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Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
March 26, 2014 9:50 PM   Subscribe

"Why Wu-Tang Will Release Just One Copy Of Its Secret Album"...

What more do you need to know?
"Is exclusivity versus mass replication really the 50 million dollar difference between a microphone and a paintbrush? Is contemporary art overvalued in an exclusive market, or are musicians undervalued in a profoundly saturated market? 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, as any other contemporary art piece, we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music. We hope to steer those debates toward more radical solutions and provoke questions about the value and perception of music as a work of art in today’s world."
posted by artof.mulata (50 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
I. Love. This.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:00 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


This is one of the most brilliant things I have ever heard of. Members of the Clan of Wu-Tang, I salute you.
posted by bongo_x at 10:04 PM on March 26 [7 favorites]


Keith Rowe did this.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:12 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


omg AWESOME.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:16 PM on March 26


...for the children (of a Saudi prince or a Wall Street tycoon).
posted by trackofalljades at 10:19 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I had a friend that made fun of this. Fuck that guy.
posted by azarbayejani at 10:24 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


There's one musical release I have tried and failed to find a torrent for, and that's All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling.

I doubt this will be number two.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:34 PM on March 26


Well they're definitely going to know who seeded it on Pirate Bay.
posted by PenDevil at 10:50 PM on March 26 [14 favorites]


Not if someone pulls some TEMPEST shit at one of these showings. This is pretty much CHALLENGE ACCEPTED to the scene, I think.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:04 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in.

And if they do find a recording device, the security guards will ask "Did you really think you could get away with fucking with the Wu-Tang Clan?"
posted by mcmile at 11:11 PM on March 26 [29 favorites]


Well they're definitely going to know who seeded it on Pirate Bay.

I was initially hoping the whole point was to feed just the one copy into the interwebs and then watch it proliferate.

which will likely happen anyway. eventually.
posted by philip-random at 11:12 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


If I did this same thing I would basically be expecting/hoping someone managed to copy and release it within less than a month.

Someone out there has to have stems or tracks.
posted by loquacious at 11:15 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Will all of them be on this? One of the most heart-breaking things to me about the forthcoming generally available album is that Raekwon isn't on it at all apparently, and Ghostface is apparently on it very little.
posted by sparkletone at 11:19 PM on March 26


I see the comparison to fine (visual) art, but it still seems like a canny way to get live-show prices without the bother of a live show, especially if the headphones are the usual crummy ones you get for taped docentry at a museum.
posted by gingerest at 11:33 PM on March 26


philip-random: I was initially hoping the whole point was to feed just the one copy into the interwebs and then watch it proliferate.

See also: the sixth Smashing Pumpkins album, "Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music" (although they went with the comparative worldwide marketing blitz of 25 copies).
posted by curious.jp at 11:50 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


"The plan almost resembles a Kickstarter campaign in search of a single, super-wealthy backer..."
One wealthy backer... Isn't this, pretty much, exactly the opposite of a kickstarter campaign?

Also, the article fails to make it clear that the buyer gets the production rights to the music, while wu-tang keep touring rights.
posted by dabitch at 12:26 AM on March 27


This would be better if nobody got to hear it before it was sold, so that the buyer had to buy it unheard, and everybody else had to hope the buyer released it. And then it would be even better if it was just a CD of white noise or babies crying. But actually, the real album wouldn't be on the CD at all, but rather carefully engraved into the grooves of the silver box, like an LP. This would only be discovered many years later, after the original buyer had sold off the 'worthless' box, the icon of their embarrassment. And that original buyer would be Mark Zuckerberg.
posted by Pyry at 12:48 AM on March 27 [35 favorites]


Cool, can I buy a print for $10 like all the other art ... kthxbi
posted by fistynuts at 1:39 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


When I lived in London in the late 1980s you could buy CDs of Prince's "Black Album" in Camden Town for a fiver. Only it wasn't Prince, it was some dude with a synthesizer playing what he thought Prince's "Black Album" might sound like based on the song titles snaffled from somewhere. This was just barely worth the fiver, for laughs. Perhaps this Wu-Tang magic box will encourage other musicians to record their own versions of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, based on a museum hearing (or not). Because a cover version is a way of duplicating something too.
posted by chavenet at 2:43 AM on March 27 [6 favorites]


What's really clever about this is that it doesn't matter whether or not copies of this leak onto the internet. Because it's released as a singleton any copy will have the same relationship to the album as a print of the Mona Lisa has to the painting.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:26 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


> Will all of them be on this?

