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Ektoplazm Blog

News, links, articles, photography, inspirational quotations, and random musings from the founder of Ektoplazm, the world's leading free music service for psychedelic trance.

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Ektoplazm update: summer 2016

Blog | August 16, 2016 | Posted by Basilisk

Hello everyone! I hope everyone out there is having a great summer in the northern hemisphere—and a fine winter down south. It’s time for another update of what’s going on behind the scenes here at Ektoplazm.

Ektoplazm t-shirt sample from Redbubble

First up, last summer I had to close the Ektoplazm t-shirt shop after the manufacturer I had been working with discontinued the service. Since then I have tried several alternatives but none really satisfied until I discovered Redbubble. So, I am happy to announce that Ektoplazm t-shirts are once again available, albeit from a different supplier—which means different garments, print quality, and so on. They aren’t exactly the same t-shirts but based on what feedback I’ve received the quality is comparable so I encourage everyone to check out the new Ektoplazm t-shirt shop on Redbubble!

By request I have also opened a page for Ektoplazm on Patreon, a web site that makes it easy to support content creators, movers, and shakers. For years Ektoplazm has accepted donations via Paypal and Bitcoin but this approach isn’t particularly transparent. Since people don’t know how much it costs to operate and develop Ektoplazm nor how much money is coming in it isn’t uncommon for there to be a shortfall that I end up covering out of my own pocket. Patreon offers the potential for more transparency. Here I will be able to set funding goals and everyone will be able to see how much support the project receives. At the very least, having Ektoplazm’s monthly web hosting expenses covered would be a great first step! People sometimes joke that if everyone who downloads from Ektoplazm chips in a dollar or two I wouldn’t have money problems any more but there’s more than a little truth to that—and Patreon makes it possible. If you support free music and my ongoing work on Ektoplazm 2.0 please feel welcome to make a pledge!

I also have an update about the DMCA takedown abuse issue I wrote about recently. Speaking out against this heinous practice seems to have done some good as I discovered that many of these automated services offer whitelisting for entire domains. I went back and emailed a bunch of the companies that had filed takedown requests and most were amenable to removing Ektoplazm from their scans in the future. Already I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of notices I receive so that’s one less thing for me to worry about.

Now for a word about recent uptime issues: over the last several months I’ve faced several challenges keeping Ektoplazm online for various reasons. Back in the springtime my host migrated one of my servers to a new data center without copying over a huge number of files necessary to keep the site running. I ended up having to spend a weekend scrambling to pick up the pieces and customize the new box to match the configuration of the old. Even after that I was stuck with weeks of smashing bugs and otherwise getting things back to the way they were. I wasn’t very happy with how my host handled everything but I’m not ready to switch just yet—there’s an unusually high amount of risk involved in moving such a high-bandwidth site like Ektoplazm to a new hosting company. The problem isn’t technical, mind you—it’s that many hosts will promise unmetered bandwidth and then find reasons to eject you after you start using it. I’ve had this problem once before in Ektoplazm’s history and don’t want to repeat the ordeal. Though I have had problems with my current host they’ve never had a problem with how much bandwidth we use so I’ll stay put for now.

In recent weeks Ektoplazm has also suffered several extended DDoS attacks. I can’t say too much about the nature of these attacks without giving too much away. Suffice to say I think I’ve found a way to mitigate the threat from most of these attacks but there are no guarantees. Keep an eye on the Ektoplazm Facebook page or Twitter feed if you notice any problems accessing the site; I may have posted an update there.

Finally, a word for my label and artist partners: these days I am only accepting a limited number of new applications with several conditions outlined on the distribution policy. I regret having to make these changes but I am limited in how much I can work on the project at the present time and being more stringent with what applications I accept will allow me to help more labels and artists than I would be able to otherwise. I am trying to devote more of my time to the redevelopment effort. Feel free to hold back as your releases will still be welcome when the site moves to more of a self-serve model. You are welcome to drop me a line and talk about it if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you for your understanding! And thanks to everyone else for your continued support. That’s all for this time and stay tuned for more great music from Ektoplazm!

