Industry Players Agree on Common Format for Wavetable Synthesis (10/98)
At the 45th meeting of the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), audio experts reached agreement on a common format for creating sounds with the popular "wavetable synthesis" technique. The agreement merges the best features of different specifications promoted by the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) and Creative Technology Ltd. into a single format. This new format is called Downloadable Sounds Level 2 (DLS-2) and is known within MPEG as the MPEG-4 Structured Audio Sample Bank Format.
The DLS-2 format is an extension of the MMA's DLS-1 format; it includes new features requested by MPEG, Creative, Microsoft, the MIT Media Laboratory, and MMA members. "The agreement on DLS-2 increases consumers' access to high-quality interactive music content," said Tom White, president and chief executive officer of the MMA. "Compatibility among multiple vendors was the compelling reason behind the MMA's DLS Level 1 Specification, and the MMA is very pleased to have had this collaboration with MPEG in establishing a single new standard with an even higher level of performance." The MMA is a nonprofit association which produces standards and recommended practices for musical instruments and digital music devices.
Wavetable synthesis is a popular and widely-used method for creating music in multimedia presentations, video games, and on the Internet. Short samples of recorded sound (wavetables) are accessed with MIDI instructions; this method provides the realism of recorded sound but at a significant savings in file size. Most multimedia PCs use this method for creating sound, and even more powerful versions are used by professional musicians to produce film scores and popular music recordings. The DLS format makes it possible for musicians composing for Internet or CD-ROM applications to use sounds of their own design, rather than limiting their compositions to the 128 General MIDI sounds that are typically available on multimedia computers.
"Microsoft is a firm believer in the value of open standards," said Kevin Bachus, product manager for DirectX at Microsoft. "We made a commitment early on to provide support in the Windows operating system for the DLS format, and are pleased have had MPEG's collaboration in delivering a more advanced DLS standard to hardware manufacturers, software developers and composers. With the DLS support included in the DirectMusic application programming interface, musicians and programmers can easily add interactive music capabilities to applications developed for the Windows operating system."
"At Creative, quality and flexibility of sound synthesis is paramount," said Dave Rossum, founder of E-Mu Systems and chief scientist of Creative Technology Ltd. we always give the strongest attention to the quality and flexibility possible in sound synthesis. "The new wavetable format will provide the best features and sound quality for use by all PC-based and Internet musicians. The advanced capabilities of Creative's popular SoundFonts 2.0 format are included in the new standard."
The harmonized format is one component of a powerful and flexible suite of tools in MPEG-4 called Structured Audio, contributed for free to MPEG by the MIT Media Laboratory. In MPEG-4, wavetable synthesis can be used in conjunction with general-purpose software synthesis and mixed with compressed vocals or the sounds of natural musical instruments. The resulting soundtracks may be transmitted as part of a virtual-reality experience or used as accompaniment to interactive video presentations on the Internet.
MPEG-4 Structured Audio is based on a powerful sound-description language for very-low-bitrate coding of synthetic music and sound effects and "3-D" positional audio. MPEG-4 was ratified as a Final Draft of International Standard at the meeting in Atlantic City, and will be published in December. For more details on MPEG-4 Structured Audio, please visit http://sound.media.mit.edu/mpeg4.
"MPEG, as part of the international standardization community, is the ideal forum to bring together representatives from industry to arrive at common understandings and to agree on the best technical solutions," said Leonardo Chiariglione, chairman and Convener of MPEG. "Everyone who cares about music synthesis should applaud the forward thinking of the companies involved. We are particularly grateful for the productive relationship with the MIDI Manufacturers Association." MPEG is a subdivision of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) chartered with the development of new standards for audiovisual compression and transmission.
The Downloadable Sounds Level 2 (DLS-2) specification is available from the MIDI Manufacturers Association.
SoundFonts is a registered trademark of Creative Technology Ltd.Downloadable Sounds and DLS are trademarks of the MIDI Manufacturers Association.
Manufacturers Endorse "3dDxp" Audio Acceleration API (7/97)
A "Who's Who" group of 11 leading PC multimedia technology companies have endorsed "3Dxp", a means for extending Microsoft's DirectX 3.0 API to enable hardware acceleration of 3D audio in PC games. The 3Dxp DirectSound 3.0 API Extension is an open, royalty-free specification developed by members of the 3D Audio Working Group of the IASIG. The IASIG is comprised of 250 hardware and software developers as well as music composers and sound designers with a common interest in improving the quality of sound for interactive media, and is a project of the MIDI Manufacturers Association.
