Music Technology Posts from June, 2007

Aphex Twin Hardware and New Webcast Costs

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Just a quick couple of notes for today – Kourosh Dini made an interesting post yesterday regarding the music technology used by Richard D. James. Dini also provides a link to a Street Electronics page which details some of the analog equipment used by Aphex Twin in the early nineties, when he was pioneering new forms of ambient electronic music using beautifully simple soundscapes. It is hardly surprising to learn that James had an active interest in the nitty-gritty of electronics from an early age.


Sound At The Speed Of Flash

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

If you use your DAW for a lot of audio work (as opposed to MIDI), then your memory bus will be critical to the performance of your system. Hard drive performance is also vital, as the speed of your disk has a direct impact on the number of simultaneous audio tracks you can run.

Hard drives are neither as fast nor as reliable as RAM. However, flash memory has been reducing in price and increasing in capacity over the past few years – to such an extent that it is now possible to buy a computer that uses flash memory for its ‘hard drive’.

These new drives are known as solid-state drives, as they have no moving parts. The Dell Latitude D420 features a 32GB SSD from Sandisk, which boasts a theoretical increase in boot time of 34%, and an increase in overall system performance of 23%. Although much more expensive and lower in capacity than standard hard drives, the boost in speed and reliability should soon make them a DAW favourite.

This Is Our Ears Under Pressure

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

The hotness war that has led to increasingly loud commercial records (at the expense of sound quality) over the past decade ties in neatly with the question of noise-related hearing loss.

Although recording levels and output volume are nominally independent elements, it is fair to say that many people listen to music at SPLs that could safely be described as ‘loud’. This, of course, is part of the rock’n’roll ethos – but what are the effects of such high-volume listening behaviour in the longer term?


Speaker Systems That Take The Stick

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Time for some gadget news – Chipchick has an article about a small speaker unit that transforms a USB flash drive into a portable music box. The unit is made by Kinyo, and supports mp3 and wma file formats.

There are times when having a small speaker system is very handy – many mp3-enabled mobile phones now have optional speaker sets available. I bought such a device for my Sony Ericsson K750, and it is nice to have some background music when sitting out in the garden, on the beach, or wherever the rain isn’t…

My Samsung HT-Q20 DVD player has a USB-host feature, whereby it will read a flash drive and play any compatible media thereon. This is a welcome and increasingly common feature on modern home entertainment systems, which allows your DVD-surround sound system to double up as an audio jukebox. Although the unit did eventually read my 100GB external hard drive (after approx 3 minutes loading time), the Samsung menu interface is very clunky and awkward to use, and is really only suited to smaller volumes of music.

If you find yourself in need of some USB charging in your car, then the Brando 3-in-one cigarette lighter adapter may be just what you need. As well as two extra lighter sockets, it also provides a USB port for charging those peripherals…

Placeshifting To Your Mobile

Monday, June 11th, 2007

In a bid to encourage music fans to listen to music on their mobile phones, a number of companies have begun to push ‘placeshifting‘ as an alternative to the simple ‘browse-and-buy’ model.

Piano Roll For Swinging Cisterns

Friday, June 8th, 2007

If you feel your home needs a fresh infusion of music technology, here are some suggestions for the musical gadgetisation of two common household items. The first is itself an example of breakthrough music technology, which now may be in need of some modernisation – the piano. The second is more ubiquitous, although not commonly associated with music until now – the toilet.

An article in Smarthouse details how PianoDisc technology can be used to convert your acoustic piano into a modern-day player piano. Installing the system allows the piano to play itself as an accompaniment to your portable mp3 player, with solenoids moving the keys in a ghostly fashion. The system can communicate with computers, MIDI controllers or music players via an embedded Linux-based web server and 802.11n wireless.

In Japan, however, they are really getting down to basics. A company called Inax has developed a toilet which they fetchingly dubbed the Satis Asteo Washlet. This device comes with a memory card slot and an inbuilt collection of Bach and Chopin works which play automatically when the toilet is in use. It is also equipped with a nightlight to help guide any nocturnal excursions.

As a further aside, this reminds me of a device I once conceived of which (I would imagine) could well be in existence in Japan already. This device could be built in to a toilet, but would need to be within reach of one. Essentially, in times of excessively flatulent depositage, a sort of jukebox device (perhaps on the wall) could be activated by button, producing loud noise to cover the sound of other proceedings. It might be amusing for such noise to be of an even louder flatulent depositage, but i suppose any sort of white noise or heavy metal crescendo would do the trick. If anyone reading this decides to proceed with constructing such a system, please remember to cut me in on the deal…!

Gaming The Music Industry

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Considering the nominal decline of CD sales worldwide, it is clear that musicians need to explore (and, if possible, invent) as many new avenues of self-promotion as possible. Whilst the Internet is perhaps the most obvious channel for such development, there are other areas that have a growing need for quality music, such as film, tv and various theatrical or multimedia projects.

Music And Technology On Word Parole

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

A number of news sites today pronounced that web searches relating to music and technology yield the most dangerous results.

In this case, ‘dangerous‘ sites are those that attempt to fill your computer with spyware, malware, dodgy toolbars or other unwanted excreta. It is estimated that some 19.1% of sites returned for a query of ‘digital music’ contain such elements. However, this is some way behind ‘screensaver’, which returns a danger score of 42%. The continued popularity of screensavers is something of a mystery really, considering that they were originally designed to combat screen burn-in on old CRT monitors. As modern monitors don’t suffer such problems, there is no longer any practical reason to have one. In fact, a DAW should have all power managment or screen saver options turned off, to prevent any unexpected surprises during a long take. More details on this can be found on the XP tweak page.

Hopefully any alarms triggered for dodgy music and tech terms are not applied to ‘music technology’ – it is an area that is under-represented on the web already. This is an issue that J. Pisano is trying to address by compiling a list of sites relevant to music technology (particularly in education). You can check out his initial list at mustech.

When Eleven Just Isn’t Loud Enough

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

For over a decade now, the loudness level of commercial recordings has been increasing – to the point where even the mainstream media are noting that prolonged exposure to such music actually induces nausea. This ‘hotness’ war has caused mastering engineers to sacrifice every last bit of dynamic range in order to achieve the highest possible perceived loudness.

A New Breed of Sheet Music

Monday, June 4th, 2007

A research group at Mid Sweden University’s FiberScience and Communications Network are developing a fourth-generation ‘digital paper’ that can communicate with computers and provides a wafer-thin interactive interface. The digital paper combines electronically conductive, pressure sensitive ink with graphical codes to produce a surface that responds to touch and yet retains the consistency of normal paper.

They have used the technology to construct a ‘music display board’, which can be seen in this video. The surface of the paper features several album covers, and samples of music from each album can be activated by touch – the audio is then played through printed speakers directly on the paper itself. Although the functionality of this installation is nothing new, the means by which it is implemented is interesting. This could lead to a whole range of new media, such as websites being distributed as newspapers, or music magazines providing instant audio clips of bands. For the visually impaired, or for learning purposes, braille books could be accompanied by a vocal narration triggered by the reader’s touch.