Open source audio

I've always wondered what it would be like to use audio to tell a story. Today's podcast is my first real attempt at doing that. The title is Open Source Audio and the story is one that I've been trying to tell a number of folks -- and in particular, my non-geek friends -- for a while now. The story begins with a snippet from a 1924 recording of Lonesome Road Blues from the Internet Archive's open source audio collection. After brief discussions of the Edison site at the National Park Service, and the Creative Commons public domain license under which many of these early recordings have been released to the Internet Archive, we hear Brewster Kahle talking about his vision of universal storage and access. I recorded his remarks during a talk he gave at the O'Reilly open source conference in Portland last summer.

Next, we take a tour through the Internet Archive's open source audio collection. Samples include: Malaysia's Pete Teo (whose happy sounds will be much needed after the great disturbance in the force that just hit that part of the world), a demented meditation on neoteny, an auralization of NASA lunar imagery, a Buddhist chant, and a synthetic performance of Schumann.

I then ask how, in the face of such randomness, you can find music you'd like. The discussion turns to and, in particular, to one of the leading webjays, OddioKatya, who also holds forth at Oddio Overplay. We hear about Katya's approach to free and legal sharing of music online, and we listen to one of her recommendations, Mariposa, by the Argentinian group Flavia and the Motonets, which is released under a Creative Commons license at the Internet Archive and also on one of Katya's favorite netlabels, Comfort Stand Recordings.

In Katya's world what was best about Napster, namely collaborative discovery of new and interesting music, is uncontaminated by what was worst about Napster, namely copyright violation. This is the real point of the story, and it comes about halfway through, after establishing some of the infrastructure -- for archiving, licensing, and collaboration -- that makes Katya's world possible.

The next segment introduces Chris Anderson's Long Tail argument. I note that while aggregation of many niches at "the shallow end of the bitstream" can add up to a nice business for the aggregator, it doesn't necessarily mean much to the inhabitants of the niches. This leads to a discussion of Magnatune's dual-licensing approach -- free for non-commercial use, paid for commercial use -- during which we hear from a new Magnatune artist, blues rocker Barbara Leoni.

A question about the interaction between these licensing regimes, if and when artists begin to break out from the long tail, segues into a few minutes of Larry Lessig on the complexity of copyright calculus, excerpted from the ITConversations podcast of Lessig's BloggerCon III session.

The story ends by comparing open source audio to open source software. Both phenomena can and will support businesses. But I suggest that neither requires those businesses to exist in order to thrive.

Here's the clip: 21min, 20MB. (Couldn't make it sound good smaller, sorry. If you can, let me know how.)

This is a bit of a departure from my usual fare, but since I'm technically on vacation this week, and since we're not traveling anywhere this holiday, now's a good time to try some new things. Sampling music isn't something I'll ordinarily need to do. But this exercise has got me thinking about occasional audio features that would weave voices from multiple interviews together with commentary in order to tell a story.

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