Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

10 Dec 2007

Peak Proof Music: “in order to make the world dance, one must first turn off the music”…

mDespite the fact that I eat, breathe and sleep music, and it is a huge part of my life, it rarely features here at Transition Culture. I assume that the reason people visit the site is to be a part of this evolving exploration of the head, heart and hands of energy descent, not to hear me waxing lyrical about various new music. Therefore, I haven’t told you about one of the greatest living bands, Radiohead, covering one of the greatest ever songs, Joy Division/New Order’s ‘Ceremony’, or about the excellent download-only SVC Records.

I always liked a quote by veteran anarchist writer Harry Harris, who wrote;
>”people must learn to bury Lennon, not to praise him. It is not a question of “Imagine no possessions”, but one of imagining and living without mass-produced music. The songs of capitalism must one day be drowned in the roar of its enemies, those who desire to live not merely to consume. In order to make the world dance one must first turn off the music”.

I must thank my friend Nora for introducing me to the very wonderful Beirut. I was particularly touched by their song “Nantes” and the way this film was made. The idea that life beyond the peak and beyond large globalised record companies will be a musical desert is, of course, nonsense, but this film, for me, gives a delightful image of music-making not being something that only happens in clubs and concert venues, but which wanders through our streets, through our buildings, weaving in and out of our daily lives.

We have become so distanced from music-making. The musical entertainment in our lives comes usually from some kind of fossil fuel expenditure, be it buying a CD, turning on the TV or driving to see a band playing somewhere. As well as experiencing more live music in our communities, we will turn, as in all aspects of our lives, from being consumers to consumer/producers. When I first moved to Ireland, at any evening get together or party, after the food, people did their turns. They’d tell a story or sing a song, and it was quite wonderful. I very rapidly had to get 3 or 4 songs under my belt for such occasions.

Of course, a lot of modern music, particularly dance music, would struggle to recreate itself in a world with less energy. Samplers, drum machines, all the digital jiggerypokery that making a record requires now would become harder to manage. However, does that mean that we will just go back to only playing acoustic guitars? Does the end of oil mean that all people will manage to come up with round the campfires of the future will be old Oasis songs (heaven forbid)?

I was rather taken with this clip below, and with the idea that the dazzlingly diverse array of modern musical forms are sufficiently deeply ingrained in our culture that they will find expression even without electricity to power them. Also, having seen an amazing samba band in Totnes last week, it is clear that we can use those kinds of instruments to turn our hands to most styles, and we can still make a loud enough racket that, as my 5 year old son said as we stood close to the samba band, “it feels as if my insides are all moving about”.

Strikes me that life after oil will be a far more musically rich place, with music as something we live with, something that we participate in and which is more part of our daily experience than it is now. The term ‘indie’, used to mean far more than it does today. In the years after punk, hundreds of small labels, such as Rough Trade, Step Forward, Crass, Postcard and Creation popped up, run by people passionate about music and releasing records not necessarily because they were going to sell many copies, but because they knew the world needed that particular record. They were amazing beacons of creativity and independent thinking. That diversity of music led to ‘indie’ being an incredibly eclectic broad church of styles and genres, whereas now it is used to describe a band with guitars.

The collapse of the large record companies is not something we need to fear, rather to anticipate. With labels such as SVC issuing their own records online, cutting out the middlemen, perhaps we can start to reclaim music and begin to look at peak proofing that too, along with the other aspects of our lives. When David Fleming was in Totnes a while ago, someone asked him, “what one thing can I do to prepare for life after the peak?” David’s reply somehow encapsulated all that I have attempted to say above; “join the choir”.

Categories: General

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10 Dec 12:03pm

thanks rob.

your article has really cheered me up.

and i agree – radiohead are the greatest living band.

Stephen Watson
10 Dec 12:43pm

Really interesting Rob. Six years ago I joined our local LGBT choir and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done since moving to Brighton in 1982. I have found so much joy, sharing, excitement and companionship since joining that I’d recommend anyone thinking of singing in a choir to go and do it – find your voice and start making music!

Jane Buttigieg
10 Dec 1:08pm

As a singer in my local church Choral and Music Group and someone who has become active in my local transition group in Bristol I was really cheered by this article. I have been singing for years and only found out about Peak Oil earlier this year. I hadn’t really analysed my singing in terms of Peak Oil but now I see that by walking round the corner to create music with my voice will still be possible with no oil! Hooray! As we should all be thinking of a making a peak oil world a really exciting place to be, this should definitely be one of the things that goes into our brochure!

10 Dec 1:16pm

i’ve heard about two great ideas to do with this recently – one second hand from my partner after she met a lady in bristol called eirlys who has some brilliant ideas for low-energy music making, and another called “healthy concerts” or “gigs in digs”. google it and you can see that the jist is brilliant and inifinitely adaptable to all our lives! i shan’t let the cat out of te bag on eirlys’ idea though as i’m sure you’ll be hearing about it soon!

james piers taylor
10 Dec 5:06pm

The second time anarchist writer harry harris has been mentioned on TC, I’d love to follow up on his writing – but can’t find any information on him anywhere – can anyone (or Rob!) recommend a book title or other source of his writing?

11 Dec 8:05am

I’m not sure where you’d find more of Harry Harris…. I also tried to google him to no avail. He wrote a couple of pieces in Vague magazine in the 80s which I still have, and in my little book I keep good quotes in I wrote the ones you have seen. I don’t know anything else about him. Sorry!

daz b
17 Dec 12:14pm

Just so great to see the names Radiohead and Joy Division alongside an anarchist quote and some top tunes too, all in a Peak Oil post! I have hope, I have hope…..

Thanks Rob, your a star!