Music file compressed 1,000 times smaller than mp3

April 1, 2008

Researchers at the University of Rochester have digitally reproduced music in a file nearly 1,000 times smaller than a regular MP3 file. The music, a 20-second clarinet solo, is encoded in less than a single kilobyte, and is made possible by two innovations: recreating in a computer both the real-world physics of a clarinet and the physics of a clarinet player.

The achievement, announced today at the International Conference on Acoustics Speech and Signal Processing held in Las Vegas, is not yet a flawless reproduction of an original performance, but the researchers say it's getting close.

"This is essentially a human-scale system of reproducing music," says Mark Bocko, professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-creator of the technology. "Humans can manipulate their tongue, breath, and fingers only so fast, so in theory we shouldn't really have to measure the music many thousands of times a second like we do on a CD. As a result, I think we may have found the absolute least amount of data needed to reproduce a piece of music."

In replaying the music, a computer literally reproduces the original performance based on everything it knows about clarinets and clarinet playing. Two of Bocko's doctoral students, Xiaoxiao Dong and Mark Sterling, worked with Bocko to measure every aspect of a clarinet that affects its soundfrom the backpressure in the mouthpiece for every different fingering, to the way sound radiates from the instrument. They then built a computer model of the clarinet, and the result is a virtual instrument built entirely from the real-world acoustical measurements.

The team then set about creating a virtual player for the virtual clarinet. They modeled how a clarinet player interacts with the instrument including the fingerings, the force of breath, and the pressure of the player's lips to determine how they would affect the response of the virtual clarinet. Then, says Bocko, it's a matter of letting the computer "listen" to a real clarinet performance to infer and record the various actions required to create a specific sound. The original sound is then reproduced by feeding the record of the player's actions back into the computer model.

At present the results are a very close, though not yet a perfect, representation of the original sound.

"We are still working on including 'tonguing,' or how the player strikes the reed with the tongue to start notes in staccato passages," says Bocko. "But in music with more sustained and connected notes the method works quite well and it's difficult to tell the synthesized sound from the original."

As the method is refined the researchers imagine that it may give computer musicians more intuitive ways to create expressive music by including the actions of a virtual musician in computer synthesizers. And although the human vocal tract is highly complex, Bocko says the method may in principle be extended to vocals as well.

The current method handles only a single instrument at a time, however in other work in the University's Music Research Lab with post-doctoral researcher Gordana Velikic and Dave Headlam, professor of music theory at the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music, the team has produced a method of separating multiple instruments in a mix so the two methods can be combined to produce a very compact recording.

Bocko believes that the quality will continue to improve as the acoustic measurements and the resulting synthesis algorithms become more accurate, and he says this process may represent the maximum possible data compression of music.

"Maybe the future of music recording lies in reproducing performers and not recording them," says Bocko.

Source: University of Rochester

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4.8 / 5 (6) Apr 01, 2008
I wouldn't call this a compressed music file, any more than I'd call a player piano roll a compressed music file. This technology looks to be more like MIDI than mp3.
4.8 / 5 (4) Apr 01, 2008
Agreed, I think things would be a bit more interesting/complicated once vocals are factored in. Not to mention this is strictly the clarinet, how well will it translate to other instruments and can they be layered?
2 / 5 (4) Apr 01, 2008
>I think we may have found the absolute least amount of data needed to reproduce a piece of music

Not even close, the absolute least amount: instead of clarinet focus on synthesizer generating a pure tone and then you can represent such 'music' by just one number - frequency
5 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2008
I agree with dbren, this has nothing to do with information compression.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2008
Also sounds like they're leaving a lot of data out of that 1k, sounds more like a midi with a sound font. You'd still need both to get the right sound.
3.3 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2008
These folks in Las Vegas need to get a life. Don't we already have enough portable music?
How about attending to something significant... increasing quit-smoking success, avoiding obesity... shut up Mike
not rated yet Apr 02, 2008
Next we will be buying music script instead of cds to put in our ghetto-blasters. Somehow I can't see this becomming too popular..
not rated yet Apr 02, 2008
In the short term this technology obviously won't be replacing MP3s or the like. But in the long, long term I can see this kind of algorithmic generation of music and video being the only way to go.

Think of it this way: Which is more manageable for an online computer game (for example)? Sending out a model of a monster, along with textures and animations(maybe 5 megs altogether), or sending out a small databurst containing what essentially amounts to the "DNA" of the model, its textures, and its animation, and then letting the computer on the receiving end reconstruct the end result from scratch (maybe 5kB altogether)?

As we shift to using the web to deliver media information it will become more important to reduce the size of that information by any means at our disposal. Obviously procedural generation of music or video based on a small amount of data takes a huge amount of processor power. But in some situations using processor power is preferable to clogging a network with huge files.

Current compression technology teeters on the edge, trying to never require more processor power to decompress itself than what the "average" user has. But as processor power becomes greater over time we will be able to make use of more and more advanced compression and procedural generation technologies, like this one, which will allow us to (and ISPs, who are the only ones who really have a vote) to send far greater amounts of information over the same network, without undertaking as many expensive upgrades.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2008
Sorry, but while reading this article one thing kept going through my mind "April fools day"??? Well?
5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2008
It sounds way to plausible to be an April Fools Day joke. Those things have to be obvious. And it is bad form to run a fake news article on a major news si.... ok, you got me on that last one. This IS physorg we're talking about after all;).

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