Re-imagining technology

July 26th, 2005 by

Hip-hop once again discovers uses for a technology that its inventors would not have imagined. Wired puts the spotlight on UK MCs freestyling over ringtones. With mobile phone culture even more firmly in place in London areas than in the U.S., the little handheld devices have been a part of underground music for years. Organizers of illegal raves would leave a phone number on flyers instead of an address. Pirate radio DJs call out their numbers and read off SMS shouts between tracks.

According to the article, DJs now calculate listener appreciation for new tracks by counting up “missed calls.” If you like a song, you call up the station and disconnect after only one ring. The DJ’s mobile will read out one “missed call” on the screen thus communicating a message without cost to either party.

Kids at my high school have newer telephones with extra-loud speakers and flash memory for storing compressed audio (even mp3.) At lunch or after school, they will sit around chatting as one person plays top songs off of her phone at a perfectly audible volume with quality akin to AM radio. Taking this one step further into rhyming is a natural progression.

This article is one more example in support of the rising number of voices critizing the Grokster decision for its emphasis on “inducement.” Inventors and creators should not be responsible for identifying all possible future uses of their technologies. Could Nokia have imagined kids rapping over ringtones? What if this activity were infringing on the copyright monopoly of a third party? Should kids pay public performance rights? Should Nokia be liable?

For a related project, check out Blazin’ Blip Blop and Blar & Bee, a mixtape by 424 Sound Monster that pairs MIDI ringtone instrumentals with the real acapella vocal tracks. Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” is a standout in any format.

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