Private Collection – A Story About Open-Source Art

03.22.11 Posted in Blog by

This week I received the gem depicted on the image below. It’s a limited repress of ‘Various Artists – Private Collection 2’ pressed on clear vinyl. I’m glad that I managed to get a hold of it since it’s a very special record. Next to carrying six extraordinary good edits on it, the vinyl itself namely gives a lot of insight in the benefits of “open-source” art. Next to heavily relying on existing tracks, the vinyl itself doesn’t seem to be an official re-issue or a repress. Instead it seems to be a bootleg of the “original” white label unofficial release. A story about “open source” art.

Kenny Dixon Jr / Moodymann
First, let me tell you something about the Detroit producer Moodymann (aka Kenny Dixon Jr.), to whom the “original” unofficial release is credited. He’s a special figure in the house music scene. Someone who time and time again manages to successfully blend jazz, soul, and house in his releases. These blends often rely heavily on samples coming from old disco, soul and funk records, sometimes even sampling skipping needles and vinyl cracks. The edited and rearranged samples create beautiful tracks that sound authentic and fresh at the same time.

Moodymann’s music is a good example of “open-source” art. While blues and jazz musicians have been using preexisting melodic fragments for a long time, technology has multiplied the sampling possibilities. Since the 1970s musicians can also duplicate sounds and today musical collages such as mash-ups, remixes and edits that can all be seen as “open-source” artworks are widespread. The Private Collection vinyl is a good example of this as it consists of six edits. The edits take the most effective parts of existing songs and rearrange them into something new. When you don’t know about the tracks on which the edits were based, the tracks even sound like originals.

The story of the record
Next to its contents, there’s also a great story about the vinyl. This story is reproduced by many webshops selling the vinyl and goes something like this: Moodymann had made six “killer edits” and decided to press these on 12” vinyls, unauthorized, in early 2009. It was intended as a limited edition, especially aimed at Detroit DJs that still play vinyl. It was a giveaway not for the collectors but for the vinyl lovers. However, although the record was not aimed at the collectors, the vinyl eventually became a much sought after item that has been offered for sale online for more than $160.

The vinyl was discussed by many devotees on fora on the Internet too and most of the tracks of course made it to YouTube. I knew about the vinyl via Internet too and it became a quest for me to find the vinyl. It wasn’t until a month ago that I saw a limited “repress” suddenly appear on one of my favorite vinyl webshops. I luckily managed to get on a mailinglist for the vinyl and two weeks ago I was finally able to order it. While I waited eagerly on the vinyl to arrive however, I found a disturbing discussion online.

Repress/Bootleg? Good/Bad?
The repress, it appeared, wasn’t an “official” repress and was done without the approval of the original distributor. It appears to be a bootleg ripped from the first pressing. While this bootleg now makes it possible for more enthusiasts to listen to the music, it also raises questions about whether it is morally right or wrong to buy an unapproved bootleg of what were unauthorized edits in the first place. On the one hand, the music is now made available for more music lovers and the artificial scarcity is now temporarily removed, on the other hand the only one receiving some money from the sale is the person that pressed the bootleg, someone who did not create the edits, nor the tracks on which the edits were based.

Is there a difference between putting out edits of existing songs and bootlegging a rare vinyl? If so, when does it become morally wrong? Can someone in this chain of events be considered a pirate, or is the existence of the tracks in the end more important? Can the bootlegging of this EP be regarded as just another link in the chain of influences?

I don’t have all the answers to this, and I invite you to think about these questions. What is sure is that this specific vinyl next to hosting great music gives us insight in how the open-source culture of borrowing, reinterpreting and freely distributing pieces of art can be beneficial for the music lover in the end. Due to a mixture of sampling, editing, rearranging, word of mouth, ripping and bootlegging I am now able to listen to six great tracks whenever I want. Moreover, I am convinced that the chain of influence doesn’t end here but will be continued somewhere else soon.

Right now, I’m still searching for Private Collection 1 which is an unofficial release too. I wonder through which chain of events this music will find me. Will it be the “original” vinyl, a re-issue, repress or a bootleg? Actually, it doesn’t matter that much, as long as I can play this track on my turntable.

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