: ZKM :: Institute und Abteilungen :: Institut für Musik und Akustik :: texte :: MP3

The following paper was presented at the Institut fuer Neue Musik und Musikerziehung in Darmstadt, Germany on April 9, 2001. Since this time, many of the topics discussed have undergone considerable changes (most notably the corporate assimilation of MP3.com and Napster), and certainly more changes will occur. Nevertheless, the important structures and movements revealed by this research will remain pertinent for years to come.

The MP3 Phenomena and Innovative Music

By Judy Dunaway

Copyright © Judy Dunaway
All rights reserved.

Preface - A Definition of Innovative Music

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 from Fraunhofer.

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 1]

Following is the same soundbite encoded at 32 kbps. Notice the deterioration of sound quality due to the lower bit rate.

Example 2 [sound 2]

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 3]

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 subtraction.)

Example 4 [sound 4]

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 2

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 works.

Other Formats

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.


Liquid Audio

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




innova Recordings

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 patents.

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 use.6

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 with Vorbis

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 Industries

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 artists:

Anthony Braxton

John Cage

Fred Frith

Mauricio Kagel

Alvin Lucier

Roscoe Mitchell

Meredith Monk

Ikue Mori

Pauline Oliveros

Karlheinz Stockhausen

John Zorn

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 more.

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 is MP3.com.



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 copyrighted sources.

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 there.

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 processes.

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 Music

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 of songs).

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 music.

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 organization.21


earsay BITCAST netcast internet radio listening schedule

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" on KSER

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 composer.

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 label.

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 from http://www.iis.fhg.de

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 from http://www.vorbis.com

7. Xiph.org: OggVorbis FAQ, available from www.ogg.org/ogg/vorbis/faq.html

8. Thomson-Multimedia website, available from, http://www.thomson-multimedia.com/cgi-bin/search/context.pl?file=/vus/01/013/0135.htm

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.

19. Bathory-Kitsz.

20. Freedman.

21. Earsay website, available from http://earsay.com/Pages/resources/bitcasts.html

22. Michael Iber, composer, interview by author, email correspondence, 21 March 2001.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Kyle Gann, "Streamlining Chaos," The Village Voice, New York City, 12-18 April 2000.

26. Atau Tanaka, MP3q website, available from http://fals.ch/Dx/atau/mp3q/

27. Ibid.

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 2001.

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 http://www.cs.princeton.edu/sip/sdmi/faq.html#A1

37. Secure Digital Music Initiative website, available from http://www.sdmi.org

38. Ibid.

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 2001.

41. Bathory-Kitsz.

42. Foster Reed, Founder and President of New Albion Records, interview by author, email correspondence, 19 April 2001.



Bettig, Ronald V. 1996. Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Hacker, Scot. 2000. MP3: The Definitive Guide. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly & Associates.

Hull, Geoffrey P. 1998. The Recording Industry. Boston : Allyn and Bacon.

Rathbone, Andy. 1999. MP3 for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide.

Focus Groups:

Fifteen MP3.com artists, identities withheld, interviewed by author, e-mail correspondence, March-April 2001.

Seventeen Napster participants, identities withheld, interviewed by author, e-mail correspondence, March-April 2001.

Internet Articles and Essays:

Borland, John. "Judge lets Napster live despite injunction," CNET.com, 6 March 2001, available from http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-5039135.html?tag=tp_pr

Follmer, Golo. "Soft Music," Crossfade, available from http://www.sfmoma.org/crossfade/

Fontenay, Eric. "SDMI: Boom or Bust for the Music Industry?" Taggin.com, July 1999, available from http://www.musicdish.com/downloads/sdmireport.pdf

Greenman, Ben. "Interview with The Artist," Yahoo Internet Life, October 1997, available from http://www.zdnet.com/yil/content/mag/9710/artistint2.html

Oteri, Frank. "New Albion," (Interview with Foster Reed) New Music Box, June 1999, available from http://www.newmusicbox.org/first-person/jun99/index.html

Raes, Godfried-Willem. "The Absurdity of Copyright," Logos Foundation, http://www.logosfoundation.org/publicdomaincd.html

Rosenberg, Scott. "Why the music industry has nothing to celebrate," Salon.com, 27 July 2000, available from http://www.salon.com/tech/col/rose/2000/07/27/napster_shutdown/index.html?CP=SAL&;DN=660


Bathory-Kitsz, Dennis, of the Kalvos and Damian Show, interview by author, email correspondence, 11 March 2001.

Blackburn, Philip, innova records, interview by author, email correspondence, 5 April 2001.

Bradley, Steve, DJ of "art @ radio" show on WMBC, 18 March 2001.

Chadabe, Joel, Managing Director of CDe Music, interview by author, email correspondence, 14 March 2001.

Conley, Brian, Marketing Director, Composers Recordings, Inc./CRI, interview by author, email correspondence, 6 April 2001.

DeLaurenti, Christopher. DJ of "Sonic Stratosphere" show on KSER, interview by author, email correspondence, 16 March 2001.

Freedman, Ken, Program Director, WFMU, interview by author, email correspondence, 11 and 21 March 2001.

G, Kenny, DJ of "Unpopular Music with Kenny G" on WFMU, interview by author, email correspondence, 11 March 2001.

