X marks the spot


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Nov 30, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall


For the past couple of years I have been orchestrating a contest at Campus Party events in Spain, Brazil and Colombia which challenges a participant to make a video using only free software. This means that the participants have to create the video, edit the video, make the credits and produce a CD using only free software tools, and the entire presentation has to be licensed under a Creative Commons license.


The participants are given a list of possible software to use ahead of time, but they can use any software they want to use as long as it is either Free Software or Open Source. They do not know what the subject of the video will be until the first day of Campus Party, and since the judges need time to judge the entries as well as time to present the entries and the prizes, this often gives the participants only a couple of days to complete the project.


Creative Commons, of course, has encouraged lots of artists to license their music in creative ways and most recently there has been a band in Austria named Xbloome that not only created a freely licensed and downloadable CD's worth of songs from their album “X marks the spot” which they sell at concerts, in addition they only used Free Software to record, edit, mix and publish the CD and its associated jewel case artwork.


This would be quite enough, but our intrepid band also wrote up on their website the trials and tribulations of making sure that the entire work of art was sharable:

  • freely usable codecs


  • freely sharable fonts


  • freely sharable file formats


among other things so Xbloome could also publish their intermediate files, allowing people to “remix” both their artwork and their music. Often Xbloome found that while some items looked “Free” on the surface, as you tried to use them in real work there were often restrictions that kept you from distributing the results freely.


Proud of what Xbloome did, they stated on their web site that they were the first “completely free CD of music” published, only to be told by another artist, Dick MacInnis, that he had also produced a CD using only open software tools two years earlier, but had not stated that on the Internet. Dick ceeded that Xbloome could not have known that his CD was “free”, so they were the first to both produce the CD and then blog about how they made it, giving valuable information to those artists that want to do the same.


Another thing that Xbloome did was compare their previous CD, “...Done!”, which was “professionally” recorded with industry standard hardware and software with “X marks the spot” which was created, recorded, editied and mixed using Free Software and the artists themselves. Other professionals (both graphic artists and sound artists) could not determine that the output was not created by “professional” tools.


Why did Xbloome do this? In their own words from their web site:


Art (and especially music) exists because of interaction between people. Its existence and brilliance requires cultural, personal and all other kinds of exchange.


We were surprised that it's often not legally possible to share our experience, know-how and the fun we have with making music, if we use state-of-the-art, proprietary tools. And talking to other artists, VJs, etc. confirmed that their know-how was also locked to conditions/restrictions of a certain vendor.


Because these artificial restrictions are blocking creativity and exchange - we've decided to go open.


The only downside to all of this is that Xbloome used a Terratec 8 channel firewire external soundcard that had Linux support for their input, and this system has recently been discontinued by Terratec.


Hopefully Terratec will introduce other sound cards to replace what was obviously a very good piece of equipment, but in the meantime Xbloome can continue using the existing soundcard as the rest of the Free Software continues to improve.


Go to their site and read about them and how they made “X marks the spot”. Then make your own kind of music.


Carpe Diem!

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