Without hardware acceleration, applications must use the host processor for 3D calculations via DirectSound 3D. The resulting high workload placed on the CPU is likely to result in lower quality audio processing or reduced visual frame rates. The solution is to use dedicated hardware to accelerate the 3D functions, yet each of the current 3D hardware implementations has its own interface. "It seemed to us that the largest obstacle developers faced in using 3D sound was picking between all the incompatible and competing technology suppliers", said Tom White of the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG) which released the specification. "What 3Dxp intends to do is level the playing field so that software developers will jump in and start using 3D audio in games."
The 3Dxp specification has been made available to the public on the IASIG web site (http://www.iasig.org). Reference source code is available for developers from DiamondWare (athttp://www.dw.com/DEV3D).
Downloadable Sounds Specification Approved (4/97)
The MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) announced a delay in releasing the Downloadable Sounds Level 1 (DLS-1) Specification approved by the MMA membership in January and previously expected to be available in April. "During our normal 60 day comment period we received requests for some modifications which would improve performance on existing products, and we felt a short delay was warranted" said MMA president Tom White.
The DLS Level 1 specification has been eagerly anticipated by music and game software developers for achieving consistent and predictable playback of interactive sound tracks. Originally proposed by the MMA's Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IA-SIG), DLS-1 allows composers to deliver customized instrument sounds and sound effects to accompany MIDI data which can be played on DLS-compatible sound cards or software synthesizers.
DLS-1 was approved for adoption by the MMA membership in January 1997 during the MMA's annual meeting held in conjunction with the NAMM International Music Products Industry trade show. The specification is now expected to be published on June 1. The MMA will also make available software developer kits which will include a tool for authoring DLS-1 files called "DLS Synth/Author".
Downloadable Sounds Specification Established (5/96)
The MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) today announced the creation of a new advanced audio standard for multimedia hardware. Targeted for CD-ROM and Internet entertainment applications, the new specification will result in higher quality audio from wavetable synthesizers, without any incremental memory costs. The new industry standard Downloadable Sounds (DLS) format was developed in cooperation with members of the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IA-SIG) and by leading multimedia companies.
The Downloadable Sounds specification extends General MIDI by providing a means for game developers and composers to add their own sounds to the PC sound card, rather than relying on the fixed GM sound set. General MIDI is used in PC games for generating music scores, and is also very popular with musicians and hobbyists who use MIDI for composing or learning about music. With DLS, custom sounds can be created and existing instrument sounds can be augmented with special effects by simply downloading a new sample bank.
"Inconsistent and proprietary designs have stalled the widespread adoption of wavetable synthesis." said Tom White, President, MIDI Manufacturers Association. " DLS 1.0 is the industry standard that will make wavetable and MIDI ubiquitous on mainstream consumer PCs. Consumers will experience enhanced interactive sounds beyond anything available today on the PC, and the title composers can rest assured that the consumer will hear exactly what was intended."
According to composer and recording artist Thomas Dolby, now President and CEO of Headspace, "Downloadable Sounds will give composers a universal delivery system for great-sounding music in computer games... I'm done apologizing for a string section that sounds like a squished bug!"
"We are excited about the MMA DLS 1.0 format," said Eric Engstrom, DirectX Program Manager, Microsoft Corporation. "In our effort to provide the industry with a suite of high performance standards and compliant APIs for gaming and Internet applications, we intend to support DLS 1.0 in the DirectMusic API."
Initial sound developer tools will be provided by Sonic Foundry, best known for "Sound Forge" sound editing software. Monty Schmidt, CEO, Sonic Foundry, said "We have been instrumental in driving this standard with the MMA. With our tools the incorporation of MIDI with DLS will be seamless and above all easy to use by developers."
U.S. Copyright Office opinion equates MIDI files with CDs and audio cassettes
The MMA, with assistance from multimedia industry leaders such as Thomas Dolby/Headspace, Microsoft, Apple, Yamaha and Kurzweil announced today at the Interactive Multimedia Association Expo that legal opinions from the U.S. Copyright Office state that MIDI files are subject to mechanical compulsory licenses when not accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work.