Fighting an endless and futile war against DMCA takedown abuse

Blog | June 1, 2016 | Posted by Basilisk

One of my regular duties here at Ektoplazm is responding to spurious DMCA takedown notices to ensure that the music distribute here will continue to be found through Google search results. Almost every week I receive at least one—and often several—notices to the effect that some URL allegedly infringes upon someone’s copyright. I let these notices build up and then file counter notices in batch, filling everything out by hand. Google takes my personal information and a sworn statement that the content at a given URL is not actually infringing on the claimant’s copyright and—if everything goes well—the link is then reinstated by Google at some point in the future. The most annoying part of this process is having to cut and paste the URLs in question, particularly if I’m served with a notice that knocks a whole bunch out of search results, which is not uncommon. Not so long ago eleven releases with the word “beyond” in the title were stripped from Google, to give but one example.

When things go poorly I am often at the mercy of the system, such as it is. There have been several occasions where my counter notice is returned for being incomplete, often with little in the way of elaboration. I am then stuck writing emails to some faceless drone to press my case, namely that the music provided to me is distributed legally and with the consent of the copyright owner. Most of the time this does the trick and the release in question can once again be found through Google. At other times the link is removed for good—unless I feel like securing the services of a lawyer, which I would rather not.

Now, you might be asking, just what is the DMCA anyhow? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an American copyright law that went into effect last century. Among many other provisions it allows for copyright owners to submit takedown requests to search engines in good faith—meaning that Google or whomever is complying is expected to assume that the request is valid. Naturally this has all manner of unintended consequences, particularly since automated takedown requests have become the norm. Takedown requests have long been cataloged on Lumen (formerly known as Chilling Effects) as part of an ongoing effort to make the process more transparent. This allows me to share details of a stellar example of the absolute absurdity of the DMCA takedown process in action.

Take a look at copyright claim #6 on this notice that effectively knocked The Colours of Ektoplazm off Google’s search results. This release is a 5-hour mix of 100% Creative Commons-licensed content, probably the only one of its kind, and nobody would have any good reason to cite it for copyright infringement. And what, pray tell, was this defiantly anti-copyright project supposedly infringing upon? Some bullshit mainstream release by the name of “The Mix”.

Obviously there was no human oversight involved in this imbroglio. The record label submitted a list of releases to a copyright “scanning and takedown” service and software did the rest. Evidently this company bases its claims on a simple text match, for there is absolutely nothing else about my release that matches that of the copyright claimant’s. This is particularly idiotic considering how common the word “mix” is used in the electronic music world. Imagine how many other perfectly legitimate URLs vanished from search results simply because the word “mix” appeared somewhere on the same page!

Not long after I originally wrote about this ordeal on Facebook I received an email apology from the CEO of the takedown service responsible for this nonsensical claim, so that’s something. This company is responsible for more than one million takedown notices in the Lumen database (to say nothing of the many others that never show up there). Maybe it is time to verify the claims of your customers and charge them accordingly before unleashing your bots all over the web? Until then web site owners like myself will be burdened with responding to completely ridiculous claims like the one outlined in this post.

Many people have asked me: can counter notices be automated as well? Can we fight bots with more bots? Maybe, but I didn’t see any easy way of doing so after investing some time into researching the idea. There’s no money in filing counter notices, after all. And at this point it will almost certainly take less time for me to file those stupid counter notices than it will to develop an automated solution to ongoing DMCA abuse.

The bottom line: Ektoplazm and other free and legal sources of music are at the mercy of an unfair system that is incredibly easy to game—and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about the situation. If you’re American you can send a letter to the relevant government agency through the EFF’s takedownabuse.org. Apart from that, I haven’t got any better idea than continuing to file paperwork week after week for as long as I care about keeping Ektoplazm content on Google, which is forever—until this stupid law is changed.

Anyway, I figured it was about time to write a short post about this situation since I reference it on Facebook from time to time without going into as much detail. Thanks for reading and, as always, your donations are highly appreciated to keep Ektoplazm alive!

Ektoplazm update: winter 2016

Blog | February 1, 2016 | Updated: March 25, 2016 | Posted by Basilisk

Hello everyone! It has been a while since I posted my last update but, as always, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes here at Ektoplazm. 2015 was another great year and I ended up posting 296 new releases—down a bit from the previous year but still a huge amount of fresh music graciously donated by Ektoplazm’s label and artist partners. Another milestone was hit when we surpassed 17 million downloads—and that’s for whole releases! Multiply that figure by a conservative estimate of 8 tracks per release and you get something like 136 million tracks downloaded since 2007. Not bad for one guy with a blog and a lot of help from underground musicians keen to spread the vibe!

