Bitcoin, Art and Thermodynamics: Why Artists Need to Investigate Bitcoin
I want to share some thoughts on bitcoin. I now (capitalized for effect) ONLY accept bitcoin for anything I do, from busking, to shows to all current and future artifacts I create, including exo-voice and variants(foreshadowing ) not just that though. I’ve begun experimenting with a new type of busking that combines artist residencies with electronic theory, AND, once I have sorted out all of my campaign contributors, I will custom build exo-voice systems for €500 in bitcoin only. n the busking is following this idea;
[su_quote cite=”Donald Ingber – Serendipitous Science Lecture (PopTech)”]when busking, I take bitcoin, but I will give you a qr-code to take with you. does it sound crazy enough yet? yes…I am saying that if someone offers me $1000 or euros or whatever, I will NOT take it, and those who know me personally, know that I am serious. why would I do such a thing!? (it is more important to begin a conversation at this point…) keep reading… [/su_quote]When I was just starting out in Atlanta Georgia, I played saxophone. I played it in high school and in college for the short time I was there. it was a constant and made me feel good but I wasn’t very good outside of the academic/marching band world. I could sight read classical which helped me get a scholarship to Grambling state university. this proficiency did not help in the real world, so upon moving to Atlanta, I was employed at a candy store in underground Atlanta, a shopping center, for a few months. this is where I was clued into the culture known as “busking” or street performing; playing on the street in hopes that people that pass by will drop a donation into your tip hat. what I learned is that there is very little “hoping”-most buskers can average enough to make a living and some do way better. I quit my job at the candy store after I watched a sax player, who would eventually become my sax teacher, make about $50, sitting and playing outside my candy store, in about 35 minutes. I, at the time, working at the candy store, was going to make approximately $32 for 8 hours of work, after taxes. not a hard step…I bought a cheap sax with my next paycheck and quit. from that moment, I was a busker.
busking sharpens the mind and the skills. you’ve got to read whole crowds of people and play in such a way that they are all part of the field you are generating. it is an exciting honor to be able to stand in a place somewhere and know that you can setup, rock out, pack up and leave with more money than you came with, repeatedly and reliably enough to be able to eat and pay rent and even travel.
oooh travel…did I mention that there is one almost perfect travelling profession? being a stage musician is good “almost”anywhere in the world, but dare I say that your average busker who “plays out” at least a few times a week, can go anywhere in the world and murder it. any stage, any street corner, or living room, or bar, or…
[su_quote cite=”Donald Ingber – Serendipitous Science Lecture (PopTech)”]busking is the kung Fu of performing arts.[/su_quote]
one sure fire way in the 90’s to make money as a busker, was by selling your music in this super new format called a compact disc. around 94-95, you could buy blank “audio” cds, which were at the time distinguished from “data”cd because…well…because we didn’t know any better. we were happy to just have them as an option. from 95 till around 2000, cds were a gift from a heaven. by 96 I had moved from Atlanta to san Francisco and began playing around fisherman’s wharf and downtown in front of virgin megastore on market street. I sold soooo many cds in that city at that time (Clinton era/pre-Bush apocalypse). of course, my life revolved around the hunt for the right sound in the right place at the right time. I think this really tickled my more obsessive voices. I was autonomous. I could go wherever I wanted, wherever, and I could play music right on the street.
I had been getting label offers since waaay before I played well enough to do an album, and I knew it, so I couldn’t understand why I kept getting the offers. I later discovered that labels would, at the time, go around and sign up anyone who would put their name on a contract, then just kinda “store” them for…I really don’t know. all I knew was that I had at least a dozen friends signed to a few labels back then and none of them are in music today. they burned out. its highly intense and competitive. I had busking and no real desire for what they were offering.
buskers are extremely entrepreneurial. making their “pitch” (chosen performance location) reflect their personality and their music. I know cats who brought out 4 speaker sound systems and carpet and lights, shrink wrapped cds, vinyl and even took credit cards. and some of those same buskers (some musical, some comedy, some dancers, and some were “crate-dancers; guys who paint themselves up silver and and do elaborate robot-like routines while dancing and spinning on a plastic crate. they actually make the most of all the buskers I remember. sometimes $500 or more a day back in the 90s.
upon moving to London in 2001, I soon discovered that busking was different there so I did it less and less and played more squat parties. I didn’t make any money but I got free…um…party stuff, some of which grew wild in the hills just outside London. the parties were much more interesting during those times of the year and this experimentation of sound and perception, opened up many opportunities for me to play “inside”, i.e. the London club scene.
I played clubs in London for a few years and loved every second and returned to the us in 2005 with a completely new style which upon arrival in new york that summer, made nary a blip on the scene there, which was very scenery, in my experience. but luckily, I had busking. I knew I could go out and “hunt”; find the right place at the right time and play.
eventually I got over the masochism that kept me there as long as it did, and in 2006 moved back to san Francisco for a bit, before moving to berlin in 2008, both instances, busking, or rather, having a busking attitude, allowed me to exist and to create the prototypical beatjazz protocols…on the street.
