My first immersive theatre experience was in London.
A strange choice for a first date: dishevelled converted warehouse rooms transformed into horrific SAW like enclaves for historical ‘Jack the Ripper’ deep dives. Weirder still was the melange of characters that attended, all in fancy dress, blurring the lines between participant and actor - infusing the evening with mystique and intrigue. I like to think this setting, so frighteningly effective as it was, is entirely to blame for my companion that evening running for the hills! What remained with me however was the poignant impact of this multidimensional submergence, so profound that friends and I went on to put on a few of our own.
Fast forward to the present day and the post-pandemic possibilities of the digital world are being realised through new iterations on ways to connect with one another. What was once simply a figment of the imagination, in fantasy fiction novels like Snowcrash, is now fully possible across a profusion of metaverses. Yet music has always been immersive.
Akin to comedy, photography, and writing; music is a medium that collapses worlds, regales stories, and releases energy in a way like no other. Songs, instrumentals, beats - all carry with them sacred intangible qualities that communicate, both in real time and across time, signals about meaningful aspects of our culture. As we advance, a collusion and collision of art forms has enabled us to more clearly relay the complexity of the communities and connections that comprise our collective existence.
The singer-songwriter led to the band. The band led to the orchestra. The orchestra led to the producer. At each stage the sonic permutations multiplied and expanded. Empty plain sleeves became album cover art. Album cover art became posters, photographs and magazine editorial; posters became music videos. Greater scales of immersion to bring us closer to universal truths. Dilution of distance to more infinitely explore the world around us, and the components that make it so magical.
Witnessing, or consuming, information may no longer be enough. The rise of participatory forms of interaction has whetted our appetites for a deeper level of rapture, of absorption. First pictures, then stories, then LIVE spaces is the trajectory we’ve seen across social media. So very similar to the progression represented by Kanye West’s stem player, with the music industry already looking past streaming in exploring new ways to enthral and engage listeners.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” President Abraham Lincoln
Songcamp is a web3 laboratory experimenting at the edges of music and the new internet. This is undertaken via month-long cohort projects called camps where groups of technical and artistic innovators embark on a quest to manifest meaningful works of the highest calibre — combining the skills and tools at their disposal to explore the depths of expression and immersion possible.
I’ve written previously in awe of the power of songwriting circles to bring disparate groups together to birth great music. Now consider the digital version where in-person presence is no longer a prerequisite: the access and inclusivity achievable skyrockets. At its most basic level, Songcamp brings this to fruition by gathering together musicians from around the world to collaborate. The appeal here is wide ranging — including an active community (check out the discord), with established high level distribution partners (like catalog), at the vanguard of the evolution of music creation and consumption.
Take it to the next level and this group really starts to set itself apart. Take the latest Camp Chaos which, for its first act (called Order), is anything but. Chaos is the third camp born out of Songcamp, and has evidently carried lessons from the previous two: curating six teams, working in tandem, to experiment with established norms and patterns for coordination, value flow, storytelling and songsmithery.
During the first camp, Genesis, 13 strangers came together to experiment at the fringes of Web3 resulting in 3 music NFTs selling for roughly $34,000 USD. The second camp, Elektra, led 42 adventurers to blur the lines between creator, builder and audience in harnessing the energetic power of music to raise roughly $100,000 USD and birth the Elektra DAO. And now, Chaos, 80 individuals coalescing into one hive mind collective, dancing with discord for eight weeks to compose four acts of immersive digital theatre.
With 80 people, committed to 8 weeks of collaborative creation, located all over the globe and blessed with a litany of abilities this is an ambitious moonshot undertaking. As a newcomer to the community, the aim to push the boundaries of what is possible at the edge of music and the new internet called to me in a profound way.
What is incredibly evident from the outset is that some of the stickiest glue that bonds this group together is a glorious level of craftsmanship. Songcamp portal opener Matthew Chaim, in chatting through how this third camp came about, shares that after the second camp they took a pause to assess what resources and capabilities resided within the community. The team had anyone available, motivated, and excited (to contribute to the next endeavour) fill out a form detailing their past work and future plans. The curation of these interviews served as a key input in solidifying what Chaos would be like.
What is clear from the first camp call is that selection process ended up bringing forward the most enthusiastic and productive participants of the previous camps, alongside a super organised and excitable founding team, setting the stage for new entrants to already feel a really high level of warmth and investment in being part of what could be created here.
Whilst those previous experiences seeded fertile ground for this throng to flourish from a talent perspective, the most fascinating lessons that differentiate this camp at the initial stages are centred on coordination and value flow.
Organising effectively towards a common purpose is a considerable undertaking in and of itself. What we know is that even when participants know each other well, and are fully present both in spirit and in person, coordination failures are tricky to circumvent.
