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Spiritual Machines 2, the new album from the Canadian alt-rock band Our Lady Peace, will be released as a digital asset known as a non-fungible token.Lindsey Blane/Handout

Welcome to the machine. Where have you been? – Pink Floyd

There’s a rich tradition of fogeyism among musicians. If Radiohead’s self-proclaimed Luddite Thom Yorke was alive and cranky in the 19th century, he surely would have been among the artisans who burned down cotton mills.

In 2013, heavyweight producer T Bone Burnett told The Hollywood Reporter that a mob should attack Silicon Valley. “We should go up there with pitchforks and torches,” he suggested. Who said irony was dead? And who said digital sound has dehumanized us? (It was Burnett who proclaimed the latter.)

On the other hand, many musicians are embracing modernity. On Saturday, the new album from the Canadian alt-rock band Our Lady Peace will be released as a digital asset known as a non-fungible token. A shimmering, often-danceable concept record produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, Spiritual Machines 2 is the sequel to 2000′s Spiritual Machines. The self-explanatory single Stop Making Stupid People Famous was released this summer.

Both albums take inspiration from the teachings of the American futurist Ray Kurzweil, and his prophetic 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence.

Our Lady Peace leader Raine Maida has seen the future and it is blockchain technology, a digital ledger that records the provenance of a digital asset. “The art world is way, way ahead of us on blockchain,” says Maida, 51, speaking from his home in Los Angeles. “But, then, artists are always ahead of us.”

For evidence of that, look no further than Claire Boucher (a.k.a. Grimes), the Montreal electro-pop auteur and former girlfriend of Elon Musk who became wealthier by some US$6-million when she sold a collection of her digital art earlier this year. Compare that jackpot with her music streaming income, which would barely keep her in turpentine and paint brushes. (If she uses them, which she doesn’t.)

As a visual artist, then, Grimes is filthy rich. As a musician, she’s middle class at best. Asked about his own Spotify royalties, Maida says, “I can’t buy dog food” with the cheques.

In 1999, with hit single Superman’s Dead and big-selling albums Clumsy and Naveed a few years behind them, Our Lady Peace was making its fourth album when Maida was introduced to Kurzweil’s groundbreaking book about artificial intelligence and consciousness. “It blew my mind,” Maida says. “I had to read it three times to understand it.”

In making Spiritual Machines, the band flew Kurzweil to Toronto, used short spoken-word passages from the author and made use of the Kurzweil K250 keyboard, an invention of his. The album was an interpretation of the book.

For the new sequel, Kurzweil is again involved. We hear his voice making predictions on man and machine (”artificial intelligence will be conscious”) and the inevitability of a universal basic income (UBI).

According to Kurzweil, the developed world will establish a UBI by the early 2030s. “You’ll be able to live very well on that,” he says on the album’s seventh track, stuck between songs Wish You Well and Future Disease. “This will shift our primary concerns from basic life needs to meaning and purpose.”

That’s years away, though. How do musicians make a living in the meantime? Streaming services have devalued music and financially kneecapped musicians who relied on album sales for a large part of their income.

On Saturday, Our Lady Peace launches the NFT release of Spiritual Machines 2 with a concert at Toronto’s El Mocambo club. The release is limited to 500 copies and the price is, well, negotiable. “We’re currently looking to fans to help determine price,” Maida says. “This is why community around NFTs and blockchain is so incredible.”

When Maida mentions “community,” he’s talking about the straight-to-fan nature that digital technology allows. Traditional music gatekeepers are avoided, in the same way that fans are able to buy albums directly from the artists on websites such as Bandcamp. These digital developments foster a communality, according to Maida, that “make it possible for artists to have their own little cottage industries that are sustainable.”

Because the album won’t have its traditional release until January, 2022, fans who don’t score an NFT will have to wait. “I know that’s going to piss off some listeners,” Maida acknowledges. Such is the double-edged sword that is technology.

“Music and technology is finally interesting in a way that helps artists,” Maida continues. “We’ve been given this superpower that is blockchain to put value back into music.”

Turns out Superman’s not dead after all.

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