Hologram ODB will be all over it, boy.
posted by ardgedee at 3:37 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Because it's released as a singleton any copy will have the same relationship to the album as a print of the Mona Lisa has to the painting.

But really that is no different from the way any other music is reproduced, it's all copied from a master. The only difference is that the duplication would be done entirely by fans in the field instead of by a CD press before sale.
posted by JHarris at 3:38 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


This is brilliant in the way I've come to expect from the Wu-Tang Clan, and I say this as someone who is basically not at all familiar with their music.

I don't know if anyone remembers the extremely short-lived series Method and Red, but apparently Method Man, a big fan of Arrested Development, wanted to create something in that oeuvre and part of the reason the show didn't last is that the network executives at Fox wanted a run-of-the-mill fish out of water sitcom while Method Man at least wanted something thoughtful and concepty.

Based on that information, and this album idea, and Red Man's episode of Cribs (seriously, watch this, it is brilliantly executed) I actually, seriously, one hundred percent think Netflix should produce a season of Method and Red the way Method Man wanted it to be.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:45 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


I can't wait for the hip hop version of Diva.

The author of the Forbes article filled in a few details in the comments:
the purchase price covers the master recording and the producer’s publishing rights. The guest artists who contributed to songwriting and production retain their own publishing. Wu-Tang retains the right to “tour” the album.
posted by dragoon at 4:19 AM on March 27


I guess Marissa Marchant just aimed too low.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:49 AM on March 27


What's really clever about this is that it doesn't matter whether or not copies of this leak onto the internet. Because it's released as a singleton any copy will have the same relationship to the album as a print of the Mona Lisa has to the painting.

A print is not a 1:1 copy of a painting though (materials, texture, possibly size) whereas as JHarris notes, all albums are spread that way.
posted by ersatz at 5:08 AM on March 27


It is a cutting critique on how art works in an oligarchy and how music production works in an oligopoly. That it's the Wu-Tang Clan means at least that the content should be interesting, and if I happened to be walking past the Tate Modern when this thing was on I might even go in. And the box is nice. But I can't get over the feeling that this is designed to be the exact opposite of The K Foundation Burns A Million Quid, and I think I liked the message there a bit better.
posted by Vetinari at 5:10 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


all albums are spread that way.

not any more ... 256 kbps from itunes ...

I'm happy to take mine on a smaller format cd - minidisc would be fine
posted by fistynuts at 5:12 AM on March 27


I'm just surprised the suits at Wu-Tang Financial signed off on this. Indeed, they seem rather chill about the whole thing.
posted by Cash4Lead at 5:43 AM on March 27


The box is gorgeous and tangible, and I would classify it as a work of visual art. I'm sure the record will be great, too, but when music is elevated to 'high art' status, exclusivity is not a word that comes to mind. Sure, old money, pearls, and tuxedos are associated with this echelon (I can't think of a better word, but don't like that one much) of music. Music is still, even with those associations, a group activity. It sure looks cool and it definitely feels 'hip-hop' to me, but I also get an anti-popular vibe to this.
posted by lownote at 5:50 AM on March 27


As a piece of concept art, this works, I think.

If the album doesn't leak (if the buyer takes a cue from Dave Malloy), the album will always be "out there" as a work of a art, the way any number of beautiful old master paintings holed up in attics are--but of course the album will leak.

