Friday, December 30, 2011

From a Diary: I:xvi

One of the most important elements of the Occupy movement has been the effort to reclaim public spaces, to insist that the entire map is not completely parceled out to private and state-owned-but-exclusive interests, so that every citizen has common space in which to move, to meet, to speak, and yes, even to make music. ~~~~~ Sure, Europe is crowded, but in most of Western Europe, the option of finding a route to travel on foot or by bike from point a to point b on any given continuous piece of land is usually secure. On my most most recent trips to the 'States, I was struck hard by how limited the options have become for any sort of land travel, other than by private auto. (Famously car-oriented California, surprisingly, was much more amenable to foot travel than either Mississippi or New Hampshire, due to more universal sidewalking, but still, I believe a walk along the entire coastline, for example, is all but impossible.) Yes, the network of roads is extensive and largely in good condition, but very few are set up so that you could walk alongside them and certainly not enough to make it attractive to even walk between most neighboring towns. So the price of admission to the right to travel has become equal to that of owning a car and being able to insure it and fill its tank with gas. (Add this to the steady rise in the share of ones income that goes to even the most minimal housing: there is a real rise in the price of admission that most measures of inflation seem to miss.) ~~~~~ Public spaces — free, in both access and cost to use — are essential for music-making, but I think we tend to mis-characterize many, if not most of the places in which live music gets made as truly public. Occupying Lincoln Center is probably even harder than Wall Street (perhaps not least because so many Wall Streeters have memorialized themselves on the plaques that are scattered thoughout the lobbies and foyers?) In the US, large institutions like orchestras and opera houses and many colleges or universities have, as providers of "tax-free" services for "public benefit", certain privileges but are, in fact, privately owned and operated, and the state-owned venues — from school auditoriums to sport stadiums used in down-time as concert halls — are often difficult to access and under political, bureaucratic, or — most outrageously so in the case of heavily-subsidized football stadiums — commercial control. In Europe, it's not much better with the large institutional music producers (add radio stations to concert halls and opera houses) tightly integrated into the state ownership and bureaucracy. To stage a small concert in Germany, it might cost several thousand above and beyond the cost of the performers and license fees just to open the concert hall door, with regulations requiring the presence of a doctor or a fireman and a certain number of stagehands etc.. ~~~~~ The city where I live, Frankfurt, can be a particularly good city for buskers. Whenever I walk through the inner city, the joy of discovering someone making a well-intended noise in a corner I hadn't noticed before is a real joy, a reminder — perhaps especially when the noises made offend — that public spaces can be kept active, taken back, or discovered new.

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