Compro Auri, the time value of listening

Compro Auri

The debate over the value of intellectual property has been conducted along more or less similar lines since digital file sharing came to the fore in the late 90s. While the industry attempts to equate immaterial products with traditional goods, activists and disobedient consumers struggle to maintain free access to information. A project by Brazilian artist Giuliano Obici proposes a refreshing and radical perspective on the debate that seemingly short-circuits both views. According to his proposition, if monetary value must be attributed to exchanges of musical files, the cash flow should proceed in the same direction as the flow of data. His logic is simple: listening requires time, and time is money, so music producers should be paying listeners, and not the other way around. To corroborate his theory, Obici has put it into practice himself. Staging a street intervention equipped with a “Compro Auri” sign, he mimics a black market trader who is attempting to buy listening time from passers-by.  In what appears to be a legally questionable and potentially risky transaction, he offers the equivalent of the purchasing cost of a legally acquired mp3 file, in exchange for listening to his work for 3 minutes. The music that customers are paid to listen to is in fact an audio track that makes audible the compression algorithms and consequential artifacts created when most of the original data is actually removed from ordinary mp3 files. While this unorthodox business model offers itself to diverse readings, one interpretation might reflect on how, if immaterial products must be equated with material goods, then perhaps the discarded residues of their production process must also be disposed of, like a kind of cultural garbage, by a labour force of consumer-workers. On a more practical side it suggests that we should go beyond the shallow end of the debate around file sharing: since time is a limited resource, information is never free, but attempting to artificially create scarcity in an over-abundant sector eventually leads to an even greater waste of resources. Perhaps there is something more to this than simply music and information technology: it could be that through his symbolic gesture, Obici liberates a deeply repressed desire in consumers to be recognized for the often tedious labor of selecting and purchasing which ultimately drives the free market economy.

Matteo Marangoni