his new movie about the oldest drawings in the world…
Werner Herzog kicks things off by asking me a question: “Did you see the film in 3-D?” Although a “mild skeptic” of the format, he considers it essential to his 28th cinema film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about the paleolithic artwork discovered by the archaeologist Jean-Marie Chauvet in 1994. The Chauvet cave is full of bulging and irregular shapes, and Herzog says that the painters, who had “a quest for depicting movement,” “incorporated the drama of these formations into their art”; for example, a bulge in a rock becomes the neck of a charging bison. “There’s a three-dimensional drama which was understood and utilized by people 32,000 years ago,” he says. Then, shrugging, he adds: “But I’m told that it looks pretty good in 2-D as well.”
The French government gave Herzog the unique opportunity of filming, with rigorous restrictions, in the Chauvet cave—”I took it! I took it!” he says, and describes the film as a “big seismic event” for him. He admits that the cave is the film’s chief point of interest: “Everybody speaks of having experienced a cave, nobody talks about having seen a movie.” He evidently sees this as a good thing.
On the morning of our interview, Herzog, who was born in Germany in 1942, is clean-shaven and wearing a black suit. He talks with such animation about the Chauvet cave that I wish I had enjoyed his film more. In his recent documentaries the central point of interest, whatever the ostensible topic, has been the human subjects, usually dreamers and fantasists or the subjects of fantasy—the Dalai Lama in Wheel of Time; Timothy Treadwell, the bear-lover killed by a bear, in Grizzly Man; Graham Dorrington, the aeronautical engineer trying to fly a dirigible over the Guyanan rain forest in The White Diamond. There are two engaging “experimental archaeologists” in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one of whom repeatedly—and ineptly—throws spears, the other of whom plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” on an imitation paleolithic pipe. But the striving, stargazing characters who really fascinate Herzog have been dead for 30,000 years. The film contains moments of extraordinary beauty but provides little in the way of human interest or drama.
Although Herzog is courteous throughout our interview, he always makes his feelings clear. In response to questions about his film Fitzcarraldo, which concerns a so-called “conquistador of the useless” who wants to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle and who orchestrates a boat being pulled across a mountain, he says: “You are talking so far in retrospect—that’s three decades back.” Returning to the present day, I ask him to expand on a question he asks toward the end of Cave of Forgotten Dreams (“What constitutes humanness?”) and he says: “No—that’s a debate I’m not going to enter.” I make the mistake of using the word adventure and he says: “You can use this word in my presence only in quotes.” I ask him about filmmakers he admires and he says: “I do not watch many films—maybe two or three per year.”
Herzog’s advice to students at his Rogue Film School—where he teaches how to pick locks and forge shooting permits—is “read, read, read, read, read, read, read—if you do not read, you’ll never be a filmmaker,” but he isn’t interested in talking about books: “I don’t want to rattle down 500 titles to you.” The only texts he mentions are those included on the Rogue Film School’s mandatory reading list, among them The Warren Commission Report, the near-1,000-page document that concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The report has often been questioned—Woody Allen said he was going to give up comedy to write “a nonfiction version”—but Herzog says this is “stupid baloney”; other doubters, such as Oliver Stone (whose film JFK proposes a rival narrative), simply haven’t read it. Herzog has and calls it “incredibly conclusive” but also “a great crime story.”
In his own nonfiction films, Herzog wants to tell stories and he doesn’t feel beholden to fact. His approach to documentary is an alternative to cinema vérité, the observational aesthetic that proceeds “as if presenting facts was everything.” Just because something is factually true, he argues, “it does not constitute truth per se.” Herzog likes to respond to and collaborate with his subjects; if he bends fact—by inventing dialogue, for instance—it is to the ends of “truth.” The Manhattan phone directory provides millions of correct entries, he says, “but it doesn’t inspire you”; in the film, he says it doesn’t tell you what Manhattanites dream. Instead of fact, which is the “accountant’s truth,” he is after the kind of “ecstatic truth” available to poetry: “These moments are rare but I’m trying to find them, which is why I have had different goals from some of my colleagues.”
“CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS” 2010 directed by WERNER HERZOG
winner of this year’s Pritzker Prize…
Today, the Pritzker Prize laureate has been announced: Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura.
The 58-year-old architect based in Porto worked on his earlier years at Alvaro Siza’s office, another Pritzker Laureate (1992), and opened his own practice in 1980. Since then he has completed over sixty buildings, most of them in Portugal, and also in Spain, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom and Switzerland.
Along his works we find iconic projects such as the impressive Braga Stadium (2004) and the recent Casa das Histórias Paula Rego.
“During the past three decades, Eduardo Souto de Moura has produced a body of work that is of our time but also carries echoes of architectural traditions. His buildings have a unique ability to convey seemingly conflicting characteristics — power and modesty, bravado and subtlety, bold public authority and a sense of intimacy —at the same time.”
– Lord Palumbo, Chairman of the jury
His stadium in Braga, Portugal was the site of European soccer championships when it was completed in 2004, and gained high praise. Nearly a million and a half cubic yards of granite were blasted from the site and crushed to make concrete for the stadium. Precise explosions of a mountain side created a hundred foot high granite face that terminates one end of the stadium. Souto de Moura describes this coexistence of the natural with the man made construction as good architecture. In his own words, “It was a drama to break down the mountain and make concrete from the stone.” The jury citation calls this work, “…muscular, monumental and very much at home within its powerful landscape.”
Another of his projects, the Burgo Tower, completed in 2007, constructed in the city where he lives and works, Porto, Portugal, is described by the jury as, “…two buildings side by side, one vertical and one horizontal with different scales, in dialogue with each other and the urban landscape.” Souto de Moura commented that “a twenty story office tower is an unusual project for me. I began my career building single family houses.”
Souto de Moura has designed numerous residences, one of which, House Number Two built in the town of Bom Jesus, was singled outby the jury for its “uncommon richness throughout the subtle banding in the concrete of its exterior walls.” Souto de Moura’s comments on the project: “Because the site was a fairly steep hill overlooking the city of Braga, we decided not to produce a large volume resting on a hilltop. Instead, we made the construction on five terraces with retainer walls, with a different function defined for each terrace– fruit trees on the lowest level, a swimming pool on the next, the main parts of the house on the next, bedrooms on the fourth, and on the top, we planted a forest.”
Regarding the Casa das Historias Museum Souto de Moura stated “After the painter Paulo Regio chose me as her architect, I was lucky to be able to choose the site. It was a fenced off forest with some open space in the middle. On the basis of the elevation of the trees, I proposed a set of volumes of varying heights. Developing this play between the artificial and nature helped define the exterior color, red concrete, a color in opposition to the green forest. Two large pyramids along the entrance axis prevent the project from being a neutral sum of boxes.” The Paulo Regio Museum completed in 2008, is cited by the jury as “both civic and intimate, and so appropriate for the display of art.”
ART IN CINEMA part 1: pre-cinema color instruments…
Since its origins, Occidental Europe has been teeming with theories that link aural sensation to visual sensation, music to painting. Music theorists were the first to approach the idea. They tried to create a “fusion” of music and color by creating an instrument that could produce different colors for different musical notes.
The first attempt at “painted music” was in 1725 and 1735, when the Jesuit Louis-Bertrand Castel introduced the clavecin oculaire (ocular clavichord). The instrument was meant to paint sounds with corresponding colors in such a way, claimed Castel, that a deaf person could enjoy and judge the beauty of a musical piece through the colors it created, and a blind person could judge colors through the sound.
The instrument functioned like a traditional clavichord, excepting that each note was associated, in accordance with Castel’s own exhaustive studies, with a particular color that would be displayed upon the playing of each note.
On the 16th of January 1877 Bainbridge Bishop patented a coloring organ that simultaneously played music and projected colored lights through illuminated windows.
In 1893 Bishop published “A Souvenir of the Color Organ, with Some Suggestions in Regard to the Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light,” a short pamphlet in which he describes his experiments and ideas on the relationship of notes and the primary colors of a rainbow.
In 1895 the Englishman Wallace Rimington conceived of a small music box that contained many apertures with colored glass and an electric wire. The apertures could open and close projecting colors on a white screen by playing a soundless keyboard.
The construction of such instruments continued throughout the 19th Century in the attempt to discover the “scientific” link between sound and color, but the period that saw the greatest experimentation was the first three decades of the 20th Century. In that period, everything was tried: organs that produced music or color, or keyboards that created colors without making a sound. Nevertheless, the marriage between music and color could also be made by endowing the picture with a temporal dimension like that of music. This concept saw a flowering of experimentation and theoretical hypotheses in Europe in the 10 years preceding the Great War.
the clavecin oculaire: a six foot frame containing mounted above a normal harpsichord with 60 windows each with a colored-glass pane and a small curtain attached by pullies to a specific key — each time the key was struck, that curtain would lift to show a flash of corresponding color…
Influenced by the experiments and research of Bishop and Remington, in 1909 the Russian composer Aleksandr Skrjabin wrote the symphonic poem “Prometheus,” in part of which the notes are meant to correspond to certain colored lights.
Skrjabin wanted to create a keyboard of lights; colors would correspond to traditional keys according to his own visionary idea of a cosmic synthesis of sound and light. Skrjabin commissioned Alexander Mozer to build the device. Mozer, a photographer and electro-mechanics teacher at the Technical Institute in Moscow, completed the device in a few months time to be ready for the first demonstration of Prometheus (15 March 1911). The device had a fundamental component all Mozer’s own: 12 colored lamps placed in a circle on a wood base were lit up by pulses. It is currently on display at the Museum House of Skrjabin in Moscow.
Arnold Schonberg must have had Skrjabin in mind when he began composing Die Gluckliche Hand (The Happy Hand) in 1909. The score specifically outlines plans to project colors on a screen that move with the music: “The game of light and colors is not based only on intensity, but on values that can only be compared to the heights of sound. Sound and color mingle freely only when their relationship is, at root, reciprocal.
In a letter to the Viennese publishing house “Universal Editions,” Schonberg declared “What I’m looking to do is the exact opposite of what cinema normally hopes to achieve. I demand the greatest unreality! The general effect doesn’t have to be dream, but something similar to music, to harmony. “
With the Futurist brothers Ginanni-Corradini, better known as Arnaldo Gina and Bruno Corra, conceived of chromatic music while they were studying Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. They declared their idea in the manifesto Arte in 1910, claiming that colors create both a harmonious music and a sonorous one. They could, they exclaimed, express feeling and states of being with notes and equally compose harmonies, motifs and symphonies.
Corra sought to put the idea of music to color into practice; he built a piano with 28 keys that correspond to 8 differently colored electric lamps. By pushing one key, a color would be projected over a background. By pushing many keys, the colors would form a harmonious light.
This method soon revealed its simplicity: the effects were pretty, but lacked an emotional core, the fusions were arbitrary, little intensity and nothing of true “orchestral effect.”
Dissatisfied with his first music-color experiment, Corradini decided to venture into new territory: abstract cinema. This time, colors were painted directly onto film in the hopes of creating a chromatic symphony capable of visually reproducing feelings and emotions with music that inspired the compositions.
three films zoom in on the booming Nigerian movie making industry…
It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa. Public buses show them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood, as the business is known, churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood. The Nigerian business capital, Lagos, is said by locals to have produced more films than there are stars in the sky. The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. Only the government employs more people.
Nigerian films are as popular abroad as they are at home. Ivorian rebels in the bush stop fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrives from Lagos. Zambian mothers say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian television. When the president of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, a Lagosian screen goddess, to join him on the campaign trail he attracted record crowds at rallies. Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day, many more than see American fare. And yet Africans have mixed feelings about Nollywood.
