery independently and in its sole discretion. MSU intends to continue to offer opportunities, at not cost, for the general public to attend the exhibits and events on average of approximately 20 hours per week.”

Does “we [MSU] will not charge” now mean “free opportunities will be available”? Does this mean that “special programming” is anything outside of those standard 20 weekly hours? So, for instance, a special talk or presentation on a dark day or after hours can come with an admission fee? Does a musical or visual performance count as such? If so, that’s curious, considering such performances will be done by students and/or faculty.

We’ll see…

My intention was to stop posting about (SCENE)metrospace after the recent lengthy write-up, however there continue to be curious turns. Considering where things stand, I do hope that this new arrangement works out and benefits the community — it’s certainly better than the space becoming another tanning salon. But things are off to a rocky start…

UPDATED 07.25.15: I’d like to follow up on a couple items and offer some clarification. Since originally posting this article, I’ve been in touch with a number of folks and thought it’d be worth adding to the “public record.”

1. Charging admission for “special programming.” It’s been suggested by a few that by charging admission the artists/performers will then be paid. This of course is 100% fine by me, and something I fully support. I have a long, consistent record of supporting paying for music/art and compensating artists. This is not at all my gripe when considering “special programming.”

When it comes to charging admission, my concern is that AAHD will receive money for their curating the gallery on the City’s (i.e., our property taxes, etc.) dime. In meetings earlier this year, I even suggested, more than once, that, had (SCENE) considered charging more consistently and more often, we may have avoided this current boondoggle. (Unlikely, considering the very weak financial argument from the City — CofEL just wants to “get out of the curating business.”) What’s more, I asked multiple times on the public record whether AAHD had the financial stability and infrastructure to run the gallery with its current budget/funding. I certainly hope “special programming” is unrelated to that point.

Furthermore, regarding “special programming” – a term that right now is vague at best and only really means “not a weeks-long visual exhibition” – all of those will be in-house (AAHD itself or other MSU departments), somewhat academic in nature (i.e., student performances, etc.), and limited to 6-8 per year. If there are different plans now in the works, then that’s a whole different story, but right now I’m suspicious of language from which I infer that MSU will be reaping the financial rewards while CofEL essentially foots the bill. Now, if AAHD brings in a guest artist to speak or present, etc., and charges an admission which then fully goes to the guest presenter, that’s one thing. But if AAHD is going to be skimming off the top for student groups and the like, then that’s quite another.

I know that it seems odd for me to be suspicious of something I theoretically agree with, but right now I’m just seeing the agreement/plan substantially amended in the first month.

2. Submission fees. It looks like (SCENE) didn’t charge submission fees for open calls in the past (h/t to David MacDonald). Again, very curious. And, again, it’s related to AAHD’s financial infrastructure. I know that toner and other print materials can be pricey, but are the number of catalogues and other promotional materials contingent upon the amount of submission monies received? Ditto physical and cosmetic maintenance.


(SCENE) Postmortem, In Brief

And now a couple items to briefly follow up on (SCENE)metrospace. (For my own 4,000-word take as well as a comprehensive collection of links to local news stories, click here.)

First, (SCENE)metrospace officially became the curatorial domain of MSU’s Dept. of Art, Art History, and Design this past Monday (07.06.15). Just see the following stories for more info (all with highly positive spin from the City of East Lansing and MSU, of course):
City of East Lansing press release (curiously released — and buried — on a Friday afternoon that itself was an historic news day, particularly in this city)
WILX (local NBC affiliate, complete with spelling errors in the title…)

Beyond those articles, how else would you know that AAHD officially took control of the space this week? Good question. I mean, for all intents and purposes, the gallery has been shuttered since mid-April. No “closed for renovation” signs or anything. Just occasional articles and press releases. And locked doors and darkness. So I walked by the space today just to see what was going on, since the most recent round of press releases made it seem that MSU would be in there, guns blazing, getting ready for its debut show that is still two months away (09.11.15). (That’s almost five months from the end of the last show, also an MSU exhibition. So much for keeping the space open during the summer…) I saw no signs detailing the upcoming September show or mention of a renovation. In fact, I saw no MSU presence whatsoever. Instead I saw a City of East Lansing van and some folks inside gathering chairs that I assume belong to EL:
scene1(The posters in the window aren’t related.)

