A Format for Getting Rich
Blinding Sun Through CloudsIn 1982 Thomas Dolby had gained MTV popularity with his hit "She Blinded Me with Science." Who would have thought that this musical artist would be turning the world of audio technology upside down some 17 years later? Yet, Thomas Dolby Robertson has applied his creative musical energies towards doing just that with his company, Headspace, Inc (Harmony Central, 1999). Among the results of his efforts is the introduction of a new format called the Rich Music Format (RMF).

This format attempts to propose a standard to which Web composers and sound designers could conform. Similar to using type fonts to create text variations, it proposes the use of SoundFonts or downloadable sample sets which are incorporated into the design of RMF files (Alexander, 1997). Besides SoundFonts, tens or even hundreds of other types of files could also be incorporated into a single RMF file. These other files could be General Midi files, wav files, or even MP3 digital audio files. The purpose of Headspace's efforts is to provide much needed tools to interactive media developers, in an attempt to fill the void of online interactive music. And it is very impressive indeed.

Headspace has developed a program called Beatnik. It has been described as the "first pure Internet audio system" (Rush, 1997). Beatnik allows composers to integrate their own works as well as files from other audio formats. This lets them utilize the best of all worlds. For example they could take advantage of the small size of a General Midi file and blend it with a customized sound sample to produce an RMF file which has the richness of customized sounds and takes up a minimum amount of space. It's hard to deny Beatnik's prowess in a world where incompatibility reigns (and audio downloads mean you can go cook dinner while you wait). Beatnik offers 4 incredible advantages: rich sound textures, fast loading time, security, and interactivity.

Rich, Fast, Secure
This technology is definitely current. On March 29, 1999 Headspace released Beatnik Player 2.0 (for free). It offers CD-quality audio (44 Khz, 16-bit) and a 6 Mb soundbank (Harmony Central, 1999). Besides having support for MOD, WAV, AIFF, SDII, MIDI, and MP3 files, this plug-in gives clients a cache of richly textured, ready-made sounds called "Groovoids" which a destination web site could call into action instantly, with NO additional loading time required (Lewell, 1998). Beatnik also uses a variety of compression techniques to streamline music files and shorten the delivery process.

This latest version of Beatnik is also the first program to use the MP3 compression scheme in a copyright-protected context. Beatnik's audio tools provide security by putting a "wrapper" around MP3-encoded music. It is virtually impossible to illegally duplicate and redistribute. Beatnik also makes use of 40-bit encryption technology to embed an electronic "watermark" allowing copyright owners to publish on the Web without fear of theft (Orchard, 1997).

Beatnik also has another advantage, compatibility. It can be integrated for interactive MP3 use, or used for graphical and animation functions with Macromedia's Director, Flash, or Sun's Java technology (Garaffa, 1997). As a plug-in it works with Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. And as a cross-platform program it can run under a Mac operating system (Audiohost, 1997), a Windows operating system, and yes it can even run under BeOS (Ferguson, 1998).

The basis of Beatnik's interactivity hinges on its ability to manipulate sound in real time contexts (Alexander, 1997). One interactive site, which takes advantage of the Beatnik plug-in, displays an acoustic guitar onscreen. When you move the mouse across the guitar to "strum" it, you immediately hear the sound of the strings which you have played. Other sites instantly playback sounds as your mouse moves over icons created as hot spots. The immediacy of the sound response almost makes you forget that you're online. This adds a powerful tool to web developer's palettes as it brings the instant interaction possible with a CD-ROM within reach of people online.

Only Limited by Imagination
A further example of the unique interactivity which this technology provides, has been developed by another musician, David Bowie (Harmony Central, 1999). David Bowie's web site features an experimental version of his hit song "Fame." This interactive MP3 site allows web surfers to remix the drums, vocals, bass and guitar parts, or even to create their own version by modifying the song's structure. With the availability of the tools this program provides, composers, musicians, and web developers are almost to the point where their only limit is their own imagination.

CD Experience the richness of RMF
Download the Beatnik plug-in and see for yourself if RMF is all it's cracked up to be at these sites:
•Beatnik - Download Beatnik player to journey to a world of online sound interactivity.
•Bowie - David Bowie's interactive MP3 demo site lets you remix his music with Beatnik.
•Sonicopia - Visit the composers, sound designers and engineers who are giving the web a voice.
•GrooveGram - Send your own mix of Moby, SmashMouth, Aphrodite over the web.
•Home - The Beatnik Home Page. A place to begin your journey with interactive sound..


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