Friday, 28 March 2008

[8] Books and Graffiti

In the last week of term, I made another video. A short piece, about the countless bits of graffiti in the Main Library at university. In the wings of the library, there are cubicles for individual study and work, and people have scratched, written or drawn their thoughts and observations during particularly dull sessions. The vast majority of them are childish, but they still retain an interesting quality, and are goldmines of opinion. Some are beautiful, such as the drawings towards the end of the video; and it is always interesting seeing graffiti in different languages (no matter how inane the inscriptions).

Sadly, the compression on Youtube makes most of the writing illegible. I have to convert my .mts to divx-encoded .avis, because my laptop cannot handle HD file formats. A great deal of my time editing is spent converting the files. Once I get a proper desktop which is more comfortable with .mts, I'll make higher-definition versions of these vids. I'm just going to have to make do for the time being.


I am back at my parents' house for a fortnight. I'm finding it hard to work to the standard I achieve at university, but I've also been able to spend more time reading.

I managed to finish Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which I have been reading for almost a year. It is a brilliant book. Biskind manages to find this middle ground between biography, history, political analysis, film theory and tragic narrative, all while maintaining a compelling, 'page-turning' style. He is well-served by his topic, that semi-mythological time period, between the late 1960s and early 1980s where American cinema was home to some challenging and ambitious artists; a time where film-makers and the process making of films were just as interesting as the works themselves. A monumental work of research and preparation, looking over the notes, sources and interviews reveals how much time and effort was put into such an enjoyable read. I like Biskind, he can be heavily theoretical and analytical when he wants to be (his critique of Rebel Without a Cause, from his book Seeing Is Believing, is one of my favourites), but he still manages to convey an infectious enthusiasm and love for Cinema.

I'm currently reading Vladimir Nabokov's book on Nikolai Gogol, after reading and writing about Gogol for my dissertation. However, that has been put on hold in the last day or two in favour of a book called Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination by Annette Kuhn. An interesting book about memory mediated through photographs, and how family history and conflict can be expressed through these artefacts. It was on a reading list for a module I took last term, called Memory, Space and Place. I have an exam on it in May, so I thought I would check it out. It's certainly thought-provoking, but I'll write something more on it later.


Wednesday, 26 March 2008

[7] The Universal Bard? Shakespeare in The Seagull

Here is another draft chapter from my dissertation. That (working) title again - 'In Translating Chekhov's The Seagull, How Have English-Language Translators 'familiarised' the Play's Foreign Nature?'. This chapter will be the last in the analysis section, and is about Chekhov's quotations from Shakespeare. I'm trying to provide a counterpoint to the approaches to Russian or 19th century references, working from a position of Shakespeare-worship, to an acceptance and illustration of the 'relative importance' of this particular case.

I'm not entirely happy with it as it is; it seems a little boring and unenlightening. And way too long. It definitely needs more work. So I would appreciate some thoughts.


'I was certainly the only one who could do the annotation - not only because I knew all the games I had played, but also because I knew the relative importances of all the games I had played... One has to gauge the relative importance of different facets of a text in order to know which ones are adjustable, or even expendable, in the interests of 'saving' others. But often a translator feels unable to do such gauging, or perhaps is willing to make guesses but then doesn't have much confidence in them.' (Hofstadter, Le Ton Beau de Marot, 1997, 58)

In the previous chapters, I have attempted to convey the choices and implicit biases present within translators approaches to translating cultural references in The Seagull. So far, I have only tackled cultural properties that are foreign from the target language, English, or the target culture of 20th / 21st Century English-speaking countries (although primarily Britain and the USA). In this chapter, I will focus the discussion on Chekhov's reference and quotation from perhaps the most recognisable English literary figure, William Shakespeare.

There are 2 direct quotes from Hamlet in the original Russian of The Seagull, I will focus on the first, in the middle of the first act:

Аркадина (сыну). Мой милый сын, когда же начало?
Треплев. Через минуту. Прошу терпения.
Аркадина (читает из «Гамлета»), «Мой сын! Ты очи обратил мне внутрь души, и я увидела ее в таких кровавых, в таких смертельных язвах — нет спасенья!»
(из «Гамлета»). «И для чего ж ты поддалась пороку, любви искала в бездне преступленья?»

