tapTap and Beatbox

A very great pleasure last Thursday lunchtime to welcome Andy Huntington to St Paul's — to talk about his work as an interaction designer and artist. Part of a strand in our talks that seeks to show how computing is now intimately involved with the creative arts as well as the sciences, Andy’s talk both explained the background to his approach and interests and gave plenty of opportunity for hands-on engagement, focusing on tapTap and Beatbox, as the pictures show.


tapTap and Beatbox

tapTap and Beatbox

tapTap and Beatbox     tapTap and Beatbox     tapTap and Beatbox

Experiencing the shared delight and pleasure in the room when tapTap left the realm of talked-about-concept and leapt into life under Andy’s hands was just great. Toy + game + interaction + music. Play and enthusiasm.

Lots of good feedback about this talk. Thanks, Andy.

We hope to be doing some follow-up, inter-disciplinary work with Andy. stats

I'm at FOWA, London, and have just listened to Matthew Ogle and Anil Bawa Cavia from

  • 15 million tracks scrobbled per day 
  • 175 tracks per second 
  • >6 billion tracks scrobbled since 2003 
  • 15 million unique users a month 
  • 10 million artists
  • 70 million tracks
  • 700,000 tracks streamable 
  • 17 million items tagged 
  • 145,000 "artist wikis"

It was an excellent talk, going into attention data and the attention economy of, and the future of's web design (more personalisation, ambient findability). Definitely one to listen to again (an mp3 is promised of each of the talks); Lars has already got a mindmap up and there's a fuller account here from Nodalities. In fact, Nodalities is blogging all the talks on the hoof — so go there! Right now, Werner Vogels, CTO Amazon, has started …


Steve Jobs: DRM

It's everywhere … very fast. And that's hardly surprising … Steve Jobs' statement on DRM needs to be read in its entirety, but it begins:

Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.

And concludes:

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music. 

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player. 

In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free  and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system. 

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies. 

Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries.  Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.  For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard.  The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company.  EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company.  Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace.  Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.

Commentary/reaction/notable reports thus far: 

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs called on major music companies to stop requiring Apple and other companies to sell songs over the Internet with antipiracy software, calling the technology ineffective at deterring illicit copying of music. WSJ 

He calls it Thoughts on Music but it’s more like the Jobs Manifesto. I’ve never seen anything like this from him but Apple-ologists will know better.

Steve Jobs just shot a cannon ball across the music industry's bow.... Stunning! Somewhere Cory Doctorow is smiling! Jason Calacanis

(I'd love to have Cory's take on this.) 

In an open letter, the Apple CEO said his company is the wrong target for people who are concerned about DRM. "Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free", he writes. It is the record labels who insist on making Apple's iTunes store and other online stores resell their music encumbered with DRM - and yet ninety per cent of the music they sell themselves via CDs is free of restrictions, he notes. In recent weeks, Apple has come under fire from consumer groups and regulators in Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and France for its refusal to unlock the iTunes store so that its songs can be used on other MP3 players besides Apple's iPods. But Jobs thinks this is unfair: customers are served well in the current market, by competing manufacturers, each with their own "top-to-bottom" proprietary systems, he argues. As for consumer lock, the vast majority of songs on MP3 players are DRM-free. Only three per cent of songs on iPods have actually been purchased from iTunes, Jobs says. The Register

In effect (and Apple fans please don't get upset with this phrasing of words), this article is a piece of propaganda from Apple. The position is that Apple and Steve Jobs hate DRM just as much as you and I, so they will gladly support the abolition of DRM - if the big record companies choose to do so. Apple is positioning itself on our side, in the war against DRM. This is all very well, and a very commendable stance from Jobs and Apple. But I'm left feeling that surely there's more Apple can do to fight DRM than to simply give a hospital pass to the record companies? Apple is after all totally dominant in the online music industry, so it now has considerable power of its own. They are not totally at the mercy of record labels.... are they?! Because that's what this article from Steve Jobs makes it out to be. Read/Write Web 

