Ghosts I–IV (also known as Halo 26) is the seventh major studio release by Nine Inch Nails and was released on March 2, 2008. The album contains 36 instrumental tracks and is the first album from Nine Inch Nails following its announcement that the band had severed its ties with Interscope Records and intended to release future material independently. Initially intended to be a five-track EP, the album is presented in the form of four nine-track instrumental EPs. The tracks do not have names, and are only identified by their track listing, position, and album art. The team behind the project featured Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Alan Moulder, with instrumental contributions from Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew, and Brian Viglione.
The album was released under a Creative Commons license, and in a variety of different packages at different price points, including a US$300 "Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition". The album was initially released digitally on the Nine Inch Nails official website without any prior advertisement or promotion. Via the official Nine Inch Nails YouTube profile, a user-generated "film festival" was announced, where fans were invited to visually interpret the album's music and post their results.
Critical reception of the album has generally been favorable, its unorthodox release attracting positive comments from many news agencies. Much coverage of Ghosts I–IV has compared it to the digital-download releases of Radiohead's In Rainbows as well as Saul Williams' The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!.
In 2007, Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor announced that the band had completed its contractual obligations to its record label, Interscope Records, and would no longer be working with the company. Reznor also revealed that Nine Inch Nails would likely distribute its next major album independently, possibly in a similar fashion to Saul Williams' 2007 album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, which Reznor produced.
Following the Performance 2007 tour in support of the band's previous album Year Zero, Reznor set out to make a record "with very little forethought". According to the official Nine Inch Nails website, Ghosts I–IV arose from an experiment: "The rules were as follows: 10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as... something". Reznor explained that "I've been considering and wanting to make this kind of record for years, but by its very nature it wouldn't have made sense until this point".
Reznor describe the band's early intentions for the project as "an experiment", and went on to describe the group's process by saying:
"When we started working with the music, we would generally start with a sort of visual reference that we had imagined: a place, or a setting, or a situation. And then attempt to describe that with sound and texture and melody. And treat it, in a sense, as if it were a soundtrack."
The music arose improvisationally, and the band's initial intentions of releasing a single EP of the material was expanded to include the increasing amount of material. The core creative team behind the project was Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Alan Moulder. Live-band member Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew, and Brian Viglione also contributed instrumental performances on select tracks.
Viglione, who contributed percussions to tracks 19 and 22, revealed in an interview that Reznor's instructions to him were to "build a drumkit. Piece together any stuff that you want to bang on; rent what you want to rent. Have fun and [...] be creative—See where your mind and your ideas take you". Viglione's makeshift drum kit included a 50-gallon trash can, a pair of water cooler jugs, and a cookie tray with a chain across it.
Ghosts I–IV was released online on March 2, 2008 on the official Nine Inch Nails website, without any prior advertisement or notice. Physical versions of the album were released via RED Distribution on April 8 in both double CD and 4-LP formats. The Deluxe Edition and Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition were released on May 1, 2008. Reznor has also wrote that "more volumes of Ghosts are likely to appear in the future".
The album is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license, in effect allowing anyone to use or rework the material for any non-profit purpose, as long as credit is provided and the resulting work is released under an identical license. Reznor explained this move by saying "It's a stance we're taking that we feel is appropriate ... with digital technology, and outdated copyright laws, and all the nonsense that's going on these days". Jim Guerinot, manager of Nine Inch Nails, explained the unconventional release of the album as "[not] a reaction to what doesn’t exist today. ... it’s more just like, 'Hey, in a vacuum I can do whatever I want to do.'" Guerinot went on to say that "[Reznor's] appetite is such that: 'I want a little bit of everything. I’m not content with just a singular experience.'"
The album's initial release on the official Nine Inch Nails website suffered problems as the website was inundated with traffic, and was not fully operational until March 4, when extra servers were added to handle the influx of downloaders. A 40-page PDF document of the album's liner notes was included with official downloads of the album, and is also available from the band's official website. A week after the album's release, the official Nine Inch Nails site reported over 750,000 purchase and download transactions, amassing over US$1.6 million in sales. Pre-orders of the $300 "Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition" sold out in less than three days of its release.
Ghosts I–IV was released in a number of different formats at various price points:
- Ghosts I – free
- Contains the first nine tracks, available for free online from either the official Nine Inch Nails website or officially from various BitTorrent trackers, including The Pirate Bay.
- Digital release (Halo 26) – $5 to download directly from the band
- The entire album in DRM-free formats, including high bitrate MP3 (320kb/s), FLAC and Apple Lossless formats. Also includes the same extras as the free version.
- Two-Disc release (Halo 26 CD) – $10
- Includes two audio CDs and a 16-page booklet. Also includes immediate access to the digital release.
- Vinyl release (Halo 26 V) – $39
- Standalone 4-LP 130 gram vinyl set in a double gate fold package.
- Deluxe Edition (Halo 26 DE) – $75
- Includes two audio CDs, a data DVD containing multitrack files for use with audio editing software, a Blu-ray Disc with the album in high-definition 96 kHz 24-bit stereo and accompanying slide show, and a 48-page hardcover book with photographs. Also includes immediate access to the digital release.
- Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition (Halo 26 LE) – $300
- Includes everything in the Deluxe Edition, as well as a 4-LP 180 gram vinyl set in a fabric slipcase, and two exclusive limited edition Giclée prints, which are different for each copy. Limited to 2,500 pieces, numbered and signed by Trent Reznor. This edition sold out almost immediately and generated $750,000 in sales alone.