Again, here's a dodgy little translation (the second two lines are taken from Worrall's notes, p.74 in the Methuen edition, 2002):

Arkadina (to her son). My dear son, when will it begin? [referring to Konstantin's play]
Konstantin. In a few minutes. I ask you to be patient.
Arkadina (reading from Hamlet). 'My son! You've turned my eyes into my soul and I have seen there such bloody and such deadly sores - there is no salvation!'
Konstantin (from Hamlet). 'And why did you give give yourself to vice, and seek love in the abyss of crime?'

I don't know how many Shakespeare experts read this blog, but it is still worth pointing out that these lines are not from the English Hamlet. That is because Chekhov himself, in quoting Shakespeare, was one step removed; he quoted from a 19th century Russian translation by N.A. Polevoi. The corresponding lines in the English Shakespeare (taken from the Peter Alexander Text, Collins 2006 edition, III.iv.88-94) are:

Queen O Hamlet, speak no more! / Thou turn'st my eyes into my very soul; / And there I see such black and grained spots / As will not leave their tinct.
Hamlet Nay, but to live / In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty!

In this instance 14 translations were consulted. Whereas all but one retained the 'Speak no more...' line, Hamlet's / Kostya's response was rendered in different ways, with only half committing to the following line in Shakespeare. Worrall tries to account for this by saying 'Hamlet's reply to his mother in Polevoi's version bears little resemblance to the verbal savagery of Shakespeare's original', so translators insert a 'tamer line from elsewere' (2002, 74). This is understandable, as Hamlet's explicit references to sex and corruption come across as a little jarring against the more gentle and playful nature of the Russian. This results in a complex set of variations on the same (imperfect) Reference in Russian. For ease of illustration, I have uploaded a table with the translation decisions here.

But it is important to ask, why is there this worry? Why do translators feel the need to not only preserve this reference, but to go out of their way, returning to the source material, to find a quotation that better reflects its sentiments in English? There are multiple levels and aspects of the practice of translation revealed by this case. In the previous examples I have spoken about, at least one translator decided to remove the reference; it is worth noting that all the translators agreed that Shakespeare must be represented. Even the most radical of translations, that 'pared down' version by Martin Crimp, selects a different, shorter exchange from the same scene (lines 39-41).

Indeed, Shakespeare is an undoubtedly major figure in both English-language and world literature. When referring to Gogol, I described him as a 'Minor Heavyweight'. Shakespeare is a brilliant example of a 'True Heavyweight', a writer whose reputation and cultural shadow is all-encompassing and totemic. His standing is so much that it is expected that education in English literature is at least anchored in his work. In the UK, it is expected that young children, or teenagers, must 'embrace the Bard'. Equally, as part of my English degree, I have studied at least one example of Shakespeare's work a year: Twelfth Night in first year, his collected sonnets in second year, and finishing with a compulsory module on his whole ouevre in my final year. Therefore, whereas the previous references have been to forgotten, foreign or niche cultural properties, Shakespeare is one of the most recognisable literary figures in the Target Language. If Tver, Nekrasov, or even Gogol weren't worth a mention because the audience wouldn't understand, then surely Shakespeare must be eligible. Although, it must be noted that here lies the translators' assumption that the audience will 'get' that Arkadina and Konstantin are reciting from Hamlet, in other words that they would know a quotation from 'The Closet Scene'.

Even though the Russian does not make the quotation explicit (it begins 'o son'), apart from in the stage direction, the English language translations are lucky because, in Shakespeare, the line assigned to Arkadina begins 'O Hamlet'. The translators are therefore given a method of foregrounding a Shakespeare quote for the unenlightened, and unsurprisingly, most stick with this. The interesting exception in this case is Tom Stoppard, who replaces 'O Hamlet' with 'O Kostya' (leaving the lines unmarked as from Shakespeare). In his introduction to the translation, Stoppard states that this decision 'is not as cheeky a rendition as it might seem', and cites the unmarked nature of Polevoi's Russian as allowing him ample freedom to tinker (1997, x). However, by doing this, the translator is assuming that the audience has a great deal of intimate knowledge with Hamlet (this is not 'to be or not to be', after all). Of course, the transition from normal dialogue to the performative quotation could be stressed in performance, but the actual source itself will still be unclear. Nevertheless, Stoppard adds to these lines with further quotation from Hamlet and King Lear, admitting that he often fell 'into the temptation of Spot-the-Shakespeare' (op.cit.). One example of Shakespeare spotting is at the beginning of the second act, I'll provide a comparison with another translation of the same lines:

Dorn Nonetheless and notwithstanding, I'm still reading, am I? (picks up the book) We stopped at the corn-chandler and the rats...
Arkadina And the rats, yes. Go on, then. (sits) Or rather, give it to me and I'll read. It's my turn. [Frayn, p.21]

Dorn Albeit and regardless, I'm going to go on [reading]. (he picks up the book) We stopped at the cornchandler and the rats...
Arkadina And the rats. Read on, Macduff. (she sits down) Or rather, give it to me. It's my turn [to read]. [Stoppard, p.23]

Of course, this is more about Stoppard's tastes invading the translation; it is probably the only tangible piece of evidence I have at the moment of a translator's 'identity' over-ruling the source material. Stoppard's interest in Shakespeare is well-known, and some of his more acclaimed works are influenced or informed by The Bard: his first major play, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a retelling of Hamlet, equally Stoppard reworked Shakespeare into Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, and he received an Academy Award for his work on the film Shakespeare in Love. But still this assumption persists - Shakespeare, and these quotations from Hamlet, are seen to be important to the text. So much so that one (admittedly Shax-obsessed) translator worked MORE REFERENCES into his edition.

The link between The Seagull and Hamlet is quite well-documented. Actually, I'd hazard to state that it is the foremost analysis of the play. A quick google search brings up a few blog posts and reviews which easily bring up this analysis. John Baker, in the London Theatre Blog, goes so far to say that The Seagull is 'not unlike a mirror image of Hamlet'. There is a fascinating article by Thomas Winner from a 1956 issue of the American Slavic and East European Review, called 'Chekhov's Seagull and Shakespeare's Hamlet: A Study of a Dramatic Device'. In this piece, Winner makes reference to 'Hamletian themes' which permeate the Seagull:

'...Quotations from Shakesepare, especially from Hamlet, occur in various plays of Chekhov. But in the Seagull we find more than incidental background snatches from Hamlet. For Hamlet appears related to the total structure of the play, and it would seem that the image of Hamlet is, in the intent of the playwright, most intimately connected with the situations and characters of the Seagull'

So, even though the inclusion of the Shakespeare quotation may in a way seem like double standards concerning the target culture, or even the tastes and background of the translator, there is also a sense that the references to Hamlet are important to the reputation of The Seagull. I started this chapter with a quotation from Douglas Hofstadter, on the topic of translating his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gödel, Escher, Bach. I suppose one of the primary concepts that I am discussing in this essay is that translators must gauge the 'relative importance' of all these references in the original text, in order to convey 'The Seagull' for English-speaking audiences. Worrall, in his notes for the Methuen edition stresses that 'it is important for an audience to recognise the quotation' from Hamlet (2002, 74). Indeed, the relative importance aspect is cast against the assumptions of the audience's knowledge (they know Shakespeare, maybe Gogol, not Nekrasov) to provide a filter for cultural references and literary allusions.

In my introduction (which I've not uploaded), I highlighted three aspects of translating reference, with regards to what the translator serves - do translators serve the audience, an abstract sense of the repututation of the author / the play or do they serve the source culture. It happens to be that previous examples have conflicted with these aspects: Nekrasov and Tver have no meaning for the target audience, despite their relative importance in late 19th century Russian society (why else would Chekhov throw in these very specific references). However, where Shakespeare is concerned, all three manage to coalesce in an almost harmonious way. Indeed, it is assumed that the target audience will pick up on the Hamlet lines, and the reputation / long-standing analysis of the play as a recasting of the Hamlet narrative is faithfully represented. However, it also works as cultural communication, as it manages to retain the sense that Shakespeare was an important literary presence to Chekhov and his Russian culture. Considering this, it is possible to see that it is not merely 'double standards' that references to Shakespeare receive more attention.


Saturday, 15 March 2008

[6] Gogological Problems in The Seagull

I submitted the review of Ghosts I-IV from the previous post to CC2K for publication. An edited, and wholly improved version of the review can be found here. I was a little underwhelmed by the amount of hits, as I don't believe there are enough intelligent and informed reviews of this album on the internet at the moment, but we'll see how it develops.