This groundbreaking and controversial decision will significantly lower publishers per unit licensing fees for MIDI recordings of musical works. At the same time, it will allow for a substantial increase in the number of published MIDI files, increasing publishers overall revenues and bringing MIDI into the mainstream consumer audio market.
"MIDI technology can dramatically improve music education, games and Internet applications," said Tom White, president of the MMA. "But until now, licensing for audio-only MIDI files has been difficult and expensive."
According to Charlotte Douglass, principal legal advisor to the general counsel, United States Copyright Office: "The Office still considers the media upon which aural sequences are recorded (unaccompanied by visual images) to be phonorecords and that such media are subject to a mechanical license or compulsory license under Section 115. The output of Standard MIDI files are works of authorship copyrightable as sound recordings since the information in the file causes the sound device to render the pitch, timbre, speed, duration and volume of the musical notes in a certain order, as does a player piano in conjunction with a piano roll, or a compact disc player in conjunction with a compact disc."
"This opinion clarifies for everyone that MIDI files are no different from other forms of audio," said Brian Ward, special counsel to the MMA. "This has been the critical missing link for growth in consumer interactive audio applications."
While removing barriers to the use of MIDI data in many areas, this opinion still leaves unresolved other creative control issues affected by a compulsory license. "Our intent is to continue our dialogue with publishers and songwriters to help create solutions which will allow everyone to benefit," noted White.
Comprised of over 140 hardware and software companies from various industries, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) is dedicated to improving and standardizing the capabilities and marketability of MIDI-based products. Membership includes leading companies from every application of audio and MIDI technology, including stage and theater, music performance, home and studio recording, multimedia computing, film and broadcast, and others.
The MMA's SMF Copyright and Licensing Committee was formed with the assistance of charter members Roland and Yamaha to communicate the interests of the music products industry and its customers to music publishers, artists, and copyright holders in hopes of developing a strong market for commercial MIDI files.
Manufacturers Unite to Promote Licensing of MIDI Files (1/96)
The MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) has announced an industry initiative to promote the licensing of commercial music in Standard MIDI file (SMF) format. The "SMF Copyright and Licensing Committee" was formed -- with the assistance of charter members Roland and Yamaha -- to communicate the interests of the music products industry and its customers to music publishers, artists, and copyright holders in hopes of developing a strong market for commercial MIDI files.
This effort is designed to replicate the market which exists in Japan and Europe, where floppy disks of music are treated just like audio CDs and cassettes, and are sold shrink-wrapped off store shelves for prices similar to CDs. In these markets there is also substantial secondary revenue from related services such as magazines and even on-line services devoted to hobbyists and casual listeners.
"To a great extent, the problem in the US and North America is that there is no standard set of laws and practices governing MIDI recordings (SMFs)", said Tom White, MMA President and CEO. "This has severely hampered the development of several MIDI-related markets, including the sale of MIDI scores and instruments for rehearsal, live performance, karaoke, computer hobbyists, and end-user entertainment".
Japan and parts of Europe enjoy healthy markets in the areas of MIDI music data sales, where a single mail order outlet can sell up to 10,000 disks a month. Desktop Music (DTM) sales in Japan hit $35 million in 1994 and were projected to reach $50 million in 1995. What's more, 70% of the business is currently going to first-time buyers, and home computer sales are just starting to explode in Japan.
The MMA initiative will include lobbying for MIDI recordings to enjoy the same status as audio recordings for licensing and copyright protections. MMA Special Counsel for Intellectual Property, Brian Ward, is leading this effort. Equally important is an educational effort, aimed at record labels, music publishers, online content providers, and recording artists, to help them understand the growing interest in MIDI files and how this can be good for business. "The current confusion surrounding the application of MIDI in these markets is blocking its use, and in some cases, the licensing fees requested just don't support a viable business model for these markets", said Ward. "At the same time, the MMA must understand and address the legitimate concerns of rights-holders and develop recommended practices and new MIDI protocols if necessary to protect those rights".
MMA publishes GM Survey and Developer Guidelines
The MMA Executive Board has completed a comprehensive survey of existing GM hardware and software in order to determine what level of consistency exists in current GM implementations. This data clarifies what is required to be GM compatible based on what products exist today.
