The First Programmable Music On The Blockchain: Betty's Notebook

Written by
Sam Brukhman

The First Programmable Music On The Blockchain: Betty's Notebook

Written by
Sam Brukhman

The First Programmable Music On The Blockchain: Betty's Notebook

Written by
Sam Brukhman

A First For Classical Music
In a historic first for NFTs, Verdigris Ensemble releases Betty’s Notebook as its genesis classical music piece on the blockchain. It is the first programmable music mint on the Async Music platform.

Betty’s Notebook took a total of 3 years to fully workshop and develop, 215 hours to mix, 47 hours to record, and required 23 of the best artists around the country to ensure the highest artistic quality.

Verdigris Ensemble, choir
Sam Brukhman, founding artistic director
Nicholas Reeves, composer
Bryan Brinkman, visual artist
Anthony J. Maglione, producer
Tre Nagella, sound engineer
Ric Gillespie, founder of TIGHAR

Originally premiered in 2019, Betty’s Notebook was reviewed as the “crème de la crème of the area's professional choral voices” (Dallas Morning News) and sung with “brilliant cohesion” (TheaterJones).

Soprano Bronwyn White sings Betty's Notebook at Luminous Sound in Dallas, TX.

“This is Amelia Earhart.”

The year was 1937. It was an ordinary afternoon of radio-listening and doodling in her notebook when a 15-year-old Betty Klenck suddenly heard the words “This is Amelia Earhart.” Shocked, Betty quickly began writing everything that she could discern from the transmission. Though the broadcast was not always clear amidst various radio interferences, Betty wrote down all that she could during the session. She would spend the rest of her life showing her notebook to researchers, scientists, and museums, trying to convince them of its validity. 

This image was made possible thanks to the generosity of Ric Gillespie, founder of TIGHAR.

Though there is no clear “smoking gun” evidence to prove this document is truthful, there is circumstantial evidence that points to its authenticity. Several sentences that Betty wrote down in the notebook hold facts that the average citizen living at the time would not have known about Amelia Earhart. Ric Gillespie, founder of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), championed the notebook and analyzed it for authenticity. A complete analysis of the document can be found here.

Requiem Aeternam

The music of Betty’s Notebook, narrated by Betty Klenck, guides the listener through the distress call of Amelia Earhart’s final moments and her presumed death. The piece opens with Earhart’s fragmented radio signals. “SOS. Help me.” With interview footage of Betty Klenck narrating the music, the choir sings the words of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Throughout the piece’s opening and climax, a halo of white noise and crackling pop tunes interrupt the broadcast, as if the listener tunes a shortwave radio.

Producer Anthony J Maglione and conductor Sam Brukhman listen to Verdigris Ensemble sing Betty's Notebook from the booth at Luminous Sound in Dallas, TX. Photo credit: Richard Hill

Based on Betty’s writings and recollections, it becomes apparent that the crashed airplane is filling with water. In the piece’s climactic moment, the choir sings “Water” and repeats the words “Let me out,” which fade into gentle hums. After the end of the struggle, Betty’s voice punctures the radio silence asking, “Are you there?” As if to usher her into the afterlife, the soundscape shifts to warm nostalgic jazz, tonal and melodic. The piece ends with an allusion to the mystery with a single soprano voice repeating the words “One day…”

Soprano Meredith Tompkins sings "One Day..." during the Betty's Notebook recordings in January 2021

TL;DR: The musical adaptation of Betty's Notebook simulates Betty Klenck's experience: as if audiences sit in front of a shortwave radio and turn a tuning knob to try and hear Amelia Earhart's haunting distress calls clearly, but frequently encounter various radio interferences.

Take a deeper dive into the music by composer Nicholas Reeves here.

Immortalized On The Blockchain

Founding artistic director Sam Brukhman conducts the premiere of Betty's Notebook in 2019.

Betty’s Notebook is a 21-minute work that has been split into five unique pieces: 1 Master NFT and 4 Stem NFTs.

Each Stem contains three unique audio-visual variants that the owner can toggle between, altering musical texture, timbre, and narrative for all listeners. As Stem owners toggle variants, the album art for the work visually shifts to reflect that change.

1) The Choir: 16 singers sing the messages recorded in Betty's Notebook and represent Amelia Earhart. The Choir Layer owner can alter the choir’s sound quality by adjusting the reverb or adding binaural sound. The background will visually change Betty’s Notebook text and bottom coloring. Listen to a sample of the choir here.

2) Betty’s Voice is the recorded audio of Betty Klenck from interviews narrating what she heard. Much like a time capsule, Betty is a historical bridge and allows audiences to listen to her experience. The owner of Betty's Voice Layer will control which portion of the interview is broadcast. The sketch of the woman will change with each interview. Listen to a sample of Betty's voice here.

3) Betty’s Choir is the harmonic spectrum of Betty's voice from the interview manipulated to form an audio halo of radio static and interference. Betty's Choir Layer owner will control the radio transmission’s overall emotional soundscape by alternating the radio static’ between warm, harsh, and ethereal. The plane and its flight paths will change in response. Listen to a sample of the Betty's choir here.

4) Betty’s Radio: is an interference consisting of Popular Jazz standards of the 1930s coming in and out of focus. Betty’s Radio owner will control which of the five unique popular Jazz standards of the time will be tuning in and out. The wood grain of the radio will change in response.  Listen to a sample of Betty's Radio here.

The owner of the Master experiences audio-visual layer changes. If they meet the minimum reserve price, they will receive a 1 of 1 limited edition physical radio piece to watch these real-time changes. This radio is a one-of-a-kind crafted physical installation, fit for museums, private collections, and galleries.

DISCLAIMER: This is a mock-up of the physical radio. Actual live radio may differ from this initial sketch.

Mass Transmission

Though we may never know the truth of what happened to Amelia Earhart, we now have the tools to decipher crucial clues in her mystery through programmable music. Audiences are taken on a continuously decipherable journey of discovery by customizing different variants within the four stems. Together, we relive the mysterious moments and work together to gain a richer understanding of what happened.

Original Betty's Notebook artwork. Artist Credit: Stephen Zhang

Verdigris Ensemble’s release of Betty’s Notebook is a symbol of a new era in classical music. Much like how NFTs were misunderstood and brushed off in the beginning, Verdigris Ensemble hopes that Betty’s Notebook will find its rightful owner. Someone who believes in the story of Amelia Earhart, Betty Klenck, Verdigris Ensemble, and all collaborators who brought the story to life.