More Music For Your Megabyte

Few people will argue the valuable role that the Mp3 music file format has played in the music industry. For the past few years this file format has been the most popularly used all over the world thanks to its diminutive size and excellent audio quality. However, as we all know, technology marches ever forward, and it would seem that the much loved Mp3 format may soon be a thing of the past.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have been able to digitally reproduce music in such a way that the resulting file is nearly 1,000 times smaller than a regular Mp3 file. The test sound byte – a 20-second clarinet solo – was encoded into less than a single kilobyte of computer data. The remarkable achievement was announced on 1 April at the International Conference on Acoustics Speech and Signal Processing earlier this year.

The technology used to create the recording recreates the physics of both the musical instrument (in this case the clarinet) and the physics of the musician playing the instrument. In this way the way the limited way that a musician manipulates his tongue, breath, fingers, etc, is combined with the limited variations of resonance and sound that the instrument can produce to create the absolute least amount of data needed in order to recreate a musical piece. This is a stark contrast to a CD, for example, which records music many thousands of a time a second. So far the resulting recording isn’t perfect – but it is extremely close. Once the programming of the information is complete it should be an exact replica of the original music.

When replaying the sound file, the computer literally reproduces the original performance by using all the information it has about the musical instrument in question and how it is played. It is eventually hoped that this method of recording musical data will be used for all musical instruments and even for vocals. A definite advantage of this system of recording – apart from its diminutive size – is that it will give computer musicians far more creative ways of generating music. While the current method is limited to a single instrument at a time, the University of Rochester’s team is also working on a method of separating multiple instruments in a mix so that more than one instrument can be saved in this incredibly compact format at a time. Clearly our beloved Mp3s will still be the order of the day for a while to come. But once the groundwork for this new music format is completed, it will definitely take the world by storm.