The Null Device


A compelling argument claiming that Yahoo! will buy SixApart within six months. Which, given Yahoo!'s tradition of clueless heavy-handedness, means that TypePad and LiveJournal will be steamrolled into an all-new, cut-down and obnoxiously ad-saturated Yahoo! personal publishing solution for those who don't know any better. (See also: eGroups)

Link via David Gerard, who speculates that the smarter rats aboard the LiveJournal ship will already have sensed what's in the offing and made developing a method of cryptographic cross-site authentication their priority; this makes sense, as it will allow people to jump ship to their own LJ-based servers and keep the social-network functionality that made LJ useful, without having to get all their friends to agree which server to be on.

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More news from the leaden age of music diversity: major record labels are now using statistical hit-prediction software to pre-screen demos before wasting A&R ear-time on them. Hit Song Science, the software used, predicts whether a song is likely to be successful by comparing it statistically against a database containing the past 30 years' worth of Billboard hit singles:

HSS's crucial design flaw is that it can only look at the past. Those "leftfield", illogical and grassroots-inspired departures from the norm, such as disco or drum and bass, could not have been predicted - but they shift the mainstream and provide the momentum any culture needs to remain fresh. As Smith says, "Art is the one area where people can, and should be able to, make radical statements. Anything that encourages safe, consensus-driven music should be used with caution."
It's all in the clusters, you see. Hit songs, typically, fall into one of a number of groupings - there are around 50 in the US and 60 in the UK where, traditionally, tastes have been more diverse. Belonging to the same cluster does not mean songs sound the same, though, more that they are mathematically similar. And the analysis has thrown up some very unlikely musical bedfellows: Some U2 songs are in the same cluster as Beethoven, while spandex ultra rocker Van Halen sits right alongside MOR piano babe Vanessa Carlton. It is for this reason that Polyphonic are confident their software won't homogenise our already stratified and similar sounding charts. They are already working with one radio station to expand their playlist without losing audience share by selecting songs with the correct mathematical rhythms. In a world where drearily repetitive playlists have become the norm this could be the answer to an oft-uttered prayer.

It's interesting to consider where the fine line between well-formedness and homogeneity is. On one hand, one could probably state with mathematical certainty that serialist or aleatoric composition is unlikely to ever have mass appeal; as such, an algorithm which analysed music for having some kind of structure and rated it on that would be a good predictor of whether or not a piece of music has the potential (however small) to be popular. On the other hand, I suspect that HSS may overspecify things, to the extent of excluding perfectly workable new approaches which have not been tried or accepted yet. (via DIG)

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The Smiths are the latest band to have had a musical written about their songs; it'll be titled Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, and said to be like "film without a text". It is scheduled to open in London in July 2005.

Meanwhile, the next New Order album, titled Sugarcane, is due out in February.

(found in the archives of the ABC's DIG News)

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A PhD study into music copyright enforcement (by a former lawyer for ARIA, the Australian RIAA equivalent, no less) has found that consumer choice of music titles has fallen dramatically, with the number of music products released falling 43% between 2001 and 2004; and it's likely to get worse as record labels merge and "rationalise" their catalogues into safely marketable titles. Alex Malik argues that this, and not file sharing, is to blame for falling music sales.

"If you go into a typical CD store these days, there's the new Australian Idol CD and of course there's the other new Australian Idol CD. You'll also find more DVDs and accessories than ever before ... But if your tastes are a little eclectic or go beyond the top 40, you may be in trouble," he said.

Of course, one could argue that the majors are now signing a lot of exciting, energetic indie bands from the underground. Except that this argument falls apart on closer examination; most of the major-label-indie fall into one of several formulaic, easily marketable categories: 70s garage primitivist rockists (think Jet/The Datsuns/Kings of Leon/&c), other radio-friendly post-ironic rehashings of old formulae (Scissor Sisters), easy-listening vaguely-indieish pap like Keane and Badly Drawn Boy, and attempts at The Next Interpol/Franz Ferdinand (or whatever the band of the moment happens to be).

Which is what happens when recording companies become agglomerated into large corporations beholden to shareholders who demand safe returns; in such a model, there is no scope for maverick A&R people to make decisions based on gut instinct or take risks. But that's OK; with modern market research methodologies, there is no need for such archaic and unreliable practices, when formulae can me made up to please enough of the market. The same has happened in Hollywood, where all scripts are plotted out with special script-writing software that ensures that characters move and develop like automata along pre-programmed tracks. The scriptwriter only has to flesh things out.

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As the reach of copyright laws is expanded and rightsholders (or their investors) are demanding as much income from each piece of intellectual property in the asset register, documentary makers are getting the rough end of the pineapple. Old documentaries are becoming illegal to distribute (and effectively disappearing down the memory hole) once their clearance rights expire, and new documentaries are often not being made without wealthy sponsors: (via bOING bOING)

But it's particularly difficult for any documentary-makers relying on old news footage, snippets of Hollywood movies or popular music -- the very essence of contemporary culture -- to tell their stories. Each minute of copyrighted film can cost thousands of dollars. Each still photo, which might appear in a documentary for mere seconds, can run into the hundreds of dollars. And costs have been rising steeply, as film archives, stock photo houses and music publishers realize they are sitting on a treasure trove, Else and other filmmakers say.
The American University study (at is a fascinating, if dispiriting, look at the tricks documentary-makers have to pull to get around copyright restrictions, from turning off all TVs and radios when filming a subject indoors to replacing a clip of people watching the World Series with a shot of professional basketball on the TV set instead because that's what the filmmaker had rights for.
"Why do you think the History Channel is what it is? Why do you think it's all World War II documentaries? It's because it's public-domain footage. So the history we're seeing is being skewed towards what's fallen into public domain," says filmmaker Robert Stone in the American University study.

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50 interesting fact(oid)s about the Tube:

5. Travelling on the tube for 40 minutes is the equivalent of smoking two cigarettes - so save yourself a packet, all you smokers and get on the tube more often.
24. The peak hour for tube suicides is 11am.
36. The air in the underground is on average 10°C hotter than the air on the surface.
48. A fragrance called "Madeleine" was introduced at St James Park, Euston and Piccadilly station in an effort to make the tube smell better on 23rd March 2001. It was taken out of action on 24th March 2001 as it was making people feel sick.

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