Fake Fish Distribution: an album with a great hook

26 March 2012

Icarus, featuring lecturer Dr Oliver Bown, perform live onstage.
Icarus, featuring lecturer Dr Oliver Bown, perform live onstage.

Dr Oliver Bown, a musician and a lecturer at the University of Sydney's Design Lab, has recently released an electronic music album in 1000 digitally unique versions.

Each of the 1000 albums feature different versions of the eight tracks on the album. And each edition of the album, which was "inspired by jazz music and improvisation", can only be sold once, says Dr Bown.

In another novel twist, whoever purchased a particular version of the album will share in the benefits if music from their copy happens to be played in a nightclub, or is featured in a television program or film.

"Each owner is entitled to half the royalties from their version," says Dr Bown. Buyers purchase the album through a custom store that destroys each version as it is sold, handing the rights (and responsibilities) of the recorded work to its buyer.

Dr Bown made the recording with Sam Britton, his partner in the electronic music group Icarus, by customising standard music software. "The software enabled us to take segments of pre-composed music and make small variations to allow us to create 1000 different records," he says.

The technique they used is known as "parametric design - taking an aspect of a particular design and subjecting it to automated control," explains Dr Bown.

The result weaves chaos and chance into something that all the while resembles 'real' music. To the listener it might appear that either something has gone wrong in the strangest of ways, or that a door has been opened into an unfamiliar alternative future, says the album's publicity notes.

The album's name, Fake Fish Distribution (FFD), is a reference to the biblical story of Jesus taking five loaves and two fishes and multiplying them to make enough food to feed thousands.

"FFD remains elusive even to us," says Dr Bown. "We have not listened to every variation, but we nevertheless consider it a 'known unknown': we're confident that the variation exhibited in each track, while perhaps unexpected, is compositionally rigorous and that the overall work remains musically coherent."

One thousand unique versions of the album were created using special software.
One thousand unique versions of the album were created using special software.

FFD explores what it means to own a 'copy' of something in an age where the contents of our music collections are not distinct objects, but clones of the same bits that belong elsewhere to others, Dr Bown explains.

Dr Bown teaches design computing in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning- a branch of information technology which he says attracts "creative people interested in designing the future by thinking about what people might be doing with technology in two to five years' time."

From 21 April he will be co-convening a four-day workshop for sound designers and musicians at Serial Space in Chippendale to explore the possibilities of music software. The workshop will culminate in two performances, one at Serial Space on 21 April and one at UTS, Bon Marche Studio on 21 June.

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Media enquiries: Kath Kenny, 0478 303 173, 02 9351 1584,