Monday, January 13, 2003

Bits in 2002/2003

My ex-boss (and good buddy) Mark Hurst has a really nice review of his take on the big technology story of 2002: lots more bits. His experience with an iPod and digital camera have been exactly the same as mine -- you store (and listen) to lots more music and you take (and share) lots more pictures.

I don't know how many of our "life bits" we're going to end up recording ultimately, but it's certainly going to be more than we do today. For example, this weblog is a nice archive of my thoughts over the past 2 years and I think it exposes pretty well what's been on my mind and how my thinking's changed while going to school at U Chicago. And while I initially thought the little 10-second film clip feature in my digital Elph was useless, it's turned out to be a wonderful way of capturing moments with friends and family. With iPhoto, iMovies, and iDVD, I've been able to share them with people all over the world as well.

I also want to comment on Mark's following point:
Outbound music bits - creating and mixing new music - are still outside the reach of most users. This is due to the lack of ease-of-use in available publishing tools and the lack of users' compositional skills (relative to, say, photography or writing). This isn't likely to change soon.
I'm not very musical in the artistic sense, but I can play three instruments (kinda) and know a lot of theory, so would consider myself "above average" in terms of musical competency. I played around with Mod Tracker several years ago to compose music on my home computer, but grew frustrated scrounging around ftp stores for decent samples and then struggling to set tempos, pitches, and keys.

Recently, I purchased Storm 2.0 from Arturia as an easy-to-use but flexible digital audio workstation. I have been surprised both by how easy and how difficult it's been to get decent music out of thing. Many of these products really struggle with appropriate interface "metaphors" and most end up choosing to look like the same rack-mounted instruments their users are presumably used to. I've never programmed a drum machine, and many of the things the software asks me to do (like try to twiddle knobs with a mouse) are frankly, ridiculous. But I've learned how to do this stuff now and can pump out mediocre dance music with the most average of them. Yay! But I also appreciate how hard it is to create good interfaces/applications for making music. I think the organization style iTunes uses is excellent, and could see a "create mashup" feature as being welcome and popular, if you could overcome the very significant technical hurdle of stripping out vocals from instrument tracks. Hmmm... tricky.

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