Doctor Beat is in the house

European researchers claim the days of just sitting around listening to the stereo are coming to an end: digital music means everybody will be mixing and mashing up like a DJ

According to researchers working on the EU-funded Semantic Hi-Fi project, with the advent of compressed music files (MP3) and easily accessible Internet file exchange and download services, consumers are turning to personal mini-databases of music files for their musical enjoyment. It means that, in the future, the boundaries between the stereo system, computer and the television will become more and more blurred.

"Music is no longer limited by a fixed format. Network-based distribution has freed music from the limits imposed by these formats and opened a whole new range of possibilities which will encourage greater interaction with musical pieces," said Hugues Vinet of the French music and acoustics research centre IRCAM, which co-ordinated the project.

The working prototype produced by the research team uses either a hand-held, touch screen remote or the touch screen display of the main computer to look at the structure of a piece and let them to move around it and even to modify elements of the musical composition: change the tempo; remix it; or even add or take out instruments.

Some of the results of the project have already been incorporated into new products. Project partner Native Instruments used many of Semantic Hi-Fi's features for its Traktor DJ Studio 3 software. The prototype developed by the project also incorporated many of these tools into a home system.

"The hi-fi of the future will make sophisticated software tools for professional musicians available to a wider public," said Vinet. "Owners of next-generation hi-fi will be able to do more than just passively listen, they will have a tool which also allows them to manipulate music and to create new pieces themselves."

Hi-fis of the future will be linked up to the Internet, and it will be possible to share personal works with others through peer-to-peer (P2P) systems. Researchers said they did not overlook the issue of copyright.

"The P2P systems envisaged will respect the songs' copyrights by only transmitting the information necessary for editing and modifying them," Vinet stressed.

The ability to extract and display a whole range of information tempo, key, lyrics, musical score on a musical piece should also deepen the listeners musical knowledge and appreciation.

One of the challenges of the digital hi-fi will be managing extensive databases of music. It will no longer be a matter of simply grabbing a favourite CD from the shelf but of trawling through a database of perhaps tens of thousands of pieces. Semantic Hi-Fi, which concluded in November 2006, continued the work of Cuidado, an earlier EU-funded project, developing search engines capable of extracting information on musical content and providing tools for the effective management of musical 'libraries'.

As a result of this work, the researchers claimed that users of future hi-fi can expect to be able to navigate easily through their collections using search criteria, such as tempo, genre, instrumentation, in addition to the traditional search criteria of artist and title. In principle, you would be able to start from a reference piece and search for those similar to it according to selected musical criteria. You can classify and retrieve your songs by defining your own musical categories from a set of track examples that will be automatically generalised to your whole database.

Many of the results of the project are now available for licensing and several are being developed further within the context on new research projects.

Image: Semantic Hi-Fi researchers believe the rise of the iPod will give hi-fi makers the ability to let home users mix music like a DJ

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