The man who blinded you with science now wants to saturate you with sound.
Composer Thomas Dolby, now chief executive of Headspace Inc. in San Mateo, Calif., demonstrated his company's audio enabling software Thursday night at San Francisco State University's New Media Minds Forum. He also took a couple digs at record producers for blocking music distribution over the Internet.
Dolby, best-known for the 80's hit song "She Blinded Me with Science," now pushes his Beatnik technology, available for free on the Net. Beatnik helps composers, Web designers and ad agencies develop sound files that take up less space, and sound better than most files available today.
( Dolby thinks music on computers sucks, and it's because they've grown up as office machines.)
"I wanted to create a soundtrack for Web pages," he said. "I wanted to stick a stake in the ground."
He even envisions schools using Beatnik, in an era of declining funding for music. The software consists of a plug-in, an editor, and the Beatnik Web page, and it's designed to run on a variety of platforms. Dolby hopes to ride the multimedia wave, which he thinks will crest as more and more tech firms embrace sound.
"Now computers are trying their utmost to look like TVs and film, and Silicon Valley companies are trying their utmost to look like movie companies," he told the audience.
Dolby has lined up an impressive list of partners for the technology. It will be embedded in Sun Microsystems Inc.'s upcoming version of Java. Netscape Communications Corp., Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp.'s WebTV have also signed up to include the software in their products.
Thursday, Dolby demonstrated a series of uses for Beatnik, including allowing musicians to compose in real-time composition by clicking on icons of instruments which then play their sounds. He showed an upcoming Yahoo! Inc. site employing the technology. During that demonstration, the computer played the familiar Yahoo! twang as the cursor hovered above that company's logo, and it then played the 7UP jingle when the cursor circled above a banner ad for the soft drink on the site.
But Dolby also plans more artistic uses for Beatnik, and he encouraged musicians to download the software and post their own compositions on the site. Dolby said Beatnik also encrypts and provides copyright information about the music.
Headspace makes its money by creating pre-packaged bits of sound effects and music and licensing them to companies and people.
The composer also used Thursday's speech as a forum to blast record companies, which he says pilfer profits from artists. He said the Web provides a more egalitarian approach to music distribution because customers can listen to what they choose, not what record labels or radio stations dictate.
( According to Dolby, Elton John's attempt to distribute his Princess Di song over the Internet is a foreshadow of things to come.)
"I like the idea of distributing music over the Internet because then the money you spend goes to the right place," he said. "I actually considered making my next album using this technology."