This is the remix (and it's just a list of links)

by Bob DuCharme

Related link:

In a recent weblog posting, Jon Udell described a Nic Harcourt "Sounds Eclectic" interview with Elvis Costello and Costello's perspective on the effects of technological change on the way music is distributed. (To summarize, Elvis finds it all to be good news.)

Jon did more than describe the interview and provide a link to the complete interview. He created a "remix," a 4.5 minute edited-down version with the points relevant to his discussion. If you click on the link in my previous sentence, you'll hear the edited version. If, on the other hand, you save the link destination to disk instead of following the link, you'll see a 490-byte m3u text file with five URLs that are identical except for their different start and end parameters. Instead of downloading the entire interview, using some editing software to pull out the parts he didn't want, and then saving a file of the 4.5 minutes of audio that he did want, Jon created something new by using links that could address specific points in the original audio stream.

I put the term "remix" in quotes because I think of a remix as a new version of an audio work in which tracks are individually manipulated, like the boosting of the bass and kick drum for a dance mix. I suppose the term's association with producers and DJs gives it some degree of hipness. I wouldn't call what Jon did an edit, though, either; bringing up the complete interview in a tool like Audacity, cutting out the parts he didn't want, and then saving the result would be an edit. What he did has more in common with the DBMS idea of a "view": he created a mechanism for accessing the subset of the data relevant to his point. People traditionally use m3u playlists to identify the group of songs they want to listen to together, but Jon used the idea at a more granular level to create a single work the length of a single song. I'd say this qualifies as a new linking application!

(I thought it would be fun to try the same thing with music, especially with pieces of the RealAudio clips at, but the slight gap between the playing of each clip in an m3u playlist prevented me from creating something with a steady beat, so I gave up. When the playlist strings together clips of an interview, it just sounds like the speaker is pausing between thoughts, so it works.)

The playlists themselves aren't a particularly interesting piece of technology. The ability to address the RealAudio files at specific points is much more interesting, because when it comes to linking innovation, addressability within a resource is usually much tougher to implement than the indication of a link origin point. Jon's been researching the use of links to address streaming media for a while (1, 2), and it's great to see him use this technology with such interesting content. And it's also great to see Elvis C. so optimistic about the future of the music business.

Do you know of other uses of addressing specific points in audio files to create a new version of a work?