In other news I will be putting a temporary freeze on processing new release applications for the wintertime. I have to take some time away from managing the day-to-day affairs of the site for a little while. I will say more about this in the next update. Thank you for your patience and understanding!

Ektoplazm update: summer 2015

Blog | June 27, 2015 | Posted by Basilisk

DJ Basilisk - Toronto 2014

Hello all, and welcome to another periodic update about all the things going on behind the scenes here at Ektoplazm!

My winter sojourn in Taiwan was highly productive and the redevelopment process is nearing the point at which I can start sharing something of the new design. I have also kept up with demand by artists and labels to release new material for the most part—although the last month has been a bit rocky as I haven’t had consistently good internet access while transitioning back to life in Canada. Nowadays I am playing catch up, buzzing through the release queue about as fast as I can upload things. By July everything should be back to normal with applications processed within two weeks of submission or so. If you’re interested in submitting something to Ektoplazm please consult the distribution policy.

Recently I was interviewed by the fine people at Psybient.org about my first encounter with trance music, my approach to DJing, the state of the psychedelic downtempo scene, and my work here with Ektoplazm. If you’ve already read a beginner’s guide to Ektoplazm this interview will hopefully expand your understanding of what this project is all about. Read the interview here!

Now for some bad news: the Ektoplazm t-shirt shop will be closing on July 31st, 2015. The service I partnered with in late 2013 will be shutting down the on-demand part of their business and I’m not in a position to print and stock shirts myself. I will take a look into some alternatives but it may take a while until I find another company that can produce such high-quality merchandise. Since there’s only about a month left before the shop closes I have reduced prices so that more people who want to pick up a shirt can do so. Don’t miss this opportunity, I can’t say for sure that these shirts will be available in the future!

A couple of months ago I finally hit the storage capacity of my primary web server. I have been dreading this for some time now as buying a second server vastly increases my monthly expenses—but I had no other choice. It took a while to transfer everything over and test most links but everything is now running smoothly. I am aware of a few missing release packages but I still welcome reports of broken downloads, slow transfer rates, and so on via the contact form (be sure to give me enough information to diagnose the problem too). My monthly server expenses are now up around USD$500 so your donations mean more to me and the project than ever before. If you appreciate Ektoplazm and you have the means to contribute please make a donation!

I won’t say too much about the redevelopment effort in this update; suffice to say that things are going well and I’ve got a working HTML5 music player and a much cleaner, responsive interface that should work well on mobile phones. I’ve been unable to continue working on this aspect of the project in the last couple months due to moving around too much and various other circumstances beyond my control but will be back at it in July and hope to finally have something to share of it this summer. It’s getting close!

In other news I am helping my friend Ben Rama open a new record label this summer, Techgnosis Records, with a focus on the dreamy side of deep progressive techno and psytrance. Ben, Mydä, and myself will be showcasing the Techgnosis sound at the All Stars Festival in middle Ontario on July 17-19, 2015, my only remaining festival gig this season (check the Facebook event here for more info). You’ll be hearing more from Techgnosis this summer but in the meantime please feel welcome to follow the project on Facebook and SoundCloud.

Finally, I would like to introduce a side project of mine, Synaptic FX, through which I have been exploring the deeper end of underground house, techno, and trance over the last several years. After performing at Solstice 2015 last weekend I returned to civilization and recorded my first proper studio mix under this guise: Reunion. If your music taste extends beyond psytrance I encourage you to give this mix a spin. It’s three hours long and follows the same kind of storytelling approach that you should recognize from my work as DJ Basilisk.

Thanks, as always, for your love and support of all things Ektoplazm!

Ektoplazm Metamorphosis: Update 5

Blog | February 26, 2015 | Updated: May 23, 2015 | Posted by Basilisk

Hello again! I am writing to report that progress is being made on the Ektoplazm metamorphosis project and I look forward to debuting the new design as soon as its ready. Last summer I wrote about several of the challenges I have been working through in this public update, most of which still applies. If you haven’t already done so I encourage you to read it—that way I can keep this update short and sweet.

By now I have learned that I make estimates of launch dates at my own peril. My approach in recent months has simply been to invest as much time and energy as I possibly can into the site—a strategy that has been yielding results. I divide my time between the many tasks related to keeping the free music flowing (itself a full-time job) and the ongoing redevelopment effort. People may not realize this but I don’t have a job or outside income; I am 100% devoted to this project and will be seeing it through to completion one way or another. And, in all honesty, it’s a lot of fun to be working on and I feel a great deal of creative satisfaction and heartfelt gratitude doing what I do. These days I’ve really been feeling the love and truly appreciate all the words of encouragement people have been sending me.