(this was one of the first times it all clicked together, but I needed a metronome to stay in time back then)
I didn’t make much money. people there weren’t really felling my stuff, but I’m stubborn like that and I saved my pennies, literally, and bought my ticket to berlin, where upon arrival, I paid for rent and food by busking.
when I travelled around Europe on a bike in 2010, I financed it, initially by playing a couple of shows at the northsea jazz fest as well as busking outside the festival at the end of the night. from there it was street corners, bars, and cafes from Amsterdam to Paris to sitges, Spain to Ibiza and all the way back to berlin 4 months later.
the following January (2011) I began working on the 1st beatjazz controller prototype, with the intention of using it for busking, which I did, exactly once.
on the day, at Tacheles Kunsthaus, I finally got it to work, a young filmmaker filmed me with his iPhone and gave me the footage, which I entered in a contest to be a TED presenter…the first contest of its sort they had attempted. and the rest is…still going, but suffice it to say that busking took a backseat to conferences, and development and learning coding and 3d design and all the other stuff.
busking represents autonomy to me. without it, it would have been much more difficult to go and do the things I feel make me who I am. #autonomy
cut to summer 2013. although I knew about bitcoin and even mined a few back when I had time for that kind of thing, I had been researching them a bit more. they had gone from $8 to a whopping $250 in April and back down to about $80 by the time I decided to jump in and try them in June, when I showed up for the first bitcoin exchange meetup in berlin.
at that meeting, I wanted to “feel” something I sensed, so I asked if I could busk there during the meetup, and proceeded to make approximately €35 in about 5 minutes, but the amount was unimportant. I had experienced a new type of transactional exchange. no change, no banks, no conversion charges. just a network and a desire to transact.
one of the benefits of being me is that I don’t have much, so the idea of “losing everything”, materially, doesn’t frighten me. I could replace everything I own for less than the price of a decent drum machine, so in July, after an especially long bank transfer (30 days in 2013?!), I decided to investigate bitcoin by converting my gig fees into the currency. since then, I have watched my money balloon 500% then back down to about 200% of what I put in, and it has never gone close to that amount since. this intrigued me. it’s the most interesting thing I have ever experienced with currency of any type. what is this strange literally cryptic currency that is taking the world by storm?
a necessary evil aspect of being a modern day artist of any sort, is the need to “sell”; sell products, sell yourself, sell someone else’s products by way of endorsements- selling your vibe and associating it with their products, etc. we were born into a world of selling and “branding”(which is what is done to farm animals to show who owns them…farm animals and slaves…just saying…). of endorsements and empty hyperbole. music…art…is used to sell things, as if that was always it primary purpose. music exists outside of commerce.
in some cultures, the griot is the holder of the legacy and considered to be an important part of the fabric of society; a musical historian . art signifies great cultures. art is the connection with something greater than what is viewable in the here and now. as such, it is very useful to advertisers who can inject their product into the space where insight once existed.
contracts are created that, unless you know “the game”, sometimes usually end up with the artist working for the label and not the other way around. the money they get is pre-spent booking overpriced studios and famous hitmakers so that when your album drops, it has the best chance at reaching millions of people who could otherwise care less. and how do we currently make them care more within this distortion matrix? by becoming a spectacle. sex, drugs and garishness. let me state, I LOVE all three of those things (sometimes simultaneously), but not as a means of getting people to like my art. I don’t need a Kardashian on my arm to validate my expression, and yes…I went there…
once you mix capitalism and art you get (capitalism)art or capitalism+art=X. most of us believe that X is the only expression possible and anything else is to eek out an existence playing shopping malls or by oneself in ones bedroom with headphones on low, so as to not wake anyone. I have been formed by X. I grew up on ONLY stuff I either heard on the radio or on TV or in movies. I am fully programmed with those pop-cultural algorithms that still impose themselves on my reality. for instance, before moving to berlin, I was terrified of the nighttime darkness partly because everything I had grown up with insisted that walking around in the dark was a sure fire way to get attacked by something; muggers, cops, aliens, monsters…none of which I ever actually experienced (at least not in the dark), all of which I experience repeatedly from pop-media. X influences all of us. as Alan Moore stated in his self-documentary “the mind of Alan Moore”, this cultures true shamen are advertisers because they have the power and insight to make everyone think the same banal thought at exactly the same time. #heavy
I’m not going to explain the inner workings of Bitcoin again. this is more about what it is to TO ME and to myart. so for this section we will use a similar formula
Briefly, a better way of thinking about bitcoin is as multiple systems with the same name. there is;
- bitcoin-the currency (lower case for this post)
- BITCOIN-the system (upper case), which includes
- the Blockchain.
