We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night.

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

…well, I don’t think Laurence Lessig will ever say good night. Not at this rate anyway.

I could stick this up on a del.icio.us link (over there –>>), but I thought it worthy of a post. So if you have forty-five minutes or so to spare, I’d say you could do a hell of a lot worse than go and watch Laurence’s speech from last week’s 23rd Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. If you’re in a hurry, or have never watched LL speak before, either just grab the start for a taste, or skip to around 43m in to get the summary, but if you can spare the time, try and catch the lot, including the grilling he gets at the end of the Q&A (was that John Gilmore asking the last question?) - it’s great to see that there’s some very interesting new (at least to me) insights within the presentation that indicate Laurence’s current sabbatical away from his professorial role at Stanford is doing him a considerable amount of good. Or maybe it’s the just the fine German beer… ;) Either way, it’s the first worthy watch of 2007.

(via BoingBoing.)


Tomorrow Never Knows

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

Some of you may be aware that there is a Beatles authorised Cirque Du Soleil show, “Love”, recently opened in Las Vegas.

Now, regardless of what you think about Blockbuster shows such as this, it’s amazing to find out that for the soundtrack of the show, Sir George Martin and his son Giles, with the blessing of McCartney, Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, have mashed themselves up to provide the soundtrack.

…Mr. Starr’s childlike “Octopus’s Garden” gets a fantastic restructuring that begins with the string introduction to “Good Night” and then places Mr. Starr’s vocal, unaccompanied, in a foggy ambience (using effects from “Yellow Submarine” and drums from “Lovely Rita”) before the full band kicks into the more familiar arrangement. And a juxtaposition of the drum figure from “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the vocal line from “Within You, Without You” creates a link between those mystical songs, recorded nearly nine months apart…

Now, we’ve never used The Beatles as source material for private reasons, but I thought it worth congratulating every remixer and producer that has – I bet none of you thought you’d end up actually influencing the authorised output of the band themselves, did you?

It will be interesting to hear the soundtrack album when it arrives, no doubt, but in the meantime, I can’t think of a higher and more convincing justification of the benefits of remix culture.

All I have to do is…

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

News comes down the Yahoo wire of the launch of a new website, DreamMusician, which is offering pay-downloads of well-known songs that have been stripped of individual musical parts (say minus the drums, bass, guitar or maybe even vocals), or even to purchase those individual parts in isolation or “packs” containing all the individual parts of a song.

The initial bunch of tracks, seemingly all licenced from Universal, are available for $2 each, and are offered in Windows Media Audio format. (DM claim that Mac compatibility will be addressed in the very near future).

Tracks are also currently only available for residents of Canada, and apparently the US, although no mention of this is made on the DM frontpage. On navigating through, we found that track download sales are managed by another site called Puretracks, but we were unable to get any further than a default message which blocked our progress (assumedly because of our location), so we couldn’t view a list of available tracks and parts. However both the DM site’s FAQ page and Puretracks site state that the tracks would be DRM encoded.

Whilst on the surface this looks like a very interesting idea indeed, the main focus of the site seems to be presenting the tracks as a kind of “Deluxe Karaoke”, allowing musicians to jam or sing along with the real versions of tunes (a ploy which has already been used successfully in the Karaoke world by Singing Machine, who offer a range of karaoke CDs using original backing tracks of classic Motown tunes). We reckon that the novelty of playing along to a piano-less version of “What’s Going On”, or a guitar-less version of “Achy Breaky Heart” (well, whatever floats your boat, y’know) will pale considerably after a few goes, but what do we know? It still might be worth $2 a pop, and the company, naturally, envisions large expansion of their range, and could eventually offer the same service for an enormous range of current and classic tunes.

However, us being us, we think the real long term use of breaking down the tracks and supplying acapellas, solo parts and instrumentals will be for personal remix use (and maybe this could be a long term, as-yet-unspoken goal of the site), but so far, the only direct music copyright comment on the site is a “Message from the Founders” on the site’s homepage, which states that:

“We respectfully ask you to join us in honoring the copyrights and creative works provided to us by our artists and labels. All music is for non-commercial use only.”

