Beyond shuffle

Had a thought.

Been listening to this on my iPod for a while (it is three hours long). There are sections in it that sound like the interference headphones and speakers get from incoming mobile signals. At first I thought it was my phone, but it isn’t. It’s in the recording, sorta like a watermark. Since it is a live recording perhaps it was picked up during the show.

It got me thinking about randomness in music recordings. Artists have been talking about this for decades, trying to approximate the variability of a live performance in a static recording. Basically it isn’t possible, though that which does exist tends towards empowering the listener to muck with the tracks. But what about merely giving the artist the ability to vary the song on a given listen?

You’d not need a new audio format, it seems to me. What about using the comments metadata section in an MP3 (or AAC, whatever) to include an executable chunk of code that could manipulate the actual audio stream? Obviously your player would need a plug-in of some sort to run the code, but that’s easy with the extensibility of most apps these days.


How would it work? Well, the song would play normally. The plug-in would look for comments and would be alerted by some string that announced that the contents were executable. If the plug-in were sophisticated enough it could do anything from simple effects (flanging, phasing, echoing) to actual audio insertions and overlays. You could imagine an online component that would go out and pre-fetch snippets or sounds that could be layered into the pre-recorded track. The key would be variability. It would not happen every time — or rather it would not have to happen every time. If it did, why not pre-record it? The idea is akin to apps today that live a dual existence on one’s machine and also, in part, online. If you didn’t have the plug-in the song would play normally.

It wouldn’t substitute for an artist’s creative freedom during a live show, but it would reinsert variability into the act of playback — something that’s been a part of the musical experience far longer than the era of recorded sound that we live in.

Update: Nick Nice, the artist behind the mix linked above, contacted me. He confirmed that the noise was in fact from his phone being too close to the mixer when an SMS was coming in.

2 Responses to “Beyond shuffle”

  1. Darren says :

    I tried to patent almost exactly that idea, but the lawyers didn’t think it was in IBM’s core business and also I’d not helped by giving it some silly name like , “Method and System for Britney Spears Playing in Your Living Room”. I need to see if I can find the original submission.
    As they didn’t believe it would work I even built a working prototype, it was crude and simple, but it did work and though it didn’t make the sound seem live, it did make it different enough that you could listen to the same track over and over without getting bored.

  2. Craig says :

    Man, this concept has my head spinning with possibility! Very nice.