Song Science, Part II: Fact and Fiction?

Glenn Otis Brown, March 11th, 2004

Matt’s post earlier today about Hit Song Science, a piece of software that uses algorithms to analyze songs to predict their likelihood of success in the market, reminded me of a favorite imaginative bit in Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections, which was a big hit a couple years ago:

. . . Brian spent his executive afternoons noodling around with computer code . . . and writing a piece of software that in the fullness of time he quietly patented, quietly found a VC backer for, and one day, on the advice of this backer, quietly sold to the W Corporation for $19,500,000.

Brian’s product, called Eigenmelody, processed any piece of recorded music into an eigenvector that distilled the song’s tonal and melodic essence into discrete, manipulable coordinates. An Eigenmelody user could select a favorite Moby song, and Eigenmelody would spectroanalyze her choice, search a recorded-music database for songs with similar eigenvectors, and produce a list of kindred sounds that the user might otherwise have never found . . . . Eigenmelody was a parlor game, musicological tool, and record-sales-enhancer rolled into one.

Franzen’s fictional concept sounds more feasible and useful than Hit Song Science’s, but the parallels are interesting.

Separate point: I remember reading Franzen’s passage and thinking what an interesting dilemma for a novelist to have: If you come up with a great, compelling idea for an invention, do you pursue it in your art, or in real life?

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SF Weekly

Press Robot, March 11th, 2004

Polishing the Brass” by Garrett Kamps

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Lawrence Lessig talk in NYC next week

Matt Haughey, March 11th, 2004

Creative Commons co-founder and chairman Lawrence Lessig will be giving a talk entitled “Creativity and Its Enemies” next week. The event will take place on March 23rd at Buttenwieser Hall, 92nd Street at Lexington, in New York City. It’s a part of an ongoing series sponsored by Wired Magazine.

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Building the perfect hit song

Matt Haughey, March 11th, 2004

This is interesting news for musicians — you know how some songs are really catchy and you wonder if the hooks could be engineered to make people like the song? A company called Polyphonic HMI has created software they call “Hit Song Science” which is supposed to contain algorithms that determine if a song is likely to be a hit. The company is touting their first attempt at using HSS in the marketplace as a success. [via furdlog]

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Whiteboarding as Art?

Glenn Otis Brown, March 10th, 2004

I’m at the Institute for the Future today for the Future of Cooperation Expert Colloqium. (I’m in favor of the future, and cooperation, as it happens, so it’s a good fit.)

One of the many interesting things I’ve learned about today is “visual journalism,” which you could also call “whiteboarding for posterity.” Eileen Clegg, who is memorializing this meeting with visual journalism, told me about a series of brainstorm-murals she created to sum up a big-thinkers symposium at IBM this fall. The images are all CC-licensed, right there on the IBM website. Check out the mural that resulted from a session led by Berkeley’s Hal Varian.

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Magnatune gets to blogging

Matt Haughey, March 10th, 2004

John Buckman, creator and head of the non-evil, Creative Commons friendly music label Magnatune has started his own blog. A recent gem is the exchange his wife had with a music executive at an industry conference. Great stuff.

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Mainstreaming of mash-ups

Matt Haughey, March 10th, 2004

At the tail end of last night’s broadcast of ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, they did a short piece on music mash-ups (video only available to ABCnews premium subscribers).

There’s an interview with Mitch Butler and he does a live mash-up demo of Eminem’s Without Me laid over Scott Joplin’s ragtime piano classics. ABCnews also covers the DJ Dangermouse’s Grey Album controversy. Unfortunately, the piece characterizes all mash-ups as completely illegal and alludes to people using PCs and audio software as potentially doing great harm to the music industry.

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Creative Commons at DSpace

Mike Linksvayer, March 10th, 2004

Ben Adida, one of our technical advisors, will be talking about Creative Commons at the DSpace User Meeting on Thursday morning at MIT. He will demonstrate the integration of the CC license selection process into the DSpace application. Thanks to the CC License Engine, this development work can be done in a few hours, providing any web-based application with the full, always-up-to-date, selection of Creative Commons Licenses.

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Buzznet adds licenses

Matt Haughey, March 9th, 2004

Buzznet is a photoblog community offering free hosting space for your digital photos and mobile phone shots. They offer image uploads via your web browser and cameraphones using email, making it easy to setup your own gallery of photos. Recently we noticed they became the first photoblogging service to offer the ability to license your gallery under a Creative Commons license.

If you’ve got a cameraphone or bunch of digital photos you’d like to share, sign up for a new account then simply select a license in the preferences to apply it to all your photos.

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Recycling Perfected — but Formalized?

Glenn Otis Brown, March 8th, 2004

Questions of the day: Hip-hop artists and DJs have long made a practice of inviting remixes by releasing acapella or instrumental tracks. What stops them from formalizing that invitation with, say, a CC license? Is it that the music-biz lawyers want to reserve the right to hold remixers hostage, in the event they start to become too successful, or stray too far aesthetically? If that’s not the explanation, what is? There’s something about the practice that’s reminiscent of the Speakeasy or back-room gambling joint: when a vibrant sampling underground is uncovered, copyright holders are shocked, shocked to learn the law has been broken.

Related news: The New York Times today inventoried the growing catalog of Jay-Z mash-ups, from the oh-so-scandalous Grey Album *(Jay-Z + Beatles) to Double Black Album (Jay-Z + Metallica), plus about ten more. I’m glad the whole controversy has everyone talking about copyright and art, but it’s a shame that the Grey Album has gotten all the attention. Some of these other mashes are better-executed as records, in my view, if less grand in high concept. I think Illmind’s Black and Tan Album works pretty well, for example, even though its samples are less familiar than the Grey Album’s.

All this makes it more striking to hear people say that remixing is not music, that the manipulation of sound recordings is less worthy an art form than the manipulation of abstract notes and rhythms. Of course rock-and-roll once faced the same criticism — it wasn’t real music. And then came the Beatles, who by no means invented rock but certainly perfected it, so that even the old foagies fogies eventually came to take its merit for granted. Will it require a masterpiece of mash for remix culture finally to win legitimacy? Who will be the Beatles of bricolage?

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