The band is now a quarter of the way
through its contract, has made the music industry more than $3 million richer, but is in the
hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members
have each earned about a third as much as they
would working at a 7-Eleven, but they got to
ride in a tour bus for a month.
The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they
spend more time and money on it. Since the
previous one never “recouped,” the band will
have no leverage, and will oblige.
The next tour will be about the same, except
the merchandising advance will have already
been paid, and the band, strangely enough, won’t
have earned any royalties from their T-shirts yet.
Maybe the T-shirt guys have figured out how to
count money like record company guys.
Some of your friends are probably already
Steve Albini, from “The Problem with Music.”
A founding member of the band Big Black, Albini
produced Nirvana’s final album, In Utero, in 1993,
the same year he published this article in The Baffler.
He runs a recording studio, Electric Audio, in Chi
cago. “On balance, the things that have happened be
cause of the internet have been tremendously good
for bands and audiences,” Albini said in 2014, “but
really bad for businesses that are not part of that
network, the people who are siphoning money out. I
don’t give a fuck about those people.”
Old Is New Again
Instruments whose sounds came back around
Origin: The oldest
surviving xun date
to the second mil-
lennium bc, but during the Han dy-
nasty ( 206 bc– 220), the egg-shaped
clay pipe took on Confucian ritual
significance—ultimately causing a
precipitous drop in popularity fol-
lowing the Communist revolution.
Resurrection: Never out of fashion
in Taiwan, the instrument has re-
turned to use in mainland China
over the past several decades and is
now used in orchestras.
Origin: The crwth was
the quintessential instru-
ment of medieval Welsh
bards, who claimed it
had been invented by
Mercury. It may have developed
from Greco-Roman lyres but, unlike
those, was played with a bow, which
produced a low buzzing sound.
Resurrection: Though Welsh folk
musicians began reembracing the
instrument by the mid-1980s,
music historians beat them to it:
in 1976 one crwth player wrote a
letter to the journal Early Music
seeking help stringing and tuning
his reconstructed instrument, and
before long the journal was running
advertisements from crwth makers
and instructors alike.
Origin: The original
lituus was a long,
thin metal Etruscan
trumpet with a
curved end, known
for its penetrating sound and used at
feasts, at funerals, and on the battle-
field. The name was later repurposed
for a wooden staff used in divinatory
rituals by augurs in ancient Rome.
Resurrection: The instrument of the
eighteenth century is a slightly differ-
ent type of trumpet but is no easier
to find today than the Etruscan one:
in 2009 a Swiss conservatory hoping
to play a Bach motet calling for the
instrument had to hire music histori-
ans to create a fair approximation.
Origin: Developed in
the Arab world, the rebec
became popular in west-
ern Europe as early as
the tenth century. It was
praised c. 1497 by a Neapolitan com-
poser for its ability to “induce piety
and stir my heart most ardently to
the contemplation of heavenly joys,”
and it was played in French taverns
into the eighteenth century.
Resurrection: Before the instrument fell out of use in Europe, Portuguese settlers brought a version to
the New World. It remains a popular folk instrument in Brazil.
Origin: Most of what is
known about this instrument of the late Bronze
Age—named after a
battle horn mentioned in
Icelandic sagas—derives from its odd
archaeological context: since 1797,
dozens of the cast-bronze horns have
been found submerged in northern
European peat bogs, always in pairs.
Resurrection: No written evidence
survives regarding how the richly
decorated horn was played, but the
National Museum of Denmark has
allowed modern-day musicians to
experiment with their specimens.
Their tone has been described as
“pleasant and sonorous.”
Origin: Extravagant ivory
oliphant horns figured in
European legends and art
about kings and heavenly
beings starting in the tenth century
and were given as diplomatic gifts
until the eighteenth century.
Resurrection: Though tightened
restrictions on the global ivory trade
make the creation of any new oliph-
ants unlikely, in 2015 a Columbia
University professor released an
album of historical oliphant music by
relying on the collections of muse-
ums and private individuals who can
afford the horn’s six-figure going rate.