The reason Jobs has taken this unusual step is, one assumes, because Apple is under increasing pressure from European and other governments to "open up" its iPod/iTunes system. There have even been threats to ban the system if it remains closed. Over the last few months, the stakes have gone up as antitrust lawsuits have been filed against the company in the US. For Apple, DRM's strategic costs have simply come to outweigh its benefits. So Jobs is formally whacking the ball into the record companies' court. It's their system, he's saying, not ours. One hopes that this may finally get them to realize that DRM is simply a millstone around the neck of their business. Nick Carr

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To the Cobden Club (Kensal) last night to hear Gabby. After last year's shocking diagnosis of cancer of the thyroid, and subsequent treatment, Gabby is again playing and singing. She held the Cobden crowd and her voice is better than ever.

She has a website, you can buy her CDs here and keep an eye on upcoming gigs here. (I didn't take any photos last night, but there's a handful of my shots on Flickr from an Oxford gig last year.)

Gabby's talent was very evidently noticed last night — you could feel and see the room shift its focus and lock on to the singer-guitarist — and she had a lot of compliments paid afterwards. Great things ahead.

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Ondes Martenot update!

In March last year I wrote about the Ether 2005 Festival and the evening with Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke. In that posting:

Ondes Martenot: what a world is here! Much information on the web, so for starters only: (the Keyboard Museum); Wikipedia; Claude-Samuel Levine's ondes Martenot site; Christine Ott (contemporary ondes Martenot artist); (interesting article about the instrument, the Cornish company, Analogue Systems, and their 'French Connection' "version" of the ondes Martenot, as commissioned by Jonny Greenwood).

Now, via , I've come across ('explores - mostly through archival photos - the simultaneous development and presentation of the ondes Martenot and the theremin by their respective inventors: Maurice Martenot and Leon Theremin'):

The theremin has a "sister instrument" whose construction was based on the same electronic, "heterodyne" principles as those used by Leon Theremin. Conceived and designed by the French cellist and inventor, Maurice Martenot 1898 - 1980 … he built his first instrument at roughly the same time as Leon Theremin was working on his own prototypes. He called his invention the "ondes Martenot" … There was no contact whatever between Maurice Martenot and Leon Theremin until they were introduced in New York City in 1930. Their inventions were totally independent of one another and, by 1930, both men had already introduced their respective instruments to the world.

There are, indeed, some wonderful photographs ('I am indebted to Maurice Martenot's biographer, Jean Laurendeau') on the three pages Peter Pringle has put together, one of his own favourites being this one (click through to visit this, page 3 of his ondes Martenot entry) — 'taken at the World's Fair in Paris, 1937 (at which Maurice Martenot was awarded "Le Grand Prix de l'Exposition Mondiale"). The ensemble consists of eight ondes Martenots, a percussionist and a pianist, and is conducted by Ginette Martenot, sister of Maurice':

There's 'a short mp3 sample of ondes virtuoso, Jean Laurendeau, playing the Concerto for Ondes Martenot and Orchestra by Jacques Hétu' (mp3).

Peter Pringle also has , 'one of the five musical instruments invented in the early 20th century by Leon Theremin (the other four being the theremin, the theremin keyboard, the rhythmicon and the terpsitone)'.

Subscribe to Take a look at (as of 20 October). Events System (something of Sonic Living comes to!):

See your friends’ events, and pick a location to create your recommendation calendar. Know an event not shown here? You can add it. 

Currently showing recommended events within 155 miles of London. (change)

Taste-o-meter ('Visiting other user pages now shows the tastometer box, which tells you, at a glance, how musically compatible you are with the profile you are viewing'):

More on these developments and on the new Flash player ('You can choose exactly how to play your music – flash or software'), the reintroduction of free downloads and the redesigned music pages.

If all goes to plan, the update will be rolled out to everyone 'towards the end of next week'. continues to surprise, delight and impress.