And I think that the idea that one person has "ownership" over this album, rather than the sort of global ownership we feel when an artist releases something, will endure in some way. It's a cool idea.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:36 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Anyway, protect ya *property rights*
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:37 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


But really that is no different from the way any other music is reproduced, it's all copied from a master.

True, but it's all in the context. With ordinary albums, the master is just a tool to get the real art distributed and there's no difference in meaning and value between it, the first and millionth copy; it's only the content, the music that matters.

Here the master is everything there is and it matters that no copies will be made officially, even if the copies fans might make are functionally the same as what the publisher would normally do.

It's looking at a music piece like a visual art work, as something unique that can't be copied in the way you can copy any other piece of music, because this time it does matter on which particular silver disc it's located.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:55 AM on March 27


JHarris: The only difference is that the duplication would be done entirely by fans in the field instead of by a CD press before sale.

Samsung bought a million copies of Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail to "leak" to Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note II owners ahead of the retail release, though there was way more demand than they anticipated. I'm not sure how Wu-Tang are setting up the sale options, and people think there could be a duplication of this effort, but probably after the "museum tour" with $30-50 per listen.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:06 AM on March 27


The neat thing about doing a museum tour with the album is that it recalls the transience of live performance, a transience that is normally lost both through the production and distribution of albums as well as by the bootlegging and videotaping of live performances. By making it so you can only listen to the album in a specified time and place, and cannot make any recording of it, the only trace of the experience is in your memory. My first association was of an anecdote in Miles Davis' autobiography in which in the late 40s Miles and other young musicians would go see Charlie Parker play and then go to each others apartments trying to recreate Birds solos from memory. I can imagine young musicians trying to cover the Wu-Tang songs from memory (kind of like the album by Beck which was only released as sheet music). I only hope that when Wu-Tang tour the album they change the arrangements significantly to preserve the uniqueness of the recording.

And think about the effort people (probably young musicians or fans) will go to to bootleg this - possibly getting in trouble, getting kicked out, etc. I totally hope Wu-Tang follow through on this!
posted by ianhattwick at 7:30 AM on March 27


This reminds me of Sufjan Stevens's song "Lonely Man of Winter". There was some contest/project/thing where Sufjan would 'trade' songs with the winner of a Christmas song contest. So he traded the rights and the recording of a song with some guy, and the guy decided not to release Sufjan's song, but to only play it for one person at a time, at little listening parties, with tea and cookies, in his house in Brooklyn. By all accounts the song Sufjan sent was not some contract fulfilling throwaway junker of a song - but an exemplary Sufjan Stevens song of that era. The sort of thing you'd like if you like that sort of thing.

This was FPP'd here (warning: virulent and wearying anti-Sufjan, anti-hipster, anti-Brooklyn, anti-everything hate-on of a thread), and spoken about in MeMu here.

It's interesting that this thread is all full of adoration for Wu Tang. Is it because they are doing this in a self-consciously, openly commercial way, whereas Sufjan Stevens and Alec Duffy (the winner) were doing it in just as self-consciously NOT commercial way? The chasm between bling and twee?
posted by dirtdirt at 7:31 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


The difference is that sufjan stevens is awful
posted by rubadub at 7:47 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Cute gimmick.

Wu-tang could not do this had they started off with this method of distribution… and it is unlikely that the band would be anywhere as rich had they used this method from their onset.

I think that to generalize that musicians make nothing compared to visual artists is weak. First off, the real comparison would be to artists who are performance artists. How many of them are rich? And how many of them are rich compared to pop musicians?

And is monetizing the art or music proof that it is good?

What about movie stars?

Actors?

should they all be rich too?

Sure if wu tang wants to enter into the contemporary art market and start selling conceptual art, they should go for it. Conceptual art ranks low in revenue compared to painting though.

I do not think that this project illuminates anything. IMO, the band clouds issues the issues surrounding the value of creative works, more than illuminate, IMO.

Is the point that all art should be equally valued, and all artists should get paid the same?

