History Made, Record Broken as Verdigris Ensemble Auctions ‘Betty's Notebook' on the Blockchain

The third part of this three-part series looks at the auction of Verdigris Ensemble's first programmable music NFT on the blockchain and the future of "Betty's Notebook"

Sam Brukhman Verdigris Ensemble Betty's Notebook recording
Richard Hill Photography

Making history is exhausting and the fatigue can be heard in Sam Brukhman’s voice as he talks about the launch of Betty’s Notebook, Verdigris Ensemble’s programmable music NFT (non-fungible token), on the blockchain.

“It’s been an amazing journey. It’s exceeded my expectations,” Brukhman, Verdigris Ensemble’s artistic director, said in a flat voice. “Please believe me when I say that. I’m not reflecting that emotionally. I’ve gotten very little sleep over the last two weeks. I’m very excited and I’m also so tired.”

Verdigris Ensemble Betty's Notebook concert help me
Richard Hill Photography
Verdigris Ensemble performed Betty's Notebook as a concert in 2019.

The hard work paid off. Betty’s Notebook, a choral piece about a teenager who heard what sounded like distress calls from Amelia Earhart in 1937, launched on Async Art’s platform on April 29. On May 8, the work, including the master version and four layers or “stems,” went to auction at Async Art.

Metapurse, the largest NFT fund in the world that purchased Beeple’s digital artwork Everydays: The First 5000 Days for $69 million earlier this year, successfully bid on the master and three of the four stems. Metapurse purchase the stem "The Choir" for $19,094, the stem "Betty's Voice" for $26,732 and the stem ""Betty's Radio" for $43,916. Bidder MaximoNX purchased the stem "Betty's Choir" for $49,644. Metapurse purchased the master of Betty's Notebook for $215,989. Overall, the auction sales totaled over $375,000.

The sale of Betty's Notebook breaks the Async Art monetary record for a single NFT sale, reflecting collectors' interests in programmable music. “Betty’s Notebook has essentially birthed crypto music, paving the way for a new and innovative medium of creating and experiencing music. Adding the master and 3/4 stems to the Metapurse collection is a true honor, and in our eyes, a natural step in our pursuit to collect the most culturally significant NFTs of our time,” Twobadour, the steward of Metapurse, said.

Verdigris Ensemble Betty's Notebook layer breakout
Bryan Brinkman
Bryan Brinkman's layer breakout of Betty's Notebook. Each layer or "stem" can be purchased on the blockchain.

Brukhman contemplates the financial impact of the sale and the future of the work. “The sale of the work will allow us to take those funds and to seize the opportunity that we have in front of us, like a commercial release, a limited physical release on vinyl. From that perspective, the journey is just beginning,” Brukhman said.

Verdigris Ensemble will receive slightly less than 25% of the auction proceeds. In addition to being paid the standard initial fee, all creative contributors will benefit from the sale of Betty’s Notebook. As the master and stems are traded and resold on the blockchain, Verdigris Ensemble and its artistic team will receive a percentage of those sales. “We’ve made it a priority to make sure that our composer, our producer, our singers all get a percentage of the sale,” Brukhman said.

One of the Verdigris Ensemble singers who will benefit from the sale over the lifetime of the piece is Barrett Radziun. At a listening party for Betty’s Notebook, he recalled the challenges of recording the piece during a pandemic, focusing on the minute details of the complicated music while wearing a mask.

“I used an N95 mask that is cone-shaped and doesn’t touch my lips when I take a breath. This was probably the most challenging thing for me. I’ve never had to sing with a piece of fabric on my face. Also, only singing in 30-minute increments and taking 15-minute breaks really made the long recording sessions go by quickly. It was great for vocal stamina too,” Radziun said.

Listening to Betty’s Notebook on the blockchain gave Radziun a broader perspective of the work’s soundscape and narrative line. “One thing that I didn’t get from the performance in 2019 when we did it, but I got it so clearly listening to it now is the section where we first feel that we’ve hit the water and we’re just suspended in time and space in the water,” Radziun said. “That was a clear part of the narrative, listening back to it.”

Verdigris Ensemble Barrett Radzium Dust Bowl
Richard Hill Photography
Barrett Radziun sings in Verdigris Ensemble's Dust Bowl, the choral ensemble's last in-person concert before the pandemic.

Anthony Maglione, Betty’s Notebook’s producer, reflected on the emotional impact and haunting beauty he discovered while working on the work in post-production. “There was a point towards the end of the mixing process where I was listening to this section and I felt transported to the cockpit of the plane. A feeling of dread took me over and I just couldn’t breathe for a second,” Maglione said. “Then the work broke me right here. And you can see them sinking, drowning but all the memories of their lives come flashing by.”

Listening to Betty’s Notebook on the blockchain is free; manipulating the work requires a purchase. Collectors who buy the stems can toggle between three permutations of that stem, changing the aspects of the piece.

A collector who purchases the master gets an NFT of the audio-visual work and their name inscribed on all collectible minted tokens. Essentially, master owners will have naming rights on the work, like performance halls or stadiums. “What they get is ownership,” Brukhman said.

The master owner will also receive a one-of-a-kind refurbished vintage radio, refitted with an LCD screen connected to the internet for the listener to hear Betty’s Notebook and experience the stem changes in real-time. It is a physical manifestation of a work that currently only lives in the memories of those who attended Verdigris Ensemble’s 2019 concerts and the transient ether of the digital world.

Bart McGeehon, Production Manager at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, found and is retrofitting a World War I era radio deemed the perfect size. “There are a lot, but they are all in varying sizes. Shortwave radios are huge. They are the size of a nightstand, so we had to make a decision. Are we going to gift someone a nightstand as a physical piece or are we going to make it a little more magical?” Brukhman said.

The radio creates a historical re-enactment for the collector. “From an artistic standpoint, it brings in the listener. They are almost 90% in the same position Betty Klenck was when she heard Amelia Earhart’s distress calls,” Brukhman said. “As a millennial, I love experiences and I love being able to not only stare at art on a wall but to be enveloped by it.”

Verdigris Ensemble Betty's Notebook radio
Bryan Brinkman
Bryan Brinkman's rendering of the Betty's Notebook radio.

Brukhman believes the Betty’s Notebook radio would be a great asset to a museum, educating the public about blockchain technology, music and history. “Imagine a scenario where this radio is in its own space in a museum and the people that come into the museum can change the stems and change the music accordingly. What more amazing education tool can you find than that?” Brukhman said.

Speaking before the auction, Brukhman considered what the sale of Betty's Notebook will mean for Dallas’ profile in the art world. “On Saturday, provided that we sell this piece, it will be the first programmable choral music and it was 100% created in Dallas, Texas. That’s huge,” Brukhman said. “That elevates my view of what can be created in Dallas in the future.”

Listen to Betty’s Notebook at Async Art: https://async.art/music/master/0xb6dae651468e9593e4581705a09c10a76ac1e0c8-1592

Learn more: https://www.verdigrismusic.org/

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