Music and Audio Technology Projects to Stir your Imagination

Adrian Freed


The following speculative projects were created to stimulate students into designing with the tools and ideas of future technology. The overall puzzle is: what is the driving force: technology or applications?

Video Game for the Blind

Assumption: The visual channel is central for successful entertainment applications of media technology.

Design an interactive "Videogame" experience for blind people. Identify ways to initially capture players attention (so they feed money into the slot). Explain how your design keeps the players attention, avoids boredom and encourages them to keep feeding coins in the slot.

A Truly Lasting Electronic Musical Instrument.

Assumption: Electronic musical instruments will always have a short market life (of a few years) before new models eclipse the old.

This century's mastery of metal, plastic, sand (silicon chips) and computational abstraction (software and simulation) has been applied to create many wonderful new musical instruments. Like many other products of our time, customers have developed an appetite for novelty in the form of new sounds and packaging. Ironically, this need for novelty works against any electronic musical instrument lasting the many centuries that successful traditional instruments do. For a community of composers and performers to rally around an instrument, they must know that it will be around for more than a just a few years.

Design what will become the first lasting digital musical instrument. Decide whether it will have a user interface like a piano, a guitar, a monophonic instrument such as the saxophone, or something completely new. What will the instrument sound like? How will it be controlled? Why will the design last hundreds of years? What distinguishes it from conventional instruments?

A Disposable Audio Recorder

Assumption: customers need to own their own equipment and medium to record and store sound and visual materials.

One result of technology of mass production is functionality from products which cost practically nothing to manufacture. One example of this is the disposable or "single use" still camera. Interestingly disposable cameras are neither thrown away nor are they used only once. Their parts are reused.

Design a portable, disposable audio recorder. What would people use one for? Identify the key technologies needed to pull this off. Does the audio have to be stored in the device? Do current technologies simply need to be cheap enough or are new technologies needed ? How many years will it be before this is possible? Will a disposable camcorder be possible?

3d Direct Manipulation Sound Post Production

Assumption: People will always be satisfied with cartoon-like two dimensional superposition of sound tracks.

Sounds combine in rich ways in three dimensional space. What are the technological difficulties that prevent us from combining sounds in the studio the way they are in the real world? Design the user interface to a 3d sound post production facility. Identify the primary elements to be manipulated, their 3d graphical representations and how users interact with them. Who would use such a facility?

Media Free Music and Video Stores

Assumption: People need to visit stores to pick out music and video.

Develop a business plan for a store which rents music (and/or video) material over networks rather than requiring customers to pick up physical media from them. Figure out how much customers are willing to pay for this (Hint: pizza delivery). How many channels of playback does a store need to stay in business? What services can a small mom-and-pop store provide that would allow them to compete with a well integrated chain of stores?

MultiMedia One Man (person!) Band

Assumption: You need huge trucks and a road crew to entertain large audiences.

Design a one person multimedia road show. Your constraints are severe. You have to be able to check the gear onto a plane. Sketch the content of the show, how the performer controls the lighting, visual and audio material. What is the role of the audience? "The show must go on." How do you make the system reliable enough? How does this system accommodate for different venues?

The Demise of special purpose hardware for Music Synthesizers

Assumption: To achieve sufficient signal processing performance, music synthesizers require custom built, special purpose hardware.

The performance available from new general purpose processors such as the R4400, PowerPC and Pentium makes it possible to implement interesting sound synthesis algorithms as programs in a high level language. Write a program in your favorite high level language for additive sound synthesis: A bank of oscillators is required. Provide control over the amplitude and phase of the sine wave output of each oscillator. Write a version which is as clear and easy to understand as possible. Then, if time permits, create the fastest version you can for a processor you are familiar with.

Auditory "Opera Glasses" for Ultimate Concert Sound

Assumption: You have to use sounds in air to communicate to the audience

If you have attended a large public gathering or music concert, you will have noticed several unfortunate results of the fact that the speed of sound in air is much slower than the speed of light. The main problem is that the gestures of the performers do not appear synchronized, just as thunder and lightening do not appear to happen simultaneously. Another effect delayed sounds have is feedback or howling.

Explore the idea of handing out headphones to everybody in the audience, to provide sound. What features could these headphones provide other than higher quality correctly synchronized sounds? What features are needed to provide the best of home listening and the concert experience?

Distance Music Education

Assumption: Your music teacher needs to be in the same room with you.

Prepare a piano lesson to be given by a famous pianist to enthusiastic students all over the world. Each student is at home with a special piano with a MIDI connection, such as the Yamaha Disklavier. Key presses from the student can be transmitted to the teacher. The teachers gestures are broadcast to the students piano's? How will the students learn fingerings? How can the teacher prepare exercises adapted to the individual needs of students?

The Merging of Audio and Video

Assumption: The market for films and video is different to that for records. Each requires its own products, artists and stores.

It used to be simple: Video's were rented from video stores and CD's were bought from record stores. Now record store chains such as Tower rent movies and video stores rent music video's. Successful video clips on MTV help sell recorded music. It used to be that the physical media for film and video was different from those for audio. Now compressed video and high quality still images (Photo-CD) are stored on CD's. Digital audio is stored on tape for rotary video head technology (DAT).

Will the video, film, still photography and audio markets remain distinct or be swallowed into a single multimedia market? Will there always be a role for audio only and purely musical expression? What effect will multimedia technology have on future music?

The Demise of Print, TV and Radio

Assumption: The major reason traditional print media, TV and Radio hold their own against the onslaught of interactive digital media is that they look and sound better.

Identify what characterizes high audio quality (production value). Is there anything inherent in the technological infrastructure (broadcast, mass distribution?) that gives traditional media an unbeatable advantage over interactive digital media? If you think they will always coexist explain what influence they will have on each other. Otherwise when do you think will be the doomsday for traditional media.

The Demise of All Media

Assumption: Now that we have reproducing media, they are here to stay.

The reproducing media (books, faxes, CD's, video) may represent a temporary enthusiasm in world history. The problem they address is to amplify individual expression to an audience which is distant in space and time. Describe how large scale telepresence technology can address this need more effectively than reproducing media. Hint: Calculate how many performers do you need to have so that an individual can find a live performance of any play of Shakespeare in any language at any time of day or night. Will there be an underprivileged class without access? What will be the most successful services offered by telepresence?