New music format thousands of times smaller than MP3

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New music format thousands of times smaller than MP3

Scientists claim to have developed a music storage format that uses the absolute least amount of data needed to reproduce a piece of music.

By virtually modelling the interactions between a clarinet and clarinet player, researchers have digitally reproduced a 20-second instrumental solo in a file nearly 1,000 times smaller than a regular MP3 file.

"This is essentially a human-scale system of reproducing music," said Mark Bocko, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Rochester and co-creator of the technology.

"Humans can manipulate their tongue, breath, and fingers only so fast, so in theory we shouldn't really have to measure the music many thousands of times a second like we do on a CD.”

“As a result, I think we may have found the absolute least amount of data needed to reproduce a piece of music,” he said.

In developing the format, researchers built a computer model of the clarinet based on measurements of every aspect of the instrument that affects its sound: from the back-pressure in the mouthpiece for every different fingering, to the way sound radiates from the instrument.

The team then created a virtual clarinet player by modeling the interactions between the musician and instrument, including the fingerings, the force of breath, and the pressure of the player's lips to determine how they would affect the response of the virtual clarinet.

After the virtual clarinet and musician were created, Bocko said it was a matter of letting the computer "listen" to a real clarinet performance to infer and record the various actions required to create a specific sound. The original sound is then reproduced by feeding the record of the player's actions back into the computer model.

While they have not yet achieved a flawless reproduction of an original performance on the clarinet, the researchers expect their finish line to be not far away. The team is currently working on including acoustic effects such as tonguing, which is how a clarinet player strikes the instrument with the tongue to better define ‘staccato’ notes.

As the method is refined, the researchers imagine that it may give computer musicians more intuitive ways to create expressive music by including the actions of a virtual musician in computer synthesizers.

As acoustic measurements and modeling algorithms improve, Bocko said the process eventually may represent the maximum possible data compression of music.

Future developments may allow the method to be applied to reproducing the highly complex human voice as well, he said.

"Maybe the future of music recording lies in reproducing performers and not recording them," Bocko said.
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