Goebel, Johannes. Director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics, Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie, interview by author, handwritten notes, Karlsruhe, Germany, 13 February 2001..

Iber, Michael. Composer, interview by author, email correspondence, 21 March 2001.

K.S., representative of Tzadik records, interview by author, email correspondence, 14 March 2001.

Kolmar, Doug, composer, interview by author, email correspondence, 7 March 2001.

Levy, Herb, DJ of the "Mappings Show" on Antennae Radio, interview by author, email correspondence, 13 March 2001.

Linde, Henri, Thomson Multi-Media, interview by author, email correspondence, 14 January 2001.

Marotta, Paul, Managing Director of New World Records, interview by author, email correspondence, 19 April 2001.

Reed, Foster, Founder and President of New Albion Records, interview by author, email correspondence, 19 April 2001.

Richard, Ferdinand. Director of A.M.I. (Aide aux Musiques Innovatrices), interview by author, handwritten notes, Darmstadt, Germany, 8 April 2001.

Schmitt, Davey. DJ of the "Le Vide" show on Antennae Radio, interview by author, email correspondence, 12 March 2001.

SDMI Secretariat, interview by author, email correspondence, 29 March 2001.

Stagnaro, Guilluame, internet artist, interview by author, cassette tape transcription, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1 March 2001.

Stone, Carl. DJ of "Ears Wide Open" show on KPFA, interview by author, email correspondence, 12 March 2001.

Z, Pamela, composer, interview by author, e-mail correspondence, 28-29 March and 4 April 2001.

Newspaper Articles:

Gann, Kyle. "Streamlining Chaos," The Village Voice, New York City, 12-18 April 2000.

Glaser, Jonathan D. "Hemming In the World Wide Web," The New York Times, 7 January 2001.

Holson, Laura M. "Which Direction for Digital Music?" The New York Times, 20 November 2000.

Simon, Clea. "Niche Radio Finds Its Footing on the Internet," The New York Times, October 9, 2000.

Strauss, Neil. "The MP3 Revolution: Getting With It." The New York Times, 18 July 1999.

Richtel, Matt and Sara Robinson. "Ear Training: A Digital Music Primer," The New York Times, 19 July 1999.


Angry Coffee Artists Encoded with Vorbis, http://www.angrycoffee.com/tutorials/vorbis/oggartist.html

Antenna Radio, http://www.antennaradio.com

art@radio main page, http://wmbc.umbc.edu/~artradio/

BMI, http://www.bmi.com

CDeMUSIC, http://www.CDeMusic.org/index.html

Composers Recordings, Inc./CRI, http://www.composersrecordings.com/

Crossfade, http://www.sfmoma.org/crossfade/

Duckworth, William. Cathedral. http://www.monroestreet.com/Cathedral/main.html

earsay BITCAST netcast internet radio listening schedule, http://earsay.com/Pages/resources/bitcasts.html

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, http://www.eff.org/

Felten, Edward W. Associate Professor of Computer Science, Princeton University, SDMI Challenge FAQ, http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~felten/

Freedom News, http://www.NPGonlineLTD.com/freedomnews.html

Fraunhofer IIS-A - AMM - Layer-3 Info, http://www.iis.fhg.de/amm/techinf/layer3/

Fraunhofer IIS-A, brief history and explanation of MP3, http://www.iis.fhg.de/pub_rel/presse/2000/mp3/index2.html

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, http://www.fhg.de

Fraunhofer-Thomson, http://mp3licensing.com/index.html

GEMA, http://www.gema.de/

Hutchins, Celeste, http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/161/celeste_hutchins.html

Iber, Michael, "INTErnet GEnerated Radio,"


innova Recordings, http://www.composersforum.org/noframe/innova/innova.html

International Federation of Phonographic Industries, http://www.ifpi.org/

ISO Standards Development Site, http://isotc.iso.ch/Livelink/livelink.exe/fetch/2000/2123/SDS_WEB/sds_home.htm

IUMA, http://www.iuma.com/

Kalvos and Damian's New Music Bazaar -- New Music Composers from Around the World, http://www.goddard.edu/wgdr/kalvos/kalvos.html

Kolmar, Doug, http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/95/doug_kolmar.html

KPFA - programs — schedule, http://www.kpfa.org/1pg_grid.htm

Liquid Audio, http://www.liquidaudio.com

MP3.com, http://www.mp3.com

Napster, http://www.napster.com/

National Music Publishers Association, http://www.nmpa.org/nmpa/expression.html

Negativland, http://www.negativland.com/intprop.html

New Albion Records, http://www.newalbion.com/

New World Records, http://www.newworldrecords.org/

Qdesign, http://www.qdesign.com

Recording Industry Association of America, http://www.riaa.com

SDMI home page, http://www.sdmi.org

Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d105:s.00505:

Tanaka, Atau. MP3q. http://fals.ch/Dx/atau/mp3q/

Thomson Multimedia, http://www.thomson-multimedia.com

Tzadik, http://www.tzadik.com

The Undernet, http://www.the-undernet.com/mp3%20links.htm

WFMU | 91.1fm Jersey City, NJ & 90.1fm Hudson Valley, NY, http://www.wfmu.org/audiostream.shtml

xiph.org foundation, http://www.vorbis.com/

Z, Pamela, http://www.pamelaz.com/

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