Nine Inch Nails[remixed]

young trent reznor presents a remix

For nearly as long as there’s been an Internet, fans have been contributing to the nine inch nails experience. There’s something about the music that seems to inspire a devotional following (probably has to do with expressions of angst, contempt and alienation wrapped appealing pop sensibilities). Youthful rebelliousness and antiestablishmentism runs deep through both camps.

Indeed, the rise of nin and the net seems to have coincided perfectly with each other. There were discussions on Usenet about Pretty Hate Machine being one of the best albums of the year in 1989 and the earliest mention of a nine inch nails web site that I could find is dated Nov 1, 1994, shortly after the net was opened to the public.

1994, of course, was the year the The Downward Spiral took the world by storm, reaching #2 on the Billboard Charts and exposing nin to the mainstream. Long story short: Reznor took five years to release another album and while lost in the wilderness, the steadfast fanbase incubated around the Internet. Fansites came and went, trading bootlegs and rumors and tracking the handful of singles and soundtrack songs released in the interim.

By the time 1999’s The Fragile release cycle began, Internet culture had matured quiet a bit. MP3’s and broadband were just starting to be mentioned in mainstream, but the leading-edge nails fans had already adopted them. I downloaded my first fan remixes sometime in the 99-00 winter and some of them were really good (like The Day The World Went Away (peppy by ignorantLOSER). download it). On the official front, Trent made several remixes and exclusive tracks available at the nine inch nails website. There was even a remix contest held for the song The Big Come Down (the winner can be found here).

Fast forward another five years. The Internet and computer technology had advanced quite a bit further. The album With Teeth was released in the spring of 2005 and a month later, Trent posted the source files to the first single The Hand That Feeds to his website in Apple’s Garageband format, officially sanctioning home-brewed remixes of the song. Websites sprang up immediately to catalog and share the fan-created materials.

Which brings me to today. One of the predominant trends on the Internet is, to be sure, social networking and inter-site integration (some call it “web 2.0”). What happens when you mix web 2.0 with the nine inch nails online ethos?


Taking the home remix concept a step further, Trent Reznor has put together a site where anyone can sign up, listen to, vote on, make comments about and download nine inch nails remixes, both official (as in previously-released on CD) and fan made. It’s freakin huge. The more industrious fans can download master tracks and make their own remixes for community evaluation and sharing.

The site combines the nine inch nails community and do-it-yourself artistry with a heavy dose of modern social media technology. The entire site is built in Flash and follows the graphic spirit typical of a nine inch nails presentation. Music can be selected from a playlist showing the latest top rated songs or you can search or browse for a particular piece. When browsing, you can create your own custom playlists. I started to put together a complete instrumental version of Year Zero before I realized that Trent had already done it for me. Other available playlists include Top Rated Fan Mixes, Most Commented, Newest, and Most Listened to, among others. attributes

Once a song is selected, it begins playing in the browser and the song’s curriculum vitae is displayed along with it. If you enjoy what you hear, there’s a “download mp3” button next to the rating number. Users can also assign attributes to songs based on various continua such mellow vs aggressive or dense vs sparse.

Playlists as well as individual remixes can be shared. Playlists via RSS feed so you can publish your favorite tracks or keep tails on a favorite remixer. Individual songs can be shared via URL. Here is a decent remix of The Beginning of the End. The only thing that’s missing is embedable player, a la YouTube, for putting the mixes on your own site.

There is one thing I can’t help but grumble about (but good-naturedly): all those rare and unreleased songs for the downloadin’. Being the nails fan that I am, I’ve spent more a decade keeping up with all the loose-ended ephemera of the catalog. Imports, promos, versions, bootlegs and anything else rare and obscure. After all the work and effort, to my (light-hearted) chagrin, I come to find that a lot of it is now free for the taking. It took me six and a half years to find a copy of the Aphrodite remix of The Perfect Drug, but you can have it just by clicking on this link.

But hey, the fact that it’s available at all is pretty freakin cool.

Ethan Winer, one-man Cello section: 37 parts to a song played by one man

Ethan Winer plays all 37 separate parts on A Cello Rondo, including the percussion, on his cello. He also composed the song. The music is about 6 minutes long and the end of the video shows his digital music editing and some of his film setup. Not only is the production quite smooth, showcasing the power of modern technology to allow a single person to (relatively) easily create complex and intricate music, the song is a really good pop tune.

And I thought it was impressive when Dave Grohl recorded the first Foo Fighters record all by himself.

A Cello Rondo at Ethan Winer’s homepage. Multiple links to sites hosting the video as well as a free mp3 download of the song. There’s also as much background information on the project as you could want and some downloadable sheet music if you want to give it your own try. to be acquired by CBS: Sense of foreboding permeates the Internet

I don’t use the site as much as I should, but it’s cool nonetheless. But I find this trend of useful, independent websites getting bought by soulless corporations to be increasingly annoying. $280 million though. It sure it’s hard for those UK boys to pass up.

