The Null Device


They were a 1990s alternative act who hit the chart with an anthem of alienation and disaffection, before going weird and experimental, telling their record label to get lost and releasing a new record online, free for the taking. No, not Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails. Their new album Ghosts I-IV is out online, with the first 9 tracks available for free in MP3 form and the entire thing, in MP3 or lossless FLAC, costing a mere US$5. Trent Reznor even uploaded it to The Pirate Bay for you, which is probably just as well as NIN's official server's not holding up very well. There will also be a series of deluxe versions, including heavyweight vinyl, signed prints of artwork and Blu-Ray discs full of high-resolution separate tracks for making your own remix (which you're free to do as you please with, given that it's under the Creative Commons).

Musically, don't expect the same old Hot Topic teen-angst-noise; if anything, freed from his contract to "alternative" sausage factory Interscope, Trent Reznor has gone towards a more introspective ambient minimalism, with the odd touch of electric guitar or choppy breakbeat here and there, like a sort of black-clad Scott Walker. It's a bit repetitive in places, and parts (such as the opening track) carry their 1990s alternative legacy in the form of a sort of jarring dissonance in the harmonies that is of that generation. (Or at least this is the case with Ghosts I; I haven't heard the rest yet.) Also, the booklet is lovely; a collection of artful Lomo photographs of empty landscapes and fields of light and shade.

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What the Star Wars movie titles would look like had they been designed by legendary 1950s/60s title designer Saul Bass (best known for his groovy animated titles). Awesome.

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Last year, the Gowers report, commissioned by the British government, rejected the recording industry's call to extend sound recording copyrights in Europe. Recently, however, the recording industry scored a coup, in putting a copyright-extension directive before the EU. Here is a petition against it, organised by the EFF and Open Rights Group:

Copyright is a bargain. In exchange for their investment in creating and distributing sound recordings to the public, copyright holders are granted a limited monopoly during which are allowed to control the use of those recordings. This includes the right to pursue anyone who uses their recordings without permission. But when this time is up, these works join Goethe, Hugo and Shakespeare in the proper place for all human culture – the public domain. In practice, because of repeated term extensions and the relatively short time in which sound recording techniques have been available, there are no public domain sound recordings.
The idea of copyright as a bargain, a deliberately limited monopoly, is one which has largely been erased from the public consciousness, through the introduction of a new concept a few decades ago—the concept of "intellectual property". When one thinks of ideas as property, copyright seems not as an unnatural, and mercifully limited, restriction on the natural flow of culture, but as an injustice in the opposite direction—the only form of property which expires in a few decades—and the idea of perpetual copyright, towards which we have been moving with copyright-term-extension bills and harmonisation treaties every few decades, seems, for a moment, like a much-needed correction of an unjust oversight, rather than the greedy, neo-feudal abomination it is. Whoever came up with the term "intellectual property" is a powerful sorcerer indeed.

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