27 Commissions to go

eBay finally replied to my email and demanded a whole pile of documentation from me, proving my identity. Which I can get of course, but some of it is on a different continent than I and I can’t get it before Monday anyway. So I wrote back and asked if offering music commissions violated the TOS. Why not save both of us the trouble of dealing with my paperwork.

They wrote back within in minutes . . . to say that they hadn’t sent me any messages. This seems to be something of a pattern with them. It’s like a Monty Python skit. “No I didn’t. No, I didn’t say that. Wanker.” “Did you call me a wanker?” “No, no, no, off course not. Git.” “did you just call me a git?” “What? No, don’t be silly! Turd-bottom.” etc. It’s funny if you imagine John Cleese.
Anyway, 27 to go. There’s a cultural products market at 21 Grand tonight. If I was going, I would take a sign-up sheet with me and hopefully get the last 27 that way.
Nicole comes back on Sunday. I’ll have to resume showering. (Just kidding.)

Too Hot for eBay!

While I wait to hear back from etsy, I have my very own shopping cart program. Well, it’s not my own, it’s WP eCommerce Lite. (The emphasis there is on the “lite” – spelling and all.) It’s got *cough* a few bugs, but I think it should be adequate for my purposes at this time.

I’m still, theoretically, trying to contest eBay’s removal of me. I replied to their email saying I was removed and they wrote back saying it wasn’t them who sent the message. Maybe they removed me by accident? I looked at Yahoo Auctions, but commissions would be an unambiguous violation of their TOS. There is no eCommission infrastructure in place that I’ve been able to locate.
Obviously, there needs to be an eCommission portal site, like etsy but for composers or like Meet the Composer, but without such helpful text as “commissions can be had for as little as a few thousand dollars.” On the other hand, I’m mad cheap. Next round, I’m raising my rates.
Anyway, get the low prices while they last. I’m putting up two commissions at a time. As I finish them, I’ll put up more until all 28 are sold. There’s two up right now. Get ’em while they’re hot.

damn it

Dear celestehutchins,

We regret to inform you that your eBay account has been suspended due to concerns we have for the safety and integrity of the eBay community.

“Abusing eBay” of the eBay User Agreement states, in part:

“…we may limit, suspend, or terminate our service and user accounts, prohibit access to our website, remove hosted content, and take technical and legal steps to keep users off the Site if we think that they are creating problems, possible legal liabilities, or acting inconsistently with the letter or spirit of our policies.”

Due to the suspension of this account, please be advised you are prohibited from using eBay in any way. This includes the registering of a new account.

Please note that any seller fees due to eBay will immediately become due and payable. eBay will charge any amounts you have not previously disputed to the billing method currently on file.


Safeharbor Department
eBay, Inc.

Bloody wankers.
Can I dispute this? Maybe I should move to another service?

And another one

Auction 3 got a bid, so I put up auction 5. Auction 4 is still bidless.

The bidder for #3 wanted to know if s/he could remix the track when done. What a fabulous idea! I told hir yes. It feels so collaborative. I love it.
The whole eBay process, though is kind of nerve wracking. What if nobody bids in the next 4 days and 22 hours? ack!. Note to self: eBay bids are not a good measure of self-worth.
I contacted an arts blog today about buying advertising space. I’m running out of ideas for free publicity, since I’ve gotten mention on most of the New Music blogs that I know of, I’ve posted on most of my email lists and I listed on Tribe. The publicity part of this project is kind of weird, but I see it as part of the project in a sort of conceptual-everythng-is-art kind of way.


In other news, I’ve been investigating interfaces between computers and analog information. I’ve ordered a nifty joystick brain and I’ve just been informed of a cool-looking open source device which can create control voltages to send to a synthesizer. DIY electronics are really big right now. And this is good for lazy people like me, because it means that people are designing and selling little boutique devices. So I don’t have to do my own designing. The Arduino is cheap, open source(!), and made by workers getting a living wage. It’s perfect and somebody has already written a SuperCollider interface. W00t. Now all I need is to decide whether to go with USB or bluetooth. Wireless synthesizer control with a modular might be a little silly, but is still tempting.

New Auction / blah blah blah

Auction #4 is up. #3 is still bidless, alas. The last two were bought by somebody who is a stranger, which is a milestone. Future milestones include: purchaser who doesn’t know me AND isn’t a composer, continued interest past initial publicity.