There is also a link to a longer copyright text at the base of the homepage. This text mainly concerns itself with the actual content of the DM site and their trademarks, although it does state that the user is unable to, amongst other things, “…adapt, modify, rewrite, create derivative works from, transfer…” anything on the site. (Regardless of that, the actual downloads are held on a separate site, PureTracks, and as we couldn’t get into PureTracks, we don’t know what other terms may be imposed before purchase).

Notwithstanding the site small-print, this “Message” still seems a very vague comment indeed, and could be open to a variety of interpretations – are they really saying that someone could, for example, make a new version of a track or remix using their purchased parts and, say, copy it onto CD for their friends or publish it on their website for free? (“non-commercial”) Surely not. (After all, we’re told we can’t “…adapt, modify, rewrite, create derivative works from, transfer…” etc. anything from the site.)

Well, actually in their FAQ they do helpfully suggest that the Windows Media DRM can be circumnavigated by burning the tracks to CD and then re-importing them into your computer, converting them to MP3 and sticking them on your iPod. Although it kinda defeats the point of having it in the first place, the DRM is most likely a condition placed upon DM by the rights holders to allow them to use the tracks in the first place, so it’s very kind of DM to let customers know that the DRM shouldn’t stand in the way of anyone getting the full use out of their purchased downloads! (regardless of any other stated restrictions stopping customers from attempting to “…adapt, modify, rewrite, create derivative works from, transfer…”, eh?)

Having to copy purchases to CD and back again would particularly come into play when dealing with the “packs of tracks” – I can’t think of many (if any) audio utilities that will allow loading of DRM-ed WMA files into a multitrack setting (Anyone know any better?), and regardless of that, the use of a compressed format would make re-synching the tracks very difficult, as tiny variations in the lengths of silent parts of tracks introduced during the encoding process (particularly at the start and end) tend to easiily render them out of sync (as anyone that’s dealt with the problem of synching up MP3 parts offered in remix competitions will be aware).

Anyway, hey, as the parts aren’t intended for remix in the first place, it’s a minor quibble, and it probably won’t be much of a concern to DM.

Still, it will be interesting to see how the site develops, for sure…

PS Anyone in the US or Canada that fancies trying to (or already has) get into the Puretracks site and reporting back their findings to us would be appreciated; please get in touch if you fancy a dig on our behalf. It’s not that we want to do anything with the contents (with our reputation? hemhem…), we’re just curious about the terms of purchase and the DRM before we dust off our axes, honest!!

I’ll be waiting here, with my arms unfurled…

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Well, maybe not literally. Chances are my arms will have furled right back by then, and I’ll be asleep, but I wanted to change the top-post so it wasn’t so moody as the one below, as, thanks to Alex’s comment on the last post (cheers, El Duderino), we’ve just realised we’ve been linked on the Blogger homepage.

Shit, I thought we had a bunch of really chatty readers all of a sudden.

Anyway, as this is kind of a functional blog, more than a chatty, you’ll never guess what I saw today blog, or a you’ll never guess what I found on the net today blog, or a pay attention and listen to me and my opinions you assholes sort of blog, that I should skim up a introduction / reminder for you new free-clicking people.

We’re The Kleptones. We live here and we make new sounds out of other people’s old sounds. Sorta. Kind of like The Wombles do with trash, but better and infinitely more listenable. There’s tons of downloads and stuff. You’ll probably hate it, but you will undoubtedly know someone who will be blown away when you send them the link, and will forever think of you as a zeitgeist surfer deluxe. Really.

Thanks for stopping by, anyway, Mum, and I’ll ring you tomorrow, promise.

No egg meat today.

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

As he was a lifelong member of the Noise Abatement Society, I’m quite sure that Ivor Cutler, of all people, will rest in peace.

As one of the many often left spellbound by the appearence of his quiet, thoughtful and absurd stories and songs alongside the clatter and boom of John Peel’s show over the years, I must gently whisper, “Thank you, Mr.Cutler”.