"The GM specification wasn't written as an instruction manual ... it's more like a road map" said Tom White, MMA President. "So we have a situation where companies don't understand how to implement certain features, which aren't detailed in the specification. We are responding by making specific recommendations which will help developers be compatible with the majority of products in use today."
The survey covers synthesizers (receivers), sequencers (players), and scores(content). The data is compiled and reported along with objective and subjective evaluations, designed to identify potential problem areas and recommended actions for best compatibility. The GM Developer Guidelines and survey is available to MMA members and other interested parties.
NAMM & MMA agree to develop MIDI Education Program
NAMM has agreed to co-sponsor a program to be developed by the MMA, which will help grow the market for MIDI through dealer training and better understading of end-user needs. The program intends to create new customers for MIDI products, by demonstrating the benefits of MIDI without requiring the user to learn the technology. The dealer certification program will be aimed squarely at the millions of PC/multimedia system owners, who are looking for more to do with their computers, and will focus the salesperson to demonstrate how MIDI technology can be applied to meet a customers musical interests. Training will include topics such as General MIDI, home recording, song writing, education and entertainment. Retailers will receive certificates identifying each graduate of the course on their staff as MMA Certified Instructors, and will be eligible to teach a similar course to their customers if desired.
MMA PARTNERS WITH THE IMA FOR EXPO '96
The MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) will join with the Interactive Multimedia Association as a major participant in IMA Expo '96, to be held in New York City's Javits Convention Center, September 17-19, 1996. The Expo will provide a comprehensive forum for the diverse and rapidly growing $18 billion multimedia industry, which includes the CD-ROM, Internet delivery, on-line, broadband, and enterprise network systems markets.
"Computer and multimedia applications have become extremely important to a major segment of our membership," said MMA President Tom White. "
"We see a strong synergy between our organizations and major opportunity to combine forces for the benefit of both memberships," said IMA President Philip V. W. Dodds. "The MMA's participation in IMA Expo '96 will significantly enhance our show. Music and audio are major elements in the multimedia equation, and the MMA, with its roots in the music industry, is rapidly becoming a key player within the multimedia industry."
As part of the MMA's participation, Tom White will join IMA Expo's conference committee, working closely with the IMA to provide input on conference program content related to audio. White said "Together, our organizations will work to develop a program track which will educate and inform developers and producers on the tools available for audio production, as well as on new technologies and directions which promise to change how content is made and distributed."
Position Statement on "XMIDI"Source: MMA Technical Standards Board (c1996)
In response to magazine or online publications claiming that a new technology called "XMIDI" is poised to become a new standard for synthesizers, the MMA Technical Standards Board of Directors has released the following statement: We genuinely applaud the effort of the developer for attempting to make MIDI into a different and, in their eyes, better technology. However, despite some very clever engineering on the part of the developer, extensive review and discussion by the MMA's Technical Standards Board and many of our members indicates that XMIDI would create more problems than it would solve for the vast majority of current and future users of MIDI. What follows are four main reasons which have led to this conclusion:1) MIDI is inexpensive and royalty free. These characteristics are considered vital to our membership and a prime reason for its acceptance and proliferation. A custom hardware solution from a single source would represent a 180 degree change in direction.2) The non-orthogonality of the XMIDI interface makes it extremely difficult to write manageable software to parse it, and more importantly, to relate it to the user in an non-confusing manner. MIDI is now being evaluated for adoption in a number of high-volume markets where design simplicity is crucial. The Tech Board feels that introducing anything that risks increasing design difficulty and user confusion would compromise both the interests of the greater MMA membership and our customers.3) The MIDI Specification is open for everyone to use. The requirement of secrecy agreements for each licensee of XMIDI is unacceptable. MIDI is based on the spirit of cooperation and consensus. Secrecy agreements would completely undermine this spirit.4) The MMA membership has indicated many times that enhancements to MIDI should not increase the amount of data traffic on the 31.25 Kbaud serial line. In our opinion XMIDI would clearly increase traffic a great deal, adding to the current problems of MIDI response time with dense controller activity.In conclusion, we once again express our interest in any effort to design a low cost, high speed MIDI alternative that would be royalty and copyright free. We believe a design with such characteristics would be warmly welcomed by the MMA membership. We do not believe that XMIDI meets these requirements.