bitcoin is an application on top of the BITCOIN protocol. bitcoin is not the only thing that BITCOIN does. it is literally only the FIRST app BITCOIN does as a network protocol. the reason it is so game-ENDING is that it uses a concept that allows consensus (agreement) without hierarchy or permission or 3rd parties. this concept is called the BLOCKCHAIN.
think of the blockchain as an enormous asset ledger based on cryptographic trust. what happens is (simplified) bitcoins are generated by miners-individuals with computers who’s job it is to take all transactions on the network, run them through a cryptographic hashing process that takes a minimum of 10 minutes, then, based on which miners did the most work, spits out a set amount of bitcoins, every 10 minutes, until 2040 when the last of 21 million bitcoins is spit out. because the system is decentralized, no one-not a government or banks-can turn it off or hack it but that isn’t the interesting part; now the idea exits, like napster, and bittorent before it, this technology can not be un-invented. it is now part of the collective field of human knowledge. if it ever gets crushed, the following version will improve on what made the previous version fail, and be even more resilient to attack. THIS is a BIG deal. but not the only big deal…
Bitcoin is decentralized, permissionless, unhaackable and PROGRAMMATIC, i.e., programmable money. this has never existed in any way, before. this means you can program value to do all kinds of things that cant be imagined yet. who imagined YouTube in 1991? or Google? Facebook? mp3s destroying the record industry? filesharing? I can go on… this turns the relationship between art and stored value (formerly the exclusive realm of fiat currency), on its head.
just the idea that artists who were indoctrinated into the “x” system, now have a “Y” system that is already working, is cool, but when you investigate and explore Y (bitcoin+art), you can see opportunities that never existed before.
one I really like right now is the idea of “digital Autonomous Corporations”. because bitcoin is decentralized and permissionless and frictionless, it can be incorporated into an algorithm that runs itself, buys its own server space, pays those that upkeep it, etc., all with no human intervention. you birth it and set it free on the internet. this could be abstracted as digital autonomous record labels, for lack of a better term for record label right now. imagine an algorithm that is programmed to form a collective of artists and support persons that can contribute to a project, with the system paying them itself, based on blockchain concepts of proof of work in addition to other variables. just one idea of many.
but wait…there is more!!
bitcoin is highly volatile; gaining or losing up to 50% of its value based on many real-time variables. but the longer the system exists, the more valuable the entire system. imagine opening a bank account where instead of paying for the privilege, you get interest on your money…and a bit of interest from every single person who also has an account there. its kinda like that but times 1000 or more. this means that todays bitcoins will be worth more later, but the only way to get there is for them to circulate. and the easiest way to do that is to accept bitcoin. to earn bitcoin. to be part of the system and interact with it actively.
I must admit, much of this still seems like internet voodoo to me. I have read a few crypto book back in the 90’s, but retained none of it. I feel like this is powerful enough to invest a significant amount of my mental space in not only understanding it, but abstracting it as expression, accepting it exclusively, and teaching myself how to create it. it is well worth learning to code and understanding crypto, for the possibility this creates.
to me, Y means that every amount of bitcoin I earn will fluctuate mostly upward over time, without me having to do anything other than focus on securing them (the system cant be hack, but your computer and smart devices can). but from there I can take that value and create a program that automatically buys and sells bitcoin on exchanges, based on my own criteria. or invests in projects I like, or, my favorite theoretical construct…
please excuse my lack of actual knowledge concerning thermodynamics, which I view thru the lenses of expression rather than precision.
Bitcoin is programmatic, frictionless and unhackable. to explore its possibilities, I needed to look at it not as money but as energy. back in October, I had approximately .5 (half) bitcoin in my wallet, which at the time was worth about $150. all of a sudden the news broke that china was loving some bitcoin. that news and a few other bits here and there ballooned my .5 bitcoin up to around $650. although many were looking at this and thinking “oooh, I will get bitcoin and save it for a rainy day”, I was thinking “spend everything above the $150 I invested” in that way making the value useable and tangible, so I bought stuff I needed, and took friends out on multiple occasions, to a local restaurant that takes bitcoin, Room 77. I got $500+ of value out of $150 in initial investment. this made me think; if I invest even small amounts of fiat cash or bitcoin, back into my wallet, to use, then think of it as another form of expression to be programmed, it will generate more than I put in. the entire bitcoin economy is worth, I think, about 50 billion or less, with about 3-4 million people in it…what happens when there are 100 million people in it? 1 billion? TWO billion? notice I didn’t just jump to 6-7 billion, which will happen but will need a different mindset that I must iterate toward. just the growth from 3 to 100 million will increase the value to levels we do have words, concepts, ideas or tools for yet. so zooming back down to my little 2-300€ a month investment, combined with programming it artistically, my “store of value” will generate its own sort of field. it will be the true meaning of rich; hoarding capital is necessary to secure ones store of value in fiat currencies and gold. digital programmatic money, I feel, wants to circulate, and it thus more in tune with the natural state of man and even the universe.