How grateful we are at the opportunity to expand our reach beyond national, religious, or orientational borders in the internet age. Doxxed, pseudonymous or even anonymous contributors can come together and productively pursue something beyond themselves. Yet it then becomes all the more important to be conscious of, and attend to, friction that can come up and potential solutions.
Through the prisoner's dilemma for instance we’ve come to understand that, absent of trust and communication, two actors who would otherwise be better rewarded by cooperating will individually act selfishly and not in their own best interest.
The classic example is as follows: two suspects are brought in for questioning for a crime they committed. If they both stay quiet then they’ll both get 1 year jail time. If one talks they walk free and the other gets ten years. If they both talk they both get five years.
You might think that if they got a chance to speak to each other everything would be alright, but even with communication this can go awry. A key lesson drawn from Camp Genesis and Camp Elektra seems to have been centred on leaning into the camps’ collective capacities to thrive in the disorder and discord necessary when collaborating digitally across time zones. Building trust, and inculcating that at every possible opportunity from the outset, with an extraordinary number of channels for communication and support, has proved to catapult this camp’s coordination capabilities appreciably.
The record breaking band Queen, renowned for Freddie Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody amongst many stunners, initially wrote songs individually and earned royalties on that basis. This however caused friction and discontent in the band - as Freddie or Brian wrote the bulk of the songs. Only after a universal basic income of £100,000 per year was established for all members, topped up by royalties (which were also thereafter equally attributed), did the band go on to flourish together creatively and energetically.
This is a universal dilemma: how to allocate equity in a way that feels fair, transparent, and justified. It seems that, particularly during Camp Elektra, this diversion soaked the most focus away from the camp’s mission. A well meaning centralised scheme of mechanisms put in place to manage value flow was developed to fairly distribute any outcome based on differing levels of input. However the subjectivity here can prove poisonous — efforts at egality become subject to political and strategic games that deviate from the spirit and objectives of the undertaking.
It's an important and complex question given the time and effort being invested with uncertain outcomes. Startup founders go through it all the time with thought leaders such as Seth Godin proposing only a portion of equity is allocated to begin with, and the rest is allocated over time predicated on an agreed upon series of milestones. This recognises the incredible power of incentives, or a lack of them thereof, and this is a crucial issue which can either bring alignment or divert attention from the task at hand: collaboration in the co-creation of new modes of music.
So for this camp the idea is to split the equity equally based on contribution. Thus 20% of an individual's maximum possible slice of the pie is allocated based on Self-Selection, 40% based on Gratitude Flow, 10% is Holdback, and 30% is returned to the Songcamp Treasury.
Self-selection: Campers will have the ability to self-evaluate their efforts on a bi-weekly basis, and receive a corresponding amount of $CHAOS.
Gratitude flow: Through Coordinape parties, campers award tokens to one another for the work they have done over the previous two weeks. Showing some love to the participants building alongside you.
Holdback: To be distributed at the end of camp via a mechanic devised and proposed by the Economics team, to be ratified by the whole network. This will be prioritised towards rewarding those who may have been working in the shadows (undervalued via coordinape flow), and the ability to recognize emergent work done that is not accounted for in self-selection and gratitude flow.
Songcamp Treasury: Proceeds will go towards the operations of Songcamp and the facilitation of future camps. This will go towards funding a universal basic income of 0.3 ETH for all participants, as well as creating a good nucleus of incentive to keep building and creating value for the Chaos NFT project.
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The term is closely associated with the work of mathematician and meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz.
One of the most emergent groups from Camp Elektra was The Swarm: a team of around 10 musicians, producers, vocalists, instrumentals and engineers responsible for creating the sound design, voice overs and musical soundscapes throughout the Elektra experience.
The serendipitous smorgasbord of songsmithery that burst out of this team was awe inspiring, and resulted in this third camp intentionally being more open from the outset in its entirety. The biggest difference practically is that the channels for each team are open to everyone, and there is no central decision making involved (politics) around who deserves what. Instead the economics team devised a strategy to put this responsibility in the hands of participants.
To take the transparency up another notch the camp is being catalogued through a combination of radio, podcasts, and essays which weave together as real time immersive digital theatrical storytelling. Every detail of CHAOS is constructed to empower people to express their most imaginative selves through a series of acts and scenes.
As we delve deeper into camp three the lessons carried forwards from previous generations serve to clear the way for supreme focus on the work. There is much to discuss, which I'll leave for the next edition, e.g. the engineering innovation involved as well as the music! For now be sure to get a flavour of what is happening by listening to episode one of the chaos radio — an in-camp podcast documenting the going ons of Camp Chaos in real time. I’d also highly recommend following the official Songcamp twitter where there will be an in depth look at the inspirational people committed to CHAOS over the coming weeks.
Papa is part of the Lore team and resident scribe within Camp Chaos - his pursuit of purpose is founded on the continual cultivation of worthy ideals that enrich & enliven the lives of others. So he writes, makes music, and cooks a mean lasagna.