Radiohead Wall of Ice


This is a Contagious Magazine article about Radiohead and their continuing experimentation with technology and music.

Dear me, this is clever. Radiohead have now entered the next phase of a long-running metamorphosis, from mere musicians to expert manipulators of the technologies and narratives that underpin the internet.

Two years ago, they released a full length album (‘In Rainbows’) online and asked fans to pay what they thought it was worth. This weekend, they kept the indie masses hanging in anticipation of a new EP, one week after frontman Thom Yorke’s declaration that ‘doing another album would kill us’ was reported everywhere from Twitter to NBC (further proof that the band have transcended the norms of musical notoriety).

By seeding cryptic content and allowing the fans to do the digging, Radiohead were effectively running their own Alternate Reality Game: a treasure hunt in which collaborators work together to solve a series of clues and get to the end of the game.

This is bloody complicated, so we’re giving it to you in list format. Hold onto your hats!

1) What appeared to be a new Radiohead track was posted to file sharing site The track, ‘These Are My Twisted Words’, quickly spread, racking up something like 200,000 views on YouTube alone in three days. (Note: this does not take into account actual downloads of the track. Listen here.)

2) With the audio file on was what is know as an .nfo file: a small text document which contains information about the crew that released it as well as the band itself. This particular .nfo file not only listed Radiohead as the artist, it also contained the following cryptic few lines: ‘i just wanted to reassure readers that following representations / seeking confirmation / that before your very eyes / behind the wall of ice / that the box is not under threat / however they are set to remove / other boxes / in fact i have the list in front of me / i went to a briefing on their plans / and challenged them to tell me / exactly what the cost would be’ (Check the ascii out here.)

3) The ‘Wall of Ice’ referred to in the description and further down the note was taken to be a reference to a cartoon from popular webcomic xkcd, in which a stick figure announces: ‘Dear Sony, Microsoft, the MPAA, the RIAA, and Apple: Let’s make a deal. You stop trying to tell me where, when and how I play my movies and music, and I won’t crush your homes under my inexorably advancing wall of ice.’ (See it here.)

Knowing how fond Radiohead are of digital rights management (not at all), this was taken by excited fans as evidence of a new EP entitled ‘Wall of Ice’ to be released the following day, on the 17th August. The more eagle-eyed had spotted this date in the .nfo file. (NB. This is also the day that Radiohead’s old and vilified label EMI had decided to rerelease the band’s back catalogue in the name of callous profiteering. Coincidence? Probably not.)

4) Fans note the URL points to Radiohead’s own W.A.S.T.E. site. Several music journalists hyperventilate.

5) A slight abate in momentum when it is realized that had been hastily registered by some random in the Netherlands, and may in fact have nothing to do with the band. Excellent opportunism from the Dutch.

6) A swift return to hysteria when an odd image appearing to represent two twisted trees appears on W.A.S.T.E. The image is also clearly recognizable in the text document accompanying the file download.

7) Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood pops up on to announce the arrival of the new song, the one that everybody had already. ‘There’s other stuff in various states of completion, but this is one we’ve been practicing, and which we’ll probably play at this summer’s concerts.’ Boo!

8) However! The zip file which Radiohead have released contains not only the song and the digital credit sheet, but also an album cover PDF. The PDF is a sequence of several images (including the twisted trees) and comes with these directions:

‘This is an artwork to accompany the audio file. We suggest you print these images out on tracing paper. Use at least 80gsm tracing paper or your printer will eat it as we discovered. You could put them in any order that pleases you.’

What does this mean? There is more symbolism in the images? That more tracks can be unlocked? That Radiohead are on a mission to rid the world of printers through the canny destructive mechanism of tracing paper?


However, we do know this. ‘Wall of Ice’ is not only an exercise in crowd manipulation, it’s a genuine acknowledgement of the way in which the music industry now works, and one in the eye to the archaic and crumbling systems from which Radiohead have struggled to liberate themselves. The band is fast becoming as synonymous with technological mischief as they are with music, and for that. we can only salute them.

As one blogger put it, ‘they make it fun to be a nerd’.

What do you think?

Not bad eh. Leagues ahead of most.

Copy + paste via Contagious Magazine.

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