Among Africa’s elites, hostility is almost uniform. Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, has compared Nollywood to the AIDS virus. Cultural critics complain about “macabre scenes full of sorcery” in the films. The more alarmist describe Nigerian directors and producers as voodoo priests casting malign spells over audiences in other countries. They talk of the “Nigerianisation” of Africa, worrying that the whole continent has come to “snap its fingers the Nigerian way”.
Governments can be hostile, too. Several have brought in protectionist measures, including spurious production fees. In July Ghana started demanding $1,000 from visiting actors and $5,000 from producers and directors. The Democratic Republic of Congo has tried to ban Nigerian films altogether. Five decades after much of Africa gained independence, its elites fear being re-colonised, this time from within the continent. “The Nigerians will eat everything we have,” says a former official at the Ghanaian ministry of chieftaincy and culture.
Nollywood’s moguls make no attempt to deny their influence over the continent—they just regard it as a thoroughly good thing. “We give Africa development and knowledge,” says Ernest Obi, head of the Lagos actors’ guild, during a break from auditioning a gaggle of teenage girls dressed in ball gowns. “We teach people things. If they call us colonial masters, too bad.”
The history of cinema in Africa is bound up with colonialism. The continent’s first films were imported by European rulers and shown in grand viewing halls with columned porticos. The aim was to entertain expatriates, but also to impress and cow locals. John Obago, a retired teacher, was eight when he saw his first moving picture in 1930s Kenya. “Oh, the elders did not like it,” he remembers. “But we just loved it. We were fascinated sitting there on the clean floor and seeing these white people get in and out of restaurants and buses.”
American and European directors were soon visiting the continent. They enthusiastically filmed elephant hunts, vividly coloured parrots and dutiful but dim native porters. They produced some classics. “The African Queen”, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn and shot on location in Uganda and Congo, has aged particularly well. But many “jungle epics” were greeted with charges of racism. In the heated era of independence they came to be seen as tools of foreign domination.
The first true Nollywood film resulted from an ill-advised business venture. In 1992 Kenneth Nnebue, a trader, ordered a large consignment of blank videotapes from Taiwan. Finding them hard to sell, he hired a theatre director to make a cheap film and copied it onto the tapes to boost their appeal. “Living in Bondage”, the story of a farmer in a big city who loses his wife and is haunted by her ghost, sold more than half a million copies.
Many Nigerians still remember the first time they saw “Living in Bondage”. Odion, a drug addict with a toothless smirk on a street corner in central Lagos, says, “All of us kids at the time, even the under-tens, watched it and we just had to have more. I tell you, I tried many things since then. None is as addictive.”
The market traders control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption rather than for the cinema—a place few can afford, or reach easily. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. “Films are made on the run, sometimes literally,” says Emem Isong, one of Nigeria’s few female producers, during a shoot. “Some of the guys are hiding from the police.”
All scenes are shot on location and with a shoestring budget of no more than $100,000. Most of the financiers are based in a vast, chaotic market called Idumota. It is a maze within a labyrinth. Crowds push through narrow, covered alleys. The sound of honking motorbikes is drowned out by blaring television sets showing film trailers. The flickering screens light up dim stalls lined with thousands of DVDs on narrow wooden shelves.
Desmond Akudinobi, a small man with darting eyes, runs a stall the size of a double bed. He opened it in 1999. By 2005 he had raised $20,000 to finance his first film. It was called “Without Apology” and made a small profit. Since then he has produced 10 more films. Every six months or so he buys a script from one of the many itinerant writers trawling the market, and hires a producer and crew. He prints discs in Alaba, another Lagos market. Some go onto his grimy shelves; many others are exported.
