Monday, April 25, 2011

If Music Be Thy Dream Of Filthy Lucre, Press Stop

I always enjoy seeing science fiction prophecies come true. Last month, Broadcastr. This month, Wolfram Alpha's WolframTones, modestly subtitled "A New Kind Of Music." (Yes, that would be the same breathtaking humility that led them to originally price the Wolfram Alpha app at a hilarious $50. Fortunately, they subsequently bought a clue.) It is pretty cool, in a geeky sort of way: music generated by fractally complex cellular automata, in the style of your choice?classical, dance, rock/pop, hip-hop, etcetera. Every composition is unique, and can be downloaded as a ringtone. They lay claim to the copyright on all the generated music, mind you, raising the interesting question of what counts as "fair use", but I'll leave that rant to Cory Doctorow. What sort of saddens me about WolframTones is that it's yet another nail in the coffin of ten million teenage dreams of musical superstardom. I don't know if its creator Peter Overmann is a fan of the great Australian science-fiction writer Greg Egan, but I do know that he's just recapitulated something Egan described twenty years ago in his book Quarantine, in a paragraph that has stayed with me since:


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