iTunes Signature Maker

Project Description

"So, what music do you listen to?"

People ask me this question all the time, and I hate answering it. Or rather, I can't answer it. Sometimes I rattle off a bunch of names, which are greeted by confused stares. Or I hand over my iPod and say "have fun," and am greeted by overwhelmed, what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-eight-days-of-music stares. Or I just tactfully change the subject. I've never found a way to capture the essence of everything I listen to in a few short moments.

Enter iTunes Signature Maker (iTSM), software art that scans your music collection and algorithmically generates a short sonic remix of everything you've got. A user-friendly wizard helps you decide how iTSM will traverse your collection and allows you to specify some parameters of the signature-making algorithm. Once it's finished churning through your tunes, you can load the result onto your portable music player. Then you'll be ready the next time someone inquires into your musical tastes!

iTSM will use a variety of simple techniques — phase vocoding, granular synthesis, segment selection, mixing, and crossfading — to let the key features in your collection rise to the foreground. It is doubtful that any of the original music will be recognizable in the signature; instead iTSM aims to capture some essence of what you listen to, and by extension, some essence of you. Who knows…maybe someday those folks at Friendster will even add an iTunes signature field to your profile. Maybe political attack ads in future elections will include dark, ominous-sounding iTunes signatures of opposition candidates. Maybe you'll come home after a date one night and call up your best friend: "Well, he seemed nice enough, but his iTunes signature…it's just so atonal! Should I go with my heart or with my ear?"

Uh, sorry there, got a little carried away…back to reality: Maybe people will learn something new about themselves and the music they listen to and about their friends and the music they listen to, and maybe everyone will have some fun along the way.

iTSM will be written in Java, with audio mixing and signal processing handled by a new RTCmix/Java API. It will be distributed as a downloadable application for Mac OS X and Windows XP. Source code will be available under the GPL. I cannot guarantee that iTSM will work with copy-protected files, such as those purchased through the iTunes Music Store.

Production Timeline:

May /June 2005: experimentation and implementation of core signature-making algorithms; final design specifications for software

July 2005: complete implementation of program core, including import codecs

August 2005: development of graphical user interface

September 2005: preliminary beta release

October / November 2005: bug fixes and additional features in response to feedback from beta users

December 2005: public release!

Preliminary Budget:

Artist fee: $2000

Windows XP computer for compatibility testing: $1200
(I currently have no regular access to a Windows machine.)

Total: $3200

C.V. and Work Samples:

My C.V. is here (PDF).

iTSM is the fourth in a series of works which reflect upon and transform the contexts in which we experience music in daily life. Here is some information about the first three: