The title of this paper, "The MP3 Phenomena
and Innovative Music," requires a bit of clarification as to exactly what
"innovative music" might be. I believe that any kind of music has the potential
to be innovative. But, for the purposes of study and research, I narrowed
the field to certain genres that are generally thought of as being innovative
and experimental. This paper focuses on categories such as contemporary,
minimalist, electro-acoustic, computer-music, sound art, free jazz, free
improvisation and noise, as well as hybrids of these various styles, and
how the MP3 phenomena has effected the composers, performers and audiences
related to these styles.
What is MP3?
MP3 is a way of compressing a sound file
to approximately 1/10th of its normal size. Prior to MP3, it
was difficult and time-consuming for the average computer-user to send
sound files through the internet. In 1993, the Fraunhofer Institute, a
research institute in Germany, combined many different patented algorithms
to come up with a way of reducing the size of audio files, while still
maintaining listenable quality. They created MP3 in partnership with Thomson
Multimedia SA of France, a company that is in the business of owning patents.
A brief history and explanation of MP3
Since Fraunhofer is a non-profit institute
with an ethic of supporting the "rapid development of new innovations into
products,"1 they did not keep MP3 a secret. The Motion
Picture Experts Group (MPEG) was impressed with MP3 and made it an Official
Standard for sound compression. Anyone can obtain the source code from
the International Standards Organization, use this source code to build
their own MP3 player or encoder, and make improvements on the MP3 formula.
However, if they distribute the players or encoders, they must pay substantial
royalties to Fraunhofer/Thomson.
Fraunhofer/Thomson also expects royalty
payments from entities that sell more than $100,000 worth of MP3 encoded
songs or material. And they have also stated that it may begin charging
fees to webcasts in the future. Currently, Fraunhofer/Thomson does not
charge royalties on distribution of free MP3s, MP3 streaming and broadcasting,
sales of MP3s that generate less than $100,000,2 distribution
of free MP3 players and distribution of limited-use demo-version encoders.
Information about MP3 licensing from Fraunhofer/Thomson.
To date, Fraunhofer/Thomson is only interested
in any party that makes substantial income from MP3. Fraunhofer’s commitment
to encouraging technological development and the financial impracticality
of pursuing small time users or developers seem to be mediating factors.
The liberal attitude of Fraunhofer/Thomson and the open specifications
of MP3 have been the pivotal factors in its widespread popularity.
MP3 is commonly referred to as a "codec,"
which literally means "compressor/decompressor." MP3 processes the sound
through an algorithm to create a compressed file, and then this file, when
played, is decompressed and made again into an audio signal. The MP3 codec
works through two types of compression, known as "lossy" and "lossless."
"Lossy" compression permanently deletes certain sound material. "Lossless"
compression does not cause the file to lose any content.
The "lossy" compression techniques are
based on psychoacoustic principals. "Lossy" compression takes out frequencies
that the average human being supposedly cannot hear. It takes out very
high and low frequencies that are above and below the average human threshold
of hearing. It also removes frequencies that are so low in volume that
they are covered by other frequencies. These are called "masked" tones,
because they are masked by the louder frequencies. There are two types
of "masked" tones. The first is "simultaneous masking," which means that
if a louder tone and a softer tone happen at the same time, you do not
hear the softer one. The second is "temporal masking," which means when
you hear a soft tone that is only milliseconds away from a loud tone, then
you do not hear the soft tone.
MP3 also offers the option of using "joint
stereo" in the higher audible frequencies. "Joint stereo" combines the
high frequencies from the left and right tracks into a single track. Again
this uses a psychoacoustic principal — humans find it difficult to determine
the physical location of very high and very low frequencies.
The person encoding the MP3 file can determine,
to some degree, how much material the codec takes out when selecting the
bit-rate, or kilobytes-per-second (commonly written as "kbps."). Low bit
rates give the smallest files sizes, but there is obvious degradation of
the sound quality. High bit rates give better sound quality, but the files
are somewhat larger.
The "lossless" compression that MP3 uses
is called "Huffman coding." Huffman coding simply reorders the data so
that blank spaces in the memory are filled. For instance, a sparse passage
does not use much memory, so some data from denser passages can be stored
in that section. Huffman coding can typically reduce the file size by as
much as 20%.
A tradition has evolved during the past
century for pop music to be created and produced to cover the imperfections
of radio airplay. Ideally, popular music is thick with harmonies and absent
of silences. Thus popular music can stand the psychoacoustic deletions
made by MP3 very well. Inversely, contemporary music often emphasizes subtleties
such as tone color, room acoustics, harmonic intricacies, extreme ranges,
and sparse voicings - all which are affected by lossy compression.
The following is a comparison of a sound
file at regular CD quality and an MP3 file at 128 kbps. You will hear the
CD-quality passage first, then the MP3, and then it will repeat the process.
This soundbite is from Alfred Zimmerlan’s "Quintett fuer Karinette, 2 Violinen,
Viola und Violincello" (1989-90), available on Edition Wandelweiser Records
(EWR 9605) (used with permission).