“NOLLYWOOD BABYLON” 2008 directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal
“WELCOME TO NOLLYWOOD” 2007 directed by Jamie Meltzer
“THIS IS NOLLYWOOD” 2007 directed by Franco Sacchi and Robert Caputo
once the largest study of fluid mechanics in the world…
“This effigy of Old Man River is expected to make him behave better.” — Popular Science, 1948
For 27 days in January 1937, rain drenched the northeastern United States. The unusually warm, wet weather thawed the frozen ground and sent torrents of water sheeting into the Ohio River. The effect was dramatic: towns throughout the region reported water levels quickly approaching, then passing, flood level. In some areas the water crested as high as 20 to 28 feet above flood stage. With national reports tallying the displaced at over one million people, the event confirmed the growing national fear that the great rivers that had contributed to the nation’s success might also threaten its future.
The country had already endured what was supposed to be the last of the “Great Floods,” only ten years earlier, when the lower Mississippi River Basin suffered the most destructive inundation in U.S. history. In the aftermath of what then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover called “the greatest peace-time calamity in the history of the country,” Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928. This sweeping legislation called for the immediate implementation of a plan to control the waters of the mighty Mississippi. It was as if the nation had declared war against the river: In the next decade, the Army Corps of Engineers built 29 dams and locks, hundreds of runoff channels, and over a thousand miles of new, higher levees. It appeared that efforts to prevent another Great Flood would be successful.
river channel with mesh used to simulate dense foliage…
But as in so many battles, the combatants misread the enemy. The 1928 plan focused on single targets, presuming that the “menace to national welfare” was the Mississippi River itself; the Corps of Engineers failed to see the river as part of a system of interconnected, aggregating threats. When several rivers in the Northeast flooded in the winter of 1936 (in particular the Connecticut, Allegheny and Monongahela), displacing hundreds of thousands of people in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York, and even reaching far enough to evacuate the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington D.C., the public felt double-crossed. A New York Times editorial called for a more comprehensive approach: “If the floods have taught us anything, it is the need for something more than a dam here and a storage reservoir there. … We need a kind of protection which considers something more than the exigencies of Johnstown, Pittsburgh and Hartford — considers the social and economic future of a nation and a continent.”
Congress obliged the new national consciousness with the Flood Control Act of 1936, which declared flood control a “legitimate federal responsibility” and provided a substantial increase in federal funding for a comprehensive network of levees, dams, reservoirs and dikes. Significantly, it handed complete responsibility for flood control to the Army Corps of Engineers, a division of the War Department (later the Department of Defense), and mandated that the economic benefits of construction outweigh the costs. In essence, the act was driven by commerce but framed as national defense.
As construction began on control structures throughout the Mississippi River Basin, and as floodwaters rushed into the Ohio River Valley in January 1937, a district engineer in Memphis, Tennessee, Major Eugene Reybold, raised concerns about this approach. Although the scope of flood control had expanded beyond the Mississippi, the work was limited by current field research methods; engineers found it difficult to track what was being done at various points along the river and thus impossible to predict how isolated “solutions” might affect one other. To understand the Mississippi River Basin as a dynamic system of interconnected waterways, the Corps needed new, more sophisticated scientific tools.
Reybold came up with a radical idea: a large-scale hydraulic model that would enable engineers to observe the interactive effects of weather and proposed control measures over time and “develop plans for the coordination of flood-control problems throughout the Mississippi River Basin.” Only a physical model of all lands affected by the Mississippi River and its tributaries could meet the three major goals of the Army Corps: “… to determine methods of coordinating the operation of reservoirs to accomplish the maximum flood protection under various combinations of flood flow; to determine undesirable conditions that might result from non-coordinated use of any part of the reservoir system, particularly the untimely release of impounded water; and to determine what general flood control works were necessary (levees, reservoirs, floodways) and what improvements might be desirable at existing flood control works.”
