A Bloom Is a Bloom Is a Bloom (MP3)

When is a music app an instrument, and when is a music app an album? And if it’s neither, what is it? The questions arise as more and more apps come to suggest themselves as non-traditional instrumentation, to be employed by musicians. Perhaps the suggestion that an app is an instrument is meant philosophically, or casually — but even if it is meant rhetorically, what impact does that designation have? For example, if musicians choose to sample a track off the recent Brian Eno album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea, they have the option of paying a licensing fee, or of trying to slip the use under the radar and hope for the best. But what if musicians want to use the Eno iOS app Bloom on an album? The Bloom sounds, these synthetic petal drops, are clearly composed by Eno — but do they require a ride around the same sort of permissions merry-go-round as do Eno sounds produced for a proper album?

[audio:http://www.archive.org/download/bloom-classic-ambrette/bloom-classic-ambrette-79m-128mp3.mp3|titles=”Bloom Classic Ambrette (2010)”|artists=Brian Eno & Peter Chilvers & …]

Someone over at archive.org seems to be testing these boundaries, by posting lengthy (79-minutes in this case) MP3s (and other formats) of Bloom in action (MP3). The brief note accompanying the MP3 says it all:

Pre-generated audio from the Bloom iOS application. This is Bloom in Classic mode with the Ambrette mood. It is 79m long.

It’s somewhat ironic to listen to a lengthy fixed recording of a software instrument that’s intended to sound different every time you use it. But the irony is tacit, a side point, to the main subject — and that subject is a question, questions that beget more questions: What is a recording of a lengthy stretch of Bloom? Is it an Eno ambient piece? A single? An album? A collaboration between Eno and the person who recorded it? One thing is for certain: It’s beautiful.

Track originally posted at archive.org. More on Bloom, which Eno developed with Peter Chilvers, at generativemusic.com.

31 thoughts on “A Bloom Is a Bloom Is a Bloom (MP3)

  1. very interesting questions you raise here, i have been wondering about “terms of use” for music generated by ipod apps. it doesnt seem to be specified anywhere whether it is allowed to use the music in your own compositions. the apps are often at least partially “played” like an instrument, so i assume it is allowed. i happen to know who posted these bloom recordings, and i believe he intended them to be used not exactly as music per se, but rather environmental sound for relaxation or sample material for other music producers to build on. i have been using sounds from ipod apps as part of my own generative ambient soundscape projects, for example: http://soundcloud.com/travisnobles/morning-forest-bloom here i combine a long recording of bloom with some field recordings i found on freesound.org. not particularly creative i know, but i find it pleasant to listen to.

    1. Thanks, Travis. I’ll check out that recording. That’s interesting you know who recorded them. It was hard to tell what the intention was. It does make sense that they’re primarily just useful background for relaxation, as you suggest. Still, by existing they raise questions about ownership and, to a slightly lesser extent, authorship.

    1. This is just a partial answer to your comment, Thomas — or, more to the point, a full answer to a part of your question.

      I reproduce it here, in part, from the FAQ at crecreativecommons.org

      Q: Can I license software using CC licenses? A: We do not recommend it. Creative Commons licenses should not be used for software. We strongly encourage you to use one of the very good software licenses which are already available. We recommend considering licenses made available by the Free Software Foundation or listed at the Open Source Initiative.
  2. why would you apply a license to the output of a generative application at all? to me that would be like trying to copyright the output of a synthesizer. all synths are in a sense generative (even if only to a very small extent), and to me apps like Bloom are more like an instrument than a composition. the code and even the samples could and should be copyrighted or cc-licensed, but applying a license to the output doesnt make sense to me.

    1. The comparison between app and synthesizer is very much to the point. I’m not sure it makes much sense to copyright the sonic output of an app. However, I’m not convinced that everyone who makes an app, and in the process of promoting it likens that app to an instrument, has fully taken into consideration what that means in regard to the rights they can reserve in regard to the sounds that they have created.

    2. “why would you apply a license to the output of a generative application at all?”

      Depends on whether you see a licence as restrictive or permissive. The usefulness of a licence is that, when properly written, it answers exactly the question this article raises. So you know where you stand from the outset.

  3. The kind of license I was thinking of might allow you, for example, to share music created with a given app. but not to sell it. Think of Robert Rich’s “Somnium” app.– it plays generative versions of the original (epic) piece– but if I buy the app., can I make money off of new iterations of “Somnium”? Maybe I could share it but not make money, don’t you think?

    1. Anything is possible. That’s the wonder, and problem, with terms of service. The more these app terms proliferate and diversify, the less apps are likely to be taken seriously as instruments.

    2. interesting idea, Thomas. i was planning to do something like that with the Somnium app. i am working on an ambient mix, and i was thinking of recording the output of the Somnium app and using it as segues between other ambient pieces in the mix. i suppose youre less likely to run into trouble as long as you dont try to sell anything.. some apps, such as Thicket, are definitely meant more as an interactive music/art piece than an instrument. i suppose i could record myself “playing” Thicket and then try to sell it. it might not be illegal, it would just be rather lame, since someone else did all the sound design and programming.