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My first thought when hearing of SpiralFrog? Same as Publishing 2.0:

You’ve got to pity the poor advertiser faced with figuring out how to allocate ad dollars across all these new media.

But I was also excited. Anything that appears to break the ridiculous status quo of the music industry is bound to set expectations going. However ... questions certainly remain.

BBC News reported:

'Vivendi Universal, the world's biggest music group, has signed a deal to make its music catalogue available on a free legal downloads service. Under the agreement, Spiralfrog will offer Universal's songs online in the US and Canada. New York-based Spiralfrog will launch its service in December and make its money by carrying adverts on the site. Spiralfrog aims to take on market leader Apple's iTunes service, which charges 99 cents per song in the US.'


The downloads could be played on the PC or transferred to a portable device, though notably not Apple Computer's iPod.

(The FT also has a piece.)

Nice to see Apple, iPod and iTunes under pressure, and it was easy to take Universal's move as heralding more of 'content … at no cost'. But there's cost and cost, and this does appear to cost — in DRM:

Spiral Frog will offer a desktop downloader for Windows Media Files (no iPods!) that can be listened to on one PC and two portable devices. Here’s the kicker - you must log in to the Spiral Frog service at least once per month, and see their ads, or your files will stop playing! The details aren’t fully set in stone, but it will be something like that. There will be links to third party sites of the record labels’ choosing if you’d like to buy your freedom to at least skip the ads. TechCrunch

I'm also wondering how SpiralFrog will deal with payment to artists, but more than anything else I can only second what TechCrunch says: 'It will be an exciting day if the major labels come up with something truly more compelling than piracy on one hand or coercion on the other - but I don’t think this is it'.

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BPI gets go-ahead to sue AllofMP3

BBC report here:

The British recording industry has been given permission to sue Russian music website in the High Court. Members of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) want to prove the site, which offers downloads for as little as five pence, is illegal. They were given the go-ahead to sue the company last week, and say proceedings will be issued in Russia this week. The operators of deny the recording industry's claims that their site is not licensed to sell music.

Slashdot doubts the likelihood of this action sticking. WiredFire has an interview with with Matt Phillips, Communications Manager of the BPI. (These links all via ORG-discuss, the discussion list of ORG.) AllofMP3's press statement about recent developments (statement dated 6 June, 2006) is currently here. Earlier (also 6 June) BBC report about the BPI and AllofMP3 here.

I've posted about AllofMP3 before: bursting the mould? (4 January, 2006); Best on-line music site? (25 March, 2004).

Some thoughts from the WiredFire interview:

Whether the BPI action is likely to be that successful is open to widespread conjecture. On the surface they would appear to have quite a solid case under UK civil law, given that their site appears to be targeting English consumers. But enforcing any judgement overseas is going to be an altogether different issue – especially if can demonstrate that they have been complying with the laws of their own country and that their export market is incidental to their primary business model.

Perhaps the biggest clue as to their future intentions is detailed within their press release:

“On September 1, 2006 the changes to the Russian copyright legislation will come into force. Since January 2006 the site has been making direct agreements with rightholders and authors at the same time increasing the price of the music compositions and transferring the royalties directly to the artists and record companies. The aim of is to agree with all rightholders on the prices and royalties amounts by September 1, 2006.

We believe in the long term and civilized business based on respecting the law, considering the customers' demands as well as the interests of both national and international rightholders”.

Whatever the outcome, we feel that it is about time that the true cost of digital music is properly reflected in the retail price. Ridiculous statements such as those made by Mark Richardson that “the cost of distribution for downloads is actually higher than for CDs” do nothing to attract any sympathy from those of us who have spent not inconsiderable fortunes in amassing our modest CD and DVD collections. Whilst the BPI are to be commended for their more realistic approach to digital file transfers than their US counterparts, the RIAA, their curious choice of allies in the form of Mark Richardson of Independiente Records is certainly doing them no favours.