If nothing else, East Lansing now has a matching set of dark, empty, (SCENE)metrospace venues, as the original, long-blighted (SCENE) is a mere blocks away:


With much of this now in the past, I can say that there is one “consolation prize” in all of this. As an example, at this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the (SCENE) divestiture was referenced once each by three separate people (one public commenter and two Councilmembers, one of which being the Mayor) in three different parts of the meeting. The Mayor, who championed the divestiture, referenced it as an example of the City tightening its belt (while continuing to subsidize the space). Although, he coyly only mentioned the dollar amount and not the space itself. The other two references, however, were more explicit and done in a context of the City having lost something of value. In that regard, I can say that those of us who aggressively questioned and criticized this deal throughout raised public awareness at least a little bit, at least to the level of it now being a potential talking point and a form of shorthand when referencing the City’s recent fiscal decisions (and not always positively so). It’s a drop in the bucket, but a drop more than what we had.

(Photos by yours truly.)


Streams Galore II

Curation. The buzzword of the hour. It’s the impetus behind so much we experience these days, particularly as everything becomes more niche.

It’s supposed to be the great strength of Apple Music — human-curated playlists (as opposed to automated algorithms) to bring you new, interesting sounds; live DJs on Beats 1 Radio to taken you down the road less traveled. However, I have yet to really be blown away by Beats 1 Radio and the curated playlists (the latter of which I’ve only skimmed lightly, admittedly). Beats 1, to me, appears to be the Clear Channel sheep in hipper, edgier alternative wolf’s clothing. Rick Dees may be absent and Delilah‘s been traded for St. Vincent, but the overall formula remains. Three separate times over the last few days I’ve tuned in to hear that song from The Weekend that Apple has been pumping. Other times I’ve been greeted with Pharrell, Adele, and myriad other hit paraders. Last night, during the Grateful Dead’s intermission (broadcast live on SiriusXM), I listened to the last half of Q-Tip’s Abstract Thought, which I quite enjoyed. However, it took me a while to figure out what show I was listening to, as there’s no user-friendly way to find a full Beats 1 Radio schedule, particularly via the desktop. I just happened to come across this article after a few searches, and I did manage to find this via poking around Apple Music on my iPhone (though it’s still not straightforward). And that’s to say nothing of Apple Music’s near exclusive focus on pop music. Yes, I love pop music (in the broad sense of the term), but it’s gross to see the “Classical & Jazz” category in the radio section. Pure lip service. The few jazz playlists I’ve come across are all right at best. And, of course, the biggest drawback of digital-only music is the lack of liner notes. Who’s playing what? Who wrote what? When and where is this from? Woof.

The saving grace comes from an expected source (for me): Trent Reznor. I’ve not written about him or Nine Inch Nails much on this blog, but I do hold him in a special place. I absolutely adore The Fragile, an album that I only appreciate more as time passes (“La Mer” is such a gem), and Reznor’s film scoring for David Fincher is truly top notch. I’m glad to see him getting some more widespread/mainstream recognition these last several years. As far as Apple Music exclusives go, the instrumental remix of The Fragile is a heavyweight for me. That’s worth the first month’s subscription fee, but, at this point, if the option to purchase it comes about – a nice companion to Ghosts I-IV – I’d rather just buy the remixed album and opt out of Apple Music. Having Reznor at or near the creative helm does give me hope, but we’ll see…

I’ll continue to give it a shot, but I’m not holding my breath.

Faring Well

A few thoughts from the homestead on this Fourth of July, which is a rarity these years. One reason is that this is the first summer since 2010 that I haven’t taught abroad, and I’m usually gone by late June. (I much preferred to stay home for some needed family time.) It’s also notable that I’m home because I opted out of two great musical weekends occurring simultaneously: Grateful Dead at Soldier Field and Dave Matthews Band at SPAC. (This weekend is one of our few opportunities to spend a quiet few days at home this summer, and I was a little exhausted by the thought of both musical prospects.) Curiously, this extended weekend brings a number of things full circle in a somewhat solipsistic manner.

This weekend at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the Grateful Dead fare thee well with a three-night run after a half century of trailblazing. I’ve been listening to much of the festivities’ broadcasts on SiriusXM, both of the actual shows and the pre-show coverage. (Friday’s pre-show included a wonderful and unexpected interview with Charles Lloyd, one of my personal favorites.) Seeing The Dead on this night in 2009 (and similarly with Phil Lesh & Friends the summer before) is one of my fondest musical memories. I felt like I really was part of something special. My social media feed this weekend has included a regular stream of updates from folks I know who traveled to the Windy City this weekend. As I wrote here, I’m no Deadhead but I definitely consider myself a fan.

Soldier Field was where the Grateful Dead performed their final shows in 1995 before the dead of Jerry Garcia. Speaking the Dead in 1995, Dave Matthews Band opened for the elders for their threenight run in Vegas that May.

Coincidentally, Soldier Field was the location of my first and fourth DMB shows (06.29.00 and 07.06.01, respectively). This is my first time not making the annual pilgrimage to SPAC with my brother-in-law in several years. However, I was pleased to see that DMB very unexpectedly covered Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” during tonight’s acoustic set in honor of the latter’s goodbye run. Classy move.

