February 5, 2004 1:10 PM PST

Crank it! iTunes sells sounds of silence--for real

Silence may be golden, but now, thanks to iTunes, it can be downloaded for a mere 99 cents.

Among the hundreds of thousands of downloadable songs for sale at Apple Computer's online music store are at least nine tracks of silence, a fact that has prompted quite a bit of discussion. The chatter over the inaudible music tracks began this week at Mac enthusiast site As The Apple Turns.

As the site notes, Apple treats the silent songs just like their more musical counterparts. The silent tracks sell for the same 99 cents as other songs, feature free 30-second "previews" and are all wrapped in Apple's usual digital-rights management software to prevent unauthorized copying.

Even more humorously, three of the tracks--all titled "Silent" and all by hip-hop group Slum Village--are labeled as explicit, even though there is only silence. For those who worry that the lack of sound will be too racy, iTunes offers "clean versions" as well.

Among the other silent tracks are "Silence," by Ciccone Youth, off "The Whitey Album," "Silence" by Bill Schaeffer, from the album "Grain of Sand," and "One Minute of Silence" by Project Grudge, which is offered only as a single-song download.

For those looking for the best value, Schaeffer offers nearly two minutes of silence, almost twice as much as any of the other tracks.

Apple said most of the songs are there because the artists intended for there to be silence as part of the albums and because the recording industry provided the songs to Apple as sellable tracks. Silent tracks are available from some other music-download services, but it was not immediately clear if any offered as wide a selection as iTunes.

Although Apple was unable to say how many silent songs have sold, historically there has been a market for inaudible music. Most famously, composer John Cage composed "4'33""--a 1952 piece that features just over four and a half minutes without sound. The BBC broadcast a live performance of the piece earlier this year--featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra, no less.

Cage's estate even managed to win a copyright fight in 2002, getting Mike Batt to pay a six-figure settlement because a Batt recording included a silent track that he credited to Cage.

Batt had initially vowed to fight the copyright claims and was quoted in press reports saying, "Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds."

Unfortunately, neither Batt's piece nor Cage's is available on iTunes.

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Considering the deplorable state of modern popular music (hip-op in particular) silence sounds like a very good option.
Posted by Hosheen (841 comments )
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