Auction is live now for Genesis.json by Grammy-nominated electronic music pioneer BT. Embodying 24 hours of art and multi-channel music, it is the first digital artwork that is software, visual art and sound living on blockchain.
SuperRare sat down with BT to discuss this project and his process. Enjoy!
What is Genesis.json?
Genesis.json is a 1 of 1 piece of software containing a 24 hour audio visual composition.
It was created over 10 month period, using 15,000 hand sequenced audio and visual events including vintage synthesizer performances, beats and rhythmic figures I hand coded, field recordings, orchestra, guitars and hundreds of other elements. Everything is. delivered through custom audio visual software from permaweb to web browser.
It is a 24 hour piece of music that changes all throughout the day from sunrise to sunset. It’s a lot of firsts and one of my favorites is, it’s the first NFT that puts itself to sleep every day and even dreams during the night.
The audio and video are not bound to one another, so they happen completely independently and are live sequenced. At any given time there can be multiple audio and visual events happening simultaneously.
How did you get this idea?
This was really inspired by growing up in a home with a grandfather clock My dad, has this grandfather clock he loves that was his dad’s – dads. As a kid it drove me crazy the different rings at 15 minute intervals and then the changing of the hour. It wasn’t until I
was an adult I realize what a special object that is and how beautifully it demarcates the passage of time. Time is the only resource we can’t create, and it’s finite. It’s pretty emotional for me because my dad is getting up there and this was a real point of contention for me growing up as I am very sound sensitive. I understand now as an adult how important it is to be aware of the passage of time and how precious it is.
So when I wrote the score for Shanghai Disneyland Tomorrowland, this was my first installation work.Getting to work with Disney imagineers on a 12 hour, 9 interlocking composition installation piece was incredibly inspiring.
I was able to install it in person in Shanghai on site. So many of my fans have asked me to release the compositions, but we really can’t because it’s written for 256 discrete channels and evolves through the day. That got me thinking, how can I recreate the feeling of an art installation piece but in a digital context and how can I make this piece about memorializing time as our sole finite resource.
Seeing the art and music being made for decentralized projects, I thought, What about an installation piece for the blockchain that involves the three things I love most: beautiful art, meaningful music and elegant code.
And 10 months later, here we are.
What makes this unique from other NFTs?
There are so many things that are firsts in this piece – it’s hard to know where to start.
This is the first piece of custom software being minted for a single owner. The NFT comes with a hashed link showing ownership and provenance of the complete work.
It’s the first 24 hour piece of music on blockchain. It’s the first live sequenced audio project for blockchain. It’s the first audio visual executable for blockchain and living on permaweb. It will literally exist with provable ownership as long as there is an internet.
So it’s lots and lots of firsts. Above all it is my great hope that this will inspire others to innovate in their creations and think really big about what is possible for NFT’s and decentralized art and music.
What was the hardest part of creating this?
The hardest part was writing the music and sequencing 15,000 events – audio loops, blocks, etc. So to put them in an order so they fit together, was like crazy 5-d chess, Tetris, impossibly complex. One of hardest things I’ve ever done.
Basically I wrote 17 pieces of music all in the root note of F, so they are all modally interrelated and all of them are rhythmically interrelated by base 30 for the frame rate.
There are pieces of music in asymmetrical meter, some are even completely isorhythmic – like the night time sequences. There are others where I am counting the rhythmic subdivisions totally differently. For example in the afternoon I count 3x 16th notes as a quarter note – making the tempo 120 beats per minute, but in 6/8.
In the morning 4 16th notes count as a quarter note. I can talk a lot about this, but it is seriously deep, talk nerdy to me talk.
So the music and how the pieces interrelate was hands down the hardest part.
You’re known for innovation in everything you put your hands on – is that what drew you to the NFT space?