Example 1 [sound
Following is the same soundbite encoded
at 32 kbps. Notice the deterioration of sound quality due to the lower
Example 2 [sound
Here is a comparison of white noise, first
you will hear the regular sound file, then the MP3 at 128kbps, and finally
the MP3 at 32kpbs, and then the process repeats.
Example 3 [sound
If one subtracts an MP3 file from the original
audio file, a considerable amount of audible material remains. Following
is an example, again using the Zimmerlan soundbite. Please note that there
are probably some artifacts from the subtraction process, but this example
should give a rough idea of what the remnants of an MP3 file at 128 kbps
sound like. The volume is very low, probably because the sound is largely
made up of "masked tones," so I have raised the volume of the subtraction.
Note the emphasis of extreme high and low frequencies, probably remnants
of the filtering. (Special thanks to Scott Wilson for creating the following
Example 4 [sound
It is quite interesting that there is so
much audible material left after the subtraction. This material, according
to psychoacoustic experts, is what we are not supposed to be able to hear.
MP3: The Definitive Guide: Sample Chapter
Extensive and easy-to-understand explanation
of how the MP3 codec works. An excerpt from Scot Hacker's book MP3:
The Definitive Guide, published by O'Reilly.
Fraunhofer IIS-A - AMM - Layer-3 Info
Technical explanation of how the codec
Other codecs have been developed that have
better audio quality than MP3. Q-Design is probably one of the most impressive
of these. The files are much smaller than MP3s and the sound is superior.
The primary drawback of Q-Design is that it is proprietary and contains
security features. In other words, you can’t obtain and use it for free.
RealAudio is one of the most commonly used
alternative formats. It is primarily used for streaming audio and video
at low bitrates. The Real codec can reproduce sound at a quality similar
to that of FM radio. In addition to its own format, Real technology has
the ability to create and play back regular MP3s. RealAudio is the only
popular format, other than MP3, that can support all major operating systems,
including Windows, MacOS, Linux and BeOS.
Other codecs have been developed, not for
better sound quality, but for security reasons. For instance, Liquid Audio
tracks can only be played on the computer of the person who downloaded
them. With Liquid Audio, the listener can view album cover art, read lyrics
and liner notes, and hear a sample track from the CD, all before deciding
to make the actual (and legal) purchase. The security features also allow
you to burn a single CD copy of the material you purchase.
I spoke to two new music record labels,
innova and Tzadik, that offer their music on Liquid Audio. Both labels
said that though they had made some sales via Liquid Audio, they still
sell vastly more CDs than downloads. Nonetheless, both labels noted that
Liquid Audio allowed them to reach a certain segment of users they may
not reach otherwise.3 Philip Blackburn at innova said
"innova's music is not as visible as that of major labels and shelf space
is largely at the whim of the store buyer for our kind of music, thus a
service such as Liquid Audio is an attractive addition to our distribution
system." He also noted, "Another advantage is that innova artists can point
their fans directly to any of over 1000 sites that offer the Liquid Audio
service, or indeed register their own site as an affiliate, thus vastly
increasing their work’s accessibility."4
A format that bypasses many of the aforementioned
issues is the newly developed Ogg Vorbis. It was created by the Xiph.org
Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the U.S., whose goal is
to "promote the creation of free, unencumbered, and interoperable multimedia
standards."5 Ogg Vorbis is an audio compression format
that is comparable to MP3, but does not use any of the Fraunhofer/Thomson
Like MP3 and RealAudio, Ogg Vorbis offers
full encoding and decoding capability for Windows, Linux, MacOS, and BeOS.
Ogg Vorbis uses a "lossy" format, but claims to have better sound quality
and smaller file sizes than MP3.
Because of the Xiph.org Foundation's interest
in public service and its freedom from obligations to Fraunhofer/Thomson,
Ogg Vorbis does not require any sorts of licensing fees from artists, webcasts
or developers. Artists may sell any amount of music, developers can use
the source code to create and sell an unlimited amount of encoders and
decoders, and webcasts can use it for webcasting music, all with no restrictions,
royalty payments, or limits on distribution, because the OggVorbis specification
is in the public domain. It is completely free for commercial or noncommercial
The creators of Ogg Vorbis feel that it
is important to continue to have a free and open format for sound on the
internet.7 They fear that Fraunhofer/Thomson’s corporate
alliances could result in more control and regulation of MP3. Thomson became
a private company in late 2000, and its shareholders include Microsoft,
NEC, DirectTV and Alcatel.8 Additionally, Fraunhofer
and Thomson are currently participants in the Secure Digital Music Initiative
(SDMI), which some feel is an effort by the international recording industry
to regain total control of music distribution.