I’ll leave you with this thought.
No, I won’t.
It would not be fair.

Ivor Cutler – “No, I Won’t”

The right thing at the right time

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

Here’s a couple of recent articles that are too excellent to avoid a quick mention. I don’t like to use this blog just to recycle links usually (check out the links section of the website to see a range of blogs and sites that may arouse you, if you’re so inclined), but these are really great reads.

First up is Kevin Kelly’s excellent summation of the web so far in Wired, “We Are The Web” – once past the clunky title (which can’t help but bring to mind a cacophonous chorus of charidee-minded bloggers turned pop stars), there’s a wonderful summation of the web wide world so far that charts it’s history and shows how most regular people came to end up wrapped and enraptured in it.

Second up (via BoingBoing) is Scott Kleper’s (good name!) “Introduction to Copyfighting” , a brief but informative introduction to the current online war of intellectual property rights. If you’ve ever wondered about the legal side of what we do, and what a lot of other similar types are doing (and, indeed, have already done), this is a great primer.

Is this the real life? or is this just fantasy…

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

…well, apparently not. In one of those moments that makes it seem like your whole world has just gone and eaten itself (and ended up looking a bit like a haggis), news reaches us that The Flaming Lips have just completed recording a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” for a future Queen tribute compilation album.

No, I am not making this up.

If any of you weren’t on our Xmas card mailing list, you will have missed our little tribute to the wonder that is “Bo Rhap”, so in honour of this excellent, if somewhat disturbing news, I’ve stuck it up again here.

Personally, I’m just a teeny weeny bit miffed that we never got asked to get involved… I wonder why? I mean, they must have got the idea from somewhere


Be constructive with your blues…

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Interesting piece from Andrew O’Hagen in the telegraph.

“Sometimes winning is just another name for conforming to a glaring expectation. Losing is a virtue too little regarded as a motor of artistic invention.

A fine point, at least in music, as in one respect, generations of country balladeers, blueswailers and torch singers will testify. In another respect, see the multitude of bands who “used to be known as” – the latest English example being the Kaiser Chiefs, who had their previous (“Parva”) incarnation’s hopes cruelly flushed down the pan when their label went kaput just after they’d recorded their debut album. However, they’ve managed to turn their depressions and furies around and are now having the last laugh. “I Predict A Riot”, indeed.

“How un-American, I know, but there’s something to be said… for looking in the eye of a rival and knowing you are lost. Art can begin there too. “No matter,” wrote Samuel Beckett. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Amen to that.

I don’t understand how a heart is a spade…

Tuesday, February 8th, 2005

It’s always good when a skim of blogs and newspaper sites reveal a common topic, and today has been a bumper harvest, so here’s a few links to some rather interesting points of view:

First up there’s this article in the Guardian by composer John Woolrich about ignoring musical categories. One sentence sticks out beautifully:

“Many people are hungry for anything that sounds a bit different, uses sound in a new way and sets itself apart from the naked consumerism of commercial pop.”

Common sense to some, maybe, but it’s always good to see it written about with such enthusiasm, especially from one who probably has very little interest in the week-to-week changes of fashion and taste that usually blight newspaper music journalism.

Onto the permanently outspoken Victor Stone at Virtual Turntable, who, not content with having just completed an excellent five part series debunking many myths and giving many splendid pointers about music composition, now picks up the ongoing discussion about the pros and cons of signing the “big record deal”, initially in response to an article on Brad Sucks, which itself was a comment on an Ask Metafilter thread, and then carries it back to his own site, the better to state his case.

(If you’re digging through this and are interested, or have never read them, don’t fail to check out Steve Albini’s “The Problem With Music” and both of Courtney Love’s speeches (one, two) that are referenced within the above links – although now both a few years old, these articles eloquently target the perpetual problems that still exist in the ol’ Music Biz – Eye-peeling reading for the uninitiated, indeed).

