incontrovertibly, that music is just a variation of math. Precision, notes, technique, tempo, melody, rhythm, all came down to mathematics. Though prodigies in music didn’t realize it, they were simply performing calculations without
conscious awareness of their implication. In other words, musicians were the poets of mathematics. He even cited the emergence of math as a subgenre of various musical forms, particularly rock’n’roll. Nothing he said was considered particularly new, however, Gordon Tamlin was the first person to produce a theorem, alongside neurological evidence, that supported his hypothesis. Yet, it did little to interrupt the progress of music. Not until the International Digital
Database came online.
Started in 2017 as a good will project -- the world united to share knowledge -- the International Digital Database was meant to be a repository of all the digitized information currently available. It would serve as a free library storing and providing access to every scrap of recorded, created, and collected data humanity had to offer. For many, the I.D.D. sounded like a public works project, more of a show of effort to solve the economic crisis than a real solution. Thousands of workers would be tasked with gathering, digitizing, cataloguing, and maintaining all the material stored in the I.D.D. Providing jobs was its key component, and with another recessive dip looming, many clamored for its creation -- better something than nothing. So the I.D.D. began.
Its employees amassed a spectacular amount of information in the first few months. I.D.D. director Anton Sarpino had the wherewithal to make his primary goal the accumulation of entertainment media: movies, television shows, radio programs, photographs, and music. The plan was to generate public interest in the I.D.D. by providing easy access to amusement. Then efforts could be directed towards more educational fields.
Thanks to a strict digital rights management program -- the brainchild of several Hollywood pocketed politicians -- information could be accessed but not downloaded from the I.D.D. People could watch, read, and listen, but not own. Yet, all this did was increase steadily the amount of regular I.D.D. visitors.
Enter Malcolm Weston, a graduate student at M.I.T. intrigued by Professor Tamlin’s paper. He agreed with the professor’s conclusions, however, it made him wonder about certain applications. Tamlin’s paper provided a means by which one could see the mathematical principles at work in music, thereby allowing its mathematical categorization -- i.e.
calculus, logic, geometry, music. What Malcom Weston did was apply that lens to music on the whole, using Tamlin’s equations as a way to track musical similarity. As such, Weston was able to discover the same utilized methodologies in
several, sometimes seemingly disparate, forms of music.
For a laugh, Weston used Tamlin’s paper to craft a computer program. It acted as a filter isolating similarities found in various songs. Using it, Weston tracked and verified likeness in The Toys “Lover’s Concerto” and Bach’s “Minuet in G.” ; The Beatles and Bobby Parker; Radiohead’s “Creep” and The Hollies “The Air That I Breathe”;John Williams’ Jaws theme and Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9”; Metallica’s“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and Bleak House’s “Rainbow Warrior”; the connective tissues tying together groups like Iron Maiden to Jimi Hendrix as well as Andrew Lloyd Weber with Pink Floyd and Mendelsohn; pop music’s incestuous nature making seemingly dramatic breaks such as Madonna’s
“Justify My Love” mirroring Public Enemy’s “Security of the First World”… Weston began making connections.
Initially he only meant to track instances where similar devices were used to create music; to see how frequently certain chords and scales were used. What he discovered was a means to instantly discover songs which were exactly the same.
Thanks to the I.D.D., Weston’s program had access to an unprecedented amount of musical information. By simply entering the I.D.D. and running his program, Weston was able to collect every instance of a song mirroring another. He had inadvertently created the definitive tool for proving acts of musical plagiarism.
At first, the discovery went unnoticed. Not until a lawsuit involving the band Glacial Upheaval and Skrexxx. Glacial Upheaval, an indie rock group, alleged that Skrexxx, a dubstep producer, had used riffs from the G.U. album Sunnyside Slit Wrist, primarily the song “My Coffee is Sweeter Without Flavor”. However, lawyers for Glacial Upheaval were having a hard time demonstrating the similarities between the high speed guitars featured in Skrexxx songs like “Dick Shitting Nipples” and “Break up w/a Broken Face”, and Glacial Upheaval’s low fi “My Coffee…” That is until a paralegal happened to mention an interesting website he’d found called Classical Ripoff, a site where people could freely utilize Malcolm Weston’s program.