OggVorbis is still very new and only available
in a limited number of players and encoders. They do not yet have the capability
for real-time streaming. Nevertheless, future actions by Fraunhofer/Thomson
or the recording industry could push a format such as OggVorbis to become
the preferred format worldwide.
xiph.org foundation - OggVorbis
Listen to Angry Coffee Artists Encoded
For now though, MP3 remains the preferred
format, not because of its sound quality or even its size (Q-Design is
the smallest), but because MP3s are free, provide adequate sound at higher
bitrates, and they can be used on almost any operating system. MP3 is the
most commonly used format and it is available worldwide. The appeal of
MP3 is its convenience and availability, not its high-quality sound. Obviously,
MP3 is mainly a sociological issue, not a technological one.
Napster and Innovative Music
The U.S.-based Napster file-sharing service
has recently been the focus of much of the record industry’s wrath. Napster
provides a central server for millions of users worldwide to post their
soundfiles and offer these soundfiles for free download to other users.
Until recently, Napster did not monitor what was traded, thus, according
to the opinions of the industry, massive copyright infringement was occurring.
In 1999, the International Federation of Phonographic Industries claimed
that around three million tracks were downloaded from the Internet every
day, most of them without the permission of their copyright holders.9
International Federation of Phonographic
Last month (March 2001), as part of the
fall-out from a lawsuit by four of the five major corporate recording conglomerates
in the U.S., Napster was ordered to block trading of songs that were property
of those corporations. Notably, only the property of the major corporations
was affected by this move. Independent labels and independent artists still
have no protection. But is this really a bad thing?
Two weeks before the court order was enforced,
I searched for Napster users that were trading contemporary music. While
searches for lesser-known composers’ works yielded few or no results, I
found that there were multitudes of downloads available for many established
innovative artists. Over the course of three days I logged in the names
of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, and my own composition
teacher, Alvin Lucier. Each day I found in excess of 100 downloads available
for Stockhausen and Zorn, around 100 available of Braxton’s music and an
average of about 15 downloads available for the music of Lucier. I thought
this was pretty shocking, considering that Napster participants were supposed
to be lazy listeners to mindless popular music who were just interested
in getting the latest Britney Spears tune for free.
I convened a focus group of seventeen Napster
participants, via the "chat" services provided on Napster. I interviewed
people who were sharing free downloads of one or more of the following
I felt that this group of composers and
improvisors gave a broad representation of various tastes in contemporary
and experimental music.
I interviewed my focus group on the guarantee
of anonymity. The members of the group came from around the world: six
from Europe, seven from North America, two from Central and South America,
one from Asia and one from Australia. Though all the respondents seemed
to have some familiarity with the genre, and indicated an interest in innovative
music as a whole, four respondents had listened to the music of these particular
composers for the first time through Napster. The respondents had located
these composers through looking at the shared-files of users who had other
works they liked.
Twelve of the respondents said that it
was difficult or impossible to obtain this kind of contemporary music in
record stores in their geographic area. Price was also a problem. Five
respondents claimed that since most contemporary music was imported in
their area, it caused significant price increases, and another nine respondents
claimed that the prices of contemporary music CDs in general were too expensive.
Two respondents said that while affordability was not a problem for them,
the music they were seeking was simply unavailable commercially. (This
would make sense in light of the many contemporary works that languish
out-of-print for years, the original labels now defunct or unwilling to
invest in products they see as low-profit.)
Several respondents indicated that participation
in Napster had opened up opportunities to hear artists that they would
have never have heard otherwise. When asked about other contemporary artists
that file sharing had led them to, the lists included Gyorgy Ligeti, Luciano
Berio, Luigi Nono, Luc Ferarri, Henri Pousseur, Brian Ferneyhough, Charles
Ives, Morton Feldman, Derek Bailey, Harry Partch, Julius Hemphill, Oliver
Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, Bob Ostertag, Iva Bitova, La Monte Young and many
Twelve respondents said they would purchase
more recordings by these or other contemporary artists because
of hearing the music through Napster. Most of the respondents said that
exposure to contemporary music on Napster had led them to buy more CDs
by contemporary artists in general. They also indicated that they would
prefer a CD to the MP3 file, because of better sound quality and the availability
of liner notes.
One of my Napster focus group members,
a student located in the Saskatchewan province of Canada, gave the following
comments concerning file sharing of contemporary music on Napster:
"One of the main things here is cost and
geographical location. This music is expensive to order where I am. I spend
lots of money on it already so I feel okay about downloading what I can
through Napster. It can also remove various cultural and social barriers
that can prevent one from being exposed to certain music. The sharing of
music online has greatly assisted me in maintaining my ever expanding curiosity.
It (Napster) also keeps me informed of what's happening all around the
world in music."10
It is not my desire to argue whether file
sharing is moral or immoral. My research indicates that file sharing is
exposing more people to contemporary and experimental music, and it has
also probably increased CD sales. File sharing could possibly improve,
rather than destroy, the distribution of music by innovative artists.
Judge lets Napster live despite injunction
(by John Borland) - Tech News - CNET.com
Article about Napster entitled, "Why the
music industry has nothing to celebrate" (by Scott Rosenberg)
MP3.com and Innovative Music
Unknown composers and improvisors have
also benefited from the MP3 phenomena. One of the most obvious, locatable
and centralized resources for this new internet "scene" of innovative music
MP3.com has over one million listeners
visiting their site daily. Since 1998, it has offered artists free web
pages and disk space for uploading MP3s of their music. It does not require
artists to relinquish the rights to their work in any way or pay any fees
to MP3.com, though the artist does agree to offer the downloads for free.
