The new UK collective making and shaping the lines between Electronic music, physical and digital Art on the Blockchain: Oblivious Transfer
With a roster of artists who have coalesced around the themes of Quantum Theory, Sci-Fi, Rave alongside Cryptography from Otherworlds. Oblivious Transfer is a newly formed collective of makers and shapers, who have committed to producing their wares across multiple formats, embracing the possibilities offered by a new wave of technology that’s been emerging over the last few years.
Each release to date includes a record, collectible insert and NFTs – all designed to unpack a story intrinsically linked through music. After all, it’s at the very core of what they’re about.
To sum things up – Oblivious Transfer is best understood as a collaborative space where producers, artists and programmers can work closely together, to exchange of ideas about a theme for each EP until it unravels into an emerging story.
With so much going on in the Blockchain space and a wider discourse taking place about a whole new medium for creatives. It feels like we may well be on the verge of a moment of paradigm shift (if you’re to believe the hype). After hearing their first release by Qntm Ctrl – The Eagle And The Senses and loving the look of their artwork, we were keen to find out more.
So, firstly tell us a bit about the project: what’s your background in music?
“We’re a mix of electronic producers, film directors, artists and programmers who’ve grown up on rave culture and electronic music. From hosting 3,000-strong all-weekend warehouse parties in Berlin, to brutal 90hr weeks in audio post production, to long nights editing music promos, or conjuring up new patches for the Prophet 6, you could say that we all breathe (and sometimes choke!) on music.”
Why did you choose to start a record label / art collective?
“As a label, we’re fascinated by what post rave culture might sound and look like. Keeping one foot in the rave, where can we take it? It’s a pivotal time for music, where everything is about to change (all over again). The potential for re-inventing how we experience music culture has never been more exciting. Epic Games buying Bandcamp is just one recent example of where it might all go. The relationship between the physical artefact and virtual is getting super interesting. Think of fashion labels like RTFKT and The Fabricant who are leading the way. We haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to music…”
Who is involved so far?
“In every aspect, we aim for the highest standard: from the productions (mostly undertaken at Devon Analogue Studios), the mixing at ARC Mix London to the mastering by Matt Colton at Metropolis, to the carefully crafted artwork, promos and NFTs. Each vinyl release includes collectible inserts, designed to unpack our narrative.
The QNTM CTRL artwork is by sci-fi concept artist, Jake Lund-Davies (Rogue One, The Last Jedi). The Social Rhythm EP is illustrated by London street artist The Real Dill, with exciting new work from counterculture exponents like .EPOD, Alice Bloomfield and Anwot incoming. In the virtual and motion graphic space, we’ve been working with directors Carl Addy, Francois Rousin and Motioncult to shape our output.”
How do you operate as a collective then?
“We’re working together to tell a story driven by the music. The technology that shaped us is being radically reshaped…so we’re rolling with it to see where it takes us. You could say it’s a kind of nostalgic futurism. OK, that sounds a little pretentious! But from Snow Crash to Minority Report – there are a ton of examples of sci-fi leapfrogging reality as we know it. That’s a shared philosophy. But on a more practical level, it means the producers, artists and programmers work closely together to exchange ideas on each EP, as its story emerges.”
What sort of direction can we expect from you musically?
“We like the idea of it flexing and evolving as we go. The first QNTM CTRL release was on a warped electronic tip, an escape from a burning planet. This was followed by Social Rhythm’s beautiful reimagining of 90s intelligent drum and bass, themed around an alien tribal ceremony. Coming soon is a psychedelic excursion reminiscent of the KLF and The Orb (with Ozrics-inspired keys) which takes a more gnostic turn.”
Sci-Fi and Otherwordly Cryptography are also a heavy influence, who are your heroes and influences on that front?
“So many, haha! Asimov, Philip K.Dick. William Gibson. All the cornerstones, like 2001 Space Odyssey, Dark Star, Blade Runner, Metropolis, The Day the Earth Stood Still, the Alien series, They Live and so on. Older stuff like 2000AD, Trigan Empire and Akira. Or more recently: Death, Love + Robots, Blomkamp’s Oat Studios acute weirdness and Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time.
Cryptography has of course been around since forever, in many different forms. There’s a great book by Simon Singh called The Code Bookthat tells its story. We’re most inspired by its application in storytelling. From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, through to ideas in the works of Edgar Alan Poe, Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Neal Stephenson’s virus-infected metaverse, or perhaps the simple genius of Aphex Twin hiding his face in a spectroscope image on [Equation]. The Gumball Lounge experience in VRChat on the Quest 2 is astonishing.”
Are there any particular theories or ideas you subscribe to?
“Oblivious Transfer was named after a cryptography protocol, whereby “a sender (Alice) transfers one of potentially many pieces of information to a receiver (Bob), but remains oblivious as to what piece (if any) has been transferred”. We thought this was a great analogy for how music and art is relayed and perceived. Intricate encoded puzzles with/out purpose. Who is the intended recipient? How is the energy exchanged? It was a term that began to make sense of how we could put our releases out. That said, we have no f*&^n clue who Alice and Bob are…”
What’s the most powerful Cryptography you’ve experienced so far?
“Surely DNA itself? After having recent DNA scan results for both health and ancestry, seeing the results was wild. If studies to convert DNA into an adaptive storage format are successful, it will hold 10 zetabytes in a tiny device the size of a shoebox, capable of lasting a million years… imagine what treasures we could hide in there for people to discover?”
Blockchain, digital art and NFTs are a BIG topic right now. Tell us more about the space and how you see it…
“The applications of digital ownership via the blockchain are in their infancy. But that’s what makes it so exciting. Sadly, the whole subject gets conflated with crypto, tech bros, connotations of the wild west, money laundering and shady puppeteers at play. But the get-rich-quick ponzi schemes aren’t where the creative potential lies. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the concept of digital collectibles, enabled by (relatively) robust proof of possession. There’s exciting new ways to link real and virtual art of all kinds. Then, perhaps the biggest shift will be the idea of the spatial web (or metaverse-to-be), which takes us from scrolling to ‘strolling’. What should the experience of music in 3D spaces be? Definitely not Spotify. Mad times…”
How do NFTs work and how do you see the technology/medium evolving?
“There’s a lot of NFT-related information out there, mostly hype built around greed. Discord (when not being used as a scamming tool) is probably the best platform for getting deeper into all things non-fungible. There are still many format challenges to work out. But for Oblivious Transfer, NFTs give us a way to create limited edition virtual art, linked to the purchase of our vinyl artefacts (physical EPs). Over time, the plan is to mint not only collectible virtual characters (based on each EP’s comic narratives), but also exclusive tracks and bespoke sample packs. The NFTs become a form of long term access to our label, and will act as tickets to future events, limited edition collabs and so forth…”
What sort of advice do you have for other artists/labels looking to start their journey?
“As Oblivious Transfer, we’re only just starting ours, so let’s catch up in a year from now. But we plan to work hard, stay true to the concept, adapt quickly to the technology that’s out there, and keep having fun doing it!”
Last but not least… what projects are you working on next?
“There are next level follow-up EPs from QNTM CTRL and Social Rhythm being pressed as we speak. We’re finishing up our collection of NFTS linked to the first five releases. We’re also planning an art exhibition of works from our collective (both real and virtual) for later in the year, that will take the form of a sound installation/party. Plus there’s talk of setting up a VR home for the label in the “metaverse” and a limited run of Oblivious Transfer tequila, probably in that order. Watch this space!”
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