Beatnik is way cool

Beleagured Macintosh users at Wintel worksites may wish to console themselves with the knowledge that some apps are still developed first for the Mac. They can then go on to entertain their neighbours with a demo of the latest word in Internet audio cool - Beatnik.

Beleagured Macintosh users at Wintel worksites may wish to console themselves with the knowledge that some apps are still developed first for the Mac. They can then go on to entertain their neighbours with a demo of the latest word in Internet audio cool - Beatnik.

Beatnik is, in the words of its creators, "a web-based software system for the creation and playback of interactive music". It got its first public outing this week, when Headspace Inc, the software company formed by former pop star Thomas Dolby, made a demo available on its Website.

Although only a demo player is available at present, a Beatnik editor, Netscape plug-in and Website will be launched in March. The 1.2Mb demo application shows off Beatnik's MIDI-like and platform-independent RMF (Rich Music Format) output, which generates striking sound quality from very small file sizes. Sound processing is entirely software-based, but Headspace claims quality is comparable to high-end PC wavetable sound cards.

The Beatnik editor will be able to import all common sound formats, and also import samples for conversion into instrument sounds - something which is possible but desperately fiddly with Apple's QuickTime 2.5. It also allows for "watermarking" of RMF files, enabling a user to embed copyright information (with 40-bit data encryption) without altering the quality or sound of the music.

More impressive from an Internet point of view is Beatnik's interactive ability, which derives from its support of a comprehensive set of JavaScript functions. Beatnik allows a web page to play music not only upon the opening of a web page, but also on a event such as a "mouse click" or "mouse over." These events can also trigger individual notes, sampled voices, or sound effects; start or stop music; and change tempo, volume, pitch, or mix.

Headspace says this "allows and even encourages" direct musical interactions with Web pages, instead of the current use of the Internet as a playback-only system.

Even good products fail without alliances on the Internet and Beatnik's fortunes will depend heavily on the quality of partner Headspace can woo in the next six months. The WebTV systems being manufactured by Philips and Sony already support RMF files and WebTV and Be, Inc. have licensed the Beatnik audio engine.

The Beatnik Editor will be available for download from the Headspace web

site (http://www.headspace.com/beatnik) during a limited free evaluation

period. The Beatnik Editor, Browser Plug-in and Web Site will be released in

late Q1 of 1997.

Headspace's geographical spread - offices in Silicon Valley and Hollywood - relects the fact that it produces not only tools but content. The company has already sold music to Netscape for use on its Website, and to SegaSoft, for the Obsidian CD-Rom.

The demo is free from http://www.headspace.com/beatnik/, and on release Windows and Mac plugin-ins will be free, while the Beatnik editor will be free for a limited time.

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