In the future, artists may receive payments from their respective performing
rights organizations as compensation for their free participation on MP3.com.11
MP3.com does not censor music for content, and it allows all styles and
genres. The only sort of music not allowed is that which is in violation
of copyright, such as cover songs and works using obvious sampling from
There are all sorts of promotional schemes
and advertising schemes that currently define the larger structure of the
MP3.com site, all which seem to change rather frequently. More and more,
MP3.com is focusing on the mainstream popular acts. You will not find innovative
music on the Top 10 listings of MP3.com. In fact, there are no official
categories for genres such as contemporary, minimalist, electro-acoustic,
computer music, sound art, free jazz, free improvisation, experimental
noise, and so on. This type of music is not particularly easy to locate
on MP3.com. However, this certainly does not mean innovative music is not
I located innovative artists on MP3.com
by entering the name of a not-too-well-known contemporary composer or improvisor
into the "artists we sound like" meta-tags search engine. Names like "Morton
Feldman," "Annea Lockwood" and "Harry Partch" helped me to find music I
considered to be non-commercial and risk-taking. Email discussions with
the artists led me to additional innovative artists on MP3.com.
I surveyed twelve composers and/or improvisors
from North America and four from Europe. Two respondents were music teachers,
one was a part-time professional musician and two were music students.
The other respondents supported themselves in non-music professions. None
of the respondents made any significant income from the sales of recordings
and downloads on MP3.com or otherwise. Respondents had offered their music
on MP3.com anywhere from a few months to two years. Some respondents had
many downloads of their music available, while others offered only one
or two pieces. All respondents self-produced their music using home equipment.
The number of downloads and plays that
the artists received monthly varied widely, from only two or three, to
hundreds, depending on the popularity of the artist and whether the artist
had participated in various internal and external promotions of their sites.
Almost all of the artists said that their music had reached a worldwide
audience because of their web presence, which was indicated to them by
the emails they had received in response to their site. A few artists had
received record-deal offers and/or offers to perform as the result of their
participation in MP3.com. Most did not sell regular CDs of their work,
and sold relatively few MP3.com "DAM"12 CDs (a promotion
whereby MP3.com burns requested MP3s to a CD for a fee).
Most artists felt that the opportunities
generated by the availability of their music on the internet far outweighed
any problems with sound quality. Although two respondents, a solo instrumentalist
and an artist working with psychoacoustic concepts, did state that they
were disappointed at subtleties that had been lost due to the filtering
The majority of the artists interviewed
enthusiastically described internal networking as the primary benefit of
their presence on MP3.com. Connections with other artists had led to collaborations,
tour partners, organization of live concerts and exchanges of helpful information.
Some said that exposure to the works of other artists on MP3.com had spurred
their artistic growth. Supportive emails from fans and other artists had
given several respondents the inspiration to continue or resume composing.
Artists also supported each other through organizing collaborative MP3.com
promotions and reviewing each other’s works online. While MP3.com had not
provided significant financial gain for any artist I interviewed13,
it had provided a positive sense of community and inspiration. These musicians
and composers have found free rent and a community of artists, not in a
big city, but in cyber-space.
Doug Kolmar, a composer from New York City,
summed it up best by saying:
"it (MP3.com) has helped me regain a connection
to the community of artists that I had pretty much lost touch with and
rejuvenated my activity as a composer. Once you know there's someone out
there listening, you have a much more compelling reason to turn those ideas
that have been kicking around your head into reality."14
Doug Kolmar - MP3.com artist
Highly significant is the independence
with which these artists work. They had not received commissions, they
had not paid a recording studio, they did not have a record label, and
many did not even organize a performance of their work. They worked other
jobs to pay the bills, they wrote the compositions in their free time,
they often performed the compositions themselves, they recorded the work
themselves, and they released the recording without the assistance of a
label. Their overhead was relatively low, a large audience heard their
work, and many liked it. In the case of MP3.com, as the old saying goes,
Mohammed did not go to the mountain, the mountain came to Mohammed.
Artists maintaining independent sites do
not have the same level of networking opportunities that a central service
such as MP3.com provides. Pamela Z, a San-Francisco based composer of electro-acoustic
music, has featured audio on her website since 1997. Like the MP3.com composers,
she has received emails from around the world commenting on her music and
has established new contacts with fans and other artists. She was even
contacted by a small label purely on the strength of hearing her music
on the site.15 But her independent site does not enjoy
the advantages of MP3.com’s structure, such as the central search engine,
the easy-to-maintain websites, the internal promotions and the statistical
information concerning site visitors. One MP3.com artist, who has maintained
a web presence since 1994, noted that his MP3.com site received far more
hits than his independent sites.
