Long live the MP3 Revolution! It seems that within the past couple years it has become possible to access any rare, unreleased material from your favorite artists (e.g. The Who's "Lifehouse" l, The Beatles' "Hey Jude", The Beach Boys' SMiLE, and even the Dave Matthews Band "Lillywhite Sessions") that you would have previously needed some luck, know-how, and a small fortune to find, having to comb numerous underground record shops in hopes of finding a glimpse of this classic, mostly unheard material. Nowadays, this unreleased music is as close as your nearest file sharing service or mailing list. In the case of the SMiLE recordings, due to the nature of the fragmented sessions and the mounds of contradictory information and theories that have surfaced throughout the years, we have had to deal with numerous edits of all the songs, not really knowing how close any of it is to the great Brian Wilson's vision, except for, arguably, the Brian Wilson sanctioned Mark Linnett edits on the official "Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys" box set.
ProjectSMiLE, the freely distributed multimedia CD-R originally created by Chris Stapledon ( .. and beta tested to within an inch of its life by Steffan Johansson and Ken Worthing) is available through the Project SMiLE webite, allows each of us to assess the countless musical fragments that make up SMiLE (as Brian Wilson chose to abandon conventional song-writing and production practices and record practically every drug and creativity-induced idea he came up with for his "teen-age symphony to God" and edit all the interchangeable segments together at a later time, ala "Good Vibrations", but was never able to complete the task) and, through mp3 playlist technology and trial and error, lets us wear Wilson's shoes, as amazingly difficult as that may be, and make our own decisions regarding the song and segment placement.
Utilizing a surprisingly user-friendly design the CD-R also comes with many extra features. These include a comprehensive timeline that allows you to follow the development of the album and hear the known recordings for each session day (though a disclaimer warns that a fair amount of speculation and guesswork was employed to determine this), a personnel section where you can find out who played the instruments on each of the tracks, an electronic version of the printed but never used SMiLE booklet, an articles section with essays and interviews about the legendary album that never was, a theories section where you can look at the different points of view concerning Brian's vision of the album and it's song and segment placement, a movies section where you can watch the promotional video for "Fire" and the CBS "Surf's Up" segment, a compilation of live versions of the songs, some remixes, and Chris Stapledon's own reworking of the album. It should also be noted, for those who are new to this and don't feel like constructing their own SMiLE just yet, that the disc also includes the officially released versions of some of the songs from the Beach Boys box set, as well as the most common edits of the unreleased tracks. Once you do start SMiLE-ing, you can save your versions of songs or the album and play them on command whenever you choose by saving a playlist.
All in all, I must report that I was tremendously impressed with the way this program came out. It's quite evident that the people behind this disc really love the material and poured their heart and soul into creating a truly interactive tool that allows users to piece together a SMiLE that appeals to one's own creativity and imagination, which is what SMiLE seems to be about. It lives in everyone's imagination (well, at least the fortunate ones who have been exposed to it). If you've ever been curious as to what the fuss is about over this "lost" album, do yourself a favor and head over to the home page to add yourself to the distribution list.