I believe both in terms of intellectual property, creative works, and other media projects like context driven software, sounds and more – blockchain and decentralized technologies are going to liberate the creative communities and revolutionize the idea of digital ownership. This paradigm shift of provable ownership of rare digital assets will free generations and generations of artists, musicians, programers and more.
We’re so in the infancy here. This is a very small and vibrant community thats growing exponentially. It’s a genuinely new medium for creators to inspire rich communities around their fans. It’s a way fans can participate and be rewarded by celebrating artists they love and gather value from. It is already birthing thriving, symbolic, micro creator focused ecosystems where everyone wins. At its core, its operating ideology is the idea there is enough for all, not a zero sum game. Abundance not scarcity. A rising tide that lifts all boats. I love this communities ideology even more than what it’s created to date. It’s incredible.
It also signals the absolute death knoll of exploitation of the middle man in music and art.
Blockchain technology completely usurps the power of middle man. Record labels, streaming services, gallery gatekeepers and the like.
What is your favorite part of the piece?
My favorite part of the piece is that it continues to evolve and change throughout the course of the day – it’s like this super modern grandfather clock that reminds the viewer of the passage of time. I love the good morning sequence, but also love the transition early afternoon to evening, and love how it puts itself to sleep at night and dreams. Too hard to pick!
Is it true that this is the first NFT that puts itself to sleep at night?
Yes totally! I gave it a sleep cycle. Every night at 9pm it puts itself into its sleep mode. It has a Goodnight piece that signals the end of the day, the lights shut off and the room becomes dark. Then we enter the night cycle and the piece evolves from 9pm to 9am in this dark room and wakes itself back up the next morning at 9am.
You released an album in 2006 called This Binary Universe, which was your first time diving into creating music with visual pieces to go with them. Do you often think of your music going with visuals in the creation process?
Absolutely yes. This Binary Universe was a very important work for me. In that piece (which is 2007) I made some remarkable discoveries about how to effectively write music and visual components simultaneously. So, both leading each other.
Normally when we score a film or anything to picture, the picture is first and the music compliments it. In This Binary Universe I worked daily with the remarkable animators that worked on it – bi-directionally. Sometimes elements of the music came first and became visual forms. Audio reactive visual objects or processes. Sometimes the other way around. It really was the beginning of some ideas about transposition from the visual to audio domains in both directions, I’ll be exploring for my whole lifetime.
Are there any hidden surprises or easter eggs in this piece?
You must of guessed because this is in literally all my music and software. Yes there totally are. I don’t want to spoil them because you have to actually watch and experience the piece to find them. There are special times in the day for me personally that have demarkations and the coolest easter egg is really, like a 1 or 1 easter egg.
The owner of genesis.json will receive in the unlockable content for the piece, a cheat code like, almost like for a video game. They will be the only person that will have this. When you enter this code, you’re able to put in your birthday. Every day on that persons day of birth for the rest of time, they will have a special birthday message from me, in the morning and the evening.
How much music is actually in the piece? We know it’s 24 hours long, but what does that entail?
This is a great question. It’s basically 17 full pieces of music, again none in stereo as they are being re-created in real time from blocks of sequenced, multi-track audio. These 17 pieces weave together and morph in and out of one another, some times a single element, like say a field recording of crickets and cicadas, will fade in over an hour, last 2 hours and fade out.
What are some things you share about the back end of the piece and the software itself?
This is a great opportunity to thank my developers and my mentor Dr.B from Berklee and MIT who helped me assemble this agile team. Hloover and Steven Yi are brilliant programers. We worked literally day and night for a year to make the backend. I won’t bore you with all the iterations but it changed a lot over the course of development.
Basically think of it as a massive non-linear sequencing engine for audio and video.
So you create media, upload it and tell it how you want it to play, how long, how loud, if you want these blocks too loop. Hundreds and hundreds of parameters are available for video and music playback.
