This weekend, my friends hosted a 1920s occult party. There were tarot readings, Ouija boards, and a seance. Everyone was encouraged to attend in appropriate attire, and we sipped absinthe while movies like The Golem and Fantomas were projected on the walls.
Anne and I got our clothes from Unique Vintage and Clockwork Couture. While we were getting dressed, Anne said, “I kind of love that I’m cosplaying with my husband,” and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
I had this idea to track down some 1920s music to play during the afternoon and evening, leading up to the party, so I started by looking on Amazon. I didn’t see anything that I liked, so I checked the Google Play store, and then iTunes. Again, I couldn’t find the original recordings that I was looking for, and as I was about to give up, a voice inside my head sort of kicked me behind the eyeballs and said, “Hey, stupid, music from the 1920s is in the public domain. Go look on the Internet Archive and I bet you’ll find more original recordings than you know what to do with.”
People, you should always listen to the voices in your head, because they know things. They know things that you don’t know. THEY KNOW THINGS THAT THE OTHERS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW AND GREAT CTHU–
Sorry. I got a little carried away, there.
So I went to the Internet Archive, and I found a treasure trove of incredible recordings.
Here are a few of them:
I grabbed them all, because that’s what you can legally and ethically do with the Internet Archive, and I made playlists that I shuffled through our Sonos to fill our house with the sounds of the Roaring Twenties. By the time we left for the party, I was ready to hop in a plane with Lucky Lindy and fly to New York to watch Murder’s Row in action.
So the party was fantastic, and everyone there looked incredible, but that’s not what I set out to write about this morning. What I wanted to write about was this thing I made, using free (as in speech and beer) tools, to create something where something wasn’t before.
Within one of the collections I downloaded, there was a jaunty little tune called JaDa.
I enjoyed it, and I had this idea to slow it down and completely transform it into something that sounds very, very different.
Longtime readers may remember that I freaking love the ambient music of the early 1990s. Well, I loaded JaDa into a free and open source audio editing program called Audacity, and I played around with some of audacity’s effects to turn this three minute jazz tune into nearly an hour of sinister dark ambient that was directly inspired by the occult party we attended. When I finished it, I was happy with what I’d made, and I wanted to share it with the world. So I put it on SoundCloud. While I was uploading it, I saw that I could add some sort of album art. Keeping with the theme of transforming existing public domain works, using open source tools, I went back to the Internet Archive, and found a page of a 1927 seed catalog that had some bright strawberries on it. I captured part of that image, loaded it into Gimp, and applied a bunch of filters to it, until I’d turned an image of luscious strawberries into something very different, that I thought matched the mood and tone of the audio I’d created.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about how I believe this is a really great time to be a creative person, because the tools we need to make things, as well as the ability to get those things out into the world, are never farther away than our keyboards. I hope this inspires some of you to Get Excited and Make Things.
41 thoughts on “the audacity of derivative works”
Just imagine the remixing and derivative works that could be (legally) done if copyright were rolled back to the original period of 14 years plus a one-time 14 year renewal. Everything before 1986 would be fair game.
I mostly agree with that. The exception I would make is if the artist that created it is still active in the same capacity. For example The Rolling Stones or Aerosmith still tour and play the music they created in the 60s and 70s. However, I would NOT include The Beatles as they no longer perform as The Beatles (and half of them have passed away sadly).
I’m not sure that I believe that remixing the original Stones or Aerosmith music would in any way harm the Stones or Aerosmith.
It would be one way to help keep them relevant today, I think it could only help them.
Indeed. As it stands now, you will not be able to derive or remix anything created in you or your parents’ lifetimes. Is that really necessary to provide incentive to create works?
But then Mickey Mouse would be fair game and the world would end as Disney lawyers know it.
Nope; Mickey Mouse is not just protected by Copyright laws, but also by Trademark laws. And Trademarks, if still in use, NEVER expire. 🙂
I kept waiting through the entire post for you to tell us someone issued a DMCA takedown notice, or sued for infringement. I guess that is one reason why creative people sometimes can’t be creative.
I was too. The Internet has taught me to expect a complaint. Or, more likely, complaints about complaints. It’s nice to see a “happy ending”.
Oh man, I love reading about other people’s adventures with works in the public domain! My current creative work wouldn’t be possible with the ability to find, remix and re-imagine images that are in the public domain. Your creation is eerie and cool!
Also be aware that, while the songs may be public domain, sometimes the recordings are not. Nina Paley ran into that problem when she created Sita Sings the Blues.
You two look awesome. Great work on the songs.
Dapper as fuck.
Check out Swing Years & Beyond on kuow.org for music from that era (and beyond) & great commentary. Also, The Art of Jazz on kplu.org for more fantastic music & a great host.
If you simultaneously play JaDaDaJa AND one or more of the other links above, it feels like you’re playing Bioshock.
That’s good stuff! I’d like to see what you could do with the recently released NASA sounds.
Gah it before I was finished. You JaDa into something hair raisingly errie. Yow. Goosebumps all over.
