The Meme Merchant Culture Society went out the other night to a house hoot, for the first time in many ages, as a possible encouragement to use our French with people who actually speak French for a living, even if they are from the tail end of the Francophone world and tend to get a lot of grief from the Parisian epicenter of the Francophone world about their pronunciation and grammar. C’est la vie. This particular evening’s experience was a musical encounter with Québécois folk music trio Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville, “The buzz around town” more or less, le bruit court [literally ‘the noise short’] may also be rendered as “rumor has it,” though we are not sure if there is a Québécois vs Parisien distinction here – possible.
This is not another music blog, this is a blog mostly about odd ideas; in the course of the evening we encountered enough unusual ideas to be worthy of promotion of the evening’s experience to a blog post. The first odd idea was not that three Québécoises should be trying to make a living reviving a declining folk music tradition by giving concerts in people’s living rooms aux Etats Unis – a worthy idea – but not that odd. The first odd idea was that in the Québécois folk music scene, les pieds [the feet] are an instrument you are likely to find credited in an album’s liner notes – extraordinaire. The second odd idea is that in addition to the usual stories of marital infidelity by wife, or husband you may also find reference a theme of the now largely defunct Social Credit movement.
Short Sounds Around Town
Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville is the power-trio of: André Marchand (guitare, voix, et pieds), Normand Miron (accordéon, harmonica, et voix), and Lisa Ornstein (violon). This is some of what you are going to find out about them if you website. And, if you are interested, you can get it there in both French and en Anglais.
Le Bruit Court dans la Ville (The Buzz Around Town). Lisa Ornstein, Normand Miron, and André Marchand are legends of Quebec’s traditional music scene. Fiddler Lisa and guitarist/singer André first met as bandmates in La Bottine Souriante, the iconic trad super group which kickstarted Quebec’s folk music revival. Normand is a marvelous singer and accordionist who grew up surrounded by family musicians in Lanaudière, the epicenter of Quebec’s folk music scene. As a trio, Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville produce a music which is at once deeply-rooted, innovative, nuanced, and spontaneous. André’s meticulous accompaniment and gorgeous vocals compliment Normand’s pulsing accordion, grit-and-polish vocals and irrepressible spirit, while Lisa’s fiddle combines soaring harmonies with fiery tunes until dawn learned over years of kitchen visits with old masters.
What you will discover if you take a listen to any of the music videos available on their website, or listen to any of the tunes off of their most recent CD, Les Vents qui Ventent [The Winds that Whirl], is something very much like what you would expect to hear at a local contra dance, or just about any local Irish, Welsh, Scottish, generic Celtic revival music scene – but with a difference – with accordion instead bagpipes, no drums apparently – and sung in Québécois French.
The convoluted cultural and musical heritage of this folk tradition is illustrated by this one musical number off the album, which is in fact what happens to an Irish slip jig, known to the Irish as the Fox Hunter’s Jig, but when it is filtered through a couple of generations of Gaspé house parties comes out as La Rachouidine, a straight Québécois attempt to pronounce “Irish wedding”.
If you are American, and are told this in advance, you can kind of, sort of work this out for yourself.
For all in all what anyone can discover immediately is that it is a thigh-slapping good time, and the lack of traditional percussion is do to the musics origins as the folk music of the local social dance form where the role of the percussion was filled by the sounds of dancer’s feet on hard wooden floors. A hootenanny in other words to you American hippies.
A pied – on foot
This leads us back after a long digression to our first singular fact, which you discover when guitarist André Marchand enters guitar in hand, takes his seat and plonks down a plank of wood on the carpet in front of himself on which he stamps out the time of the dance as he sings and plays – passionante.
Ok, not the oddest idea ever – you look at it, tilt your head slightly to one side and go “huh”, but one you would probably never think of – unless you had to perform this way yourself – interessant.
The second peculiar idea, and I mean peculiar in the sense of being singular, was that the back story of one of the tunes, Mon déput s’en va siéger, litterally: “My member is going to sit”, or more colloquially “My deputy is going to take office”, was that of a politician of the Ralliement créditiste getting on the train to assume office in the House of Commons in the national capital in Ottawa.
Odd – to an American but maybe not so much to a Canadian.
Odd, not in the sense of bizzare, but of deeply unfamiliar, the Ralliement créditiste of Quebec being the provincial expression of the Canadian social credit movement , which is itself one national expression of the Social Credit movement founded by C.H. Douglas after the Great War.
Never heard of it? – but we have!
This is an odd fact in and of itself, now a major 20th century economic theory with claims to validity [apparently] equal to that of market Capitalism, and Marxism should fall so completely through the cracks – it simply isn’t taught. Most people south of the 45th parallel have never heard of Social Credit including most of the non-Meme Merchant member of the audience at the Le Bruits Court performance we were attending, though Meme Merchants had encountered the concept rather late in life, noted it as an interesting concept for future research, but never got back to it.
