Category Archives: public domain compositions

Spirit rappings

Spirit Rappings (title page)

August 20, 1852, Wednesday

Page 2 of the New York Times, 695 words

Mr. ORVILLE HATCH, of Franklin, Conn., has become insane, he having devoted considerable attention to the subject of Spirit Rappings. Mr. HATCH is a farmer, and has been instrumental in introducing many important improvements in agriculture into the town in which he resides.

Madame Pamita, whose performances involve both spiritualism and really old American music, sent me a pointer to sheet music for an 1854 tune called “Spirit Rappings”, presumably because it’s a great number for Halloween. This post is my version of it.

Since I did a vocal part for once, the mix has the guitar and vocal parts hard panned to left and right so you can pull out the singing and do karaoke.

This recording is under a Creative Commons ShareAlike-Attribution 2.0 license. See also my boilerplate copyright statement.

Direct links:

Spirit Rappings (mp3)

Spirit Rappings (vorbis)

William Litten song

Cover of 'William Litten's Fiddle Tunes'

This post is a recording of a fast and furious guitar performance of a fiddle tune called “Kiss My Lady” which was transcribed in 1800 (or so) by a ship’s musician named William Litten.


Musically I wanted something energetic and raw. I didn’t care about mistakes except if they were bad enough to really mar the listening. The final performance definitely has mistakes, and both my dogs got into the action by barking.It usually takes me a lot of takes to get something with the right feel and no fatal mistakes. In this case I did a few takes a day for a few days before I got one I liked.

I don’t have sheet music for this because I got it from a book which is not online. Here’s the story.Litten was employed as a ship’s musician, and along the way he wrote down a lot of music. I think that this was more like a notebook to aid his memory than a book for the public. His manuscript was brought home to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, by a local guy named Allen Coffin. The Martha’s Vineyard economy was based on fishing, sailing, etc, until it became a touristy beach destination in the late 20th century, and Coffin was probably on the ship with Litten. The manuscript ended up in the library of the historical society in Edgartown, the biggest town on the island.

In the 1970s a musicologist named Gail Huntington copied it into more readable notation, made some corrections and other tidying up, cross-referenced the songs in contemporaneous publications, and eventually published it. Her publication is copyright 1977 by Hines Point Publishers, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts 02568. This was either self-publishing or a very small-time operation.

Here’s a description of the situation by somebody else familiar with the book:

William Litten was a ship’s fiddler in Royal Navy in the first years of the nineteenth century. What makes Litten remarkable amongst his peers was his ability to transcribe music. In the years 1800 to 1802 he was aboard the HMS Gorgon, leaving England in May 1800, arriving in China in February 1801 and passing through St Helena in 1802. During the voyage he wrote down much of his repertoire, thus giving us a unique snapshot of the musical and, in particular, the fiddle repertoire of his time. The original and now unprocurable book was assembled and published in 1977. Extensive searches failed to find the publishers. The book was reproduced from a copy on interlibrary loan from New Mexico for the purposes of study at a a workshop at the National Folk Festival in Canberra in 2006. A few copies remain and are offered here.

The copyright situation of the sheet music is messy. Huntington’s substantive contributions to the original entitle her to a copyright on her contributions. However figuring out what is a copyrighted addition and what is a public domain part of the original is totally up in the air. Since she and her publisher seem to have disappeared, this has turned into an orphaned work. The good news is that a public domain performance of the underlying composition and arrangement is completely legal as far as I can tell.

My own copyrights in these recordings are released under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license per my boilerplate licensing statement.


Direct audio file links

These are the real keepers:

Kiss My Lady sept 23 2007 (mp3)

Kiss My Lady sept 23 2007 (vorbis)

These are scratch recordings that I figured might be handy for sampling or comparison:

Kiss My Lady sept 20 2007 (mp3)

Kiss My Lady sept 20 2007 (vorbis)

Kiss My Lady sept 21 2007 (mp3)

Kiss My Lady sept 21 2007 (vorbis)

Old tunes, new opportunities « Jon Udell

Old tunes, new opportunities « Jon Udell

As I watched and listened to all those different versions of The Tennessee Waltz, I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if that dynamic were applied to out-of-copyright tunes. Can more of the old tunes be reborn? If so, will our new ability to share, teach, and learn turbocharge the creative process surrounding them? If so, will that process in turn lead to the production of new tunes? If so, will some of those new tunes achieve cultural ubiquity? If so, will some of those conceivably remain outside the copyright regime?

This is indeed a long shot. But in another sense it’s just a matter of patience. Think of it as a disruptive technology:

Sometimes, a disruptive technology comes to dominate an existing market by either filling a role in a new market that the older technology could not fill (as more expensive, lower capacity but smaller-sized hard disks did for newly developed notebook computers in the 1980s) or by successively moving up-market through performance improvements until finally displacing the market incumbents (as digital photography has begun to replace film photography).