In a blog post 2 weeks ago, I wrote a rough draft of a chapter from my dissertation, which is still under the working title of 'In Translating Chekhov's The Seagull, To What Extent have English Language translations 'domesticated' the play's foreign nature'?'. In that chapter I mostly discussed the reference to Tver, but I also brought in Chekhov's reference to the poet Nekrasov, and the implications of arbitrary / unexplained reference in translation.

Today I'm going to post a rough draft of another one of my chapters. In the dissertation it will be called 'Gone, and still forgotten: Literary and Cultural References in translation' If you want to see the structure I'm working from, I've uploaded the document to googledocs.


In terms of distinctly Russian literary references in The Seagull, I've been very intrigued by a specific allusion to Nikolai Gogol's Diary of a Madman, in Act II. This is part of the exchange between Trigorin and Nina towards the end of the act, and the Russian goes like this:

Тригорин ...и мне кажется, что это внимание знакомых, похвалы, восхищение,— все это обман, меня обманывают, как больного, и я иногда боюсь, что вот-вот подкрадутся ко мне сзади, схватят и повезут, как Поприщина, в сумасшедший дом...

This section basically means: 'and to me it seems, that these attentions from acquaintances, this praise, this admiration - it's all deception, I'm being tricked, like an invalid, and I'm sometimes afraid, that they're about to sneak up on me, grab me and take me, like Poprishchin, to the mad-house'. In terms of the sentence structure, in both Russian and English, the reference to Poprishchin, the main character and narrator in Gogol's short story Diary of a Madman, is quite superfluous. I'm guessing it is a literary reference added into Trigorin's speech because, well, he is a literary figure and is likely to make such an allusion. I think this is a prime example of a reference that could easily be cut out in translation, as it doesn't affect the meaning of the sentence (being sectioned is not an alien concept in modern European society) and only serves 'Trigorin's character' in a minimal way.

However, there are a couple of factors which make the translation of this reference interesting, and out of the various editions consulted, few are the same. Gogol is easily in the upper echelons of Russian writers, especially 19th century writers. If I made a personal list, trying to gauge cultural notability, I would place him on a par with Gorky and slightly behind Lermontov and Turgenev, in the 'minor heavyweight' category (they have a small kernel of ground-breaking or well-regarded works), which is separate from the 'true heavyweights' of Pushkin, Dostoyevky, Chekhov and Tolstoy. At very least, he is more of a household name in 21st Century Europe than Nekrasov can ever hope to be. 'Diary of a Madman', thanks in part to Ozzy Osbourne, is one of his more recognisable works; so much that the Penguin Classics edition of his major short stories I recently purchased is titled 'Diary of a Madman and other stories'. This in itself is interesting, as the very decision to grant one piece a certain prominence reveals the target audience's perceived awareness, and this approach is common ('Queen of Spades and other stories', 'Lady With a Lapdog and other stories', 'Death in Venice and other stories' - name the author!). Does this mean that translators may feel inclined to preserve such a reference, as it's meaning may still resonate with today's audience?

There is one problem - the Russian reference is to Poprishchin, who is the protagonist. The name is in isolation. However, his name is only mentioned once in the story itself, in the final two pages (at least in my translation, Ronald Wilks, 1972). Even though the piece is narrated in the first person, the 'madman' develops anonymously, or eponymously. This character is certainly not as 'recognisable' by name as Raskolnikov, Onegin or even Pechorin. Such a straight statement, without a reference to Gogol, or the story, may not register for the target-language audience.

What is interesting is the findings. Four of the translations consulted (in this case, 13) left it out. Tennessee Williams, in his 'free adaptation', The Notebook of Trigorin, re-arranges the scene. The other three, which includes the recent 'pared-down' Martin Crimp translation, as well as renowned earlier translations by David Magarshack and Constance Garnett, remove Poprishchin, but keep the madhouse reference.

On the other hand, only 3 retain the straight reference to the character, and two give footnotes to explain it: Bristow, of course, but also Elizaveta Fen (one of only two notes in the whole translation). Peter Gill rather inexplicably translates the character as 'Popchina' - something I can't find any reference to on the internet (apart from a Chinese media blog), and is therefore best filed away as an oddity.

