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Oh-oh, Baudio

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This is just crazy and thought-provoking at the same time: Scott Matthews of Andromeda fame has come up with a program called Baudio that can convert any kind of digital file into an audio file. Think about that for a minute:

    What it does
    Baudio converts any type of computer file into an audio file, without any loss of data. Baudio encoded files can likewise be decoded back to their original state.

    For example, here’s what a picture of me sounds like as a Windows BMP (32k), a Photoshop PSD (51k), and a GIF (3k, pictured at right). These sample files were all saved as 8 bit, 11025 Hz, Mono, but they can just as easily be saved with other characteristics, such as 16 bit, 44100 Hz, Stereo (CD-quality audio).

    So what?
    Baudio is intended to encourage thought on issues surrounding file-sharing, derivative art, and the alternative copyright systems now under consideration. You can also conceivably use Baudio to glean some sense of the structure of a binary file.

    Historical context
    We’re all aware of the popularity of file-sharing, and the music industry’s attempts to put an end to it. Similarly, others are concerned about the impact of copyright term extension, DRM, and the scope of Fair Use as applied to the creation of derivative works of art.

    Additionally, intellectual property rights commentators are calling for new laws that would render what is now copyright infringement legal through some new means of compensating authors. Though file-sharing itself is file-type-agnostic (any type of file can be shared) the alternative compensation systems generally only apply to music.

    How it works
    The Baudio encoder adds a 44 byte header that transforms any type of file into a valid WAV file, and saves it with a “.wav” extension appended to the end of the file name. So, for example, hello.exe would become hello.exe.wav.

    Conversely, the Baudio decoder takes a file and removes that 44 byte header and the trailing “.wav” extension, reverting it back to its original state.

    Transformative and derivative art
    Baudio raises questions regarding the nature of derivative works. On the one hand, the original file is left entirely intact, the only change being the addition of the 44 byte header. On the other hand, the file has been entirely transformed from some binary file (pdf, exe, doc, whatever) into something you can listen to.

    In an effort to legalize file-sharing, many copyright commentators are proposing new systems to compensate authors. However, most of these systems only compensate music and not other types of files, such as movies, software, ebooks, and so on.

    By transforming such non-musical works into audio files, Baudio enables the authors of non-musical works to benefit from a music-only compensation system.

    So, for example, a film maker or software developer may choose to distribute their work encoded into audio by Baudio, thereby benefiting from these alternative compensation systems.

    Free speech
    The next question is whether Baudio encoded files would be excluded from such compensation. However, such exclusion would in turn indicate a free speech failing of such an alternative system. Who gets to say whether any given audio file is a work of art, worthy of compensation?

Click over for more and to download it.

Are these converted audio files music? If not, why not? Does the fact that the “artist” (the converter) use a program not of his own device make him less of an artist? Is the conceptual element separable from the execution?

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About Eric Olsen

  • Tom Johnson

    This is the same kind of thing that Autechre has been doing for years. Like Aphex Twin, they were too boxed in by pre-made electronics and software so they just wrote their own. I remember reading somewhere that their last few albums have had a number of pieces composed by using images as the source-code for the audio. Wish I knew where I saw that so I could link it here . . . but it’s out there, somewhere.

    I actually tracked down a piece of software that would do just this a couple years ago, but it would wind up crashing my computer every time I used it. This is probably a big step up from that . . .

  • Eric Olsen

    Cool Tom, which again brings up: where is the line drawn between music and noise?

  • Tom Johnson

    Speaking from my own experience, having something beat-like to hang the noises on makes music work for me. It doesn’t have to be a steady beat, or even particularly strong, but I need something there to attach the noise to. With a beat, I can then find patterns among the noise (because unless it truly is noise there is almost always a pattern of some sort) and relate all the bits together. It’s the stuff that doesn’t have something cohesive like a beat (whether it be drums or clicking or whatever) that I find myself drifting from. I like the game aspect of adventurous music like this. But don’t take all of the rules away or I can’t even know we’re playing a game.

    In other words, and so obviously, it depends on the listener – what’s music to one is pure noise to another. I think, however, that it relates to your maturity. Children’s music is children’s music for a reason – it’s simple and easy to follow, and it pleases the ear. I find most very popular music is more similar to children’s music than not – it’s always simple, catchy, and generally easy on the ear, too. It’s just clothed in more complex, modern sounds. Strip it away, as Richard Thompson did with Britney’s “Oops I Did It Again” on his 1000 Years of Popular Music, and you hear that the core of the song is really a very simple melody with a strong hook. (Not that anyone didn’t realize that, I’m just using it as an example. As he says, “Taken out of context, this is a pretty nice song.”)

    What really intrigues me is why on some days something like Autechre or Naked City appeals to me and others it sounds like horrible, irritating noise. Or, conversely, something like, say, the Jayhawks will sound so pedantically simple that I cannot listen to it at all – but the next they’re all I can listen to and nothing else will suffice. (It doesn’t help that that damned Polo commercial that plays all the times features their “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and is grinding it into my head like song-into-head-grinding machine. I lost the analogy there, sorry.)

  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent thoughts Tom! Thanks. I am musically very moody as well.