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Spoof Concepts

Published April 2002

As you know, April is that time of year when articles of a 'less-than-factually-accurate' nature tend to creep into SOS, often concerning some outrageously improbable technology developed by a guy with a Swedish sounding name that turns out to be an anagram of 'April Fool'. I mention this not only because some of our overseas readers don't know the 'April Fool' tradition, and may therefore wonder what is going on, but also because this great and noble tradition is being undermined by commercial companies who insist on developing products that bear an uncanny resemblance to some of our spoofs!

Paul White circa 2002.A few years ago, we ran a magazine called Sound On Stage in which we described an inflatable PA loudspeaker that could be flat-packed between gigs. Clearly this was sufficiently ludicrous to warrant inclusion in an April issue, but at this year's AES show somebody actually demonstrated an inflatable loudspeaker! OK, it didn't pump itself up by means of the audio signal and a one-way valve in the bass port, like our spoof product did, but it was definitely inflatable and gives a whole new meaning to the expression 'blowing up speakers'. Nobody has yet taken up our idea of incorporating optical timecode into the 'no parking' yellow road-markings in London, for synchronising the timing of tour-bus commentaries, but I shall not be in the least bit surprised if it happens.

As I understand copyright law, if an idea has already been described in print, nobody can then go on to patent it because the knowledge is already public. With that in mind, I'd like to describe another non-existent invention that might actually work, if just to make sure nobody else makes a fortune from it. The idea came to me while I was thinking of ways to increase the resolution of 16-bit audio for 24-bit release, or even for making MP3 files sound listenable. If you just add noise, you get the required number of bits, but no new low-level information is added. But what happens if you take a short room-ambience reverb program running at 24 bits and use this to process the original low-res file? There's nothing new about adding reverb or ambience to a signal, but if you were to reduce the level of the added reverb to the point where it was inaudible in an A/B comparison, it's my bet that there would still be enough of it present to add low-level, psychoacoustically-acceptable 'bit padding', based on the musical content of the original signal. I look forward to seeing a variation on this at AES later in the year, with perhaps an extra button for using the same technique to make 48kHz audio files into 96kHz ones.

Of course, some of our 'spoof' concepts are unlikely to make it into production — for example, an idea for a mechanical form of Auto-Tune for orchestral wind players. Here, an electronic sensor tracks the actual pitch of the instrument and then controls a valve system that injects either helium or carbon dioxide into the instrument's mouthpiece, depending on whether the played note is flat or sharp. The changing density of the gas then compensates for the error: helium sharpening the note and carbon dioxide flattening it. You could even incorporate reverse nitrous oxide injection to mute players who are playing when they shouldn't be! OK, perhaps not — but I still think there's mileage in the guitar-amp volume knob with a ratchet action for players who just want to get louder, or a special knob design that will accept a standard socket wrench to make it easier to get those extra turns! Or how about multi-faceted spectacles for wearing at poorly attended gigs, to make the audience look more numerous?

In fact, the only thing that's certain is that the more bizarre the idea, the more likely it is somebody will try to build it. So if you're a start-up company looking for product inspiration, I suggest you log onto the SOS web site and type 'Lirf Loopa', or similar permutations, into our search engine!

Paul White Editor

Published April 2002