Reybold understood that such a project would require a paradigm shift in the Army Corps of Engineers. His colleague John Freeman ran a small hydraulics laboratory, the Waterways Experiment Station, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but had been denied funding for more comprehensive research. “Field experience,” said Secretary of War Dwight Davis, “is undoubtedly of much greater value than laboratory experiments could possibly be.” Nevertheless, Freeman’s laboratory drew the attention of young, ambitious engineers who could see the benefit of fluid mechanics modeling. Reybold worked with the Experiment Station to construct a small section of the exceptionally steep Kanawha River as a pilot model. He knew that if he could simulate historic flood events and produce accurate flood hydrographs of the Kanawha, he could build support for a model of the entire Mississippi River Basin. Reybold’s plan worked; in 1943 the Corps of Engineers approved his proposal to build a comprehensive model.
What Reybold needed next was a site and a workforce. World War II had commandeered the Army’s stateside labor force and depleted its funding for civilian hiring. So as Reybold surveyed the area near Vicksburg for suitable topography on which to build the basin model, he also negotiated for the transfer of prisoners of war to a new internment camp. He settled on a large area of undeveloped land in Clinton, Mississippi, and under his supervision 3,000 German and Italian POWs began construction on a 200-acre working hydraulic model. The ambitious model would replicate the Mississippi River and its major tributaries — the Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri Rivers — encompassing 41 percent of the land area of the United States and 15,000 miles of river. It would reflect existing topography and river courses throughout the Mississippi Basin, using the best data drawn from hydrographic and topographic maps, aerial photographs and valley cross-sections.
POWs at work August 1943…
The prisoners cleared the site of a million cubic yards of dirt and rough-graded the land to match the contours of the Mississippi River Basin. To ensure that topographic shifts would be apparent, the model was built using an exaggerated vertical scale of 1:100 and a much larger horizontal scale of 1:2000. While the existing topography offered a close approximation of the actual Mississippi Basin, some areas required significant earthmoving; the Appalachian Mountains were raised 20 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, the Rockies 50 feet. An existing stream running east-to-west provided the model’s water supply. The streambed was molded to take on the shape and form of the upper reaches of the Mississippi, and a complex system of pipes and pumps distributed water throughout the model; it was regulated by a large sump and control house sited near what would become Chicago, Illinois. To simulate flood events, Reybold needed to introduce large volumes of water over short periods of time, so he designed a collection basin and 500,000-gallon storage tower system at the model’s edge. Small outflow pipes at anticipated data collection points channeled excess water to 16 miles of storm drains.
A 20-acre section in the center of the 200-acre site would be subject to high-intensity tests. Here the engineers installed a “fixed-bed model” that enabled greater precision and control, modeling the river channels and overbank flood areas in concrete. This section represented the areas of the central and lower basin perceived to be most vulnerable to catastrophic floods: the Mississippi River from Hannibal, Missouri, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; the Atchafalaya River from its confluence with the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico; and the lower reaches of key tributaries, the Missouri, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, Arkansas and Ouachita Rivers.  Large concrete panels, flat on the underside and uniquely molded on top to reflect particular topographic shifts, were installed over the pipes and held in place with a secondary structural system. Although the fixed-bed model accounted for only 10 percent of the site, it represented a large enough area that the curvature of the earth played a significant role in the design and construction of the concrete panels. Engineers overlaid the traditional grid system with the conical Bonne Projection, skewing the surface of each panel to respond to the topographies of both the model site and the basin itself.
The panel surfaces were enhanced with concrete riverbeds, sheer cliffs, flat plains, tributaries and oxbow lakes, as well as railroads, bridges, levees and highways. The engineers faced the significant challenge of achieving an accurate degree of “roughness,” the measure of frictional resistance experienced by water as it passes over a particular surface. Because the concrete created an impermeable (fixed) ground, they installed 3/8″ metal plugs of varying length, called “parallelepieds,” to create drag in the water flow and simulate scouring. These brass plugs were used in conjunction with brushed and scored concrete and periodic concrete ridges to model channel roughness. To add further surface detail to “overbank phenomena” such as the vegetation observed in aerial photographs, an accordion-folded metal screen was cut to scale and placed (unfixed) at appropriate locations.
the great Chicago disco riot of 1979…
Comiskey Park had seen more than its share of oddball promotions, what with White Sox owner Bill Veeck‘s penchant for the colorful (a scoreboard that lit up and exploded with fireworks) and the offbeat (having his players wear shorts). But nothing compared to Disco Demolition Night, staged at Comiskey on this summer Thursday evening. Anyone bringing a disco album to the game–a night double-header between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers–would be admitted for just 98 cents. Between games, radio personality Steve Dahl–then the morning man for rock music station WLUP-FM–would blow up those disco albums with fireworks.