So, now we are back to it.
Interestingly, even though Social Credit was an English invention, Canada was one of the few places to really give Douglas’s theories a go on a wide scale, even managing to create several national parties and elect deputies to national office as our song suggests. Though by 2015 as a political movement it is largely defunct and is only a memory preserved in ironic folk songs. More interestingly, for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious Social Credit Theory is generally categorized as a conservative economic movement. This leads to a double irony which is that other nationalist and conservative movements tended to bleed off membership to Social Credit parties, and particularly in Quebec the resurgence of Québécois nationalism in the ’60’s and ’70’s was kind of the death knell for Social Credit in Quebec.
Feel free to blame Chalres de Gaulle for stirring up all of the trouble – we do.
Social Credit Theory
What we really demand of existence is not that we shall be put into somebody else’s Utopia, but we shall be put in a position to construct a Utopia of our own.
~C.H. Douglas †
This leads us back around to asking what exactly is Social Credit anyway? The short answer is, we’re not completely sure, if you have never heard of Social Credit theory before, Meme Merchants aren’t too far ahead of you, but Unræd seems to be interested in taking on the project of finding out in greater detail. But here’s what we have discovered so far – at least our half baked understanding.
Maybe you can help advance our understanding in Comments.
What is interesting is that Social Credit theory seems to stand somewhere between pure market Capitalism and pure Socialism in that while on the one hand, as we see in the quote above, it is very individualistic it also recognizes the existence of a kind of collective “cultural inheritance of society,” meaning progress, the the knowledge, techniques and processes that have accrued to us that we all draw in when we are creative and productive, and that in the economic sphere all individuals have right to draw on the benefits of our cultural inheritance – and we should all pay into it.
The basis for Social Credit theory seems to have originated with C.H. Douglas’s discovery while working in the armaments establishment during the Great War that all businesses, except those actually going bankrupt, appeared to violate classical Ricardian economic principles by not fully distributing all costs as purchasing power to the producing individuals. In other words there was always, a gap between costs and payments to individuals making it impossible for workers to buy all they had produced as a group. Attempting to rectify this apparent discrepancy lead Douglas to develop Social Credit Theory. Social Credit Theory is then both an economic theory and a political program to implement that economic theory much in the Market Capitalism and Socialism have theoretical economic and practical political aspects.
Douglas believed that he had discovered several flaws in the way classical book-keeping practices value products and labor as they flow through an economy, which ultimately lead to a situation where bankers tended to believed they owned all of the wealth generated in an economy – how convenient for them. This was a fallacy and incorrect understanding of the creditary nature of money Douglas observed. This lead Douglas to the idea of aligning production, with purchasing power in a formal way. This was the foundation of the idea that became known as Social Credit. Social Credit in practice was based upon two concepts the National Dividend and Just Price.
The National Dividend was to be a payment, basically a debt-free credit, equally to all citizens in order to close the gap for all individuals between purchasing power and prices. The best analogy Unræd has come up with so far is a kind or royalty payment to all citizens from producers for the use of the common cultural heritage in a way that is analogous to the way right sharing organizations such as BMI and ASCAP distribute royalties to their members for other people drawing on the use of their protected material. In this way the cultural heritage is like a public domain that you have to pay to use, but everybody gets paid back for its use by others. Interesting idea, we’re not sure if we like it yet, but its an interesting way to look at how to value the know how of others we all ordinarily use to be productive in our individual lives.
The Just Price function of Social Credit appears to be a mechanism to prevent inflation. Douglas proposes a new way to understand inflation, which we don’t grasp completely yet, but which viewed production as a kind of consumption where the exact costs of production is the total costs of resources consumed in the production process. The Just Price was supposed to offset inflation by reducing retail prices by a percentage that represented the efficiency of the way goods were produced. As production efficiency increases the Just Price mechanism will reduce prices paid by the consumer, therefore consumers will be able to buy as much of what is produced as they need and want and automatically control how much and what is produced by the vote of their purchases. This eliminates one of the great vices that Douglas saw in Capitalism which is the tendency to force upon consumers what they neither want nor need.
Ultimately this is system is supposed to promote the individual and economic freedom that was the goal of his reforms:
They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.
† Douglas, C.H. (1933). “Major C.H. Douglas Speaks”. Sydney: Douglas Social Credit Association. p. 41.
‡Douglas, C.H. (1954). “Cover”. The Douglas Quarterly Review. The Fig Tree, New Series 1 (June) (Belfast, Northern Ireland: K.R.P. Publications, published 1954–55). Cover