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Quote of the Week: Lessig’s Sousaphone

This is band leader and composer John Phillip Sousa criticizing recorded music at the start of the last millennium:

“When I was a boy … in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal chord left.'”
That is Sousa as quoted by Lawrence Lessig in his new book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, as quoted in M.J. Stephey‘s review of the book in Time (time.com).

Stephey goes on to quote Lessig in regard to the famous Sousa statement, wherein Lessig separates its philosophical concern from its technophobic context: “Sousa was not offering a prediction about the evolution of the human voice box. He was describing how a technology … would change our relationship to culture. These ‘machines,’ Sousa feared, would lead us away from … ‘amateur’ culture. We would become just consumers of culture, not also producers.”

I haven’t read Remix yet, so I don’t know the extent to which Lessig quotes Sousa, but for what it’s worth, Sousa did, in fact, predict the evolution of the human voice box; most citations of Sousa’s comment include the following sentence: “The vocal chord will be eliminated by a process of evolution as was the tail of man when he came down from the ape.” What Lessig does, though, is recognize Sousa’s hyperbole as metaphor, and in the process remixes the material himself.

More on Lessig’s book (including, soon enough, a freely downloable copy) at remix.lessig.org.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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