Too Much of Nothing


I’ve been reading an interesting quasi-history of the Basement Tapes, a series of recordings produced in a garage in Woodstock, New York in 1967 by Bob Dylan and the group that soon came to be known as The Band. It’s quasi-history because of the participants; Dylan won’t comment, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko are dead, and Levon Helm only showed up for the last few sessions at the end of that summer.

The one common thread is that the recordings were not meant to see the light of day, except as a publishing tape to be distributed privately to encourage covering by other artists. This was eminently successful, with a number of songs hitting the pop charts from people like Peter, Paul, and Mary and Manfred Mann. What fascinates me about the fragmentary recounting of the tale is the process by which Dylan and his collaborators produced a secret body of work that was injected into the cultural dialog not in opposition to but alternatively to the high production of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.

40-some years later, the technology process is similarly roiled by the intersection, or as some insist the collision, of the last and next paradigms of the Internet revolution. The roles of Dylan and The Band, then called the Hawks, are played by Twitter, FriendFeed, Ustream, the iPhone, and so on. Where the Basement Tapes were recorded in a circle of musicians trading off between instruments and vocals, the real time Web as it is colloquially becoming known employs a variety of lightweight tools to orchestrate a rich, deceptively simple platform.

Sgt. Pepper was recorded over 8 months employing hundreds of hours of Abbey Road studio time, engineers, and elaborate experiments in expanding the envelope of recording and performance technology. The Basement Tapes were done with the equivalent of prosumer equipment and the careful placement of at most 6 microphones. Curiously, an additional microphone dangled in the middle of the circle, to be picked up by various participants and used to interject Voice-of-God humorous pronouncements into the proceedings. With apologies to Dave Winer and Adam Curry, these were the first podcasts.

Last week Neil Young filmed a video in his house with Ustream and released it on YouTube. Young sent email to a friend with the URL on the 9th, and the video spread over the next several days. The song he performed is part of Young’s next record, to be released in March (assuming it goes according to current plan.) A few days ago, David Sanborn and I filmed an iChat session between two MacBook Airs which was edited down to 10 minutes with iMovie and uploaded to YouTube. It took some 15 hours to become available directly on the iPhone. Days and then hours.

Tonight Ustream has released an AppStore download allowing anyone with a Webcam to broadcast in effective realtime over a WiFi connected iPhone or iPod Touch. With an open source piece of Mac software, it’s trivial to project a video onto a Ustream channel, initiate a broadcast, Tweet the show URL, and reduce the latency from hours to minutes. We’ve been experimenting with these techniques to film recording sessions in New York, rehearsals in Tokyo, and improvisations on vacation in the Caribbean. Sometimes the quality of the broadband deteriorates or drops out, but then some of the Basement Tapes were recorded at the lowest possible speed over other takes on cheap tape stock.

I could connect the dots between these “experiments” and the startup world, the IT dialectic, the usual rationalizations for something that needs no such explanation. Soon we will tire of recounting the story of how events are transmitted faster and unfiltered over the real time network and realize that discovery happens when it happens, when the stars and minds align, when the cost of production approaches zero and the real investment is in the ideas being captured and distributed.

On the Basement Tapes you can hear the players melding into a supple machine, the laboratory that produced the group known as The Band when producer John Simon took the lightning captured in the garage and supplemented it with color and better application of technology. What wasn’t lost was the sound, the mesh if you will, that was invented in the garage. Steve Wozniak was quoted a few days ago as suggesting that Steve Jobs’ withdrawal from day to day operations at Apple might give him the time to visualize the future. I’m paraphrasing, but often the role of producer is to encourage but not smother when the take or feel emerges.

The economic crisis tests our mettle, but it also produces the limitations of a canvas from which rare results emerge. Boil down all the noise about real time and you get a common dilemma — too much of nothing, as one of the Basement Tapes famously called the firehose. How you separate the wheat from the chaff, find the trusted voices, harness the beat of the times — these are the valuable things that minutes or days or years later we’ll look back on and understand how everything had to go right to bring us to the moment tomorrow morning when a black man becomes a leader when we need it most.

More TechCrunch

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week