David Bowie released a single

David Bowie, rockstar, celebrated his birthday this morning by releasing the single for his first new album in over ten years.  The album is scheduled to come out, according to Wikipedia,on March 12th in the United States,  March 8th in Australia, March 11th everywhere else. The album is called The Next Dayand the single is called "Where are we now?"

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOyDTy9DtHQ]

That's the news.  On to the personal stuff:  This is weird.

I mean, it's not weird for Bowie.  This actually seems pretty tame compared to, like, Ziggy Stardust.   But the last time David Bowie came out with something new was 2003.  I was 14 at the time -- I barely knew what music was.  I certainly didn't know how significant David Bowie was, or how much I was eventually going to like him.

So this is the first time I've ever been around for the actual, present moment of David Bowie, like, happening in real life.  And I'm here for it on the day. I'm a fairly skeptical person, but this is one of those kinds of events that one's brain just refuses not to interpret as significant.

So, yes, I am absolutely buying the new David Bowie album on March 12th.

3D printed record

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing has posted a video of a record -- it doesn't look like it's actually made of vinyl, but still -- that was printed with a 3D printer, and actually plays.  (Kind of badly.  I mean, I'm really enjoying watching and listening to it, but that's more because I'm amazed at the technology than that it's a particularly faithful replication of the sound.)

I'm waiting for the way when taking a snapshot of a vinyl disc can be the first step toward deriving its audio content, converting that back to a shapefile, and printing out a high-fidelity duplicate.

[Video source] [Instructables page on making 3D printed records]

Gangnam Style passed 1 billion views

Gangnam Style passed 1 billion views today.  YouTube even made a special  gif for it, dancing next to the view counter.  (For some reason, it won't let me insert the gif into the post, so you'll have to go to the video and hope it's still there.) That's about one view for every seven people on earth.  I mean, obviously it's not exactly that, because it's been more often seen by the same people over and over again than it's been seen by new people, but still.

To celebrate, here's a link and an embed to the most popular song on the internet:

I have submitted to the Album Challenge

I wrote about WriteWorld's Album Challenge early this month, when I had just declared my album choice -- "Get Better" by Lemuria.  I have since listened to that album so much that I've learned it by heart.  Fortunately, Lemuria is an awesome band. Today, I posted my entry.  It's here, on my tumblr, all in one piece.  I also posted it in a series of pages on this site, to (a.) give it a more permanent home, (b.) embed YouTube videos to the relevant songs for each chapter, and (c.) separate it into different pages for each chapter -- a format that was against the rules for the official submission.  Here is the link to start reading that one.

I'm pretty happy with how this story came out.  But, thinking back, I've been pretty happy with the outcome of some really terrible stories in the past.  Stories that I couldn't re-read, because they made me feel awful about myself.  So, I don't know how I'll feel about this by New Year's.

If you read it, I hope you like it.

WriteWorld's Album Challenge

There's a cool writing challenge going on at WriteWorld's tumblr!  It's called the Album Challenge, and entrants are tasked to write a coherent work which is closely inspired by a single album.  Each separate part of the story must correspond to one of the songs on the album, in order, and include only and all the songs on the album you've chosen. I picked Get Better by Lemuria, because I know I like Lemuria's style, based on the song Buzz, but I haven't listened to that album before so I'm coming at it with a fresh mind.

I'm doing this because I find I have a lot of trouble pushing myself to create full, self-contained narrative works without some particular purpose in mind, and that seriously hinders my ability to just sort of dick around with writing, which is a problem because just writing stuff is how you practice writing and I won't get any better if I don't do stuff like this.

So I figure competitions are a good way to get myself into that (they come with prompts and deadlines) and the Album Challenge one looks like loads of fun.  I'll be up online when I'm done with it, by the end of this month.  And if you want to enter, the rules are at that link above, and the only requirements are that you name your album before submitting your entry, and you turn in the final product before September 1st.

The Oatmeal's "The State of the Music Industry"

The Oatmeal, one  of the better social commentary comics on the internet, posted a comic today about the past, present, and future of the music industry.  It's funny, pithy, and broadly accurate.  And because I love sucking the humor out of things with analysis[1. For the record, I don't actually think that analyzing a joke or drawing serious conclusions from it actually damages the humor of the joke -- unless it was a bad joke, in which case it might have depended upon the biases or false beliefs of the audience, and deserves to be punctured.], I want to talk about it. Make sure you actually read the comic.  Analysis below the fold.