Pamela Z's Homepage
MP3.com features a promotional mechanism
known as a "radio station." A MP3.com radio station is a group of sound
files by different artists — usually 10 to 20 pieces — that can be played
in a continuous fashion via streaming audio. Any artists can set up a radio
station for free, and there are several experimental samplers available.
The MP3.com stations I listened to were actually more comparable to compilation
CDs than they were to radio stations. Nonetheless, there are a number
of continuous and/or long-playing webcasts of innovative music available
on the internet.
Internet Radio featuring Innovative
Internet radio is different than downloading
in that it allows you to hear the music but does not allow you to save
it to your hard disk. This is called "streaming." There are two main types
of streaming internet radio stations, "MP3-on-Demand" and "MP3 broadcasting"
or "real streaming".
"MP3 broadcasting" or "real streaming"
means that the show is happening in real-time and cannot be altered in
any way by the listener. It is more like a regular radio or TV broadcast
(the other way is more like listening to a CD or a long tape). In fact,
the real-streaming format is often used for radio shows that are already
being broadcast in real time. I interviewed DJs from eight webcasts in
the United States featuring contemporary, experimental, electro-acoustic,
improvised and other avant-garde styles. The shows I spoke to all indicated
increases in their listenership due to the real-streaming format, though
some noted that this listenership was limited by available bandwidth. For
instance, the Kalvos & Damian radio show at Goddard College in Vermont,
which specializes in works by new contemporary and experimental composers,
said their statistics indicated that every week during their Saturday afternoon
webcast their server was filled to its maximum of 60 listeners.16
Kalvos and Damian's New Music Bazaar --
New Music Composers from Around the World
WFMU is a free-format station in New Jersey
that intermingles contemporary and experimental music with many other genres.
It webcasts its signal 24 hours a day, and has a large bandwidth and several
servers available. They estimate their average online real-time listenership
worldwide is about 2,500 per day. Ken Freedman, program director at WFMU,
noted that even though internet usage was leveling off in some sectors,
it was increasing in the area of webcasting. He said, "Last year, 10% of
our listeners were listening to us online. I expect that a month from now
when I will be able to see the new stats, that percentage will have doubled."17
WFMU | 91.1fm Jersey City, NJ & 90.1fm
Hudson Valley, NY
"MP3 on Demand" is a group of files which
you can play continuously. The number and length of files varies greatly
depending on the station. With MP3-on-Demand you have control over the
music playback. You can play through the files continuously, or you can
skip ahead to a certain selection and start from there. You can play a
certain selection over again, or scroll forward or backward. The files
are there in a stationary fashion. Any time you access the site, unless
the webmaster has made changes, you will get the same data (the same set
The Antenna Radio site produces its shows
radio-style, but has no actual radio broadcast and presents them only in
the MP3-on-demand format. Herb Levy, of the "Mappings" show on Antenna
Radio, which features contemporary composers and improvised music, estimates
that he has 500-750 listeners every week.18 Antenna Radio
only leaves the current week and previous week’s shows on the server at
any given time.
Attenna Radio webcasts
Many of the radio shows now provide archives
where a listener can listen to the desired show at any time of day or night.
Larger archives can logically receive a greater numbers of hits. The Kalvos
& Damian show’s statistics indicate that the total archive of their
show dating back to 1995 gets well over one thousand listeners each
week.19 WFMU’s archives of their entire 24 hours of broadcasting
dating back to mid-2000, receive about 3,500 hits per week.20
No doubt this numerically and geographically
expanded listenership has had an affect on various aspects of innovative
Of the eight shows I interviewed, some
webcasts featured new artists and others featured more established artists.
Some webcasts mixed the new music with other genres, and some had a specific
theme. The DJs said that emails from listeners and reports from composers
indicated increased interest in innovative music due to the webcasts. Curiosity,
combined with availability, apparently forms the prime motivation for this
new group of listeners. Many seem to come to these webcasts through the
free-associative approach that defines the web. They may stumble across
a station when searching for an artist that has interested them, they may
read about it in a new music listing, they may come to it via links on
other sites, they may read a posting in an email group, and so on. There
is no central server for these stations, and in fact the only good listing
I could find of webcasts of new and experimental music was Earsay, a Canadian
earsay BITCAST netcast internet radio listening
There is no doubt that webcasts give artists
worldwide, rather than local, exposure. Several DJs recounted instances
of composers who had received offers to perform from organizations in other
countries, due to the webcasts. International collaborations and commissions
resulting from webcast connections were also noted. Webcasts allow unknown
artists to be heard by large international audiences.
Steve Bradley’s "art@radio" on WBMC
Carl Stone’s "Ears Wide Open" on KPFA
Christopher DeLaurenti’s "The Sonic Stratosphere"
Websites associated with webcasts can also
provide educational opportunities for new listeners. The Kalvos & Damian
Show site is not only the starting point for listening to their show and
its back-issues, but they also feature web pages for composers that have
been featured on the show, a section with essays by composers and contemporary
music authors and a directory of composer resources. Currently, they are
organizing a cyber-cast music festival for August of 2001.