For readers not from the tech industry, the classic example of a disruptive technology is that weak little PCs ended up replacing ultrapowerful mainframe computers.  Songs like Ella Waltz doesn’t have to be as obvious a source as songs like Proud Mary, they just have to outlast them.

Jon has the perfect example:

though I wouldn’t have thought Episcopal hymns would be toe-tappers, I love to hear — and play — John Fahey’s arrangements of tunes like In Christ There Is No East Or West.

It happens that this is a reasonably simple tune to play, the song has already lasted for an improbably long time, there is an easily accessible recording online, and not only is there guitar tablature available for Fahey’s version but the tab is published on Fahey’s own site.

It’s not an accident that we’re discussing this particular bit of music. For a song that isn’t a pop hit, it has an incredibly high chance of survival over the long term. And not just surviving but reproducing, in the form of lots of little baby covers which may themselves be covered and end up displacing our current generation of pop hits.

It’s true that next to current chart toppers this song doesn’t stand much of a chance of being covered right at this moment, but over time the odds will grow in its favor. The monster hits of 2007 will disappear from cultural memory, while coverable songs will hold onto their niche.

Try starting your view of history in 2006, as if you were born last year and had never lived in a time when music and physical media were tied together. The internet era has barely begun.

Dae somethin’ we ken, can ye?

David Kilpatrick says:

There are ways in which the overall output of YouTube could be fairly assessed to provide a royalty payment and give permission for all covers. A snapshot of the music content on a given date could be analysed (a hell of a task) and YouTube pay an agreed overall royalty, divided in the usual way according to the analysis. This is grossly unfair to unsigned, minority interest stuff as what always happens is that the big copyright holders get all the money.

It’s how PRS (Performing Rights Society) do it in the UK. On September 7th, one of their reps is due to visit our folk club. Our crew has been briefed – no Beatles, no Elvis, no Elton John etc! Not too much traditional either (it goes nowhere, they still charge the same fee). Phil Ochs, John Prine, Leonard Cohen, Billy Bragg, Ewan MacColl, Dick Gaughan stuff – great! Make sure the PRS rep lists a set of deserving copyright holders instead of Sir Paul, Jacko, and corporate friends. Then until the next spy is sent to asses us, our playlist will make sure the £6 a week royalty fee provides a few pence to worthwhile songwriters…

And, of course, people can then play as much commercial cover stuff as they like thereafter. You can’t stop ‘em, it’s what the average pub audience wants. ‘Dae somethin’ we ken, can ye?’

I sense that that means “what can you do about it?”

So what *can* you do about it?

Pub players are jukeboxes for popular songs. That’s the gig and I don’t see any way around it. But I also don’t see that as a blocker, because there are other gigs, and new songs will become popular through them.

It’s not even necessarily a thing which you have you *do*, because this whole thread about cover songs is as descriptive as it is prescriptive. Songs which can’t be covered on the internet aren’t going to remain pub standards. That’s the way nature works. Do nothing, you will receive your new body of songs which are both popular and coverable anyway.

Yes, this is about creating culture which is amenable to participation, and for musicians this means playing songs which others can play too. But all you have to do is only play songs on the internet which you learned from others playing on the internet and things will work out that way no matter what.

The results won’t arrive instantly, they will arrive very slowly, over decades. It’s a drip-drip-drip kind of process. Before you know it, the songs which have been controlled too tightly will be just as forgotten as the waltzes that I have been covering here.

Brett on guitar lessons as culture

Brett posted this excellent comment on the “guitar lessons as the transmission of culture” post:

There’s more to the story. There were two people with guitar videos. One was selling paid internet lessons, the other was not.

As far as I can tell, Sandercoe (who wasn’t selling guitar lessons on his site) just moved certain videos to a new YouTube channel on their UK site (http://tinyurl.com/2edxpg) “so that the main channel at YouTube is not violating any terms of use.”

The blogger linked to above points out that YouTube shut Taub down, not anyone from the music industry. While there was a letter about ‘Brown Sugar’, YouTube simply closed Taub’s account when they got the letter. It’s more complex than a simple “music industry bad, Internet good”. (Not saying you’re doing that, but there are people who do.)

What I want, for myself and as a resource, is a solid explanation of the ins and outs of using copyrighted music. For example, Justin Sandercoe claims the ‘fair use’ argument on his YouTube page. Is he correct? I have no idea.

It’s my belief (based on very little actual data) that posting a cover version of a song, not for sale, in a non-commercial way, is acceptable. Unless the copyright holder asks you to take it down, at which point you can either do that or fight them. Again, am I right about this? I don’t know.

I love the idea of recording public domain sheet music rather than pop songs as a way to get that music back into the listening world. And it would be nice if Mick and Keith and the rest would allow others to futz with their work. Barring that, some clarity as to what is likely to get you a cease and desist letter would be nice.

A meta note: I’m pushing a comment up to an independent post here, and probably will do this again in the future.

Ella Waltz 06032007

This post is a recording of the composition Ella Waltz by D.E. Jannon, which was published in 1854.