A dashing couple!
I really, REALLY, hate to Me Too this, but Sound Recordings are different than Music (i.e. sheet music). Pre-1972 recordings are either covered by federal common law or state anti-piracy law, which has generally given recordings infinite copyright-like privileges. If the recording isn’t explicitly in the public domain, then the earliest you can be sure it goes in is 2076 (when the 1972 federal law starts overriding state law).
You’re probably safe, since most recordings are orphan-ware anyway, and most state laws banned commercial reproduction and not personal reuse, but one can’t be sure.
The only way to safely use a recording off the Internet is to pick a recording explicitly placed in the Public Domain or under a permissive license.
You sound like a closet ds106er (http://ds106.us). Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Those are some sexy peoples right there =) You’re the bar piano player and she’s the luscious dame that walks around singing driving the guys crazy lol
The audio is very nice. I could see that being used in a game or movie to up the creep factor. Well done, Wil.
My yearly tradition around this time is to listen to the War of the Worlds broadcast. After a couple of minutes listening to JaDaDaJa, I decided to pull up War of the Worlds and listen to it with JaDaDaJa as background music. Made for a very interesting experience. Just a small tweak to the speed would make them the same length too. (I shifted the slider back 5 minutes at intermission time to make them match up.) It’s particulary spooky when the audio of WotW drops out and all you hear is JaDaDaJa.
I really love how it sounds like the background music from some old radio serial. Maybe add some random cracks and pops from old records?
Did it get removed? It’s not working/showing up for me =/
You two look fab, as always!
I am really enjoying having JaDaDaJa in the background as I’m working. Thanks for sharing!
Very nice… kind of eery. I think you’re not as likely to run into trouble with something like this since you’re not selling it or anything. As an artist myself, I am very glad that we have copyright laws in place to protect artists (visual or music wise). Otherwise people would be stealing artwork left and right…happens enough already as it is. 😡
Obviously this is too late, but next time, check out The 1920s Radio Network. Complete with the scratchy sound and 1920s advertisements.
It seems I can’t post the link here, but Google it. 🙂
As a Linux geek homebrewer with an interest in ambient music and a long history in gaming, I am sometimes struck by synchronicity.
Did you try the National Jukebox on the Library of Congress website? They have music from that time period
Inspirational post! Thanks for all the information.
I use Audacity frequently in sound-designing the shows I direct at our little all-volunteer community theater in Jonesville, Michigan. It’s an amazing tool, especially for someone who really has no idea what she is doing –super easy to use. We use it for voice overs or sound effects or music (and most commonly blending those). And as I can’t afford to buy fancy software, I’m ever grateful for not having to pay for it. The curtain just came down on my first self-written production (an update on the 1938 Ordon Welles/Howard Koch version of War of the Worlds), and I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it without Audacity. #endplug
I listened to them both at the same time and I think it’s even creepier. As if Cthulu was very slowly turning an entire party insane.
I have one, very important question: did you do all of this in a Debian VM?
Not this time, no. This was all native OS X.
Fedora no Bowler~
How fun! You two are adorable. You are both adorable. You look adorable together.
Thanks for the music!
The Squirrel Nut Zippers have taken over my head now. The suits are picking up the tab everybody.
This is, indeed, a wonderful time to be a creative person. The time and effort that was, back in the ’80s, required to produce a short film, song, game or even a fanzine was simply out of reach for most people. Now, anyone can do nearly anything. And the world is a better place for it.
Fantastic…!!! Jada as ambient.
About a year ago I did a 26 minute version of the Beatles ‘Let it Be’. Paul’s voice sounds like a haunted choir also using Audacity. It’s about halfway down this page: http://www.djangobooks.com/forum/discussion/12177/the-curse-of-the-play-along-cd
I was raised on dusty old jazz – we grew up watching Uncle Neil on Lawrence Welk every week. Decades later, my brother quit Microsoft to play New Orleans jazz… a few years later, I quit Intel to make make pre-war style French jazz guitars. The Music and Nerd genes run strong in our family.
And Thanks. Seriously. I read “Just a Geek” when it came out and both enjoyed and related to it. People who take the ‘road less traveled’ experience a few more sleepless nights than most, but I wouldn’t live any other way – sounds like you wouldn’t either. I’ve dug what you do for a very long time, so FWIW, thanks for being you – oh – and also for getting me back into gaming. I quit gaming after D&D hurt my GPA in college, but some time back I stumbled across Tabletop after seeing you on Eureka and looking around to find out whether you were a new character. My wife and I now play Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, Castles of Burgundy – and just ordered half a dozen others. Great games exist that you can play in an hour… go figure. 😉
Haha.. oops. Just checked the link on the Beatles tune. I didn’t do that one – that was one I found online and pointed to as an example for a friend who was looking for audio software. Sorry. I should have checked the link first. (blush)
Audacity is great though. Since Adobe bought CoolEditPro (and ruined it) Audacity has been my audio editor of choice for altering tempo, burning vinyl, cleaning up bootlegs… everything.
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