Sunday, 30 November 2008

The last unicorn

This post isn't going to be a review of Chinese Democracy - or to give it its full title, Chinese Democracy (sponsored by Pro Tools). I have my opinions on the thing - something along the lines of "even though it is the sound of one man's ego galloping out of all control, there's still something oddly exhilirating about all that galloping... Possibly the most expensive comedy album ever made" - but this isn't a music blog.

Nor is it a meta-music blog, so this isn't exactly going to be a review of Chuck Klosterman's review of Chinese Democracy either; though, for the record, his opening line, "Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn", may very well be the best thing anyone's ever said in a music review. But his review does make a claim that's of direct interest to a web 2.0/internet/technology/whatever-blog like this one, namely:
Chinese Democracy is (pretty much) the last Old Media album we'll ever contemplate in this context—it's the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file.
And that's what I want to focus on.

Personally, I hope this claim doesn't quite prove true, since some artists (though perhaps not Axl Rose, it turns out) have a depth and breadth and originality to their vision that's better explored over the course of a collection of songs; in some cases, even the physical packaging the music comes in can add to the experience. Not to mention that a number of labels - Fonal, 4AD, Leaf, and many other independents - as part of their own vision, routinely produce CDs and vinyl that are beautiful and distinctive purely as objects. And perhaps for those reasons physical formats will hang on in there for some while longer - certainly as I try to reduce my annoyingly space-hogging CD collection the CDs fitting the aforementioned criteria are the ones that will remain.

But, as that last sentence also demonstrates, I can't deny that Chuck Klosterman has a point. He might be slightly premature in making it, and I can see music continuing to be delivered in some kind of physical format for as long as that physicality continues to add something; but still, when so many CDs now offer little more than an MP3 does why would you bother with that extra bit of clutter?

Chinese Democracy, though, as Klosterman says, is almost certainly immune to that concern: to Guns 'n' Roses fans it will matter as an object, out of nostalgia as much as anything; fans will want to place it alongside the CDs and vinyl they've treasured since the 80s and 90s - how aesthetically satisfying the album actually is as an object I have no idea, but for those reasons it really doesn't need to be. But if the albums of other bands, ones who aren't going to be given $14million and 14 enigmatic years to build anticipation, are going to matter as a sonic totality, it's increasingly going to take more than simply releasing them as a physical totality.

While some musicians don't create too much more than a bunch of singles and filler anyway, so downloads are probably their more natural outlet, for the rest with perhaps more to say, or a whole range of interesting ways in which to say it, and particularly for those who have yet to emerge and will thus have no existing reputation to trade and persuade on, the future looks to be a challenging place - at least, if they want to be able to have some say in how their work is experienced. Perhaps some kind of physical format will be involved - the CD as a luxury item, the package being an artwork in itself? the Buddha Machine? - but certainly it will be interesting to find out how they'll achieve it.

And perhaps they won't even want to...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Lives will be ruined, I tell you...

When I wrote a post about The Pirate's Dilemma back in March it seems I didn't quite think through the full awful implications of the book's central thesis.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still broadly in agreement that faced with present levels of piracy the content industry's most expedient and potentially profitable response certainly does seem to be competition, rather than trying to sue every pirate out of existence. In fact, as far as I can see, this attitude is increasingly becoming the mainstream - and it's precisely this which has me concerned, the ominously increasing availability of entirely legal free content [shudders].

Already there's free content all over the internet, of course, and there has been for ages. Some of it (broadly) legal - YouTube, Project Gutenberg, MySpace, for instance - and some of it not so much - TV Links, The Pirate Bay, the original Napster. But these all came with drawbacks - risk, clunkiness, restrictions, age of content, complete illegality, long download times, ratio of fame-hungry teenagers lip-synching to pop music in their bedrooms to actual entertainment. If there was something you wanted to see/read/listen to you had to make an effort to do so, you had to weigh up whether the risks/inconvenience were worth the bother, filter the quality from the dreck.

My point?

With so many services now either already available, or on the not-so-distant horizon, all designed to make catching and finding the content you want to see or hear not only legal but also free and easy - the iPlayer, 4oD, ITV on demand, actual proper movies hitting YouTube in the near future, Project Kangaroo, Hulu, the list goes on - what, I ask, and this is the crux of my objections, are we of weak wills supposed to do, eh? Has anyone thought about that? No.

The dark, inescapable void of procrastination this is all about to open up in so many lives (or, OK, possibly just mine) doesn't even bear thinking about... 

There used to be so many disincentives, sigh. So many... [shakes head nostalgically]

(Yes, I know, I'll just have to be more self-disciplined, probably. But still, it's bloody annoying - when I got rid of my telly I really didn't expect it to spend the next few years slowly and relentlessly stalking me, like the zombie it so often used to turn me into, all the way to the bloody internet. Harrumph).

Europeana, the European digital library, museum, and archive was launched yesterday... and is now offline until mid-December, having received far too much interest to cope with (10 million hits per hour).

How great is that?

Not only that I get a reprieve from losing myself in yet another free site for at least another few weeks, but that quite so many people were interested in a project like that. Brilliant :)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Write or Die

Don't worry, that wasn't an ultimatum, just the name of a new internet widgety thing that someone called Doctor Wicked* has helpfully created for those of us among the writing professions who seem to be eternally governed by Newton's lesser known Third-and-a-bit Law: "For every action there is an equal and opposite procrastination."

Click on the link above and you'll be taken to somewhere that will force you to write - through negative reinforcement. Essentially, if you stop writing for a pre-set (or random) amount of time, regrettable things happen (though not death; unless you happen to be terminally allergic to babies crying, fairly-slowly-flashing colours, your words disappearing one-by-one, etc.). Want to stop the regrettable things? Write. Couldn't be simpler.

Of course, I can't guarantee that with your heart racing and your mind going, "Eek! Think of something! Quick!", that you'll write anything that won't need endless editing - my trial 10-minute session yielded only some old nonsense about hippos and hoppos meeting on the African savannah and giving birth to rap - but the experience was oddly compelling. And, hey, a page of something to edit is better than nothing (though I'll probably leave the hippos and hoppos to their own devices - samplers, and record decks, probably).

I'll certainly be giving it another go.

But, erm, perhaps I won't start on the 'Evil' setting next time...

WARNING: the option to copy to clipboard when you navigate away from the page didn't seem to work for me (using Firefox 3), so if you do use this for something you don't want to lose, probably best to copy it manually before clicking 'Done'.

*may not be an actual doctor, or wicked. Treat all advice accordingly.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Times past?

Before posting this YouTube video I should probably have written something about the internet as a publicity tool for new filmmakers, or something like that - you know, just to tie it in with this blog's general theme of Web 2.0/marketing/technology/etc...

But to be honest it's been done before and really I just wanted to post a funny video. So here's a superbly observed little 'mockumentary' I happened to see at the Cornwall Film Festival yesterday (watch in full-screen, or you'll miss something at around 8:44):


More details of the director, Ashley Wing, plus another longer movie, can be found here.


While searching for the above I found something else by the same director. It's short and touching, and, despite the contrast, as I happened to find it today, Remembrance Day, it seemed fitting to post this too: