How music got its groove back. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 6.
DANCING IN THE STREET
Lately, we’ve been focusing on the music industry a lot, what with all the massive tectonic shifts it’s undergoing. Artists big and small are sticking it to the Big Label Man, anyone from big-leaguers like Madonna and Radiohead to indie mavericks like Ghost Away and Jill Sobule.
The latest shaker: cult British 90’s trip-hop getup Portishead just released their first album in 11 years, Third, exclusively on Last.fm on April 21, where it could be streamed for free until its official release today. (You may also recall our fervent raves about Last.fm and our early predictions of its revolution potential.)
PORTISHEAD – Hunter
It’s the very first exclusive for the social networking music site. But even more interestingly, Portishead was also the very first artist to join Last.fm’s catalog, with their track Cowboys as the first one to ever be played on Last.fm when the site went live in 2002.
And here’s the fascinating thing: traditionally, the music industry has employed an event-based model with album launches, where the launch is heavily promoted and positioned as an object of anticipation by sending the album out to music critics and reviewers well in advance, building up solid media hype. Then, that the record label and retailer can monetize this by pricing the anticipated new release much higher than other stuff.
Recently, in an excellent piece for Wired, the Talking Heads’ David Byrne and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke tackled the current business model, probing the capacity for change. And we think this Portishead/Last.fm move is tell-tale sign of days to come, where artists use new media and the power of the social web to promote, publish and eventually distribute their work, creating a loop of self-sufficiency that not only puts the fans first, but also completely circumvents the red tape of the Big Labels model.
The one, the only: Mad Magazine. What greater icon of American humor, political satire and pop culture commentary? The cult pub has been making waves since 1952, but some of its most recognized cultural contributions remain Al Jaffee’s infamous fold-ins.
Now, thanks to The New York Times, they’re available in interactive form, from 1960 to the present. And if there ever was a question of whether history repeats itself, this makes the answer loud and clear: most of the fold-ins are just as relevant today as they were decades ago, liberating history from its own confines.
Take the 1968 election year, when Nixon and Humphrey threw it down like there was no tomorrow, in the midst of a highly politicized war. Forty years later, the atrocities of another war are “turning our stomachs,” and a new generation is just as conflicted about a new war in an equally politically charged climate.
The entertainment business doesn’t seem to have changed for the better, either. In the year of the $2.7 million 30-second Super Bowl commercial, Jaffee’s snark resonates all the more powerfully.
See the full collection for a hefty slurp of history’s irony cocktail.
Say what you will of the music industry’s demise, but all this commotion has actually propelled the evolution and diversification of the “indie” music scene. No longer is it all garage bands and acoustic pop and stale teen angst.
Case in point: indie up-and-comer Ghost Away. Their unique brand of alternative sound blends brilliantly sombre vocals with electrically charged instrumentals, fusing in beats that will both hypnotize you and make you wanna move. The getup is part Radiohead, part Junior Boys, part Battles, part something else entirely.
GHOST AWAY – SLOWDRIFT
Siberia, their debut album, is out this week. And as if to claim their place in the music business revolution going on these days, they’re launching the album as a free download. Talk about the ultimate self-publishing empowerment of today’s new media freeconomy — it cost the band close to nothing to record, produce and distribute the album (except, of course, hours of sweat and blood in the studio), and now it’s costing you nothing to experience it.
Get it now and get ready to dance the toldja so dance when Ghost Away make that Rolling Stone cover.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Speaking of self-publishing empowerment, we love Scribd: the document-sharing online library that takes information exchange and collaboration to a whole new level. It’s simple: you can upload any docs you like — Microsoft Office stuff, PDF’s, PostScript, OpenOffice, and more — and make them available to the world.
Similarly, you can search and access millions of documents other people uploaded.
Besides offering free unlimited storage (seriously?!), Scribd is the ultimate tool for self-publishing and reaching a wide audience. People use it for anything from backing up office documents, to storing and sharing photo albums, to publishing e-books and indie ‘zines, to collaborating on music chords and more.
And just when you think they couldn’t possibly give you more, there’s Scribd iPaper — a platform that lets you quickly integrate files from Scribt into a website, and you don’t even have to know code. Think of it as embeds on steroids.
In our humble opinion, Scribt is just the tip of the collaborative future iceberg, where information becomes the new social currency and the digitization of data builds a tremendously powerful communal pool of knowledge.
So go ahead, free yourself from the confines of static and introverted desktop software.
ALONG FOR THE RIDE
After last week’s French fusion of documentary and raw indie music, the empire strikes back: we’ve got a British sequel.
The Black Cab Sessions, a Just So Films initiative, shares a similar point of view, namely that venues strip music of its essence. So the project employs a simple concept: for each “session,” an indie band or artist hops in the back of a black cab and plays a song filmed in a single shot, which is then uploaded — completely unedited — for the world to see.
Currently on chapter thirty-five, The Black Cab Sessions have sported some of the best of the The’s, and then some — The Ravonettes, The Kooks, The New Pornographers, Cold War Kids, Spoon, and much, much more.
Our only question: where does the cab actually go?
What is art if not the talent of looking at the mundane and seeing the extraordinary? Sculptor David Mach has just this sort of rare gift. He takes everyday objects like coat hangers, matchsticks and Scrabble pieces, turning them into sculptures, collages and installations that speak artistically, socially and politically.
Mach as been crafting his exquisite matchstick head sculptures and signature wire coat-hanger statues since the early 80’s. But, like a true artist, he spends more time concepting and crafting than tinkering with his new website and uploading visuals. Luckily, you can see the full breadth of his work on the archived old website.
We also dig the passion with which he stands behind his creative vision: Mach speaks freely of the great projects that never happened, which you can find in his Proposals section.
A particularly regrettable non-realization: Sound Wave, a gigantic tidal wave sculptured out of 250 upright pianos, which he conceived for the 25th anniversary of London’s Albert Hall. We feel your pain, Dave, we feel your pain.
WORD MEETS IMAGE, THEY MATE
You may recall the super nifty PicLens from a couple of months ago. Now, we bring you the next big thing in image search: the Flickr Related Tag Browser. The ridiculously sleek app does just what the name implies: lets you search Flickr images by tag, but does it visually in a way that halves the process and doubles the joy of it.
When you do a search, you get a collage of images tagged with that word, but you also get a tag cloud of contextually relevant images. It’s like the app thinks one step ahead for you and generating your next related keyword. You can click each tag in the cloud to sample the resulting images with another collage that pops up in the center.
You can keep scrolling through image results right there in the center collage, or you blow up a specific image thumbnail for a closer look. From there, you can either keep browsing the thumbnails if the image is no good, or click straight through to its Flickrs page to snag it.
The app is the work of freelance interactive designer Felix Turner, a Flash whiz who helped build the now-ubiquitous Brightcove video players.
This week’s Untrivia is a different take on data, inspired by a new branch of the “found objects” art genre. We like to call these new digital artists “binary sculptors” — because the found “objects” are sets and patterns of mined data that they use much in the way traditional sculptors use mined ore, transforming the raw material into compelling visual art.
One such remarkable binary sculptor is artist and real-time visual performer Paul Prudence, who uses a software called Daub to project the digital data of a video stream onto a “brush” moving in 3D space, creating a neo-surrealist morphing mesh.
And speaking of video streams and data, it seems like Prudence won’t be out of raw material anytime soon. In February alone, Americans viewed 10.1 billion online videos, up 66% from last year. The average time spent watching web video that month? 204 minutes.
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