Sign me up.
posted by snaparapans at 8:03 AM on March 27


I didn't see any mention in TFA about the physical form of the "album". Nice picture of the box, but nothing about whether this would be vinyl, CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, MP3s on a stick, tape, ... The 128-minute length suggests that it wouldn't be one piece of physical media if the first two.

Also curious about how they are going to orchestrate the listening during the tour. If they don't actually use the physical media during the replay that's kind of cheating, isn't it?
posted by achrise at 8:06 AM on March 27


I would like to assure all of you that, should this album fall into my possession, I will never reveal the Wu-Tang secret
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:15 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution, they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”

Good luck with that. One leak of this thing and it's all over the internet, free for all, after watching a brief paid advertisement on YouTube. Google will make a fortune. The artists not so much.
posted by three blind mice at 8:20 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


In previous "only one copy" gimmicks: Jean-Michel Jarre's Music For Supermarkets.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:07 AM on March 27


This would be better if nobody got to hear it before it was sold, so that the buyer had to buy it unheard, and everybody else had to hope the buyer released it. And then it would be even better if it was just a CD of white noise or babies crying. But actually, the real album wouldn't be on the CD at all, but rather carefully engraved into the grooves of the silver box, like an LP. This would only be discovered many years later, after the original buyer had sold off the 'worthless' box, the icon of their embarrassment. And that original buyer would be Mark Zuckerberg.
posted by Pyry at 3:48 AM

This is my most very favorite comment ever.
posted by yoga at 10:12 AM on March 27


This reminds me very much of how Matthew Barney released his five-film Cremaster Cycle [previously]. While it is presented occasionally on 35mm in art cinemas, it is not commercially available on DVD. Rather, it was released as a limited series of 20 sets of DVDs, originally costing around $100,000 each (reportedly, some of these have subsequently sold for more than half a million dollars).

Matthew Barney, of course, is married to Bjork, an occasional collaborator with the Wu-Tang Clan in the past. (She's been name-checked by them in the past, too, in "Reunited" [video].) Perhaps that's where they got the idea.

(Bjork on the Wu-Tang Clan: "Oh, they’re gorgeous, like big teddy bears. They fall asleep in piles, do you know that ? They’re just like [snores]. Derek fell asleep on the studio floor at six in the morning and before he knew it) there were five Wu-Tang members on top of him [lies across my lap and pretends to snore].")
posted by orthicon halo at 10:18 AM on March 27


Wu Tang Clan ain't nuthin to gimmick with.
posted by stenseng at 10:29 AM on March 27


But I can't get over the feeling that this is designed to be the exact opposite of The K Foundation Burns A Million Quid, and I think I liked the message there a bit better.

Good point, but I read a similar sense of "Fuck Off" in this, like Sigue Sigue Sputnik putting commercials on their first album. Might just be me.

The chasm between bling and twee?

Maybe, I don’t read bling in it, certainly something and twee though. Art maybe?
posted by bongo_x at 11:29 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Rather, it was released as a limited series of 20 sets of DVDs, originally costing around $100,000 each

My favorite piece of art ever, The Clock, could be described as a 24-hour long movie, but in "reality", it is a computer program of which are the 5 copies IIRC. I think they were around the same price point.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 11:51 AM on March 27


Maybe, I don’t read bling in it, certainly something and twee though. Art maybe?
The lustrous container was handcrafted over the course of three months by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, whose works have been commissioned by royal families and business leaders around the world.
This, plus the multi-million dollar price tag. Possibly also art, but I am sticking with bling - ostentatious display of wealth.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:12 PM on March 27


Free idea:

Start a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to be the sole purchaser with the donors to the Kickstarter getting exclusive copies of album for each $25 pledged. Raise the millions, buy the box, then sell the box at on-line auction for your profit, keeping a copy for yourself.
posted by dios at 9:49 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Looks like the kickstarter is happening.
posted by juv3nal at 10:59 AM on April 18


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