At the present time, the NFT ecosystem and creator economy are undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Neither NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) or the creator economy are new topics. However, when the Venn diagram between the second generation of the creators economy (if we count Paul Saffo’s initial mapping as the first one, and YouTubers and Instagram influencers would be part of the second one) and NFTs and their adjacent marketplaces, find its intersection, we see the tokenized creator economy come to the stage, take the spotlight and bloom in hundreds of different projects.
One of these projects is Euler Beats, and it has caught my attention and that of really prominent people for its depth, its artistic value, and the underlying beauty in the simplicity and richness of its concept. Euler Beats allows for the possibility to own something not only scarce but also conceptually unique. In the last 24 hours, I noticed that the project that caught my eye got “forked” to the Binance Smart Chain, and the first thing that came to mind was (sing it along) “hello Walter my old friend” and started drawing parallelisms of this event and Walter Benjamin’s theories. Let’s break it down.
Euler Beats is a thing of Beauty
Euler Beats is the name of a collection of twenty-seven NFTs that celebrate the Swiss Mathematician Leonhard Euler, who lived during the 18th Century, and made invaluable contributions to mathematics, astronomy, physics, and music theory, among others. The Euler Beats NFTs combine visual art and musical beats, based on Euler’s totient function. The visual and sound portions of the NFT cannot be visualized before its minting, but as all twenty-seven of them have been indeed minted and are sold out, you can check them out here. The team behind the project also contemplated and implemented royalty schemes for print sales and beyond. To summarise, Euler Beats is a thing of beauty.
Euler Beats was first announced on February 3rd, launched on February 15th, and sold out in a matter of hours. Overwhelming yet well-deserved success for the team.
Hello Walter my old friend
Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher and essayist whose work mostly focused on the appreciation of arts and culture. Benjamin was an observer of the mundane, a theorist of arts, and always leaned towards finding inflection points between “high art” and its democratization thanks to the progress of reproduction techniques and beyond.
Useless fact: he also used to live near where I live now. Living in Berlin is really amazing (most of the time).
Anyways, back to what’s important. Arguably, Benjamin’s Magnus Opus is The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. This text focuses on how the reproduction techniques of his contemporary times (he lived through the first half of the 20th Century) released the art from its bourgeois connotations, not without trade-offs:
“a reproduced image, such as a photo or film, has lost its singularity — its aura. Benjamin suggests that “from a photographic plate […] many prints can be made; [hence] the question on genuine print has no meaning.” The act of reproduction takes away from the pieces and makes it less sacred — the singularity has ceased to exist.” — (from the 2019 report I co-wrote with Stina Gustavsson and Fanny Lakoubay, There’s No Such Thing as Blockchain Art)
When I came across the Binance Smart Chain fork of Euler Beats, my mind was immediately transported back to W. Benjamin.
“BSC Beats”: ceci n’est pas Euler Beats
Binance Smart Chain and its community have been making the rounds lately by “copying” (we don’t really copy when it comes to Open Source — but this is different) Ethereum-based projects into the chain, taunting the Ethereum ecosystem, that, being objective, has not always replied gracefully. However it’s hard to remain graceful when things like this happen, and I’ll explain why copy differs from a fork in the context of open-source software.
BinancePunks and PancakeSwap were the first projects to charge against two beloved pillars of NFTs (Cryptopunks) and DeFi (Uniswap).
PancakeSwap has somewhat evolved into a product of its own, so let’s spare the criticism, we can argue this is a decent and old fashioned fork, but Binance punks is the pixelated equivalent to a counterfeit Hermès Birkin Bag. Cryptopunks are the most valued NFT thus far in Ethereum, and the Binance Punks are just copy-paste. Larva Labs, the original developers of the Cryptopunks, have denounced:
The Binance crypto punks claim to have been created to “democratize the access” to crypto punks since the original ones were not available to everyone. But how can you democratize the access to the punks, if what matters is the irreproducible, non-fungible token, and not the visual part? Binance Punks are simply an attempt to deceive people into accessing punks. A money grab, with none of the originality of the crypto punks or their incredible snowball effect into becoming one of the most sought-after digital assets.
The Musical Beats project proposes exactly the same as Euler Beats, with none of the Euler maths magic. Their goal is to “preserve folk music”, an artificial goal probably created just to sound legit, the same modus operandi as the Binance Punks copy which goal was to grant access to punks to a wider audience.
This is not about democratization or preservation of folk music. Euler Beats is a well thought and executed concept and its value lies, not only in the fact there are only 27 tokens created in this first iteration, but in the richness of the ideas behind it. Since the inter-disciplinary Euler Beats concept is quite unique, the attempt to create a copy without them simply generates noise and an artificial illusion of the Euler Beats being less scarce than they are.
Again, from 2019’s There’s No Such Thing as Blockchain Art:
“What Walter Benjamin argued that the technological developments took away in the 1930s, has, again through technological developments, been introduced on the digital art scene. Arguably digital scarcity is securing the uniqueness of each piece — as mentioned before, its aura, therefore allowing the market to associate a value to digital pieces.”
The theory presented in the 2019 report holds true. Binance Smart Chain can copy all of the code, but none of the aurae of Euler Beats, even though a fork can be the closest one can come to the copy of the aura of an NFT. However, it can cause depreciation, and in future cases, forks of other NFT platforms can destabilize the next-gen creator economy that’s been lately flourishing.
By forking and giving people the illusion of being able to own a copy of a scarce NFT that already had an owner of the original version, sales of originals might drop. If you think I’m being hyperbolic, you can just look at what mass copying of small labels is doing to the Fashion industry. The problem with mirror replica handbags that deceive even expert eyes and impact on sales is also a good parallelism, but corporations are never good, so let’s skip that one.
Ethereum’s Liebhaberbewert is unique
Benjamin’s theory also covers the community, most specifically, the art owners community, which is endangered by reproduction. In the case of the times of Benjamin, this was a positive-sum, since more reproduction meant also more interest in art and more people learning about it. Right now, the creators community is too nascent and too fragile to be destabilized by knock-offs. Benjamin’s concept of the “sphere of authenticity” or the “here and now”, also known as “aura” as mentioned before, should also be translated to the community and the adjacent creators economy, as they cannot be forked, therefore they should be carefully preserved.
“Not architecture alone but all technology is, at certain stages, evidence of a collective dream.”- from The Arcades Project by W. Benjamin
A final note on these series of unfortunate forks: Benjamin also introduces the concept of Liebhaberbewert (sentimental value) in the context of the collection of art and other objects. I would like to further transport this concept to the technology and community beyond NFTs and the new creators economy, as once again, this cannot be forked.
If you wish to read more about Benjamin, check out my favorite work of him,The Arcades Project.