Internet Sound Art
Internet sound art is allowing composers
to have direct interaction with audiences and encouraging them to collaborate
with artists of other disciplines. It breaks down geographic boundaries.
New forms are emerging. It redefines the roles of composer, performer and
audience. The potential of internet art is immense.
Currently though, internet art is plagued
with a variety of problems. The net is still not good for live interaction
due to time delays. The low bit rates required for streaming degrade sound
quality. Interactive instruments only allow multiple-choice-type mouse-clicking
by the audience, with no opportunities for creative subtlety. The audience
is limited by their amount of computer memory, internet connection speed,
and availability of programs needed to participate in the piece.
For many of these reasons, German composer
Michael Iber chose not to use streamed-audio for his work "Internet Generated
Radio," but instead used a combination of interactive clicking and an actual
radio broadcast of the results.22
Iber said, and I quote:
"My basic concept was to use the internet
for controlling only and use the radio for high quality and REAL time audio
transmission. The RealAudio-stream actually was a compromise I had to take
imposed by the SWR, who wanted a more international output due to there
extensive advertising campaign. It finally showed that the internet stream
had a delay of 20 seconds to the live-performance: obviously too much to
realize the effect ones click on a button would have to the sound processing."23
While Iber believes the total amount of
participants numbered around 500 people, only about 50 of them listened
to the webcast via RealAudio, probably due to bandwidth limitations.24
Michael Iber's "INTErnet GEnerated Radio"
(also features recording of the performance on RealAudio)
American composer William Duckworth’s "Cathedral"
is one of the first large-scale works of music and art created specifically
for the World Wide Web, first going on-line in June, 1997. The extensive
"Cathedral" site, created by a team of designers overseen by Duckworth,
incorporates interactive sound and graphics, creative text and streamed
audio. Periodically, live acoustic performances, which incorporate contributions
by internet audience participants playing virtual instruments, are broadcast
via RealAudio streaming. Audience participants may also contribute their
own Midi files to the piece.
In live performance, the audience contributions
are blended into the piece via filters created by the composer. The contributions
do not arrive exactly as the audience may have intended them, or with any
individual identity, but rather are manipulated and homogenized.25
Ultimately, Duckworth appropriates the audience’s contributions and retains
control of the piece.
William Duckworth's "Cathedral"
Rather than trying to overcome or marginalize
obstacles presented by the current limitations of internet sound, Atau
Tanaka’s "MP3q" incorporates these limitations into the work. It accepts
the current state of affairs and mirrors the social and time dynamic of
the internet. Tanaka calls his piece a "shared online sound space."26
The site itself avoids use of any graphics or other memory-hogging devices.
When a visitor enters the "MP3q" site he
or she sees a track list. Each track is a series of URLs that link to MP3
files on other sites. The visitor selects a track and then sees the list
of URLs inside a frame surrounded by images of stationary arrows. The visitor
may click on one or more tracks at any time to begin streaming an MP3.
The visitor glides the mouse around the screen to make the group of files
move around the screen and become larger or smaller. These variants in
the placement and size affect the gain (loudness or softness) of the files.27
Tanaka’s concept allows the participant to realize the mix in real-time
on their own computer.
Anyone can contribute an MP3 link to the
site by following simple prompts on the site. The contributed file must
be low bitrate and available on a web server somewhere on the Internet.
The implications of Tanaka’s piece are
many. The actual soundfiles do not exist on Tanaka’s website, but rather
are located on servers around the world, emphasizing the internet’s sociological
connections, and also reducing the draw on any one server and keeping the
site’s hard-drive from becoming quickly jammed with too many soundfiles.
Tanaka’s piece does not require the audience to participate at a certain
time, but rather they may participate at whatever time they choose. Interaction
with Tanaka’s own compositions is not necessary, unless the visitor chooses
to mix one of Tanaka’s pieces into his own mix. The sound material may
be collaged into an original work created by the site visitor. The requirement
of low bit-rate soundfiles gives the work a cohesive sound quality, and
yet serves the double purpose of making the file extremely small and easier
for computers to handle without crashing. The piece functions simply with
a browser and a Shockwave plug-in, no MP3 player is needed. The fact that
the site is programmed with Linux, an open-source free operating system,
also makes a political statement.
Tanaka does not dictate or manipulate the
data that is entered into his structure, and in fact, even the structure
has flexibility. He does not seek to appropriate the material for his own
creation but rather leaves his creation as a frame to be filled in by contributing
artists, and mixed and played back by site visitors. Tanaka does well in
redefining, and even bringing into question the necessity of, the individual
Interestingly, when I visited the site
I found that a contributor had linked a copyrighted popular song to the
"MP3q" site, thus immediately drawing Tanaka’s work into the raging international
controversy over intellectual property. The International Federation of
Phonographic Industries has stated that linking to illegal MP3 files constitutes
contributory copyright infringement.28
Atau Tanaka's "MP3q"
Obstacles for Future Distribution of
Innovative Music on the Internet
Approximately 4/5 of the record labels
in the U.S. are owned by one of five large international conglomerates,
commonly referred to as "the big five."29 These corporations
are: Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Recorded Music, Universal Music Group,
BMG Entertainment, and Warner Music Group.30 These conglomerates
retain control of the maximum amount of profits from their sales of recordings
by owning all aspects of the record industry including music publishing,
record labels, CD and cassette manufacturers, record distributors, record
clubs, and most retail stores. Record distribution through "the big five"
is imperative for availability in the major retail record outlets.