Dahl, who had been fired from WDAI-FM when that station switched to an all-disco format, had garnered national recognition for his crusade against what he called “Disco Dystrophy.” Comiskey was filled to capacity; the official attendance was more than 59,000. An estimated 15,000 fans milled outside the park.After the first game, which the Sox lost 4-1, Dahl ceremoniously blew up a crate filled with disco records. All was orderly up to that point. But as Dahl finished, thousands of fans stormed onto the field, tearing up clumps of sod, burning signs, knocking over a batting cage and flinging records like so many Frisbees. Police arrested 37 people; by the time order was restored, the grounds were little more than a grassy moonscape. The second game was canceled and later awarded to the Tigers by forfeit.
on the front lines of a new medium…
How a start-up like EVR can gain a toehold in an industry that for decades has been unfriendly to the little guy can be summed up by a slight tweak to the illuminated sign hanging in the booth: In place of the familiar “ON AIR” is a sign that reads “ONLINE.”
“Clear Channel” – the multibillion-dollar radio conglomerate – “kicked out a lot of people wherever they could, and just beamed in from another city,” says Wareham. “Now, with the Internet, you don’t have to have this huge transmitter.”
With more than 1 million listeners a month, EVR is at the forefront of this emerging medium. In addition to fostering more independent voices and breaking underground acts, EVR has become a must-visit for big-label stars like Wareham and, more recently, Big Boi of the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling hip-hop group Outkast.
You’d think the sky might be the limit for an organically grown station such as EVR deftly leveraging street cred, an easy relationship with artists, and the identity of a bohemian counterculture neighborhood into a burgeoning Internet audience. But EVR general manager Peter Ferraro has to be very careful when it comes to growing his business. The way the current performance-royalty pay structure is set up for webcasters, if EVR’s audience numbers do in fact reach the sky, so, too, do their operating costs.
Under the Congressional Digital Music Copyright Act of 1998, Internet broadcasters are required to pay a digital performance royalty for each and every listener, making it very difficult to scale up their business. By contrast, their terrestrial counterparts benefit from a flat royalty rate: As their audience grows, the cost per listener falls.
“The very existence of EVR in the current royalty climate is pretty punk rock,” says Mr. Ferraro, who is trying to avoid the same fate as WOXY, an independent rock webcaster that was forced to shut down earlier this year for ostensibly becoming too popular.
Unlike WOXY, Ferraro is going to great lengths to make sure EVR’s revenues – a mix of Web advertising, show sponsorships, and events with corporate sponsors – keep pace with their growing music-licensing costs. As of now, 30 percent of EVR’s annual operating costs goes to paying performance royalties. As their audience grows, theoretically that percentage will increase until EVR is potentially snuffed out.
But there is hope: Pending legislation in Congress (the Performance Rights Act) would compensate artists when their performances are played on terrestrial radio (currently, only the composer and music publisher are paid), and offer fixed, discounted royalty rates to small terrestrial broadcasters. Last year, at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California said she believed “strongly that parity and fairness require that we provide the same discounts for small webcasters.”
Currently, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Record Industry Association of America are negotiating the terms of the proposed legislation. Though a Senate Judiciary Committee source told the Monitor that webcasters shouldn’t rely on the NAB to carry their water, the source did say that Senator Feinstein remains committed to webcasters.
If webcasters are included in the bill, Ferraro says there might be a “small business explosion” in the Internet radio space, “a sector that will pay royalties and expose people to music that is often characterized as existing in the ‘long tail.’ “