In the last 24 hours, some pretty big names have gotten dropped in the way of the arts and digital media communities. Google, Amazon, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Smithsonian Institution… Clouds might be fluffy and light and make people think of beautiful spring days, but there are no lightweights in that list for sure. Rather, Clouds are a serious topic of discussion for all the aforementioned groups, but in slightly different ways.
Here’s what’s been going down:
Google is hoping to cruise on “Cloud NIne” with it’s new Cloud based Music Service, so straightforwardly dubbed “Google Music.” There’s a catch to this new development though. The service has been declared as a Beta Release, rather than a proper full release for now. The reason? In a not very gracious or solicitous fashion, Google got impatient lagging behind Amazon and iTunes in the music streaming department, choosing to execute the product launch “without iOS support” and “without major label approval.” The latter circumstance is one of the reasons why paperless can actually be considered a bad thing: excessive, unnecessary data storage. (Leading to eventual need for more electronic hardware/eventual waste.)
According to Digital Music News LLC, the lack of major label support translates to Google “not hav[ing] the right to instantly recognize and duplicate a song in the cloud. Instead, Google will be forced to upload the song version provided by the user – even if that song is duplicated thousands of times over by others.” Thinking about popular Top 40 singles and albums, imagine the amount of duplicates that could ensue in one day’s time. (Though in all fairness, Amazon pulled the same type of “premature release,” except they have a digital store to “assist in monetizing that service.” (Cit.  Author, Chris Rawson)
The catch with why there is no iOS support comes from Google’s forced implementation of flash programming for use. In this one, somewhat self defeating move, Google is backing interested consumers into a corner that says either buy a Droid or you’re sunk. Now, if a new consumer does buy Android powered hardware, Google is getting a double sale. That’s probably not likely to be the initial majority though. If you’re curious, here’s Google’s video preview of their Cloud:
Turning your attention to clouds of a different variety, (e.g. Cory Arcangel’s work “Super Mario Clouds,” consisting of an altered Mario game cartridge to “erease everything but the clouds.”) I’m still in the digital zone but let me pose a question to you readers:
“If you could brainstorm video game creations for the rest of your life with secure knowledge you wouldn’t end up broke, hungry and in a gutter somewhere, would you jump on that bandwagon?”
I’ve breached the topic of video games in the contemporary music scene before, with the announcement last year about the Final Fantasy Concert Experience titled, “Distant Worlds.” Certainly game music has come quite the ways in evolving from 8-bit sounds, beeps and clicks, gaining acceptance and admiration from the contemporary music crowd. What about the games themselves though? The focus might have shifted to the visual content, which isn’t exactly my core expertise, but when the NEA declared video games as grant worthy art, things need addressing.
The National Endowment for the Arts has had a number of hurdles and loads of ‘in-fighting’ over the years, as artists across so many mediums are competing for the precious few grants available for distribution among the thousands of applicants from non-profit organizations across the country. Add the ever increasing strain of tighter budgets, cut backs and picky audiences and it doesn’t get any easier for artists to maintain peoples’ attention; The whole ‘promotion’ for the video game world to “the ranks of high art”  probably made it across the threshold thanks to a large push from the upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian entitled “The Art of Video Games.” The exhibition’s description is as follows, as per the Smithsonian’s official voting results release.
(and if you’re interested in knowing a bit more about the “Modern Windows/Combat-Strategy Category Winner, “Minecraft,” check out yesterday’s post by my friend at “Computers, Music & More.”)
“The Art of Video Games exhibition will explore the 40‐year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects, the creative use of new technologies, and the most influential artists and designers. A website (www.artofvideogames.org) offered participants a chance to vote for 80 games from a pool of 240 proposed choices in various categories, divided by era, game type and platform.“
…That’s right, I said voting. A simple email registration gave the general public the power to decide which games out of a large pool of candidates, were put as the display game in each category. What’s interesting to me is the fact that even with public voting, which usually ends in a popularity contest of appeal over merit in most cases, (e.g. American Idol,) and though nostalgia/resulting popularity did play a role for the winners, there’s no denying that some games chosen are nostalgic for players because of their landmark, groundbreaking visuals. (respective of their times.) An iconic instance of this would be the memorable, console signature, Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 game system.
Coming back to my other point, the validity in recognizing video game visuals as art is exciting but where things can get complicated or uncertain is in the logistics of the NEA’s new policies. Where video games will fit in the grant acquisition pool is under a newly distinguished category called “Arts in Media Grants,” which was previously “Arts on Radio and Television Grants.” One of the biggest changes that results from the new title is the larger amount of candidate inclusion outside of Radio and Television, leading to more competition for games to obtain government funding. NEA’s Director of Media Arts, Alyce Myatt neatly summarizes the new inclusions for funding in addition to the games: “…content developed for the Web, for theatrical release, for mobile phones [and] content to be distributed via satellite,” among other categories. A short video explanation from Myatt herself, as well as a breakdown of the new guidelines are available HERE.
Before you go out to get a sketchbook and a manual on writing game code with a plan to get famous on the government’s dollar, you should know that the NEA aren’t loose with cash. As is the case with other artists and art forms, individuals are not eligible to apply for grants. You have to be part of a “nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) U.S. organizations; units of state or local government; or federally recognized tribal communities or tribes.” 
Important purpose oriented objectives of the grants to note as well:
“There is a new emphasis on innovation, as well as strengthening creativity through access to the arts. In order to reach the widest possible audience, priority will be given to projects that include substantive public engagement strategies, including well articulated social media strategies. We’re encouraging media projects that enhance public knowledge and understanding of the arts through multi-platform or transmedia means.”
So that means, in all likely hood, commercial game makers might not be first in line for submitting applications if it means changing the main trajectory of their game content. And one might wonder if these Smithsonian worthy installments would actually make the cut. Anyone see “Doom” enhancing public knowledge? (not including the application of Doom-style gaming engines as a teaching tool in higher education computer science programs)
With this move for expansion by the NEA, I’m still left wondering whether stereotypes on more contemporary musical genres will continue to lose stigma around their attached sub-cultures and be deemed enjoyable and beneficial by the “high art” masses. I mean, if games that involve anything from exploring unknown territories and collecting treasure, to blowing off zombie heads and manipulating human morality have made it over the elitism bar, then what’s holding up metal band logos of rotted skulls (e.g. Demon Hunter) and older Rock n’ Roll song content about one night stands (e.g. Meat Loaf) from being declared as having appreciable decorum?