Again, the coolest thing and something even I have to remind myself of when I watch it, is the music is NOT bound to the video. That is being done in real time. Roughly 8 tracks of audio and one track of video. Think of it like a non-linear editor meets a digital audio workstation, that lives on Web 3.0.
How do you feel about decentralization and how it relates to art in the future?
Like I mentioned before we’re so in our infancy here. It allows and empowers a symbolic relationship directly with super fans and collectors.
This direct point of connection with fans and super fans is going to benefit generations of artists coming up now. Entire generations won’t know the pain of trying to communicate art to their audience through the gatekeeping of middle men. Why this matters is it encourages less homogenized artistic output.
Blockchain caters too and empowers specific and smaller audiences and encourages artists to create for people, not things like the Spotify algorithm.
This in turn makes the world a more beautiful and better sounding place.
Like I said before, my genesis piece wraps together my three due norths – beautiful art and design, meaningful music and elegant coding.
My whole career has been bout pushing the edge of what is possible, from software, to animation, to scoring to albums and this is the next step in a life long journey of innovation.
So finally what I love about the mindset of open sourced and decentralized technology is the idea that this piece can be enjoyed in its full beauty by anyone, yet maintain provenance and ownership of a single person.
As we’ve installed this on the permaweb Genesis.json will exist long after I’m gone, immutably on blockchain.
You have created software before – can you tell us more about that and how you got into it?
For sure there are many pieces of software I’ve made and released now. I’ll talk about Stutter Edit because it’s a sound I’m known for.
Stutter Edit began as an idea when I was about 14 years old. For a summer job I worked as a tape op in a small studio in Rockville, Maryland. There I learned cutting quarter inch tape using a metal block, razor blade and a grease pencil, to splice together recordings.
So one day I asked myself “what if you cut on beat a bunch of blocks of audio, and change the order of them before taping back together?” My obsession with audio editing began right there, sitting on that studio floor cutting tape.
The first time cut and put back together electronic music in a different order I was quite literally captivated. It was a sound I’d never heard before and something that has motivated me to create a tool for the creation of it ever since.
I became obsessed with recreating this early magic I’d discovered cutting with tape. Eventually I was able to do some of this manually in the early DAW’s and even expand on this technique – cutting in 128th notes, adding a flanger, reverse, fade in, apply lo-fi. The technique expanded and was refined over years and years.
After years of experimentation, producing records and film scores and using these complex buffer cutting and post DSP processing techniques by hand – I decided I wanted to build it as a plugin.
That was another 5+ year adventure. Coding hackathons on my couch with 3 guys while I’m moonlighting scoring The Fast and Furious. Somehow I got there in the end. I partnered with iZotope and the rest is history. That was the beginning of my journey with software creation. Now I do it daily.
Do you envision this software expanding into future versions?
A million times yes. Since genesis.json uses Web scraped network time as it’s single input variable, the first thing I want to do is use public API’s of weather data, satellite movements and other input variables to effect future pieces.
I’ve also been experimenting with wearable and biometric feedback to control future art pieces. Expect to see a future piece with a one of one apple watch or Oura ring or other input device that uses things like hear rate variance to control an adaptive piece of art and music. I’m only getting started here.
What else do you have in the pipeline?
I think I’m actually allowed to talk about the other big project I’ve been working on the last 3 years. I’m scoring a video game for the Rockstar / Hangar 13 folks. It’s an absolute blast. Also an interactive score, 3 full hours of music. We are going to Nashville for a full month to record a 120 person orchestra. I literally can’t wait. Working with live orchestras is maybe my favorite part of my job.
I’ve also got 11 pieces of music software in development – 3 of which are nearly done and will be out before the end of the year.
Finally and really excitingly – I’m releasing my next full length album, with physical objects, NFT’s and other insanely cool media as an Origin Protocol drop on June 11th. It’s insane the stuff we’ve made for that. I can’t wait to share it. I’m going to announce the album title here actually. It’s my 14th artist album (that is crazy!). It’s called Metaversal.