The blog claims there’s no reason to worry and that CBS “understands the vision.” Still, as we’ve seen with flickr and reddit, once the “big boys” get involved, things start to change.

I’m not sure I trust plutocrats with an increasing amount of my data. And I’m sure they’ll figure some way to mess it up.

We’ll see how this turns out, but it may be time to uninstall my plug-in.

Additional commentary: forums

A Big List of MP3 Patents (and supposed expiration dates)

So, by now, large portions of the internet are abuzz with the Federal jury decision that Microsoft has been violating some of Alcatel-Lucent’s patents on the MP3 file format, which ahas been the backbone of the digital music revolutions and without which iTunes and the iPod would not have been possible.

I couldn’t help but note the timing of the ruling, since I had been been researching MP3 patents a couple weeks while working on a recent post. I came across the realization that the MP3 patents will soon start to expire, as early as this year in one case. So last week’s news got me wondering two things:

  • whether there is an aspect of “cashing-in-while-possible” going on with the current suits
  • just what the are all the MP3 patents, and when do they expire?

I can’t really speculate to that first point, but for the second, it’s fortunate that Thomson, the company that handles MP3 licensing has a neatly compiled list published at Of the twenty patents listed there, eighteen are filed in the U.S., to which this list is limited. These are the patents that everyone who makes an MP3-related product has licensed. We’ll get to those.

First though, here are the Alcatel-Lucent patents that Microsoft was found guilty of violating. This information was taken from the US Patent and Trademark Office. Since I’m no patent attorney, all expiration dates are best guesses based on quick summary research. Changes to U.S. patent law and the GATT treaty in the mid-90s (while mp3 was being developed) complicates matters. Additionally, I have not a clue as to how to handle continuations of abandoned applications, so some of these could be way off.

If anyone more knowledgeable wishes to correct any of my guesses, I will happily revise this page. These are much too technical, both in legalese and technology for me, but still I find them fascinating from a layman’s point of view.

Continue reading

Initial reactions to Apple’s iPhone: Mixed

So the mythical iPhone was unveiled yesterday and by all accounts, it is a revolutionary communications and portable computer device. The user interface alone is light years ahead of anything else on the market. And the technology behind it really looks phenomenal… for a phone.

But even with all that legendary RDF action in effect, my own reaction is surprisingly lukewarm. Bias Alert!: I abhor the telephone in general and mostly use a cell phone for short calls to my wife. On most days, I don’t use the phone at all. So that aspect of the device is rather immaterial to me at this time. If I didn’t already have a cell phone, that feature would be a nice perk.

As a portable computing and communication device, the thing looks awesome. When I think of it as a portable computer the $499 price tag doesn’t seem as bad just a little bad, even though it’s not a “full computer,” being currently limited to the apps provided.

Constant web connectivity would be great for looking up info at any given moment, whether it’s looking up traffic while already on the road, settling disputes at the bar, or checking the Scrabble database of words.

The ability to live-blog an event with pictures is revolutionary.

Some questions though. Can it print? Will the device detect a bluetooth printer and allow me to print an email, text message, map or photo? Can I network with computers and other iPhones on the same LAN via WiFi? I know I can text message and send email, but can I type up quick reminders and notes and transfer them between computers. Can I copy files to it directly without having to email?

A GPS receiver plugged into the dock connector would be a killer app. And a PDF reader for ebooks would be, quote, da bomb.

Ironically though, the thing that bothers me about the iPhone, is its branding as an iPod successor. With its current storage capacity, the device takes us back five years, while trying to perform many more functions.

The iPod’s ability to hold mass quantities of songs (and now videos) while also being usable as a portable hard drive are the two greatest features of the iPod line (the full size models anyway). The iPhone minimizes those functions. The argument can be made that it’s impractical to listen to 30GB of music, but that’s not the point. The point is choice. I like being able to keep a large number of playlists synced up and ready to go, depending on my mood, at the push of a button. Alternately, it’s fun to press play and not know what I’m going to get.

Then there’s the fact that I use my iPod to cart large files between home and the office as well as store copies of projects I’m working on so I can pick up from whatever computer I may be near.

And 4GB is laughably small when thinking about full-length movies and TV shows.

So that aspect of the iPhone leaves me non-plussed.

However, I tend to agree that the concept of the iPod proper maybe near the end of its evolution. The form factor seems to be at the limit of what it can do with the only potential improvements being increases in hard drive size.

Now if the iPhone can stream music to an Airport Express, then we might talk. Which leads to another thought: an iPod HiFi with built-in 802.11 wireless, WiFiHiFi anyone?, to receive music from an iPhone or any wireless equipped computer with iTunes. That would be rad.

Until then, I think the 80 gigs in my pocket will do just fine.