Panel 1:

This is definitely an accurate view of the record industry around the time of CDs.  I'm not sure it was a long enough time to justify calling it "A very long time," but that's a very long semantic argument and prior to Napster the record industry was a highly stratified, artistically stifling system.

Panel 2:

I have no objections to this one.

Panel 3:

This "Now" is very accurate, and highlights all of the major ways distributors make a profit on their platforms via artists' content.  The big institutions may make a lot less -- YouTube is popularly rumored to run at a loss[2. I hear it all the time, but I'm having a surprising amount of trouble finding any firsthand sources.  The closest I get is that Google is very tight-lipped about how their profit breaks down, so YouTube might actually be profitable now.] -- and the artists are still making almost nothing.

Panel 4:

This is the one that made me want to pick it apart.  Because this panel is a dramatic oversimplification -- and I want to unpick why, because I agree with the comic's message in almost every respect.

In this excellent Tumblr post, Mike Doughty unpacks the important role that labels play in making bands happen, using Radiohead as an example.  John Green follows it up with the same argument, for publishers.  And a lot of the people in the music economy argument want to avoid acknowledging the fact that labels add real value to the artists' work -- connecting them with producers, putting them in expensive recording studios, and giving them massive loans that allow them to build their careers through touring.

Broadly speaking, the labels aren't using these powers for good.  They control the kinds of music that the artists can make, and they use the cost of touring to create a sort of indentured servitude -- the band may be getting paid ridiculous amounts of money, but they're technically the ones paying for all the tours.  (I read an article years ago explaining all this in some detail, but am finding it very difficult to find.)

Like any other kind of work, artistic work is not an endeavor one embarks upon alone.  Extraordinary acts of musicianship require extraordinary resources, and if those resources are distributed solely on an individual artist's ability to sell themselves we're not going to get the best possible music.

It's good that the labels are dying, and it's good that individual musicians can now empower themselves on the internet.  But we need some kind of institution system, possibly collective artist-owned groups, that can give individual artists resources that have an initial cost greater than the potential profitability of their work.

The Arrogant Worms: If Everyone Had A Gun

In the wake of all the gun-related news lately, I remembered a song I liked in High School, the Arrogant Worms's Wouldn't It Be Great if Everyone Had A Gun?  This appears to be a more recent filming of it, and points out the absurdity to the argument that more guns = less gun violence.

Def Leppard's badass music negotiation

(via Boing Boing) The way record labels treat bands is notoriously awful, and has only gotten worse since the advent of iTunes.  At least one band, Def Leppard, has come up with a way around their horribleness.

"Our contract is such that they can't do anything with our music without our permission, not a thing. So we just sent them a letter saying, 'No matter what you want, you are going to get "no" as an answer, so don't ask.' That's the way we've left it. We'll just replace our back catalog with brand new, exact same versions of what we did." [says frontman Joe Elliott]

Unfortunately, not all bands have this sway, not all bands have the resources to re-record their back-catalogue, and not all bands have the established fanbase that would support this kind of move.  But in the cases where it's possible, it's good to see bands standing up to the labels.

A few days ago, John Green reposted on his tumblr an article about the necessity of labels -- or the particular ways in which labels encourage a diversity of music.  I like to think I'm sensitive to those arguments, and I definitely agree with John's point that books are made tangibly better by the institution of publishing that surrounds them.

I believe that can also be true for musicians, and there are a lot of ways I know it is true.  But the balance of the deal right now is seriously screwed up.  Something needs to be done about it, and however nebulous that 'something' is, stands like the one Def Leppard has taken are steps toward pushing the labels into becoming something new.

I hope, anyway.

DarwinTunes: musical evolution

(via SciShow) Researchers have created a music generation program called Darwin Tunes, at a website which allows its users to vote on segments of sound -- the most popular ones are randomly interbred with the other most popular ones, and the least popular ones go extinct.

The result has been aesthetically pleasing songs produced, essentially, by evolutionary processes.

The loops I'm listening to as I write this post are very cool, and sound pretty much like what I'd expect to come out of computers and geeks evolving music to survive in the environment of their aesthetic taste.  It's some of the most easily evocative music I've ever heard -- I have no trouble feeling immersed in the mental images created by the song, and it feels like a combination of green, watery nature in morning light, and a certain amount of retro digital vector graphics.  (Maybe that will make sense if you listen to the loops.)

I think this might be my new blogging music.