Weston never intended for the tool his program became. He just found it interesting -- all the repeated guitar chords, beats, and rhythms, especially those passed off as seemingly the first of their kind. For instance, his program mapped the similarities between turntables and Tom Morello’s guitar style. And while he did notice the vast amount of songs which mirrored one another quite closely, he didn’t see a real world application for such knowledge. So he put the program online for people to have fun with, and perhaps realize, as the homepage stated, “content isn’t as important as how one
But the fact his site provided G.U.’s lawyers with the howitzer necessary to obliterate Skrexxx changed the nature of music forever.
The ability to prove emphatically when one song mirrored another reshaped the nature of litigating musical plagiarism.
Once the similarities had been demonstrated by Weston’s program (Malcolm Weston, having more wherewithal at the sight of potential profits, earning a hefty commission for each use), court cases became a matter of proving whether
or not a particular group/composer had ever heard a particular song. However, this left many defendants having to admit there might have been an unintentional “borrowing” of material. Essentially, intent was impossible to prove.
Most cases came down to arguments regarding probabilities: if two bands lived in the same city and actively performed during the same time frame, or a song was featured on the radio, however briefly, when a defendant might have heard it, or was available in an area the musician(s) occupied, etc. then the likelihood of plagiarism existed; and if the likelihood
existed… cases typically ended in settlements.
Bands and pop singers sued each other regularly. Typically for spite and attention. For a few years the backdoor to fame seemed to be suing a more successful band. Any group that emerged out of Chicago, L.A., New York, or Etcetera was almost immediately sued by whatever ambitious band hadn’t been signed while playing across the street… or in their
basement. This led, initially, to the period in rock known as The Nomad Years, where performers traveled constantly to avoid being allied with a single era, thereby reducing the likelihood of being sued by one’s neighboring musicians.
But still, many, some might say unscrupulous,individuals continued along the litigious road to success.
Then, in 2029, Representative George R. Ennis proposed legislation to end the chronic accusations of plagiarism. (Many purport this had more to do with hefty campaign contributions from major record labels rather than any genuine feeling on the issue.) H.B. 7832 eliminated the concept of plagiarism in relation to musical creations. All music was classified as too similar and the amount of potential variations too finite to permit anything other than mirroring, intentional or otherwise. In simplest terms, nothing musical could ever be alleged as stolen.
As a result, a new style emerged. Incapable of infringing on copyright, musicians discovered they could utilize any preexisting song to their own benefit. Only the lyrics really needed to be changed to prevent a lawsuit. Consequently, 127,864 songs featuring instrumental aspects (particularly the guitars) of “Sweet Home Alabama” emerged in early 2030. Bands like the Copycats, Admiral Rensdale, Isla Vahina, and the Biz Marquees, soon dominated the landscape playing seemingly recognizable classics. Believing an opening riff familiar, audiences would listen longer and typically resign themselves to a song, even after realizing it wasn’t what they expected. A few articles were written on the Pavlovian correlation between an already beloved song and its lyrically retooled “cousin”; that the former inspired a debatably higher appreciation of the latter. However, not many people read those articles.
For the last eight years Mirror Music, as it’s come to be known, has been the prevailing “style”. The movement claims it’s taking music back from corporations. Critics suggest the simplicity of the genre makes it easily accessible -- the terrain is always familiar; musically, the concept of being a hack or rip off artist no longer exists. Now anyone can strive for greatness using preexisting blocks.
When asked about his contribution to contemporary music, Malcolm Weston took the advice of his P.R. rep and used (what could be called) the Vietna-Nurenberg defense. He pointed up the ladder at Professor Gordon Tamlin, saying, “If it wasn’t for him, none of this would be possible.” There is some truth to that. Yet, Professor Tamlin has never profited nor sought royalties from Weston’s program. The only thing he’s earned is the rebuke of music critics worldwide, who insist without him Mirroring wouldn’t exist. (Professor Tamlin has commented on being the catalyst for the Mirror
genre just once. He said, "Perhaps it was a folly of youth. I tried to prove what I loved was all that is and therefore all that mattered.") Still, debate persists. Who is responsible for our musical environment -- Tamlin, Weston, the musicians who embraced/embrace Mirroring, the public who purchases it… all of the above?
Though perhaps the more pertinent question is: what does the nature of our art say about our lives?