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Larry David, when asked in a 2009 interview to describe the opening theme to "Curb Your Enthusiasm," didn't mince words: "It introduces the idea that you're in for something pretty idiotic."
Despite the HBO comedy's six-year hiatus from 2011 to 2017, the jaunty tuba, piano, and mandolin waltz called "Frolic," written by the Italian conductor and composer Luciano Michelini, continued to grow in popularity on the internet as the star of countless memes, from Bernie Sanders to Steve Harvey to Chris Christie to Donald Trump.
Now, perhaps inevitably, it's been immortalized as a 1-of-1 NFT (along with the original six pages of sheet music) on the Bitcoin-backed platform Counterparty—the home of equally potent Web3 culture icons like Rare Pepes. The token was minted in April with an auction planned at a future date (TBD).
How it started
Starting his career in the early 1970s, mainly composing for Italian and foreign films, Luciano originally wrote "Frolic" for a comedic character called Il Barone Rosso (The Red Baron), played by Nino Tofflo in the 1974 melodrama "La Bellissima Estate" ("The Beautiful Summer").
However, David didn’t discover the tune until several years later—in a bank commercial. "I love that, where'd they get that from?" he thought upon first hearing it. "The commercial ran for a week, and I never saw it again. Then I had my assistant research it—it became this whole ordeal to get the name of the bank and the music, and finally she tracked it down. So I just put it away for some time when I would need it."
Upon the series launch in 2000, Larry remembered "Frolic" but didn't contact Luciano directly. According to Luciano, the son of Franco Micalizzi (an Italian composer from RCA) called and said an American label had bought the rights to "La Bellissima Estate," the soundtrack of which included "Frolic."
More specifically, a series editor of "Curb," Steve Rasch, found it at Universal Production Music (then known as Killer Tracks), which had included it in their catalog of Italian film music from the '50s, '60s and '70s. The company's vice president, Carl Peel, later provided access to "Frolic" along with various other related tracks with a similar comedic vibe. However, given the song's malleable and recognizable harmonic arrangement (with a multitude of seventh chords), "Frolic" quickly carved out a place as one of the series' most recognizable and culturally relevant pieces.
How it's going
Verifying historical items like art, wine, and paintings has been an existential issue plaguing auction houses and markets for centuries. However, that was until early concepts like Bitcoin Coloured Coins (2012) and Rare Pepes (2016) utilized the immutability of the Bitcoin blockchain to reflect the provenance of digital items, along with a transparent record of ownership.
Although there are several ways to tokenize physical assets, collectibles, such as the Chyna Pepe and the Pepechain by developer Joe Looney, provide clear examples where the hash of the original file is encrypted and tied into the token. Furthermore, as the asset descriptions are publicly viewable through a block explorer, anyone with an internet connection and smartphone can authenticate and cross-reference the details to verify an original piece.
With that in mind, given its cultural and digital impact, on April 25 the original sheet music for "Frolic" was merged (minted) and digitally preserved on Counterparty.
It's important to note that although every transaction on Counterparty works the same way as Bitcoin, not every Bitcoin transaction mirrors the dynamics of Counterparty. Arguably, transactions through Counterparty are more straightforward as they use the OP_RETURN field of Bitcoin to permanently store every transaction or action (including arbitrary data) related to the asset. While some consider using the OP-RETURN field (and storing data outside of financial transactions) irrelevant and "blockchain bloating," the use-case is fitting for anything that requires proof-of-ownership.
Furthermore, once an asset is mined on Counterparty, it's only accessible to the person(s) who hold(s) the private keys to the wallet address where it's stored. In contrast to smart contracts or third-party marketplaces on Ethereum that can be exploited or hacked through phishing scams or laughably simple attacks, Counterparty assets leverage the robust security model of Bitcoin addresses that provide full autonomy to the owner. That said, although Bitcoin wallets are not foolproof, for the most part, to access one means a hacker or scammer would need to first acquire its private keys. Therefore, it's comparatively safer than a smart contract that can grant permission for a hacker or bot to withdraw funds through marketplaces like OpenSea without the full awareness or the owner understanding what they've clicked on.
With that in mind, the decision to mint Frolic on Counterparty, according to its creators, was the only logical long-term solution to preserve the work's authenticity from a technical and practical standpoint. In addition, although the NFT bubble of 2021 helped propel CryptoArt and Ethereum-based collections like CryptoPunks into the zeitgeist, a majority of "innovative" collections launched during the hype cycle are arguably less secure and less authentic compared with predecessors created in 2016 and 2017 that still exist today.
For example, although marketplaces like OpenSea have made it easier for the everyday person to click and buy, the obfuscated nature of smart contracts and IP rights makes it exceedingly difficult to conduct any thorough and timely audits. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a cacophony of rug pulls and scams that have left collectors with nothing more than inherently valueless images. Yes, for some of these non-Counterparty based projects, the "right click, save as" meme unfortunately became true.
Although protocols like Solana and Ethereum attempt to provide value to artists and creators through royalties, there are still gaping design flaws, risks, and issues, especially when analyzing from a long-term perspective. One example is that if artwork is not stored on-chain, it's still heavily dependent on marketplaces paying fees to store data and could result in lost images should they shut down, as seen with Rare Bits in 2020.
— Emoon (@efolioapp) February 26, 2020
In contrast, the layered creative and inherent value of "Frolic" goes beyond status-driven profile pictures or mere rarity metrics that influence the perception of most collections released on Ethereum. Included in the 1-of-1 are:
- High-resolution scans of the original sheet music.
- High-resolution scans of documents certifying authenticity, signed by original composer Luciano Michelini and the Italian government.
- The original, physical six pages of paper sheet music (which the buyer will receive).
The scans were then tied in a JSON file and uploaded to the immutable and decentralized storage solution Arweave. Also included is a PDF cover page that outlines the details of "Frolic," the project, and shares the links to each separate file.
In addition, the "Frolic" package also includes:
- A full copy of the bitcoin blockchain on an external hard drive.
- All high-resolution scans on multiple removable USB devices.
- The bitcoin core and Counterparty node software on removable USB devices.
- A 1-of-1 recording of Luciano playing "Frolic" on the piano.
- A round trip to Rome for a live and private performance of "Frolic" by the composer himself.
Given the open nature of Counterparty, and unlike significant works of art like a Warhol or the Mona Lisa (which not only require admirers to travel to museums or galleries, but are often locked in secure storage facilities), anyone with a smartphone or computer can view the asset knowing that it's not only the verified original, but the first historic sheet music "artifact" to be digitally preserved via this open-source method.
How it could go
However, as with the multitude of mixed melodies, not all music-centric NFTs will end on an equal note. Some will invariably transcend their creative foundations, while others will be lost, lingering among the other long-forgotten fragments of the Web.
Although value is subjective, one could argue that given its innate memetic and comedic power, the cultural awareness of "Curb," the omniscient influence of music, the foundations of Counterparty, and unique real-world qualities, "Frolic" transcends the superficial perceptions of a 1-of-1 asset. In all fairness, it aligns with the gold standard for anything truly digitally scarce.
Along with preserving an important cultural icon for posterity, the creators behind the "Frolic" project are hoping its structure can be used and replicated as a template to embrace what has become one of the most significant technical innovations for tracking provenance since the pen-and-paper accounting system. And more important, do it in a way that introduces a new set of possibilities and features to the art world that, until now, simply weren't possible.