Fear not, I’ll be seeing DMB this coming Tuesday outside of Detroit for my 65th show, almost fourteen years from the date of my fourth show. (In fact, it’s my first year attending only one DMB concert since I started attending frequenting the band’s concerts, assuming there’s no winter tour.) I doubt they’ll be busting out any Dead covers, but it shall be a great time regardless. Until then, fare thee well, core four. Hopefully I’ll hear a little “Loose Lucy” pop up in a set list before the weekend’s over…

…And I’ve returned because as soon as I clicked “publish,” the Dead started performing “Friend of the Devil” in Chicago. Full circle, indeed. As Robert Hunter wrote, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

Streams Galore

I went to Apple Music and all I got was this silly software upgrade.

Apple Music launched today. I’ve intended to log some thoughts on the topic for a few weeks, but I’ve been wrapped up in local and domestic concerns. Besides, my $0.02 on a topic that EVERYONE is writing about aren’t consequential. Some initial random notions in no particularly order:

• That WWDC unveiling was equal parts lame, embarrassing, and uninformative. Ben Stein a la The Wonder Years reading from a teleprompter would’ve been more compelling.
• Yes, it’s good that Taylor Swift’s complaining budged Apple to agree (the same day) to pay artists during the three-month trial period. However, the actual infrastructure of the concession is a mystery. (Details beyond Taylor Swift being front and center of Apple Music’s “New” suggestions, of course.) Speaking as an “indie” artist myself, I received an official email from The Orchard (un)informing me that the company is “quite pleased” because they “have finalized a deal with terms in the best interest of all our label clients and are excited about the prospects of this new service.” Neat, but some details would’ve been nice. I then received a separate reminder today to finalize my Connect profile. I’ll get right on that…
• I wasn’t explicitly aware of the launch until today. I abstractly knew it was June 30, but then my Twitter timeline went nuts this morning. (Read: No automatic notifications from Apple.)
• Actually experiencing Apple Music was like when I taught myself to change a light switch by watching online tutorials. iTunes apparently needed to be updated to 12.2 but for hours I was told that I was current with 12.1.xx. Same on my phone. I found an article to tell me to update my iOS. (Yes, I wanted to listen on my desktop’s speakers instead of via my phone. It’s music, after all.)
• Upon the WWDC announcement, the thing I was most excited for was Beats 1 Radio. I’m a fan of radio – always have been – and I’ve long mourned the the gradual extinction of live, curating, human DJs. I’ve listened here and there today because the music hasn’t always kept me, and with one station I’ll tune out instead of to another channel. The St. Vincent mixtape show was okay but bordered on Delilah territory.
• The internet is supposed to be so free, and yet Beats 1 plays censored tracks. That’s great that Apple wants to be hip and celebrate “Dre Day” as I just heard the DJ say (it’s currently late on the first night, ET), but airing some molested version of “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” isn’t the most roaring tribute, is it? Blech.
• I browsed some curated playlists for about two minutes before moving on. I’ve occasionally used Spotify in the past, but I’m admittedly not big on streaming music nor am I interested in it as an end user.
• Connect. I’ve got nothing…

I’m not anti-Apple Music. Neither am I pro-Apple Music. It’s a curiosity at this point, and we’ll see what happens. I want to see how Beats Radio 1 works out, evolves (or devolves), and if the whole service catches on. But I am deeply suspicious of Apple’s move to possibly kill what remains of paying for music online. I don’t have the time to get on my “pay for what you like” soapbox at the moment, and after a while it’s just beating a dead horse anyway. But for most people, why buy an album on iTunes if you can take that same $9.99 each month and have countless albums on demand? Hopefully folks get paid for streams, but even if it’s only slightly better than Spotify it’s a pittance. (As someone who receives royalty payments, I know.)

[As an aside, I personally know a fair number of musicians who themselves don’t much care to pay for music. My initial reaction to this is that it’s because of one of two reasons: 1) they must not sell any music of their own for it to register in their minds, or 2) they’re happy to give all of their music away for free. “2)” is perfectly fine and respectable, but “1)” is just a blind spot. I know folks in each camp.]

If Apple Music takes off, then folks will be paying for music in some fashion, but it will be an abstract payment to all artists at once, with the 1% getting most of the royalties and the 99% getting a smaller and smaller share. Only those with astronomical numbers will reap the rewards. Financials aside, what then is the user’s relationship to his or her preferred music? I understand iTunes Match — it’s your library made mobile and accessible. But Apple Music is both everyone’s and no one’s library — an ephemeral collection of playlists. Oh well. I’m a quasi-luddite; I just put a new stack of CDs on my iPod Classic this past weekend. Good thing my Model T has a USB port.