There's a story behind this interruption of my intensely relaxed posting schedule. Recently, I've wasted a fair amount of time on listening to, selecting and then writing about albums that I've subsequently realised contained copyrighted samples, and have been forced to toss the half-finished review in the bin and move on. What galls me is that the albums in question came from reputable netlabels who proudly display a Creative Commons licence on their website.
The whole point of a CC licence is that the holder has already given permission for the user to download and share: there's no need to ask. But if that same album contains samples that are still owned by someone else and who has not given permission for their work to be disseminated, then the whole process is rendered meaningless, irrespective of whether those samples come from an old, obscure song or album. Either an album is Creative Commons or it's not; bending the rules plays right into the hands of those who criticise the CC paradigm and accuse everyone who enjoys a legal sharing culture to be thieves. One of the reasons CTW is not the fastest draw in the West is because of delays caused by the above. I'm not a musical encyclopaedia and can't check every piece of music used in a song, so I rely on musicians and netlabels not to abuse the Creative Commons licence.
On a related note, and to explain my modus operandi to new readers of Catching The Waves, I usually recommend a free album and then remind readers that it's often possible to send a donation or buy more of the artist's output. Today, I'll recommend an album that is not Creative Commons-licensed and not free at all, but which is actually a commercial album that is technically and regrettably "free" despite the best and entirely honourable intentions of the artists involved. And it's not the one pictured above. It's this one:
Machinarium is an award-winning point-and-click game set in a mechanical world that looks like a cross between Sesame Street and Bladerunner. The Czech makers, Amanita, thoughtfully released the game without Digital Rights Management (DRM), which meant three things:
- Buyers wouldn't have to enter tiresome sixteen-digit serial codes to enjoy what was now their property;
- Equally, there would be no awkward online authentication;
- Anyone could copy the game from a torrent site.
Sad to say, Amanita reported last week that "only 5-15% of Machinarium players actually paid for the game". However, they also announced a "pirate amnesty" in which everyone could buy the game plus its superb official soundtrack and a free bonus EP for just $5 instead of the usual $20, an offer that prompted geek extrordinaire Wil Wheaton to encourage gamers to "do the right thing." Consequently, Amanita sold over 17,000 copies of Machinarium in a week and has extended its amnesty until 16th August.
We deduce from this that a tweet from @wilw to his 1.67m followers...
...is rather more effective than Amanita's $1000 publicity budget, and that people will pay for content that is available for free elsewhere if the content is desirable enough; if the money goes direct to the game developers; if they're brainwashed by celebrities advised by people they trust, and if they want to help the artist to produce more of that desirable work.
In the interests of balance, many of the people who have bought the game recently have done so because the publicity has led them to the game for the first time, or because they felt the price was previously too high to justify a purchase. Not everyone on the internet flies the skull-and-crossbones.
However, what sets the game's teasing puzzles, quirky humour and dusty, gently rusting cityscapes off to a tee is Tomáš Dvořák's playful ambient-electronica soundtrack. Dvořák has been called an "electro-instrumentalist" and is a graduate of the Prague Academy of Visual Arts. In Machinarium, he has cleverly spliced elderly analogue synths, smooth sweeps of radio interference/white noise and barely audible, distorted vocals (from an old Apple speech synthesiser) with traditional acoustic instruments. The latter are often filtered through a granular effect, resulting in a clanging, grimy soundscape that suggests Eastern European jazz and post-Cold War industrial decline to my susceptible and over-imaginative ears.
Rarely has such an eclectic, old-fashioned collection of instruments (piano, clarinet, kalimba, metallophones, accordion, melodica, double bass and cello) sounded so 21st century. The result is oxymoronic: melodic ambient. I'll illustrate just how melodic and just how ambient the official soundtrack is by showcasing a track from the other, free album. (Logic, I laugh in your AND/NOT gate.)Tomáš Dvořák - Machinarium Bonus EP: By The Wall
Impressive how the piano floats on top of the pads, background vocals and distorted noise, isn't it? By The Wall really blossoms if you wear headphones. The clarinet intro is better than a shot of whisky with a morphine chaser.
Here, Dvořák conveys the whimsical and enticing atmosphere of the game with a jolly bass line, reverberating percussion and, mid-track, a delicately tuneful blast of radio interference:Tomáš Dvořák - Machinarium Bonus EP: Defusing The Bomb
Please note, those tracks are from the free five-track EP. There are 14 more dreamy examples of sublimity on the official soundtrack, which can be bought separately - but it makes more sense to get both albums simply by buying the game. Do so, and you get the remastered soundtrack, the bonus EP and a gentle, amusing, mesmerising game that is suitable for grandchildren, grandparents and all those who contribute to the global economy. "Buy one, get two free" is a pretty good deal. Speaking of which, I'd like to see Aminita continue its amnesty until the end of the month, when people are more likely to have cash to spare.If you do get the official soundtrack, look out for the lightly menacing The Black Cap Brotherhood Theme, the turn-your-woofer-down Clockwise Operetta, the café-jazz of The End (Prague Radio) and The Glasshouse With Butterfly, which is one of the best crackling, echoing atmospheric pieces of ambient it has been my privilege to hear.
Failing all that, simply download the free Free Machinarium Bonus EP and keep your money in your pocket. After all, this is where you come to get good, legally free music, isn't it? I won't tell anyone that you have short arms and long pockets. But I do have a song for you:Tomáš Dvořák - Pirate Amnesty
A reminder, me hearties: you have until 16th August to take advantage of Amanita's pirate amnesty.