Template:Sound sample box align right Template:ListenTemplate:Sample box end Reznor described the music of Ghosts I–IV by saying "This collection of music is the result of working from a very visual perspective - dressing imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture; a soundtrack for daydreams". PopMatters' review of the album compared its musical style to Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, ultimately describing it as "Dark ambient". The review went on to describe the music as "a tonal painting, a collection of moods and not all of these moods are good ones". National Public Radio and Rolling Stone's reviews also compared the album to Brian Eno, the latter of which compared the album's sound specifically to "the murky instrumentals on Another Green World, [and] the angular rhythm collages of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts".
Ghosts I–IV features a wide assortment of musical instruments, including piano, guitar, bass, synthesizer, marimba, tambourine, banjo, dulcimer, and xylophone, with many of these instruments being sampled and distorted electronically. Percussion instruments, contributed primarily by Brian Viglione, were largely constructed out of found objects and house-hold items.
Rob Sheridan, in collaboration with Artist in Residence, acted as the album's art director, as he had with the previous two Nine Inch Nails studio albums, With Teeth (2005) and Year Zero (2007). Phillip Graybill and Tamar Levine provided additional photography. Since Ghosts was released in a variety of release versions, some of the versions feature somewhat differing (or additional) album art and related artwork. The 40-page PDF that comes with each version contains a photograph for each of the 36-tracks. These photographs are also embedded into the ID3 tags of every downloadable track.
Nearly two weeks after the release of the album, Reznor announced via the Nine Inch Nails' official website the creation of a user-created "film festival" as an accompaniment to the album, hosted at the official Nine Inch Nails YouTube channel. It was further revealed that the album was stripped of much artwork and song titles to provide a blank canvas for the project. Reznor explained that the endeavor was not meant as a contest, but as "an experiment in collaboration and a chance for us to interact beyond the typical one-way artist-to-fan relationship". Since the beginning of the film festival in March 2008, over 1,000 video submissions have been posted and over 6,000 members have joined the festival group. The official YouTube group states there is no set time limit for the video submission. Video submissions are being added sporadically to the NIN Ghosts group.
Critical response to Ghosts I–IV was generally favorable, with an average rating of 66% based on 11 reviews on Metacritic. Seth Colter Walls of Newsweek described the album as "the kind of absorbing musical experience that the surviving ranks of know-it-all record-store clerks would be pushing on customers, if only they could offer it for sale". IGN gave the album an 8.7/10, and wrote "The music is so engrossing and encompassing that time ceases to be a factor – at least until the music finally stops". PopMatters, who gave the album an 8 out of 10, described the album as "36 tracks, but no songs", and went on to call it "dark, brooding ... haunting". Pitchfork Media criticized the album, however, by saying "... nearly every one of the untitled instrumental sketches here feels emaciated and half-finished", and gave the work a 5.0 out of 10.0. Blender magazine also criticized the album, summarizing the review by saying "Nine Inch Nails return with no label oversight, no boundaries and no tunes". The Washington Post stated "There's too much here. Yet it's the most interesting NIN in years". The review went on to describe each track as "the sonic equivalent of a silver orb hovering in your living room [which then] explodes into a million shiny balls of mercury that splash to the floor before trickling, magnetically, back into a large round mass".
The album's unorthodox distribution methods also garnered the attention of various news agencies, such as Wired's Eliot Van Buskirk, who labeled Ghosts as "a remarkably extensive release". Ben Worthen of The Wall Street Journal hypothesized that "most business execs ... could learn a lot from [Reznor’s] experiments with online business models". Many news agencies also compared the release to Radiohead's 2007 "pay-what-you-want" digital release of In Rainbows, as well as the similar release of Saul Williams' album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! the same year, which Reznor produced. Rolling Stone's review called the album a "A new-media showpiece", while Tiny Mix Tapes said "the circumstances surrounding the release are so forward-thinking that they could be considered just as key to appreciating the album as the music itself". Business website The Motley Fool wrote an article on the album's release titled simply "Music Industry Gets Nailed Again", forecasting that "Innovators like Nine Inch Nails are paving the way for new media business models that may bypass the middleman while making sure artists and fans are happy".
Included with the Deluxe and Ultra-Deluxe releases were two additional bonus tracks. The second bonus track features musical elements and a similar song structure to "Demon Seed", track #10 from what would be the next Nine Inch Nails release, The Slip.
- "37 Ghosts" – 2:20
- "38 Ghosts" – 4:51
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- Trent Reznor – performance, production, art direction
- Atticus Ross – programming, arranging, production
- Alan Moulder – engineering, mix engineering, production
- Alessandro Cortini – guitars (4, 11, 17, 20, 24, 28), bass (4), dulcimer (22), additional electronics (19, 22, 29, 33)
- Adrian Belew – guitars (3, 4, 7, 10–11, 14, 16, 21, 25, 27, 31–32, 35), electronics (25), marimba (30)
- Brian Viglione – drums (19, 22)
- Tom Baker – mastering
- Rob Sheridan – art direction, photography, visual and physical elements
- Artist in Residence – art direction, photography, visual and physical elements
- Phillip Graybill – photography
- Tamar Levine – additional photography
- Official website
- Ghosts I–IV film festival on YouTube
- Template:MusicBrainz release
- Halo 26 LE Owner's Lists at nin-au.com
- Ghosts I–IV at Archive.org
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