Since I’m blogging anyway, I thought I could shine my wisdom on one of the most pressing issues of the internet age:

Why Second Life Sucks

I read Snow Crash in 1998. I was already involved in some Virtual Reality stuff by means of a MOO, but after reading that, I redoubled my efforts. The discussion in the book, for example, on how to make an invisible avatar lead to me figuring out how to make invisible objects in the Moo. (I was evil at the time, alas.) The virtual world described in the book was fascinating and wonderful. I remember thinking at the time that a few things seemed off, but overall, I was ready to sign on.
So when Second Life seemed to be nearing critical mass, I signed on. Here is a virtual platform for art, I thought. Here is a place where people from all of the world can experience a sound installation which is not actually physical in form! Very cool things could be happening. So I signed on.
They weren’t. Cool things were definitely not happening. Virtual casinos were happening, but coolness is if it’s on SL, is in a non-obvious hiding place. Because the people who are trying to make Snow Crash‘s Metaverse real have missed one of the crucial points of the book:

Snow Crash is about a failed society

Let me repeat that: Snow Crash is about a failed society. Life in the SC future really sucks. The protagonist lives in a storage shed. Pizza is delivered by mobsters. People live in chains of walled subdivisions which are copies of each other. They have to pay exorbitant fees to use a clean toilet. Thousands of refugees are trapped on a giant raft, adrift at sea. The SC future sucks!
The thing that struck me as most off in the book was people paying for avatars. The book, which I don’t have on this continent, alas, describes how noobs first sign on with a generic avatar called Brad Clint or Brandy. They pay for it and then pay to upgrade. I could accept the massively over-centralized computers and even the Max Headroom plotline hacking humans with code. But the economy of the Metaverse just seemed wrong.
So the people at Linden Labs came along and were perhaps even more fascinated by SC than I was (or at least definitely took a more graphical approach) and set about faithfully recreating the idea. Including the failed state part.
Look, if I want to scrounge for money to buy clothes and stuff, I like to do it in a game called Real Life, not in my play time. In SC capitalism has run amok and destroyed the social fabric. That’s not the part of the book to emulate. The point of the book is that the economic model used in it is all wrong.
I’ve heard rumors that Google is looking into it’s own metaverse. I have higher hopes for their version. Google’s economic model is the same one used for newspapers and print media. Charge advertisers for eyeballs. Deliver content to the eyeballs at a loss. Despite the disaster that is Orkut, there’s a good chance that Google will realize that we’re not in a (yet entirely) failed state and will give us something more in tune with our reality if not somewhat more optimistic. If they don’t do it, well, the SL code is at least open source now, which is one step better than Neal Stephenson’s dystopia.


thank you Jenny, for remembering the names fo the avatars.


I take back what I said about bidding wars. Color me astonished.

Two strangers (well, maybe) are in a competition on who can devote the most resources into giving away music. There’s something really moving about that.
Some of you might note that when I talk about “the future of music,” I’m not usually talking about sounds, but rather economics, copyrights and delivery formats. This is because I take a sort of a Marshall McLuhan approach. Two hundred years ago, music was something of a luxury. If you were hearing it, you or somebody else was exerting the effort of actually playing it. (There were also mechanical devices, but let’s leave those aside.) Music production was a skill – an investment of both time and physical resources in the form of an instrument.
Gradually, music has gotten more and more accessible. You have music boxes, player pianos (which could also function as a MIDI-like recording device providing higher fidelity recordings of some important pianists than surviving audio recordings), then mechanical recordings like records, then analog magnetic and now digital. It used to be that one physical object held up to 3 minutes. Now we can carry around days of music in our pockets and listen constantly. The availability of music has caused it’s value to change. It’s caused the way we listen to change.
Musical skill is not as valued in the general public as it once was. Simply: not as many middle class kids get piano lessons. They get ipods instead. Music has moved from being participatory to spectator / consumer. The ability to carry around days of tunes at a time has created a very strong demand for those same tunes and raised the amount of resources allocated to music in general. But the amount allocated to each tune individually has declined a great deal. We value music in general more, but each individual piece of it less. (In general. I know you’re crazy for your copy of Bleach by Nirvana or the Gould recording of the Goldberg Variations, but you’re not crazy for every thing in your collection, probably.)
Given the incredible changes in music and listening that delivery mechanisms and economics, etc have brought about, it seems obvious to me that such concepts are integral to conceiving of the future of music. It might be impure, but there’s a strong case to be made that recording technology has been the most influential force for change in music production and performance over the last hundred years. It set the length of pop tunes. It introduced vibrato to the violin. Even the concept of virtuosity – the height of musical purity – was directly informed by recording technology and distribution systems.
So I don’t see the business side in binary opposition to the creative/art side. They inform and direct each other and work in harmony (ideally) like yin and yang. Also, there’s already a lot of discourse about sounds. There are a lot of people with many different ideas about what sounds to make and how to make them. I couldn’t pick one and say “that’s the future.” I can add to that discussion, but not so well with words. Although, if I had to pick something, I think I’d go with the Long String Instrument. Man, that’s something special that ought to be getting more exposure and more gigs.

