Music In The Digital Universe
Music, along with sound effects and speech, is one of the most important elements of multimedia audio presentation. In the digital realm there exist many ways to represent music, all of which have advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the needs of the composer, the technical limitations that he or she faces, and the needs of the audience, each of these audio formats is well suited to use in different situations. Three of these formats, MP3, VQF, and WAV, are best suited to music recording for most users; while MIDI and module formats are favorites among small and hobbyist composers who want to create music but cannot afford instruments, band members, and fancy equipment to make songs.
One of the newest of these audio formats, and the one currently wrapped in the most controversy, is MPEG Layer 3, or MP3 compression. This new standard for audio compression has revolutionized the digital music world, for it allows the delivery of CD-quality music with only a fraction of the space required by other forms of audio media.
This combination of high quality and low space requirements has made MP3 format the choice for a new age of music piracy. This emerging piracy market has led to many leaders in the music industry to call for government action, but that has not stopped pirates. One of the best resources for the MP3 standard has to be MP3.COM. This site offers links to MP3 players, utilities, music, news, and more.
The site also offers a section for beginners who are new to MP3 audio.
Another new technology in the audio realm is the VQF standard. This audio compression format, proposed by Yamaha, offers the same CD quality that the MP3 format does, yet it consumes a fraction of the space required by MP3. I have compared music compressed with this format to the same song compressed using the MP3 standard, and I must say that I did not notice any difference in quality.
The only noticeable difference is that the VQF file took about half of the time to download and half of the hard drive space of the MP3 song. The small amount of space means that VQF music can also be "streamed" across the Internet, but I have yet to see any web site demonstrate this usage. VQF seems to be a better technology than MP3, but it might turn out to be the BetaMax of the digital audio world.
A lack of utilities, players, and support from music composers and, ironically, the music piracy sector have prevented the success of the VQF standard. One of the best of the few sources for information about VQF, software, songs and links to other sites can be found here at http://www.vqf.com/.
Another audio format that should be familiar to many computer users is the WAV standard. WAV is one of the most common sound formats used today, but its use is mostly limited to sound effects and other short sounds. WAV files can offer very high quality audio, approaching CD quality, but the type of compression leaves the files very large. This makes WAV files somewhat inefficient for music, because the storage space they require is great.
Nevertheless, the relative ubiquity of WAV file players makes them a good solution for short pieces of music and places (such as on game CDís) where space is not necessarily limited. As with MIDI, there are thousands of web sites devoted to WAV files, but some of the better ones are http://www.wav.com/ and http://www.wavcentral.com/. The Wav Surfer at wavsurfer.com/map/effects.html is another interesting site that offers lots of WAV sound effects that can be listened to right on the userís browser.
One of the favorite music formats for the Web, and a personal scourge of mine, has to be MIDI music. MIDI offers music for the least amount of space of any music format, which makes it perfect for embedding into web pages. The problem with MIDI is its quality. MIDI files deliver synthesized notes, similar to a keyboard music synthesizer, which delivers audio that is the equivalent of a digital representation of circus music.
MIDI files are also limited to playing one note per beat in a music file, meaning that layering of musical elements and multiple instruments per beat are impossible. These two elements combine to make MIDI music sound like a one handed person is playing on a cheap electronic keyboard. Nevertheless, the miniscule size of MIDI files means that they can be quickly transferred over the Internet, making them the choice for many Web designers and developers.
An excellent resource for MIDI music is at http://aaswebsv.aas.duke.edu/focus/it/audio/www.midifarm.com. This site offers news and information on the MIDI format and lots of links to MIDI resources on the Web. More advanced users who are looking for the latest news on MIDI might want to check out http://www.midi.org/. This site has the latest news and information for MIDI developers.
One of the least known of music formats is the MOD/S3M/XM/etc. world. These music MODule formats are best suited to producing synthesized music, making them a hit among techno, rave, and trance fans.
Like MIDI, these formats utilize synthesized sounds, but they are of a higher quality and variety than those that can be produced with the MIDI standard. For those who are fans of this genre of electronic music, module formats can deliver quite intricate and rich songs, with many different layers and instruments. Module formats take up less space per minute than MP3 or WAV, owing to the fact that they are electronically synthesized. But the music that is available in module format is quite limited, and only fans of techno, rave, and electronic music will find themselves wanting to jump on the module bandwagon.
Module formats are also the favorite of some audiences because, like MIDI, they allow true composition of music without the fancy instruments, equipment, or singers that would be necessary to make music for the other sound formats. Some of the better module links are at http://www.modarchive.com/, www.dms.is.nl/~te, and http://www.tu-chemnitz.de/~aka/songs_s.html all of which offer large collections of files in various module formats as well as information and links to other sites.
Original text: http://aaswebsv.aas.duke.edu/focus/it/audio/music.htm