Music Stuff

(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)


Digital Audiotapes and Decks

Digital Audiotapes and Decks
Odds 95%
Year 1991
Cost $1300/1989 ($2100/2007) for tape deck, $13/1989 ($21/2007) per tape.

Future Stuff was written during "a battle to keep this technology out of the United States... major record companies are fighting for legislation that would require DAT tape decks to be equipped with anticopy circuitry. Otherwise, the record industry claims, it will lose a billion dollars a year as home audio enthusiasts make duplicates of compact disks and prerecorded tapes."

In 1992 the Audio Home Recording Act imposed a tax (technically a royalty) on DAT tapes and and recorders, paid directly to the record companies. It also mandated that DAT recorders comply with the Serial Copy Management System, which used a special two-bit code to label masters separately from first-generation copies, and managed (ie. prevented) the ability of DAT recorders to make second-generation copies. At long last, it was safe to release DAT recorders in the US.

For some reason, DAT never really caught on. Can't figure out why; it's on the tip of my tongue. Anyway, we instead started doing digital recording on random-access, general purpose storage media like hard drives, CD-ROMs, and compact flash cards. General-purpose computers and storage media aren't covered under the AHRA. It took almost a decade to get to this point, since in 1989 a decent-sized hard drive held about eighty megabytes. But the delay saved the major record companies about ten billion dollars, so it's not all bad.

You can buy a DAT tape for $5-$20/2007, but they don't make DAT recorders anymore.

Future Stuff: "Another major advantage of DATs is that they are not nearly as sensitive to bouncing and jarring as compact discs... making them ideal for pocket-size portables and cars. In fact, some experts believe that the first DAT decks in the United States will be for your car stereo system." I like to think that when Doc Brown brought the DeLorean back from 2015 in Back to the Future, he'd installed a DAT deck along with Mr. Fusion.


Digital Speakers

Digital Speakers
Odds 100%
Year 1991
Cost $900-$5000/1989 ($1500-$8000/2007) per pair

These are the speakers you'll use to listen to your DAT tapes and other digital media. The speakers themselves aren't digital; they just have a larger dynamic range than typical 1989 speakers, so they can reproduce the corresponding larger range of digital recordings.

Since this prediction is basically "high-end speakers" it's not really possible or fair or interesting to judge its accuracy. I will point out that this entry includes the classic magazine-writing sentence: "After all, it's the speakers' responsibility to convert electronic signals from the amplifiers into the sound waves that eventually enter your ears."


Compact Disc Recorder

Compact Disc Recorder
Odds 100%
Year 1991
Cost $600/1989 ($1000/2007)

The product mentioned here is Tandy's THOR-CD, recorded and played back on a device "similar to a VCR". It never made it to market because CD-ROMs killed it. But since THOR-CD and CD-ROM were almost exactly the same, this distinction no longer matters. CD recorders were indeed introduced in 1991, though I don't know at what price. When I bought a CD-ROM drive in 1994 it cost about $100/1994.

CD writers now cost $50-$100/2007, but of course they're not a special device: they're peripherals to general-purpose computers.


3-D Sound

3-D Sound
Odds 100%
Year 1993
Cost "Same as regular recordings"

This is a way of recording sound so that there are 3-D effects when played back on standard equipment. That's what Future Stuff says. The relevant patent appears to be for special playback equipment, but that might just be part of the rhetoric of patent applications; at its heart this is a patent on a set of mathematical formulae.

Future Stuff makes it sound like inventors Peter Myers and Ralh Schaefer are all buddy-buddy together at American Natural Sound Development. In this contemperaneous NYT article, Peter Myers works for a company called PM Productions, and ANSD is "now separate from the inventor." Maybe they split acrimoniously; maybe they just had a difference of opinion over whether to use the technology in "music and film production" or "the cockpits of military aircraft."


Body Music

Body Music
Odds 90%
Year 1993
Cost $2400/1989 ($3900/2007)

"Bobby McFerrin can sing his hit 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' for now." Yes, Mr. McFerrin, your musi-comical autoflagellation has held back the onrushing nineties... for now. But your triumph will be short-lived! Release the Grungebot!

Also, release the Biomuse! This Laurie Anderson-esque biofeedback device "can receive electrical signals from nerve or muscle tissue and translate them into predetermined sounds." As released, it reads muscle, eye movement, and brainwave signals from electrodes. According to this page it way overshot the Future Stuff price point by nearly a factor of ten.

Some musicians did in fact use the BioMuse. Biocontrol is still around and it looks like the sensor technology has gone wireless as "TeleMuse". I don't see anyone using TeleMuse for musical purposes.

Rather than turning muscle movements directly into sound, I really like inventor Ben Knapp's original idea of using them to change synthesizer patches without having to hit a physical switch.


Computer Songwriter

Computer Songwriter
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $495/1989 ($800/2007)

"With a program called Personal Composer, anyone—whether he or she can even read music—can now write it!" Reading between the lines, it's a MIDI notation program. Yup, it's still around, and that's what it is. Inventor Jim Miller says, somewhat disingenuously, "You don't even have to know what an eighth note is to print your own sheet music." Good luck reading the sheet music you just printed!

The big unspoken innovation here is a microphone with a MIDI interface. You can hum or beatbox into the mike and make MIDI files without knowing how to play any instruments. The microphone costs another $700/1989. Nowadays you'd use a standard microphone and special waveform-to-MIDI software, like freeware AmazingMIDI. Today, Personal Composer costs between $70/2007 and $200/1007.


Concert Halls At Home

Concert Halls At Home
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $699/1989 ($1200/2007)

Ah, products with dorky model numbers that are easy to search for. The Yamaha DSP-100U is a digital signal processor that alters sound waves to suggest "a particular environment. Included are jazz clubs, discos, outdoor arenas, churches, and concert halls." Presumably this means different kinds of echo and reverb. The DSP unit looks like a generic piece of audio equipment from the 80s.

"It works with a CD player, a turntable, a tape deck, or even a radio." That's because there's a standard set of cables for connecting audio sources to speakers! This makes it possible to introduce intermediaries like tape recorders or DSPs in between! This isn't rocket science, folks! OK, I'm feeling better now.


Private Listening At Home

Private Listening At Home
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $80/1989 ($130/2006)

Private Waves is another of those intermediaries I was talking about. It plugs into your "stereo, VCR, CD player, or TV" and broadcasts the sound over radio. You listen through headphones wherever you are in the house.

Private Waves was made by Datawave, which is now defunct. I've used a very similar RF transmitter to get around the lack of AUX jacks in radios in American cars, and you can get a generic pair of wireless headphones for $25-$100/2007.


This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, March 31 2008, 00:26:30 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Friday, October 31 2014, 07:00:04 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2014 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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