Up until this point in my creative practice, matters of legal, ethical and moral concern have been rather infrequent if not non-existent. Upon reflection it seems that not only did situations dealing with these principles rarely arise, I never even consciously thought about the ramifications that my work would elicit at the time. Making mostly music, I never had to consider legal or ethical issues past royalties and song rights as the musical content hardly verged on political or obscene. My only moral concerns were on a very personal level regarding the music itself. As soon as I realised that I was making music that bought into question both my musical and moral integrity, I had to reassess my reasons for creating in general. This led me to drastically recalibrate my creative journey, resulting in me willingly stepping down from nearly all bands and projects I was involved with. I could no longer justify making music in the way that I was, for the people that I was attempting to please, within the situations that I found myself.
Recently I have run into my first real encounter with legal, ethical and moral issues, albeit on a relatively small and sheltered scale. A new work, ‘White Noise’, required me to film and record field audio at Wellington City Library, what I assumed was a public location. While I was operating under the law and completely aware that what I was doing was considered legal; I couldn’t help but notice feeling mischievous, invasive and guilty all at once. I almost felt dirty. Even though I had attained the required permissions and had been given ethical and moral consent by those participating, part of me felt repulsed at recording such private conversation in such a public space. I found myself attempting to surreptitiously record the ambience of the library by concealing a field recorder in my bundled up jacket on a desk. In the end I realised that this inconspicuous approach would attract further attention so opted for a more blatant method of hiding the field recorder in plain sight on an empty bookshelf. While overseeing the recording, I noticed that I listened more intently to my surroundings and in turn felt the mood of the room transform as people suddenly became aware that their conversations were no longer private. It didn’t feel natural. I was worried how this seemingly counterfeit atmosphere would translate when diffused into the exhibit space. Would that feeling of unease manifest itself in the work? Can pure sound actually carry and convey this kind of honesty? Is it only through human performativity and awareness that such intentions present themselves, understood through conditioned processes of expectancy and uncertainty?
This led me to thinking about the multitude of unconventional ways in which we may unknowingly use music unethically or immorally. One such situation is the digital jukebox in Tussock at Massey.
This new addition is linked directly to Spotify, enabling listeners to create a playlist of preferred music that everyone present can experience. But is this free will simply an illusion? In a public space such as this, there are always social conventions in place that dictate what is considered acceptable, even tolerable in the presence of others. Music, or more appropriately Muzak, is in this case being used to construct a desired mood or atmosphere pertaining to a given location, space and time. What were to happen if one was to disrupt the tone of the room by exerting too personal a choice of musical taste on the current inhabitants? I can imagine similar reactions from members of public when confronted with say, Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ or Meshuggah’s ‘Demiurge’, noting that the musical palette up to this point had been relatively confined to early 2000’s and later Pop. Could this enforcing of individual will be considered an ethical or moral issue? It certainly isn’t illegal. Must the minority conform to the standards of taste set by the majority? I’m not so concerned with music containing obscene or foul language as this obviously necessitates a particular time and place regarding ethical and moral concerns. I am more interested in exploring the roles different musical genres play in determining and establishing the sonic climate within distinct locations. Therefore can certain styles of music be considered unethical or immoral when played during certain social situations? Where and when does sound break the threshold and turns into noise?