The Stonesthrow label’s weekly sample melees recently migrated to the sound-file community soundcloud.com from the cloud-storage service drop.io (the latter of which is due to be shut down, following its acquisition by Facebook). It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the backend-technology shift influences the ongoing competitions. For now, it’s difficult to think of a significant downside to the move away from drop.io.
That’s nothing against drop.io; the service had regularly improved its interface over time. But one of the major benefits of the Soundcloud interface is that each participating musician will have a distinct personal page, so if a listener enjoys one track, it will be all the easier to locate other tracks by the same person. When the Stonesthrow Beat Battles were on drop.io, collating the various contributors felt a bit like being a character on the AMC TV series Rubicon, trying to track down information on mysterious figures who post coded missives online and leave a disparate and disconnected approximation of a data trail.
Beat Battle #192 is happening right now, which gives us time to focus on the well-attended #191. For readers just coming upon the idea of a Beat Battle, the way it works is that all the participants have a set amount of time, a little less than a week, to construct a beat (that is, a hip-hop-oriented backing track) based on a shared sound source. For contest #191, that sample was a bit of mellow instrumental pop jazz by Don Julian and the Larks (aka the Meadowlarks), titled “Just Tryin’ to Make It.” With a lightly swinging rhythm and a sweet lead saxophone, the track had numerous sample-able moments. Beatmaking tends to fall into two camps: reworking known music and crate-digging for rarities. The Larks track falls into the latter camp.
To these ears, the winner of #191 should have been Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Tictoc, who took the enjoyably subdued tune and torqued it into a noisily looping monster, somewhere between the skronk symphonies of Glenn Branca and the dense collages of Public Enemy:
Speaking of the demise of drop.io, there was a piece by PC Magazine‘s John C. Dvorak (at pcmag.com) about the (much reported but still not yet in effect) demise of drop.io, in which he decried the fragility of a cloud-based Internet ecology: “It’s like a bone yard. Blame the cloud. You’ve basically wasted years of effort saving cool Web sites with bookmarks for no reason.” The piece is worth a reading, though it offers no apparent solution. It also begs the question, are dead links a massive problem? Putting all your data in one basket, as it were, is a problem, but that’s true whether the basket is in the cloud or in your basement server. Either way, it’s an avoidable one; drop.io only had so much impact on the Internet, but imagine Flickr.com suddenly going belly-up. In addition, there’s a mistaken fetish quality to the perceived eternal nature of links; maybe there’s something to be said for data that disappears.
It’s wait and see for now on how the Stonesthrow switch to Soundcloud from drop.io will play out. It seems like a win for participants and listeners, but perhaps the relative loss of anonymity won’t prove to be a boon — maybe the looseness of drop.io-era gave producers reassurance that their copyright-meddlesome habits wouldn’t be easily trackable, and the Soundcloud mode will be less attractive. For now, the Beat Battles go on.