By Ryuichi Sakamoto
Music was one of the first art forms to embrace the digital age.
By the early 1980s, CDs had begun to enter the mainstream, and digital equipment already featured prominently in the studios where I was recording at the time.
Of course, digital technology cannot capture the tangible hallmarks of the other fine arts such as painting and sculpture, where the artistry resides in the physical object itself.
As music is essentially the vibration of air in physical space, you could argue that music also has a physical quality that precludes digitization.
But this would discount music’s long history as a conduit for new mediums. The invention of printing technology produced sheet music to distribute widely and radio was followed by the proliferation of vinyl, which was in turn superseded by cassettes. As times changed, it was inevitable that music would make the leap to digital.
Music needs a medium to reach the listener, and the advent of the Internet gave music unprecedented reach.
But as the next fertile frontier, the Internet could not evade the hungry eye of capitalism, starved for new markets. In recent years, it seems the Internet has completed its commercial transformation — it was only a matter of time before webspace would be used for the digital trade of data and cryptocurrency.
NFTs have become the latest buzzword to emerge from this milieu, providing a welcome opportunity to reconsider the concept of “ownership.”
Although the tangibility of a painting cannot be digitized, the rights to own that painting can exist as 0’s and 1’s. The same principle applies to music.
Intrigued by the potential of NFTs, I hoped to experiment with this new technology by creating a listing of my own.
In order to make an NFT, you need content. I first thought of listing a handwritten score from one of my compositions. But I felt a physical score alone wouldn’t be a very original use of this new medium. After giving it some more thought, I arrived at the 595 NFTs project, which isolated each individual note from the melody to “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”
Unfortunately, the experiment was met with considerable backlash on social media. To my dismay, the project also attracted considerable attention from investors more interested in money than music. I certainly did not expect that my music would become an object of financial speculation.
Similar to how each individual note in a composition comes together to create a greater whole, I imagined that digitized notes could bring each individual NFT holder together as part of a larger and more harmonious community.
But it seems the digital market is not the place for poesy.
Will NFTs provide a true community for creators and collectors? Or will they end up as merely another gamble in unbridled financial speculation?
The answer remains to be seen.