The others, in some way or another, call on the cultural profile of Gogol, to best evoke this reference. Frayn and Stoppard leave out the focus on character and relate to an author's narrative with 'like the wretched clerk in that story of Gogol's' or 'like in Gogol'. Pam Gems hedges her bets with 'like Poprishchin in Gogol'. Two relatively recent translations, from Christopher Hampton and Stephen Mulrine, take the same approach, opting for 'like Gogol's madman', maybe hoping that the use of 'author + fragment of title' would do the trick. This angle also relates back to the sense of Poprishchin being more of an eponymous 'madman' than a necessarily 'named' character.

I find this instance very intriguing because, like the reference to Tver, it manages to crystallise the issues facing translators when they have to negotiate references in the source text. However, whereas Tver is a reference to a place which most likely has little relevance to UK-based audiences, Nikolai Gogol is part of the International Canon of Literature (or at least an educated Brit's idea of such a canon). A different set of rules comes into play here, and there is a greater sense of necessity for preserving the reference, even if it has comparably little intrinsic importance in the speech itself. In comparison to the Tver reference, which was rendered as an arbitrary 'other place', 'like Poprishchin' is not even grammatically necessary; but its sense is still amended, shaped and sculpted to best convey its intertextuality. This is a small example of translators perhaps going beyond the call of duty in order to best render textual allusions to Well-Known Figures. Other Russian examples in The Seagull include Tolstoy and Turgenev (I will discuss these later). These side-glances are retained, highlighted and footnoted, while references to dimmed or forgotten properties, such as Nekrasov, become meaningless or arbitrary.

No extended, elaborate link with film or pop culture this time! In the next chapter, which I will hopefully upload in the next few days, I will discuss how English-language translators approach references to target-language properties, namely Chekhov's extensive quotation and allusion to William Shakespeare. Even though one would assume that this aspect of translation would be simple, it is not necessarily so. Chekhov's quotes Shakespeare, but he quotes Shakespeare in translation. I'm sure there's a quote from Nabokov on the matter, referring to translations Pushkin would have read, but I can't find it (maybe in 'The Art of Translation'? I'll have to check).


Also, for those who have read this far, I shall link to another short youtube video. This week, I shot a very short sequence in the basement of the Arts Building on campus with Emilio. The corridor is long, quiet, with an oppressive and claustrophobic quality. That evening, I decided to mess around with use of music (fading and multiple tracks), slowing down the footage and fiddling with the chroma key settings. I ended up with a silly little piece, which I decided to upload.


Monday, 10 March 2008

[5] Chem Eng Building, Supplemental

In the last post, I linked to my video about the mysterious room in the Chemical Engineering Building on campus. Here's a follow-up:


From: [Chemical Engineering Office]
Sent: 10 March 2008 09:04
To: Mike Leader
Subject: Mysterious Room in Chem Eng Building

If I tell you I will have to kill you!

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Leader
Sent: 09 March 2008 21:04
To: [Chem Eng Dept.]
Subject: Mysterious Room in Chem Eng Building

Dear Chemical Engineering,

I'm a final year English literature student, and as I'm finishing university this year, I'd greatly appreciate it if you could clear something up for me.

There is a room in the main Chemical Engineering building which has a bank of lights going through the visible light spectrum, seemingly 24 hours a day. This room has intrigued me since it was brought to my attention early last academic year; and, without fail, whatever time I walk through campus (late at night or early in the morning), these lights are still on. It was one of the little mysteries that has made my experience at university interesting. Is there an ongoing research experiment taking place in this room? Or is it something else?

Thanks for your time!

Mike Leader


Saturday, 8 March 2008

[4] Gogol, Games and Ghosts.

A lot of small, but notable things have happened since my last post. I'll try to collate them here.


First, I uploaded another video to Youtube. The strange room in the Chemical Engineering building, with its bank of lights going through the visible light spectrum all day, has intrigued me since it was brought to my attention early last academic year. When scouting with Emilio for the (currently on hold) project to document life on campus in the early hours of the morning, I shot this short piece, capturing a progression through the colour spectrum. The video hasn't been as popular as the JaBsoc jam footage, which has had over 270 views, but it's an interesting video nonetheless.


I'm still working on my dissertation. I'm very thankful to Steve at Languagehat for taking a look at my last post. I'm hoping to start writing it very soon; I'll make sure I post extracts up here. For the moment, I'll link to my detailed 'plan' / structure, which I prepared for my final meeting with Steve Ellis, my dissertation supervisor.