MP3: Lucas Gonze — Ella Waltz

Ogg Vorbis: Lucas Gonze — Ella Waltz

It is the third of a set of three waltzes by D.E. Jannon. I have also blogged recordings of Amy Waltz and Carrie Waltz. I don’t consider the series finished because I want to redo the Amy one, but who knows whether I’ll really come up with a better version in the end. It takes a ton of practice and a lot of trial and error with the arrangement to make one of these recordings, and I have other tunes that I want to move on to.

As I was learning the 3 waltzes I made up a back story for them. In my imagination they are named after D.E. Jannon’s three daughters. They are ordered from oldest to youngest. Amy is a teenager, Ella is a little kid, Carrie is in-between. Amy is going through a phase where she is hustling all the time and in a hurry to get away from her parents. Ella has been falling down, dropping things, running into stuff, and generally being accident prone. Carrie is moderate in all things.

The original writing on this tune had dead spots, places where the writing was thin or weak and needed fixing, so I rewrote many of the parts. My version isn’t as simple as the original, which is a loss, but it sounds better.

By the way, I got the name of this tune slightly wrong while I was working, and even though I corrected it in the end some of the metadata and file names are wrong. Right: Ella. Wrong: Emma.

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mussm&fileName=sm2/sm1854/732000/732150/mussm732150.db&recNum=3&itemLink=D?mussm:2:./temp/~ammem_7r3O::&linkText=0

These recordings are released under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license per my boilerplate licensing statement.

Amy Waltz

Amy Waltz

This post is a short, jittery, very loose, and slightly overdriven acoustic guitar version of a tune called “Anna Waltz” which was composed by a guy named D.E. Jannon and published in 1854. I learned it from sheet music at the Library of Congress web site.

MP3: Lucas Gonze — Amy Waltz (1:36)

This recording is under a Creative Commons BY-SA license per my standard license statement.

See also Carrie Waltz.

Carrie Waltz

This post is one of my acoustic guitar recordings. It is a tune called “Carrie Waltz” which was composed by a guy named D.E. Jannon and published in 1854. I learned it from sheet music at the Library of Congress web site.

Lucas Gonze — Carrie Waltz

I’m only publishing an MP3, not an Ogg anything or a lossless version or the Audacity original. And I didn’t pay any attention to the tagging process, so it might or might not have reasonable metadata and proper Creative Commons licensing in the ID3 tags. It takes forever to get all these details right and I want to see how it feels to focus on the tunes and not worry about the computer maintenance.

This recording is under a Creative Commons BY-SA license per my standard license statement.

Here’s the sheet music original that I worked from:

Carrie Waltz sheet music

Crazy_Arms_Lucas_CC_SA

This is an experiment I’m doing with Jay Dedman. He made the video, I made the music.

Jay Dedman hooked up my 2 spirit of gods music with his crazy arms videoblog entry. In the posting that started the thread, he had a licensing problem with music:

After posting my video today for Videoblogging Week 2007, commenters pointed out that I used a commercial song that I had no rights to use. Most people would be like ‘who cares?’..but in this case, it’s important. We just had a big event this past Saturday where Jon and Colette spoke about Creative Commons. If we videobloggers want respect from commercial companies (ie dont steal our stuff!)…we must respect existing copyright law. This means don’t use commercial music without permission.

time to get off the commercial media nipple once and for all.

Soundtracks for videoblogs are an ideal application of blog music. In both cases the media has to be fast, cheap, conversational and copyleft. This is an instance of remixing outside of the mashup genre, and an instance of redistribution outside of filesharing.

It’s also a case where the new medium shows how it is different in substance from the old one.

Blogging a soundtrack for a blogged video is about the same kind of thing as blogging a text comment on somebody else’s textual blog entry by a third party, except that the form of the conversation crosses boundaries from one art to another.

Catpower was the music provider in Jay’s first video, but Catpower was never involved in the thread. Since conversation is about who makes a conversational gestures as much as what they say, the stars from the old medium of offline audio need to make a deliberate effort to participate if they want to be part of the new medium.


This video was originally shared on blip.tv by jaydedman with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. (Donate)

2 spirit of gods

This is two guitar instrumental versions of the Mormon hymn “Spirit of God.” Neither has much of a godly spirit to it. I like them for the phrasing.

For more information on this hymn see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spirit_of_God_Like_a_Fire_Is_Burning. I learned the tune from sheet music at Mutopia. I blogged a previous version of it on 12/3/2006. These are licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 per my standard license on my own music.

Version one here is abrupt and tricky:


feb 6 2007 spirit of god version 2 edit 2 (mp3)

feb 6 2007 spirit of god version 2 edit 2 (ogg)

Version two is woodsy and sweet:


spirit of god february 4 2007 (mp3)

spirit of god february 4 2007 (ogg)


Postscript: creating this blog entry was a lot of work, much more than it should have been, because of the relatively poor technical infrastructure for blog musicians and because of my blog host’s industry-lagging support for multimedia. Despite the lavish over-investment in web video in recent years, audio is still in a basically broken state.