Also in the WiredFire interview:

Jamieson went on to criticise iTunes for their use of non interoperable DRM, calling on Apple to open up its software in order that it is compatible with other players. "We would advocate that Apple opts for interoperability."

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To the Hammersmith Palais last night to hear Matisyahu, Hasidic reggae artist. I'd heard both Live at Stubb's (Dance Music has a short review) and Youth: his voice is terrific, the rhythms (with the forward guitar sound) immediately engaging. Pitchfork produced a snotty review of the latter; the Guardian had a brief but appreciative mention of it.

Notoriously, last December Sam Endicott said:

Matisyahu - just your average Hasidic reggae rapper. Yeah, you heard me. This guy is a straight-up Hasidic Jew from New York who busts mad flow over dancehall and reggae beats. This is the future of music.

Last Sunday's Observer had a lengthy interview with Matisyahu, and ten days before that there was this interview in the Guardian. PopMatters reviewed an Iowa City gig (January 2005):

He was dressed in the conventional Hasidic style. He wore a black fedora, dark suit and a white shirt whose tail stuck out revealing his tzitzits (fringes of his prayer shawl) underneath.

Matisyahu's vocal style resembled chanting more than conventional singing. He began each song in Hebrew, and then repeated the words in English. He introduced many of the songs as "written as a song of praise by King David," but he rarely sang an entire psalm. Instead he would just sing the opening four or five lines, and frequently restate short phrases and sounds as if they were a holy mantra.

There was a great similarity between Matisyahu's utterances and typical reggae lyrics. For example, when the Hasid began singing "Chop 'em down, chop 'em down, chop 'em down" over and over again, one could not help but be reminded of Bob Marley's classic "Small Axe". Other songs repeated lines like "Raise me up from the ground / I've been down too long", and "I will fight with all of my soul / all of my heart / all of my might" both of which are reminiscent of common reggae tunes. This is not accidental, as reggae uses the same Old Testament sources as lyrical inspiration.

Perhaps the strangest resemblance, which seems somewhat coincidental, has to do with both the Jamaican and Yiddish patois' use of the exclamation "oy". Matisyahu would croon "oy, oy, oy" in three/four rhythm between the verses -- something reggae artists commonly do, but in a slightly different way, more like "oy, yo, oy, yo" (think of Marley's classic "Buffalo Soldiers").

Matisyahu also preached to the crowd. At one point he got down in a catcher's crouch and started to sermonize. "According to Hasidic philosophy, every person, every being, even every inanimate object has a soul, an inner rhythm, a life force," he said. "This is the part of Hashem (the Lord) that makes us all one, a unity, and brings us light. Our job is to illuminate the darkness with our light. It is our true mission."

The jury's still out: 'The Crown Heights pioneer of Hasidic reggae is certainly bringing something new to the table' (Ben Thompson); 'Matisyahu earns respect as more than just a novelty act' (Steve Yates); 'it's treacle jammy stuff; with all those natty drum fills, MOR progressions and lockstep dub grooves, the good will goes to shit' (Sean Fennessey); 'it comes honey-sweetened and easy to swallow' (Thomas H Green).

And then there's this:

Earlier this year, Madonna sent word that she'd like to invite him to her Seder dinner at Passover. However, Madonna, by virtue of being herself, goes against Matisyahu's beliefs: according to Hasidic Judaism, women are not allowed to sing in public. ('Um, yeah,' he confirms uncomfortably, 'it's something that we wouldn't really support.') He didn't go to the Seder, needless to say, and seems embarrassed when the subject is mentioned.

Last night was packed. Never before have I seen such a Jewish presence at a gig, and the floor in the main knew the songs word-perfect — this man already has a cult following. The evening rocked and the final number, 'King Without a Crown' (lyrics here), was a tour de force that roused the audience to new heights. The 2006 tour has its own Flickr road journal. My photos are here.

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