Thursday, December 27, 2007

Superorganic - Hello World


This is the first blog about Superorganica, the Superorganic Project, an idea which we hope will bring the concepts, success, and idealism of free software to music, film, arts, and all creative endeavors.

The free software ideal is built on the following principles:

The recipient has the freedoms to:

0 - Run the program, for any purpose.
1 - Study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs.

2 - Redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
3- Improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

What is remarkable about the free software movement is that it has produced some very widely used, robust, and socially important applications such as: Linux, Wikipedia, Mozilla, Open Office, and Blender. Each of these applications was created using a widely distributed group of dedicated volunteers, all contributing to the overall project because they felt that it was a good idea and worth their time and effort. The fruit of their work is useable by anyone, without cost, freely shared by all, with open source access and documentation for all.

The principle driving many, if not all of those who worked on these projects can be summed up as the hacker ethic (originally coined by Steven Levy, who used Richard Stallman as the iconic hacker model):

Access to computers — and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works — should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-on Imperative!
All information should be free.
Mistrust authority — promote decentralization.
Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as
degrees, age, race, or position.
You can create
art and beauty on a computer.
Computers can change your life for the better.

In these models, free means freedom. The free software movement has begun to leak slowly into other parts of society, pioneered to a large degree by Lawrence Lessig. Lessig has proposed many aspects of what he deems to be aspects of a free culture, of which the Creative Commons group is most widely known.

The mission of the SuperOrganic Project is to take these basic principles and to create a completely alternative music, film, and arts collective - one completely based on the principles of free software and free culture. Imagine a fusion of LucasFilm, Pixar, Dreamworks, Atlantic Records, SubPop, Sony, the Homebrew Computer Club, and The Factory - but with the following key differences:

  • We will operate under the basic Creative Commons free culture licenses - which will enable both the artists and the users to freely enjoy, edit, and share in all of the collective output.
  • The media we produce - music, art, films, even games - will be created both by individuals and smal groups, but even more importantly by large collective and distributed teams. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers produce code daily for projects such as Linux. A similar effort here could produce many albums, videos, shows, and even full-length feature films.
  • We firmly believe that this effort can one day produce both a quanitity and more importantly a quality level that exceeds that of the mainstream corporations that currently define the media which is created, sold, and consumed. In other words there will be one day a free culture Star Wars, a free culture White Album, and a free culture Picasso. There will be a free culture Beatles, a free culture Spielberg, and a free culture Hemmingway.

Why does this matter?

Culture - art, music, film, dance, books, games - is the software of our minds. While hackers and free software volunteers fight to keep a large part of computing software free, it seems that most of us easily acquiesce and swallow a culture that is controlled and driven by large corporations who have a primary focus on packaging products and being profitable. Great albums and films required centralized talent, budgets, and very expensive, esoteric equipment - which reinforced the model of the centralized system we have today.

The ability to produce high quality music, film, and art is now in the hands of almost any individual with talent. The ability to work collectively and in a distributed fashion across the web in high-speed is a current reality. The ability to organize and execute large projects such as the Linux OS (which competes head on with Microsoft) gives us confidence that large media projects such as movies can also be accomplished. The technical means exist.

The rebels of culture are supposed to be the musicians, the writers, the artists. The true rebels, those who are living the credo of freedom, are the massive army of meek coders banging out cool software for the good of us all. The punks, the hippies, the beats: they have sold us out, and they have sold themselves out. The dream of many a musician is a record deal, mansion, yachts, & their own private island. Who would not want the life of the Rolling Stones? At least the most honest of all are many of the rappers - who put it on the table that it's all about the money for them. The most putrid are the indie rockers, who pretend to not care about "selling out", but in their heart of hearts all they want to do is sell out to anyone and everyone.

But what happens to our cultural soul? Where is our Woody Guthrie when at the heart of things, Bob Dylan is hawking for Caddilac, XM Radio, and ladies underwear? Somewhere along the way, our spiritual heroes lost their way. We are not saying that capitalism is evil - but we are saying that it can get in the way of our culture, our art, our music. There should be an alternate stream of media that was produced for the love of it, the same way that hackers produce great and robust code because they love what they do and they think it's cool. They do it because they want to build a collective community and this is their contribution, and all equally share in the result.

We do believe that creative works have significant value. Our proposal of freedom should not be confused with free (as in cheap or worthless). Art needs freedom: untamed, wild, exploring. By making art and music open, accessible, and freely shared - we hope to tap into its highest cultural value and possibility. We want artists who are willing to put their work forward first, to jump into the sea, and to flow with what may happen here. The problem of art and commerce remains unresolved - so for now, let us put it aside and put freedom first.

There is nothing cool about the Sex Pistols and a room full of accountants, lawyers, and managers arguing the nuances of a royalty deal. Most, if not all of us, love music. It's the business of music, the backroom wierdness that sucks the life out of everything. The commerce of art is not art, and it may soon be unneccessary. There is nothing cool about copyright lawsuits, ticket seats costing hundreds of dollars, and MTV full of crap that they think they can sell you, even though they know it is not good for you.

The first free culture album that charts #1 on Billboard - that will be cool. The first open source and collective film that wins an Academy Award - that will be cool. The billions of people who can share, enjoy, and contribute to a fully open media - that will rock. The look on the faces of the executives at the big media companies when they see their control slip away - priceless.