Over the last few weeks, translation has invaded my spare time. I've been reading Douglas Hoftstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot, which is a fascinating journey through a life of obsession with language. Also, after writing notes about the references to Gogol in The Seagull, I just had to pick up a cheap Penguin Classics edition of his short stories. I'd always meant to read them; in fact, I believe my Russian teacher might have read one to use once. It's also interesting to read, because a friend of mine took inspiration from Gogol's work for a play he wrote and produced in Cambridge and the Edinburgh Fringe called Coat (which, I only just found out, won the Footlights award for Best Comedy Play).


I'm still on working on the CC2K Weekly Guide to Gaming. This week an article I wrote was published; it's on exploitation of Video Game atmosphere in military recruitment advertising. Check it here (second page). I'm currently working on a personal history of pornographic or sexually-suggestive tendencies in video games; references to Leisure Suit Larry, BMX XXX (tasteless trailer here) and Mass Effect, amongst others. This will be my contribution to another collab feature. I'll link to that when it is up.

I'm worried that the WGTG isn't getting enough hits: so far it's averaging at 100 views an article (this week's hasn't reached 70, since Thursday). I tried contacting Kotaku asking for some promotion, but they didn't reply. I might press harder next time. This links in with the general anxiety about promotion, which is pretty evenly split between CC2K and this blog.


This week has been notable for music news. In the last 2 years, I've resigned myself to not keeping on top of new or interesting music. This is mostly because I'm always just as intent on picking up different and new (to me) music from previous decades, as I am to maintaining any sense of relevance (hard to do in the de-centralised, immense world of internet music distribution).

That said, this week I found myself enthusiastic, even excited about two new releases (albeit by established artists). Namely, the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, DIG!!! LAZARUS DIG!!!, and the four volumes of Ghosts from Nine Inch Nails. I'm still digesting both, but there is too much to say about the latter, so let me spew (what ensues is a very long review):

This new Nine Inch Nails release, Ghosts I-IV, is a bold step into a world of innovation. Too many news posts around the internet have cited that 'Nine Inch Nails follow Radiohead'. This is true in chronology, but I feel the need to state the importance of Trent Reznor's strategy. For the unenlightened, this double album was originally planned as a short instrumental EP, recorded over a 10 week period in Autumn 2007. These sessions saw Reznor working with a distinct hub of musicians, including NIN regulars and guests such as Atticus Ross, Alan Moulder, Adrian Belew and Dresden Dolls' Brian Viglione. The material produced from these sessions eventually came to nearly 2 hours' worth of music. Fast-forward to the end of February 2008, and Reznor posts on the blog with '2 weeks'. A fortnight later, Ghosts I-IV was announced.

The music itself is notable, as Reznor is allowed, outside of the major label system, to release such a baggy, leftfield, epic project. A 36-song 'soundtrack for daydreams', each track comes with an individual piece of art: the music is inspired by visuals. This expression is, in his words, only afforded by the freedom of internet distribution. The music is varied; often sparse, minimal and atmospheric, not unlike Brian Eno's Ambient albums (2 Ghosts I), or Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works releases (25 Ghosts III); at other points, noise and distortion are brought into the mix (10 Ghosts II). Without Reznor's often cliched or immature lyrics, his ever intricate and masterful use of the studio is left to shine; the louder, heavier segments crystallise as raging beauty, as opposed to frantic tantrum (8 Ghosts I). The pieces are tight and structured, meaning that ideas float in and out of focus; no figure really outstays its welcome. So the music is different. Nine Inch Nails, even at their best, like on 2007's Year Zero album, were still riffing on the same formula. This project sees Reznor tinkering with his own (nearly) 20 year old mould; found sounds, instruments created or taken from other traditions are added (30 Ghosts IV). The result isn't chart-friendly, and probably finds its closest brethren in fan-favourites, such as the live bonus disc Still, and Reznor's Quake Soundtrack. Although, why this inscrutability is worthy of rebuke is beyond me. This is experimentation without the need for Major Statements, Big Songs or Anthemic Choruses. It is certainly different from In Rainbows' slight hedge towards a poppier sound.

