Besides gaining exposure for the "vast amount of work produced by students, faculty and staff," the Digital Gallery offers artists real-time feedback and critiques on the site's live chat room, says gallery co-creator and double-degree junior Michael Rosenthal.

On The Cutting Edge

Oberlin and AT&T Labs Collaborate on Internet Music Distribution

by Michael Chipman '01


"Oberlin is in the midst of a huge revolutionary debate sweeping the recording industry right now," says Richard Povall, director of the division of contemporary music and chair of the TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) department. The debate centers on the issues of copyright protection, sound quality, and accessibility for music distributed via the Internet.

"The recording industry is upset because they lose profits from Internet pirating, but many musicians want their music to be widely available."

Richard Povall

Povall and his team of Oberlin students are involved in a multifaceted collaboration with AT&T Labs, the research and development unit of AT&T. Using the labs' latest audio compression technology, the collaborators are working to create a program that will offer musicians the choice to protect or release their music for free download.

Oberlinians involved in the project include Patrick Aichroth, a student at Germany's University of Passau who spent fall semester studying and interning in the TIMARA department, and juniors Mark Bartscher, Cory Arcangel, Michael Rosenthal , and Paul Davis. The students have worked closely with Steve Crandall, principal member of AT&T Labs Human-Computer interface research department, and Jim Snyder, technical consultant at AT&T Labs.

"The main problem in Internet music distribution right now," says Povall, "is that MP3 [the audio-file software that allows free downloading] has become its own paradigm. We don't know if the MP3 tide can ever be turned back. There are already 18 million MP3 audio files on the web, 80 percent of which contain copyrighted material.

"Of course the recording industry is upset because they lose profits from Internet pirating. On the other hand, many musicians want their music to be widely available for free download. The consensus is that encryption [protection against downloading] should be a choice. The Oberlin team, along with AT&T Labs, is developing technology that offers people that choice."

Another primary goal of the research focuses on improving digital sound reproduction on the Internet. Music compression, Povall explains, "reduces the stream of data entered into the computer; the Internet is simply not fast enough for what audio would normally require. Compression is a psycho-acoustic phenomenon that fools the brain into believing that it hears what is not there. Right now, the quality of compression is so improved, you can hardly tell the difference between the original and the compressed version."

Nexus of Creativity

The Digital Gallery is an ancillary application of the teams' research that Povall hopes will become a nexus of creative activity at Oberlin. "This web site is available for anyone making creative content. The Digital Gallery hosts five rooms: text, images, sound, video, and interactive work. The only guideline is that it be original work -- the creator must be entitled to put it up on the Net. There are no controls on content."

Cory Arcangel, who helped create the Digital Gallery, describes the site as "a unique alternative space. It caters to people outside the usual art crowd, and in the case of the multimedia gallery, it is the only available venue for some people to display their work." TIMARA welcomes all contributions to the Digital Gallery. Send them via e-mail to: or Visit the Digital Gallery at

Academic Uses

Improved digital image reproduction combined with AT&T's audio-compression technology has generated other interesting projects, including the digital reproduction of the 19th-century book, The Organ-Cases and Organs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: A Comprehensive Essay on the Art & Archaeology of the Organ (Arthur George Hill, London 1883). Oberlin owns one of only a few extant copies of this book on the architecture of organ design in churches throughout Europe. "The book is quite large, with very delicate pages," says Povall. "With the improved quality of digital reproduction, we believe it will be well preserved for future research.

Another project born of the collaboration is the creation of an electronic reserve listening archive for Music History 101. "We didn't finish it in time for the spring semester section," says Povall, "but the entire listening archive will be available in the fall. Students can plug their headphones into any computer on campus to access the archive." Similar archives are planned for other courses.

Future projects in the AT&T-Oberlin collaboration include an interactive Internet class directed by Pauline Oliveros, professor of composition, and an imaging project with the Allen Memorial Art Museum to exhibit fine-line prints and drawings on the Internet. "The research is very exciting for us all," says Povall. "It is important that a conservatory explore work and conduct research that is culturally and technically on the bleeding edge."

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