Citizen Bravo: 'While the price of music has never been lower, the environmental cost has never been higher'
- David Pollock
- 12 April 2019
Dr Matt Brennan's new project is an album released as a download, a musical installation and a piece of research
For Dr Matt Brennan aka Citizen Bravo's new musical project Build a Thing of Beauty, the world is surely experiencing its first ever album released as a download, a musical installation and a piece of research into the physical impact of recorded music. Not that the final element strictly counts as a playable element of the music, but the findings of research by Brennan, a reader in Popular Music at the University of Glasgow, tie closely to the way he's chosen to present his new music.
'The headline conclusions of the research would be that, while the price of recorded music has never been lower, from a carbon emissions perspective the cost has never been higher, and we have the numbers to prove it,' says Brennan, who was born in Nova Scotia and raised in New Brunswick, Canada, and who moved to Scotland in his early twenties to study music under Simon Frith; to 'learn how to take pop music seriously', as he has it. Brennan was also one quarter of Zoey Van Goey, who released two albums on Glasgow's Chemikal Underground label while they were active between 2006 and 2012 (and Chemikal are also returning from a short releasing hiatus to issue this album).
While fuller research is available at Brennan's website, the least surprising thrust of 'The Cost of Music' – co-authored with Dr Kyle Devlin from the University of Oslo – says that the relative cost of music is lower than ever (inflation-adjusted, a phonograph was $13.88 in 1907, a vinyl record was $28.55 in 1977, and an album download was $11.11 in 2013). What's more surprising, however, is that the environmental impact of non-physical music has also shot up; from 140 million kilograms of GHGs (greenhouse gas equivalents) in 1977 to 157 million in 2000, the cost of powering the technology used for downloading and storing music is now estimated at between 200 million and 350 million in the US alone.
'Although I'm very loathe to lend any credence to the idea that my parents' generation of Baby Boomers from the 1960s and '70s valued music more,' says Brennan, 'it's clear that people were willing to spend a much higher percentage of their salary for just one album, than people are to pay a monthly subscription to all recorded music ever in 2019. Hopefully by doing this work we can envisage a more imaginative way of consuming music than we do now. What would that look like? That's a good question. For me, it looks like the SCI★FI★HI★FI.'