New Auction / the Future of Music

Since my first two auctions are done tomorrow, I just put up number 3. I’m trying to figure out how to stagger them. It’s a new and different phenomenon for me to think a week ahead. I don’t know how to add a “buy it now” button. I suspect it costs extra. Using eBay actually adds a fair bit of overhead in cost and time. Also, it adds some overhead for the commissioner in that they need an account and then they wait. I’m weighing my options in whether I should move to a shopping cart model instead. Given the low cost, I think this time overhead is probably a large disincentive. It seems like a $14 commission is an impulse buy for most. Also, I’m unlikely to gather a biding war or anything.

The future of music, of course, is not a one-size-fits all model. Other options include things like the Buddha Machine (Is there really a little Buddha inside? I should take mine apart.) The music is inherently in an object, thus making it something other than being (only) data. The Women Take Back the Noise compilation is also, similarly, the music of the future. The packaging includes a little crackle box, in the shape of a flower. The music inside is Creative Commons licensed. The goal of the project is greater exposure for the artists participating, and I think their design achieves that goal well. the crackle box makes the object itself something tangible to buy. However, the data on the disks is still shareable. This gets the widest distribution possible, since people who want something they can hold get such a thing, and they also get something they can share. The more people have the disks, the wider the likely sharing of the data encoded on them. Very smart.
It’s also taking a subversive look at femininity. The packaging is all bright colors and there are flowers on the CD, but the contents is noise. This subversiveness both challenges and reinforces a gender binary in that it defies expectations by containing noise, but supports the binary by encoding the gender of it’s participants with flowers. I think it’s really great and I wish the participants the very best of luck. I’m also really glad I’m not on it, because of the flowers. Traditional, even if subversive, symbols of femininity make me very very nervous. There’s a group of women in the San Francisco Bay Area who don Betty Page wigs and wedding dresses for all their gigs. Some of these women are really punk rock. It’s a really smart way to make comments on the expectation of gender. But for myself, I can’t embrace it even ironically. There is absolutely no way I could stand in front of people in long hair with a dress. That’s my own issue. But I often feel kind of left out. I don’t get any sort of male privilege as far as I know, but I feel really uncomfortable participating in actions designed to raise the status of women as anything other than a consumer or spectator. A group called Fresh Meat has just issued a Call For Work by gender variant artists. I hope they want sound installations too.
In other news, the little woman in off in California chopping down trees (it’s like anti-arbor day there) and I lost my cell phone, so theoretically I should be getting lots of things done, like my new Michael Savage piece and my super nifty code for HID and wii in SuperCollider, but um, yeah.


The Gift Economy and Sustainable Music

Daniel Wolf of Renewable Music reported that I was the first person trying to market commissions as e-commerce. There may be some disagreement on that, but I’m pretty sure that I’m the first person who has tried to market a commission on ebay. (Auction 1, Auction 2)

