by Linda Shockley

(IMG: Timara & AT&T)
Clockwise from left: Richard Povall, Gary L. Nelson, Steve Crandall, Mathias Kretschmer and Jim Snyder meet in the Timara Studios. Photo: Ramon Owens

"AT&T Labs of Florham Park, N.J., and Oberlin College Conservatory of Music have announced an agreement to conduct research on Internet music distribution. The collaboration will archive and distribute compressed and encrypted music for educational and research purposes. Other terms of the agreement include evaluating the quality of compressed music, multicasting and/or broadcasting experiments of live music events, and testing new uses of AT&T's licensed software. A primary goal of the agreement involves the downloading of music - one of the most popular uses of the Internet among college students - to ensure that this music is of the highest quality, and that it is easily and quickly distributed while protecting the rights of the recording artists.

Steve Crandall, principle member of AT&T Lab's Human-Computer Interface Research Department, said, "We believe that network delivered music will be increasingly important as a larger portion of the public is connected with high speed links. Our research efforts have resulted in compression and security schemes, but for further research and development, we need to know how people use networked music and how they hope to use it."



The Conservatory is utilizing AT&T's Digitalphono music platform and player that features the latest MPEG-2 AAC audio algorithm standard, including audio compression technology developed by AT&T Labs. Digitalphono is available to all independent recording artists as a platform to showcase CD-quality music securely by using AT&T Labs' public key cryptography, which makes it difficult for music on the Internet to be played by anyone other than the purchaser.

"Mp3, wildly popular in universities, is spreading to mainstream audiences," said Jim Snyder, technical consultant at AT&T Labs. "The audio quality is less than what we use, but many people find it good enough. Yet because files are unprotected, it can be easily distributed, which creates compensation problems for the content creators and owners. Our current technology, MPEG-2AAC, provides strong copyright protection, and we are working on techniques that may make it more user-friendly."

Conservatory junior Paul Davis added, "We are also interested in improving the quality of sound and in expanding to multi-channel recording. Testing is being performed at Oberlin to improve the sound quality. We expect to have 'better than CD quality' available in the near future."



"Oberlin is the perfect partner in that it has a large number of musicians as well as a student body with high speed connections to the Internet," said Crandall. "Students at Oberlin tend to be discerning listeners of all musical genres and are very receptive to good music from the most popular to the most obscure artists. The Oberlin campus will be an ideal laboratory for AT&T and the Conservatory to develop future generations of sound, distribution and security technologies. Already, there have been some interesting debates over some very tough issues - including intellectual property rights - which is exactly what we wanted."

Crandall added, "We should stress that while this research has very specific applications, we're thrilled by unexpected turns and discoveries. This is truly a relationship among peers and we are delighted when the students offer ideas and criticism."

Richard Povall, director of the Conservatory's Division of Contemporary Music department and chair of TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) added, "I think we've already made an impact on the way AT&T Labs views the use of this technology. Our students made a very strong case that so much security wrapping was a pain to use, and that the visual look of the software was unappealing. All manner of improvements have been made, although the central core question regarding the necessity of the security wrapping remains in dispute. The research is obviously good for us and our students. It's important that a conservatory explore work and conduct research that is culturally and technically on the bleeding edge."



  • The Organ Project: digitizing a rare 19th century book exploring the architecture of organ design in churches throughout Europe (many of which no longer exist)

  • Networked musical collaborations

  • Setting up an electronic reserve listening archive for Music History 101 and other courses

  • Discussions centering on issues of intellectual property rights, copyrights and music distribution

  • Projects with the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College (placing the museum's catalogues on the Web), and with individual departments




It seems inevitable that AT&T Labs and Oberlin Conservatory would meet to collaborate on a revolutionary project. AT&T Labs, the research and development unit of AT&T, is working to create the information services and communications network of the 21st century. AT&T Labs is a leader in the development of technologies and standards for audio, speech, video and image processing; electronic commerce and digital copyright management; search and directory services; network architecture, design, engineering and operations; and other technology areas critical to the advancement of new and existing telecommunications and Internet services.

Oberlin Conservatory, established in 1865, is the country's oldest, continuously operating conservatory and the only major music school in the country linked with a preeminent liberal arts college. The Conservatory boasts a long history of innovation. It appointed America's first full-time chair in music history and appreciation; created America's first four-year college degree program in music education; introduced the Suzuki method of string pedagogy in the United States; pioneered a program in electronic music; and is home to the Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Laboratory, the first of its kind to be incorporated into a program of vocal instruction in America.


return to contents