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The future of music on your doorstep

Ever wondered where music is heading? Right here on campus, innovative research and discoveries are being made that will change the way you make, find, and listen to music in the future. Rachel Michaella Finn investigates

Nestled in Queen Mary’s engineering building on the Mile End campus lies the Centre for Digital Music (C4DM), a world leading research group in music and audio technology. The department’s work dates back to 1978, when their pioneering work on Digital Power Amplification helped pave the way to many of the digital amplification systems we see in live music today.

Today, the department is still a key force in what the music of tomorrow will sound like. With projects wide and diverse, from software that can analyse your music taste and give you a tailor-made playlist matching your mood, to attempting to answer big questions like ‘‘does music make the world go round?’’, in a world where the internet means music of all types is available to a wider audience than ever before, the options for digital innovation are only expanding:

You’ll be able to: hum a tune to find new music
“With online music stores offering millions of songs to choose from, users need assistance,” C4DM says. “Our research seeks to assist people in finding the music they want, whether it is by playing an example of something similar, humming, or musicological query.” The centre is developing technology that can recognise and analyse music so that connections between similar sounding songs, artists and genres can be made. In the future, you’ll be able to find songs that are similar to your favourite song just by singing it into your computer.

You’ll be able to: completely customise musical instruments
Victor Zappi works on the design and development of new musical instruments. “Once they are built, in general DMIs (Digital Music Instruments) have a fixed behaviour and they can’t be modified.” Regardless of musical features and the interaction techniques that an instrument provides – it will never completely satisfy the needs of every artist. It’s for this reason that record players were used by DJs’ as an instrument (unexpected usage) or electric guitars were modified to distort sound. The department, helmed by senior lecturer Andrew Macpherson have been experimenting with “fully hackable electronic designs” in an attempt to provide a whole new level of creative freedom.

A new musical instrument designed by researchers from the Centre for Digital Music was showcased on campus last week. The instrument – called the ‘D-Box’ – is part of the Centre’s project, creating innovative musical instruments that can be customised. The D-Box comprises of a wooden cube with a battery, speaker, and a mini computer, which is fully ‘hackable’ allowing each user to take full control of the instrument and make it their own.

During the showcase of the instrument, nine performers composed and performed original compositions. The instrument can be fully customised to create new and original sounds to the user’s specifications, prompting visions of a fully democratic and creative future in musical sound design for musicians. The D-Box was previously showcased as part of a workshop at Barcelona’s Sonar Festival this summer and is the first fully ‘hackable’ instrument the department has designed from scratch.

You’ll be able to: let your laptop create playlists based on your mood
This technology is already being utilised with things such as iTunes’ ‘Genius’ and Spotify’s ‘Discover’, but it’s an imperfect art. The department hopes to advance these technologies so that these apps will be more accurate at creating the perfect night out, study or hangover playlist, than ever before. Already, the department’s work in sound analysis has led to the production of software which can analyse your music taste and create tailor-made playlists to suit your mood. SoundBite is an iTunes add-on, and, once installed, it can automatically create great sounding playlists in just a couple of clicks.

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