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Wednesday, May 27, 1998 Published at 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK


Dolby blinds the Net with sonic science

The Beatnik editor is sonifying the Web

Hyperactive, a hit from Thomas Dolby's pop career, is maybe the best word to describe the performance on the Internet of his company Headscape over the past year.

Thomas Dolby talks about sonifying the Web
Its browser plug-in Beatnik has been downloaded 1,500,000 times and counting from its website, and the technology has been licensed to Netscape, Sun Microsystems for Java, Oracle for its Network Computers and Microsoft for WebTV.

Beatnik is a software synthesiser for reproducing audio over the Web in its Rich Music Format (RMF), nullifying the need for expensive chips. Dolby says Microsoft saw it as saving space in its set-top box and satisfying the needs of television viewers expecting audio with their visual experience of the Web.

[ image: Pop upstart to start-up CEO]
Pop upstart to start-up CEO
"Multimedia on the Internet is like a wedding cake," he says. "You can't really send a wedding cake over a telephone line but you can send the recipe if you have flour, water and eggs at the other end.

"The quality's very high even on a slow modem and given that the music is broken down into its individual components: notes, tempos and keys, you can make it very interactive."

Music, not muzak

The Headspace president denies he is spreading muzak across the Web: "We have a team of composers who are busy sonifying websites as we say, but beyond that there's a growing community of third-party developers who are sonifying their own sites with our technology."

The interactivity of Beatnik is being put to educational uses. He is working on a project with schools in California allowing jamming with virtual instruments. Stroke a mouse over a harp, guitar or set of pipes on the Beatnik-enabled website and you can play a tune.

Dolby has little time to play or compose music himself now, he is too busy as president and CEO of a hot Silicon Valley start-up. A far cry from his appearances on MTV in those early music videos singing hits such as She Blinded Me With Science.

He was born Thomas Robertson and acquired the nickname Dolby as a teenager in London, because of his obsession with techno toys rather than any association with the Dolby sound systems. Now he has his own audio standard, but no plans to change his name to Rich Music Format Robertson.

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