There are a few reasons you should care about this. One is that you might be the first person (or in the first group of 30, since that’s how many I’m putting up in this project) to commission a piece of music via ebay. The other is that this is a proof of concept for the viability of music in the internet age.
What is music but data? Data wants to be free. People love to share. On the one hand, we have the RIAA fighting the future (and the present) by suing all their customers. That business model is not sustainable and has numerous other problems. On the other hand, we have the sharers – people who love music and post their favorite pieces on the internet, via a website or p2p or whatever. And in the middle we have artists – me and others like me. The RIAA hasn’t done much for me lately, but neither has p2p, really. When musicians ask me how they’re supposed to cover the costs of recording if their music gets traded for free online, all I can say is what the blogosphere has been saying. Fans will buy merch. Fans will paypal you donations, like a tip jar. The fans will come through, somehow. But how, really? Merch is a logo on a piece of material. A logo is data. The logos, like the tunes they stand for, want to be free. So all we really have is the virtual tip jar.
Some of us do give virtual tips, but most don’t. Freeing mp3s to your fans isn’t like busking. There’s no eye contact. There’s no presence. This model is not sustainable, either. How many of us actually go and paypal every artist who we’ve downloaded and like? And what do the fans get in return? A moral satisfaction, sure, but not enough to make the model work. In practice, the fans get very little for their efforts.
Artists are left with the problem of how to distribute their music such that it makes it to their fans and they cover their costs and can live. Moreover, the manner of distribution and monetary compensation should capture the zeitgeist of sharing and direct involvement. The fans must get something tangible in return, in a time when tangibility itself is becoming slippery.
I think commissioning is the answer to this dilemma. The commission amount covers costs. The fans get something real in return – their name attached to the work – a credit as an integral part of the creation. Because as the RIAA knows and fears, the fans have been integral all along. This is one answer to the question of how smaller artists can thrive in a direct-to-consumer, sharing sort of environment. The gift economy! The commissioner gives money to the artist who gives music to hir fans. Like other gift economies, the value of the gifts grow as it spreads to more and more people. Instead of fighting the internet economies of data, this model requires it.
I think Ebay is a natural fit for this project. The auction aspect means that minimal costs are covered and the value of the fan’s gift is in proportion to the value in which other fans hold it. In any case, some sort of discrete transaction method is required. A popular artist could get more commissions than s/he could hope to fill otherwise.
If somebody gets this concept to work in practice, then we have the new model. So here’s my trial seeking a proof of concept. Music can be free and artists and fans can cooperate and thrive without leech-like corporations persecuting both.


See http://www.berkeleynoise.com/celesteh/podcast/?page_id=60 for more information

On the radio in 5.6 hours

Hello, I will be live on the radio tonight at midnight in The Hague. That’s 16:00 for Californians and I don’t know about other time zones, as something very odd is going on with daylight savings or something in the US. There is a live stream on the web and information about archives also here.

I will be playing some laptop and probably some tape pieces including one not yet posted to my podcast and one that is not done yet, but will be by then.
In other news, I’ve got 3 commissions so far and have been mentioned in a few blogs (w00t), so in good capitalist style, I’m going to raise my rates – on Friday. If you want the lower price, act fast. A commissioned minute of noise can make a thoughtful birthday gift, commemorate a special occasion or just show off your impeccably good taste. And it might lead to international fame of some kind – the folks so far will get their names mentioned on 90.2 FM Den Haag in a few hours.


See http://www.berkeleynoise.com/celesteh/news.html for commission information.

Commission a short piece

Ok, so I live in the “center” of The Hague. This is a lot like an outdoor shopping mall. Everyday, I walk past mannequins. They used to freak me out, but no more. One of them is wearing a suit which I like. I pass it every day. Every day I like it a little bit more. I want to buy this suit.

Ok, so now that we’re clear that my motives are totally shallow, I’ve decided to start a commissioning thingee. I’m working on an album of pieces around 1 minute in length. I expect it to be done in two or three months. It is possible for you (yes, you!) to commission a piece on the album for the low price of 7€ ($10ish USD). You as the commissioner get to name the piece. Your role as titler and commissioner will be mentioned in the program notes for the piece whenever it is presented in any form. You will get a copy of the pice emailed to you in the audio format of your choice (MP3, AIFF, WAV, Apple Lossless, AAC) and have 5 days in which to come up with a title (I reserve the right to nix titles that I deem offensive). I retain copyright, but will release the piece under a share music licence, which thus grants you the rights to make copies for your friends and share it via your website or whatever.
The first commissioned piece is up on my podcast already. You could be next!


See http://www.berkeleynoise.com/celesteh/news.html for commission information.