And finally move on to the February 3rd entry in David Byrne’s always interesting diary (there’s no date direct link – move to a proper blog format, David, please ;), wherein he ruminates about the current stateside success of The Arcade Fire, wonders how they’ll do in their soon-come major label ping-pong game, and ends up relating a discussion with his young daughter about the idea behind “intelllectual property”.

Phew. For one day’s skimming, that’s a mighty potent, and highly inspiring bunch of opinions and attitudes.

No further comment from me needed, I think.

Buzzness As Usual

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Now it might be old web hat to some of you, but discovering the recent growth in word-of-mouth marketing agencies is a little trippy to me.

(There was apparently an article about this in last Sunday’s New York Times, but I can’t find it online – if anyone knows where it is, please leave a link in the comments. Ta.)

For the uninitiated, have a look at Bzzagent, which pretty much sums up the deal. Okay, loads of people have set up street teams and stuff like that, ways to help bands and suchlike get some (usually much needed) free ground support, but the idea that people are now setting up agencies where you sign up and when something they think you might like comes along they give it to you in return for you going round and showing your friends how cool it is is setting a pretty dangerous precident, don’tcha think?

Now, I’m not a fan of guerilla advertising in any form whatsoever (wow, Eric, you surprise us). I’m firmly in the Bill Hicks camp on that one. (“Anyone here who works in advertising? Go home and shoot yourself. No really, I mean that. Go home and do it.”)

So, Bzzagent’s site states “You only join campaigns for products you like”, and Womma’s site rails against people already trying to discredit their system online by pointing out that “We have long maintained that ‘seeding’ has a corrosive effect on the integrity of the web…”, but this all leaves a hella bad taste in the mouth. Especially coming from marketing companies (like, duh, it’s their job to convince you, maan). There are already enough people posting fake reviews, dummy blogs etc… without stuff like this to contend with. And to make matters worse, Bzzagent seem to be directing themselves at a reasonably huge and rather vulnerable group of people: people who want to be way cool, but somehow, because of whatever insecurity they suffer from, don’t think that they are.

As their Bzzagent of the month puts it on the front page of the site:

“I have no idea at times what is current or new. But with Bzz I have an edge almost. I can talk to my friends about some new cool things that I would not usually even venture out and even look at.”

(It’s the “almost” that gets me there)

Now, stuff like this has been going on for years behind the scenes – backhanders, payola, freebies, goodie bags, call it what you want – but to bring stuff like this out in the open I think will have serious consequences for many different kinds of community, not just online. How can you trust anyone at all? If someone tells me about some new music, even if it’s good, I want to believe that they’ve passed it on to me because they feel it, and they want to share it, not because once they’ve written up my reaction to it and passed it back to their agency (without my permission, hemhem), they’ll earn brownie points and gift vouchers.

As this article in the Concorde Monitor demonstrates, The Monitor received several reviews of books and printed them, only to later find out they’d been Bzzed. Even though the review author claims he genuinely liked the books, The Monitor knows they cannot print advertiser-backed content without stating where it comes from and who’s funding it. And that’s just one person who copped to it. What about all the others who haven’t?

“Word-of-mouth is the most credible and trusted form of advertising, especially in the internet age,” say Womma. Yeah, seems like a bit of fun, a way of getting freebies, maybe earning a little cash, getting to think you’re “cool” and still thinking you retain your integrity.

But if this is where it starts, where the hell is it going to end up? David Byrne (December 6 post) makes some typically elegant connections in his online diary that make for interesting reading, and shows that what was once a nightmarish future-scenario is edging nearer and nearer to reality.

How long before less scrupulous agencies spring-up? Or less scrupulous agents? How long before “Womma-free” banner ads start appearing in people’s blogs?

Considering pretty much everyone that has ever visited this site or downloaded any of our tracks has ended up doing it because of word-of mouth, like I said, it leaves a bad taste.

But, hey, when I have a bad taste in my mouth, I always reach for my Breathezee minty gel caps to keep my breath minty fresh. Why don’t you try some? I have some right here in my pocket. Go on… have one.

I’m sure you’ll like them.