The double album is musically worthy; there is danger that its real worth, however, may be overshadowed by its distribution method. Radiohead gave away their album for 'whatever you want', however, the mp3s were relatively low quality, and it all seemed like a gimmick anticipating a physical release. In retrospect, the strategy was thinly executed. The release of Ghosts I-IV, is certainly more wary of the changing musical climate. Interested buyers were faced with 5 choices: a free download of Volume 1 (the first 9 tracks); a $5 download of the whole project, plus a PDF of the liner notes; a $10 physical release; a $75 deluxe release, which included a data disc with complete multitracks of all the pieces (for remixing), a Blu-Ray disc with a high-definition version of the album, and a hardback book with album artwork; and a $300 ultra deluxe limited edition with all of the above, plus a high-quality vinyl of the album, and some beautiful, signed prints. The downloads themselves are offered in three formats: MP3 320kbs, FLAC Lossless and AAC lossless, offering CD-quality fidelity.

This serves the hypotheses that cheap, high quality downloads and well-crafted, desirable, but more expensive physical editions will encourage listeners to pay for what they could get through other channels for free. Also, with the focus on making multitracks available for remixing, Reznor accepts that remix culture and sampling, in the quick-fix digital culture of the moment, is a way of spreading the word. Nine Inch Nails have previously sampled artists like Prince or David Bowie, even films like THX 1138 - and have equally created a musical community through their own remix albums (making links with other musicians such as Coil, Ladytron, The DFA). Now, Reznor is giving away his multitracks as a way of creating a fan-community around the music. A prime example of this approach is found in the Nine Inch Nails Remix website, where Reznor has made available instrumental remixes of the majority of his output, along with multitrack files for his more recent albums, for fans to come together and create their own expression. These are all ways of connecting the artist with the fan - the blog, the remix, the effort and respect in the creation of the music. Encouraging a personal link; consumer loyalty, if you will.

The free download is just as important. The first volume is still a tidy 26 minutes of music, and is more than a fair taster of what is on offer. However, what impressed me most was the method of distributing this taster: an official torrent on the Pirate Bay. There have been rumblings about Reznor leaking albums or shelved projects through bit-torrent sites before, such as the Closure DVD a couple of years ago, but this is the first official endorsement of bit-torrent by a major artist. Crucially, Reznor and Nine Inch Nails are aware of these modes of distribution (not knee-jerk reactionary, like Metallica). They were just as aware of the possibility of the whole album being leaked onto Pirate Bay before long; they said in the official album release statement: 'Undoubtedly you'll be able to find the complete collection on the same torrent network you found this file, but if you're interested in the release, we encourage you to check it out at'. These guys know which way the wind is blowing. Indeed, this album is also released under a Creative Commons license, which means that it is free for anything - remixing, sampling, performance, broadcast, even sharing - as long as it is not for commercial profit.

These experiments are important; they need to be made. It is true that Nine Inch Nails have a very solid fanbase. Indeed, like Radiohead, they serve both the casual, mainstream listener and the obsessive hardcore fanboy. How else would the $300 deluxe version sell out in less than two days, making a minimum of $750,000? Smaller bands just aren't rich enough to be this radical. However, distribution is the next level of experimentation. Just as experimental studio techniques (The Beatles, Pink Floyd) or early synthesizers (The Monkees, Kraftwerk) were only available to established artists with financial backing, this next frontier must be traversed by the comfortable or the self-sufficient. There are other artists dabbling in audience-supported expression, such as Einsturzende Neubauten or Marillion, both of whom work outside of the major label system, and record projects sustained by donations from fans.

In this regard, Trent Reznor is on the frontline. First, he produced his friend Saul Williams' latest album, titled The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, and released it for free (low quality) or $5 (high quality). This was, like this Nine Inch Nails release, an experiment: he posted the stats for people to read. Ghosts I-IV has already been more successful than the Saul Williams album, both in terms of business and criticism. This is a landmark release; it is both a statement of the new 'business models' allowed by the internet, but also a statement of creativity from an artist that has been previously dismissed. The release of Year Zero saw an invigorated Reznor, revisiting his hooky, noisy past while pushing forward into new areas of socio-political expression. Too many comments on articles about Nine Inch Nails start 'I liked NiN until The Fragile...'. Unlike that album's insular preciousness, on Ghosts Reznor has found a style which moves beyond adolescent frustration, towards a strident, confident, graceful experimentation.