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October 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Senseless Ramblings
Music For The Next Generation.
We've already 'lost' three generations to lossy MP3.
Article By Steven R. Rochlin

 

  It's been some times since I wrote a Senseless Rambling and something lit a flame under my tukas to write the below. Assumptions will be made, then rap'ed with some fact and perhaps splinters of personal memory that could be in error or skewed. Ok, I admit it might bore you at first... until we get to the Third Generation of human society. This article is not an easy read.

But first, it is obvious that vinyl sales have been on the rise from the long slumber and now there's talk of cassette tape(!) making a comeback. If history is our guide, retro things always find a way to touch us in a way that brings back fond memories... or makes you feel cool. Is it style, or having a sense of history, or perhaps both that makes what was once old feel 'new' again. As time marches forward, what was once new is old and the cycle continues. Newer things can be better, and thus the music industry is moving away from MP3, and even the CD, to higher resolution digital audio file types. Yet how is the music industry going to break though the 'chains' of the now entrenched MP3?

Sitting back and (purposefully) isolating myself (to some extent) from society combined with very rare peeking my head out to see, as Marvin Gaye says, "What's going on" has benefits. Cold facts leave little to emotion, as much as one might feel their own personal belief system somehow is the same as others. Since you're reading this, odds are you love music and, dare we agree, you're an audiophile. Your personal belief system, dare we call it a religion(?), is that of willingness to follow some visionary/leader who not only agrees with your own belief system, they also are able to bring about something new that not only supports said belief system, it enforces it with new meaning over time.

Removing a belief system as it pertains to being an audiophile, let us look at the societal history of music to the relatively recent occurrences within the music industry. Man banging log eventually begat other musical instruments. The human species intuitively discovers something within music that eventually lead to the invention of recording and replay. Musical instruments and supporting recording / playback technology evolved. 78 rpm record, the long-play 33.3 rpm record, and magnetic tape were widely adopted. Widescale adoption of digitizing the audio signal brought about the 16-bit/44.1kHz compact disc (CD). CD had advantages in convenience over previous recording / playback formats. With the very brief previous few sentences we've taken a journey that took thousands of years of human evolution (basically). It is time to slow things down and better understand where we are today, and why.

Once an audio signal was digitized, we could use home computers, now available to a small yet affluent/skilled set of society. The Internet, generally via dial-up modem at 56kbs, also a digital-based form of communication, was also penetrating the home space. The recording label Geffen decided to be the first to legally offer a (free) 3 minutes and 14 second Aerosmith song that took around 75 minutes to download the 4.3 megabyte file. It has been reported that 10,000 CompuServe subscribers (including Yours Truly) downloaded it during the first eight days. No one in their right mind would download a CD in WAV via dial-up modem as it simply would have taken far too long to accomplish. At (very roughly) this same time period MP3 and Napster became available. This allowed music, a core desire by a vast majority of humans, to be downloaded more efficiently. At this pint you'd think that the major record labels would have acted swiftly to offer their own solutions.

 

 

The First Generation
MP3, a lossy audio data compression algorithm based on the perceptual limitation of human hearing (auditory masking), starts becoming widely available on the Internet. Assumptions were made by researches and scientists to find a solution to compress the amount of data required to represent an audio recording. At a lower 128 kbit/s MP3 encoding, it allowed an uncompressed 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV file (CD) to become represented by an MP3 file that is around 9% the size. Due to the (then) limitations of Internet bandwidth combined with only a few MBs of storage space, MP3 was the 'solution'. Animal behaviorists might note that this is the first generation to learn and adopt a new skill that fulfills a goal of downloading digital audio in MP3 format via the Internet.

 

 

The Second Generation
With MP3 now being adopted by music labels and for sale at web sites, we also find that programs and hardware solutions have made their way into the marketplace. As an accepted digital audio format, the second generation of humans have either learned how to use MP3 and/or are taught to accept this behavior from the First Generation of users. Like many new skillsets that permeates through a society, a new set of abilities, supported by technology (programs, hardware, web sites, retailers, etc.) reinforces this conditioning / activity. We now have both the first and second generations accepting the MP3 lossy compressed audio format.

 

 

The Third Generation
My memory might be a bit fuzzy here, yet I recall watching an educational program on television that traced how primates, the closest biological / relative of mankind, in how they learned and adopted new skills. If only one of the animals found something new to them yet did not pass the skill to another, that skill 'died' with them. But if this new skill was shown to others, it took a certain quantity for this skill to take hold within the pack. The next generation would learn this new skill, and by the third generation this skill was simply part of the animal's 'culture'. Obviously the skill had to meet some need that benefited the pack. With that said, lossy compressed MP3 at this stage is now a widely accepted format. It serves the desires of those within the human society who choose to listen, are dare we say, enjoy music.

Remember earlier when I wrote that MP3 is a lossy audio data compression algorithm based on the perceptual limitation of human hearing (auditory masking). There were assumptions made by researches and scientists (at that time) to find a solution to compress the amount of data required to represent an audio recording. Over the years we have learned more about the human auditory system and that, dare we say, there is something intrinsically missing from MP3 audio files when it encodes intricate music. While there are humans with limited hearing ability, and those who have no personal desire when it comes to the occurrence of music within their life, there are those within society (the pack) who do find music beneficial.

Of course there are hundreds of millions (billions?) of people who feel that music plays a role within the life, yet Mission Control we have a problem. Now at the third generation of human society we find that their belief system (religion) is still based on the limitations of the lossy compressed MP3 format. How are we going to teach this Third Generation to become First Generation users of a higher resolution digitized audio format that is scientifically proven to deliver more content? Perceptual coding was impressive for its time, yet how are we to not just to prove that there is more audio content within higher than CD resolution FLAC, DSD, etc, but to also find a way to hear the difference and the added benefits. And if we're willing to eschew the science and choose another route, what would it take to get humans to learn and accept a new (to them) digital audio format so that it is taught to the next generation? What benefit does this new skill set offer over the previous one already widely adopted by Third Generation MP3 users?

How will a new belief (religion) become widely accepted to become the new society norm? How will we establish a First Generation culture that widely accepts high resolution audio?

On September 23, 2015 AOL's TechCrunch journalist Tom Goodwin wrote, "Technologies only become truly integrated into society when they move from requiring forethought to becoming an afterthought."

 

Some Other Ramblings I Found Online
A new study shows monkeys are able to discover new techniques for obtaining food by mimicking the behavior of other members of their group. Not only that, but the same techniques then spread to other group members in the same way in a domino effect.

"As we have seen, behavioral patterns of non-human primates are largely non-instinctive. The great apes in particular rely heavily on their learned skills and knowledge to survive. In the past, many anthropologists resisted referring to this as culture. They preferred to reserve the term for more complex human knowledge, traditions, and skills.  However, if culture is defined more broadly as learned behavior patterns, then we must accept that at least some non-human primate communities do have cultural knowledge that they pass on to their children informally much the same way humans do. Basic survival skills are taught to children mostly by mothers and other adult females within all primate species, including our own. Some anthropologists have suggested that since the cultural knowledge of non-human primates is, at best, quite rudimentary, it is appropriate to call it protocultural. That is to say, they have the beginnings of culture." -- from this link. As always, in the end what really matters is that you...

 

Enjoy the Music,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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