Anyhow, I’ll leave it at that for this update. Once again, I really appreciate the support of the community and look forward to sharing more great music and the new design with you when it’s ready!

Ektoplazm Metamorphosis: Update 4

Blog | July 17, 2014 | Posted by Basilisk

Hello everyone! I’d like to take this occasion to share some of what’s been going on behind the scenes here at Ektoplazm since my last update. I am happy to report that new distribution process has been successfully implemented, easing my workload (so I can concentrate more of my time on the redevelopment effort) and reducing delays and errors (so labels and artists stay happy).

Since making these changes the free music has been flowing almost continuously. I’ve generally been keeping to a pace of about a release a day—which is quite a lot of work! Each and every release takes several hours to download, review, prepare, upload, and promote. Since the crowdfunding campaign ended Ektoplazm has published 572 new releases, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the community at large and, of course, the labels and artists providing such awesome music for us all to enjoy.

I also continue to be deeply engaged in the redevelopment process. Work on the new site continues, though I have taken a slightly different approach in recent months. After the crowdfunding campaign ended I focused most of my energy on developing the back-end release management service—something that labels and artists will be able to use to post releases themselves. This service needs to be able to convert between different file formats, package up releases, create samples, store everything in an accessible place, and serve content on demand. It also needs to scale out of the box: Ektoplazm already serves more than 100 terabytes of data every month—and that number is bound to go up when improvements are made and access restrictions are lifted. Designing a distributed, fault-tolerant system to process, manage, and serve so much content is neither cheap nor easy.

I put that effort on hold this winter to refocus my attention on the front-end, the user-facing interface that everyone sees and interacts with today. It is this component that I will be refreshing first—before overhauling the back-end. The reason for this change in direction is simple: I’d like to show some movement on this project after so many delays—and the front-end is in dire need of a facelift anyway.

So, what can you expect in the near future? My goal is to roll out a cleaner, more responsive and mobile-friendly front-end design with an HTML5 (as opposed to Flash) music player. This new site will be up to modern web standards, unlike the current design, which is now about eight years old (and showing its age).

I have already sent out emails to potential beta testers to help me work through the final weeks of testing before pushing these front-end changes live to the site. If you supported the Ektoplazm crowdfunding campaign and claimed a perk relating to beta testing but did not receive an email please contact me and I’ll sort things out.

Once the new front-end design is launched I will return to working on the back-end. I wouldn’t mind a little help with this—but only the right kind of help. If you are an experienced server-side developer with proficiency in Node.js and an interest in volunteering 10+ hours per week feel free to contact me to examples of your work—and please be up front about your capabilities, expectations, and availability.

Finally, I would like to thank all the crowdfunding backers once again for sticking with me through all these ups and downs. To say that things haven’t gone according to plan would be a massive understatement. I made the mistake of assuming that with some decent funding I could find some qualified people to work with, get up to speed very quickly, leapfrog over several looming technical challenges, and launch a new site within months. I also vastly underestimated the amount of time and money required to deliver the promised perks—the postcards, Greatest Trips compilation, and Ektoplazm t-shirts, among others. This was horribly naive of me—but all is not lost. I remain dedicated to delivering what was promised—and I look forward to sharing more tangible results of the long redevelopment process with you very soon.

For reference: this page gathers up a wide variety of content related to the Metamorphosis project.

Ektoplazm welcomes cryptocurrency donations

Blog | February 1, 2014 | Updated: January 7, 2015 | Posted by Basilisk

Ektoplazm welcomes cryptocurrency donations

Ektoplazm is a community-supported free music portal serving terabytes of MP3 and lossless CD-quality audio each and every day. I have been working hard to provide an alternative to the traditional for-pay distribution system since 2007, volunteering countless hours of my time to provide independent labels and artists with a platform to share their music with the world. (Read all about the history of Ektoplazm here!) Of course, it isn’t free for me to share all this music; hosting costs are my most significant monthly expense (more than rent, presently), and I rely on donations to keep things going.

