Google announced its intention to become a major player in the music industry last night with a lavish but surreal event to launch an online record store. The company hopes to provide a credible alternative to Apple's iTunes, which dominates the increasingly lucrative digital download market.
Customers of the new store, Google Music, will be able to buy and store songs online, for between $1 and $1.29 (62p and 82p) each, and listen to them on devices that use the firm's Android platform. They will also be allowed to lend items from their collection to friends, via social network Google Plus.
Invitations to the launch were signed by Nigel Tufnel, star of the fictitious rock band Spinal Tap, and it was to be held at the Hollywood gallery of Mr Brainwash, a Frenchman at the centre of the street artist Banksy's documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Although Mr Brainwash's entire oeuvre is arguably a postmodern joke, Google is deadly serious. It has already struck multimillion-dollar distribution deals with Sony, Universal and EMI. And with the participation of independent labels it will be able to go live with about three-quarters of the world's records on the store's virtual shelves.