From the category archives:


Charles Blow’s column yesterday featured this extraordinarily effective visualization of the diminution of the music business, as it has shifted from medium to medium:

Getting smaller over time...


And in the text of the article, this:

A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.

When Chris Anderson introduced the idea of the Long Tail, his enthusiasm was focused on all the new ways once obscure idea-makers might find audiences, however small. Looking at the above statistics, what’s remarkable is how much of what we consider mainstream culture is actually in the tail — and the tail isn’t making much money.

Of course, such a study doesn’t measure all music sales, and it certainly doesn’t capture the experience of discovering music, sharing our discoveries, live performances, making music, or any of the other ways that music impacts our lives.

And it reminds me of a Claude Debussy quote I recently read, via Ray Kurzweil:

“At a time like ours, in which mechanical skill has attained unsuspected perfection, the most famous works may be heard as easily as one may drink a glass of beer, and it only costs ten centimes, like the automatical weighing machines. Should we not fear this domestication of sound, this magic that anyone can bring from a disk at will? Will it not bring to waste the mysterious force of an art which one might have thought indestructible?”

Given the resiliency of thought and self-expression — musical and otherwise — I’ll venture a “No” vote to that question.



In a recent edition of BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent:

Even in your own language, it is difficult to catch accurately the words of a song if they are not written down in front of you, and in France, which imports most of its music from the US or UK, there is even a word for the appropriation of lyrics.

It is “yaourt”, or “to yoghurt”.

You start singing confidently… and then trail off into inarticulate “yoghurting” when your lexicon runs dry.


From the Imagine That! blog at Psychology Today:

“Neophyte means beginner. Neophyte is the opposite of expert. The serial neophyte is one who relishes the prospect of feeling a kid again, embracing the uncertainty of ignorance and discovering new things constantly. The serial neophyte, first cousin to the polymath, purposefully moves from one discipline and one venture to another, transferring thinking skills and problem-solving strategies as he or she goes.”


A street-performer in Mexico City

A street-performer in Mexico City

The Telegraph has a gallery of decorated face masks in Mexico City.


At least every month or two, it’s worth taking a step back to think about something like this:

International Space Station, March, 2009

International Space Station, March, 2009

Humans made this.

People have lived there continuously for more than eight years.

You are a member of a species that figured out how to build a shelter that hovers 350 kilometers (190 nautical miles) above its planet of origin.

Now, what was it that you said you couldn’t do?


The “former mayor of NY” character, in Shortbus:

“New Yorkers are permeable…therefore, we’re sane.  Consequently, we’re the target of the impermeable — and the insane.”


Lev Yilmaz on procrastination:


Meet Kacie Kinzer’s Tweenbots:

Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Who needs artificial intelligence when you have the distributed intelligence and kindness of a few dozen New Yorkers?

Watch the process here:


From a This I Believe essay by Matt Harding:

My brain was designed to inhabit a fairly small social network of maybe a few dozen other primates — a tribe. Beyond that size, I start to get overwhelmed.

And yet here I am in a world of over 6 billion people, all of whom are now inextricably linked together. I don’t need to travel to influence lives on the other side of the globe. All I have to do is buy a cup of coffee or a tank of gas. My tribe has grown into a single, impossibly vast social network, whether I like it or not. The problem, I believe, isn’t that the world has changed, it’s that my primitive caveman brain hasn’t.

I am fantastic at seeing differences. Everybody is. I can quickly pick out those who look or behave differently, and unless I actively override the tendency, I will perceive them as a threat. That instinct may have once been useful for my tribe but when I travel, it’s a liability.

When I dance with people, I see them smile and laugh and act ridiculous. It makes those differences seem smaller. The world seems simpler, and my caveman brain finds that comforting.


An updated recording tries to get closer to the sound of the Gyuto monks before they were exiled from Tibet fifty years ago:

Yet the sounds that thrilled Smith and Hart’s ears were not, technically, consummate. Smith’s 1967 tape is limited by several factors, primarily by the technology of the day, but also with the number of voices. Smith only heard the remnants of the choir — the few monks that survived the perilous trek into India after the Chinese invaded in 1959 and killed or imprisoned most of them. In the original Gyuto monastery, there were over a hundred monks in the choir.

“No one’s really heard a hundred monks outside of Lhasa for many years,” Hart notes.

People have heard smaller groups. Seven monks from the only other monastery that practices the chants won a Grammy recently. So, to re-create the sound of a full choir for this CD, Mickey Hart recorded each monk multiple times to make 10 voices sound like a hundred.

“We overdubbed, and now there’s over a hundred-voice choir here, which has never really been sounded in the West,” says Hart.

To hear a 24-minute track from this  overdubbed version, click on this link, then look at the box on the left side titled “Hear the Monks” and click on the link labeled “From Tibetan Chants for World Peace, produced by Mickey Hart: ‘Blessing The Offerings’”. (Sorry for the complex instructions. I don’t see a way to directly link to the recording.)

The voices are astounding — but so are the interlocking patterns of the percussion.

It’s worth a couple of listens.


Robert Greenberg, on the Harvard Business Review Editor’s Blog:

By 1803, it was, once again, time to innovate or throw in the towel. Finding inspiration in the heroic model of Napoleon Bonaparte and the revolutionary change in the air, Beethoven created for himself a heroic self-image, one that allowed him to funnel his rage, alienation, and passion into a music that abandoned convention. Central to Beethoven’s second reinvention was the belief that his music must be, above all, a vehicle for self-expression, unfettered by the old rules.

Of course, Beethoven eventually repudiated Napoleon, famously scratching out the dedication of the Third Symphony:

Title Page of the Third Symphony

Title Page of the Third Symphony

That’s what I find interesting about this framing of the story: the myth of Napoleon was a catalyst for Beethoven’s reinvention, even though the man didn’t  live up to the myth.

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The Guardian (and the BBC) report on the revival of a World War II-era poster:

Keep Calm And Carry On

Keep Calm And Carry On

So much for stiff upper lip. It sounds rather limp to me.

Whatever it might have meant to a population under the threat of Nazi invasion, does it apply to the current global economic downturn?

Matt Jones offers a worthy riposte:

Don't keep calm and carry on.

The change of color reflects the difference in sentiments nicely, too.

via Merlin Mann


Clay Shirky, on the future of newspapers:

“In craigslist’s gradual shift from ‘interesting if minor’ to ‘essential and transformative’, there is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.”

“For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.”

And for journalism, I think we can also substitute music, film, and just about every form of digital art.


“There’s all kinds of different ways to monetize free.” — Tim O’Reilly