Now, it isn’t my style to solicit donations very often—I prefer to let people contribute if and when they feel like doing so—but I do want to update everyone about some new ways to donate. Until fairly recently I only accepted donations via Paypal, a service that many people don’t like to use, and Flattr, a cool micropayment system that hasn’t really caught on. After prompting by Bitcoin early adopters I had a look and decided to post an address for cryptocurrency donations. Surprisingly (for me, at least), people began to donate. When the price spiked I sold most of what had been donated and covered hosting expenses for a couple of months. Not bad! I didn’t have to pay much in the way of fees either—a welcome boon given how much of a cut Paypal takes, particularly on small donations.

In recent time I had a closer look at the broader cryptocurrency ecosystem and decided—partly based on visitor feedback—to add two more options to the mix: Litecoin and Dogecoin. Litecoin is billed as “the silver to Bitcoin’s gold”, and presently ranks as the third-largest of the new cryptocurrencies. Dogecoin, which is vying to be the default tipping currency of the internet, is a much more playful take on the seriousness and complexity of the other cryptocurrencies; a typical donation might only translate to fractions of a penny, but it is fun to mess around with and encourages spending rather than hoarding.

I have listed addresses for all three cryptocurrencies on the donation page. These addresses will likely change in the future—and the mix of cryptocurrencies may change as well—but for now, here they are:

Bitcoin: 1EVGUb6bfGzaNyDjUt82xqbY1VqSSDNXby
Litecoin: address removed
Dogecoin: address removed

I have also thought a lot about how to get the most value out of cryptocurrency donations. Most of the Bitcoin I have received has already been liquidated. Now that I am more familiar with how things work (and how the market might evolve) I am inclined to abide by a general policy of liquidating only some of what I receive and holding onto the rest for a rainy day. Anyone who has owned and sold Bitcoin before the price reached an all-time high has no doubt felt a little seller’s remorse—but I remind myself that the donations I have received and converted into fiat currency have been put to good use! In any case, I now feel confident that I will make responsible decisions about how best to use cryptocurrency donations to further the cause.

Anyhow, that about wraps things up for this update. If you have any feedback please feel welcome to leave a comment! Thank you, as always, for your support of this little project of mine :)

Update: things move fast in the cryptocurrency world and it no longer makes sense for Ektoplazm to accept either Litecoin or Dogecoin. Bitcoin only, please and thank you!

Ektoplazm T-Shirts Now Available!

Blog | November 22, 2013 | Updated: January 8, 2014 | Posted by Basilisk

Ektoplazm T-Shirt

Ektoplazm t-shirts are now available for purchase!

These t-shirts feature the same wicked design by Toronto-based multimedia artist Jonah K that graces the cover of Ektoplazm’s Greatest Trips. I commissioned this work earlier this year to capture the spirit of the site. I asked for something alien, cybernetic, and purely digital with a hint of mysticism and otherworldliness to it. I think you will agree that Jonah has done an excellent job realizing this vision:

These shirts were originally conceived as part of the Ektoplazm crowdfunding campaign but I’ve been meaning to have some made up for as long as I can remember. People have been requesting Ektoplazm t-shirts for years now—so I am very glad that they are finally here!

Now, I am not in the t-shirt business. I have a site to run (and a new one to develop). And so I have partnered up with Printfection, an on-demand t-shirt printing service, to handle the grunt work of manufacturing and shipping. As such, if you have any questions about your order please contact Printfection directly.

You may find the prices of the t-shirts offered in the the Ektoplazm shop to be a bit high. Actually, these shirts cost about as much as most label merchandise does (just look around), but I don’t mind being transparent about this. I presently make a USD$8 commission on each shirt sold; the rest of the price is the base cost charged by Printfection. That base cost is higher than what some other services charge for a few reasons: printing is on-demand, not in a batch; the print quality itself is very high; and I opted for some of the better quality shirts that Printfection offers. In essence: I optimized for quality—and quality ain’t cheap.

The idea behind the commission is simple: these shirts are meant for fans to show their support for the site. It is a bit like a built-in donation (though the amount is actually less than most donations I receive to help keep the site running). Hopefully you will agree that this is quite fair!

Anyway, slightly more than 100 limited edition asphalt grey t-shirts have already been shipped to qualifying backers of the Ektoplazm crowdfunding campaign. After receiving the support of those same backers I am happy to offer these shirts in a variety of other colours to anyone who wants to purchase one. Simply visit Ektoplazm’s t-shirt shop to get started!