  4. As a composer and sound designer / artist who uses many different synthesizers and samplers, be they analog, digital or hosted by a computer, it seems that the whole question of copyright / licensing over creations made with these has become both muddled and confusing. And now the i-devices come along, and we have more to contend with.

    I use a number of software based instruments that contain restrictions on their use. Personally, I find this difficult to reconcile with the idea of what an instrument is, no matter the medium it is “hosted” by. It is clear though I need to perhaps rethink my position rather than succumb to the oft disseminated arguments over what “has been” rather than what “is.”

    Take some time to look at the end user license for products by spectrasonics. You can use it for music, but not sound design. But where is the line? Is the line even further blurred because of spectrasonics use of samples of non-virtual sounds (both synths and acoustic instruments.)

    I often deal with project that could be both sound design and music at the same time. I would argue that you could also categorize much sound design as music if you had the time and energy to extrapolate the argument.

    Where is the line in sampling “analog” instruments? Or sampling “digital” instruments? Can software manufacturers enforce their licensing restrictions with current laws? Are there legal work arounds that users could wield?

    And then products like Nebula come along, and muddy things even further.

    I have no idea where this is all headed, or what the logical conclusion will be. I agree @Travis that all synthesizers, but definition, are in a sense generative.

    I do know that I’d like to see a more robust, (perhaps even structured) discussion about the usage of all kinds of equipment and software in creating sounds for commercial, or non-commercial outcomes. Thoughts on bloom would be a great contribution to that discussion.

    1. That’s really interesting about the Spectrasonics divide between music and sound design. Are those online? I’d like to peruse them.

      I just finished the Oxford University Press book by Louis Niebur on the history of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and that same divide is a key part of its origin story. The divide was no more practically clear in 1958, when the Workshop started, than it is today.

      The more technology changes …

  5. What if I write a series of algorithms to make midi file melodies- covering all musical genres and note combinations. If I use the existing (and terrible) copyright structures- how long until I have a library of copyrighted material that encompasses all future possible melodic variants? Can I then sue every artist in future who writes any melody for breaching my copyright? Technically it’s possible. Creative Commons is the only fair way to go forward that I can see.

  6. @Beat Therapy

    That exact same question has been asked by myself amongst friends over beer a number of times. We actually did a fair bit of maths, trying to work out what kind of machine it would take to store all melodies that are 10 or 11 notes long. From memory, we got to around 10TB of data storage required (easy to do), when no rhythmic details are stored. I’ll have a look through my notebooks and maybe post back. We were throwing around calling it “the magical mysterious music maker” – we even got as far as writing a bit of code. The idea would be to put the computer in an acylic box, and exhibit it in a museum like way. Maybe have a big red button that plays back one melody at a time chosen randomly.

    The fun bit would come if you copyrighted ALL those melodies… using current copyright laws (not through creative commons etc)

    Problem is, by chance, you will re-compose (if you can call it that) every melody of that length that has already been copyrighted, thus the artwork will also be (maybe) impinging on someone else copyright license.

    Of course, to really make it worth while, the artwork (or a company on behalf of the artwork) would need to file lawsuit on someone (perhaps me) that later (even accidentally) impinges on the copyright of the artwork itself.

    :) But we’re getting a little away from topic (though I’m sure I’m mostly to blame)

  7. I think it was Eno himself who recently said that making ambient music was no longer interesting because it was too easy, you could just press a couple of buttons and wiggle your fingers and out comes something fully formed — a sound that someone else designed. Forgive the paraphrasing, I’m sure I butchered it.

    Clearly the idea of authorship is the central question here, but I also like the tangential one: should art be so easy to make?

    “My personal motto is: ‘art is still difficult’.” –Bernhard Günter

    1. Yeah, Eno has said specifically that. In perhaps a related way, I find his apps more appealing that his “fixed” recordings. Even within the apps, I find the combinations of notes more interesting than the individual ones.

      1. I too am enjoying the apps more than the recordings I love so much and know perhaps too well. I think Eno himself noted a similar feeling on thinking of playing a recording: oh, but it’s going to sound the exact same way as last time.

        I personally feel that, re Eno at least, Bloom, Trope, and Air do what Discreet Music, Music for Airports, and other later recordings (Kite Stories, Music for “I Dormienti,” etc.) would have done if the technology of the time had allowed it. In a way, they are no different, musically speaking, from what Pete Cooper has done here with Bloom: create a fixed instance of one iteration of a theoretically infinite combination of possibilities.

  8. Hello. I’m the uploader of the archive.org link you posted. I was the person who set Bloom up to record, edited, mastered, and uploaded to archive.org. There’s no malicious or commercial exploitation intent with my actions and, to be brutally honest, I was just doing it to allow people to listen to Bloom in the car, in bed, on the move, at dinner parties etc. They’re CD-length so folks without iOS devices can burn them to a disc and listen.

