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Once Upon a Time in Shaolin

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A quick—and for me, unknown—one from my favorite collective, the Wu-Tang Clan. Their seventh and latest studio album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin from 2015, is a “single album concept”. Their take:

The music industry is in crisis. The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero. Contemporary art is worth millions by virtue of its exclusivity … By adopting a 400 year old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity and allowing it to take a similar trajectory from creation to exhibition to sale … we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music.

Wikipedia claims that “Feeling the value of music had been cheapened by streaming and online piracy, Cilvaringz and co-producer RZA hoped to return music to the value of fine art.

The result was a sale of $2 mil., a lot of controversy, and a bunch of angry fans. While the method might not be the best, the message is quite clear and hard to disagree with. I wonder, is streaming by many rightfully considered the same as piracy? Considering this is exactly how Spotify started, there must be some truth to this…

When I told my parents I was into buying CDs again, their first reaction was lol. Their second was “here, take our collection, it’s going to the trash anyway”. The once much loved (and expensive!) CDs are now completely worthless thanks to Spotify. The expensive audio installation of my dad was trashed years ago in favor of a couple of Sonos speakers, so they don’t even have a way of playing CDs (and don’t see why one should bother with ripping).

While in the past my parents would regularly take the time to open up the closet, choose a CD, and enjoy the music, they now just rely on the algorithm and seem to have forgotten how it was to enjoy a smaller selection… Having too much choice (and convenience) seems to reduce both satisfaction and involvement in music.

Another problem of streaming I hadn’t even considered is greenhouse gas emission:

A 2021 study claims that one hour of streaming or videoconferencing “emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide … requires 2-12 liters of water and demands a land area adding up to about the size of an iPad Mini.”

But, but, the physical CD surely requires more material and surely is more polluting, right? We’ve got you covered: this article from the conversation says that “On an individual level, purchase of a physical CD may be more environmentally friendly if it is to be played more than 27 times”. That’s quite a lot. Or is it? If your collection isn’t limitless and you buy deliberately, it’s not.

I’m not just a nostalgic sucker whining about Better Dayz (Yo, 2Pac). It’s really, really sad to see that Cilvaringz and RZA were right. The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero. And I am part of the problem.

Thank you technology and greed!

On a more positive note: it was a joy to explore my parent’s audio collection. A few highlights: Electric Light Orchestra - Tightrope, 10cc - Dreadlock Holiday, a whole stack of 70s and 80s compilations, and the obligatory classic Flemish nineties CDs. Great stuff!

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I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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