In recent years independent labels have
been completely shut out of normal distribution channels. Corporations
drove most small independent shops out of business by coming into local
markets and opening mega-stores that offered a wide selection of titles
at prices below what the independent stores could compete with. Then, over-confident
with their new oligopoly, the corporate labels began flooding the market
with too many titles, which led to a collapse in the retail industry. In
the wake of the collapse, innovative music titles were the first to be
cut from the distribution system. The CRI and New Albion contemporary classical
labels state that now their primary income is no longer from retail store
sales, but rather from other sources such as mail-order, internet sales
and sales to libraries.31 32 (This would seem to agree
with the statements by the Napster focus group that innovative music was
simply unavailable to them through stores in their area.)
Composers Recordings, Inc./CRI
New Albion Records
Interview with Foster Reed by Frank Oteri,
New Music Box, June 1999.
CDeMUSIC (online distributor of new music)
Not only do these conglomerates control
the distribution channels, but they control most artistic output as well.
Typically, most corporate record labels require artists to sign contracts
stating that the artist will pay for the recording, production, manufacturing,
marketing and administration costs out of the artist’s own profits.33.
The record label also usually requires the artist to sign over the rights
to the actual recording and sometimes even the rights to the composition
itself. Most record contracts force artists to give up control of their
work. Yet, it is estimated that only 5% of artists signed to labels make
money from record sales.34 Publicity is the only reward
most artists will reap from the release of a recording through a record
For corporations, this total ownership
and control of intellectual property is essential. It gives them the power
to manipulate, promote, recycle or censor this material to their maximum
profitability. And current copyright laws in the U.S. allow for this ownership
to extend for seventy years.35
Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act
However, the MP3 phenomena has the corporate
record industry running scared. As is evidenced by the Napster controversy
and other lawsuits, they are afraid of injuries to CD sales due to digital
copying and file sharing. But the record companies’ greatest fear is that
the new system could bar them from appropriating and exploiting new artists,
and thus new intellectual property and copyrights. If artists can self-produce,
market and distribute their material through the internet, the record industry
becomes obsolete and the intellectual property empires could crumble.
In the copyright problems of the last 20
years with cassette tapes, videotapes, DVDs and so on, the industry has
always dealt with the problem through a combination of legal and marketing
strategies. If the recent past gives any indication of the near future,
corporate industry will adapt and thrive through the MP3 phenomena, and
current trends in corporate assimilation and commodification of artistic
creativity will continue. One example of the industry’s new efforts to
maintain control through legal means is SDMI.
SDMI home page
SDMI Challenge FAQ
The Electronic Frontier Foundation Homepage
"Upholding rights to digital free expression
from political, legal and technical threats."
SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative)
is an organized effort by the international recording industry purportedly
to stop copyright infringement through technological means. The system
is based on the use of digital "watermarks." A digital watermark is an
inaudible, secret code that is hidden in an audio file.
SDMI will happen in two phases. First,
through the threat of lawsuits for complicity in copyright infringement,
they will force all manufacturers of home stereos, portable devices, personal
computers, and any other such equipment, to make their equipment recognize
this watermark. Then, in the second phase, all newly released CDs will
contain watermarks. When the playback or recording equipment encounters
the digital watermark, certain information is communicated, telling the
equipment the conditions under which this material can be played or recorded.36
The primary members of SDMI are the recording
industries "big five" corporations.. The cost for membership in the organization
is $20,000, a price that excludes small labels, artists and many other
organizations from having a voice in this group. Subject to the approval
of the paying members of SDMI, certain artists rights organizations may
attend some meetings free of charge, but these organizations have no say
in the ultimate decisions concerning SDMI.
SDMI claims that their technology will
not affect the distribution of non-watermarked material.37
In other words, they assert that SDMI compliant equipment will play non-watermarked
material. But many critics argue that SDMI’s control over playback and
recording equipment leaves too much room for abuse, since SDMI is an organization
created and run by the corporate industry.
SDMI also claims that the watermarking
feature will be available to independent artists and labels that want to
use it,38 but currently refuses to provide details of
the price, availability or conditions of such a scheme until their own
private SDMI members have agreed on an acceptable method.39
Paul Marotta of New World Records, a label that includes American jazz
and contemporary classical artists, states, "The companies involved in
the SDMI may create an industry standard that will be very expensive for
a small label to adopt. It will be less of an issue on new titles but going
back to remaster an entire catalogue of master tapes to add digital codes
may end up being prohibitive financially."40
New World Records, http://www.newworldrecords.org/
In the United States, laws have already
begun to be put into place for defending such a system. The Digital Millennium
Copyright Act gives further power to SDMI by making it a federal offense
to create and distribute programs that circumvent security mechanisms.