    I’m the owner of a legitimately purchased copy of Bloom, and I’m surprised there weren’t already recorded versions of the output already out there on the web. I am not aware of any restrictions, either explicit or otherwise, on what can be done with the output, or whether setting Bloom to random and creating a unique piece changes the game. It goes without saying that if I get asked to pull it down, I will – there’s nothing sinister in my motives.

    Hope this clears things up a little. -Pete

    1. A quick follow-up to my own comment: the description on the archive.org page is deliberately quite brief at this stage, I’m uploading a bunch more stuff and I wanted to tie it all in together with an explanatory note to avoid confusion and state my (honourable-ish) intentions – clearly I should’ve done this before it popped up on people’s radars, so lesson learned :) -Pete

      1. @Pete: Thanks for having shared the impetus behind your having produced this track, and others like it. I look forward to when you summarize your thinking on the archive.org pages.

  9. I think what has to be taken into consideration is how the designer / distributor of the Eno apps expects them to be perceived and used.

    Is the app an instrument? If so, like any other musical instrument or synth, whatever you create with it is yours to do with as you please. Commercial or otherwise. Just like a clarinet, an analog synthesizer, or a Tibetan bowl (there’s an app for that, too!).

    Is the app an interactive aesthetic work of art? If so, then what you create with it is just a variation on the creator’s overall work and the work remains, essentially, the creator’s.

    It’s pretty obvious that the Rich app and the Roach app are meant to be interactive variations on their work, not instruments. What is generated remains their work, even if you do have some input into the output. I have the Rich app on my phone, and basically it just loops his pre-recorded music, albeit, you can speed it up and slow it down. Not much interaction compared to Trope or Bloom.

    It is not so clear with the Eno apps what their designer intends them to be.

    Bloom does say “listen to a generative composition or create your own. Tap the screen to play notes.” This implies that what you “play” is your “own” to do with as you please.

    It would be nice to have a definitive statement from the designer on it, as the creator’s of the Buddha Machine (and now app) have done.

    1. I agree. The Buddha Machine is a good example of how artists, in that case the duo FM3, have made clear their intentions for how people can utilize the sounds. I also agree with your interpretation of the other apps you mention. The question of course is, whether or not people agree with our interpretation of those apps’ intended uses, that doesn’t mean that people won’t have other interpretation, or won’t elect to go against the grain of the interpreted intent.

      1. IMHO, the intended use of the app is meaningless. Whatever the designer/coder intended on making and marketing it, once it is out in the world, people are going to use as they wish. If they break the law doing so (and that doesn’t seem to be the case here but in an age where even silence has been copyrighted who knows), then they obviously assume some degree of risk.

        I agree with the comparison with the synthesizer mentioned above, though acknowledge that apps such as Bloom are not quite the same thing. They can be used as instruments, but they can also function like “augmented” recordings that play and regenerate themselves with each new listen.

  10. First of all, I would be extremely surprised if there is no EULA for this Eno iOS app. It may be hard to find, but the answer to how the sounds of the app can be reused should be answered in the EULA somewhere.

    At the end of the day, it is up to the copyright holder to specify the terms of how they want their content to be used (fair use notwithstanding). If Eno doesn’t want his generative sounds to be re-released in any way, then Eno’s wishes are to be legally respected. It’s up to Eno.

    With that said, I see no reason that someone who makes a generative app cannot choose to release their content under Creative Commons. The FM3 Buddha Machine (www.fm3buddhamachine.com) is a case in point. The sounds of the Buddha Machine are released under Creative Commons, and FM3 in fact used to link to remixes of the sounds that they liked. An enlightened company.

    Anyway so I definitely encourage the makers of these sound applications to license their stuff under Creative Commons. Makes for a healthy creative environment. But if they choose to copyright the app, then it seems pretty clear that their copyright must be respected, at least until the law declares that reusing a generative application’s sounds falls somewhere under fair use (which I believe it currently does not).

    My $0.00001 worth ….

    1. i looked for an EULA for Bloom et al, but in the 5 or 10 mins i spent looking, i wasnt able to find any kind of information or legal gibberish about how the app is to be used, neither in the app itself or on the app’s website, http://generativemusic.com/ since terms of use are not specified, i can only assume it can be used as an instrument. i’m no lawyer but as i understand it, it is not possible to copyright an “infinite” composition based on formulas. one can of course copyright or patent the software, methods, and formula used to make the composition, but because it is (presumably) based on random factors, the composition itself doesnt actually exist until the user “creates” it. in this sense, recording output from a generative music app is somewhat like field recording. i agree, it would be nice if they took a cue from FM3 and made their intentions a little more clear.

  11. Hey you guys, I’m tuning in late here, but have Eno’s people asserted ownership of music made by users of Bloom yet? A friend of mine was thinking of using it for a soundtrack, and was wondering if it would expose her to legal difficulties. Of course, we have righteously purchased our copy.

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