I thought it silly to include various proposals, etc. (of which there
have been many) in this listing -- hey! great memos! -- but
I ran across this while sorting through some older files. I think I
wrote it about 1990 or 1991. It didn't get funded. No "www" back then;
the internet seemed so full of possibility and promise.
Ah, if only...
Musical Archive Project Proposal
Years ago, Alexander Graham Bell invented a device which changed the way we
interact with each other forever. Wires were strung, switchboards were
installed, and the telephone became the predominant paradigm for
With the advent of digital communication technology, however, that paradigm
is beginning to shift. The types of information distributed through digital
networking, and (more importantly) the "human interfaces" resulting from
this distribution are fundamentally changing.
In change there lies opportunity. There is an untapped potential in the
increasing bandwidth of large computer networks such as the Internet and the
rapid development of high-speed digital consumer protocols such as ISDN.
This potential presents the chance for people to take an active role in
shaping the structures which will employ these new technologies.
For composers and musicians, this means an unparalleled opportunity for the
conscious investigation of new ways to reach a potentially vast audience.
Audience access and the related hurdle of music distribution have been
age-old problems for composers and musicians. The transmission of
high-quality digital audio -- now for the first time able to reach many
people -- can be used to change the traditional hierarchical control of the
flow of music in our world.
This project is designed to explore some possible new structures (and the
underlying methodologies) for establishing connections between composers and
listeners. Our goal is the creation of a musical communication paradigm
which will allow free access to new music for listeners, and will also allow
free (and fundamentally egalitarian) access to the means of distribution for
composers desiring to connect with an audience.
Hardware and Software
Our initial plan is to connect a computer with a large amount of direct disk
storage to the Internet at a high-bandwidth location. The computer will be
publicly accessible to hundreds of thousands (quite possibly millions) of
people; the Internet is easily the largest high-bandwidth network in the
world. We plan to advertise this digital musical archive heavily on public
domain bulletin boards and in magazines and journals devoted to contemporary
and computer music. The public will have access to this computer (and the
sounds stored on the disks in digital form) using the popular Internet
program ftp. ftp (File Transfer Protocol) is currently used quite often to
transfer data and programs from computer to computer; most of the software
we are now using at the Columbia University Computer Music Facility have
been transferred to our computers using ftp.
Because computer files containing high-quality digital sound are so large,
we may be required to limit access to the archive to late-night hours in
order to prevent network overloading during working hours. If this becomes
necessary, we will implement software which will allow unattended transfers
of sound files. A person wishing to download new music can simply make a
request at some time during the day, and the transfer of sound will happen
overnight. We will also be designing and implementing a "sonic index"
scheme. The "sonic index" will consist of compressed segments excerpted
from music on the archive. The compression will greatly reduce the size of
the musical excerpts, but it significantly degrades the quality of the
sound. The purpose of the index will be to give potential listeners a
chance to preview particular pieces of music without having to transfer and
provide local storage for huge amounts of sound data.
The design of this project presupposes that potential listeners have
computers which are capable of accessing, storing and playing the sounds
stored in the archive. Most computers now manufactured have some degree of
sound-playback capability. We plan to have available at the music archive a
variety of programs for playing sounds on particular computers. This way,
someone with a Macintosh or IBM-PC will be able to hear the music as well as
someone with a NeXT machine or Sun workstation.
We also plan to install some long-term off-line storage devices on the
archive computer. As the storage disks become filled with music, older
pieces will be transferred to the long-term storage. These could be
retrieved and placed back onto the main archive storage by request, or
pieces could be rotated in and out of "circulation" as the amount of
available music increases.
It is also possible for the archive computer to be used as a collecting
point for extended musical activities. A publicly-writeable area of storage
would allow geographically-scattered composers to collaborate in the
creation of music by sending sounds almost instantaneously to each other.
New paradigms for cross-country and cross-cultural improvisation could be
facilitated by this central music access point.
Ultimately, it would be exciting to make this archive available via ISDN as
the digital bandwidth of consumer telephones increases to the point where
real-time (or near real-time) transfer of high-quality sound directly into
homes becomes possible. We believe that this will profoundly change the way
in which music is marketed and distributed in the world.
We are seeking $20,000 as start-up funding for this project. This money
will enable us to purchase a computer with the ability to attach to the
Internet via a high-bandwidth connection and with enough computing power to
handle the anticipated load. The money will also be used to purchase
approximately 5 Gigabytes of disk storage space (almost 8 hours of sound
storage capability) and the necessary support hardware for the disks. In
addition to the disks, the money will be used to purchase long-term storage
devices and media for the off-line archiving of sounds.
All of the software used for this project will be in the public domain.
Most of the software for playing sounds on various machines already exists;
we will write any additional software necessary for the operation of the
We will be restricting the music available at the archive to original
material given to us by the composers of the music. This sidesteps some
nasty copyright issues and also emphasizes the distribution of original
works by the creators of the works, which is one of the primary motivations
behind this project. It is conceivable (and in fact highly probable) that
copyright and royalty questions will become a major concern with this form
of music distribution in the near future. This project can help to define
some of the issues involved in the ownership/remuneration debate.
Our primary objective during the initial phase of this project will be to
see what happens -- observe the patterns of activity which develop and
discover how the archive is used by composers and listeners alike. There
are many questions to be answered about new and emerging forms of
communication made possible by computers. This project, using music as a
"toy domain" for investigation, can do much to solidify some possible
structures which can develop within the context of digital technologies.
Although the main focus of the project will be on the distribution of
contemporary works, it could also be used to distribute past music (assuming
that copyright questions have been settled), making whole libraries of sound
easily available for interested listeners. The long-term storage of music
coming through the archive might also be of use to some future music
historian. Because the sound will be stored in digital form, there will be
little (theoretically none) degradation in quality of the original music.
Our hope is that this project can become a foundation for the development of
new musical distribution channels in the future. By designing a system
which gives individual composers the power to connect their music with an
audience, we predict that a tremendous explosion in musical activity will
take place, as more and more people discover their innate creativity. Music
can help to define the development of culture and society. Our utopian
vision sees this project as a step towards a freer and more interconnected