The DMCA also makes it possible for the government to compel Internet Service
Providers to monitor their subscribers and take actions to prevent exchange
of copyrighted material.
Corporate marketing strategies may pose
an even greater threat to innovative music than legal obstacles. Already,
corporations and large businesses are establishing control of centralized
systems. Many search engines now favor paid or popularity-based placements
to actual search results. Concerning internet listings of the Kalvos &
Damian webcasts Dennis Bathory-Kitsz says, "We had come up first in most
search engines (and still do in most), at least until some of them went
"popularity based" rather than using contents and <META> information.
In fact, as more searchers have become commercialized, their click-throughs
are important to them, so quantity matters rather than accuracy of results."41
As corporations gain control of the filters through which information on
the internet passes, more regulation and censorship will occur.
Of course, the recording industry does
not care at all about contemporary and experimental music. The sales figures
on such CDs are miniscule compared to popular music. In the words of Foster
Reed at the New Albion label, "The corporate recording industry lives in
a completely different world, of commodity and markets, than the independents
do, who make and publish work that is near and dear to them."42
But accessibility to innovative music on the internet may be blocked by
the record industry’s rush to protect and maintain total control of its
own high-profit intellectual property.
Recording Industry Association of America
YIL: Interview with The Artist, October
1997 (by Ben Greenman)
Anti-recording industry news source, part
of "The Artist"'s website. (The Artist currently once again known as Prince.)
Pro-corporate view on copyright.
Intellectual Property Issues
Anti-corporate views on copyright.
The MP3 phenomena has allowed more people
worldwide to hear innovative music, has spawned new international online
communities of innovative artists, and has even allowed new forms of innovative
music to begin to take hold. It has brought into question traditional roles,
boundaries, and genres, is redefining the distribution of recorded music,
and is bringing us closer to a sense of world community. The continuation
of this positive growth depends on the formation of new approaches that
bypass corporate control.
1. Fraunhofer IIS-A website, available
2. Henri Linde, Thomson Multi-Media, interview
by author, email correspondence, 14 January 2001.
3. K.S., representative of Tzadik records,
interview by author, email correspondence, 14 March 2001.
4. Philip Blackburn of innova records,
interview by author, email correspondence, 5 April 2001.
5. Jack Moffitt, Xiph.org Foundation, press
release, available from http://www.vorbis.com/press/20010226.txt
6. Xiph.org Foundation website, available
7. Xiph.org: OggVorbis FAQ, available from
8. Thomson-Multimedia website, available
9. Scot Hacker, MP3: The Definitive
Guide (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly & Associates, Inc., 2000), 10.
10. Identity withheld, Napster focus group
member, interview by author, email correspondence, March 2001.
11. MP3.com website, available from http://www.mp3.com/aboutus.html
12. D.A.M. means "Digital Automatic Music."
13. MP3.com’s Payback-for-Playback service,
which pays artists for downloads and plays of their music, now requires
a $20 a month service fee. Most artists interviewed did not receive enough
downloads and plays to offset the $20 monthly fee.
14. Doug Kolmar, composer, interview by
author, email correspondence, 7 March 2001.
15. Pamela Z, composer, interview by author,
e-mail correspondence, 28-29 March and 4 April 2001.
16. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz of the Kalvos
and Damian Show, interview by author, email correspondence, 11 March 2001.
17. Ken Freedman, Program Director, WFMU,
interview by author, email correspondence, 11 and 21 March 2001.
18. Herb Levy of the "Mappings Show" on
Antennae Radio, interview by author, email correspondence, 13 March 2001.
21. Earsay website, available from http://earsay.com/Pages/resources/bitcasts.html
22. Michael Iber, composer, interview by
author, email correspondence, 21 March 2001.
25. Kyle Gann, "Streamlining Chaos," The
Village Voice, New York City, 12-18 April 2000.
26. Atau Tanaka, MP3q website, available
28. Hacker, 266.
29. Geoffrey P. Hull, The Recording
Industry (Boston : Allyn and Bacon, 1998), 30.
30. Hacker, 21.
31. Brian Conley, Marketing Director, Composers
Recordings, Inc./CRI, interview by author, email correspondence, 6 April
32. Interview by Frank Oteri of Foster
Reed, Founder of New Albion Records, "New Albion," New Music Box,
American Music Center e-zine, available from http://www.newmusicbox.org/first-person/jun99/index.html
33. Hull, 40.
34. Hacker, 16.
35. Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension
Act, available from http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d105:s.00505:
36. SDMI Challenge FAQ, available from
37. Secure Digital Music Initiative website,
available from http://www.sdmi.org
39. SDMI Secretariat, interview by author,
email correspondence, 29 March 2001.
40. Paul Marotta, Managing Director of
New World Records, interview by author, email correspondence, 19 April
42. Foster Reed, Founder and President
of New Albion Records, interview by author, email correspondence, 19 April