The Overdub Tampering Committee

By RYAN WALSH  |  February 15, 2012


I answered e-mails from reporters all day (mostly from the US, one from Russia, and one from Belgium). Online, a healthy discussion was in full swing on message boards and the comment sections of articles covering the story. The sentiments ranged from, "Whether or not you're speaking the truth or utter bullshit, it's an amazing idea that will be shared by others" (comment on the OTC Blogger account) to "It's pretty safe to chalk this up to either completely fake or attention whore wankery" (Metafilter). Some guessed we were the RIAA ("Boy this thing reads like the RIAA tried to get a viral campaign on the cheap.") while others assumed we were driving them insane ("Hopefully this bounces up and down/up and down on record industries last nerve." [sic]). Paper Thin Walls' Christopher Weingarten declared, "Our new heroes!" Even if nothing else took place regarding the OTC, I was completely satiated by the early results of the experiment.

The untethered thrill was tapered quickly when a particularly intense comment appeared on our blog [all sic]: "This is going to be fun. Your identitys will eventually be revealed. Then life becomes difficult for you. Mass media picks up the story soon as your exposed, and guess what people that don't like what your doing are the anonymous ones at your concerts or public appearances. I'll let you do the math . . . fuckheads."

Oh, right, I remembered, some people are really, really great with computers and hacking and this is going to piss some of them off and they probably have the skills to see my past my voodoo fake-IP program like it's a piece of Saran Wrap. I felt a tiny fear tremor circulate through my body, starting at my toes and ending in my brain, which was busy cooking up exit strategies. I couldn't help but endlessly cycle through the various hacker revenge scenarios. Maybe they'll just expose me? Identity theft? Or what if the insinuation of "You do the math" meant what I first thought it meant?

But I didn't pull the plug. The positive aspects of the OTC still outweighed my brain's ceaseless hypothetical negative outcomes. The following week, two larger institutions covered our hoax. Tech-media juggernaut CNet wrote: "Real or not, imagine if this type of remixing becomes a mainstream activity, with everybody posting their personal dubs to their blogs or social-networking home pages." Thrilling. We loved that idea. One of us optimistically wrote in an internal group e-mail, "I feel like, sooner or later, the world is going to end up doing all of our work for us on these recordings."

This hope was reinforced by a comment on our own blog: "It doesn't matter if the Overdub Tampering Committee is real or not. By the end of the year, I expect it to be a thriving project, with as much truth to it as these guys already claim, simply because others out there will take this idea and run with it." We received dozens of e-mails from musicians who told us they were going to do just that. We encouraged them enthusiastically.

SF Weeklyposted the story with the teaser question, "Ever wonder why your leaked copy of 50 Cent's Curtis has that ill Lawrence Welk accordion sample that your friend's copy doesn't?" Well, no one has ever wondered this, because it's complete fantasy. Passing that article around to the OTC group prompted one of us to write, "Hey, we add our own original samples! Well, at least we say we do!"

But the messages threatening an attack or violence upon the members of the OTC kept streaming in, and it was beginning to give me serious reservations. On our second and final post to the OTC blog, I wrote, "Which brings us to the least enjoyable aspect of all this: the death threats. Our inbox has been flooded with messages from people all across the globe and while we certainly don't mind negative messages we've been disturbed by the ones threatening violence or murder. So, as you may know, no one likes to die. We're thinking about shutting this all down and erasing all traces we've left behind. But we've had a lot of fun and we've met our goals and then some."

I intended to leave the possibility of future OTC statements open, but in the end, the decision to extinguish the experiment happened completely by accident. I had created an insanely complex password to get into the e-mail/blogger account — like I said, I was wary of hackers. The password was so serpentine that I had to write it down. I consulted this little scrap of paper every time I wanted to wind up the ol' IP-masker and do some OTC emailing. One night, at my desk, I spilled a cup of tea, and the puddle spread quickly, drowning the piece of paper with the password on it until the ink bled and it was no longer readable. I tried various guesses as to what it might be. No dice. I tried so many incorrect passwords, Google locked the account.

I appealed to Gmail tech support but they told me that my case contained "suspicious elements" and that the account would be locked forever. Who needs elite hackers and crack journalists when I'm a little butterfingery with a cup of hot tea now and then?

The very last official words from the OTC were contained in the final sentence of that second post. It read, "Music is alive, not dead and lying in a digital heap at the bottom of your hard drive, and this is just another way of realizing that. Make it, hear it, feel it, tamper with it." I felt great that we had accidentally ended on a downright positive version of the initial hypothesis. I told the OTC group that, for better or worse, the experiment was over. I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I changed the passwords to all of my other accounts, deleted the IP program, and turned my attention elsewhere.

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