(no, this is not a bitcoin)
so now, in this virtual future, my stored value is generative. looking at it from the point of view of electronics, if I store this “energy”, it generates “heat”(I’m still weak on thermodynamics, so bear with my analogies). this metaphorical heat could also be utilized, but that’s a step too far for me right now. viewed as stored energy, it presents me with some extremely interesting possibilities:
if busking is artistic autonomy, the adding bitcoin becomes autonomy2(multiplied by itself). owing to the dynamism of my sonic fractal system, especially in the re-envisioned context of busking, I can focus on doing ONLY things that are interesting and shareable.
- I love busking on the street but I can also use my system as a way of demonstrating the blockchain in sound, which I did at a local bitcoin meetup in Nov. no tip hat necessary. I simply give out qr-codes. I am confident that by focusing only on interesting (to me) vectors, I don’t need to beg. people can investigate bitcoin and tip me later, or tip someone else…at least now they are in the system.
- Touring. rather than going to places to play a show and or give a talk, bitcoin means that everywhere is an opportunity to do these things. the amount of money offered is no longer the primary incentive.
- the goal of accumulating wealth is much less interesting than the programmatic investigation of consensus based value.
- this opens the opportunity to choose places to go and express and share, based on how interesting it is to go to that place, rather than simply how much I get paid. I can take the value fluctuation and use it to buy the parts for 3d printers and just go places doing interesting things with interesting people who may not have money to build or buy such things, just because I feel like it and because I am the sound system, the light show and the band, any time, anyplace I don my exo-voice, is a concert. I don’t “need” to play for ever larger audiences. and I don’t need sponsors. the internet is my sponsor.
because the value of bitcoin is so explosive, in both directions but mostly upward, and is frictionless, I can investigate doing my busking/tour/workshop/whatever thing for DONATIONS! this is not the same as shows in that shows are booked ahead of time. my excursions are my own. there is a caveat though. when a (no term yet) “donation-based performance-thing” is announced each event will have its own wallet address which can be seen at blockchain.info, you can see every transaction ever done with that wallet address, which makes it a free crowdfunding platform!! I believe that no one wants to be “that cheap city/club/maker space” on a page full of wallets, whose stored value is used to do interesting stuff. its the same as how people like to get the attention of the person behind the counter before dropping a tip into the tip jar by the register. it is also a psychological mechanism in busking. I will keep a log of places I go and play in this manner and post their donation wallet on a page for all to see. probably the best reputation system so far contact me if this interests you (only here in berlin for the time being)
I believe in the plan I have stated above enough to offer my exo-voice systems for basically the cost of parts and time. with the latest redesign, the exo-voice is the worlds first 100% 3d printed gestural sonic prosthesis. as such, it is much easier to print and assemble which means less work for me. the exo-voice is as much art as computer interface…maybe more. each one is different and they change based on my whims and needs, although each variation will be forkable on Github(until I can create my own git-like system). once the design is stable enough for human consumption (more in the next post on this topic), it will be freely downloadable and open as a learning resource. the exo-voice is my expression of the possibilities of the interconnectedness of humanity thru the internet, and bitcoin integrates completely into that idea.
There is “new” new world order. one that wasn’t in our programming before the internet. although Hollywood and the media industrial complex have worked hard to put our imaginations back into the box they crafted so carefully for 100 years or so, the powerful thrust of the hyper connected world has them grasping for the straws of litigation on one side and artist mind control in the form of spells like American idol, celebrities who are only famous for being famous and indentured servitude to capitalist corporate kingdoms in decline. how sad is it that an artist would think that singing a song they didn’t write, to judges who either cant or barely sing, validates them not only to the mass hoards of “fans” but to themselves as well. it bothered me enough to take a few months to form a description of bitcoin for artists that I hope, makes them see that that media oligarchy is already dead. it just doesn’t know it yet. and in its wake “can be” something else that is far more interesting and useful. it wont be rainbows and puppies, and I don’t doubt that someone will throw this post in my face at some point in the future, but the time is now to see that this world is not set in stone. the NSA can tap your internet connection but they can not stop the internet. the record labels can take “thriller” off YouTube, but they can not remove it from the internet, and they know it. their only respite is to convince you that they can and that they are all powerful. the facts on the ground, or rather on the internet do not reflect this.
we are the internet. we are the artists. we don’t even have to fight for “a”bitcoin-like system that enables freedom from banks. its already here, it works, it is climbing in value exponentially RIGHT NOW, not in the future. the future was yesterday. welcome.